I'm going to revisit the issue of head coverings. I've discussed this before, so I won't repeat all that this time around:
In a strange way, this has become a very topical issue. That's because Paul stresses the importance of gender differentiation in 1 Cor 11. Very timely in light of the transgender debate that's going on in church circles.
i) There are Christians of a certain type. They think true obedience to Scripture means just doing whatever it says. Let's keep things simple. This mindset is reinforced by the fact that you have professing Christians who are looking for excuses not to believe or obey Scripture, so it looks like the same tactic.
Would that it really were that simple. But no Christian actually operates that way. For instance, Leviticus is full of commands that Christians no longer obey. The "God said it/I believe it/that settles it!" rule doesn't work in that case–or many others.
They might say, "Well, that's because it's the old covenant and we're under the new covenant." Sure, but just how the OT is fulfilled in the NT is a matter of ongoing dispute among Christians.
Likewise, some Christians think the Bible "obviously" teaches baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence. Others rightly disagree.
Fact is, interpreting and appropriating Scripture is often complicated. That's unavoidable. A simplistic rule-of-thumb won't do the job.
ii) In addition, Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they practiced rote adherence to the letter of the law without due consideration the rationale for a given law. Christ regarded that as essentially disobedient, because it failed to respect the underlying principle. Consider the debates over Sabbath-keeping.
Another example is how OT prophets censure nominal Jews who go through the motions of the sacrificial system, but lack genuine piety. For them, it was just a mechanical observance which they got out of the way, then went about their business. And that, too, crops in the debates over Sabbath-keeping.
Therefore, it's not enough for us to quote Paul's injunction and leave it at that. We need to consider what principle his injunction exemplifies.
There's the risk of tokenism. Token obedience to Scripture by reproducing symbolic gestures without regard to whether they carry the same significance everywhere, at every time–or acting as if that just doesn't matter.
That, in turn, can foster a false sense of sanctity. That by performing certain externals, checking the right boxes, we've discharged our spiritual duties–when, in fact, this is quite perfunctory and misses the point of the injunction.
iii) Apropos (ii), true obedience sometimes demands cross-cultural contextualization. Although the principle is transcultural, the way in which that principle is exemplified is sometimes variable in time and place. The challenge is to isolate the principle and identify analogous signs. Signs of the principle which have the same or similar signification in different cultures.
iv) In my analysis, 1 Cor 11 enunciates two principles, along with a symbol to illustrate the principles. There's the principle of male headship and the principle of gender differentiation. Those, in turn, are illustrated by the symbolism of head covering. The headgear is a semiotic code.
v) In 1 Cor 11, Paul appeals to both nature and culture. To what does that apply? The principle or the sign of the principle?
For instance, nature might apply to male headship. That's the principle. Headgear might apply to culture. That's a sign of female submission.
The sign might well be variable while the principle is invariant across different cultures.
vi) We need to distinguish between transparent signs and opaque signs. By a transparent sign, I mean a sign where there's a natural, easily discernible link between the symbol and what it stands for.
Take ritual ablutions, where physical uncleanliness is a metaphor for sin and guilt, while physical cleansing is a metaphor for forgiveness and sanctification.
Likewise, the scapegoat–where a priest puts his hand on the head of the goat, confessing the sins of Israel–to symbolically transfer the sins of Israel to the animal, then sends it off into the wilderness, to symbolize remission of sin (Lev 16:21-22).
These are transparent signs which employ natural metaphors. You can discern the significance of these actions without any cultural background.
Conversely, there are opaque signs in the sense that the symbolism or semiotic code is a social convention that's assigned to the emblematic action. Unless you have the requisite cultural background, you don't know what it means. The link between the principle and the sign is arbitrary.
For instance, one way to symbolize rank is for a soldier to salute a superior officer. But that's an opaque sign.
v) Different cultures have different ways of signaling rank. Bowing before a monarch is a common example. In traditional Japanese culture, the wife walks two or three steps behind the husband.
However, that's culturebound. In chivalric culture, a gallant man will sometimes enter the house first to make sure it's safe for the women to come inside.
In that case, going first represents a different principle. A sacrificial principle. The man is exposing himself to potential risk to spare the woman. That's very different from the Japanese custom–even if they are outwardly alike.
vi) Hairstyles can send signals. Take the Mohawk. That was popularized by Hollywood movies depicting Indian braves. As a result, some young men sport a Mohawk as a symbol of masculinity.
At the same time, that's an opaque sign. Unless you have the pop cultural background, you don't know what it signifies.
vii) The use of symbolism automatically raises the question of who the symbol is for. Take headgear in 1 Cor 11. Who is the symbol signaling? Is it God? Is it the husband? The wife? The congregation? Visitors?
viii) When Paul says long hair is a woman's glory, that seems to be an appeal to nature. To biological gender. But is he considering women in general?
