Again, Tonsorial Jihad

June 28, 2004 | 71 comments
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The latest dispatch from the LDS beard wars comes from Marietta, Georgia, where a visiting area authority, speaking at my brother-in-law’s stake conference, declared that no man in the Church should have a beard. The speaker reasoned as follows: since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to be clean-shaven, every man in the Church should be clean-shaven.

Despite the questionable premises of this syllogism, not to mention at least one category mistake, my brother in law decided to inquire of the Lord about the conclusion, and felt prompted to follow the instruction and shave his beard. Our family has long felt that my brother-in-law looked quite awful wearing a beard, and so considers the area authority’s instruction to have been inspired. At a minimum, we conclude that the Lord shares our sense of aesthetic judgment.

But on a broader scale, the effects of such pronouncements may be less attractive. Consider:

Scenario One: Friends of ours, who had been called to preside over a west-coast mission, decided to invite their adult daughter and son-in-law to visit them for a few days at the mission home. Apparently the son-in-law has been chafing a bit against convention since returning home from his mission, and unbeknownst to them, had dyed his hair blue. Upon discovering this, our friends dis-invited the couple to visit, reasoning that it would be inappropriate to have a person with blue hair around the mission home.

Scenario Two: During a High Priests’ group priesthood lesson, the instructor posed the question: How do you recognize a spiritual individual? Various class members offered various answers: by the person’s obedience to the commandments, by the presence of the Holy Ghost, by the person’s service to others. One elderly brother then raised his hand suggested that you can recognize a spiritual individual by their appearance.

The instructor, clearly having not anticipated this last response, asked the brother for further explanation. He explained his reasoning thus: general authorities are spiritual people, and they are clean-shaven. Temple sealers and veil workers need to be spiritual people, and temples require them to be clean-shaven. Missionaries are (hopefully) striving to be spiritual people, and they are required to be clean-shaven. Therefore, a spirtual person will be clean-shaven.

The first scenario does not involve my family, so it ultimately none of my business. But I doubt that our friends’ decision will prove to be the wisest course. First, my understanding is that the Lord doesn’t much care about the color of their son-in-law’s hair, but about the quality of his heart. Second, a son-in-law who dyes his hair blue just before a visit to his in-laws is probably trying, apparently successfully, to yank his in-laws’ chain, and by canceling his visit, they may have given him just the response he expected. Certainly having him around the mission home should not bother any West Coast missionaries, as blue hair is likely one of the least bizarre things they will encounter.

The comment in the second scenario seems to me even more wrong-headed than the decision in the first. Several members of the class spoke up to point out that the commentor’s criteria would exclude from the category of “spiritual person” individuals like John the Baptist, and possibly Jesus himself, whom Isaiah tells us was nothing much to look at. Certainly the Pharisees and their contemporary failed to recognize the true nature of either John or Jesus, accustomed as they were to focusing only on appearances.

Both scenarios seem to signal the danger we are in by creating litmus tests for appearance. Certainly there are times and places where appearance matters, and I have on a number of occasions explained to the members of the Aaronic priesthood that one does not appear in federal court or before Congress, both of which I have done on at various times, without a jacket and tie. That is a sign of respect in our culture, and the Lord, I tell them, deserves to be shown at least the same degree of respect as a federal judge or Representative –preferably more.

But it was also He who made clear to the Pharisees that he has little patience with those who elevate appearance over substance. Is that the road that we are on?

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71 Responses to Again, Tonsorial Jihad

  1. fix on June 28, 2004 at 8:15 pm

    fix

  2. Kaimi on June 28, 2004 at 8:22 pm

    “The speaker reasoned as follows: since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to be clean-shaven, every man in the Church should be clean-shaven.”

    Wow.

    How about these ones:

    “Since every member is a missionary, and because (most) missionaries are required to be unmarried, every man in the Church should be unmarried.”

    “Since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required not to hold full-time jobs, every man in the Church should be unemployed.” (Works for college too!)

    “Since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to wear name tags, every man in the Church should wear a name tag.”

    “Since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to be nineteen years of age or older, every man in the Church should be nineteen or older.”

  3. Bob Caswell on June 28, 2004 at 8:26 pm

    “…general authorities are spiritual people, and they are clean-shaven.”

    I feel this line of reasoning only goes so far… You also almost always see general authorities only in suits and ties. So you can’t expect to be spiritual during the day if you’re not wearing a suit and tie. Tough luck if you work at a lumber yard, you need that suit and tie to guarantee that spirituality.

    Now let’s take the revers scenerio, as long as my belly doesn’t go out further than Richard G. Scott’s, all other factors being equal, I’m “acceptable” and can be “spiritual”. Incidently, this gives me quite a bit of leeway…

    Where do we draw the line?

  4. danithew on June 28, 2004 at 8:27 pm

    When’s P-Day? I forget.

  5. measure on June 28, 2004 at 8:32 pm

    “Since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to leave their families, every man in the Church should leave his family.”

  6. measure on June 28, 2004 at 8:33 pm

    “Since every member is a missionary, and because missionaries are required to leave their families, every man in the Church should leave his family.”

  7. Matt Evans on June 28, 2004 at 8:39 pm

    Kaimi,

    My reaction was the same as yours, but mine aren’t as pushy.

    – Because all members are missionaries, all men must wear suits.

    – In the summer men can take off their suit coats and wear white shirts with short sleeves.

    – No backpacks!

    Dan,

    I’m not sure even the advice you gave your Young Men is correct. Yes, we dress nice to appease the standards of the world, but because Christ specifically rejects those standards, we shouldn’t feel obligated to meet them in order to satisfy him.

    In Ward Council yesterday, the missionaries told us of an inactive member who they visit periodically. He told them he wants to come to church, but feels awkward because he doesn’t have a suit. We should diminish the role clothing plays at church. My preference would be to emphasize modesty and cleanliness.

  8. Gordon Smith on June 28, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    Dan, Incredible stories. Thanks for sharing.

    I hope this doesn’t hijack your thread, but I have a similar issue: white shirts. In our ward, I have appreciated the fact that the YM are encouraged to wear white shirts to pass the sacrament. While such “rules” can become pharisaical in a hurry, I think it is appropriate to signal to the YM that priesthood ordinances are special, and I support the local practice by encouraging my son to wear a white shirt.

    A few months into this ward, I noticed that the members of the bishopric always wear white shirts. We have had a change in Bishops, and the new bishopric also wears white shirts every Sunday. Same with the Stake Presidency, every time I see them.

    Now, I own a few white shirts, but mostly I wear colored shirts. And since noticing this practice, I have made a point of wearing a colored shirt every Sunday. I am not trying to be a jerk about it, and I don’t go out of my way to point this out, but I would find it a little creepy if the men in the ward all looked like missionaries. (Plus, subconsciously, I suppose that I hope it will insulate me from a calling to the Bishopric. In light of your stories, I would consider growing a beard, but I probably need some help. The last time I tried, it came out like Robert Bork’s.)

  9. Julie in Austin on June 28, 2004 at 10:19 pm

    Don’t want to hijack, but anyone take a look at the Mexican Church members featured in the Ensign this month (the cover story is about growth of the Church in Mexico)?

    Every last one of them is so darn . . . crisply upper middle class. They all look straight out of central casting. Either the Mexican Saints have an obsession with ironing that I haven’t heard about, or someone carefully cherry-picked those photos.

    Something about this bothered me. It’s not that I expect our Mexican brothers and sisters to look wrinkly. It’s just that . . . I dunno. Why did this bother me?

  10. Kingsley on June 28, 2004 at 10:31 pm

    The Ensign seems to have a policy that all LDS, Mexican or otherwise, shall be portrayed as obsessed ironers, which is like its policy that immodest dresses shall be portrayed as tasteful & elegant while modest ones look clumsy & homely. It’s just one of those irritating Ensign things: You have to either fortify yourself against it somehow, or suffer moments of irritation every month (like I do).

  11. Julie in Austin on June 28, 2004 at 10:39 pm

    Ya know what would be fun? An Ensign with more true to life pictures. Such as:

    (1) FHE where no one is fully clothed. (Is this just us?)

    (2) Family scripture study consisting of Dad completely dressed and ready to head out the door, children jumping on the bed, and Mom 9/10ths asleep in bed.

    (3) Visiting teachers with entire tribes of children in tow (and don’t wipe their noses right before the picture).

  12. Kingsley on June 28, 2004 at 10:48 pm

    How about an FHE picture where at least one participant looks bored or has a Nintendo Gameboy hidden beneath his scriptures. If you really want to get irritated at the Ensign, read Orson Scott Card’s essay about his tenure as editor there.

  13. Julie in Austin on June 28, 2004 at 11:02 pm

    Actually, OSC’s article had the opposite effect on me (despite all my joking here): it helped me realize that preparing art work for people who are going to microanalyze every bit of it and then complain that you are bringing down the Church is one heck of a job.

    (I would imagine that pictures of rumpled Mexicans would have brought cries of outrage that our brothers and sisters south of the border were being portrayed as poor, backwards, people. You just can’t win.)

  14. D. Fletcher on June 28, 2004 at 11:18 pm

    Maybe somebody could get a picture of some of the employees in the Church office building, buying their Diet Cokes at Crossroads and then carrying them back to the office in brown paper bags.

    No, it’s true! I’ve seen it with my own eyes!

  15. dan w on June 28, 2004 at 11:28 pm

    I’m the ward membership clerk. I typically have facial hair, but was looking especially scruffy on this particular day. While working on the computer (and ditching sunday school) the bishop, looking somber, asked me if I was growing a beard. Gearing up to be rebuked, I replied that I wasn’t sure. He asked if this was a recent rebellion of mine. I said that Brigham Young managed to grow a beard and avoid hell and I was hoping to do the same.
    He laughed and said that whenever he goes out of town he grows his beard out as much as he can. I was relieved.

  16. Kevin Barney on June 28, 2004 at 11:34 pm

    On the beard thing, when I was at BYU in the early 80s, the Universe ran a front cover story reporting the results of some “research” that had just been concluded by BYU “scientists.” They took three identical outline drawings of a man’s head, which differed only as to facial hair: one clean shaven, one with a mustache, and one with a full beard, and then asked children to tell them which was “scariest.” The full beard received the most “scary” responses, thus proving that beards scare children!

