Sunday, January 04, 2009

Headcovering article from USA Today

As I was stumbling around on Google, I came across an article from 2006 in USA Today on the resurgence of headcovering, Traditional living takes modern spin. Ironically, in 2006 I would have dismissed this article and the people interviewed as some weirdo kooks! I liked this comment...

Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School, says, "It's possible that we could see a renewal of this distinctive dress in Christian families because it becomes its own kind of witness in a highly plural and increasingly secularized culture."

It is a two-part thing in some ways, first and foremost head covering is an issue of obedience, modesty and submission and also a counter-cultural statement. It leads to odd looks from people in modern, institutionalized Christian churches. It raises questions. What is unfortunate is the way many look at a woman covering her head as some sort of threat and many husbands reject head covering as well.

Like almost all women who cover, Catherine Levison of Tacoma, Wash., came to her decision through Bible study. She wears a scarf or hat anytime she prays.

Her husband "was pretty Switzerland about it," supporting her conviction. Others haven't been so accepting. She says she was attending a home prayer group, and when the pastor leading it realized that she hadn't just forgotten to take off her hat, he preached for weeks afterward on how women aren't required to cover.

Of all the things to preach about, preaching in opposition to women honestly seeking to follow Scriptural commandments? There are plenty of things to preach against, but women following the plain commands of Scripture and seeking to exhibit Biblical submission isn't one. Maybe this guy should have preached about the women in his church who dress like they are going to a nightclub or the beach instead of the woman dressing modestly and covering her head?

What I found especially interesting was the sidebar quotes in the article from scholars to get their spin on headcovering. Neither scholar quoted supported headcovering, and neither gave a terribly good answer. One of the scholars quoted was Wayne Grudem, someone I respect a lot. His work on the ESV and his ministry on the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood are wonderful and have done a lot to stem the tide of feminism and egalitarianism that pervades and weakens much of the church. But I disagree vehemently with his assessment of why head covering is not valid today.

Biblical scholars say the New Testament does not require women to cover their hair while praying.

"I think it's mistaken but I appreciate (hair-covering women's) desire to do what they think the Bible is telling them to," says Wayne Grudem, research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary and a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He says covering the hair was a sign of being married among women in the Roman empire.

Grudem, who was on the translation committee for the recent English Standard Version of the Bible, says, "In light of that evidence, when we came to 1 Corinthians 11, in every verse that had to do with head covering, we translated it as wife and not as woman."

So the verse became "but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head." Today, a wedding band identifies a married woman, Grudem notes.

Rebecca Denova, professor of religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh, says Paul is telling the women of Corinth that "if you're going to stand up in church, look like nice, decent, matronly women," and in that time and place, that meant covering your head.

But they were wearing veils "because the culture said to, not because they were Christians," Denova says.

In the USA Today article, Grudem repeats the oft asserted contention that the headcovering was merely a cultural sign in Corinth and that the sign is replicated in the West today by the wearing of a wedding band. A wedding band in no way symbolizes the same thing as a headcovering and few people in any church would view the ring as a symbol of a wife's submission to her husband. A head covering should be indicative of a wife in submission to first her Lord and His commands in His Word and second to her husband as her covenant head. There are lots of married Christian women in churches who have wedding bands on their left hand who are anything but submissive in their recognition of the headship of their husband. Joyce Meyer wears a wedding band on her left hand (I went to her website and looked, I need to repent) and then gets up on stage and "preaches" while her husband dutifully sits in the audience under the teaching, and false teaching at that, of his wife. Even if you question, with some justification, whether Joyce Meyer is a Christian or not, you have to admit that there are plenty of homes where at least the husband has not stepped into leadership in the home and the wife has moved into the vacuum, as well as homes where the husband is cowed by his wife and exhibits no sort of headship at all.

I went to the CBMW webpage regarding headcovering to see if their position had changed. It hasn't. This is a long quote, but I wanted to post in its entirety so I am not accused of selectively quoting them:

Question 32: But doesn't Paul argue for a head covering for women in worship by appealing to the created order in 1 Corinthians 11:13-15? Why is the head covering not binding today while the teaching concerning submission and headship is?

