Why can't Jehovah's Witnesses have a beard?
The elders and ministerial servants are looked to for direction and to set an example in the congregation. Our work is very scrutinized by those outside our organization. I
n western countries in particular, a few years ago beards were often confused with a segment of society that reflected rebellion, namely the "hippy" movement of the 60's and 70's. It was felt that we should not in any way resemble those that reflected an attitude like this, or the drug culture that went along with it. We have to separate ourselves from that, and to have a beard a few years ago could be confusing, especially to an older generation of people at that time that were especially repulsed at the conduct of those of the younger generation. Even though we are some 30 or 40 years removed from that situation that existed during the late 60's and early 70's, it has been proven by experts that some people on some subconscious level do not trust a man with a beard.
The underlying message that some get from a beard is that if you have one, you have something to hide, as if you are hiding behind the beard. I have even heard that idea expressed in sales courses that I have taken for secular activities. Beards are discouraged by some sales trainers because of the subconscious message that some people receive from a person with a beard, and some feel that a person without a beard generally speaking has a more professional appearance than a person who does. So, even though the reasons for not wearing a beard may have changed somewhat, the practice of not having a beard itself still has merits. Jehovah's Witnesses do not want to give any cause for stumbling others, either inside the congregation or outside the congregation. So, we generally do not wear beards. This may be different in some countries where social circumstances are different, just like in some countries the manner of dress is also different.
We do not want there to be any reason for anyone to feel uncomfortable around us, especially before we have even had a chance to speak a word to them yet, and a beard can send the wrong subconscious message to someone.
- We have a reputation to uphold with Jehovah and we want to keep that good standing. So having a long beard wouldn't be respectful to him or the people we are trying to give a witness to.
- The first president C.T. Russell of the watchtower did have a long beard !
The first answer is partially correct, in that male Jehovah's Witnesses my wear beards without suffering more than a stern talking-to and withdrawal of opportunity to carry any special position or responsibility in the congregation. However, if the real reason was proven current public perception, the same rules would probably apply to obesity, lack of fashion sense, or social ineptitude - all of which can make people very uncomfortable and unwilling to perceive someone as scholarly or to be taken seriously.
In the 1950s, in the the USA, beards were widely unpopular among the general public and most men who wore one were immediately perceived as beatniks (and later, hippies). In that American, Cold War climate, a young man who didn't sport a military-esque brush cut and bare chin was out-of-hand labeled a communist or homosexual. This attitude permeated even into the upper echelon of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, to the point where articles were printed denying even Jesus wore a beard, while on earth. The men currently on the Governing Body have an average age of 75. This would have made them teenagers at the time this perception existed and they are probably, simply (like most old people) not quick - or even willing - to change their minds.
Paul, the apostle, said something similar in 1Cor 11:14 about long hair being a dishonor to a man. Obviously, this needs to be taken in some kind of social context, as God told Samson's mother never to cut his hair. Absalom is referred to as "flawless" and "handsome" with his hair that he allowed to grow until the weight of it became too unwieldy. Also, the Nazirite priests were not to cut their hair as long as they served in the temple. Obviously Paul's words were intended for his militant Roman contemporaries. That society started the cropped military haircut and clean-shaven face to keep lice to a minimum and avoid giving an enemy something to grab, in a skirmish.