    On the related point of attire, on my mission in Colorado we invited a woman to Church one Sunday and she came, wearing a very nice, very sharp, very attractive pants suit. She only made it about 10 feet into the chapel before a presumably well-meaning brother came up to her and told her in no uncertain terms that her outfit was inappropriate; she should be wearing a *dress* to Church. At which, she promptly spun on her heel and walked out, and we never saw her again. (I came *this close* to punching the guy out right there in the chapel!)

  17. Nathan Tolman on June 28, 2004 at 11:52 pm

    The Pharisees were rebuked for adding extra burdens to the Law of Moses. I wonder why we insist on doing the same thing. No beards, white shirts, etc. When I was a missionary in Taiwan, they would not pass the sacrament tray down the pews, but have the deacon push along the pew giving it to everybody and making sure they used the right hand to take the bread. In my ward they decided about six months ago that anyone not wearing a white shirt would not pass the sacrament, such as people like myself, who enjoy a blue or burgundy shirt once in a while are impure.

    One of the things I love about the Church is Church Ritual is so simple, yet deep in meaning. Why do people find the need to complicate something good? As the economic historian Thomas Sowell once said “Looking through history, I am surprised how many people can’t mind their own business and leave well enough alone.”

  18. Heather Oman on June 29, 2004 at 12:21 am

    “On the related point of attire, on my mission in Colorado we invited a woman to Church one Sunday and she came, wearing a very nice, very sharp, very attractive pants suit.”

    I’ve done that twice–and both times got rebuked. Once while I was in Germany, and once, (gasp) in the supposedly ultraliberal Cambridge singles ward. (Kristine, it was actually your brother who started that discussion. Couldn’t tell if it was a compliment to my attire or not.)

    I personally thought I looked a LOT nicer than the girls wearing jean skirts and tops that looked like T-shirts, but apparantly, a very attractive pants suit just doesn’t count as church attire.

    Another time while I was in Germany I misunderstood the point of a RS meeting, and thought it was a young adults event(obviously my German needs a little help.) I put on jogging attire and ran to the chapel, only to find every other woman in a dress. I sat by the missionaries, so everybody thought I was an investigator and therefore overlooked my obviously inappropriate outfit. Either that, or the sweat from my run keep everyone a safe distance away.

  19. Nate Oman on June 29, 2004 at 12:31 am

    Heather: You used to run?!?! Do you want to get up with Jacob and I tomorrow and do three miles with “the fast stroller.”

  20. Heather Oman on June 29, 2004 at 12:36 am

    Bloggernacle at large: Please hold. The Omans are having some technical marital difficulties. We will return you to our regularly scheduled programming as soon as possible.

  21. Aaron Brown on June 29, 2004 at 12:36 am

    “But it was also He who made clear to the Pharisees that he has little patience with those who elevate appearance over substance. Is that the road that we are on?”

    Yes, we are. And I really wish we’d get off.

    Every time we concoct some new rule premised on the alleged relationship between physical appearance and spirituality, we (1) give certain members of the Church one more tool they can use to feel smugly superior to the non-compliant; (2) give certain members one more opportunity to chastize their fellow Church-goers, rather than to focus on their own faults and much needed self-improvement; and (3) give wavering members or new investigators one more reason to feel excluded and to lose interest in exploring what the Gospel has to offer.

    But on a brighter note, at least we are able to give the non-Mormon world one more way to stereotype us and portray us as a culturally- parochical sect, rather than one with a universal message.

    What a great tradeoff!

    Aaron B

  22. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 12:39 am

    I’ve encouraged my wife to wear pant suits to church if she wants…hasn’t bit as of yet; despite it greatly facilitating the ease of riding to church on our motorcycle.

    re: beards. perhaps these ‘little social mores’ are useful. i actually do grow a beard when i’m feeling more rebelious…it is an early warning sign for me.

  23. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 12:53 am

    rofl on the Omans…

    Aaron: How can you separate substance & appearance? I’m just a holism wacko; but smells like (teen) false dichotomy, IMO. I’m not saying they are the same in a ‘sufficient’ sense; but a necessary one, i.e. people do use physical appearances to signal/communicate their internal beliefs/feelings, etc. Kinda like when they give the lil kids the little green ctr rings…

  24. Nathan Tolman on June 29, 2004 at 12:56 am

    What really gets me is when you oppose such measures, like I did with the shirt issue in my ward, you are treated like some rebellious apostate. Has anyone really effectively voiced opposition to these type of things?

    The only example I can think of is one when I was just a lad. After a High Counselor gave a Pharisee-ish talk, the bishop went to the stand and said “Bro. So and So stopped preaching and started meddling about ten minutes ago,” and went on to give a short talk (about 5 min. if I remember correctly) about being led by the spirit.

  25. Nathan Tolman on June 29, 2004 at 1:11 am

    Lyle: What you say is true at certain occasions with certain symbols, CTR rings (as you pointed out), temple clothes, etc. I do not think having a beard or wearing a non-white shirt conveys spiritual impurity.

  26. Angela on June 29, 2004 at 2:03 am

    I think the reason missionaries are clean-shaven isn’t so much out of respect for the Lord, but because facial hair can be distracting when you’re speaking to someone. I’ve heard of studies where people are less likely to listen to people with facial hair. If this exists, then the Lord knew about it when he inspired the commandment to be clean-shaven when one is in a job where one talks to others about the gospel all day.

    As far as members having to be clean-shaven because every member is a missionary… It doesn’t sound like doctrine to me.

    It would make more sense to me if it were the other way around. Since all members are missionaries, all members should groom themselves in a reasonable manner. They shouldn’t feel like they have to change their appearance to please the Lord. It seems to me like that would distract (not just distract, but possibly even freak out) their non-member friends more than having the facial hair in the first place.

  27. jeremobi on June 29, 2004 at 2:46 am

    Love that story about the “research” re: children, beards, and “bad men” at BYU.

    My dad shaved his beard in 1977 and I was just old enough to clearly remember how my one-year-old sister absolutely freaked out and was terrified by the strange, clean-shaven man. She wouldn’t approach him for weeks.

  28. Thom on June 29, 2004 at 9:01 am

    Dan Burk said: “the son-in-law has been chafing a bit against convention since returning home from his mission, and unbeknownst to them, had dyed his hair blue” and “First, my understanding is that the Lord doesn’t much care about the color of their son-in-law’s hair, but about the quality of his heart. Second, a son-in-law who dyes his hair blue just before a visit to his in-laws is probably trying, apparently successfully, to yank his in-laws’ chain”

    But Dan, doesn’t the fact that he was trying to “chafing against convention” and trying to “yank his in-laws’ chain” indicate something about the quality of his heart? If he was doing it to look like a rebel returned missionary in front of his father-in-law’s missionaries, I think it certainly does say something about the quality of his heart.

    Nathan Tolman said: “I do not think having a beard or wearing a non-white shirt conveys spiritual impurity.” I agree with you Nathan. But if their Bishop has asked them to wear a white shirt to conduct a sacred ordinance, I do think it conveys a spirit of rebellion against doing something simple and small that their Bishop has requested of them.

    If we chafe and kick against doing the simple things our leaders ask of us, will our hearts be prepared to obediently endure the larger things the Lord may require of us?

  29. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 9:06 am

    2004 Fundamentalist Mormon Handbook:

    Rebellious Apostate: Those that go against the counsel of their divinely appointed church leaders.

    White Shirts: Those that do just about everything their Bishop asks them to do.

    Colored Shirts: non-White shirts.

  30. Kristine on June 29, 2004 at 9:07 am

    Heather: I can’t even guess what Rich might have been thinking. You knew him during the time when he was perpetually trying to convince me that “No, really, Nietzsche’s a feminist!’ Your guess is as good as mine about how he felt about pantsuits!

  31. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 9:11 am

    Thom: You said it better…I just wanted to do it in joke form. However, I’m sure that at least some (as I periodically do) will feel they are under personal attack. Pre-apology: None intended! :)

  32. Kristine on June 29, 2004 at 9:11 am

    Gordon, we used to live in a white-shirt-obsessed ward. When our daughter was about to be blessed, my friend leaned over to me and said “Look, Kris, every colored shirt in the congregation is up there in the circle.” I was very pleased :)

  33. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 9:16 am

    Thom: Afterthought (inspired by Kristine, actually… :)

    You have an excellent point. However, I think the counter-point on the otherside is that the “non-white shirts” _are_ choosing to quibble over something _small_…which could show spiritual maturity in following, yet not being too “blindly obedient” (although how one could be blind to _brilliantly_ white shirts is beyond me! [yes, i burned all my missionary grey-white shirts long ago…])

  34. Frank McIntyre on June 29, 2004 at 11:14 am

    1. I have no idea if this post qualifies, and I’m not trying to be a jerk (I don’t have to try!), but my impression is that we’ve been asked to avoid quoting what general leaders say in local meetings. Perhaps area authority doesn’t apply, and I was wrestling my children while listening to the announcement, but I thought I’d mention it because it is likely to come up around here all the time.

    2. Is it just me or is this discussion sort of lopsided? T&S posters on one side, Church officials largely on the other. That seems like a recipe for disaster.

    3. I hear people say that Christ does not care what we look like. Why do we believe that? Certainly he laid into the Pharisees for going beyond what he gave them in the Mosaic Law, but this is far from a blanket statement that He does not care how we adorn our bodies. I don’t recall any revelation where Christ made a clear statement about his clothing and grooming preferences. This is what I know:

    a. In D&C 110 he appears to Joseph Smith and is very striking in appearance. Joseph finds it sufficiently important to record. Joseph also records the appearance of Moroni. Moroni was dressed in white.

    b. We go through the temple dressed in a very specific fashion. Presumably that is because clothing matters to Christ.

    c. Our rituals are replete with symbolism revolving around being clothed a certain way. Besides the temple, Baptism is also done with a specific dress code.

    d. His prophets have often made comments about how we should look when speaking in general forums. Why should those statements be given no weight as insight into Christ’s views?

    e. These dress codes remind us of something that matters. They affect the way we view ourselves and how we are viewed by others. They are important.

    4. Rules about beards and attire are intimately linked to the cultures in which they are embedded. I am guessing that the Church standard is not based on “beards bad and clean-shaven good”, but on maintaining a modest and well-groomed appearance within the culture. If we were more faithful saints then we might be able to handle having the church pro-beard in some countries and anti-beard in others based on culture. I doubt that we (as a Church) are mature enough to pull that kind of complex rule system off.

    5. We should not condemn people for anything they do. We don’t get to condemn period and clothing is no exception. But that doesn’t mean the Church can’t have and encourage people to maintain a look that is beneficial.

