I had my first exegetical crisis at age ten.
Because everyone should have to deal with tricky New Testament passages about gender roles in elementary school. Obviously.
Let me explain. Until jr. high, I steadfastly refused to grow out my hair. I’m not exactly sure why, except that it probably had something to do with the fact that everyone told me I should have long hair, and I was/am a stubborn little punk.
Here I am, sporting my awesome quasi-bowl cut. We can talk later about my mad accordion skills.
One day, though, reading my Bible like they always told us to do in Sunday School, I came across 1 Corinthians 11:5-6:
“But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.”
Oh no! I thought to myself. I’m a spiritual disgrace!
And then I read on in verses 14-16 (skipping right over a really controversial part that I didn’t even understand at the time), “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering.”
Even worse! I’ve lost my glory! I’m unnatural!
My elementary school brain added in a number of other “facts” that seem to point to me being an anti-feminine heretic. When I watched Mulan, her great disgrace was having to cut off her beautiful long hair. Jo March burst into tears when she had to cut her hair, even for a good cause. And Anne of Green Gables was absolutely disconsolate when her green-dyed locks had to be chopped off.
Mulan, Jo, and Anne happened to be three of my heroes at the time. When the Bible and all the heroines of literature are against you, what’s a girl to do?
Stop and consider the context, of course. That was easy enough to do with the fictional stories. Once I really thought about it, the whole point of Mulan was that women are valuable not because of their physical appearance but because of the strength of their character. Jo’s sorrow over losing her hair showed that she was sacrificing something important to her, not that long hair is the only legitimate way for women to go out in public. And Anne of Green Gables was being suitably melodramatic because that’s just the way she was.
When it came to the Bible, though, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I mean, it said right there in black and white that God gave women long hair as a covering and it was a disgrace to have short hair. Even at age ten, I knew there were religious groups that forbade women to cut their hair. What if they were right all along?
In the end, I rejected that conclusion. Not because I had developed a highly sophisticated method of biblical analysis (my kids’ Bible kept that to the questions, “What does the passage say?” and “How can I apply this to my life?”). But because my mom had short hair. And my Sunday School teacher had short hair. And they were women who loved God and weren’t terrible heathens. So it had to be all right.
Phew. My bowl cut wasn’t a sin after all. (And here I’m talking morally, not with respect to the terrible crime I was committing against fashion.)
This story, while a cute glimpse into my early years of wrestling with Scripture, is also meant to show a few things:
- Some passages in the Bible are hard to interpret. And that’s okay.
- Gender roles are hard to talk about because they strike us at a personal level. (If I am a woman, what I believe about these things isn’t an abstract concept; it will affect everything I do.)
- I cut off fourteen inches of my hair yesterday. I’m still feeling fine about my faith and salvation in spite of this. Just so you know.
I’ll probably be talking about gender and Christianity every now and then over the next few weeks. Asking questions, mostly, but occasionally giving thoughts.
It can be scary territory, my friends. But not as scary as my elementary school bowl cut.
If you could ask any question related to gender and the Bible (or marriage, the church, theology, whatever), what would it be?