Rhetoric v. Practice

July 26, 2011 | 60 comments
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By the time I was, say, 15, my hair was long. Not long-for-a-good-Mormon-boy, but legitimately long. (Also, I listened to heavy metal and grunge–there may have been a causal relationship there, but I’m not sure which way it ran.)

Both my music and my hair probably violated the Church’s rhetorical standards.[fn1] That is, per statements in various Church publications and general Mormon cultural rules, both were probably inappropriate. But, even though I braced myself for the inevitable condemnation, it never came.

Seriously. I participated in the administration of the sacrament throughout my long-haired days. No young men’s leader, teacher, bishop, or other person in the Church ever asked me to cut my hair, or otherwise remarked negatively on my hair.[fn2] And, during all those years, I only got one lesson on evil music. And the Sunday School teacher kind of undercut his point by bringing, as a visual aid and example of music we shouldn’t listen to, one of his old Jethro Tull albums.[fn3] By not condemning me, my ward members blew a perfectly good chance for me to dismiss them (and, by extension, the Church) as small-minded, judgmental, and not worth my time.

I’m entirely sure that this broad ability to focus on what is important (in my case, spiritual nourishment and social acceptance) isn’t observed universally. I had a convert on my mission very nearly go inactive because of a lesson where another ward’s bishop insisted that members who could afford tennis shoes could afford dress shoes and shouldn’t come to church without them. But I think (hope) that this broad offensiveness is the exception, not the rule. My daughters–both under the age of 6–rarely wear dresses with sleeves, at least during the summer. (Chicago winters are something else altogether.) And they don’t wear t-shirts underneath their dresses, either. And, notwithstanding rhetoric like this, we’ve never had anybody comment to us or to them that they are somehow dressed inappropriately.[fn4]

I’m not trying to suggest that the rhetoric itself isn’t wrongheaded or harmful, or that people who take offense are too thin-skinned. I was ready to take offense as a teenager and, frankly, I still am if somebody offends my daughters. In the best world, we should conform our rhetoric to our practice. But, in the meantime, most of my fellow-saints, or at least the ones I encounter on a regular basis, are inclusive rather than exclusive. And the Church can function–well, even–even with a diversity of clothing styles, music styles, hairstyles.

[fn1] I don’t have a copy of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet from when I was a teenager, but here are a couple excerpts from the current version:

Hair: “All should avoid extremes in clothing, appearance, and hairstyle. ”

Music: “Don’t listen to music that drives away the Spirit, encourages immorality, glorifies violence, uses foul or offensive language, or promotes Satanism or other evil practices.” (For the record, the music I listened to didn’t really do much of the bad things listed, other than offend the spirit of good taste; still, most of those are stereotypes of hard rock/heavy metal.)

[fn2] I have no idea what the back-channel talks were like (remember, my hair was long from the age of 14-ish to 17–I wasn’t really privy to what my leaders talked about behind the scenes); maybe I was a constant source of concern to them, but they never said it to my face.

[fn3] I don’t know if he was being ironic or not; either way, Coolest. Visual. Aid. Ever. Oh, also there was the Youth Conference speaker who spent a lot of time talking about backmasking. But the only thing I took away from him was that, played backwards, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” allegedly encourages us to smoke marijuana. When I got home, I immediately played the song backwards. My conclusion? If you’re listening for it, you can kind of make it out, but it was a stretch.

[fn4] I should note that I’m not saying that the Church should not preach repentance. I am saying that, we tend to be better in practice than in rhetoric at differentiating important things from cultural touchpoints. And I’m also saying that 4-year-olds are incapable of immodesty, although that’s really tangential to much of anything here.

60 Responses to Rhetoric v. Practice

  1. Marc Bohn on July 26, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Geez Sam, you’re destroying everyone’s pre-conceptions about you. Next thing you know you’ll be telling us you didn’t wear a white shirt to pass the sacrament either.

  2. Al on July 26, 2011 at 7:49 am

    I would say something pro-rhetoric but you have already announced that you would be offended so…

  3. Jax on July 26, 2011 at 7:54 am

    In a meeting with Pres Packer, he took many questions from stake and ward leaders. After 20 minutes of “how do I get my YM/YM to dress better?” and “How do we get people involved in missionary work?” he stopped it all. He looked at us gravely and said, “Why has no one asked me how to receive personal revelation? If you would do that, you wouldn’t have to ask me these things.”