    6. Different people receive different counsel about how they should dress. This may be because different people need to hear different things. It does not mean that all anti-beard people are wrong.

    7. I hope our culture starts seeing beards as conservative and not hippie-ish, because I look better bearded. I can’t help but improve when more of my face is hidden!

  35. Nathan Tolman on June 29, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Frank: Beards are not hippish in American culture. I am a PhD student and many of the Prof’s here have distinguished well-groomed beards, not messy or ill-maintained at all.

    From what I understand the dress standard in the Church as a whole is neat, tidy, and attractive (at least I can get the first two ;) ). The point being should wearing well groomed beards or neat, non-white shirts to Church, leaving out other things for the time being, be a sign of spiritual impurity?

    Lyle: How is people just coming to Church in a colored shirt spiritually immature when she only mentioned a preference toward white shirts in the ward, not an injunction to only don white shirts when coming to Church. Last time I checked not following Mormon Culture was not a spiritual problem.

    Thom: My point is why add to an ordinance on logic like that in this post, or, like my EQ leader’s reason, they wear white clothes in the temple so we should while passing the sacrament (the EQ passes the sacrament in my married ward, we have no young men and it is a long story). From what I understand the Church Presidency and the 12 have the authority to change ordnances and not anyone else. Am I wrong in this?

    I don’t wear a colored shirt just to spite them. In fact I wear white shirts most of the time and when I don’t I do not pass. I comply for the sake of complying because following Church Leaders is a true principle, not because I am convinced of the truthfulness of what they say in this regard. As J. Golden once said on Church leaders “some are sent to lead us, and some are sent to try us.”

    On Apostates: Even though I comply with requests, as stated before, perhaps I should sit down and turn my brain off. It does me no good to question.

  36. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Nate: Actually, I think I defended the spiritual maturity of rebellion over “tiny” matters rather than “big” matters; although I did land a pithy joke hit in first on the other side. :)

  37. Dan Burk on June 29, 2004 at 12:39 pm

    Frank —

    I don’t think anyone here has said that Christ “does not care what we look like.” I do think a number of people have argued (accurately) that Christ is more concerned about what we are than about how we look, and that we are in serious trouble if we neglect the former at the expense of the latter. There is a very long list of scriptural references supporting both those assertions, I’m sure you can find them without too much trouble.

    The observation that dress codes affect how we view ourselves and how we view others is correct, but begs the question. The question is whether they should, especially to the extent that they cause us to lose sight of weightier matters.

    I don’t know of any particular reason that baptism or temple ceremonies need to be conducted in white, other than that is how we happen to do it at this point in time. From what I do know, use of white clothing is a relatively recent convention. I think it’s kind of a nice convention, but if all the white baptismal clothing suddenly disappeared tomorrow and we had to perform baptisms in khaki, I can’t see any reason that it would invalidate the ordinance.

    Since you were struggling with kids, the text of the First Presidency admonition you missed is here. I don’t read it to mean what you suggest — if we are supposed to read it to mean “don’t discuss statements we make publicly in front of thousands of people,” then I cheerfully admit that I think it is just plain silly.

  38. Nathan Tolman on June 29, 2004 at 12:41 pm

    Sorry man. I read it once and took it that way, but when I reread it, I tool it another. Gotta hit that funnybone to get it working again.

  39. lyle on June 29, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    ’tis cool nathan. given my usual uber-orthodoxy & prior post…’twas to be expected, no? [imagine french accent, lol…]

  40. Frank McIntyre on June 29, 2004 at 1:25 pm

    Dan,

    Ordinances do not need to be performed in white, but they are because it is symbolic. That symbolism is important and helpful. Thus what we wear or others wear can change how we think and in a good and useful way. We should be better at ignoring unimportant things, but needn’t throw out the good connections too. The sacrament could be shrouded in a burlap bag if needed, instead of a white shawl. But if you have the white shawl, the death symbolism is more apparent. Likewise, as I thought Elder Holland said, wear the white shirt if you’ve got it.

    I’m fine with “what’s inside is more important than what is outside”, I think I got my mistaken impression from these comments:

    “Yes, we dress nice to appease the standards of the world, but because Christ specifically rejects those standards, we shouldn’t feel obligated to meet them in order to satisfy him.”

    “First, my understanding is that the Lord doesn’t much care about the color of their son-in-law’s hair, but about the quality of his heart.”

    “They shouldn’t feel like they have to change their appearance to please the Lord.”

    All of which seemed to be saying that the Lord does not care about appearance, though you have clarified that that is not what you meant. That you meant the Lord cares more about our inner self. It would not be the first time I misinterpreted someone’s comments.

    Nathan,

    I’m sure your professors are all very distinguished. But college professors are not exactly bastions of conservative behavior and grooming. I maintain that wearing a beard is culturally associated with rebellion, though much less than it used to be. This is true even if the beard is very pretty.

  41. Thom on June 29, 2004 at 1:27 pm

    Dan Burk said: “From what I do know, use of white clothing is a relatively recent convention. I think it’s kind of a nice convention, but if all the white baptismal clothing suddenly disappeared tomorrow and we had to perform baptisms in khaki, I can’t see any reason that it would invalidate the ordinance.”

    I agree with you on this, and I imagine every Bishop in the world would too. I also think Bishops are saying that wearing a white shirt to administer and pass the sacrament is a “nice convention” that should be observed when possible.

    Nathan Tolman: Some Bishops are more outspoken about wanting to see this convention observed, but I hardly think anyone could argue that in advocating for white shirts Bishops are changing or adding to the ordinance.

  42. greenfrog on June 29, 2004 at 1:48 pm

    I hardly think anyone could argue that in advocating for white shirts Bishops are changing or adding to the ordinance.

    Will I change your mind by arguing exactly that point?

    By imposing additional requirements (whether enforced by outright refusal or through less directly confrontational, but surely as effective, means) they are changing the ordinance. Would you perceive the ordinance to be exactly the same if it were conducted in street clothes, rather than special white clothing? I wouldn’t.

    If we are to attribute the leaders’ actions to anything other than purely arbitrary behavior, we have to conclude that they’ve engaged in rational thought in deciding to foster (or require, as the case may be) the use of white clothing.

    The next (and possibly more interesting) question is why? Presumably, they’ve concluded that the ordinance of baptism could be better than it is as it is set forth in scripture (i.e, without the requirement of white clothing). Now *that* would be an interesting conclusion to consider, wouldn’t it?

  43. Thom on June 29, 2004 at 1:51 pm

    Nathan,

    You’ve got to be kidding me when you say that facial hair is not “hippish.” Certainly your nicely put together professors may have lovely, well trimmed full beards. But there are hordes of hip young people running around with shaggy patches of hair in various locations all over their faces. On certain TV channels, it seems that a backwards baseball cap and a shaggy soul- patch are the height of hip-hop fashion.

    Sure, the distinction between a nicely trimmed beard and these hooligan looking fashion icons can be made, but as a standard, clean-shaven still says “mainstream respectable” very clearly. Trying to encourage differentiation between “good, conservative looking facial hair” versus “trendy, objectionable looking facial hair” would not only be less clear, but it would likely appear even more Pharisaical to folks who are prone to complain about the preference for the clean-shaven look, IMHO.

  44. Thom on June 29, 2004 at 2:06 pm

    Greefrog:

    I think that’s a bogus argument. Just as the power and meaning of the ordinance is unchanged if performed wearing street clothes, having a preferred convention for white shirts does not change the ordinance.

    The authority to decide how and by whom ordinances in a ward are performed does not belong to the individual Priesthood holder. It belongs to the Bishop. It is not an abuse of this authority for the Bishop to try and teach and engender a sense of respect for the performance of sacred ordinances by requiring that a convention for white shirts be adhered to.

    Clearly, some Bishops put more value on this convention that others. That is generally within their discretion, as part of their stewardship over the ward.

    It does however, provide a way to openly determine who will be obedient to the Bishop’s authority to decide how and by whom ordinances are performed. To the extent that some individuals would rather choose to forego participating in the ordinance rather than do what the Bishop has asked, they deny themselves the blessings of obedience and participation.

  45. greenfrog on June 29, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    Thom,

    I don’t recall suggesting that the decision to require white clothing for baptisms to be an abuse of authority. I don’t believe that it is.

    But I do surely believe that the use of white clothing has become as standard an element of LDS baptisms in the United States as the wording of the prayer. I’ve witnessed and participated in a number of such ordinances, and I’ve never seen one occur in other than white clothing in the US.

    Of course, my data sample is too small to be statistically relevant, so let’s increase the size. Have you witnessed a baptism in the United States in which either the person administering the ordinance or the person receiving the ordinance was clothed in other than white? Has anyone else here?

    If not, then to attribute white clothing to the specific decisions of specific local leaders begins to seem a little less plausible.

  46. Kingsley on June 29, 2004 at 2:17 pm

    To say that the fellows who regularly huff & puff about the Church’s “position” on beards & blue shirts are often beard & blue shirt-wearing fellows is probably to say the obvious: however, as a blue shirt-wearing & often scraggly fellow myself I just feel more honest admitting frankly that I like the look & am not going to change it than resorting to combing the scriptures looking for “the Lord looketh on the heart”-type axioms. I’m stubborn & prideful about my look–that’s all there is to it.

  47. danithew on June 29, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Kingsley, you are de Man. Say it like it is, bro.

  48. Thom on June 29, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    Kingsley –

    Good for you for owning up to the real reasons behind your appearance. Very non-hippocritical of you.

    Greenfrog – I think that you are right, baptism is performed worldwide (as far as I know) wearing white clothing. I must assume that this represents a decision made by a President of the Church at some point in history. I could be wrong.

    It may be a reflection of the fact that white clothing is worn while performing ordinances in the temple, which ordinances are not set out in anyone’s scriptures. Assuming Prophets early in this dispensation received divine guidance as to which ordinaces should be performed in the temple and which kind of clothes should be worn to perform them, I can only infer that it is how the Lord wants it.

    To the extent that baptisms are performed worlwide in white clothing, I am comfortable with the assumption that such a choice was made in accordance with revelation from the Lord.

    In any event, I don’t buy the argument that it changes or adds to the ordinance. Even if it does, I think it is within the Lord’s purview to direct His prophets as to the manner in which people should be dressed when participating in ordinances.

    I do think that wearing white changes the way we approach and think about how we perform such sacred ordinances. To the extent that wearing white is symbolic of purity and helps us avoid being too casual about baptising and being baptised, it is a good thing.