The key question here is whether Paul is saying that creation dictates a head covering or that creation dictates that we use culturally appropriate expressions of masculinity and femininity, which just happened to be a head covering for women in that setting. We think the latter is the case. The key verses are: "Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering" (
1 Corinthians 11:13-15).

How did nature teach that long hair dishonored a man and gave women a covering? Nature has not endowed women with more hair than men. In fact, if nature takes its course, men will have more hair than women because it will cover their face as well as their head. There must be another way that nature teaches on this subject! We believe custom and nature conspire in this pedagogy. On the one hand, custom dictates what hair arrangements are generally masculine or feminine. On the other hand, nature dictates that men feel ashamed when they wear symbols of femininity. We could feel the force of this by asking the men of our churches, "Does not nature teach you not to wear a dress to church?" The teaching of nature is the natural inclination of men and women to feel shame when they abandon the culturally established symbols of masculinity or femininity. Nature does not teach what the symbols should be.

When Paul says that a woman's hair "is given to her for a covering" (v. 15), he means that nature has given woman the hair and the inclination to follow prevailing customs of displaying her femininity, which in this case included letting her hair grow long and drawing it up into a covering for her head. So Paul's point in this passage is that the relationships of manhood and womanhood, which are rooted in the created order (
1 Corinthians 11:7-9), should find appropriate cultural expression in the worship service. Nature teaches this by giving men and women deep and differing inclinations about the use of masculine and feminine symbols.

Set aside the issue that Paul's intro to 1 Corinthians explicitly states that while he is writing to the church in Corinth, his message applies to everyone, everywhere who calls on the name of Christ (see 1 Cor 1: 1-2). The key verses in this section are NOT 13-15, 1 Cor 11: 13-15 build upon the actual key verses of 1 Corinthians 11: 3-10. 13-15 come after and build upon the main point, that the man is the head of the woman, it is disgraceful for a man to cover his head when he prays and for a woman to uncover her head when she prays. Would we apply this and say it is OK for men to wear baseball hats in church while praying? I think not but it is apparently permissible to cavalierly dismiss Paul's admonition as a cultural construct replaced by a wedding ring. A covered head is a sign of submission and modesty, a recognition of the headship of a husband over his wife. That is not a cultural issue, it is a covenant and obedience issue.

The best part of this article is that it points out that the internet, that most modern of inventions, is allowing Christians to find others who are like-minded and support one another in the realization that there are other people out there who have read God's Word, read Paul's admonition and are seeking to live that out. Ironic and a great blessing at the same time!


Randy and April said...

Now that I have seen the truth on this issue, it honestly makes me kind of angry to see people use every manner of excuse to try to get around it. Why? Why are we so threatened by headcovering? I at least have to commend Dr. Grudem for applauding the spirit of headcovering women who simply desire to honor God. Did they address the reference to angels at all? Because honestly, that was the nail in the coffin for me. My husband and I were talking about it last night--about the whole cultural argument in general. If you look back, it's only in the last 50-60 years or so in this country that these things were suddenly no longer cultural. If you look at movies or pictures from the 30s, 40s and 50s (and way before that), you see women covering their heads at least in church, if not always. Have we ever stopped to think that maybe WE are the ones with cultural ties--not 2000 years of church history?

Arthur Sido said...

Bingo! We are at a place when the plain teaching of the Word AND the tradition of the church now must answer and defend itself against the recent cultural trends. It is painfully clear that women are not called upon to cover any longer because to do so would require them to submit to the Word of God instead of the winds of fashion. I actually think a lot of husbands are the cause of women not covering, because they don't want their wives to "look different".

mary montgomery aka greatgranmary said...