When some readers see that, it might conjure up images of women in Botticelli and Dante Rossetti. But what about Afros? Did Paul that in mind? Or is he implicitly referring to European women? Long flowing tresses?
ix) An interesting question is why he doesn't talk about beards. Based on Lev 19:27, did Paul consider the beardless Greco-Roman style effeminate?
But perhaps, because Roman soldiers were beardless, it wasn't considered culturally effeminate. After all, Rome was the reigning superpower. And it achieved that status through military might. Classic machismo.
x) In what sense does Paul mean it's "natural" for a woman to have long hair (11:14) in contrast to a man? If a man doesn't cut his hair, it will naturally grow long. Surely Paul was aware of that.
Presumably, then, he means "natural," not in the absolute sense of what's intrinsically natural, but in terms of what was customarily perceived to be natural or unnatural. In the Roman Empire, a long-haired man was generally a signal of effeminacy–although there were exceptions.
xi) The contemporary headcovering debate is typically focused on how women should present themselves in church rather than how men should present themselves in church. The one-sidedness is striking.
Perhaps that's because the headcovering movement is only appealing to certain "fundamentalist" churches where the men automatically present themselves in conventionally conservative attire and haircuts. So emphasis shifts to restoring the status quo ante with respect to women, since that is what has changed in most churches.
xii) In modern American, I think there's still a default association between long-haired men and effeminacy or decadence. For instance, male rock stars usually have long hair, and they aren't generally paragons of virtue.
There are, however, exceptions. Hollywood movies have popularized the image of long-haired Indian braves. Because they represent warrior cultures, it doesn't have effeminate connotations for that ethnicity.
And that isn't just a Hollywood depiction. There are lots of historic photos of 19C American Indian men with long hair.
Likewise, we customarily associate pigtails with girls. But in the case of the Manchu hairstyle, that doesn't connote efficacy, in part because it's clearly "foreign," so we don't judge it by "American" standards, and because Chinamen were not, in fact, effeminate. The men who helped build the transcontinental RR were hardly swishy or sissies. Likewise, pop culture associates Chinamen with kung fu. And American pop culture venerates martial arts as a stereotypically macho activity.
xiii) A notable exception would be Islam and Middle-eastern churches influenced by Islamic social mores. However, Christians should vigorously resist assimilation to Muslim sensibilities. The Muslim practice of veiling women reflects the Muslim view of women, which is not something Christians ought to accommodate.
xiv) From my reading, proponents of the headcovering movement doesn't care about whether head coverings convey the same message in our culture as they did in Paul's culture. They don't think that matters.
In one respect, I don't have much to say to people who suffer from that outlook. It artificially detaches a symbol from the function of a symbol, as if the function of a symbol is irrelevant to the importance of a symbol.
But Paul clearly isn't advocating a symbol for the sake of symbolism, regardless of what that actually signifies to the parties concerned. To the contrary, he's concerned with sending the right message rather than the wrong message. The sign has no value independent of what it signifies. And what it signifies is not independent of cultural perceptions. In some cases (i.e. opaque signs), symbolism requires a shared domain of discourse.
A symbol that's lost its significance ceases to be a symbol at all. It doesn't convey any message. Or it now conveys the wrong message, due to transvaluation.
The point of a symbol is to signal a target audience. But if the symbol no longer sends that message, it is mindless traditionalism to retain the symbol. Indeed, that subverts the purpose of the symbol.
xv) Let's revisit American Indians. This becomes an issue in missiology. Suppose your a church-planter on a reservation. Suppose most of the men have long hair. Should you tell them to get a haircut, based on 1 Cor 11? No, because that rips 1 Cor 11 out of context.
xvi) A question which headcovering proponents ask is if you reject head coverings, what's your modern-day substitute?
Well, there's no one answer because it depends on semiotic codes, which in cases like this are culturally variable. But nowadays, as society becomes increasingly and militantly secularized, just attending a Bible-believing church can a countercultural statement. A public statement of submission to divine authority.
Wearing a cross can be a countercultural statement of submission to divine authority. Monogramous heterosexual marriage is becoming a countercultural statement. Motherhood is becoming a countercultural statement. Being a stay-at-home mom is a countercultural statement.
Christian marriage defies feminist priorities. Defies antinatalism. Defies homosexuality and transgenderism. Defies polyamory.
At present, Christian marriage is a far more potent and provocative restatement of traditional masculine and feminine roles than donning a head covering in church.