  49. jeremobi on June 29, 2004 at 2:40 pm

    “But college professors are not exactly bastions of conservative behavior and grooming. I maintain that wearing a beard is culturally associated with rebellion, though much less than it used to be. This is true even if the beard is very pretty.”

    Frank, since you are at the Y and given that “rules about beards and attire are intimately linked to the cultures in which they are embedded,” your comment is sensible.

    What are we to make of the world beyond Provo where a great number of well-behaved people of various “cultures” don’t have such cultural hang-ups? Why, for you, is facial hair associated with rebellion in general? What are the sources for your selective perception?

    Here are some of mine:

    As a little kid, I recall attending many faculty parties with my parents. Several profs, my dad included, and many of the grad students wore beards of one kind or another (it was the 1970s mind you). Good people–kind, generous, honest–for the most part. Most lived what could only be described then, and now, as conservative lives.

    Moreover, the sporting of facial hair didn’t seem to be much of an issue for any of them (with or without). I heard–and still hear–plenty of praise and concern from my folks about the “content of character” and even concern whether a few should/could be trusted to not abuse their power over students. But these concerns never seem to correlate with the length of whiskers.

    Even earlier, I had pictures of the Jesus in my room growing up. And every one showed him with a beard. I did come to learn that He was something of a rebel, and that some types of rebellion are necessary. But I guess I never thought of his beard as a rebellious choice (even before I knew it was conventional for His society). My first image of Jesus was that man (with a beard) who loved little kids like me. Since Dad had a beard and Jesus had a beard, this made a lot of sense.

    It wasn’t until adolescence that I noticed some people at church had a “problem” with facial hair. Since all the good, conservative people who loved and cared for me and in whom I trusted didn’t think it was a big deal, I couldn’t see their point. Honestly, I still don’t and I guess I can blame bad parenting for that. :)

  50. Ralph on June 29, 2004 at 2:52 pm

    My problem/issue with the whole beard and white shirt issue transends the comparison to the Pharisees.

    Joseph Smith once said that he teaches correct principles and allows members to govern themselves. The use of time over the pulpit and in lessons focussing on regulating clothes and grooming goes against that whole premise. It’s an avoidance of teaching the principle. The principle is that we look our best for God. That’s “OUR” best – not someone else’s swinging at a gnat interpretation of “best”.

    Such methods create perfectionist and judgemental personalities- difficult to be and difficult to be around. Yet, I feel these sorts of minute regulations seen so often in the church lend themselves more to unrighteous dominion than actual spirituality.

    Outward appearance is clearly a sign of religious observance as previous posters have so well explained. As Christ taught us, however, they have little or nothing to do with spirituality. Unfortunately our leaders do very well at teaching us how to be religious but fall short at guiding us to spirituality when they spend their time on such gnat swatting.

  51. Dan Burk on June 29, 2004 at 3:00 pm

    Thom — You’re either really out of it or don’t have teenagers in the house. The baseball cap is worn with the visor on the side, not in the back.

  52. Ralph on June 29, 2004 at 3:00 pm

    Are we permitted to add having two pierces in one ear to the list of dress and grooming standards that are pharisaical in nature rather than spiritual?

    Why should bishops do anything less than their leader,who’s counsel has included regulating dress and grooming?

  53. Julie in Austin on June 29, 2004 at 3:10 pm

    Ralph–

    I think the difference is that the ‘earring rule’ came directly from the prophet in a talk to the general membership. Whereas (as far as I know) the beard thing exists for BYU, missionaries, CES, temples workers, but not the general membership except by word of mouth.

    And y’all already know how I feel about unwritten rules.

    In fact, in an answer to “I Have a Question” about dress for the temple:

    “Church leaders, recognizing that fashions go in cycles, are sensitive to the rich cultural diversity within the Church. For example, they have recently held that clean, neatly trimmed and managed beards and long hair for men—as well as certain other fashions that to some might seem “trendy”—are acceptable for the temple, provided they are not inherently offensive or vulgar. In the tropics, certain attire that in the northern climes may be considered extreme is not only acceptable but mandatory. Proper allowances must be made for these differences.”

    David S. King, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 29
    David S. King, president of the Washington Temple and a member of the Kensington Ward, Washington D.C. Stake.

  54. Kingsley on June 29, 2004 at 3:10 pm

    “Outward appearance is clearly a sign of religious observance as previous posters have so well explained. As Christ taught us, however, they have little or nothing to do with spirituality. Unfortunately our leaders do very well at teaching us how to be religious but fall short at guiding us to spirituality when they spend their time on such gnat swatting.”

    This post got its legs from a “My brother-in-law heard a GA say this”-type anecdote, & all its momentum thus far has resulted from similar anecdotes. If outward appearance is a viable part of religious experience, as you admit, I would expect our religious leaders to spend some time on it, even if it is just gnat swatting. Second-hand anecdotes don’t really point to an imbalance on the Church’s part as far as outward religion vs. inward spirituality goes–General Conference generally features a nice mix of both, & so do (in my experience at least) ward & stake meetings. Personal horror stories are personal & horrifying, to be sure, but I’m not sure they go far in proving any Churchwide trends.

  55. Carol on June 29, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    Great comments. Some potential exmormons in embryo, perhaps. http://www.exmormon.org

  56. Thom on June 29, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    Ralph,

    Are you suggesting that current Church leaders are not teaching us enough, not teaching us correct enough prinicples, not allowing us to govern ourselves enough, some version of all three, or some other idea?

    Just how exactly would you suggest Church leaders teach us correct principles, perhaps such as the one you suggest, without spending time instructing us on appropriate attire for the performance of sacred ordinances?

    It is true that we are to govern ourselves according to the correct principles of the gospel. But church leaders are accountable to the Lord for how they teach and govern the Church, and how they teach and govern the administration of the Lord’s ordinances. The ordinances do not belong to us, and we do not get to govern them. If the leaders have something to say about how we should dress and groom ourselves to participate in sacred ordinances, I suggest we should sustain them.

  57. Julie in Austin on June 29, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Carol–

    It is hard to read the tone of your comment, but my hunch is that it will come across to some as a violation of our rules. Perhaps your should clarify.

  58. Ralph on June 29, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    Julie –

    Don’t you find it interesting though, that men are given the leeway to follow moderate fashion trends. I’d even go so far as to say men are expected to follow business attire trends.

    On the other hand women are regularly counseled to avoid fashion and trends in style and dress – even ones that have nothing to do with modesty such as the earring thing. It’s a little off balance even in my male, get-to-make-the-rules opinion.

    Also, “offensive” and “vulgar” are very subjective and not universal. I’d venture to say most sister’s attire in an average modern ward’s RS meeting would have offended Brigham Young, Moses and others.

    It all goes into what I said before, if they’d spend their time teaching principles rather than rules and regulations, they’d offer more real guidance and even be more christlike as a result.

  59. Ralph on June 29, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    Julie –

    Don’t you find it interesting though, that men are given the leeway to follow moderate fashion trends. I’d even go so far as to say men are expected to follow business attire trends.

    On the other hand women are regularly counseled to avoid fashion and trends in style and dress – even ones that have nothing to do with modesty such as the earring thing. It’s a little off balance even in my male, get-to-make-the-rules opinion.

    Also, “offensive” and “vulgar” are very subjective and not universal. I’d venture to say most sister’s attire in an average modern ward’s RS meeting would have offended Brigham Young, Moses and others.

    It all goes into what I said before, if they’d spend their time teaching principles rather than rules and regulations, they’d offer more real guidance and even be more christlike as a result.

  60. Kingsley on June 29, 2004 at 3:31 pm

    “It all goes into what I said before, if they’d spend their time teaching principles rather than rules and regulations, they’d offer more real guidance and even be more christlike as a result.”

    Again, Ralph, please show the imbalance (& not just with anecdotes).

  61. Julie in Austin on June 29, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Ralph–

    This may shock you and those who know me, but it never occured to me to see this as a gender thing.

    In fact, look around on Sundays. Women have a lot more leeway. There’s something wrong with a man not in suit and tie (i.e., the corporate drone look), but a woman can be anything from a flower princess to a business woman to a jean-skirted granola mom.

    P.S.–I was in a ward once where I was in a silly/cute little play for an RS event that showed some pioneer sisters observing the actions of modern RS sisters from beyond the veil. I came out on stage wearing the shortest skirt I owned (which barely covered my knees) and the pioneer women pitied me, assuming there was a fabric shortage in our day. The audience howled.

  62. Kingsley on June 29, 2004 at 3:42 pm

    “There’s something wrong with a man not in suit and tie (i.e., the corporate drone look) …”

    Am I the only one who kinda likes the suit-&-tie look? Apostles & Senators rarely give me a corporate drone impression, more of a Hey there’s a classy, dignified fellow impression.

  63. Nathan Tolman on June 29, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    Kingsly and every one else – As I stated before I wear white shirts most of the time, but enjoy a different color once in a while (I don’t pass when I do wear colored shirts), and no facial hair here.

    Frank – I bet most of my profs dress more conservatively than you do on most days. On most days, even in the summer heat, they have at least a long sleeve dress shirt and slacks. Some even have sport coats and ties depending on the appointments for the day and their own preferences. Their beards, are always groomed impeccably. While some, less than apparently some would believe, might teach things contrary to the Church in their classes, they meet the “neat and tidy” standard emphised by the Church Center.

    On street clothes used during sacrament: I would not have a problem with that given that it was the best people had. I saw it on my mission and I would not oppose it now.

    On Changing the Ordinance: I would disagree with you all. Although you all have good points, the shirt qualifies/disqualifies someone just as much as personal worthiness if it is used as such and there is no firm precedent for this being elevated above advice to a requirement in my humble opinion. If they meet the “neat and clean” standard and they are wearing their best, that should be good enough for the sacrament.

    Carol – All of us follow, if just for the sake of following, because it is the right thing to do. As pointed out, some things masquerade as doctrine or important points when they are not, and this may be one.

  64. Ralph on June 29, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Thom –

    To answer your question… yes I am suggesting that our leaders are progressively not allowing us to govern ourselves enough by regulating the minutia of our lives without focussing on the principles behind them.

    I’ve sat through a Stake Priesthood Meeting where a counselor in the Stake Presidency spent 20 minutes counseling M Priesthood holders to wear white shirts. Not once in his talk did he discuss the reason for such an expectaion just that we needed to be obedient to our leaders. In this one concrete example and in many others I could drum up I AM suggesting that such leadership is weak because it fails to teach the principle.

