Here's why Speaker Mike Johnson's attendance at a "Purity Ball" is so damn disturbing
Women should be afraid of how that will translate into policy
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By now, readers of this site are well-aware that Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is a Christian Nationalist who believes he’s on a theological mission to merge God and government. He’s well-versed in the white evangelical world, with all of its weirdness, and the mainstream media keeps churning out articles confirming every stereotype you have about him.
The latest one, from Will Steakin at ABC News, involves the fact that, in 2015, Johnson attended a “Purity Ball” with his daughter and was featured in a German documentary about the event:
"This looks like a wedding," a news reporter says in German in a 2015 n-tv news segment that was unearthed by ABC News. "But they are not bride and groom -- but rather father and ... daughter," the reporter adds, referring to Johnson and his then-13-year-old daughter, Hannah.
The news segment also features interviews with Johnson's daughter, who is now in her 20s, and shows her at the purity ball pledging to her father "to make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future husband, and my future children ... to a lifetime of purity, including sexual purity," in between shots of Johnson nodding along in agreement.
In one brief interview clip, Johnson's wife Kelly Johnson, a Christian counselor, told the German news outlet, "We don't talk to her about contraception. Sex before marriage is simply out of the question."
To state the obvious, there’s nothing healthy about keeping your child ignorant about sex because you hold the warped idea that everything leading up to sex, including any form of the act and any attempt at experimentation, is sinful… up until the moment she says “I do,” at which point, God permits her to start multiplying like rabbits until she and her husband get their own TLC show. In many ways, Purity Balls have an unintended effect by hyper-sexualizing little girls.
In case you weren’t following the white evangelical world a decade ago, “Purity Balls” were (and still are!) this bizarre event where (usually white) teenage girls pledge to remain virgins until marriage—to God and their fathers. The whole spectacle involves gowns and tiaras and Purity Rings, presumably to distract everyone from the creepy-ness of these dads formally taking control of their daughters’ vaginas until they can hand it off to other men in a few years. (Some might call that “grooming.”)
How seriously do these dads take their roles? Consider that, in 2016, one dad placed a job listing in Christianity Today looking for a son-in-law and literally advertised his 26-year-old daughter’s virginity as if that was a perk—and the magazine ran with it!
(The magazine later apologized about that.)
Since the time when there were countless articles about these events, though, there’s been a reckoning in the evangelical world about the utility of these kinds of balls. Hell, in 2018, Joshua Harris—the one-time unofficial Christian spokesperson for abstinence, courtship, and waiting until marriage to do everything as a result of his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye—apologized for the harm he caused and renounced his own book. A number of prominent Christian leaders who promoted the idea that “purity” was some sort of goal have also faced their own sexual abuse allegations. More Christians have also spoken out about how, largely because they didn’t know much about sex or the importance of sexual compatibility, it hurt their marriages.
The problems with Purity Balls should be obvious. Among them, the girls, sometimes as young as 12, have no clue what they’re actually promising. The pledge also suggests that their moral worth is tied to their sexual activity. There’s also a double standard at play because there’s no version of this for Christian boys.
That’s not to say “purity” advocates aren’t still promoting that harmful ideology within Christian circles, but they’re certainly not as loud as they used to be.
All that’s to say of course Mike Johnson is a “Purity Ball” dad. We already know that he has a “covenant marriage” that makes it harder to get divorced. We already know that he monitors his son’s porn viewing—and (even worse) vice versa. We already know he promotes Christian Nationalism and sees himself as Moses.
They’re missing the point. The story isn’t that Johnson is an evangelical Christian in all the worst ways. It’s that, with his power, he wants to impose those views on everybody else. That’s what Christian Nationalism aims to do, and Johnson is a primary player in that arena. If he’s this obsessed with virginity, you can bet that has an impact on women’s rights, access to abortion and contraception, sex education, and so much more.
The nation is in danger as long as Johnson remains a couple of heartbeats away from the presidency—and as long as Republicans control any part of government.