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women covering heads?

Posted: Fri Jan 03, 2014 7:57 pm
by mumblessed
Something I've been challenged with for a while in 1Corinthians 11:7-10 about women covering their heads whilst praying and prophesying. I know of one local church who uphold this but the majority don't - any ideas why it isn't usually practised now?

I feel I should do as I feel convicted to, but don't really want to stick out like a sore thumb or be subject to gossip - on the other hand if it's God that's put this on my heart then I really shouldn't ignore it and just get on!

I'd appreciate any theological discussion please!

women covering heads?

Posted: Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:44 pm
by Ros
Hi mumblessed :)

Interesting topic. Years ago, I attended a house church where all the women wore head coverings during worship (in the form of a simple scarf tied round the hair). It was a church in which male headship was taken very seriously and women were not allowed to speak out a prayer or prophetic word unless they wore one.

At the same time, I was part of a university Christian group. Within this group, the wearing of scarves during prayer and worship ended up becoming a symbol of whether or not you had charismatic leanings, due to its association with this particular church. As a result, it became a source of contention within the group - and eventually division. To this day, I'm not at all sure that wearing a head covering was truly honouring to God in this case. I think those outside saw it more as the mark of a superiority complex. We live and learn...

In answer to your question about the custom dying out in churches, I think that probably has to do with the question of male headship. In recent years, a lot of Christian men and women have wanted to distance themselves from any teaching that encourages people to demean the gifts, calling and even the full humanity of women. For example, it has been suggested by some in favour of male headship that women covering their heads was symbolic of covering their sin (1 Tim 2:11-14), making them inferior to men who (in Christ) have no sin to cover!

Biblical interpreters have also seen head covering as a cultural thing - something relevant to a particular time and place - and hence no longer applicable to modern women. It has been argued, for example, that it was normal for Jewish women to cover their heads in public at that time. Similarly, it has been argued that uncovering the head during worship was seen as dishonourable because pagan women did this.

I don't know how much truth there is in these claims since Paul makes no mention of them. However, it does seem to me that the "rightness" or not of wearing a head covering might depend on how it is seen. What does the covering symbolise? Again, Paul is largely silent on that. He gives no explanation as to why covering a man's head dishonours it, yet covering a woman's head honours it! This suggests to me that his hearers knew something about head coverings that we do not.

Nonetheless, I find the whole thing quite fascinating. Jewish men, for example, now cover their heads in order to show that they live a life of prayer. Men, not women. In Amish culture, it's the women who wear them:

http://www.ohiosamishcountry.com/articl ... lture.html

In the Old Testament, both men and women are seen covering their heads as a mark of humility or respect. For example:

Elijah: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?se ... sion=NIVUK

Rebekah: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?se ... sion=NIVUK

So it would be interesting to know whether the custom described by Paul applied to all the women present at worship or just those leading in prayer or giving a prophetic word?

For myself, if I were going to cover my head now, I'd probably think of it as a symbol of humility/awe before God, rather than as a mark of gender/submission. As such, it would not be something I'd want to do all the time because then it might become too easy and hence lose it's significance.

On the other hand, if I were doing it as a sign to others, rather than as something for myself, I think I *would* want to wear it all the time. The attractive side of the Jewish custom, in my view, is the sense that prayer is lived 24/7. So if those around me understood it in this sense, rather than just as an odd thing to do, I might consider it worth doing. But then there is the challenge as to whether my life truly reflects the sign?!

It's an interesting one. There's more on the reformed Jewish view here: http://news.reformjudaism.org.uk/assemb ... rings.html

What would be your reasons for wearing a head covering, if you were to do so?

women covering heads?

Posted: Sat Jan 04, 2014 10:49 pm
by Jae
my understanding of this is that it is of the time and place or custom/culture of that time rather than there being theological reasons for covering women's heads though I would concede to more accurate knowledge or learning.

I was told that Paul said this in order to protect women from criticism ... not very equal opportunity ! but I think Paul must have been feeling his way with an awful lot of new insights and revelation about the nature of God.

women covering heads?

Posted: Sun Jan 05, 2014 9:58 am
by rolyn
I too find this an interesting topic esp. as head covering is by no means confined to Christian practice . Take for example head covering , or indeed whole body covering of women in the Islamic tradition.

Personally I think these traditions have arisen over the issue of sexual attraction . A
clue to this could be Paul's other instructions forbidding women to style their hair or wear jewelry when attending worship .
This also takes us into the highly contentious area of the female being viewed as the temptress, and males not being entirely responsible for their actions if they fall for a woman who exploits her attractiveness .

women covering heads?

