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The IFB War Against Long Hair on Men

gerencser boys 1989
My Three Oldest Sons Sporting Baptist Haircuts, Somerset Baptist Church, 1989

Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? (I Corinthians 11:14)

According to many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers, 1 Corinthians 11:14 is clear: it is shameful and against nature for a man to have long hair. The late Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, made it his life’s mission to rid American men of what he considered effeminate long hair. In a sermon titled, Satan’s Bid for Your Child, Hyles stated:

God pity you people who call yourselves Christians and wear your long hair, beard and sideburns like a bunch of heathens. God, clean you up! Go to the barber shop tomorrow morning, and I am not kidding. It is time God’s people looked like God’s people. Good night, let folks know you are saved! There are about a dozen of you fellows here tonight who look like you belong to a Communist-front organization. You say, “I do not.” Then look like you do not. You say, “I do not like that kind of preaching.” You can always lump anything you do not like here.

In the booklet titled Jesus Had Short Hair, Hyles made the connection between male hair length and homosexuality. In Hyles’ eyes, men with longer hair were more likely to be sissified, weak homos. Hyles wrote:

It is very interesting that as the trend toward long hair increases, the acceptance of homosexuality increases. This is not to say that long hair and homosexuality always go together, but it is to note the fact that both are on the rise in our generation. Several of the major denominations have now accepted homosexuals. In some cities there are churches for homosexuals pastored by avowed homosexuals. At least one major denomination has ordained a homosexual preacher and others are considering following suit.

IFB preaching against long hair on men found its impetus as men began to grow their hair longer in the late 1960s and 1970s. Hippies had long hair and were anti-establishment. IFB preachers viewed long hair on men as a sign of rebellion against parental and religious authority. As anyone raised in the IFB church movement knows, rebellion is considered a grave sin, one that is never to be tolerated by parents or churches. This view of rebellion led to the establishment of IFB group homes, places where frustrated parents sent their children to be cured of rebellion. Sadly, children sent to these homes often returned to mom and dad emotionally and mentally broken. In some instances, these rebellious children had been physically and sexually assaulted.

In the IFB church movement of the 1970s, the four big sins were: long hair on men, short skirts on women, pants on women, and rock music. Youth directors waged holy wars against these sins and pastors frequently excoriated church teenagers over their unwillingness to obey the rules. While the days of hippies, Woodstock, and free love have faded into the pages of American history, many IFB preachers still preach against long hair, short skirts, pants, and rock music.

There are numerous unaccredited IFB colleges and Bible institutes in the United States. With few exceptions, these institutions strictly regulate how men must wear their hair. I attended Midwestern Baptist College from 1976-79. Midwestern had a strict standard concerning hair: short, off the ears, no long bangs, short sideburns, no facial hair, and a tapered neckline. This standard was strictly enforced, and men who let their hair grow too long were told to get a haircut. Ignoring this demand resulted in suspension or expulsion.

While some IFB preachers, churches, and colleges have adapted to the times, many have not. Midwestern Baptist College is one such institution that still thinks it is 1976. Here is Midwestern’s male hair standard, as published in their 2013-14 student handbook:

Men are to be neat in appearance and dressed properly at all times. The hair is to be cut over the ears and tapered at the back above the collar. Sideburns are to be no lower than the middle of the ear. Hair must be no longer than the middle of the forehead in front. Men may not have facial hair unless approved by the Dean of Students. Such facial hair must be neatly groomed at all times. Faddish, worldly hairstyles will not be tolerated. The final decision as to the appropriateness of a hairstyle will rest with the Administration.

As a loyal, faithful son of the IFB church movement, from the time I was a child until the late 1990s, I had short hair. As an IFB preacher, I thought it important to model the hairstyle God approved. While I didn’t preach very often on men having long hair, my short hairstyle made it clear to church members where I stood on the matter. Not only was my hair a testimony to the notion that the Bible condemned long hair, but so was the hair of my three oldest sons. My sons spent many years looking similar to children who were either being treated for lice or recently released from a Nazi prison camp. Not wanting to spend money on haircuts, we bought a pair of clippers and periodically gave them buzz cuts. No protestations allowed. Sit down, buzz, next. I am sure, at the time, they hated me, and I don’t blame them.