    How many women in the church do you think could give a one sentence response as to what the principle behind wearing only one earring is? I’d say not many. The best response is probably going to be “obedience” or “follow the prophet.”

    So, did the prophet create this rule merely for people to follow him? Are white shirts and ties merely for the sake of following the bishop who requires them? I’d venture to say we already have enough commandments, rules and counsel allowing us to prove our obedience without our leaders having to come up with additional tests.

    The failure of the average deacon to tell you why he should wear a white shirt to pass the sacrament (and I’m speculating than very few would be able to say anything more than “because the bishop said so”) demonstrates that yes, there is a failure on the part of the leaders to teach the principle.

    Back in Aaronic Priesthood days, the focus was on ties rather than white shirts. Even on my mission in Brazil, that custom of requiring a tie to passs the sacrament at times resulted in absurd fashion statements. Because the principle was never taught to the leaders, they required decons to wear ties to pass the sacrament. Often, the deacon’s best shirt was a T-shirt or polo style shirt. Worn with a tie, they appeared foolish.

    I am saying that the failure to teach the principle results in nazi-like absurdities such as these and does nothing to help individuals grow, think and learn.

  65. Bob Caswell on June 29, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    Thanks Julie, for your comment to Carol. I really didn’t like the implications that anyone having an open discussion on Mormon standards constitutes an “exmormon in embryo”.

  66. Frank McIntyre on June 29, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    Nathan,

    I have no doubt many of your professors dress more conservatively than me. I am currently in shorts. Your description of their attire makes me curious just where and what you are studying! Certainly no one around here dresses that nicely.

    Jermobi,

    I actually don’t have any problem with beards. I did not grow up in Utah and I’ve been here for about 9 months. I grew up in the midwest and have been living in California. So my comments are broader than Provo.
    The fact that there are many great people who wear beards is a given. We know that at many times, people are encouraged to wear beards as a conservative, well-groomed appearance. But that day is not today. So to be modest and reserved in appearance currently is to have no beard. Presumably that will change or is changing. I’m fine with that. I like beards. You say that you have no problem with beards. That is fine too. My claim is that beards are currently associated with a more rebellious and less reserved attitude.

    It may be that in some sub-populations this is not true (such as professors, as you and Nathan mention). I would agree with that. But Church standards are very difficult to do group by group. In fact, as is apparent on this thread, when different leaders give different people different counsel, people start getting excited about who is right. But they may both tbe right for their time and place and who they are speaking to. Hence the danger of spreading local advice to a general audience to whom it does not apply.

  67. Silus Grok on June 29, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    Greetings.

    I’ve only recently stumbled into this site (and the whole bloggernacle phenomenon) — though I’ve been active online for years — so I beg your patience while I test-out the posting waters here at T&S.

    I can’t really comment on the FPP (front page post), as it’s hearsay — none of us were there, and (frankly) I’m a big believer in the idea that local meetings should stay local. Of course, FPPs on any topic often mature in their threads… so I’d like to take a moment to comment on some of the points that have been raised here.

    Let me start off with a little background… I grew up the only Latter-day Saint in my home (my sister was also a member, but she moved out of the house shortly after I was baptized). My activity in the Church was wholly voluntary, but was nurtured by the prayers and fasts of my sister; by the careful stewardship of my home teacher (God bless him) — who was also my mail man; by the prodding of a doting choir matron; by the fatherly love of a scout master (Russell’s uncle, actually…); and by the support and understanding of the adults in the ward I attended who were blessed with an inordinate amount of patience.

    Whether I showed up at Church all decked out in paisley shirts, dress pants, and birkenstocks or in white shirt and tie, I was treated with kindness and respect (at least by the adults). I’m afraid of what might have happened had I been rebuked for my sartorial dalliances. Now I am grown… and I am of two minds on the whole issue: I honestly believe that how we dress affects how we behave, moreover, I believe that reasonable dress codes that encourage modest dress can foster community by lowering the bar for acceptance — a white shirt and tie or a modest dress are easy to come by, as are a clean shave — in congregations that might have less commonalities than difference. I also think that having higher expectations regarding dress and grooming give us a safe place for our natural need/desire to rebel to manifest itself. So I’m very much in favor of reasonable standards of dress and grooming. That said, standards are often confused with something weightier… and too often, they’re used as litmus tests or as excuses for our crueler inclinations.

    So where do we draw the line? I don’t know… but I imagine that the ward I attended when I was younger is a good example: teach the standards, but don’t make too much of a fuss.

  68. Ralph on June 29, 2004 at 4:19 pm

    Let me just say one more thing – I do like to wear a suit and tie, too. Sometimes I like wearing a white shirt. It’s just not always the best that I have. I have a killer blue shirt that matches one of my ties and slacks that I feel much more appropriate and respectful in than in any white shirt that I own. I feel more devoted and worshipful of God wearing THAT than a uniform drone costume because it is the best that I have.

    A couple of weeks ago we had a new second counselor called into the bishopric. He had been called just moments before sacrament meeting and was wearing what he normally did – a short sleeve shirt, khaki dockers and a tie. IMO he was well dressed and groomed. It’s a shame that we have created an environment where he felt embarrassed to take his place on the stand because he wasn’t wearing the required issue – a suit. He felt he had to apologize to everyone – shheez! – God felt he was appropriate and worthy enough to call him but that joy was dampened by the fact that he knew there were people in the congregation who would be disapointed in him because of his clothes.

    THAT is a shame.

  69. jeremobi on June 29, 2004 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks, Frank. I appreciate you thoughts. I know you were out in the northen california where much of my family lives, and I certainly did not mean to imply that you have anything personal against beards.

    That given, your comments only make me more curious. You say that “to be modest and reserved in appearance currently is to have no beard.” Where does this come from? Bankers have beards, doctors have beards, financial consultants have beards, CIA analysts have beards, farmers have beards, etc. Some are reserved and modest. Some are not. Don’t know what to make of it, but I note that male models are rarely bearded.

    What is the source of your sense that modesty is correlated with the length of facial hair? On what can we base the claim that beards are positively associated with “less reserved attitudes” or rebelliousness? Is there any evidence for this? Or is this merely believed to be the case by some members of some sub-group (I’m not implying you do)?

    I’m not sure what to make of the “church standards” line of reasoning. I sport a goatee (I like it, my wife loves it) and I’ve held priesthood and unit leadership callings while even more fully bearded. It seems from my experience that the sub-population at issue is the minority who believe growing a beard is an act of rebellion or evidence of immodesty.

  70. Kingsley on June 29, 2004 at 5:12 pm

    Ralph: So the difference between a “uniform drone costume” & one more congenial to worship is———-a blue shirt, depending on the tie & slacks! There’s really no need to call anybody a drone when the difference between your costume & theirs is so earth-shatteringly trivial. A suit’s a suit.

  71. Restoring Lost Comments on November 25, 2004 at 9:42 pm

    [Restoring Comments Inadvertently Lost in the WP transfer] :

    “A suit’s a suit.”
    Pun intended?
    Comment by: jeremobi at June 29, 2004 05:18 PM

    *****

    “Don’t know what to make of it, but I note that male models are rarely bearded.”
    You obviously haven’t been to any runway shows in the mining towns of West Virginia.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 05:30 PM

    *****

    Kingsley,
    Exactly! You get the point – there’s no use calling someone more rebellious, less worthy to pass the sacrament or otherwise inappropriate when the difference is “earth-shatteringly trivial”
    Even when it’s coming from our leaders, it is clear that they’re speaking as men rather than as prophets just as Brigham Young was when he spouted off on issues as ridiculous and trite and which no one bothers with in the church today.
    Comment by: Ralph at June 29, 2004 06:09 PM

    *****

    Ralph–
    Let’s ignore my issues with the ‘unwritten rule’ aspect for a minute, and consider: could this simply be a test of obedience?
    (I would have a hard time thinking of a *better* test of obedience than something earth-shatteringly trivial; after all, if it mattered, if you saw a reason for it, it would be a good idea on its own merits, and, to that extent, not a test of obedience.)
    Comment by: Julie in Austin at June 29, 2004 06:15 PM

    *****

    Ralph: You know, of course, that I was referring to your dismissal of x as a “uniform drone costume” while y on the other hand really brings closeness to God, which seemed to contradict some things you had said before. I am glad you can so confidently pinpoint what is & what is not prophetic, even backing it up with (gasp!) the example of Brigham Young, but I’m not so sure—I think I’ll stick with Elder Holland on this one, who balances things nicely, no matter how some overzealous bishops may interpret him.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 06:19 PM

    *****

    Jeremobi,
    Until we have some survey data on people’s current perceptions re: beards, I doubt there is much to be done to resolve our different views on what other people believe. Anecdotes just won’t suffice. I would note that there are very few high level bearded politicians in the U.S> government. But what we need is a large grant from an overfunded agency (the NIH comes to mind)to go out and collect data!
    Comment by: Frank McIntyre at June 29, 2004 06:19 PM

    *****

    Frank:
    Fair enough. I would also add that there are very few “high level” politicians who are reserved and modest! :)
    Comment by: jeremobi at June 29, 2004 06:50 PM

    *****

    Julie –
    I would have a hard time thinking of a better way for Satan to distract the Saints than to encourage leaders and members to spend time seriously contemplating something “earth-shatteringly trivial”
    The only positive thing I can see coming out of it is in the reaction I had to the Stake Priesthood Meeting on this topic. My thoughts were:
    “Whew! I and my fellow priesthood holders in this stake must be pretty near perfect for THIS to be the one thing God needs us to know at this time of the building of Zion! Wear a white shirt! That’s much easier than loving my neighbor, repenting or being anxiously engaged in good causes in my community.”
    Comment by: Ralph at June 29, 2004 06:56 PM

    *****

    Ralph–
    I agree with your first statement; that’s one of the dangers in our personal response to a test of obedience. I might amend your statement to ‘what better than for Satan to take something that should be a simple act of obedience and have the Saints (1) decide not to follow it because they don’t see any good reason for it and (2) judge each other for following/not following or enforcing/not enforcing the rule.’
    Seriously, tho, Ralph, what can a test of obedience be except something with No Good Reason for following it?
    Comment by: Julie in Austin at June 29, 2004 07:04 PM

