My friends at the Head Covering Movement recently put out a video talking about how wearing a head covering is a lot like wearing a one-piece bathing suit – you have a clear conscience when you’re wearing something modest; as opposed to the immodest two pieces and not wearing a head covering – not being covered up goes against what the Bible says and it should give you a guilty conscience. Not all one-piece bathing suits are automatically modest or covers more, not all two-piece bathing suits are automatically immodest or covers less than one-piece bathing suits. There’s also something else to consider – every woman has a different body type – there’s not a one style that fits all that’s automatically modest. Some women can wear a two-piece bathing suit look and be far more modest than they would in a one-piece bathing suit; for them, certain one-piece bathing suits are immodest.
Bringing it back to head covering, this presupposes that the conscience feels guilty about doing something it knows it ought not to have done, or not doing something it knows that it ought to have done. Wearing a head covering is not a mainstream practice anymore. It is true, there was a time when women would wear hats, heels, dresses, and gloves to Church; and men would also wear hats (and suits and ties) to Church but not inside them. Then just as fashions changed, so did the time. We’re an increasingly informal society with an aversion to hats; unless it’s Hat Day and everyone’s in on it for the fun of it – both men and women. Hats have no symbolism or meaning to us, anyway.
Is it Biblically wrong to wear a hat or head covering? Is it Biblically wrong to not wear a hat or head covering? You would have to craft an argument stating that is is wrong for men to wear hats and women not to wear hats in order to poke someone’s conscience either way. There’s just this one tiny detail; a big part of how people dress is cultural. Lederhosen – that’s German, usually worn around Octoberfest. Kimono – that’s Japanese, usually worn by women and for formal occasions. Kilt – Scotland. Hats and various forms of head covering are cultural. That’s why you might see an Amish or Hutterite woman wearing a specific kind of bonnet or scarf, a fundamentalist Christian woman with unusually long hair, or a mainstream Christian women without some form of head covering and with a rather typical hairstyle. Each culture believes in different elements of religious faith and different styles of wardrobe.
You can’t convince a woman whose culture predisposes her to wearing a head covering that she’s wrong for doing so, but she could easily feel guilty about going without one. You can’t convince a woman whose culture predisposes her against wearing a head covering that she’s wrong for not doing so, but she could easily feel guilty about wearing one. You can’t convince a woman whose culture predisposes her to believe that her hair is her head covering that she needs a head covering over her head covering as it’s redundant or that she should shave off her hair and wear a head covering just to be on the safe side. All three sets of cultures exists here in the states; and sometimes in the very same churches. That’s why African churches feature it’s elderly women wearing elaborate hats and it’s young women going without; with the exception of those who opt to wear them. Having attended Southern Baptist and Methodist churches – I can tell you that the Head Covering verses in 1 Corinthian 11’s first half have rarely been preached about and most usually focus not on the need for women to wear head coverings, but on the requirement for women to be subordinate to the authority of their husbands – their heads; particularly in the former and not so much in the latter. Hats are not seen as a symbol of submission in our society, they don’t confer membership – more often than not, they reveal what your favorite team is or where you shop at or who does business with you.
Thinking on this further, if hats are supposedly a symbol of submission, then would it not be proper for men also to wear them? A hat symbolizing a man’s submission to his head, a hat symbolizing a wife’s submission to her husband as he is submitted to his head? Sometimes when I hear sermons, pastors build it up as: “I’m so envious that women get to do something that men don’t, they get to wear something that men can’t – I’d love to wear something to show my faith!” If the “Got Jesus?” T-shirts aren’t enough, then why not get everybody to wear a hat? At least when my Amish customers walk into the store, both men and women wear hats; different kinds, sure – but you know that they’re believer and Amish before you know their names. If Christianity wants that, then it should be as simple as the WWJD fad to get people into it.
At the end of the day though, you can’t tell people that wearing a head covering will give them a clear conscience if their conscience doesn’t bother them in the slightest for not wearing them at all. While it may be true for an individual that she might feel undressed without a head covering, not everyone else sees it as vital component of their wardrobe or the crowning piece of their Sunday best.