"In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity."
Photo by Ken Touchton
Last month Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a conference on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. (link) Conference speakers included: Paige Patterson, Russell Moore, Randy Stinson, Thomas White, and Dorothy Patterson, among others.
As women, we were especially interested in the discussion on Biblical Womanhood featuring a panel of four women which included Dorothy Patterson, wife of SWBTS president Paige Patterson. The initial question, directed at the president's wife, was as follows:
“Some have noticed that you often wear hats. Is that because of your interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11, and if not could you briefly elaborate on what that passage means for women today?”
Here is a transcript of Dorothy Patterson’s response:
“I wish I could say that I were sanctimonious and holy enough that I just believe because of the mention of head coverings in 1 Corinthians 11 that I would definitely never leave my house without a hat. That is an argument that might be good to use with Dr. Patterson if he tightens the hat budget, which he does from time to time, but I am happy to report to you that in Florida I just met a man who said his wife died and she left sixty hats and he’s holding them for me. So we’re going to send a big van out to get those to replenish my supply because Dr. Patterson has cut off my hat allowance.
But getting back to the heart of the question, I do think 1 Corinthians 11 is a very important passage for not only women but for men and women because as I understand the passage, the principle of the passage is the headship of the husband in the home. Paul has written extensively about this; he’s done it from many different perspectives, and I think it’s also the heart of this passage. Another thing in the passage that’s very important is the interdependence of the man and the woman and the fact that they are equal before the Lord. But the head coverings come in, and that’s the important part to me because I think the head coverings are a manifestation of the principle. Now keep in mind when you’re doing manifestation or application of principles, you’re usually doing it so that the audience to which you’re speaking will understand that clearly, and in this first century this was something that was easily understood, a matter of covering, a woman’s covering her head.
In the modern day when we marry, we choose to marry, and as Christian women we want to say that we are under the headship of our husbands as we understand God to have prescribed in His creation order, we wear a wedding ring, and that says to anyone who sees us that we have chosen to marry. But at that time it seems to me from what I have seen in Biblical background and other things that it was not the wedding ring so much as it was this covering of the head that indicated the fact that a woman had chosen to marry and chosen to stand under the authority of her husband.
Now coming back to me, I’ve already confessed my sins. I’m not holy enough to say well every principle, every application in Scripture I’m going to put right into my life, whatever the century is. That’s not how my hat started. My hat started actually in Fayetteville, Arkansas where I had a lady who did some sewing for me. And she was and in her former professional career been a milliner; she had been making ladies’ hats. And she said to me one day when my mother sent me some money for a dress, she said you know there’s fabric left over, could I make a hat for you? And I said, ‘Oh, I would love that!’ And so once she did that and I saw how beautifully that hat completed the outfit, I decided you know, I’m gonna start wearing hats, and so I did.
Now Carmen my daughter has a different perspective. She said mother wears hats because they cover a multitude of sins, and I don’t do hair and Dr. Patterson will only let me go to the beauty shop once a week, so I have those in between days I have to deal with. And so whatever the reason, I do have some natural ways that led me into wearing hats, and I’ve always said to my students you know maybe the Lord knew, actually He knows everything, so perhaps the Lord decided because my husband was going to be in a public position and because I was going to have to find every way I could to show that I wanted to stand under his authority – I have a slight independent streak, it’s very slight but some people have picked it up – and so perhaps in light of that the Lord just put in my heart a desire to wear hats. And it was a fashion reason actually in the beginning, but as I have looked at this passage again and again I do feel very comfortable in saying yes I’m happy with that application if it is a way of bearing testimony to those who cross my path that I did choose to marry and I do choose to stand under the authority of my husband. So (a) very brief explanation.”
Why does Dorothy Patterson find it necessary to cover her head? Is her hat:
(a) A visible sign of submission to her husband
(b) A way to hide her unkempt hair
(c) A fashion statement
(d) All of the above
Ironically, one of the reasons I don’t like wearing a hat is because it messes up my hairstyle. I do, however, enjoy wearing my wedding ring.
Dorothy may deny she is encouraging married Christian women to follow her as she follows Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1); however, it cannot be overly stressed that she is the ‘first lady’ of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as touted by Thomas White when introducing her at the conference. By manifesting this first-century principle in her authoritative women's studies position and as the wife of the seminary president, Dorothy is setting a precedent for other women, especially young ladies under her tutelage in the art of homemaking.
We believe one of Dorothy Patterson's intentions in routinely wearing a head covering is to influence other Christian women who may be gullible enough to follow her lead. In responding to this question, we believe Dorothy should have followed the Apostle Paul's example. When asked about his singleness, Paul explained that not everyone should imitate his lifestyle. Dorothy could have made a similar statement in her response; instead, we believe she is not so subtly trying to influence other women to embrace her interpretation of this passage regarding head coverings.
What a shame that someone found it necessary to ask such a question about the first lady of Southwestern's outward appearance. Did not Jesus say in Matthew 6:25-33 (ESV):
"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
As our Lord clearly communicated, our continual focus should be on the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not on our outward appearance. Therefore, all of us who profess Christ — both men and women — should be devoting our energy to confronting our culture with the Gospel message and demonstrating God's love to fellow believers as well as the lost. For some it seems the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been reduced to demonstrating that we stand in submission to our husbands.
We believe that when there is such a wide range of scriptural interpretations of a particular Bible passage among those in conservative evangelical Christianity, it is obvious that we don’t really understand the passage and we had better be extremely careful about basing a firm theology on it.
We believe that if God really wanted wives' heads to be 'covered' for all time until Jesus returns, He would have stated unequivocally that they must wear hats. In all likelihood, head coverings had to do with the culture of Paul's day; therefore, we must not cherry pick Scripture and decide what is essential like wearing a hat to demonstrate to a watching world one's wifely submission.
We must never forget God's truth as communicated in 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV):
"For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
Lydia's Corner: 1 Chronicles 28:1-29:30 Romans 5:6-21 Psalm 15:1-5 Proverbs 19:18-19