charles spurgeon
Charles Spurgeon, a 19th Century English Baptist Preacher

Over time, my views on hair began to change. In the early 1990s, I grew a beard, much to the surprise of my fellow IFB preachers. By then I had distanced myself from the more extreme elements of the IFB church movement, and I began fellowshipping with Calvinistic-oriented Reformed and Sovereign Grace Baptist preachers. These men, refugees from IFB churches, didn’t have as many social hangups. While they were still quite Fundamentalist, these preachers spent little time preaching on things such as male hair length and facial hair. Charles Spurgeon was one of this movement’s patron saints and he had long hair and a beard. I thought at the time, if Spurgeon had long hair and a beard, it must be okay for me to do the same.

Several years ago, Polly and I drove to Newark, Ohio to visit her parents. While there, my IFB mother-in-law asked me about my hair. I had let my hair grow, longer than it had ever been. (I know, I know, it’s hard for some of you to believe I actually had hair at one time.) Mom, who attends a church that is anti-long hair on men, asked, So you are growing your hair long? I replied, Yes. She responded, Why? And with nary a thought, I replied, Because I can. I am sure she was disappointed that I let myself turn into a hippie. She later asked if I planned to put my hair in a ponytail like my former brother-in-law does I told her I didn’t plan to let my hair grow that long.

These days, I am bald and Polly wears her hair short (unlike the days when her hair was long in compliance with her husband’s interpretation of the Bible). We have a hard, fast agreement: we don’t criticize each other’s hairstyles. While we do, at times, defer to one another, both of us are free to wear our hair as we wish. Now that we have cast off the shackles of Fundamentalism, we are free to do what we want. FREEDOM! As I have mentioned before, Polly and I missed out on the wildness of the 1960s and 1970s. Both of us were members of hardcore IFB churches that strictly regulated dress, hairstyles, and conduct. Now that we are no longer psychologically chained to IFB beliefs, we are, to some degree, living, for the first time, the 1960s and 1970s. On the plus side, we are much wiser than we were forty-five years ago. On the negative side, we also have bodies that are forty years older. Oh, to be wise and young!

How about you? Did you grow up in a church that strictly regulated dress, hairstyle, and behavior? Were you compliant or rebellious? If you were rebellious, how did your church and parents respond to your rebellion? Please share your hair-raising experiences in the comment section.

(Please read my previous post on this subject, Is it a Sin for a Man to Have Long Hair?)

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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25 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Brian

    Grew up going to a non-IFB church. It’s been a while but I think it was considered “Conservative Baptist Association” (is that a thing?). At any rate, my mom always had short hair and wore pants. CCM and the NIV were fine too, but not secular rock, of course. As they have gotten older, they have moved on to more and more conservative churches. I think it’s mainly because they hate contemporary worship more than anything else. Now they go to a super IFB church. Think socially awkward teenage girls hiking and playing basketball in long denim skirts. It’s weird. But my mom is still wearing pants and short hair. I wonder if the rest of the church gives her the side eye when she walks in.

  2. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    My Husband’s dad was a Navy NCO. In proper Navy style, his sons grew up barely knowing they had hair. In fact, both Mom-in-law and Dad-in-law have trouble telling photos of the boys apart, unless they’re together; proper little copies of Good Conservative Children, they were.

    Both boys experimented with longer hair when they were old enough to insist on a preference. When I met Husband in college, he sported a head of curls not dissimilar to Tom Baker (the actor who played Dr. Who at the time). This then-boyfriend, who I knew and loved as a jeans-and-plaid-shirt guy with curly hair, decided to update his look for his first professional summer intern job interview. He appeared on my doorstep, in a three-piece suit with a short haircut, and it took me a moment to recognize him!

  3. Avatar
    Ian

    I always had short hair. When I say short, it was even short by IFB standards. I was always mocked about getting run over by a lawn mower. My dad believe short meant short and there should be no question if my hair was short.

    That has carried over into my adult life. I hate my hair touching my ears. I tried to let my hair grow out and I just couldn’t stand it. I keep my hair short now because it is what I want, not because I think I will become sissified. There are plenty of gay men with short hair and a lot of straight men with long hair and beards.

