I’m sure a number of people wonder why it is that an educated woman like myself would choose to cover. Surely, after seven years of liberal theological education, I would not be so retrograde as to adopt a way of life and dress so – conservative. And conservative, to many moderns, of the worst kind, associated with lack of education, even ignorance. It’s a step backward, even a blow to progressive thought.
I’m not a progressive. I’m more likely post-post-modern. I reject the ephemera of culture.
Paul, in I Corinthians, scolds that church for their innovations in meeting. Perhaps they are trying to incorporate practices from pagan worship; perhaps they are being flamboyant in some way. (One writer, Thomas Cahill, speculates that that there might even be some cross-dressing. I can see his point; some of the Corinthians may have been attracted to a community where the outcasts were accepted. Paul needs to explain to them they have to give up their old ways, though.) Paul tells the men to uncover their heads in worship – could they have been imitating pious Pharisees and draping themselves dramatically in their tallit? Or worse, were some of them wearing women’s shawls to cover elaborately dressed hair? In Corinth, it was probably the latter. And some of the women were cutting their hair short like men, and refusing to cover, as modest women almost always did. Paul emphasizes that the covering is an honour given women (much as Moses veiled his face after meeting with YHWH), probably as a way to admit them into the assembly with the men. If they start throwing off their coverings, what next? Paul knows that men and women mixing in the ecclesia will scandalize the synagogue.
Both men and women are to be modest, plain in dress, and to reject cultural ostentation. They are to dedicate themselves to the way of the Lord, not some worldly way of living.
Christians today certainly struggle with that issue. Who can pick out a group of Christians in the mall, or at a theatre? Most Christians in our culture buy into that culture, literally. We look worldly, act worldly, dress worldly. There is little to say, “We’ve found a better way.” And although Christians invented the word “Charity” to mean inclusion, kindness and generosity to the poor, we are as caught up in the cycle of spending and debt as the rest of society. We have little to give, so millions around the globe are hungry, sick, and desperate.
This is the prophecy of headcovering: Paul had no clue that he was speaking to us. He thought he was trying to get the Corinthians back in line. But his strong words to them, to live as Christ lived – simply, modestly, generously – are words to us. And we need to demonstrate that Way and Paul’s prophecy to the rest of the world. They, including the churches, have lost direction. I hear preaching and see the printed word telling Christians that God will bless them with goods, with worldly prosperity – not with the persecutions and trials that Jesus warned about. Christianity is not a cargo cult.
I am not concerned about proving that God wants women to cover, or that He wants us to be modest and counter-cultural. The teaching of the Bible is that we are to do these things; the reasons haven’t gone away just because we are somehow better educated. Our witness is against the prince of this world and his evil. One of Satan’s lies is that everything has changed, that what was wrong before is right now, because we are moderate, intelligent, enlightened people. God save us from this falsehood, that the dimming of our reason is the same as enlightenment!
It doesn’t matter if we are male or female, old or young, highly educated or barely literate; the Lord has called us all to witness in every place. The world, drifted so far from His Way, needs the sharp surprise of the visual witness - the modest, Plain, simple Christian.
If we walk in His Light, we can see the error of the world. And should we not warn others that they are stumbling in the dark?