Posted: Sun Jan 05, 2014 2:00 pm
by Isobel
When we visited Syria a few years ago it was pointed out to us as we drove through a village that the women wearing headscarves were Christians not Muslims (it was a Christian village), although the headscarves looked very similar. There wasn't much explanation of why they were worn but we were told it was a cultural rather than religious tradition.
In former years I think it was customary in the UK for women to wear hats to (Anglican) church on Sunday and for men to take their hats off when they went into church. I'm not sure if this relates to Paul's teaching or was more to do with dressing up on a Sunday. Some older ladies I know still wear hats to church, but I have never asked them what their reasons are. Women still often wear hats or a token head decoration of some sort to weddings - again, not sure if this tradition is to do with dressing up or has any deeper significance.

women covering heads?

Posted: Sun Jan 05, 2014 5:19 pm
by Beth
When I lived in Italy for a while, as part of my degree course and as an au pair, I would cover up before going into churches. I visited them pretty much daily and became aware quite quickly of other visitors, particularly religious orders, of which there were many, and pilgrims, who were likewise dressed for an English summer. To me, this was a mark of community, rather than a token I'd have been unwelcome if dressed otherwise. I'm not a Roman Catholic, and don't agree with male headship within the church on the whole, however, when in Rome..!

Tradition is clearly of the greatest significance to the Catholic churches. A factor that may not be as relevant to other denominations, saving the Orthodox faiths. In the historic pictorial representations displayed in many Italian churches today costume is important, and I can understand why, for some religious faiths, it's considered provident to preserve special dress codes for the sake of those who practice.

I'd guess that outward visual signifiers of community are more significant to
non-literate and poly-lingual cultures who document faith non-alphabetically. Therefore, headcovering, or any idiosyncrasy, could equally be a status symbol or an unnecessary barrier to full and fair interaction, depending upon interpretation (which is no less important in alphabetic cultures).

In most parts of India the veil was worn predominantly by middle class women, just as the habit and the hood were callings taken up by mostly middle class women and men. In all three of these examples headwear arguably signalled separateness economically as well as within the religious dimension.

Unfortunately we associate uniforms these days with armies, nationalism, and now, internationalism. These highly proscriptive forms of dress didn't arise until after the Enlightenment. Religious headcoverings are akin to folk costume, I think. Another reason I'd be disinclined to wear them, though my reasons here are political rather than religious. I'm too much a liberal to wish to be tribal.

I'd be interested to hear what you decide to do if you experiment with head garments, and how it affects your spiritual life, if at all. An interesting read with respect to Jewish male headcovering is "On Account of a Hat" by short story writer Sholem Aleichem. The Jewish Book Centre have a wonderful reading with commentary: http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/audio/ ... aleichem-0

Sorry this reply is so massive. You've pressed my art history buttons!

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 06, 2014 2:40 am
by Pam
I haven't yet read it, but Rachel Held Evan's book A Year of Biblical Womanhood has had really good reviews - she looked at what the bible says a woman should do and did it!

In terms of head covering and other culturally specific things in the bible, I think it's an individual choice really.

I think I'd need to do quite an in depth study of 1 Corinthians 11 to unpick the meaning about who is head of who and uncovered heads being shameful to women and covered heads being shameful to men. But it does seem to have to do with order and authority in the church.

I can't think of any item of clothing that would seem wrong if worn by a man but correct if worn by a woman. I suppose the closest I can come to it is thinking that it used to be regarded as rather outrageous if women wore trousers even if they were in a job where a skirt was impractical - because trousers were for men. But I don't think St Paul mentioned trousers so that probably isn't much help!

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 06, 2014 4:25 pm
by Ernest
I can recall from my Catholic childhood that all women and girls were expected to have their head covered in Church and there was a huge market in Lace Mantila's designed for that purpose.

I can also recall as a boy being required to always wear a shirt and tie for Mass or other services, and when I was an altar server we were rigorously inspected for hands, finger nails, shoes etc being clean, even though most was covered by a cassock and surplice. No wonder I stopped doing that as soon as I was able.

After Vatican II (Pope John Paul I) things changed a lot. For a start services in the vernacular became the norm and women were liberated to some extent to do a wider range of things in Church. For the first time I saw female as Altar servers and as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist, roles previously a male province.

And recent Masses that I've attended demonstrate that change, but the Patriarchal attitude of some Catholic Clergy seems alive and well. Albeit, most I've met have been almost Anglican in their approach to things.

I'm sure that there's lots of cultural associations with females covering their head in church, which might have some meaning, but I'm afraid that it escapes me. :blink:

I take the view that God's not worried about the external appearance, it's the colours and shades of our inner spiritual lives that concerns him. :whistle:

women covering heads?

Posted: Tue Jan 07, 2014 6:00 pm
by Richard11
While agreeing that there is an awful lot of culture behind clothing worn (or not worn), isn't the question here really about "what does God command"? And if God does command that women cover their heads in prayer - why?

