Thursday, November 6, 2008

Right Message, Wrong Backing

Malone University has mandatory Chapels. That is to say, there are gatherings twice a week in a room that used to be a sanctuary in a building that used to be a church where we go to sing Contemporary Christian Music and/or listen to speakers with varying degrees of spirituality and sports metaphor in their content, and we are expected to go to twenty of these throughout the semester.

Chapel has always requested that we remove our hats, hoods, and other head coverings while in Chapel. I have no issue with this. They also ask that we have our cell phones set to silent. This is no issue, either. Both are signs of respect, and I do my best to give respect where it is due.

Last school year, I noticed that the overhead displays asking us to remove our hats weren't just asking for their removal. They were asking us to remove our hats as Moses removed his shoes before the Lord (a reference to Exodus 3:5). I still removed my hat, but for some time, I would also sarcastically remove my shoes anytime I was in Chapel. I would have kept my hat on to further illustrate this point, but I am personally convicted to have my head uncovered during worship (I'll explain why later). If ever you see my head covered during Chapel, you can tell I feel the message is not only not worshipful, but actually interferes with private worship. I kept up the practice of going barefoot or in stocking feet until I realized that it was even worse for me to do this spitefully than for the school to misuse the verse.

For a time, these messages went away, and Malone went back to just respectfully asking us to remove our hats. However, this semester, it began again... this time with the addendum "but you can keep your shoes on" followed by a smilie face. This flat out disgusted me. I have considered writing to our student newspaper about this, but never have.

Perhaps I should explain myself further for clarification. First of all, the verse in Exodus 3:5 does not say that this is a general practice being established, but a specific case - this was Moses encountering the Burning Bush. Second of all, it was not because of worshipfulness that Moses was told to remove his sandals, but because he was on Holy Ground. Third, if Malone is going to refer to this verse, they ought to have us remove our shoes as well. Fourth, there are verses that speak of the covering or uncovering of one's head in the New Testament, in First Corinthians 11:4-15, especially verses 4-7, 10, and 13. Fifth, if Malone wanted to claim that either of these verses were culturally specific, they should not use them at all, but simply say "as a sign of respect." They could appeal, if they chose, to the practice of removing hats for the Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, or Alma Maters - it is respectful in modern American Culture to remove head coverings in cases of particular reverence.

Why does Malone use Exodus and not First Corinthians? My guess is it went something like this:

"We need the students to be respectful in Chapel and remove their hats."

"Why is that important?"

"Paul says in Corinthians that Men need to have their heads uncovered when they pray."

"Hm... just the Men? We're all about equality. After all, 'in Christ, we are neither Male nor Female'."

"Actually..." [looking it up] "some translations say she would be better to have her head cut off than uncovered."


"Well, he goes back to Creation and the original order of the Cosmos and explains that just as Christ is the head of the Church, Man is the head of Woman."

"That doesn't fit well with our Quaker theology of egalitarianism - it was probably contextual. How else could we motivate the students to take off their hats, and keep a spiritual emphasis?"

"Well, Moses took his sandals off at the Burning Bush - shoes are sort of like hats for your feet..."

"Perfect! Let's use that!"

I make no judgments about Women who do not cover their heads while praying. It could well have been contextual. The references to the created order clearly require some sort of separation or distinction, though. The options are: in the context in which Paul wrote, the specific sign that was necessary was Women covering their heads and Men having their heads uncovered, but those specifics are no longer necessary, OR Paul was writing for all time and Women ought always have their heads covered, men, uncovered. I personally feel convicted by this passage of scripture, and so I always remove my hat to pray, even if I am only praying for a few seconds.

My response to the claim that we are neither Man nor Woman in Christ is simple: this is true. Neither sex nor gender has any bearing on our salvation. However, it is ignorant to think that this means we are no longer distinct. Just as Christ's sacrifice did not physically remove differentiations between Man and Woman, it has not changed the way in which we relate to the world either. Eve was a helper to Adam. A "helper" is not one who does the same exact thing as the one they help. Neither is the helper a slave or even a servant. A helper fulfills a role separate from but not inferior to the one being helped. And there is nothing to suggest the removal of this distinction, especially in light of the many New Testament references to the differing roles of Men and Women.

Malone is right to tell us to remove our hats (at least, the men). I respect their rules. However, to use the example of Moses and not Paul disrespects the passage in Exodus for using it to support what it was not intended to, the passage in First Corinthians for not using it to support the very thing it was explicitly written about, and us as students for not considering us smart enough to notice or respectful enough to follow the rules for their own sake.


LisaM at ThoseHeadcoverings said...

wow - that is so well observed and written. If I were administration, I'd certainly take note!

PoorKchoP said...

wow, this is pretty amazing... and will continually be a source of laughter whenever i see it up on the screens in the J!