    Well that was fantastic advice, but he went on. He said we were all concerned with small outward issues, and that if we would care for the larger inward ones the other problems would take care of themselves. His example deals with the OP. He asked us if we were to see a YM come in to pass the sacrament with long hair or an earring how many of us would take him aside and teach him about the ‘For The Strength of Youth’ and grooming standards, or, how many of us would teach him about the atonement? He testified that if we would just make sure that the YM (and by extension everyone who was having problems), that if he understood the atonement then we could wait patiently and the dress and grooming would take care of itself.

  4. Jason Hardy on July 26, 2011 at 8:44 am

    If I have my chronology right, the Jethro Tull display would have happened right around the time they won the first ever Grammy for Best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock performance. Maybe he was saying Tull was evil for taking the award from more legitimately deserving bands. Okay, probably not, but it’s fun to pretend.

  5. Sam Brunson on July 26, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Marc, did I forget to mention that? (Also, I should have checked to make sure that my past behavior doesn’t violate T&S’s blogger dress and grooming standards before confessing. Sorry.)

    Jax, I think that’s a good attitude to take. If we focus on the Atonement and on establishing a relationship with the Savior, I believe that bad behaviors will generally go away; cultural touchpoints may not, but there’s no down side to that.

    Jason, I thought the whole point of the Grammys was to award somebody who had been overlooked when they were innovative at the expense of artists who are currently innovative. Or did I get that wrong?

  6. Jason Hardy on July 26, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Sam: Sorry, I can’t get my mind around the concept of the Grammys having a point.

  7. Brecken on July 26, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the Rhetoric was more centered on “Christ-like love” (acceptance, come-as-you-are-leave-feeling-better, all-are-welcome-to-worship-and-have-the-spirit-motivate-you-to-change-your-life-to-get-to-a-happier-plain) instead of “be-a-cookie-cut-out or you are obviously sinning.”

    I’ve had the experience were that was the case, standards weren’t an issue, meaning most people didn’t have a problem making changes to get their lives in-line with the standards, or keep coming if there were still hurtles that were hard to leap. There was an abundance of love, and I was happy to participate in church functions that I otherwise would have avoided.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I was in a Young Women Presidency where the unit leader told us (in front of the class presidencies) that he would take the temple recommends away from the girls that came to church in flip flops. I was irate. I looked up the conference talk where flip flops where mentioned–they weren’t, coming to sacrament meeting looking like you were going to the beach was. The rest of the talk was about how the women of the church shouldn’t feel the pressure to change what they look like to fit in. But there was no convincing the leader.

    The argument is much more persuasive when it is the gospel of Christ, and not the culture of people. And, if we look more closely it seems to be that is the message the General Authorities are sending.

  8. Brad on July 26, 2011 at 10:21 am

    All this text and no picture? Sam, you’ve gotta show the hair buddy! It was AWESOME!

  9. Ray on July 26, 2011 at 10:31 am

    Excellent, Sam. Thanks.

    “But, in the meantime, most of my fellow-saints, or at least the ones I encounter on a regular basis, are inclusive rather than exclusive.”

    That has been my experience, as well. Yes, there are plenty who are exclusive, but the large majority I have known throughout my life are more inclusive than exclusive – except with regard to some “outsiders”. I hope that we can break through the remaining barriers someday (sooner, rather than later), but it is exponentially better now than when I was young.

  10. John C. on July 26, 2011 at 10:46 am

    I wonder if this is an issue of cultural difference within and without the Mormon corridor. The presence or lack of Mormonism alters how we calculate our rhetoric and our rhetorical concerns. Having an abundance of fellow travelers allows church folk to social engineer in ways that wouldn’t be possible where folks are a relative rarity.

  11. E.D. on July 26, 2011 at 11:25 am

    We had plenty of questionable lessons in YW/YM growing up – all focused on outward appearance and behavior in church. Lots of “keep your shoulders and knees covered”, “don’t listen to heavy metal”, “church members are automatically better people” type things. There wasn’t much about having integrity or character or having a modest attitude.

    It was entertaining because my parents were always questioning me why I wasn’t friends with one of the girls in the ward who seemed to be modest and quiet, etc. I didn’t give them a reason until much later. This girl was a nastiest gossip, hardest drinker, and had the most questionable sexual decision-making abilities af anyone I knew my age. Eventually, her parents caught on and my parents didn’t question my lack of friends at church again.

  12. Ray on July 26, 2011 at 11:35 am

    #10 – Absolutely, John. I know you understand this, but . . .