    *****

    Julie,
    In all honesty, I guess to get to the heart of the matter, I see people who are ready to jump on the “test of obedience” bandwagon as a bit lazy.
    That is NOT intended to be an insult like it sounds.
    I just do not believe God or his true chosen leaders need to create anything trivial (or substantive for that matter) as a pure test of obedience without there being more depth or reason.
    It seems to be a favorite Sunday School answer in modern times to excuse irrational behavior on the part of our leaders. God doesn’t sit back thinking of ways to test our obedience. His commandments and counsel come from greater depths to benefit US.
    Even Christ said the Sabbath was for us, not us for the Sabbath. We don’t exist to be obedient to random rules. Our leaders don’t have callings to create stumbling blocks to see if we’ll stop thinking.
    The “test of obedience” thing reminds me eerily of my former brother in law who would randomly create rules to test his kids and when they saw through his ineptitude and disobeyed he’d punish them. Is that the type of God we worship?
    I’ll take a different Father in Heaven, thank you.
    Comment by: Ralph at June 29, 2004 07:21 PM

    *****

    Ralph: I think I may see the problem here. For some reason you are very, very bothered by any mention of white shirts (perhaps because you’ve got a pretty blue one that goes well with certain ties). When the subject comes up, you focus on it to the exclusion of everything else–including all talk of “loving my neighbor, repenting or being anxiously engaged in good causes in my community,” each of which is a standard (e.g.) General Conference theme–so that gnats & trivialities seem to you take more of the Church’s time than is actually the case. (The fact that you’ve insinuated that he who makes mention of dress standards is Satan-inspired backs my hypothesis up grandly.) In short, maybe you’re making a mountain out of a mole-hill (as they say); not that I’d fault you for it, as I myself wear blue shirts on Sundays & am sometimes irritated by this or that conservative reaction. But really, is it that big a deal? As far as your “I’ll take a different Father in Heaven, thank you” goes, that sounds eerily similar to the idea that we can create God in our own image. The scriptures are full of stories where God tests his people in ways that make no sense to them at the time.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 07:26 PM

    *****

    Kingsley,
    I can see how you would get that out of what I’ve written but I was talking about one meeting. The entire focus of that one meeting was wearing a white shirt. I had to spend two hours away from my family for that.
    I fully realize the depth of other meetings and the significance of weightier matters of the gospel but I guess the difference is that I see it as so trivial and off the mark that any mention of it is silly to me.
    Who is making the matter “a mountain out of a molehill” is rather up for interpretation much like the age old chicken or the egg question. Are the leaders doing it by talking about it in meetings and emphasizing it in practice thus creating an atmosphere where it matters to the general membership? Or, am I by pointing out the lack of depth and spirituality in the topic thus doubting my leaders’ inspiration?
    Let me come clean and admit that I do have personal issues tied to this. My own semi-active father was denied the privilege of ordaining me a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood that day long ago simply because he wasn’t wearing a tie. Was there a solid doctrine against performing an ordinance without a tie? No. Was the bishop a little over zealous in requiring it? Yes
    But unlike the common excuse so often heard in the church that the leaders aren’t perfect but the church is, I see the situation differently. It’s the church that creates an atmosphere where such zealots not only function but thrive without any checks and balances. Apostles such as Holland who emphasize the wearing of a white shirt create ammo for the little zealots to grasp hold and not let go. Perhaps if he would mention the principle without the temptation to specify color our local wards would be much more loving and compassionate places.
    Comment by: Ralph at June 29, 2004 07:47 PM

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    Ralph: Thanks for being frank. I can certainly sympathize with your position. I am not sure how one could talk about the “principle” of wearing a white shirt without color coming into it, but perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. I think it’s unfortunate that overzealous people sometimes ruin the party for everyone else; at the same time, I’m not sure the Brethren should cease discussing something they think important based on that phenomenon. This is not really an example of Brigham Young going off on a tangent to the consternation of his fellow apostles; the modern apostles have been more or less consistent & uniform (no pun intended) in gently pushing for white shirts & ties for Church leadership & Church ordinances. We all have stories of some pushy Saint trying to push some aspect of the “social gospelâ€? down our throats; the trick is to not allow their irritating busybody-ness to color (again, no pun intended) our view of the Church as a whole.
    Two hours of white shirt talk! Man, that must be some kind of record. You should be translated right now for sitting through it.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 08:15 PM

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    I am with Kingsley and actually like wearing a suit with a white shirt and tie to church. Unfortunately, I have to settle for a tweed and slacks right now in order to avoid getting smashed crackers, spit-up, milk, or any number of other dry-cleaning-necessitating substances on the suits that I want to keep nice for work at the firm. Many of you are certainly rolling your eyes, but the general unwritten dress code of white shirts for men might actually have some practical utility. Perhaps it could tend to focus our attention away from trendy (and frankly, distracting) styles and thus away from materialism.
    What drives people to insist on wearing all sorts of shirts when they know there is this general preference among the priesthood to be clad in white? A love of fashion? A need to be different? There could be many reasons, but perhaps those who are irritated by white shirts could benefit from reflecting on where that irritation stems from. Also, I imagine that those who are more vocal about the appropriateness of wearing white shirts don’t truly have any bad intentions–they might just be a little insensitive. So they should also reflect on why they are so overbearing in their insistence on this.
    On another note, and perhaps I am different/not in touch with reality, or whatever, but for me the priority is getting numbers up at sacrament meeting, regardless of whether the men are wearing bolo ties, purple suits, or paisley shirts. I know that a lot of people, particularly on this thread, seem to think that many in the local leaderships look down on people not wearing white shirts. Maybe this comes because they know that the Aaronic priesthood leadership often teaches the boys that the appropriate attire for administering the sacrament is a white shirt. Even though this is pretty standard, do ward leaders bear down on adult males for not wearing a white shirt? That is not something I have as of yet encountered/observed. I suggest that the ward leadership in most wards is just happy that you’re there in priesthood, and not too concerned that you’re not dressed like the Quorum of the Twelve.
    Comment by: john fowles at June 29, 2004 08:22 PM

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    John Fowles: That’s an important point. I betcha for every horror story that comes up regarding beards & white shirts, there’s at least a couple happy ones to match it! (These stupid puns keep rolling out unintended.) For example: for the past few years I’ve attended primarily student wards, where the subject of dress & grooming rarely rears its head. It’s basically understood that on days you’re asked to bless or pass the sacrament you should grab one of your old mission shirts (which, horribly, seem to be more yellow than white for most elders), but otherwise the bishops are happy to just see you attending, never mind your sandals, dreadlocks, horned goatees & shades. If you’ve not been on a mission or don’t own a white shirt you’re not pulled from the table: the situation’s very easy-going & sane.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 08:33 PM

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    Kingsley,
    The principle is that out of respect and reverence for diety we present our best selves when we worship or act in His name.
    Under that principle, young men in Brazil should be able to pass the sacrament in a clean T-shirt, occasionally a new deacon in my ward could pass the sacrament in a yellow dress shirt that his inactive Mom just bought him for the occasion, and my father could have ordained me in his best button down shirt with paint stains on his hands and all but without a tie.
    It’s very easy to see the principle and see how shirt color or grooming guidelines should never have to come up. In North America the majority would end up wearing white shirts under the principle.
    However, it’s rather narrow and lacks universality for leaders of a worldwide church to be discussing things so specifically. There are still areas of the world where beards and clothing other than a white shirt are the indicators of respect in their cultures. We automatically disregard them when our leaders speak at a worldwide general conferences in such myopic North American terms.
    I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect our leaders to speak in universal language – it should surpass time and cultures. It’s not overly difficult.
    Comment by: Ralph at June 29, 2004 08:38 PM

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    Since it sounds like Ralph needs a positive Bishop story, here’s ours: we have had a number of West Africans join our ward over the past five years. After receiving the Aaronic Priesthood, some of them have showed up to pass the sacrament in their embroidered robes — deep blues, dark reds, bright yellows — with the Bishop’s approval. According to him, that’s the “Sunday best” where they come from and he has no problem with it.
    There. Everybody feel better?
    Comment by: Dan Burk at June 29, 2004 08:45 PM

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    Ah … that really hit the spot.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 08:48 PM

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    Wonderful Story Dan!
    That’s the way it should be. My only comment is that I’m sure that that bishop would be considered a renegade bishop in the last few stakes I’ve been in. There would have been hushed discussions about it in several presidency and PEC meetings to say the least.
    That sort of discussion or questioning doesn’t happen when the opposite happens and a leader makes it a requirement to be dressed a certain way. That sort of leader should be considered the renegade and questioned rather than the other way around. Why don’t we hear stories like yours at conference? It definitely seems more christlike than the ones about the uniformed deacons.
    That’s all I’m saying.
    Comment by: Ralph at June 29, 2004 09:01 PM

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    Ralph,
    “My only comment is that I’m sure that that bishop would be considered a renegade bishop in the last few stakes I’ve been in.”
    I can’t dispute the personal experiences you have had, but I feel pretty confident in saying that in most of the Church at large, that bishop would NOT be considered a renegade bishop.
    Rather I would describe the state of the Church in exactly the way you described the way the Church should be:
    “Under that principle, young men in Brazil should be able to pass the sacrament in a clean T-shirt, occasionally a new deacon in my ward could pass the sacrament in a yellow dress shirt that his inactive Mom just bought him for the occasion, and my father could have ordained me in his best button down shirt with paint stains on his hands and all but without a tie.”
    It seems to me, in my own personal experiences in many wards (though admittedly not in ward leadership), that that is indeed how the Church already is. Of course there is room for improvement when it comes down to some self-righteous or pharisaic individuals, but that cannot be imputed to the Church at large.
    Comment by: john fowles at June 29, 2004 09:18 PM

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    “Under that principle, young men in Brazil should be able to pass the sacrament in a clean T-shirt, occasionally a new deacon in my ward could pass the sacrament in a yellow dress shirt that his inactive Mom just bought him for the occasion, and my father could have ordained me in his best button down shirt with paint stains on his hands and all but without a tie.”
    Ralph: Well put. The thing is, when I read it my immediate impression was “That’s exactly the Church I belong to.” There are obviously exceptions to every rule, but for the most part your description of how the Church might be is my description of how the Church is. A fellow that I baptized on my mission, for example, wore a Marlboro cigarettes coat to his baptism & no one raised an eyebrow. Anyhow: these “my experience vs. your experience”-type of discussions probably don’t go very far in proving things one way or the other, but perhaps they help to balance individual views.
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 29, 2004 09:37 PM

