Being Plain is ordinary for both my husband and me. We made the decision together. I am more obviously Plain, but that is expected since I wear a Mennonite style prayer cap and the old-fashioned traditional clothes of the Plain sects. His clothing doesn’t draw as much notice, unless he is out on the street in the Plain black brimmed hat. Nicholas and I are both dedicated Christians, both Anglican priests, and we have well-matched views on everything from theology to finances.
I am finding that many couples are not so well-yoked. I hear particularly from women who find that their husbands just aren’t walking with them on this path. I’m sure that there are husbands in the predicament, but my ministry is to women drawn to traditional ways of Christian life.
One point of our tradition is that the husband (or father) is the head of the household. When decisions in the family are not mutual, then his decision is the final one. And that leaves some women in a quandary. They believe that they are called to follow the Biblical injunctions of modesty and humility handed down from the early church, but their spouses do not approve or support that decision. What are they to do?
My advice is to follow their husbands’ wishes. Gentle-spirited obedience is a wifely virtue, and that willingness may even sway him to see the wife’s point of view. If he opposes the wearing of the prayer cap, or any headcover, it is best to agree. The opportunity will come to show the righteousness of her conviction, but it may take some time.
I’m going to add a caveat here, as I often do. A broken heart and fear are not gentle submission. Threats from a spouse are not acceptable. And a woman has a right to her modesty. A spouse who wants to control what the partner wears, even if it is against his or her taste and desire, is too controlling. Counseling and support from a competent person are necessary then. I have seen this particularly in the case of women who find that their husbands dictate what they wear, not because they are unacceptably immodest, but because the women’s taste is too quiet and traditional for the lifestyle the men think they should have. Women are not possessions, dolls to be dressed up and paraded around, like some young guy with a new car.
Some husbands are wary of the headcover in particular. They may not want to be viewed as belonging to what they see as a rigid religious group. They may not want to be singled out as different. They may belong to mainline churches that frown upon or even openly disapprove of such outward symbols of Christian faithfulness. They don’t want themselves or their wives to be mistaken for something they are not.
Some men are proud of how their wives look. They enjoy the feminine beauty, perhaps like to show off their wives a bit. It’s a bit of an ego trip to them. Are they afraid that other men will disapprove, even laugh at them, if they are out in public with this Plain woman? Will they look hopelessly old-fashioned and unsophisticated?
I’m sure people make all sorts of assumptions about us. They think we don’t know how to work computers, automatic tellers, or other modern conveniences. My innate distrust and distaste for these devices probably reinforces that attitude! We get a fair number of stares in shopping districts and even grocery stores. Some are a little hostile, but most are just curious. My sister-in-law says that we get better service in stores, government offices and restaurants because staff expect us to be friendly and easy-going. (This is true.) Since moving from the other city in Ontario where we used to live, people have been kinder and friendlier.
When we were in our previous city, my husband became somewhat troubled that I seemed to be a target of unkind remarks and even hostility. He worried about my safety. (A near hit-and-run reinforced that worry.) He asked me to stop wearing the head cover. I did for a short while, but when I asked if I could go back to it, and he realized how convicted I was in the Spirit to do so, he completely agreed. I was willing to take the possible abuse and hostility. I was called to that witness, and it was painful to my soul to let it go.
Husbands who are not believers may have trouble understanding that. Perhaps wives who wish to cover can find an analogy to help them. The cover in itself is a strong message about Christian faith, about sober-mindedness and about womanly maturity. It really says, “I am dedicated to God and my husband”, more so than a wedding ring. Plain, covered head and sober, modest clothes tell the world that a woman expects to be taken seriously.
We are not to be afraid of our Christian witness. I believe that all Christians are called to represent themselves as such, in the ways the New Testament tells us. We are to follow Jesus as Lord, God and Saviour. He calls us to holy poverty and total dedication, to a life of service and humility: Not just a few of us, but all of us. The apostles called us to express ourselves publicly as Christians in what we do and how we appear, in ways that are faithful to God’s plan for creation. Men are to look like men, women like women. Men should not wear effeminate hairstyles nor women’s clothing. Women are to wear their hair long, and dress in women’ clothes, and they are to cover their heads in an act of submission to Christ. I believe we are to do this all the time, not just for church. How we have come so far from that standard so quickly is frightening. We see it every day -women who have cut off their hair and wear pants, like men; men who style their hair and fuss over their complexion and clothing like the silliest of young women.
The modest dresses and headcovers of Plain women are a quiet reminder that God had expected something else from His creation rather than sinfulness. We are obedient not just to husbands and fathers because they are men, but we are obedient to God and the Way of Christ. Our earthly obedience is synbolic of our spiritual obedience. Wives, obey thy husbands; husbands love thy wives, as Christ loves His Church.