Monday, January 22, 2007
Headcoverings, Part 5: Cultural Issues
If nothing else, I established in my earlier posts at least the possibility that Paul’s command concerning headcoverings was grounded in his theology of men and women rather than in some cultural norm. In fact, given the way this text is written and what we know of first-century Corinthian culture, it appears that Paul’s commands are in striking contrast to the culture.
Now, moving on as if I was able to establish some universal principles in just three short posts, I want to look at how to apply these principles in our day. I’m now interacting with those who have agreed with my reading up until this point, but would not require women to where a headcovering when praying today. This includes me, since I’ve never required Leslie to wear a headcovering while praying.
The best argument I’ve seen against applying Paul’s teaching is that headcoverings no longer communicate the same thing in our culture as they did in that day. They argue that in our day, if a woman was asked to wear a headcovering during prayer, she would feel subhuman and oppressed. All would agree that this certainly wasn’t Paul’s objective. So they argue, the principle stands but its application should be different.
I’ve seen four alternative applications for this passage. Some have argued wearing a wedding ring is a sufficient application. Others, like Dr. Daniel Wallace, argue that when women wear dresses they are fulfilling this command. The problem with both of these solutions is that neither of them speaks to the heart of the theology that Paul has grounded this tradition in. Wedding rings and dresses simply do not represent submission to authority in any way for those in our culture.
Another interesting proposal that I’ve come across is that of taking a wife’s taking the last name of her husband. This approach seems a bit stronger to me, at least in light of the feminist push to abandon such practice, but I still don’t see how this communicates submission to a husband’s authority in any meaningful way to our culture. The other problem is that this application misses the visible nature of Paul’s tradition. Paul passed on a tradition that was visible to the world and to the angels; one which could be seen by all.
This brings me back to the headcovering itself. Despite the fact that some criticize headcoverings as a miscommunication of Paul’s intent in our day, it seems to me that headcoverings come closest to actually accomplishing all that Paul intended. It is visible. It communicates submission like no other visible act could. I find it simply unbelievable that some say that a headcovering “doesn’t communicate submission in our day.” If for no other reason, because of the Bible’s pervasive use in our culture, everyone knows exactly what is being communicated when a woman wears a headcovering.
I’m reminded about Paul’s command to men to “lift up holy hands in prayer.” I wonder if he were pressed as to why the hands needed to be raised, if he wouldn’t have given a similar reason: “because of the angels.” Women, cover your heads when you pray, because of the angels. Men, lift up your hands when you pray, because of the angels!
The last application that I’ve come across, and likely the strongest, sees long hair as the covering that is required by Paul. There are some textual issues that need to be addressed with this one, so I’ll try to work through this one in another post.
Above: The Four Patriarchs, Arches National Park: Moab, Utah