    “Individuality” in a homogeneous community often is seen as rebellion – so it’s easy for rebellion to be seen in many cases that really aren’t rebellion. Unfortunately, it’s easier to marginalize, judge and treat poorly a young man or woman with purple hair, for example, in a ward where there are plenty of other young men or women who attend regularly and wouldn’t consider “rebelling” by having purple hair. (Seriously, if there are so many active deacons that each one only gets to pass the sacrament once a month or so, it’s easier to not notice or care if one young man never passes the sacrament because of hair or shirt color.) It’s much harder to treat someone with purple hair harshly in a ward or branch where that young man or woman is one of only a handful of active YM and/or YW in the entire unit.

    That’s really sad, but it is natural – and we certainly haven’t conquered the natural (wo)man in that regard yet.

  13. Steve on July 26, 2011 at 11:41 am

    I like to think that the leadership uses a sort of scale in evaluating whether or not a member is in good standing (worthy for a temple recommend). On this scale there is obligatory behavior (e.g. regular church attendance, payment of tithing), encouraged behavior (e.g. regular temple attendance, home teaching, service in a calling), permitted behavior (e.g. drinking coke, playing video games), discouraged behavior (e.g. wearing more than one earring, gambling), and forbidden behavior (e.g. smoking, adultery). Having long hair, listening to heavy metal, and watching rated R movies may be discouraged, but high-ranking leaders would stop local leaders from taking formal disciplinary action for such behavior. Furthermore the admission of such behavior should not keep a local authority from giving you a temple recommend, even if they tell you to stop doing it. So I don’t see these behaviors as merely rhetorical (to not be enforced at all), but merely discouraged, although not forbidden, actions.

    (in the spirit of Sam Brunson) [fn1] Some may disagree as to where certain types of behavior fall. But my main point is not to classify behaviors on the scale (especially since there is not formal Mormon law), but merely to postulate the existence of some sort of a scale in the minds of the church leadership.

    [fn2] I get the idea of the scale from Islamic law. Mafrud (obligatory actions such as prayer five times a day), mandub (encouraged), mubah (permitted), makruh (discouraged such as smoking), haram (forbidden such as pork and alcohol).

  14. polly on July 26, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    My son’s hair was well past his shoulders for the last two years of high school. Thankfully no one ever made an issue of it. He was never barred from passing or blessing the sacrament either. A few months after he turned 18 he cut it all off in preparation for his mission. In fact now his hair is so short he might as well be bald. My two girls both have hair colors ranging from pinks to greens and every color inbetween Again no mention of that. However the clothing modesty issue is way overdone. We live in Lake Havasu where it is VERY hot, not uncommon to be in the 120′s. One Sunday we had an investigator come in a nice sleeveless dress. Relief Society chose that day to lecture us all on how to dress. She never came back. This obsession we have with people’s appearance needs to end. How many are lost because someone felt the need to judge?

  15. Roger on July 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I remember when I first heard that Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” says smoke marijuana when you play it backwards. I was more impressed when I told my sister and she said, “So what. When you play it forward it talks about people dying.” It was an early lesson on mote vs beam.

  16. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    When my wife and I were first married in late 1972, we moved into a basement apartment near South High School in Salt Lake, in a ward next to the one my grandparents had lived in all my life. Our bishop was a barber and insisted that the young deacons, teachers and priests involved in the preparation and administration of the Sacrament have “well groomed” haircuts, and was pointedly excluding several of them by applying that standard.

    Then we had a stake priesthood meeting, and the stake president got up and said he was going to read a letter from the First Presidency, and he wanted to draw our attention to it because he knew that it was a concern for many of the older brethren among us. He read the letter instructing all stake presidents and bishops that they should NOT prevent any young man from participating in adminIstration of the Sacrament on the basis of hair styles. The stake president’s concerns were well founded, because immediately afterward my grandfather, who had always been hard of hearing due to a childhood ear infection, said to me “Thank goodness the Brethren are making it clear that boys with long hair should not bless the Sacrament!”

    The next Sunday there were some new young men at the Sacrament table.

    Now, of course there was still a discrepancy between this general Church tolerance for long hair, mustaches and beards, and the hair standards at BYU. I assume this continues to be so. Apparently representing the entire congregation before the Father in the ordinance of rededication to our baptismal covenants, to obtain forgiveness of sin and receive the companionship of the Holy Ghost, has more liberal grooming standards than getting an education at the university where its founder would have to cut his long hair and beard before he could be admitted, and students have to get special dispensation in order to grow their hair so they can portray him and his contemporaries in various films, plays and pageants.