If we look at the "rules" in the Bible they seem to be based on the premise that they are good things to do (do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery) in terms of having good relationships with others. What they don't do (and I'm happy for you to point some out if I've missed them) is make arbitrary rules based on the supposed whim of God.

So on that basis, for a woman to wear a hat/head covering to church/prayer becomes beneficial if:
• It means something to her
• It avoids upsetting her neighbours

But unless God is just an arbitrary rule maker I can't see why it is necessary to cover your head.

Another thought: While women are able to attend (most) churches either wearing or not wearing head coverings, the only way a man can go to church wearing a hat is to become a bishop. If a man is walking down the road wearing a hat he is quite happy to pray to God as he walks, but upon entering a church will take off his hat. More to do with culture than God I think.

women covering heads?

Posted: Wed Jan 08, 2014 8:29 pm
by mumblessed
Thank you to all so far for your in depth replies. I really think it is an interesting topic to ponder upon.

I'm still a little confused as to why women have to have a sign of authority "because of the angels". I know it's partly about the split of the angels when Satan was expelled from The Heavens and that man has a higher ranking (for want of a better word) than the angels - but I'm not sure how a woman wearing a head covering would help to show this to the angels?

It's also interesting to read that man is the image and glory of God but that woman is the glory of man - that in itself could be the subject of a dissertation!

I talk to God throughout the day and practically can't wear a head covering all day so would I justify covering my head "because of the angels" when I'm praying in church - or would it be seen as pretentious in a non head covering church?

In the past I'd thought women covering their heads in Paul's time was because long hair was seen as a symbol of sexuality and that wouldn't be any more appropriate than skimpy clothes would now - but to me it doesn't seem to be alluding that or why refer to the angels?

Questions questions!

women covering heads?

Posted: Fri Jan 10, 2014 5:57 pm
by Joe Parrish
Like Pam, I also would want to see a word analysis of this passage about women and the angels. My one thought which may be far from the mark is that there are good angels and there are bad angels; the bad ones I presume will try to tempt us to mischief and will use anything, even hair, to do that. In spite of what those angels do, when we see someone across the room and think 'maybe God is calling me to leave my spouse and take up with them,' that is not God suggesting that, so we are to resist--'save us from the time of trial' is what we pray in the Lord's Prayer.
Peace and blessings,
Joe :)

women covering heads?

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:17 am
by rolyn
If we are to assume some of Paul's teachings seem 'oppressive' towards women, (I know many, both male and female, do not read them that way ), then I suppose we must look at the historical development of Christianity .

Jesus didn't seem to be making any special stipulations to His female followers even though he was operating in a male superiority environment . However when Paul took up the baton he was keen, ultimately, to take the new Faith to Rome .

I might be wrong but was a bit of a case of when in Rome speak Roman ? We know that Roman society had attitudes towards women not dissimilar to our recent past , so Paul's Christian practice no doubt had these things in mind when making his statements on what women could and couldn't do.

women covering heads?

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2014 9:59 pm
by mumblessed
So is the general consensus that it's more of a cultural thing of the times rather than to do with the angels looking down on us - the church - as the bride of Christ?

God used the angels in the old testament for Israel's benefit and regularly as messengers but since Jesus came to save us sinners, and the Holy Spirit was sent, the angels haven't been used so prolifically here on earth but are maybe watching with interest how God, through the Holy Spirit, is working in the church with His bride to go and serve? (No disrespect meant here regarding angels what so ever.)

Maybe we should be the best representatives of God's church that we can be to the angels - and women cover our heads amongst other things? Could that be what is meant by "Because of the angels" or am I reading too much into it?

I really appreciate this discussion and all your replies as it's something I've been challenged with for a while but before I take the plunge I feel I need to get the reasoning clear in my head as I don't want to appear to be anti gender equality. I respect all views expressed here and thank you for trying to help clear my fog!

(Pam - I've just received a copy of "A year of biblical womanhood" and can't wait to sink my teeth into it!)

women covering heads?

Posted: Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:29 pm
by Jae
you might be interested in this mumble ....

http://www.doxa.ws/social/Women/veil2.html

I think it gives a reasonable view and it specifically addresses the part about angels.

It also argues that the passage is misinterpreted and should more accurately say or ask that ''women should have authority over their own heads''

women covering heads?

Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:42 am
by Joe Parrish
Jae wrote:you might be interested in this mumble ....

http://www.doxa.ws/social/Women/veil2.html

<>
That author paraphrases Verse 15 as: "nor does it teach on the other that a woman's hair is her glory. all of this is true because hair is given as a substitute for man made coverings,"
which makes me think that hair *is* the covering, since no where is 'veil' introduced. So no head shaving, lady preachers, is possibly a way to view this passage, if his paraphrase is correct.
Peace and blessings,
Joe :)

women covering heads?

