Yes, friends, this really is a thing.
It has been said that conservative, reactionary evangelicals can be described as “Trinitarian Muslims”. Today I give you an example of that: The Head Covering Movement.
Sadly, this is far from being just your run-of-the-mill rogue evangelical fringe movement. They have the full backing of evangelical theological heavyweight R. C. Sproul, who on the front page of the organization’s website states:
The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?
Here we see another glaring example as to why systematic theology, at least as practiced in the Neo-Calvinistic universe, is on my shit list.
Sproul and other head-covering proponents make an egregious error in their reading of this particular Pauline directive: They assume that Paul’s letters are open letters addressed to all Christians everywhere, in all places, times, ages, cultures, and other possible situations.
They’re not, people. Paul was writing to specific churches in specific places in a specific age, facing specific challenges which he felt the need to speak to. Paul had not even the foggiest notion that those letters would ever make it out of first century Rome, let alone make it into our present-day Bible. By the grace of God those letters were preserved and we get to listen in on the conversations Paul was having with the churches he planted. But get the notion out of your heads that Paul was sitting down to write the New Testament and he knew he was sitting down to write the New Testament when he wrote those letters. Because he wasn’t and he didn’t.
As to the head-covering thing: Some say that in first century Rome a woman’s hair was intimately tied up with her sexuality, so much so that the modern equivalent of going with uncovered hair in first-century Rome would be going topless. In first century Rome the only women who went with uncovered hair were prostitutes and slaves. Prostitutes in all places and ages are generally treated as subhuman, as objects and products instead of people.
In light of that, Paul’s head-covering thing is actually very pro-woman. Paul is basically saying “Hey ladies: You are not a product or an object, but a person who has value to God and others. So do not dress like a prostitute or a slave because I do not want anyone treating you like that.”
Yet the head-covering proponents do not see Paul’s directive in that light. They wrench it out of that context and bring it into our day and age as a club with which to quash a modern cultural/political movement which threatens their preferred status quo, demeaning and subjugating women in the process. Sproul makes this clear in his quote on the Head Covering Movement website: “[W]ere our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?”
Here we see what this is really all about. It is about a certain view of who and what women are and ought to be in the home, in church, and in the world. A view in which it is men who call the shots and woman can do and be nothing more than what men will allow. In short, it is about the dehumanization and objectification of women at home and in the church. It is about bringing back a practice which reinforces said dehumanization and objectification, despite the fact that the original intent of this practice was to give worth and dignity to women.