Follow-up thoughts on head coverings…

I feel blessed to have a pastor who occasionally visits my blog! Mike recently read my post on head coverings and I Corinthians 11. I thought he had really good feedback and caused me to think about some new aspects of the issue. For example, I now feel more comfortable viewing my long hair as a covering and may choose to wrap my hair up on my head if I don’t feel like wearing my scarf (although I love my scarf – lovely light blue embroidered silk from Vietnam). I definitely agree that the focus is on a woman developing a submissive spirit and the demeanor of servanthood.

Here is some of what he had to say:

I am so grateful that it is your heart’s desire to submit yourself to all that the Lord has in His Word…. that being said the idea of the head covering has been read in a few different ways (you may know the discussion).  The covering of the head and the length of the hair seems to me to have been invariably tied together as referenced by the “cutting off of the hair” comments for a woman who prays or prophesies without a covering.  V. 15 goes so far as to say that the long hair is given the woman “as a covering.”

Therefore, my best reading of the text is that the “covering of the head” was a reference to the way in which the hair would be wrapped back over the top of the head as a certain kind of covering.  A couple of examples of this kind of impropriety that was perceived to accompany a “nonsubmissive woman” might be the woman in Numbers 5:18 who has her hair “loosened” as part of the test of her fidelity to her husband as well as what was culturally perceived to be the scandalous activity of the “woman with a sinful past” in Luke 7 who “let down her hair” and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and tears.

I think the point for me is that there is a universal principle of a submissive spirit that is a beautiful thing for women in light of God’s economy of servanthood, being highly cherished in a community where sin is truly put off and greatness reserved for those who love and cherish servanthood and submission.  That being said, in our world these days, … there are very few, if any, cultural markers that actually work to indicate this sort of beauty.  In our day, the broader culture just doesn’t understand the value of submission from a Kingdom perspective.  In  a word, wearing the hair in a certain way does nothing more than communicate “hairstyle,” unlike the 1st century world.  It seems to me the very closest equivalent to a “submissive spirit” for our day must be primarily demeanor-driven.  I wish it were more concrete than that; however, I find the pluralistic world in which we live and the confluence of the multiple symbols and icons that convey multiple meanings to us in our day make it very difficult for us to ask women of Christ to: 1) wear their hair in a certain way or 2) if one concludes this to be some sort of covering (which I don’t), to wear a covering as a mark of obedience to the text of 1Cor. 11.

Head Coverings Links

Thanks to the Those Headcoverings blog for linking to my most recent post. Those Headcoverings is a blog discussing headcoverings of all kinds: Christian, Jewish, Islamic, and nonreligious. For those interested, there is also a link on that blog to the Called to Cover webring for Christian women who have felt the Holy Spirit’s leading to cover their head.

As women created in His image, may we continue to be led by the Holy Spirit in all that we do!

Head Coverings: Taking I Corinthians 11 Seriously

For those who have known me for awhile, this may be a surprise…

I have recently started covering my head during prayer at church.

This decision came after looking closely at Scripture, a lot of prayer, and many discussions with my husband. I feel like writing about this because I am interested in what other women have to say – women who are already covering their heads, women who would never even consider covering their heads, and women who are just interested in engaging in the conversation with me.

I should preface by saying that I grew up in a family with a very strong “female” presence and I learned feminism from my mother. She grew up in the 1950s, got married and had children early, and looked on as women across the country burned their bras, marched for the Equal Rights Amendment, and fought for reproductive choice. I know that she has always wondered what her life would have been like if she would have grown up in a big city, gone to college, and been part of the feminist movement. But in her own small way she instilled feminist ideals in me. I remained a feminist activist well into adulthood, taking classes in Women’s Studies in college, marching for choice, working for Planned Parenthood, etc. But things have slowly been changing since my relationship with Christ was reconciled about 8 years ago.

I believe that there is the world’s definition of feminism, and there is God’s definition of feminism. I believe that if we claim that God’s word contains everything we need to know about living in this world according to God’s will and God’s design, then He has everything to say about who women are, our nature, our role and place in the world, and how He plans to bless us as His unique creatures. But that’s the subject of another post…

What does I Corinthians 11 have to say about women covering their heads? It says this:

(3) But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
(4) Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, (5) but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.
(6) For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head.
(7) For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.
(8) For man was not made from woman, but woman from man.
(9) Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.
(10) That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
(11) Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; (12) for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.
(13) Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? (14) Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, (15) but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering.