Posted: Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:25 pm
by mumblessed
:thinking: Would that mean that all men should have no hair then?! That would make many older men relieved! :lol:

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 13, 2014 2:47 am
by Joe Parrish
mumblessed wrote::thinking: Would that mean that all men should have no hair then?! That would make many older men relieved! :lol:
Yes, :biggrin: sounds like a shaved head or very short hair for men is OK. Paul did participate in a ritual with two newbies in which head shaving was done. Guess women are not encouraged to do that, however, unless a wig is used.
Peace and blessings,
Joe :)

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:12 pm
by Ernest
Joe Parrish wrote:
mumblessed wrote::thinking: Would that mean that all men should have no hair then?! That would make many older men relieved! :lol:
Yes, :biggrin: sounds like a shaved head or very short hair for men is OK. Paul did participate in a ritual with two newbies in which head shaving was done. Guess women are not encouraged to do that, however, unless a wig is used.
Peace and blessings,
Joe :)
I wondered why my very, very, short hair (not lack of it) seems to go down well in the churches - but I don't equate myself with St Paul, he was a much more dynamic and theologically literate character. And I'm told that he could make a mean tent :)

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 13, 2014 3:30 pm
by Pam
I doubt it has very much to do with your hair either way TBH :tongue:

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 13, 2014 8:03 pm
by Joe Parrish
At the church we attended the Sunday after Christmas, a day off for us, I kept thinking, 'why don't they let the woman vested up at the altar speak?' Then that person did--he preached and celebrated: he's a married father and priest who has a medical practice with families. And he has lovely medium long hair, maybe 2-3 inches in length, naturally curly!'
New style! :laugh:
Peace and blessings,
Joe :)

women covering heads?

Posted: Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:03 pm
by Joyce
When I was a teenager who didn't even have RS A-level at the time, the vicar told me to beware of taking Paul too seriously, because 'that's not gospel.'
Of course, being a good thirty years younger and therefore knowing more, :) I was horrified at such dismissiveness and decided I was going to continue to take every word at face value.
In the fifty years since then I've learned a thing or two. In particular, I remind myself that behind much of what Paul says are questions to which we are not party. Until they turn up we don't know exactly what he was answering and it is not necessarily helpful to speculate on what he was going on about. We don't even always know when he was being serious or joking.
Paul had no idea his writing would one day become Holy Scripture. Had he known,he might well have worded some of his passages more clearly, this being one of them.

women covering heads?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 1:10 am
by Pam
Paul may not be gospel but he's certainly scriptural, and was put into the bible to tell us something, so I think it's really wrong to dismiss his writings as that vicar did. We can learn from people even if we disagree with them.

Joyce, the reminder that Paul's letters came in a sequence is really useful. I was taught at college that there may well be an additional letter to the Corinthian church that was sent in between what we call the 1st and the 2nd letters to the Corinthians, so we don't even have a clear picture of everything Paul wanted to tell that church.

And it's really helpful to remember that he was being asked questions, or receiving reports of trouble in the churches he'd set up and which he cared passionately about. He wasn't just writing a general set of guidelines for all churches - he was giving specific advice and direction to the ones he knew, in the hope that they would survive and continue to preach the gospel.

I think it can be quite helpful to distinguish between what we need for salvation and everything else, and maybe that is what your vicar was doing. Paul's primary message, which he repeats throughout his letters, is Christ crucified and risen from the dead. That is what he preached when those churches were set up. All the other issues he talks about are things which have arisen which he thinks are impeding them from preaching the gospel as they received it from him. I don't think Paul tells anyone to go to the ends of the earth to tell women to keep their heads covered, or whatever other local issue he deals with.

women covering heads?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 10:13 am
by Joyce
Thanks, Pam. That is spot-on !

To be fair to the old boy, 'dismissive' was how I took the vicar's explanation when I was a typical teenager who thought I knew better than my elders. I should have used inverted commas in my post. You're right : he was properly explaining differences. At the time I was the one being dismissive of the explanation.

It would be wonderful if some of the originals to which Paul was responding turned up.

women covering heads?

Posted: Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:15 am
by Pam
I don't think you were being unduly dismissive if, as a young person, you dismissed someone telling you what was in the bible wasn't 'gospel', as if that meant it could therefore be disregarded. I'm just trying to work out what he might have meant, but he could have explained it a lot better.

Reminds me of the clergy person who told my son, then aged 9 or 10, that the Old Testament was 'just a lot of silly stories' (!) to which my son replied 'Well, Jesus didn't think so!' :D