I think that what I see in all of these comments is a lack of understanding of Jewish custom and practice when it comes to the issue of headcovering.
Devout male Jews always cover their heads always. They wear a prayer shawl in worship placing it on their heads when Scripture is being read. Jewish women cover their hair because hair is considered erotic.
Corinth was a non Jewish community being evangelized by a Jew. Paul is also struggling with understanding the revelations given him during his 13 yr. period in the desert. How does a Jew tell the world that God has completly bypassed men in bringing the Savior into the world? How does he come to grips with it himself? Paul repeats the creation story here almost like a drunk man repeating what he has always been told then having this nagging reality that "man/Adam/Christ" now came from woman instead of the other way round.The virgin birth turns the creation story on it's head and there is nothing Paul can do about it except to say that in the Lord men and women are interdependent and all things come from God.
So in the worship service and keeping in mind that we are hearing only one side of the phone conversation, Paul speaks assumming that the men are looking like Jews wearing a little beanie on their heads that reminds them that God is their coverand they are accountable to Him, then they wear a shawl over that to signify the Exodus tent of meeting where God and man speak together as friends, and he says the women should be allowed to participate too and to inform the angels of their new authority to pray and prophesy like their brothers the women should add a covering on their heads like their brothers who cover their little hats with a prayer shawl at the worship service.
A recent film shown on PBS called God on Trial is a must see for all christians but will also put the importance of headcovering into it's proper perspective. In the film the men were denied their covering so they used their own hands to cover their heads to pray as they died.
Paul's "gospel" is that we humans are the answer to the question Solomon posed"will God indead dwell on earth among men"? Yes says Paul Christ is in God and God is in Christ and Christ is in us our hope of glory and the best picture we have of this is a little girl all alone on her own said yes to God's plan and held Him whom the universe could not contain in her virginal womb. And to take it one step further, since sin is passed thru the man in Jewish teaching the virgin had to somehow be severed from the the seed of the first Adam, which Catholics call the Immaculate conception. Paul says over and over that we needed a new Adam and never mentions a new Eve. Adam as used by Paul is in the singular--one man sinned one man brought salvation.
Men and women may have differing roles but they are both"in the Lord" according to Paul.They both have the ability to pray and to prophesy and women should be allowed to demonstrate that authority via the covering as a sign that all are one in the Lord, that the creation story has been turned on it's head by the One who told the story in the first place---that's my motivation for covering.

karen said...

The Wedding Ring comparison is so ludicrous. Does that mean that my father and brothers and every other married Christian man is dishonoring Christ by wearing their Wedding Ring in church?
Logic is a bit missing.
That said, I am the only lady I know who covers (although I have seen a couple at church now and then) and I think women should follow their convictions. The problem is most women don't realize enough to have convictions - I surely didn't.

Randy and April said...

Mary, I do not follow Paul (or Apollos or Cephas), but Christ. That being said, Christ said of Paul (Saul at the time, actually) in Acts 9:15: "...This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." If you believe that God is sovereign (which I do), and that He is all-knowing (which I do), then you must believe that He knew Paul's heart and His mind. I believe that if God felt that Paul was misogynistic, or simply caught up in his Jewish culture, he would have chosen a different instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles. Actually, I believe the fact that He chose a prominent Jew to speak His name to the Gentiles, rather than another Gentile, shows that Christ transcends culture, but that is only my own speculation. Anyway, my point is that Christ Himself chose Paul to carry His name. There are actually places where Paul will say, "This is not a command of the Lord, but merely my own opinion." He does not say that here. And if Christ has chosen to speak through Paul, then I will listen to what he says, not because of who Paul is, but because of who he represents.

Also, I can't see how Paul was inviting women to join in with the men in covering their heads--Paul says that men should be UNcovered, which does go against the Jewish culture, if what you're saying is correct (which, to the best of my knowledge, it is). So again we see that this transcends culture.

It is not about the cloth on my head anymore than baptism is about the water itself. It is a symbol of a spiritual reality. (Even if you believe that baptism is more than symbolic, most would agree that it is not the water in and of itself that does the saving, but the Spirit of God working through the water.)

Lanie said...