  17. Adam Greenwood on July 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    I do my best to bring up the average.

  18. Kent Larsen on July 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Raymond (16), when I was at BYU, the student directory one year featured a clean-cut painting of Karl G. Maeser on the cover, despite the fact that Maeser was bearded during his entire adult life.

    It seemed very strange to publish a visual lie just to promote a policy that has little to do with morality. So as the “radicals” that we were at Student Review, we published a beard that could be cut out and pasted on Maeser’s face.

  19. Sam Brunson on July 26, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    John C. (10), I actually don’t have an opinion on whether people respond differently in and out of the Mormon corridor. The extent of my life in the Mormon corridor was my slightly-more-than-four years at BYU. And we all know that BYU is its own animal. And (to blow my cred even more), I spent the last six weeks of my freshman year at BYU with a mohawk (don’t ask: it’s a long story involving the dorms, after midnight, and someone on the floor with an electric razor) with no ill effects or Honor Code issues. Of course, YMMV.

  20. Rob Perkins on July 26, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    I think if you teach a young person to love others, and show him or her the best of example on how that is done, eventually that young person will consider the sensibilities of others when choosing how to dress and groom him- or herself. One young man on my mission took one of those Mormon-cultural rebukes about a tie and nice shoes to heart, reasoning that if he didn’t want to offend his brother, it was a small price to pay to not provoke him by just putting on a $10 tie and $20 shoes. (He was able to afford it, easily.)

    And even though I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that it is impossible for a four-year-old to be immodest, I also think that if one applies consistent standards *from* the age of four and personifies them with one’s own dress and grooming, the chance that the kids will eventually choose non-provocative clothing and grooming habits will be much higher than if they have to be taught this starting from the moment their secondary sexual characteristics become evident.

    More to the point, though, they have a much higher chance of combining “modest dress” with “modest behavior” if they can think of themselves with self-confidence and optimism. I think the latter is more fundamental; the outward stuff follows along.

    So that story in the Friend doesn’t offend me. If the four year old is doing nothing more than imitating the attempts at clothing modesty that she sees from her mother and other women, and calling it “modest” of her own accord, then she’s internalized a cultural imperative. That’s all. It would only offend me if the story were of a mother stopping her and sending her back to her room for that T-shirt, under some kind of protest. (We ought to reserve those kinds of moments for when they’re in active rebellion, some 10 years later, right?)

  21. Sam Brunson on July 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Rob, except that the story itself is a rhetorical device whereby the story’s author is telling four-year-olds that a sleeveless dress is immodest. I don’t have any problem with a little girl’s not wanting to wear something, for whatever reason. (If my kids are any indication, little girls both can and will decide what they will or will not wear, often with no discernible motivation.)

    But the story says to little girls, A dress without sleeves is immodest. And that is a rhetorical imposition of a specific cultural idea that (a) has no scriptural or prophetic grounding, and (b) can be harmful to their self-image.

    Ultimately, I’m not interested in debating whether sleeveless dresses are immodest or not (though the answer is that they’re not inherently immodest), or whether long hair on boys is good or bad (it’s probably not bad, but it wasn’t really a good look for me, it turns out). I’m interested in the fact that, although we seem to discursively take such positions, in person, in my experience, we tend to individualize our treatment, and we tend to be charitable.

  22. Alison Moore Smith on July 27, 2011 at 12:11 am

    This afternoon my third daughter, Alana, went to BYU to get her new ID card. She was turned away because on her 18th birthday, last June, she dyed the underside of her blonde locks purple. (It looks pretty cool, if you ask me.) Bright purple, apparently, is not a “natural hair color.”

    Right this minute she is down in her bathroom dying the purple parts dark brown. (Brown being a natural color, if not HER natural color.)

    P.S. She did not freak out, throw a fit, or become embittered. And as of this writing, she hasn’t left the church over it either. Time will tell.

  23. Chadwick on July 27, 2011 at 2:00 am

    I can’t stop laughing that “Hannah’s New Dress” is based on a true story. What did they have to change about the original to make it only “based” on a true story? Hilarious.

    This is a hard one for me. I have a nephew with really long hair. We’re talking past the sholder blades. He also doesn’t shower regularly. He just turned 18, makes a point of posting on FB that he’s at Denny’s drinking coffee, etc. I’m not sure what it all means.

    I think most people took the approach offered here, ie I know he still blessed the sacrament, but they did require him to pull his hard back to do so (hygiene I guess). But I’ve often wondered what impact it could have had if someone he really respected had said to him “Chad you’re a great kid but the hair is really a bit much,” or “Chad can you exlpain to me why you like your hair like that” or something along those lines.

