Holiness churches are concerned with preserving the God-given distinction between men and women, and rightly so. That’s why many holiness churches teach that women should wear skirts/dresses and grow their hair long while men should wear pants and cut their hair short. It is ironic, then, that a number of holiness churches do not allow their male members to grow facial hair or view it as unfavorable when facial hair is the only natural, publically visible, God-given distinction between the sexes. While men can grow their hair long and women can cut their hair short, and while men can dress effeminate and women can dress masculine, only men can grow facial hair. Raymond Crownover noted this inconsistency in his response to a paper presented at the first Urshan Graduate School of Theology symposium in May 2002, writing:
If differences in length of hair is vital in celebrating gender differences, and thus glorifying God, would not differences in facial hair also be a celebration of gender, perhaps even more so than length of hair? If the issue is glorifying God by demonstrating gender differences, how can the same church teach that a woman should not cut her hair and that a man should shave his beard or moustache?
While I would not want to argue that a man must have facial hair, surely there are better arguments for such a view than for the view that men must not have facial hair. After all, facial hair is part of God’s creative design. And since facial hair is unique to the male gender, it seems obvious that God provided facial hair as a distinguishing feature of the male gender. How can we maintain the principle of gender distinction while at the same time requiring men to remove the only natural, publically visible distinction between the genders? One could argue that a man who shaves his face is deliberately attempting to confuse the sexes, just as much as one who wears women’s apparel or grows his hair long. In fact, one can find such arguments being made by the ancients. Epictetus, a first century A.D. Stoic philosopher wrote:
Has not nature used even [the hairs on a chin] in the most suitable way possible? Has she not by these means distinguished between the male and female? … Wherefore, we ought to preserve the signs God has given; we ought not to throw them away; we ought not, so far as in us lies, to confuse the sexes which have been distinguished in this fashion.” – Dissertations, 1.16.9-14
Woman is born smooth and dainty by nature, and if she is very hairy she is a prodigy, and is exhibited in Rome. … But for a man not to be hairy is the same thing, and if by nature he has no hair he is a prodigy, but if he…plucks it out of himself, what shall we make of him? … “I will show you,” we say to the audience, “a man who wishes to be a woman rather than a man.” What a dreadful spectacle! … Man, what reason have you to complain against your nature? Because it brought you into the world as a man? … Make a clean sweep of the whole matter; eradicate…the cause of your hairiness; make yourself a woman all over, so as not to deceive us, not half-man and half-woman. Whom do you wish to please? Frail womankind? Please them as a man. “Yes, but they like smooth men.” Oh, go hang! And if they like sexual perverts, would you have become such a pervert? … Leave the man a man. … How treat your paltry body, then? As its nature is. … What then? Does the body have to be left unclean? God forbid! But the man to be clean as a man, a woman as a woman. … No, but let’s pluck out also the lion’s mane…and the cock’s comb, for he too ought to be “cleaned up”! Clean? Yes, but clean as a cock, and the other clean as a lion…! – Dissertations, 3.1.27-45
If we are to have any standard at all regarding facial hair, a standard that would require men to have facial hair makes more sense than one that prohibits it. Personally, however, I would argue that no standard regarding facial hair ought to be made, not even one that requires facial hair. While it is natural for a man to grow facial hair, that no more requires him to do so than the fact that women naturally grow hair on their legs requires them to have hairy legs. Aesthetic and cultural preferences should always be considered.
How we got here
The most recent tradition of forbidding facial hair on men started in the late 1960s when the hippies grew facial hair as a sign of their social rebellion. We did not want our Christian men to be associated with this social rebellion, so we required them to be clean shaven. Two things should be noted, however. First, the hippies did not merely grow facial hair, but typically unkept facial hair. A man with a well-groomed beard or mustache would not necessarily have been identified with the hippie community. Secondly, nearly 50 years have passed since then and our culture has changed dramatically. The hippies have passed from the scene, and there is no longer an association between facial hair and social rebellion today (even among those in our culture who do not like facial hair, its association with social rebellion is not at the root of their opinion). Even if one conceded that the prohibition against facial hair was justified in the 1960s given the cultural milieu, now that the cultural milieu has changed, so ought our stance on facial hair.
Was our reaction appropriate?
I think we have good reason to question the legitimacy of our movement’s response to the hippies, even given the cultural milieu of the 1960s. While we should try our best to avoid that which is associated with evil, I’m not convinced that the sweeping prohibition was justified given the relatively small number of hippies. It seems to have been an overreaction, particularly given the fact that only certain styles of facial hair were typical of the hippie movement.
Would the church react similarly if homosexual men began to make their sexuality known by universally rejecting facial hair as a symbol of their rejection of the traditional male role and natural male image? Would we start requiring Christian men to sport facial hair to avoid the appearance of being homosexual, or of supporting homosex? No, not unless all non-homosexual men grew facial hair and culture-at-large viewed all clean-shaven men as homosexual (similar to the way in which only gay men wore an earring in their right ear in the 1980s). And would these no-facial-hair preachers reverse their position and mandate that all Christian men must grow facial hair?
Where do we go from here?
We have an obligation to teach what Scripture teaches; no more and no less. To demand anything more is neither our right, nor our responsibility. When reason supports the wearing of facial hair, and godly men in Scripture wore facial hair, we can hardly forbid it. I implore holiness churches to stop forbidding facial hair, and stop looking suspiciously at those with facial hair (unless it’s a woman, of course!). While the times may change, the male nature remains the same.
Why do I have facial hair? Because that’s the way God made my face. In fact, all men have facial hair. The only question is whether or not they will (or be allowed to) let it break the surface of their skin. Express your manhood! Beard it up! There’s no reason to fear the beard.