    In fact, I wonder what Jack Hyles would have thought about the Green Berets and SEALs who are deployed and have long hair and fluffy beards. Was he a better soldier because his hair was short and theirs is long? It has been like that for a long time, too. Back in the early 80’s there were plenty of special operations types sporting pony tails and earrings, due to the fact they had to blend in. I guess those sissy men wouldn’t have been welcomed at his church. Would he have considered them any less patriotic because of their grooming standards?

    Overall, it is just a way to keep people under oppression. The Jesus Jack Hyles worshipped had short hair and blue eyes. In reality, I think Hyles and his kind would have been surprised to meet Jesus and see that he looked nothing like the pictures we have today.

  4. Avatar
    Tim McGaha

    My hair and I are no longer on speaking terms. We always had a troublesome relationship. It never behaved, except when cut very short. When my widow’s peak and bald spot joined forces, that was when I said “It’s not you, it’s me,” and shaved it all off.

  5. Avatar
    E. J. Kane

    Ah, but, ‘What saith the scriptures’?

    In my Fundamental circles facial hair is allowed, after all, Christ had a beard did He not?
    We are not to grow our hair while in-term in the college, and we are to carefully maintain hair in all cases.

    I think a man who wears long hair is simply a sissy, doesn’t matter if we are in 2017, 1217 or 2817.

    • Avatar
      Brian

      The point of this viral Christianity is to remove choice and free will from people, Walk, talk, dress a specific way defined by almighty gawd and interpreted to your fallen nothingness by the local preacher of your choice. E.J. Kane is not a thinker. He is a dull feeler with his antennae all stuck up his own rear view. When I had hair I let it grow sometimes and then sometimes chopped it.
      You know, E.J. Kane, Gerencser was of a similar opinion to yours some years ago. The difference between Bruce and you? Bruce was able to question himself and honestly confront his actions. I think a man who calls somebody a sissy for having long hair is a bully, I thought in the late sixties, the days of long hair, and I think it today. Frankly saying such ignorant things makes a man appear quite dull. Please tell me this is your idea of a joke.

    • Avatar
      Larry Kinsler

      Where is ” I think ” in your King James Bible? Your opinion, at the Judgement Seat Of Christ, will burn in the ” wood, hay, stubble ” category. The Bible does not condemn longer than deemed appropriate by some hair on men, and to condemn where the Bible does not condemn is to go beyond , and add to, the Word. You do know what happens to those who add to God’s Word, don’t you? What we need is a New Testament passage that has the God of your Bible condemning hair on man after exceeding a certain, Biblically defined length. Anything short of this is simple handed down tradition from man, and is not worth a ” hill o’ beans “.

      • Avatar
        Brian

        I never suggested what I said was in the Bible. I said that a man who calls somebody a sissy for having long hair is a bully. As are Christians who quote scripture to prove that being a bully is a good thing and not worthy of disdain. Preachers spend their time bullying for God but the fact that ‘God said’ does not make bullying right or correct.
        I am already in Hell, Larry. My proof is fundy Christianity and Islam, to name a few virus strains.
        And that hill o’ beans you speak of is one of my primary foods. I love beans, Larry. They are tasty treat and keep me regular, You KJV is processed food, Larry. It’s kool-aid and Kraft Dinner. It’s Jesus in seven minutes flat with cheesy stuff on top.

        • Avatar
          Sage

          Thank you Brian. I get so tired of the ‘I love you so I bully you’ religious people. I’ve been dealing with this a lot lately so it is good to hear others standing against this abuse.sounds like we share a common hell.

          So my mind works oddly..and I am sitting here wondering if people in hell have hair? It’s really hot down there so I am thinking the answer is no?

          • Avatar
            Brian Vanderlip

            Shortly after my exchange with Larry and his Biblical correct clippers, God decreed that male-pattern baldness take the hair from my head! 😉
            (When my wife, the kids and I lived in Asia, I was quite grateful for the baldness but back here in the chilly seasons of Canada, I wear hoodies in the early a.m. and light up the wood fire!)
            It’s always the same story with the Larry’s, or almost always… Once one gives oneself over to the ‘Word’, the bully stuff starts to rear its head in evangelical fashion. I don’t think it starts with religion but wow, there are few better tools in the world to harm!

