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Theology about beards can get hairy

Should beards and mustaches be going to church? While this certainly isn't a "heaven or hell" issue, there is an undercurrent of controversy — especially among the leadership in some churches today.

Most churches leave facial hair up to the discretion of their members, but many Jewish men believe they have Old Testament restrictions on using a blade on the corners of the mouth. A few other churches discourage facial hair overall, and some prefer their leaders are clean-shaven.

"We have no policy on facial hair," the Rev. Rodger Russell of the Holladay Baptist Church said. That's the stand of the Southern Baptist movement. "It's personal preferences," he said.

Russell is clean-shaven because he feels a beard doesn't flatter his face, but an associate pastor at the church has a full beard.

"We make no distinction on it," said Jerry Lewis, senior minister of Salt Lake's Southeast Christian Church. The church does prefer members try to be neat and tidy.

The Rev. Michael J. Imperiale of the First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City said his faith has no stand on facial hair. In fact, he has a beard and mustache. He said scriptures are very clear that the Lord looks on the inside, not the outside.

He also acknowledges cultural differences in facial hair and believes appearance is only an issue when it's unhealthy or provocative.

The First Apostolic Church in Salt Lake City, a part of the United Pentecostal movement, has a very different view, though.

"We sort of lean away from it (facial hair)," the Rev. William Fitzgerel said. "We don't advocate it."

He said the policy is in part based on concerns about the liberal element in society.

"It's not a salvation issue," he stressed. In fact, if visitors come to the church and have facial hair, they aren't turned away or looked down on, but the majority of men at the church are clean-shaven.

Rabbi Benny Zippel of the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah Synagogue of Salt Lake City, said his Jewish congregation follows the Old Testament with the advice in Leviticus 19:27. Hand razors are prohibited, but there is some leniency on using electric razors. He said rabbis by default have full beards.

The Episcopal Church of Utah has no comment on the facial hair issue. Christian Scientists don't have any rules either, and neither does the United Methodist Church.

"I've had a mustache for 30 years," said the Rev. Ron Hodges of Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.

Brian Davis, director of Weber State University's Center for Religion and Ethics, said facial hair is basically cultural.

He said most Buddhists are clean-shaven, and the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints projects a predominant clean-shaven image.

"Facial hair is not a trust level thing in America," Imperiale said. However, he agrees that locally the clean-shaven image of LDS general authorities may have created somewhat of a deviation from the rest of the country.

The LDS Church has no general policy on facial hair for its members.

However, all of the church's presidents have been clean-shaven since President David O. McKay in 1951. Almost all other general authorities have lacked facial hair the past 50 years too.

In addition, a policy change in 2001 requires that all LDS temple workers, at least those across the Wasatch Front, be clean-shaven. Beards and goatees are not allowed at Brigham Young University, but well-trimmed mustaches are considered OK for BYU students.

Eight men in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir have mustaches, and they're permissible for seminary teachers and most other church employees, too. However, the church's full-time missionaries are not permitted to have beards or mustaches.

The view of Jehovah's Witnesses is that today's ministers are concerned with neatness and appearance and don't want their appearance to detract from the effectiveness of their message.

"In recent years in many lands, a beard or long hair on a man attracts immediate notice and may, in the minds of the majority, classify such a person undesirably with extremists or as rebels against society," the Watchtower magazine says of the church's stand on facial hair. Hence, most of the members are clean-shaven.

The Roman Catholic Church has no limits or rules now on beards and mustaches. However, facial hair has been one of the traditional splits involved with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxy. Western Catholics may shave or not shave as they chose. Eastern Orthodox clerics could not shave.

The Indiana Bible College sponsors a perspectives page online,, and one of the back issues (volume 7:5) has an article titled, "Beards & Mustaches" Acceptable?"

"Clearly we are far enough beyond the hippie era of the 1960s that beards and mustaches are no longer closely associated with rebellion," the article says. "And just as clearly there is no scripture forbidding the wearing of facial hair. Nevertheless, even secular authorities admit that there is a subconscious aversion to men with beards and mustaches by the general population. People simply trust clean-shaven men more. For that reason, a stand against facial hair is a legitimate standard but should not be considered a 'heaven or hell' issue."

One minister in the article argued a man should look like a man and a woman a woman. Thus facial hair is part of gender differences that set a man apart.

Another pastor said facial hair is a wise standard today.

"It would be OK for a layman to have a beard or mustache, but not for someone in leadership," another pastor said.

Historically, the lack of beards in the military goes back to Alexander the Great. It was harder to grab an enemy by the chin and cut his throat in battle if he was clean-shaven.

Amish young men usually start growing a beard as they become of marriage age. However, they discourage mustaches because they were worn by the military in Europe, where the Amish were persecuted.