Monday, 29 October 2012

Coverings – Prayer and Headship

You will have noticed in my last post, I mentioned that the coverings worn by the Amish are sometimes called prayer coverings and sometimes headship coverings or veils. This gives an indication of the two reasons Amish women wear a covering.
Headship: The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11, starts out by explaining the different roles between men and women. He sets this in the context of the relationship between God and Christ: But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
Therefore a woman wears a covering to indicate her voluntary submission to her husband or her father, or the elders of the church. The passage does not say ‘husband’ specifically; therefore it can be assumed that as men are given roles of leadership in the church and family by God, that women are to submit to that authority and leadership.
Many women today do not want to accept this teaching. They say they are not inferior to men and therefore why do they need to submit? No-one would state that Christ is inferior to God; they are equal. Yet the passage clearly states that God is head over Christ. This is not a statement of superiority/inferiority, but is an indication of the differing roles that each has. This is also true of men and women. God has given them different roles within their relationships.
A woman who wears a covering does so voluntarily and by wearing it, she indicates her acceptance of her different role and her voluntary submission to husbands, church leaders, fathers and, ultimately, to God, as it is He who said she should wear a covering.
It might be said that the Amish teach their daughters to wear a covering all their lives. Indeed, when baby girls are first taken to church at the age of about 6 weeks, their heads are covered. The practise differs between the different Amish groups – some have their children wear coverings all the time; others have them wear them when they are out and about in public; yet others do not have their children wear coverings at all, except for church. So how can it be said that an Amish woman takes the covering voluntarily?
Most people, even in British society, have heard of the rumschpringe, though what is seen on our televisions is not the whole story. When she reaches the age of about 16, she is allowed more freedom to explore the beliefs and practices of the Amish faith and culture. As the young girl matures, it is for her to make her own decision as to whether she wishes to be baptised or not and join the Amish church. If she does, one of the things she agrees to is wearing the covering. The vast majority of Amish youth do get baptised into the faith and the Amish church. Those who do not are free to discard the wearing of the covering if they so wish.
Prayer: the passage under consideration also states: every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head.
Now this verse can appear complicated at first – until it is realised that two types of ‘head’ are meant here. She “dishonours her head” indicates that she dishonours the man who has been given the position of leadership or authority over her. She “covers her head”, indicates that she is wearing something on her physical head. It would be absurd if it were to mean she covers the man! Or even that she dishonours her physical head!
Because the covering is mentioned here in the context of 'praying and prophesying', many today have concluded that the covering, or the wearing of a hat, is only for such times as a woman is in church. [More of that on another occasion]. The Amish woman clearly wears her covering all day long, whether it is Sunday or some other day of the week; whether she is in church or not. That is because she has learned from the Bible that she should always be ready to pray, always in an attitude of prayer: Pray without ceasing, 1 Thessalonians 5v17.
Culture: There is a cultural element to wearing a covering too. Ever since Bible times, women have covered their heads. It was only in the 20th Century that women began shaking off the so-called shackles of former times. Even as late as the 1940s, women were rarely seen outside their homes without a hat on their heads. And right into the 60s, 70s and even today, many women will not go to church without wearing a hat, though they may never wear one at any other time.
If you want to read a brief history of coverings, see Head Covering Through the Centuries
In my next post, I will take a look at some of the reasons it is not more widely practised today.

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