Yesterday I glanced up from my shopping to see a young, very pregnant woman in front of me. What instantly set her apart from every other woman I’ve seen in the past year was the small, white cotton cap on her head. She also wore a simple dress and sensible shoes. I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if she was Mennonite or Amish. (Hutterite women also cover their heads, but if I recall correctly their coverings are more like a scarf and are black.) What struck me as ironic was the fact that not ten feet from her was a young woman in torn denim shorts, a black tank top and flip flops. Her uncovered head was adorned with dyed black hair and several places on her body were tattooed. Only in America!
The image of those women stayed with me yesterday afternoon and I did a little research on the practice of women covering their heads, especially for worship. Ironic too, that much of the business research I’ve been doing lately for my book involves the many millinery dealers in Caddo. “Hat ladies” were plentiful in the early days of Caddo and they stayed very busy supplying the needs of fashionable women.
The “covered head” has been controversial in Christian circles forever. When I was a child I was quite aware of it because I grew up and went to school in predominantly Catholic communities in California. I could almost quote 1 Corinthians 11:5. But while my peers and their mothers covered their heads because of tradition and Biblical admonition, my own relatives covered theirs as a bow to fashion. After all, I grew up in the shadow of Jackie Kennedy, the hat queen! My grandmother had a whole shelf in her closet set aside for hats- most in the pillbox style with a little veil. I could not wait until I was old enough to wear one too.
As a teenager I wore a hat, and gloves, to church and for some special occasions. The hat department was my favorite at the local department store. Most of the women in our church wore hats. Then as the sixties ended the popularity of hats seemed to wane. I still wore one on sunny days in the garden, but less and less often to church or anywhere else.
So it took me back to see the young woman in her little white head covering. I know that she wore it because her commitment to her beliefs and lifestyle requires it. And that made me question my own beliefs about the role of dress in worship services. Do I think God cares if my head is covered? Frankly, no, I don’t. Like many practices of the first Christians this one fits the culture of Biblical times and not ours. But the underlying principle is sound: respect for God and humility in service to Him.
I think that in order to put 1 Corinthians 11:5 into perspective you have to go back to 10:23, “Everything is permissible”- but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”- but not everything is constructive. and also 10:31-32, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God- So while I don’t wear a hat or veil to church, I might wear one if I was visiting a church where it was accepted and expected practice, so as not to offend anyone or call attention to myself.
Paul goes on to address several other areas of orderly conduct in worship. I think his overall intent wasn’t to nit-pick every aspect of service, but to remind Christians of the reason they worshipped together in the first place. My biggest complaint about Christian friends is that they often get so involved in arguing over one little verse in the Bible that they completely overlook God’s message of love and compassion. We have free will; let’s try to use it wisely!