Hair Culture among Generational Apostolic Pentecostal Women

In the southern region of the United States commonly known as the “Bible Belt,” where Christianity flourishes in the form of many creeds and denominations, Apostolic Pentecostal women are often distinguished from their fellow Christian sisters as being those who wear skirts and have long, uncut hair. For the purposes of this article, I use the term “Apostolic Pentecostal” to refer to believers within the Pentecostal movement who adhere to the teachings of the apostles concerning water baptism by immersion, Spirit baptism with the sign of speaking in tongues, the oneness of God, and the life of holiness, the latter of which pertains to my subject. My article is concerned with the obedience to the biblical teaching of a woman’s hair as a spiritual covering and gender distinguisher as well as how that teaching has led to the modern hair culture among generational Apostolic Pentecostal women, specifically those living in Louisiana.

I am a fifth-generational Apostolic Pentecostal woman. That is to say, my family has participated in the Pentecostal movement for five generations since the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement on January 1, 1900 (Powers 2001, 12). For some, this is a source of pride: generational involvement indicates stability in the church, faithfulness to God, and overall familiarity with the scriptures. However, generational involvement can also lead to unique, cultural traditions within a group of people that is unrelated to scripture. A wonderful example of this generational conundrum can be seen in the hair culture among generational Apostolic Pentecostals.

I first met with my pastor’s wife, Sandi Davis and her adult daughter Mandi Hartzell to discuss hair culture. I then later met with my close friend Medley Zeigler, 21, her youngest sister, Abby-Grace Zeigler, 14, and their mother, Derethia Zeigler, whose husband pastors another church. All women, like myself, have been raised in the Apostolic Pentecostal movement, and all of them have long, uncut hair, as do I.

To begin my interview, I asked, “What is the importance of a woman’s hair in your faith?” Since all parties knew that I share their belief system, the responses I received varied in that some were articulate and others made vague references to scriptures and ideologies with which they knew me to be already familiar. Derethia Zeigler responded first by reading aloud 1 Corinthians 11: 15: “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

“Long hair–to us–represents glory. It’s our protection. It also shows that we are in submission to our husbands, and it is for the glory of God,” Zeigler said. 

Read More from Von de Leigh Hatcher at Louisiana Folk Life.