Men Without Hats?

No, this isn’t a trip down memory lane, though if you want to relive The Safety Dance, you may. Today, I’m thinking about 1 Corinthians 11. This passage often brings up questions about women covering their heads, but it also states that men should not be covered when they pray.

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.

1 Corinthians 11:4 (ESV)

It’s easy to miss this injunction because most of the first 16 verses of this chapter are making the case for women to be covered. I have never (knowingly) prophesied, but I do pray, and it seems pretty clear that when I pray, I am not supposed have my head covered.

This has been culturally reinforced and supported in the United States as long as I know. Gentlemen remove their hats when they come indoors and when they pray. As fashions have changed in the last 50 years, with the demise of men routinely wearing hats, this has not been much of an issue. Occasionally, a young man will wear a hat indoors, and while routinely ignored in stores, it may attract some ire in a church.

One can find a surprising amount of discussion online on the decline of men wearing hats over the last century. However, I have been unable to find anything even close to the controversy that women’s head coverings seems to generate. This seems a bit odd since the same “formula” used to justify women being continually covered seems to apply to men just as well.

If man is not supposed to be covered when he prays, and we are called to pray without ceasing, then it logically follows that he should never wear a hat. But no one (that I can find) is proclaiming this “rule” or looking down on Christian men for wearing a hat outdoors. I have never heard of a Christian soldier asking for a religious exemption from wearing a hat or helmet.

What does this tell us? I’m not entirely sure, but I think a few conclusions can be drawn.

First, our culture’s practice has more force on us than we care to admit. We take our views of men’s hats from our culture, and since it doesn’t challenge scriptural teaching (unless we take the above “always pray, never cover” as binding) we accept it.

Second, we seem to ignore some passages of Scripture. Paul devotes 16 verses to the issue of head coverings. It seems to have been an important issue, yet these verse are not addressed in any major Sunday lectionary.¹

Third, it might be good to question why we do what we do. It is probably proper to allow custom and culture to dictate many matters of style or fashion for us, but do we ever reflect upon them from a Biblical perspective?

Finally, this may seem like making a mountain out of a molehill, but the means we use to resolve such issues are very important. The way we address controversial or contested topics with and in the Scriptures will dictate how we approach other issues with possibly farther-reaching implications than putting on or taking off a hat.

¹ I checked the Revised Common, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Anglican Church of North America Sunday lectionaries.


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