Jesus taught that structures of human power often do not reflect the ordering of God’s kingdom. Central to his teachings are the ideas that “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35) and “For whoever is least among you all is the greatest” (Luke 9:48). Jesus’ life reflected this understanding of power. He incorporated women in his ministry, and chose to use them as integral parts of his redemptive activity on earth. He tangibly demonstrated that the ordering of God’s kingdom is different from the way society structures itself, and that in the Kingdom of God, the formerly powerful are often the powerless. Jesus taught and showed that mutual love and self-giving, rather than hierarchy and male-only leadership, are the true ideals of Christian life.
Jesus endorsed a radical approach to leadership; leaders and authorities in the church are to be servants. Spiritual leadership is about serving others so that the church might be well organized and peaceful. In 1 Peter 5:2-3, Paul encourages the leaders of churches to be “Eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Thus, the idea of a “spiritual covering” is incongruent with Scripture’s understanding of servant leadership within the church.
Also significant for our discussion of women’s “spiritual head coverings” is the guarantee Jesus made that nothing stands between us and God. This was the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation—to unite us unconditionally to God. Jesus’ death and resurrection signaled the removal of all ritual and sacrifice which Jewish tradition required in order to relate to God. We are now able to relate to God in intimate and real ways, regardless of our race, class, or gender. Jesus is our priest and our spiritual covering.
The teaching of women’s “spiritual covering” has important implications for how we interpret the Bible, how we structure our churches and homes, how we view ourselves, and how we relate to God and others. It is important to discuss the practical, and unfortunately detrimental, implications of this teaching.
First and most importantly, the idea of a “spiritual covering” denies women their full and free relationship with God. When women need a male spiritual authority, they cannot relate to God as God intended. This teaching implies that women cannot fully bear the image of God alone. In some cases, spiritual, emotional, and even physical abuse occurs as a result of men having power over women. Women’s understandings of themselves and God are obscured, and they cannot fully realize the freedom of the gospel.
Secondly, when the teaching of “spiritual covering” is practiced in the church, women’s gifts are denied and wasted. Service within the church should not be determined by gender, but by personal strengths and gifting. The teaching of “spiritual covering” establishes arbitrary and unbiblical standards for service within the church, and these standards inhibit the effectiveness of its mission.
Finally, the teaching of a “spiritual covering” distorts the truth of the Gospel and reduces the meaning of Jesus. Christ came to set us free from the rules and rituals of the law; there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman. We are all one in Christ, and we all have been given the ability to relate fully and freely to God. Through the Holy Spirit, we all have been empowered to proclaim Christ’s love. To deny this is to deny the message of the Gospel and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The freedom we have through Christ Jesus means that all Christians can fully and freely relate to God. God alone, and not men, confirms the ability and right of women to approach God and teach and lead others. The true “covering” of women, and of all believers, is the blood of Christ.
Check out Part 1 of this series.