What it is Not About

It’s been a few months since I was blocked from The Head Covering Movement for agreeing with someone who suggested that sometimes some people who are pro-Head Covering can lose their perspective because their love for Head Coverings blinds them to Christianity outside of the context of Head Coverings. Take Locks for Love, for example, they are one ministry that accepts donations of long hair to sew into wigs for children who are battling cancers so that they will look normal. Head Covering ideology states that women must grow out their own hair long and it’s a shame for them to cut their hair short. So they would rather grow out their own hair so that their heads are glorious than worry about what impact their teachings might have on a little girl who is told that being bald means that she’s being shamed because the Bible didn’t know about cancer and chemotherapy. So every now and then they’ll post a topic and I won’t be able to respond on their site; but I can offer up my thoughts on my own blog. Which they won’t see (I am, after all, a heretic who has been blocked so I have nothing valuable to contribute to the conversation on head coverings, apparently.) Here’s the link to the original article: http://www.headcoveringmovement.com/articles/why-headcovering-is-not-about-modesty

Looking at the first half of 1 Corinthians 11, there’s no mention of the word ‘modesty’ or any of the ideas like ‘don’t cause your brother to stumble’. True, it’s not an explicit verse about modesty like 1 Timothy 2:9-10 or 1 Peter 3:3-4;

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

These two verses both agree that women ought not wear elaborate hairstyles or gold jewelry or fine/expensive clothing; but neither one happens to men that they ought to wear plain hairstyles or silver jewelry or normal clothing or head coverings – the specifics of what they ought to wear is left up to them. But this isn’t modesty.

Modesty is the idea that women must dress themselves in such a way that it does not stir up temptation or lust in the hearts of men because men are visual and they can’t help themselves but to look. Let’s take a look at some of the Bible verses that are used to bolster the idea that immodestly dressed women shamefully tempt men into sexual sin:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:28

Well would you look at that; it can’t be good news. It’s in black and white. Why, even in context I bet there’s support for the idea that because men look at women lustfully, it’s the duty of the women to cover themselves so that men don’t just and it’s the duty of the men to create the rules about how much ought to be covered:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

While not a pretty mental image to work from, the point is clear – the cause of the lust is not the woman’s attire (which isn’t mentioned as a vague possibility), it’s the attitude of the heart supplied by information from the eye. That’s from the first part of Mark 7; you should read it in context, but I wanted to highlight this section: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”” Jesus was not giving these people permission to make rules that other people had to obey to prevent you from sinning nor are other people the cause of your sin. Jesus was trying to get the people to see that it’s not what goes into them that makes them unclean, it’s what proceeds out from their hearts. Adultery doesn’t stem from what the eye sees, but what the heart thinks.

Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. – Romans 14:13b

Sometimes when people decide that most of a verse is irrelevant, they add a letter to indicate that important section of the verse. A for the first sentence, B for the second, C for the third and rarely do verses go on longer than that. But the idea here is tied into the first; because men are visual and can’t help themselves from looking, women must not put a stumbling block or obstacle in their path by dressing in such a way as to tempt men into lust or other sins. Far too often, this thinking is used to justify things like rape: “She was advertising. What was she wearing? She was asking for it (by the way she was dressed.) etc.”

So put it all together and modest women dress modestly because it’s the rule. Immodest women wear immodest clothing because they are temptresses who are out to wreck homes and break up marriages. The difference between modest and immodest might be as little as an inch from a just barely long enough skirt to a slightly too short skirt. An immodest girl might be showing her shoulders or collarbone. Make-up can be immodest. Jewelry can be immodest. Hair can be immodest. The wrong style of shirt can be immodest. Because men cannot help themselves, it’s up to women to keep the men from stumbling; so women must cover themselves.

Now it is true that 1 Corinthians 11 doesn’t say ‘be modest’ but by the way that modesty is taught, women are never given permission to be immodest. Everything women wear is under the rule of implied modesty. Remember ‘because of the angels’? One of the explanations for it was that angels were susceptible to feminine beauty, so women were to wear modest head coverings so that the angels weren’t offended by impropriety and immodesty and leave the church without a heavenly messenger because bad angels fell because they lusted after women but modest head coverings could serve to protect them. One of the funnier images from that entry was considering that angels are so afraid of being tempted by immodest women that they would rather flee from a church than possibly remain to be tempted by uncovered hair.

