The church in which I grew up taught me that hats are vaguely sinister. I never heard “Take off your hat in church!” because none of us wanted to commit an unpardonable sin. Boys took off their hats because we were in the presence of God (and never thought to ask, “Since we believe God is everywhere, why would we ever wear hats?).
The rule in my old hat Baptist church was “No hats” with one exception. Each year women celebrated Jesus’ resurrection with hats covered with enough ribbons, flowers, and feathers to make Lady Gaga jealous. These special occasion hats were acceptable in the same way chocolate Easter bunnies were an acceptable breakfast once a year.
This inconsistent prohibition on hats in worship makes sense until you worship with a Jewish congregation. Jewish men wear yarmulkes as a reminder that God is always above us. In many African American churches women wear hats like the Queen of England wears her crown. Bishops have pointy hats. Cardinals have red hats. The Pope has a white hat. Catholic nuns and Muslim women wear headscarves. Hindus and Sikhs wear turbans. Some religious groups insist you take off your hat and others insist you put on a hat. I’ll eat my hat if that makes sense.
Paul, as is often the case, is not helpful. The fezless saint writes: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5 KJV). Paul says that men can’t wear hats in church, not even a dignified derby, if they are preaching. Women who preach have to wear hats (especially if the woman is bald).
We should tip our caps to the Anabaptist women who were so concerned with violating Paul’s command that they wore head coverings in the shower so they could pray there. Some Amish and Mennonite women cover their heads all of the time, because who knows when you will need to prophesy.
Maybe Paul was talking through his hat, but like Paul, I like women’s hats. I owe my existence to a hat. Forty-five years before I was born, my mother’s father ran through the rain to catch a train. He was a beginning student on his way to Mississippi A&M. When he got on the train he saw a beautiful girl in a dark blue hat. She had been out in the rain, too, and her brand new blue hat was losing its blue. She didn’t know it, but blue streaks were running down both sides of her face. My grandfather had never seen such lovely blue stripes on any woman. He thought, “She must be rich to afford such an unusual hat. I am going to marry that woman.” He sat beside her and tried not to stare at the beautiful hat streaming down her cheeks.
I wonder what Paul would say about Bob’s hat. When I was pastor of a rural church in Indiana, Bob wore a cap during basketball season that proclaimed, “The Lord is my shepherd. Bobby Knight is my coach.” We had no problem letting Bob pass the hat when it was time for the offering.
Perhaps I should keep this under my hat, but I find myself questioning the embargo on sombreros. When I wear a fedora I assume students see me as whimsical rather than as an old guy going bald.
Is it possible Abraham Lincoln stopped going to church because they wouldn’t let him wear his stovepipe? Would Sherlock Holmes have been a churchgoer if his deerstalker had been welcome? Did Daniel Boone choose between his coonskin cap and a seat in the pew? Would we hear more barbershop quartets in worship if we let them wear their boaters?
How could an usher justify asking Captain Crunch to take off his bicorn or Mr. Monopoly his top hat? Wouldn’t the church be more fun with Laurel and Hardy in their bowlers? Shouldn’t congregations have welcomed Winston Churchill with his homburg, Bear Bryant with his hounds tooth, and Elmer Fudd with his Elmer Fudd hat? Cowboy churches began so that fake cowboys could wear real Stetsons.
Imagine your sanctuary filled with beanies, bonnets, hard hats, trilbies, wimples, pith helmets, party hats, and Panama hats (which are made ironically in Ecuador). In the kingdom to come the chapeaued and the hatless will sit side by side.