    I actually wanted to try it myself, but he looks at me as the geeky pocket-protector 30 year old CPA that I am so I don’t think it would have been received well. But I still wonder.

    That being said, I don’t think the appropriate place to do all of this would have been in YM class, or with a Bishop that had not developed a relationship with him. Probably the best person would have been a good friend or my BIL, who is younger and hipper than I am and seems to have his respect. I suppose I’ll always wonder.

    Sam, I’m also curious at what age you think modesty matters? This is not a loaded question. I have a 4 year old daughter myself and am curious. Everything we buy in India is modest by default but I’m wondering how to act when we repatriate at the end of the year.

  24. Cody on July 27, 2011 at 3:03 am

    I really enjoyed this post and comment #3, in particular. I’m so glad to hear that people didn’t undercut your relationship with the Church because of rhetoric overtaking true doctrine and Christlike love. I had to shave my head bald and grow out a kind of sinister-looking goatee for an acting role once, and someone made an unkind comment about it. Likewise I grew my hair out for roles and sometimes received disapproving looks at the temple for it. I was once told I couldn’t pass the sacrament because I was wearing a colored shirt. Fortunately, I had a thick enough skin not to be too bothered, but it always confused me that people couldn’t look past my outward appearance and focus more on my inner soul, which I think is what our Father in Heaven and Elder Brother are so good at doing. I always just remind myself that the Church is just a bunch of imperfect people like myself. Sometimes we do and say foolish or thoughtless things. I figure if my Savior and Father can put up with it, so can I. After all, aren’t those the examples I’m trying to follow? Thanks for a thoughtful post. I appreciate it.

  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 27, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Ok, get the point. You were cool. No one should diss your uber coolness. Those who were not cool shouldn’t encourage you to not be cool.

    At least that is how this sort of thing has played out in the past when I’ve seen people explaining why they shouldn’t follow social norming.

    The following was very nicely said:

    I think if you teach a young person to love others, and show him or her the best of example on how that is done, eventually that young person will consider the sensibilities of others when choosing how to dress and groom him- or herself. One young man on my mission took one of those Mormon-cultural rebukes about a tie and nice shoes to heart, reasoning that if he didn’t want to offend his brother, it was a small price to pay to not provoke him by just putting on a $10 tie and $20 shoes. (He was able to afford it, easily.)

    And even though I agree wholeheartedly with the notion that it is impossible for a four-year-old to be immodest, I also think that if one applies consistent standards *from* the age of four and personifies them with one’s own dress and grooming, the chance that the kids will eventually choose non-provocative clothing and grooming habits will be much higher than if they have to be taught this starting from the moment their secondary sexual characteristics become evident.

    More to the point, though, they have a much higher chance of combining “modest dress” with “modest behavior” if they can think of themselves with self-confidence and optimism. I think the latter is more fundamental; the outward stuff follows along.

    So that story in the Friend doesn’t offend me. If the four year old is doing nothing more than imitating the attempts at clothing modesty that she sees from her mother and other women, and calling it “modest” of her own accord, then she’s internalized a cultural imperative.

  26. Sam Brunson on July 27, 2011 at 6:50 am

    You were cool. No one should diss your uber coolness

    Is this addressed to me? Because if so, no, far from it. As Brad says way up there, you should see pictures of me as a teenager. (You won’t, of course.) And, of course, parents can set standards for how their kids dress from whatever age they want. But arguing that the Church requires, e.g., that young girls wear sleeves, that boys cut their hair, or that teenagers not have purple hair (and yes, Alison, that sounds very cool–I will say that BYU is its own world, and it sounds like your daughter is reacting in a very adult way) is unsupportable by anything except Church-cultural norms. Norms that we talk about but infrequently (again, except for certain locations at BYU, in my experience) actually enforce.

    And I think that this lack of enforcement of cultural norms is a positive aspect of our culture.

    Chadwick, good observation about the based-on-a-true-story. (Maybe her favorite color was blue and not red?) As for what age modesty becomes possible? I don’t know, but as a conservative response, I’d say not before 8 for boys or girls. Until then (and probably longer), children should be egotistical and self-absorbed.

  27. john f. on July 27, 2011 at 7:51 am

    AMS, when I was at BYU, I had orange hair for a while as a Freshman and one my friends ended up with silver hair (not sure what color he was trying for). When he was called on it not being a natural color he said, “What, Sister Van Wagenen has silver hair”. (She was the overseer of our Freshman hall.) I’m pretty sure he still ended up changing it.