Traditional Jews cover their heads, out of modesty and as a physical symbol of the sovereignty of G-d. Jewish women vary in their practice, from wigs clearly distinguishable from natural hair, through wigs indistinguishable, hats and scarves that conceal all or part of the hair ... and then there's the in or outside the house question and the all the time versus praying question. There is also the sexual politics issue, which leads to a tension for me between being attracted to the idea that my hair would be so distracting to a man that it should be kept private for my husband and my sense of humor. Ultimately, we need to think about how public we want our witness to be.

Arthur Sido said...

How public our witness should be? I should say we would want it to be very public.

Debbie said...


Just one comment, not really related to the headcovering topic... You have repeatedly stated that 1 Corinthians is explicitly addressed to all the saints. I can see how you read it that way, but that is not how I read it. Verse 2 says "to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours;" The key to me is the "with" (not "and"), which breaks up the groups he is talking about. I think Paul is saying that "all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours" are saints by calling, just like the Christians at Corinth. Otherwise, why is there the phrase "their Lord and ours"? If Paul is addressing every Christian, who is included in the "their"?

Please understand, I'm not trying to say that 1 Corinthians doesn't apply to us today. I'm just saying that verse 2 doesn't explicitly say that it's addressed to us.


Arthur Sido said...


That could be a more natural reading of the text. I would still argue that given the context of 1 Cor 11, coupled with the intro to the book, the headcovering issue is couched primarily in covenant, creation order and headship terms. Paul makes no mention of the culture in his admonition, indeed his statements are making a universal claim on the order between men and women and Christ.

I need to look over the intro again, I may be misapplying it.

Anonymous said...

Debbie, I have noticed that it does read differently, depending on your translation (one reason I am not a fan of having so many English translations--you can pick the one that lines up with your view to prove your point. But I digress...). For me, even if verse 2 does not address the letter to all Christians in all places and times, I still go back to the fact that Paul is Christ's chosen instrument to carry His message to the Gentiles, so we at least have to say that this was binding for the Corinthians. What gets me, is that he doesn't say, as Dr. Grudem asserts, that women should cover and men should not because it is a "culturally appropriate expression of masculinity and femininity." I understand where he comes to that conclusion--I don't think he's an idiot or anything--I just disagree with him. Paul appeals to creation, and to the order of God, Christ, man, and woman, and he references angels. None of those things are specific to any one culture. If he had only mentioned the part about long hair, without mentioning creation order or angels, I'd be inclined to be more open to Dr. Grudem's interpretation. But as it stands, I cannot see how the changing of the worldly culture (which, in this case, has only happened in the last 50-60 years or so) should change why we cover our heads. After all, we are not of this world. Our "culture" is not found in any nation or ethnicity, but in a Kingdom.

Arthur Sido said...

April that is very well said. I think you hit the nail on the head that even 1 Cor 1 aside, there is nothing in what Paul wrote that implies it is culturally based, indeed what he appeals to are more universal themes of creation, male headship, etc.

If I may speak for Debbie (and I know her so I do feel free to do so!), I think her primary concern is that I don't misapply Paul's greeting, a concern that I appreciate. Debbie often corrects me when I overstate things, as I am wont to do on occasion!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree--hope I didn't come across as argumentative, Debbie. Just wanted to say that you're right--that particular verse may or may not mean what we think it means. Just wanted to reiterate that even if it doesn't, I think the issue is still relevant today. :o)

Debbie said...

Yup, Arthur's right. I wasn't trying to say anything about the headcovering issue - I just dislike hearing/seeing people potentially overstating (exaggerating) what scripture says. Jumping to conclusions in almost any area drives me nuts.

I'm not saying that the whole area of headcovering as discussed on this blog is wrong or misapplied, either. I have a lot more studying to do on the issue, and to be honest, it's not an area in which God is convicting me. (Not that it's unimportant; guess He sees some other things that I need to focus on right now....) And I'm not one who thinks we get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to apply to our lives. I believe every word has come down to us in accordance with God's will. (Even if different versions use different words. Often makes me wish I could read and understand the original languages.)

(who is wondering if the first line in my post is going to cause Arthur to mark this day on his calendar...)