Sunday, 30 April 2017

Headcoverings, by Jeremy Gardiner



It has been my conviction since I was at college that according to 1 Corinthians 11, a Christian woman should wear a fabric headcovering in worship, if not every day. This seems to me a very certain conclusion of what St. Paul was instructing in 1 Corinthians 11. Yet I spent most of my life attending evangelical churches in which no women cover their heads. Now I attend Catholic churches in which no women cover, apart from perhaps a few African ladies. It is disturbing how a straight forward command in Scripture has become so neglected.

Thankfully, on the Evangelical side of the fence, Jeremy Gardiner has made a valiant proclamation of the truth of Christian headcovering both through The Headcovering Movement and in this book. As can be expected from an Evangelical, Gardiner makes his case primarily from Scripture. However, early in the book, he demonstrates through an extensive set of quotations, that women's fabric headcovering had been the universal practice of Christians until the Twentieth century. His exegesis is likewise simply communicated, but very effective, demonstrating that headcovering is rooted not in contemporary customs, but in the creation order. He demolishes the absurd 'long hair is the covering view' and the common notion that the 1 Corinthians 11 has something to do with prostitution (advocates of this idea can never agree on exactly what). He acknowledges that verse 10 i obscure, with its reference to angels, however, he argues that the passage as a whole is not difficult or obscure, but very plain in it's meanings and implications. In the later chapters, he offers some practical advice about what styles of covering are appropriate, when women should cover and at what age girls should start covering. He encourages women not to be fearful of what others might think, but to take the courage to wear an headcovering, even if they are the only lady in the congregation doing so.

Gardiner argues that 1 Corinthians 11 clearly implies that men should not wear their hair long, on the basis of verses 14-15. I am not completely convinced. When I came to the view that the women's headcovering (and the man's lack of headcovering) in 1 Corinthians 11 was mandatory, it was not long before I had my very long hair cut short. I was not convinced that long hair on men was forbidden, but it seemed more appropriate given my new convictions. There is enough doubt for me not to encourage men to wear their hair long, but I am not so sure about it being an absolute rule. What does Gardiner make of the Nazarites in the Old Testament. St. Paul himself had taken a Nazarite vow for a time, according to Acts and St. John the Baptist was probably a Nazarite. Surely long hair was not a disgrace for Nazarites. Gardiner might say they were exceptions, but that surely only proves there is a certain amount of relativism here. Is Paul's argument aesthetic rather than moral? Gardiner points out that the word 'disgrace' is used for immoral sexual lusts in Romans 1:26. However, a word can be used differently in different contexts. I am sure even he does not see a moral equivalency between sexual immorality and hairlength. We might ask if he is prepared to condemn women who wear their hair short, which might be a losing battle. Even in many churches that frown on long-haired men, there are lots of women with pretty short hair. I have worn my hair short since I was 21, so I am prepared to be wrong on that issue. Our blogging friend, Fr Anthony Chadwick, would no doubt disagree rather more strongly.

What about Catholics? There are thankfully some traditionalist Catholics who wear a mantilla at mass, but sadly this is all too rare. The current code of canon law does not require the woman's headcovering. This means that it cannot be a great sin for a woman not to cover. However, I would suggest that if a woman has read 1 Corinthians 11 and understands why she should cover and also understands the uniformity of Christian tradition in demanding headcovering, it would be a sin for her not to cover.

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