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    I have to add my personal story to the dialouge.
    I have been on the Stake High Council for years. About three years ago while I was also the Stake Mission President, I started having more problems with my face. My skin would bleed terribly when I shaved and sometimes scab and always become very irritated. I talked to my Stake President and he said surely I could work something out. We talked about laser hair removal that would permanently remove my facial hair.
    I later (after consulting about laser hair removal and not being convinced it was a good idea) agreed to shave on Wednesdays and Sunday so that I would be clean shaven at meetings and at church.
    This worked out and my partners were very understanding of my “scruffy” look at work. However, I started doing more hearings and during a very busy month, 2 of the judges made “joking” comments about my broken or lost razors. This was a real wake-up call and since I had a busy hearing month coming up, I grew a neat (I had it trimmed at the barber every week) beard to avoid prejudicing my clients.
    I didn’t think much of it, but after a couple months the Stake President asked me to interview with him. He was very sad about my beard and wanted to know why I was wearing it. I explained my above mentioned problem. He listened nicely and then told me he would be so sad to have to release me and he gave me a last chance to shave. It was then that I realized for sure that in this stake a clean-shaven face was a prereq for church service. It was a very sad realization for me.
    Comment by: Hal LaPray at June 29, 2004 11:00 PM

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    Frank: I go to school at the University of Washington, one of the most liberal schools on the West coast (ooohhh the stories I could tell, but anyways), and am studying History, Chinese history to be exact.
    I should have qualified my statement before by saying the vast majority of people I deal with in my department dress very well. Two of my field advisers are men and both wear long sleeve dress shirts and slacks. My main adviser will wear a shirt and tie when he interviews someone for a job or has some dept. luncheon/shindig to goto. The other one will occasionally wear a sports jacket to class. The one woman who manges my early imperial China field usually wears dresses that would be passable at Church. Our dept. head, an Englishman who teaches American Colonial history if I remember correctly, is always dapper. The one exception is the head of my Central Asian field who wears jeans, a button shirt, and this weird pink, nylon belt. (next on the Academia Fashion report . . . comb-overs!)
    As far as I know, the Dept. has no dress code, but people dress well because it is expected and they want to be taken seriously. They know the general principle and act accordingly. Which brings me to my point about ritual/ordnances/propriety, which this whole discussion henge on. At first, I will admit I draw upon Confucian thought when dealing with these issues, not only because of my field but Confucians have the longest history of scholarship in the world on these issues and they can be applied to a broad range of ritual.
    The purpose of an ordnance or a principle of propriety (like the beard issue) is to effect a moral/spiritual transformation in the participants/followers. I am afraid that excessive formalism (by this I mean adding regulations to the ordinance in question) detracts more than it adds to this tranformative aspect, by placing the attention of participants and observers on following a list of forms (for example the Pharisees, or the “rule” on ties in Brazil) and not on the spiritual.
    Comment by: Nathan Tolman at June 29, 2004 11:05 PM

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    I am from Europe (Germany). They made it firm a few months ago that male temple workers must be clean shaven. I guess they still hassle other people into shvaing when they get certain callings (bishopric, HC, stake etc.). I remember many years ago that one brother had to shave becuase he would chaufeur Pres. Kimball while being here on area-conference.
    Today they usually leave those individuals alone that have always be known to wear a beard, but that may change. A beard is a part of one’s identity and I find it preposterous tjat a church hassles its male members this way. No wonder Robert D. Hales once was chairman of Gillette. And these bldes cost a fortune and don’t last.
    I always had a beard but two years ago I had took it off for one year. I failed an important faculty at my university during that period. I had everything that qualifies for this (phony) “appearance” stunt, even a dark suit and white shirt. Eight month later, with no dark suit, but formal dress in lighter colours and with beard, I passed with flying colours.
    Comment by: Peter at June 30, 2004 04:42 AM

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    Dan: I feel better. However, do you think my Bishop will buy it if I want to pass in one of the Islamic “dress suit” robes that i’ve picked up on business trips? I rather like the flowing white robes…and they are white…
    Comment by: lyle at June 30, 2004 06:51 AM

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    My sister-in-law has always worn a nice pants suit to church. She has gotten a few comments but she proceeds as if nothing happens, and she does fine. It helps that she is German in American wards, so they just write her off as a “kooky European”. She doesn´t care.
    Comment by: Mike at June 30, 2004 07:39 AM

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    Hal Lapray: I recently served on our Stake High Council. During my tenure, we had two members of the High Council who had two beards. Until I read your post, I do not remember it ever occurring to me this was at all remarkable. I am just flabbergasted that a Stake President would say what your’s has said.
    Comment by: Gary Lee at June 30, 2004 09:29 AM

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    Gary,
    It was a bumor for me to say the least.
    I try to keep smiling.
    Comment by: Hal LaPray at June 30, 2004 10:13 AM

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    “No wonder Robert D. Hales once was chairman of Gillette.”
    LOL!
    Comment by: Nathan Tolman at June 30, 2004 12:11 PM

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    Hal LaPray: Does your Stake Pres. know that BYU (hilariously) hands out beard cards to people suffering from your condition? Right here in Provo a high councilman in my brother’s stake wears a thick, grey, luxuriant & wolfish beard, & the villagers haven’t chased him away yet. Your story is amazing & sad: you should move to Provo: we’re swarming with bearded (though card-carrying) LDS radicals!
    Comment by: Kingsley at June 30, 2004 04:01 PM

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    Thanks for the encouragemnent, but I think I will stay put. Stake Presidency has been in 6 years and counting… Seriously, I do ejoy working with them, but they get a bit too excited sometimes. This is one of the times.
    Comment by: Hal LaPray at June 30, 2004 06:45 PM

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    They can have my beard when they shave it off of my cold, dead face.
    Comment by: Geoff Matthews at July 1, 2004 01:57 AM

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    I came to visit one of BYU computer labs once. Not a student, I used my friend’s ID (which she gave me) to log on. After about 10 minutes of typing something I was approached by a lab assistant who told me he would have to ask me to leave because I had a beard. Apparantely, every entity on BYU campus has jurisdiction to enforce grooming standards (strangely).
    Anyway, I asked to speak to his supervisor and he just told me that he did not want to be reprimanded himself for allowing ungroomed individuals use the computer lab. He was an alright lad though, so I talked him into letting me stay for a little while.
    Comment by: Zhenya Krymoff at July 4, 2004 03:20 AM

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    While reading in the recent BYU Studies issue dedicated solely to Heber J. Grant, I came across something interesting that is relevant to this discussion.
    Heber J. Grant arrived in England in 1903 to replace Elder Francis M. Lyman as President of the European Mission. “A day or two after Lyman’s departure, a member of the Liverpool staff inquired about the possibility of shaving his beard. Elder Lyman, thinking facial hair added dignity, had made beards a matter of mission discipline. Grant, in contrast, immediately awarded the elder’s request, feigning fear that the young man’s crimson whiskers might occasion a fire” (vol. 43, no. 1 (2004) pp. 265-66).
    Many of you who have participated on this thread will no doubt take this as a point of proof that there is nothing wrong with beards and that the Chruch shouldn’t prefer the absence of beards to the extent it does today. After all, having beards was a requirement under Elder Lyman in the mission. But that is not the purpose for which I related this story. In addition to the above point, I think that this story contains a more important implicit point: when the Church was favoring beards, certain individuals were dying to shave theirs. When as now the Church favors being clean shaven, certain individuals are dying to grow or retain beards (see above, “They can have my beard when they shave it off of my cold, dead face.”). In addition, many even on this thread are actually critical about the Church’s preference, somehow taking it as a sign of intolerance, pushiness, overbearingness or overintrusiveness, or whatever.
    My question is, why is there this tendency to try to rebel against completely benign little policies of the Church such as this one? It is as if some are just itching to show that, although they might believe in the Gospel, they are not too beholden to the Church itself. What I mean is, they try to find anything, no matter how little or inconsequential, that might not be an absolute concrete requirement of the Gospel and then defy it, just to show that they can without violating one of the true Gospel essentials. I am not saying that all who have spoken in favor of beards on this thread are doing this–many have very compelling reasons to maintain a beard in the face of a general preference in the Church for men to be clean shaven. But what I am trying to say is that there are many who are indeed wearing beards or whatever just to “kick against the pricks” so to say. And it is true, they are right, wearing a beard, I am confident, will not jeopardize anyone’s eternal standing (unless of course it is only a symptom of some bigger issue of discord with the Church and its policies, which I am sure is not the case for the overwhelming majority of beard-wearers in the Church). Why can’t people just cut the Church some slack and not take a preference to be clean shaven as some sort of bad faith instrument to subdue or force its will on people? Why entertain a presumption against the Church in such matters rather than in favor of the Church? Or why make a big deal about it at all?
    Comment by: john fowles at July 4, 2004 07:12 PM

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    “Why entertain a presumption against the Church in such matters rather than in favor of the Church? Or why make a big deal about it at all?”
    It does seem sort of pathetic, on the face of it, no pun intended, to take some small issue such as facial hair and (the Glory soundtrack swelling in your mind) proclaim: “Here I will make my stand!” Perhaps it’s a way for wannabe radicals to feel at least a little radical while remaining members of an old school, square, patriarchal church. Note that I am not speaking of all beard-wearing LDS here: just the ones who wear them as a badge of honor and strut about calling our attention to them constantly. My first impulse is simply to say, “Awww, how cute–look at the wittle wadical stwutting his stuff.” My second impulse is just to feel embarrassed for them. It’s like listening to Britney Spears hold forth on politics.
    Comment by: Kingsley at July 4, 2004 10:46 PM

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    Kingsley: Thanks for letting me be a wittle wadical. :)
    although maybe I don’t qualify…my 1/mo shaving isn’t a badge of honor.
    Comment by: lyle at July 4, 2004 10:56 PM

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    Lyle: To qualify you have to (1) believe that growing your beard equates you in radicalness with (e.g.) Henry David Thoreau, or (2) at least talk as if you believe it.
    Comment by: Kingsley at July 4, 2004 11:15 PM

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    “My question is, why is there this tendency to try to rebel against completely benign little policies of the Church such as this one?”
    Why indeed? And why *did* that Jesus fellow insist on calling the Pharisees to task for adding a few trivial little regulations and preferences to the Mosaic Law? (And he was so unpleasant and harsh about it, too). I mean, if those things really aren’t important, we should just defer to church authorities for the sake of good order!
    [Which, being interpreted, is c’mon guys, a little less smug and a little more respectful would be more becoming. There’s no need to (however subtly or gutlessly) question the personal righteousness of those who disagree with you.]
    Comment by: Kristine at July 4, 2004 11:35 PM

