(The veil pictured above is from Robin Nest Lane)
- Prologue （はじめに）
- IS HEADCOVERING ABOUT MODESTY?（被り物というのは「慎み深さ」に関するもの？）
- IS HEADCOVERING RELATED TO A STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS?（被り物というのは「女性のための権利闘争」に関するもの？）
- IS HEADCOVERING ABOUT BEING EXOTIC?（被り物をする人は異国情緒に酔っている？！）
Jessica Roldan, Addressing Assumptions About Headcovering: A Response to Katherine Kelaidis, Nov. 24, 2018.
As a Christian woman who wears a headcovering to church, I have found it essential to know and be confident in my Why for what I do. This has been especially useful to me when dealing with critics and with those who make unfair assumptions about headcovering and the women who choose to practice it.
Recently, I read a thoughtful but negative review on women who cover in the Greek Orthodox church. Though I found it disappointing, I do think it brings up several crucial issues that all headcovering women must clarify for themselves if they intend to persevere in obedience to this biblical mandate and have any lasting impact on our homes, churches, and society.
In her article “Headscarves, Modesty, and Modern Orthodoxy” Katherine Kelaidis recalls that her grandmother originally used scarves to cover her hair because “They were the outward visible witness of her inner self, signaling to the world, not just that she was a Christian, but that she was a lady, modest and chaste.” However, there came a point at which her grandmother stopped using a covering except to protect her hair from the wind while gardening. The reason? “My grandmother stopped covering her hair because of the pressures of xenophobia and assimilation, along with a desire to create a more liberated space for women within her own culture.”
Not covering was a way for her grandmother, and other Greek women like her, to assimilate into American culture and to avoid drawing negative attention to themselves.
When everyone was wearing a headscarf, you wore it. But when you when you [sic] found yourself in a time and place where women had taken it off, you took it off as well. Any other choice was a display of self-aggrandizement.
Modesty was always the goal of the veil.
I disagree with that statement. But, more on that in a bit. The author concludes: “When women come to the Orthodox Church and take up the veil with complete disregard for the stories and lives of the women I have so loved, I cannot help but feel some anger. Our choices matter. And so I would beg my sisters to reconsider theirs. I have known pious women, saints if ever saints walked among us. They lived lives you cannot imagine. They were the refugees you fear. The child brides you ignore. At least think of them when you walk into the churches they built. Do not make their burden your costume.”
Katherine Kelaidis makes several unfair assumptions. First, that headcovering is primarily about modesty. Second, that headcovering women are either not aware of, or have no appreciation for, the struggles of women of the past. And third, that these headcovering women have no better reason to cover than that it is “exotic and appealing,” as she tartly points out in another place of her article.
Let’s deal with those assumptions one at a time. In order to do so from a biblical perspective, I will be referring to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, the passage in the Bible that talks about headcovering and how it relates to the Christian.
I should add that I am not Greek Orthodox. I am an Evangelical Christian living in the US. However, I hope that we can agree that whatever Christian denomination we belong to and whatever our personal experiences have been that the Bible must be the foundation for our decisions.
IS HEADCOVERING ABOUT MODESTY?（被り物というのは「慎み深さ」に関するもの？）
Yes and no. The Bible says that a woman’s long hair is “a glory to her” which has been given to her by God through nature (1 Cor. 11:15). But it also says that “no flesh should glory in his [God’s] presence” (1 Cor. 1:29). So, by wearing a headcovering while worshiping God through prayer or while ministering to others on His behalf through prophesying, a woman shows humility (modesty) by covering up what God refers to as her “glory” — her long hair.
The Bible doesn’t say how much hair to cover. Some people think that a woman would at least need to have some hair showing for verses such as 1 Timothy 2:9 to make sense. However much hair one thinks needs to be covered is not the point I am trying to address, though. The point here is that wearing a covering is indeed partly about modesty.
But is that all?
If that were our only concern, I could see how whether or not we choose to wear a headcovering would depend upon society’s forever-fluctuating views about modesty. I could see how we might think it necessary to forgo covering out of a sense of “self-aggrandizement.”
The problem with that view is that biblically, headcovering is primarily about something else.
Headcovering is about symbolizing several timeless truths:
１．It symbolizes a Hierarchy of Headship (verse 3). God is head over Christ, Christ is head over man, and man is head over the woman. A woman should cover her head to show that she is under the authority of man (whether her husband, her father, or male leadership in general).
２．It symbolizes the Creation Order (verses 7-9). Woman was created from the man and for the man, not the other way around. God’s original intention was for the woman to be a “help meet” for the man (Genesis 2:18). By wearing a headcovering the wearer shows that she accepts her role within God’s design. She accepts that she is not independent of man, but is his helper, a person who supports him in accomplishing his work and desires, above her own. However, not only is she a complement and counterpart to the man, she is also a crown — a “glory” — to him, someone he cannot do without.
３．It symbolizes something having to do with the Angels (verse 10). There is much speculation on this point, which I will not get into here. Yet, it is important to understand that whatever this verse may mean, it is in relation to spiritual beings who do not change along with the culture. I don’t think they would normally care much about our clothing, unless that piece of clothing were something symbolic like the headcovering. It means something to them because it transcends our constantly changing tastes in attire.
