If you're reading this, you probably already heard about the young lady whose certificate of purity has gone viral. Here's a quick recap:
At 13, Bre Bowman signed a covenant with her parents committing to abstain from fornication, sexual activity, and other behaviors too - like drinking, smoking, et cetera. Fast forward to her wedding day and she gives her father a certificate of purity. This certificate is signed by a doctor and is meant to be verification that she has abstained from sexual activity. Then she took a photo of this certificate and shared it on social media; and the rest is viral Internet history.
Several outlets have weighed in with disgust, praise and everything in between:
- "Yes, your virginity is your father's business!" (well the author say's "daddy's business" but this just feels... icky) Source: Married and Young
- "The hymen test is a myth and not really a scientific test." Source: Slate
- "I see it as respect for her father." - Commenter at USA Today
- "Any vows made at 13 years old should be taken with a grain of salt." - Commenter at Buzzfeed
Before I outline some problematic concerns for me, let me make something clear.
- I believe abstaining until marriage is more than admirable; it illustrates a discipline and commitment to your faith and your marriage.
- I am always happy to see young people who are outspoken about their faith.
- Bre and Tim Bowman are strangers to me, but seem like a beautiful couple inside and out. And I just love love.
Here's my rub (no pun intended):
1. #MakeJesusFamous or #MaketheBowmansFamous? - Bre Bowman says she is on a journey to "Make Jesus Famous", which is an interesting concept considering we live in a country whose biggest holiday is the celebration of Jesus' birthday. Nevertheless, if we are to assume she means the gospel, not just Jesus Christ, I don't know that it shows. A perusal of @brefreeman's IG page shows several screenshots of her online coverage, including my favorite - a graphic with her wedding photo surrounded by outstretched hands holding smartphones viewing articles about her purity certificate. Is this really about Jesus? The covenant between herself and God is now public fodder. Her method (not the message itself) lacks the humility that that guy with the dusty sandals often displayed. (See Matthew 6:6)
2. Any Message About Jesus That Doesn't Include Grace, Mercy or Hope is Incomplete (and worse, not inclusive). The thing about Jesus that is so dope, is that He is available to ANYONE - the murderer, the prostitute, even lawyers! :) If you plant a thousand trees, adopt a dozen children, and hug a few hundred widows, but you haven't committed to Him, you're not in any better shape than the woman who sold her body night after night, but cried out to Christ for mercy. Brelyn made her commitment at 13 (controversial in itself but I digress), and was raised in a home where a premium was placed on remaining abstinent. For a variety of reasons, many not related to any act of her own, she was able to produce a certificate that her hymen was still intact.
Doctors agree that hymeneal tissue (learning so many different words with this story) is not really the best determiner of a woman's virginity. Every woman is born with different amounts, some are broken while riding a bike, and there are reports of women breaking their hymen while giving birth (which is clearly after they've had sex). Furthermore, abstaining from fornication (rubbing and petting as indicated in her covenant), can't be proven with a hymen test.
In Bre's attempt to publicly prove her purity to her father with a certificate, versus just by having a private conversation with any parties that needed to know, she has conveniently confused purity with an intact hymen for all those following along in her journey. Moreover, she has excluded the "prize of purity" for women who have been sexually assaulted, women who chose to abstain after engaging in sexual activity, and women who for whatever reason have broken hymens - I see you gymnasts. This is why the JESUS part of this message is important. All women will not be able to have access to this Certificate of Purity; however in Christ's eyes, the woman who has abstained for a lifetime and the one who moments ago turned to Him are equally pure. (See John 3:17)
3. It Ties Women's Value and Morality to Their Relationships with Men. From the very beginning, there was something nagging me about this story that didn't feel right. For one, abstinence is a charge given to both men and women, yet in their wedding video, Bre is the only one who provided a signed covenant. Moreover, 13 yr old Bre made this commitment to both of her parents; but only her father received this certificate. While Bre is quick to clarify in her wedding video that both she and her husband Tim remained virgins until marriage, the purity message is focused primarily on her, a sign of age-old patriarchy that rears its ugly heads in cultures worldwide. This focus leads to virginity tests (some more crude than a hymen test), genital circumcision, and other sexist, harmful "traditions." Brelyn should be proud that she was able to abstain. But she is not more or less valuable to her husband (or her father) if she didn't. One of my favorite organizations is a faith-based nonprofit based in Los Angeles called Treasures that supports women in the sex industry. They teach women who work in strip clubs, in pornography and in other sex-driven industries that they are valued. Mrs. Bowman's purpose may not be to speak to these women; but women who haven't abstained certainly hear her message anyway. If as a Preacher of Purity, she flaunts a certificate about her hymen, she unwittingly excludes these women from the purity movement. (See John 8)
Do we want Jesus to be famous for being the guy that deems only virgins as pure?
Do we want to add to the societal view that women's bodies are owned by men?
If the answer is no, then I think we should reconsider how we frame the message of purity for women, and attempt to see people as Christ sees them. As His children.