Now put head coverings back into their temporal and cultural context; it was Jewish custom for women to wear their hair tied up and protected by a head covering. A lack of a head covering was shameful evidence of a possible sexual encounter and was actually grounds for divorce – according to Kethuboth 72:

MISHNAH. THESE ARE TO BE DIVORCED WITHOUT RECEIVING THEIR KETHUBAH: A WIFE WHO TRANSGRESSES THE LAW OF MOSES OR [ONE WHO TRANSGRESSES] JEWISH PRACTICE …AND WHAT [IS DEEMED TO BE A WIFE’S TRANSGRESSION AGAINST] JEWISH PRACTICE? GOING OUT WITH UNCOVERED HEAD … AND WHAT [IS DEEMED TO BE A WIFE’S TRANSGRESSION AGAINST] JEWISH PRACTICE? GOING OUT WITH UNCOVERED HEAD. [Is not the prohibition against going out with] an uncovered head Pentateuchal; 47 for it is written, And he shall uncover the woman’s head, 48 and this, it was taught at the school of R. Ishmael, was a warning to the daughters of Israel that they should not go out with uncovered 49 head? 50 — Pentateuchally it is quite satisfactory [if her head is covered by] her work-basket; 1 according to traditional Jewish practice, however, she is forbidden [to go out uncovered] even with her basket [on her head]. R. Assi stated in the name of R. Johanan: With a basket [on her head a woman] is not guilty of 2 [going about with] an uncovered head. In considering this statement, R. Zera pointed out this difficulty: Where [is the woman assumed to be]? 3 If it be suggested, ‘In the street’, [it may be objected that this is already forbidden by] Jewish practice; 4 but [if she is] in a court-yard 3 [the objection may be made that] if that were so 5 you will not leave our father Abraham a [single] daughter who could remain with her husband! 6 — Abaye, or it might be said, R. Kahana, replied: [The statement refers to one who walks] from one courtyard into another by way of an alley. 7

This section references Numbers 5:18 – After the priest has had the woman stand before the Lord, he shall loosen her hair and place in her hands the reminder-offering, the grain offering for jealousy, while he himself holds the bitter water that brings a curse. I know, it looses a little something in the translation, but the teachers of the law realized that if the priest in instructed to loosen the woman’s hair, then it’s implied that the hair must be up so that it can be loosed. And if hair must be up, then ought to be protected by being covered. In fact, a woman was once made to let down her hair in public and sued the guy who publicly embarrassed her in this way – she won. Another woman was the proud mother of seven sons, when asked what her secret was – not even the walls of her house had seen her let her hair down; it was covered at all times, everywhere.

Men, on the other hand, were expected to pray under a covering, a shawl, called a tallit; this was the garment that Jesus wore and the woman touched to be healed. Even today, look at any webcam broadcast of the Western Wall and you’ll notice that all the men are wearing head coverings.

But that’s more of a minority position; Greek and Roman stances on the subject don’t seem to indicate a similar belief. After all, there was the Roman belief that priestly duties must be done by men who covered their heads; capite velato. Reliefs tend to indicate that when this is done it’s not all of the men, but just the lone priest in his duties as he worships his gods. Greek society didn’t seem to have any particular rules about head coverings, who could wear them or when they could be worn.

By using the language of honor and shame, for modesty and for head coverings, we’ve created this venn diagram where they overlap – it is honorable to be modest and honorable to wear head coverings. it is shameful to be immodest and uncovered/bald. If everything women wear must be modest, then head coverings must also be modest. If women were to wear immodest head coverings, they would no longer be modest. Which is probably why you don’t see such a thing as an immodest head covering, because it goes without saying that all head coverings are modest.

Odds are we picked up that idea as we’ve gotten more and more familiar with hijabs and the middle-eastern understanding of how modesty is related to having one’s head covered. We’ve also seen how every religious institution of head coverings – from nuns to the Amish, from Sikhs to other faiths that there’s an inextricable link between humility, modesty, and head coverings that goes with the territory.

Head coverings are modest and there’s no sense in denying it. It isn’t explicit, but it’s implied. That’s true of Creation Order, is it not? Let’s face it, implied ideas are far more flexible than explicit ones. Explicit teachings give you a specific limit to how far you can go and what you can do before you break the limit. Implicit teachings need not be so constrained. Do you know how bored the modesty police would be if they were confined to 1 Timothy 3 and 1 Peter 2? Why if they weren’t busy wearing out rulers to measure women’s clothing, they might actually have the time to open the Bible and read what it actually says and we can’t have that.

I just don’t see the advantage of ruling out modesty with the head covering verses – because if it’s not about modesty then it has to be about something else – but what?


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