When Brelyn Freeman married Tim Bowman earlier this month, it was clear that love was in the air. But upon lurking through the wedding hashtag on Instagram to see what her dress looked like, we were quickly stopped in our tracks as Brelyn Freeman stood gleaming next to her father with a framed certificate in hand. The certificate of purity was signed by her gynecologist confirming that her hymen was still intact, and it was presented to her father, Mike Freeman, in honor of the covenant that she, at age 13, as well as her siblings, made to their father, promising to remain virgins until marriage.
Freeman is pastor of Spirit of Faith Christian Center in Maryland, a prosperity-preaching church that has had a “Worth the Wait” movement since I attended college in Washington, D.C. I still remember my college roommate saving to help the congregation buy Freeman a luxury car for his 40th birthday, causing me to pause in joining a movement that I felt had great intent, but the mix of materialism and religion didn’t sit well with me. So when news of the purity certificate hit social media, kicking off talk of the exploitative nature of promoting the antiquated message of purity via hymen checks, I was not surprised.
No one’s arguing that making a covenant with God to keep your body pure until marriage is a bad or wrong idea. Whether you’re religious or not, maintaining control of your body for the benefit of you is a beautiful message. That’s inclusive of those who are grappling with the aftermath of sexual assault, those who have lost themselves trying to appease others with their body and those who have faced the oppression of a society that seeks to repress them.
If taking hold of your domain includes virginity or celibacy, that is a great choice that deserves an explanation to no one. There’s nothing wrong with promoting purity, as long as you’re encouraging someone to take control of his or her body through knowledge. And that is the message that is missing from the just-wed Brelyn Bowman’s purity certificate and subsequent #PurityOnAPedestal and #MakeJesusFamous hashtag movements.
There’s no message on the purity of her husband, Tim Bowman. No certificate presented to Brelyn Bowman’s mother. And, as the story goes that Brelyn Bowman made this commitment as a teen with her siblings, why was her wedding treated so much differently than that of her brother? Her brother was married last year, without much of the fanfare or messages on purity.
This is a heavily gender-biased message based on the false belief that an intact hymen proves virginity. It excludes women who have been assaulted, played sports or ridden a bike—all things that could cause a hymen to tear—all because of an antiquated and scientifically misplaced concept regarding hymen tissue. This is the policing of a woman’s body for public broadcast and financial gain.
As the newlywed Bowmans take media requests from Good Morning America and repost the news clippings on social media, there’s minimal discussion on religion past adding the hashtag #MakeJesusFamous, and a link to buy T-shirts. What are we really making famous other than the Bowman-Freeman family? I get that if the Kardashians can use controversy to gain fame and wealth, then why not broach a controversial subject for awareness. It’s just that the actual act of purity—especially when promoted through one’s relationship with Jesus—is meant to be an inclusive message that speaks toward the mercy of God.
There’s little controversy when the message is promoted sagely, to both men and women, acknowledging the test of faith that it takes to maintain the commitment. When Janette…ikz’s video of her wedding vows to Matthew Watson went viral, overall, there was a positive reaction to her and her husband’s virtuous commitment to purity, which included not kissing until their wedding day. It was a clear message of an equally yoked couple, not a one-sided parade of patriarchy.
The concept behind a certificate of purity is one of poor judgment. It’s a dangerous slope that is exclusive and cocky in promotion, doing little to promote the actual message of the inclusiveness of faith, resilience and the grace one can find through one’s own body, and God (if one so chooses). I’m sure it will bode well, if you believe that there is no such thing as bad publicity, to garner attention toward a financial endeavor thinly veiled as #PurityOnAPedestal. But let us be mindful to not promote messages that repress women just because one doesn’t know how the vagina actually works and believes that earthly men hold domain over a woman’s body. Seek purity or coital satisfaction, always knowing that the power of your body lies in your hands.