The Greek word for “head” used in all of these verses is kephale, literally meaning a person or animal’s head and metaphorically meaning anything supreme, chief, or prominent (a husband in relation to his wife; Christ as Lord of the husband and the church). (Thayer’s)  God is the head of Christ, Christ is the head of man, and the husband is the head of the wife. The Greek word for “cover” is katakalupto, meaning to cover up or to veil or cover oneself wholly. (Thayer’s)

Men should not cover their heads, since they are the image and glory of God and covering their heads would dishonor the One who is supreme over them (God). Women are called upon to cover their heads because they are under the authority of man, and to have their heads uncovered would dishonor the one who is supreme over them (husband). The head covering is the symbol of this authority.

So why am I choosing to cover my head during prayer? I believe that no part of God’s Word is void of meaning or significance. I don’t believe that this part of the Word is simply “cultural” or has been over-ruled by the modern feminist movement. I believe that there is blessing in this practice.

Will I forever continue to cover my head during prayer? Not sure yet. But I am confident of this: God is aware of what we do and the intention of our hearts. My only goal is to learn more about Him and thereby learn more about myself as a woman created in his image. I hope that by choosing to walk with God in a certain manner, even for a season, I will receive His blessing and experience His majesty.

Christian & feminist: not mutually exclusive

Issues of Christian feminism have been on my mind over the last several days. A friend of mine posted a blog entry recently regarding an article in our local newspaper about an academic program in homemaking being offered at Southwestern Baptist theological seminary. She included the following quote: Coursework will include seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation, seven hours of textile design and “clothing construction,” three hours of general homemaking, three hours on “the value of a child” and three hours on the “biblical model for the home and family”… Women also study children’s spiritual, physical and emotional development.

There were several comments on her blog entry, one of which noted that this particular program is open only to women, and the issue really got me thinking about the realities and challenges of this type of college-level course of study in today’s post-feminist world.

I consider myself a Christian feminist. These two words together may cause some evangelical Christian women I know to bristle, but it has never been a difficult issue for me. I’ve considered myself a feminist ever since I thought I knew what the word meant, thanks in part to my mother and the lively conversations we have had over the years concerning reproductive choice, women in the workplace, and women’s rights. I understand that many traditional elements of feminism don’t necessarily jive with what God tells us about the roles he has designed for both men and women, but that doesn’t mean to me that the notion of feminism or the fundamentals of feminist thought should be abandoned by Christian women. I think that Christian women can, and should, negotiate the definitions of feminism and find our own niche where we can address the issues that are important to us — issues that I think are very “feminist.”

First, the issue of the program in homemaking at Southwestern Baptist. How awesome that a seminary would recognize homemaking as a career path, worthy of inclusion in the curriculum and all the work that goes into defining course content, objectives, and outcomes. I think that this type of recognition is important and negates the notion that homemaking is a leisurely, uncomplicated undertaking prompting the thought, “Oh, she’s so lucky! All she has to do is stay at home with her kids all day while her husband goes to work!” People thinking that have clearly never seen the packed schedules, overflowing day planners, multiple to-do lists, cluttered homeschool classrooms, and piles of laundry and dishes belonging to some of the blessed homemakers I know.

I will never forget when my aunt referred to herself as a “household manager” instead of a homemaker or housewife. Amen! If one can major in business management in college, then I am all for a major in household management. Let’s just recognize that both men and women should be able to enroll in this type of program as I believe that God desires both genders to be caregivers and to do this job well.

Second, the issue of the definitions of feminism. I heard a great interview with Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and wife of congressman Sherrod Brown, on yesterday’s edition of Fresh Air on National Public Radio. Schultz discussed the challenges of campaigning, becoming a “Senator’s wife,” and situations in which she found herself that challenged her feminist nature. One issue in particular was being told at a gathering of Senator’s wives how they could order “Senate china” if they wanted. She was shocked that the women would be having this discussion in light of the critical issues related to war, terrorism, domestic poverty, and crime that their husbands would be tackling in their new jobs. Schultz went on to comment about the fact that today’s young women are hesitant to call themselves feminists because of the commonly accepted idea that being a feminist means neglecting home and family for career. Schultz believes, and I agree, that nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism is, and always has been, about choices and being able to make those choices.

Christian women should have a vital interest in securing choices about very important issues: affordable housing, the condition of schools and quality of teachers, securing reliable daycare, ensuring health insurance coverage for their children, continuity of family medical care from physicians in HMOs, protecting our children from predators and pornography on the Internet, etc. I would argue that these issues and many others are both Christian and feminist.

I think that ideally we would discuss and be in prayer with our husbands about these issues, mutually supporting each other as we strive to better live both in this world and in God’s image. You never know, you might find your husband calling himself a Christian feminist. Stranger things have been known to happen.