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    What I meant by Britney Spears was, just in case it sounded snarky, a person who pays lip service to some surface-level progressive tenet while remaining deeply conventional in every other way. But probably it was a lame, snarky example anyway, the result of too much holiday candy plus a firework exploding directly inside my ear.
    Comment by: Kingsley at July 4, 2004 11:37 PM

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    Ah, Kristine to the rescue again, fearlessly speaking out on behalf of the little (bearded) guy against the smug, gutless, disrespectful Pharisees (her words). I think John Fowles made a valid point, especially when taken in context with all the beard comments on all the beard threads generally. Good night, Kristine, where were you when Lyle was being accused of apostasy for belonging to the National Guard? Your response to John Fowles comes across as merely a P.C. reaction to an unpopular point of view.
    Comment by: Kingsley at July 4, 2004 11:46 PM

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    “I mean, if those things really aren’t important, we should just defer to church authorities for the sake of good order!” This will sound illiberal, but, would that actually be so bad?
    I truly did not expect to reap such animosity from my earlier comment. I meant it as a sincere question. And I don’t see how a general preference for being clean shaven at this time in the Church equates to the Pharisees.
    “a little less smug and a little more respectful would be more becoming. There’s no need to (however subtly or gutlessly) question the personal righteousness of those who disagree with you.” This is a frustrating accusation. I feel as though if I have anything to say that does not square with e.g. Kristine’s notion of the world, the Pharisee’s, and the social order, then I am being disrespectful and “smug.” First of all, will someone please explain to me how I was being “smug”? What does that even mean, anyway? And I certainly deny questioning anyone’s righteousness. I explicitly stated that I agree that wearing a beard won’t jeopardize anyone’s eternal standing.
    Second, I actually thought I was being very respectful. I was posing more of a theoretical question without saying that people can’t have beards if they want to. I actually think that any beard-discrimination is silly and that people should be free to choose to have beards. Let’s put it this way–I am “pro-choice” on beards. I was just wondering why the Church comes out so low in these discussions, as if the Church is somehow looking for ways to smother people or rain on their parades.
    Comment by: john fowles at July 5, 2004 01:03 AM

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    Kingsley’s Rant, Continued: I am wondering about double standards, selective indignation, etc. If someone, for example, were to cave to cliché and compare clean-shaven Church leaders to Pharisees and bearded Church followers to, ahem, Jesus, would it be all right for someone else to disagree by reversing the analogy? I expect it would not—I expect if someone were to equate beards with Phariseeism the response would be quick and screechy. Why is it that Brother Fowles cannot mention that some in the Church seem to make mountains of molehills without being accused of subtlety and gutlessness? How is that such accusations are not a breach of the T&S code of goodwill? He made certain to write that the majority of bearded ones don’t behave this way, but … And then he was flogged for merely commenting on a phenomenon that doubtless occurs in the Church and doubtless deserves discussion. Now: I’m no prophet, but if Brother Fowles had made precisely the same observation regarding mountains and molehills but in favor of beard-wearers, it is not hard to guess what Kristine’s response would have been:
    Comment by: Kingsley at July 5, 2004 01:28 AM

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    Brother Fowles has a valid point. Personally, I cannot see the slightest problem with priesthood leaders encouraging all males to wear white shirts to church, _provided_ the leaders do not push the principle as if it were a binding doctrine, which it most certainly is not. On a matter like this statistical success is more than sufficient. If the matter were critical, appropriate priesthood discretion would be granted. The Church has few problems more pressing than keeping down those who tend to codify traditions without authority and enforce them without charity – and the hostility to priesthood presidency that sickly style of sanctimony engenders.
    Comment by: Mark Butler at July 5, 2004 03:17 AM

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    “My question is, why is there this tendency to try to rebel against completely benign little policies of the Church such as this one?”
    Attaching moral significance to something that has none undermines the credibility of the person or institution who does so. It’s like crying wolf.
    A: “Wow, Spiderman 2 is awesome! You have to see it!”
    B: “Uh, yeah, that’s what you said about ____, and it was inane.”
    A has lost his credibility by raving about a dumb movie. Similarly, when someone in authority in the Church strains at a gnat, they lose their credibility in warning people against swallowing camels. I’ve seen it happen again and again; people who see that it’s a gnat lose confidence in the person straining at it. And insofar as they represent the Church, gnat-strainers damage the credibility of the Church as a source of moral guidance. That is serious business, because we badly need reliable moral guidance. I’ve seen lots of people who, dismissing the gnat-strainers’ warnings, end up swallowing camels, and I think the gnat-strainers are partly to blame. They’ve taken up the moral voice in vain and as a result made it of none effect.
    Resisting the gnat-strainers, then, while it can be seen as merely more gnat-straining (which it sometimes is), can also be seen as a struggle to preserve the moral authority of Church teaching.
    Comment by: Jed at July 5, 2004 03:33 AM

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    John, Kingsley,
    There’s a perfectly benign and respectful way to make the point you’re trying to make, something along the lines of:
    If one accepts the authority of church leaders, one should defer to their preferences on trivial matters like facial hair, white shirts, etc. for the sake of good order.
    What is smug and condescending is to accuse people who would disagree with this statement, who believe that there is a principle at stake in making a distinction between matters which require obedience and matters in which one ought to be allowed to exercise choice, of “kicking against the pricks” or to mock them as “wittle wadicals stwutting their stuff.” It’s entirely possible, and, in fact, required by the comment policies of this forum, to argue one’s point without speculating on the motivations or psychology or righteousness of those who take the opposite view.
    I believe that the example of the Pharisees is relevant in this context, because one of the things they did that was wrong was to try to enshrine their elaborate interpretations of the law as somehow part of the law itself. It’s not hard to see the kinds of statements that Dan quoted about beards and why no one should have them as pharisaic. John’s statement seemed to suggest that we just shouldn’t resist that kind of minor unrighteousness, and I think there may be a legitimate counterpoint to that view in Jesus’ repudiation of the Pharisees. I wasn’t accusing either of you of being a Pharisee.
    “Gutless” was admittedly not nice, but John sort of caveated himself out of directly accusing anyone who had been commenting on this thread, and I thought that was a little, well, gutless. There are people here who think there’s a principle at stake, who have argued for that principle, and to say “I’m not saying that all who have argued…on this thread” are guilty of kicking against the pricks seemed like a way to weasel out of standing by a pretty serious accusation. From John’s more recent comments, I think I was being too harsh in that regard, and I’m sorry.
    Comment by: Kristine at July 5, 2004 11:13 AM

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    For the record: I essentially agree with John, that in most things it’s better to bow to the preferences of leaders for the sake of good order. I’d kind of like to have a little tatoo on my ankle (it happens that I have particularly shapely and attractive ankles :) ), but I won’t because President Hinckley prefers that I do not. I dislike beards on most men, and I think it’s nifty that many priesthood leaders’ preferences coincide with my own. I find it somewhat amusing to be viewed as the liberal PC police. It just goes to show the limitations of a forum like this–this discussion would be really different if it were happening in the hallway at church after you all saw me leading the hymns in my long, floral dress and regulation Mormon matron shoulder-length haircut.
    However, I think it’s really important to be clear about one’s reasons for compliance, and even more important not to impute superior righteousness to oneself because one finds it not too disagreeable to bend on small matters (or because one is able to define “small” in a way that makes compliance easier).
    Comment by: Kristine at July 5, 2004 11:38 AM

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    You have a good point there, Kristine. Thanks for the clarification.
    Comment by: john fowles at July 5, 2004 12:00 PM

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    John Fowles asks why people insist on belaboring the admonitions of Church leaders on trivial, admittedly non-doctrinal matters of dress and grooming — the admonitions in question address such unimportant issues, he wonders why people can’t just give the leaders benefit of the doubt and comply?
    This observation of course proves too much — turn the question around. If the matters at issue are so trivial and unimportant, then why can leaders not give the members the benefit of the doubt?
    Many years ago, Hartman Rector Jr. wrote an article, published in the Ensign (March 1980) called “Let Everybody Win!” It has proved to be invaluable to me in parenting. I wish more Church leaders would read and take it seriously.
    Elder Rector recounts how, when his boys were teenagers, they wanted to wear “Beatles” haircuts. He did not especially like the long-haired “Beatles” style. But he realized that his boys were attending seminary regularly, honoring their Aaronic priesthood duties, and getting good grades in school. Everything important in their lives was proceeding exactly as it should, so he saw no reason to make an issue about hair length. He could afford to let them make a choice that he might disagree with on an essentially harmless issue as long as they were all in agreement on the important issues. He knew it was wiser to save his parental capital for an issue that really mattered, rather than waste it in a pointless squabble over a short term fashion choice.
    Elder Rector’s approach is wise for parents or others in a position of stewardship. We have heard repeatedly on this thread of members, investigators, and others who were marginalized or offended because of some leaders’ obsession over shirt color, or a sister’s pantsuit, or a brother’s facial hair. If these people are paying their tithes, loving their neighbors, fulfilling their callings, adhering to their temple covenants, then why must their leaders manufacture a dispute over the minutiae of fashion choice? It is not worth offending or alienating a new member, an investigator, or a faithful brother or sister in order to indulge a leader’s subjective impression about what looks more or less proper. This seems poor leadership. There is more than enough admonition and counsel to be given on matters of truly eternal consequence to take up time and effort on trivialities.
    Comment by: diogenes at July 5, 2004 01:12 PM

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    I’m absolutely fascinated that no one in this entire thread seems to have noticed that Burk’s brother-in-law, in the initial post, prayed about the beard instruction, and ridiculous as it was, got a confirmation, and obeyed. Doesn’t that approach resolve the question for ankle tattoos, white shirts, and everything else?
    Comment by: Little Hans at July 26, 2004 09:59 PM

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    I’ve been a High Priest for 11 years and have worn a full beard and moustache for over 30 years. I’ve spent most of that time in Southern California and have never been hassled about wearing a beard. My most recent bishop also wore a full beard. It has never prevented me from getting my temple recommend. It is definitely part of my appearance and personality. My doctor has a beard, a number of my fellow teachers have beards, two of my best friends have beards, etc. I also have shoulder-length hair (horrors!). If it so evil to have a beard then I guess that disqualifies Jesus and his Apostles, not to mention seven LDS Church Presidents. If some of the Pharisees in my ward and stake don’t like it, then too bad. To quote a previous poster, “They can have my beard when they shave it off of my cold, dead face.”
    Comment by: Schnickelfritz at July 31, 2004 04:49 AM

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