A Hairy Idolatry

Sarah Stankorb
6 min readAug 24, 2022

Waxing poetic about beards is just another version of manly-man worship among patriarchal Christians

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

If nothing else will drive me off social media, perhaps it will be a week of men flipping out because Bible teacher Beth Moore tweeted about grapes followed by another week dedicated to the godly gift of beard growth.

For those of you not on Christian or exvangelical Twitter, an update: It’s been a long few days littered with references to a trending post on John Piper’s Desiring God, entitled, “O Beard Where Art Thou?” In the post, a summary of 2 Samuel verses expands out (quite far) from the story of an attack in which the biblical David’s servants’ clothes were hacked and beards half-shaved. The incident, we’re told, was about emasculation. Therefore, modern readers, beards must be a sign of masculinity and exist as a way of differentiating men from women. It follows (wouldn’t you know) that when men who can grow a beard do so, it is good in the eyes of God because it keeps gender roles crisply defined.

The ode to beards is a manifestation of anxiety concerning gender identity that is common among many evangelicals. The post’s author Greg Morse wrote, “We paste false beards on women and shave the beards of men, catechizing the children that there isn’t any difference. Hair is just hair. With enough hormones, anyone can grow them.” Not only does this statement mirror much of the transphobia I’ve heard in conservative Christian spaces, the underlying rationale for disdain toward gender transition or gender fluidity seems to come from a sense that both threaten a core tenet: clear and complementarian gender norms.

Defenders of the position suggest that complementarianism teaches men and women are made equally by God, but that women are designed as helpers subject to men (i.e., their husbands, fathers, and pastors). Within Reform theology, for which Piper is an intellectual figurehead, complementarianism is Christian patriarchy by another name. It’s a retread of the same ancient misogyny in new duds, or here, a new beard. An urge to subject women to men’s (claimed) authority is made easier when men can be physically marked by a characteristic not associated with women. For those wanting to draw bright lines around gender in order to stake men’s power, it helps to celebrate men as especially manly. It’s muscular (and…

Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com