Several years ago, a Russian Christian who had just immigrated to the United States and spoke no English began to attend occasionally at our small city church. He would stand by the coat rack and smile and sway with the music, but all attempts to communicate beyond responding smiles and signs of the cross and the “one way” were futile.
After quite a long absence, he returned with a smattering of English, and, as one of our members had begun to study Russian, it was an exciting day when he opened up a Bible from the pew and in his halting new tongue pointed out to us a verse that was obviously close to his heart. The verse to which we all followed his finger was 1 Corinthians 11:14: “Does not nature itself teach you that, if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him…?”
Then we followed that same finger as with regret he pointed it at a recent seminary graduate we had elevated into leadership, who, while leading our praise team and doing a life-changing ministry among our youth, sported shoulder-length hair, although shorter than his wife’s flowing locks. Philip Payne’s article in the present issue not yet having been written, not to mention translated into Russian, I tried my best to explain the passage largely in the same way: The issue had to do, not with length itself, but with adopting a style that promoted gender confusion. But words and gestures to communicate such a sophisticated argument failed me, as he kept pointing to the passage and the pastor, and we never saw him again. We were sorry to lose a relationship stillborn at the first birth of communication.
Shortly afterward, we found ourselves transported from the defensive mode to the critical when we saw photographs of a new church that had been established next to our little school in Haiti. All the women were in white and all had hats and other head dressings despite the stifling heat. Some of us thought it looked cultic. All of us wondered what kind of theology of women’s roles our girls and boys would learn if they worshipped at this church next door.
While a topic like the meaning of “head” might always be relevant, forty years ago doing an issue on head coverings might have elicited the response, “What for?” In the 1950s, I can remember my mother wearing a little hat with a little white token veil to church on Sundays, but, by the freewheeling late 1960s and early ‘70s of the Jesus Movement here in the United States, only the Catholics and the communes seemed to have preserved the fashion of women under shawls. For the rest of us, in our bell bottoms and flowered shirts, clutching our blue denim covered Bibles and peering around through our granny glasses for anyone to evangelize before the world ended, our response would have been, “So what?”
In fact, in those days, all but our most conservative Mennonite, Amish, holiness readers might have asked, “What, again? Haven’t we already agreed to disagree on the angel-holding capacity of pins?” But, today, such a response, while still appropriate in some countries, has certainly disappeared in North America, where some are again calling women to acknowledge or even display a symbol of authority on their heads.
“Source” versus “boss” for the contextual, biblical meaning of the Greek word kephalē also remains a major focus of disagreement among current Bible interpreters. Therefore, it is exciting that, in this issue, CBE’s distinguished founder, Catherine Clark Kroeger, breaks new ground with the discovery of another authentic illustration of the true meaning of the term. She is graciously introducing this discovery on our cover and in our pages, so our readers can see its debut in print. As with last summer’s premiere color issue, once again the accomplished Christy Morris, a freelance graphic designer, has composed our summer color cover. As mentioned earlier, the meticulously scholarly Philip Barton Payne of Linguist’s Software fame offers a careful discussion that bridges between head and head covering. His article also introduces the second half of our issue, the significance of which, for North American readers, rests, among other places, on Ground Zero. In our post-9/11 world, women’s head coverings are of particular interest.
They are symbols, and symbols are significant in our world. When a woman covers her head in faiths as diverse but related as Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, we should all want to know why—and what that requirement means for her and for all women, as well as for men. Author Ginger O’Neil links these three faiths together in a personal response to the practice of “niddah” covering. Then I dialogue with two accomplished East Indian missionaries, Maureena and Ajai, who have just arrived in the United States after a fourteen-year ministry in the Middle East, where they had been sent to serve from a church in India. They react to the content of all three articles, but particularly to Ginger O’Neil’s. The resulting interplay gives us the variety of having one-third and two-thirds world Christian responses to the tradition of head covering, as practiced both by Christians and by those who hold other faiths. The agreement and the differences between all these perspectives are fascinating and illuminating. Rounding out the issue is the provocative poetry of the wonderful professor Priscilla Kelso, whose poignant biographical and poetic reflections graced last year’s summer issue. At her request, her contribution is once again illustrated by perceptive photographic artist Steve Spencer. Finally, we offer a book review by noted Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary professor emeritus Royce Gordon Gruenler on the much-beleaguered but stalwart Discovering Biblical Equality, which contains many analytical references to the topics of head and head coverings. The meaning of “head” and the significance of head coverings are essential elements in today’s global Christian discussion. Our sincere hope is that the information in this issue will prepare all of us to sort out the relevance when we encounter instances and applications of these topics to real people’s lives.
PS: We are delighted to report that four of our 2005 Priscilla Papers authors won prestigious Evangelical Press Association awards at this year’s EPA convention. Retiring Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary President Walter Kaiser won second place for his helpful article—a reader favorite in constant demand from our recent offerings—”Correcting Caricatures: The Biblical Teaching on Women,” and our former Priscilla Papers acting editor and our present poet laureate Victoria Peterson-Hilleque won fifth place for her beautiful poem, “The Color of Light,” both in our Spring 2005 issue. Gordon College students, the newly graduated Brynn Camery-Hoggatt and upperclassman Nealson Munn, took a fifth place award for their sizzling book review of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart in our Autumn 2005 issue. This competition is very stiff, as the entries are drawn from a vast field of Christian periodicals, and we are grateful for the perspicacity of the judges, as we honor our authors for graciously giving Priscilla Papers such outstanding work. “If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26b TNIV). Warm congratulations to each of these treasured brothers and sisters.
Another cause for celebration is our outstanding associate editor Michal Beth Dinkler’s graduation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and acceptance into the Th.D. program at Harvard Divinity School. All of us congratulate her. Michal Beth will be taking a leave of absence from her ministry at Priscilla Papers so she can settle into her new studies. Our superb graphic designer and copy editor Deb Beatty Mel will be assuming the associate editorship.