Here in the Land of Oz there’s a bit of a public debate going on about face coverings by muslim women. Even the Prime Minister got involved. What it really boils down to is this – should people be allowed to cover their faces up?
The concerns are obvious; if someone’s face is covered then you can’t identify them. This diminished identification brings two major problems; many places require identification for safety and security (and this argument is sometimes spliced in with the observation that our major terror threat at the moment is from islamic-motivated sources) and that, more basically, we are a culture that prizes openness – so much so that to wear a face covering is somehow “unAustralian”.
Words fail me. No, that’s not true; I have a few that come rapidly.
Shame on the CDP. There’s nothing “Christian” about this kind of response and not much democratic about it either (except for the right to say silly things). The first thing to grasp is that the vast majority of women who wear face coverings are Australian citizens. Like it or not this is Australian. We’re a wonderful melting pot of different cultures and we’re a long way away from a pure white (colour and culture) country. In fact we never were, as many aboriginal people will point out to you.
Many of us work hard to understand why women would wear the niqab or even the burkah. They see it as a form of modesty, and all the more so in a culture as overtly and crassly sexualised as ours. Who can blame them? We gently urge people to be modest in the way that they dress and so some women do so in a way that they think is correct.
But more fundamentally the CDP are shooting themselves in the foot, and discharging another round into mine. The muslim woman’s right to wear a niqab or burkah as a religious expression is also my right to religious expression. To silence one is to silence all. First they came for the burkahs, but I did not wear a burkah so I was silent…
Now of course, this means that some women will be unable to identify themselves. Well then so be it. That is their choice in a country that still has certain requirements. If they will not remove their face covering then perhaps they cannot enter a bank that requires helmets to be removed for identification. But that’s their choice. Similarly when it comes to identification for public services. I suggest that some accomodation should be made but if we need to identify someone we need to identify someone. But this is the choice of the woman herself. If she freely chooses to cover her face then let her cover her face. There may be consequences for her but she is free to make decisions about them.
And how ought Christians to respond? Well this is a good start:
Now I think they misunderstand the term “Common Grace” but the point is still well made. But how do we love Muslims like Christ? Well by telling them about the greater covering.
Coverings are an interesting thing in the Bible. The man and woman cover themselves early on when their sin leads to a new way of looking at themselves and their (previously wonderful) nakedness is something they need to hide. So they cover themselves with leaves. God brings a more permanent arragement by using the skin of animals and so (we might say) the first sacrifice to cover sin is made.
“Covering” then becomes a byword for dealing with sin, the word “atonement” having much the same meaning; a covering for sin. In Israel’s cultic life there is a great covering once a year at Yom Kippur, the day of atonement (Lev. 16). But there is also, in the tabernacle, a constant covering, the “mercy seat” that closes the Ark of the Covenant (Exo 30:6). It covers the law which condemns and therefore provides a place where God may meet with man.
The Apostle Paul picks up on this when he speaks of how Jesus saves us:
Rom. 3:25 [Christ], whom God put forward as [a propitiation] by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
The words translated here “a propitiation” is the greek “hilasterion” which was used in the greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to the “mercy seat” or “atonement cover”. We might just as accurately say:
Rom. 3:25 [Christ], whom God put forward as an atonement cover by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Muslim women may wear the veil so that men will not look at them in an unhelpful way. All well and good. But there is a bigger problem for all of us. God does not look at us well at all, because of our rebellion against Him. The solution, which He Himself provides, is the covering of Jesus. It brings the confidence to stand with no fear of being looked at in the wrong way. It brings the total assurance of forgiveness of sins and peace with God.
And the muslim woman’s right to wear a covering is my right to tell her (and everyone else) about the wonderful covering of Jesus. Which is a terrible thing for a “Christian” organisation to be campaigning against.