Ask Sanityville: Would retaining head coverings have prevented feminism?

Would we be having the problems in the church today with feminism & sodomy if we had not given up the weekly visible symbol of headship?

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I remember my dad going to speak at a deliberative body of some denomination (Mennonites?) where the women still all wore head coverings, and they were voting to approve women’s ordination, IIRC. @tbbayly, details correct? Perhaps that would be the exception that proves the rule, but I tend to think that we can always be hypocritical with outward signs. That doesn’t make them pointless, though.


Yes. It was the Mennonites and here is the account. From Baylyblog online, of course. I searched for “Lancaster,” but “Mennonite” would have worked as well. Love,

Good point. An example of a God instituted symbol coming to symbolise something very different to what it was instituted to symbolise. i.e “we’re mennonite”. If other denominations hadn’t abandoned the symbol then its hard to see that it would have degenerated into being an identity label for mennonites (& other smaller fundamentalist churches).

My own denominational context is one where women are ordained and we’re debating marrying gays, but only a few decades ago when my mother was growing up in the same denomination head coverings were near universal, as was belief in male headship. A few decades after the head coverings went so did belief in male headship.

I’m not saying that the downfall of the churches started when we abandoned them. Obviously many bad trajectories were in motion well before that, but I can’t imagine most churches that maintain the practice (& teach its meaning) having the same confusions that we are currently going through.

The tricky thing about symbols is that they are meant to testify of a greater, underlying substance (i.e the symbol of head coverings testifying of the substance of authority). But over the course of generations and neglect, symbols tend to become disconnected from their substance. Before you know it, everyone is simply carrying on with the outward symbol with no conscious thought to the substance.

At some point, someone finally comes along and asks the question, “Why are we doing this?” And since no one knows, the response seems to be one one of four things:

  1. The symbol is simply cast aside. We don’t know what this is, so it must not matter, and we don’t need it anymore.

  2. The symbol is clung to because of tradition. We don’t know why we are doing this, but since we do it, it must matter, so we’re going to defend the practice and separate ourselves from those in group 1.

  3. The underlying substance is rediscovered, but the symbol itself is cast aside. We recognize and appreciate the symbol for what it was, but decide that we’re more spiritually developed these days and can give proper ascent to the substance without the need for the symbol.

  4. The underlying substance is rediscovered, and the symbol itself is re-embraced by a new generation who learns to appreciate it like their predecessors.

This seems to be more or less what I’ve seen with head coverings, in my limited view. I see most folks (group 1) simply dismissing head coverings as a relic of our great grandma’s era. Then there are those folks (group 2) who have long forfeited the vitality of their religion, and are left serving nothing but an outward shell.

I guess I’ve probably been a group 3 kinda guy, having been influenced by complementarians such as Piper and Grudem in their dealings with 1 Corinthians 11. There is a sincere attempt at extracting an underlying substance from 1 Corinthians 11, amid a conscious attempt to distance themselves from the symbol. Because, come on guys, it’s 2019, and only a pharisee would talk about external conformity.

Group 4 seems to describe the kind of crazies you’ll find on this forum. :slight_smile:


“Saneys,” I think you meant. But I wonder how many are group 3 vs group 4. I’m a 3.


Sounds like a fun forum poll!


Your mother and I are a 4. Love,


We’re a 4 at our house.

Currently taking the form of binding up my hair, but I can see my husband deciding on a separate veil or similar covering which covers all of my hair, as he continues to study.

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I am a 3, too, if reworded as follows:

The underlying substance is rediscovered, but the symbol itself is cast aside. We recognize and appreciate the symbol for what it was, but possibly decide to use a symbol that is more meaningful to the current culture.

The danger for group 4 is thinking that re-imposing the symbol will lead to a re-embracing of the substance.

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Why use a new symbol? I mean, if you’re going to accept the premise of symbolism, why not embrace the biblical one? Regulative principle seems pertinent here.


I don’t believe the regulative principle extends to articles of clothing. The fact that a head covering was symbol of headship in the ancient eastern Mediterranean culture does not mean it has the same meaning in every other society around the world. Perhaps a different symbol would better communicate headship in a different culture.

I’m a 4, but my church is more 3.5ish. The generally held interpretation here is that the long hair is the covering. I can’t read it that way, but it’s certainly not something I’d fuss about because a) I’m confident that if they were convicted otherwise, there’d be zero hesitation to embrace the extra covering practice, and b) these people are all way godlier than I am, so for me to fuss about the sign when they’re killing it on the substance would be so hypocritical it’d be hypopotamuscritical. :hippopotamus:

Also, I propose that the parallel construction to crazies would be saneys.


Yep. Much better. Fixed it. :slight_smile:


I would propose a group 5:

The underlying substance is rediscovered, and the symbol itself is re-embraced and posted on facebook by a new generation who learns to appreciate it like their predecessors, and use it as a point of distinction to prove their bonafides and know who the other homeschooling moms are.


R C Sproul was a 4, and he can’t be wrong. :grin:


Man, I totally forgot about this group.


With the utmost respect, I can’t take this as a serious position, because I have talked to many women about head coverings, and the responses universally fall into two categories:

  1. I’ll never wear a head covering—it’s too humiliating!
  2. I wish my husband would be comfortable with me wearing a head covering but he is afraid of what people will think.

Why would a head covering be humiliating in a feminist culture if the symbol has lost its meaning?

The actual responses of women, both in and outside the church, belie the standard argument that head coverings no longer effectively communicate submission to authority. Physical imaging of spiritual reality is built into us at the deepest level, and gesturing to cultural differences doesn’t remove that deep-seated, instinctual knowledge. You could just as well say that kneeling in prayer has lost its cultural meaning, and we therefore should find a new way to communicate our obeisance to God. But just last night (having visited Clearnote last week), I instructed our children to kneel when we came before the Lord. My seven year old asked why. I asked him what he thought it might mean. He didn’t have any trouble coming up with the answer.

Now, head coverings are a little more abstract—but adults nonetheless grasp the fundamental contours of the symbolism at an instinctual level. It’s universal. Even pagans get it: Veiling: A Different Take On Pagan Womanhood | Star Foster

Again, forgive me if I come across forcefully; I have strong feelings about the eternal validity of this command, and it pains me to see brothers with whom I have so much in common rejecting it for what looks like obviously feministic reasoning. I don’t mean to condemn; only to exhort.


I am sorry @bnonn, but it looks like I am going to disappoint you on several different levels.

Perhaps you can explain to me what my obviously feministic reasoning is?

I appreciate that.

You conclude that my position regarding symbols of headship is not serious because you have talked with women? Seems ironic.

You will need to add another category. Several years ago my wife developed a conviction to wear a head covering, and after I explained to her why I thought it was not necessary, I permitted her to do so for the sake of her conscience. After some time passed, her conviction left, and she ceased wearing a head covering. At no time was I ever afraid of what people would think or did I feel embarrassment. If my wife decided to wear a head covering again, I wouldn’t care at all. Really.

Some time back a man in our congregation wanted the Session to require all women in the church to wear head coverings. We freely permitted him to require his own wife to do so (I think she was not enthusiastic), but we told him we would not require it of the rest of the congregation due to our understanding of Scripture (along the lines I outlined above) and the standards of our denomination.

My own family kneels at prayer.

Yes, it is clear that you have strong feelings. But if it is an eternally valid command, then that means all who do not follow it are sinning. I am not prepared to say that about headcoverings, nor about kneeling for prayer.

And I’ll suggest one more category: wives who are perfectly contented to follow their husband’s understanding of this issue (either way).