Before beginning my foray into formal theological study a few years ago, I had never heard a single person in the church openly indicate (or even imply) that the passage on female head covering in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is to be applied in the Christian church today. I’ve been going to church since I was in diapers, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I met some sisters in Christ who revealed that they practice head covering. The more I talked with these women and the more I opened up in questioning their interpretation, the more my eyes were opened to women in my close personal circles – in my own church congregation, even – who also apply the passage in this way.
I was stunned at first. I definitely stuck my foot in my mouth on many occasions with phrases like, “Surely you know this passage is about Corinthian culture. You need to repent of your legalism.” This is what I had always been told and I never thought to question it. And to be honest, I didn’t want to question it. I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb in a culture that demands I have both the looks and the feminism of Emma Watson. I didn’t want to look like an Amish grandmother in comparison.
The more I had these hard conversations with my patient friends, however, the more I felt convicted about my rationale (or lack thereof) for objecting to this passage’s modern application. For several months in 2017, I began covering during corporate worship (the formal gathering of the local church) but hadn’t come to any solid conclusions at this time except that I didn’t trust my motives for objecting. I decided I would rather be safe than sorry, so to speak, until I came to a more solid conclusion; I had at least decided that while it definitely isn’t disobedient to cover, it might be disobedient not to. It wasn’t too much trouble to tie on a bandana once a week until I actually studied the subject in depth.
After several months I wavered again. I had experienced some pushback from some close believing friends, and being a people-pleaser, it wrecked me to experience this conflict over a conviction I already wasn’t confident about. I started reading through the passage critically again. The arguments of both sides seemed equally heavy. Life became exceptionally busy when Devynn and I started dating and got engaged, and I completely forgot about it for almost a year.
Then one random day in June, I was hit with a wall of conviction – not about my failure to cover, per se, but about my apathy. I didn’t care whether or not I was being disobedient, and I didn’t care to seek answers in Scripture. So I sat down, wrote a list of all my questions and objections, pulled out every commentary and Bible translation I could find in our house, and sprawled out on the floor with them. And here’s the thing about this passage, its language, and the controversy surrounding it: I spent nearly four hours like this, but only one or two out of my nine or ten questions had been answered in any definitive way.
Since then, however, I’ve been learning a necessary lesson about the cost and importance of obedience . . . particularly the kind of obedience that results in conflict, confusion, or social segregation. I decided to study this issue with my “cultural blinders” off as much as possible and made a commitment to not only seek a conclusion, but also stick with it. That was easy to do in theory. Things got harder when I came to the conclusion that the arguments in favor of covering, when viewed from the same hermeneutics we study the rest of Scripture with, seem stronger than the arguments I have heard against it.
This is when the rubber meets the road. I have to reorient my apathetic feelings and give them a new object; I have to care more about offending or pleasing God than offending or pleasing the people around me. Thinking this to myself as I’m sprawled out on the floor with my books is one thing. Remembering it when I have to answer the inquiries (or accusations) of other people is a different ballgame. I am learning above all that when we step out in humble obedience to God (humble being the key word here) something shifts deep down in our souls. He blesses us with peace, joy, and sanctification, as these attempts at obedience are evidence of our growing love for Him. It may only manifest in a different perspective at first, whether it be a new perspective of Scripture or of ourselves, but that’s okay. This gradual renewal of the mind is one of the most beautiful aspects of the Christian life.
Even if I find out one day that I am wrong about my interpretation of this passage (or any others) I will still have been better off for my decision to seek and step out. Why? Because I want my life to be marked as a constant journey toward obedience through whatever capacity I have been given for understanding and interpreting God’s Word. Maybe as my capacity grows, my conclusions will change. Or maybe they will become stronger. What matters is that I am obedient and that my allegiance to the authority of the Word becomes more established than my allegiance to the opinions of other fallible human beings.
And regardless of what you conclude about this particular passage of Scripture, I want this kind of life for you as well.