  6. Avatar
    Roy

    I suppose you and Absolum with his beautiful hair and winning ways will be best buds in the next world? I’m sorry your view of Gods sovereignty is that doesn’t really care if man have long hair though nature which he presumably designed does. Overreactionism is so common….

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      Well, I guess we could start a thread about Absolom but I don’t see how to do so without pointing out that your caring about how I wear my hair (I’m bald!) is an apt example of what I referred to earlier as bullying-attitude. Christianity is chock full of this kind of ignorance and is itself perhaps what you, Roy, refer to to as “overreactionism”, a neatly coined phrase that would indeed be very useful to folks similar to how I perceive you here in this thread. Why do you react so? Are you a sargeant in God’s army? If God told you to slay your son, would you tie him to a slab of stone and sharpen your knife? Do you think that getting to a barber twice a month will save you from an ‘act of faith’ that requires you to set aside your human love of your child for a grater 😉 love that requires you to murder that child? Why not choose a more, shall we say significant matter to discuss? How about talking about your personal insights regarding bullying in your life…. do you see bullying around you? Later, if you like we can discuss hair-dressing and make-up.

  7. Avatar
    Joe Haynes

    my hair is really long. I do not plan to ever have it cut again. I like it that way. My wife likes it that way. I am totally old school regarding relations. Not one cell of homo– and not homophobic – that is not my problem. Women really like me. I am a very holy man, I have been a musician for 60 years. When I go to church, I am not there to surrender my American, God given rights I cling to the cross. When you judge me because of my long hair, you really do demonstrate lack of intelligence — you might not look so great old boy — YO. AND, it is taken by me as a compliment — I did not know I was that interesting.

  8. Avatar
    paula

    in the 70s we went to a “fellowship” where the “pope” of that movement preached about beards and the evil of wearing one. years later he got shingles so bad he could not shave …. hence he ended up with a huge beard. i thought if there was a god. ….. it certainly had a sense of humour …. or at least karma!

  9. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Paula–Even when I was an Evangelical Christian, I never understood why God would give men hair that grew (at least until they reached a certain age) if he didn’t want them to wear it long. I also didn’t understand why that same god would give men (and, by the way, some women) facial hair if he didn’t want them to wear it.

    I grew up as Roman Catholic. I’m not sure whether the Vatican has rules about hair, but I recall that our church had a hair code for altar boys and deacons, and the Catholic school had one for its male students.

    Even after I stopped believing, I wore my hair short, partly out of habit and partly out of the mores of the environments in which I lived and worked. However, when I began my gender affirmation process, I grew my hair and continue to wear it to my shoulders because I enjoy it and because it’s one of the three parts of my body people often compliment. (No, I’m not above vanity. What can I say?)

  10. Avatar
    Dave

    I went to a Christian college in the era when every guy just let his hair grow. At my college men were not allowed to have hair touch the ears or collar and this was strictly enforced. Guys would trim these areas while letting their hair grow outward resulting in unique hairstyle surely unknown outside of the fundamentalist bubble. Just another example of the control religious leaders attempt to place on their sheep.

  11. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    The fundamentalist Christian school I attended (where most of the faculty and staff were IFB churches and many IFB educated) had a diagram in the school handbook showing acceptable male hair length, complete with measurements. Boys were sent home if their hair was too long just as girls were sent home if their skirts were too shirt. Because we all know children can’t learn if their hair is too long or their skirts too short….

    I got into trouble for commenting that Jesus and the disciples had long hair and beards……

    What defines short and long anyway? The Bible is vague on that.

  12. Avatar
    Sage

    Hmm, long hair, short skirts, pants, and rock music…I guess I am doomed.

    My father tolerated rock music to a point. We also managed to negotiate a not to long and not short hairstyle. Pants were no problem. But it was skirts that were the big problem. It took a long time, but I finally learned how to be a good Christian and hide my true self away.

    Thankfully I escaped the guilt, emotional trauma, and self hatred of Christianity so now I can have any hairstyle I wish while wearing clothing f my own choosing.

    I do not understand why Christian’s get so worried over how people look or dress.

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Bruce Gerencser