４．It symbolizes our acceptance of Nature / What is Natural (verses 13-15). It makes sense for a woman to wear a headcovering on her head because the headcovering mimics the natural covering of hair that God has already given her. Allowing her hair to grow long shows that she accepts her femininity. Wearing a headcovering sends a similar message since it resembles long hair as it drapes over her head like hair would. In the first instance (long hair) she simply lets Nature make its statement. In the second instance (headcovering) she adds her own statement to further emphasize that of Nature.
It must be glaringly obvious by now that headcovering, though it is partially about modesty, is not primarily about modesty. By wearing a headcovering, a woman symbolizes spiritual truths of timeless significance.
So, even if wearing one makes her stand out and not fit in, even if it causes her to be the target of xenophobia or to have trouble assimilating into a certain culture, a woman must cover her head because God says to. The significance of the Christianheadcovering supersedes cultural concerns.
Which brings me to the next point:
IS HEADCOVERING RELATED TO A STRUGGLE FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS?（被り物というのは「女性のための権利闘争」に関するもの？）
Not according to 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. The Bible makes it clear why a woman should cover her head, and every single reason given is based on something timeless and unchanging. Women shouldn’t drop the covering just because it doesn’t fit in with our current cultural climate.
At one time, Katherine herself wore a headscarf on occasion, but stopped doing so when her Egyptian friends confronted her about it:
My friends shared with me how desperately they were trying to hold on to the hard-won gains made by their mothers and grandmothers in the face of growing fundamentalism and refusing to put on the veil was a powerful symbol of this.
Though some cultures and religions pressure their women to cover for reasons which may indeed be related to female oppression, biblical headcovering is distinct. It is not related to oppression but to a recognition of God’s healthy, beautiful design for our earthly roles. For the Christian, it is a symbol with its own unique meaning, unrelated to the “growing fundamentalism” of other religions.
True, some people may misunderstand our practice of Christian headcovering and may unfairly associate it with other, non-Christian social practices. That is unfortunate but, I’m afraid, largely unavoidable. Despite that, however, we must not sacrifice obedience to God in order to pander to other people’s cultural sensitivities. Obedience must always come first, whether people understand us or not.
However, there are things we can do to help others understand us better. One of those ways is by writing articles such as the one I’m writing now in order to clarify for others why I and many other women choose to cover. Another of those ways is to simply talk to people in a casual manner about our reasons for covering whenever the subject comes up. I would also advise not wearing a covering that imitates a style which could cause others to mistake our religious affiliation.
Though headcovering women are indeed cognizant of, and compassionate towards, the struggles of women of the past for “women’s rights,” they intentionally choose to associate themselves with a higher struggle: the spiritual struggle for “God’s rights.” In other words, they prioritize God’s agenda — as laid out in the Bible — over human agendas.
Human agendas may or may not coincide with God’s agenda; if there is any conflict, we must choose God’s. Though we have not personally been through the struggles of times past, perhaps it just that sort of distancing that enables us to look at how things have progressed over time and see the mistakes made by those who could not see what would eventually result from their movements.
As headcovering women attempt to follow the Bible, they actually help other women. It is important for us to understand our God-given role as women. It is also helpful to have the headcovering as a reminder of that role. When we live out God’s design for our lives, though it can sometimes be hard and even painful, it is also what is best for us.
Appropriately, God warns us that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Being misunderstood as favoring female oppression is a small price to pay in comparison to the rewards of heaven, but it may be a cross we are required to bear.
IS HEADCOVERING ABOUT BEING EXOTIC?（被り物をする人は異国情緒に酔っている？！）
This one’s an easy one: Absolutely not! Though I can’t speak for everybody, I can certainly speak for myself and, I think, the numerous headcovering women I have had personal contact with. For most of us, headcovering started out as an uncomfortable experience, one we would rather have avoided if we could. Our Why for headcovering has nothing to do with wanting to draw attention to ourselves or experience the exotic. We would rather not stand out quite so much, thank you.
I know that for me, the experience of headcovering for the first time in front of other people made me feel a bit nauseous. I wanted to avoid the curious looks. I wanted to avoid being different. I just wanted to fit in. Even now, after six years of covering every Sunday, I still feel awkward at times in our church where no one covers except for me.
Would people like me better if I didn’t wear a covering? Would I have more friends? Would people be more inclined to invite us over for dinner? Though these concerns are real, they are nonetheless beside the point.
My Why for headcovering is based on what I have read and understood from God’s word about the woman’s role and how she should symbolize it, and that is something I must obey whether it makes me look exotic . . . or makes me look weird. The way I look isn’t what matters; it’s that I choose to obey my Lord. And it seems to me that God hasn’t given us the option of deciding how we will choose to obey Him. He has simply told us what to do and expects that we will do it. Can we give Him anything less?
Perhaps if Katherine Kelaidis were to reconsider the headcovering issue from the viewpoint of God as given in the Bible and from the viewpoint of women who currently cover instead of from the viewpoint of women’s rights activists, her grandmother’s experience, or even of her own, she would be a little less angry, and a lot more understanding. Who knows? She might even decide to join us.