    Sam, it’s all about those darn unpatriotic hippies in the 1960s opposing the draft. We are so obsessed with the culture wars that this policy endures still and the Church’s main sponsored university still looks to the US Army for its guidelines on dress and grooming standards — pointedly because hippies wouldn’t have been caught dead conforming to US Army grooming standards.

  28. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 27, 2011 at 8:21 am

    My youngest has aqua streaking. As a blond, if she just swam enough in chlorine, that would be natural ;)

    I’ve run across a lot of parents who wanted to opt out of dress codes, usually the argument I got reduced to “my kid is so much cooler and cuter, they just need to express it in their clothes.”

    So it is a generic You were cool. No one should diss your uber coolness comment, not a specific one.

  29. Al on July 27, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Packer is right to focus on teaching the atonement. As that doctrine is understood we understand more about what it means to be a member of the body of Christ and less about “my style”. Suddenly our diversity of personality is taken over by a unity in Christ. It is really the big choice we all must make. The first taste of the tree of life leaves us feeling vulnerable to the scorn of others. Will we choose to ignore the mockers and scoffers or will we be faithful to our experience? We all resist God (to one degree or another) by adopting the styles and tastes of the world.

  30. Wendy on July 27, 2011 at 10:50 am

    We live in Scotland.For several years our teenage son was given a hard time about his long hair,listening to heavy metal music and playing in a heavy metal band.As well as speaking to him they would regularly speak to me and my husband about him .He had done his home teaching every month from the age of 12,visited the temple regularly to do baptisms,blessed and passed the sacrament every week,did a lot of voluntary work in the community but all they seemed to see was his long hair and heavy metal music.Thank goodness he had a strong testimony or all of this would have probably stopped him coming out long ago.Eventually he got fed up with his long hair and raised a lot of money by getting it cut off for charity.He’s now on a mission.When I joined the Church as a teenager we were told in our stake( in England) that women had to wear tights and that if women wore jeans in a Church building they would be told to leave,I did see this happen a few times.

  31. Alison Moore Smith on July 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I’m not entirely sure how you are using the term “rhetoric.” Could you clarify? Are you talking about persuasive speaking or language that lacks sincerity or meaningful content?

    In the best world, we should conform our rhetoric to our practice.

    I would think we would want to make our practice conform to our rhetoric, assuming the former definition. If it’s the latter, we shouldn’t have rhetoric at all.

    Sam, what I mostly get from pieces like this is that we should not have a standard with regard to X, because it hurts people’s feelings and “drives them away.” Usually X is considered by the author to be superficial, unimportant, bothersome, too rigid, whatever.

    Having served in YW multiple times, I cannot count the number of times a girl was hateful and nasty to another girl and no one would stop the behavior because they feared doing so would “drive them away from the church.” Of course, the victim was often driven away by the bullying, but never mind about that.

    For the record, I don’t really love all the church dress guidelines:

    Alana’s purple streaks looked great. Who cares? President Monson’s hair certainly isn’t his natural color, either.

    I was pregnant three times in south Florida. Believe me, I would have given anything to NOT have to comply with the guideline that “…women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder…” (the garment’s cap sleeve is probably the most useless piece of fabric ever invented). And, given that specific counsel was to YOUNG women, my kids would have preferred tank tops and sleeveless dresses and shirts, too. So much more practical and comfortable in the ghastly humidity.

    Still, I think it’s a difficult case to make that dress and grooming standards simply don’t matter or that they must somehow remain an unspoken part of our “rhetoric” for fear of offending people with, say, purple hair. And you’ll encounter a lot of beard fallacies trying to do it.

    Generally speaking, church dress standards follow a line of something like “pretty conservative for American (near headquarters) culture.” While I might not agree with all the exact lines drawn (I loved all my piercings!), I can’t argue that MY favorite lines are better. And I do think the lines were drawn for a reason.

  32. prometheus on July 27, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Wow, Sam, it’s funny how closely your experience mirrors mine. I added a mustache into the mix, and the only time my bishop ever mentioned it was one day saying that he was okay with long hair as long as it was kept clean and presentable. After that, the topic never came up again.

    I am still grateful that he was willing to look beneath the surface so as not to alienate a young teen – it has certainly made a difference in my life and my relationship with the church.

  33. Bob on July 27, 2011 at 11:57 am

    I know it has been many, many years ago for me. But when I entered the Mission Home, the only “styles and tastes of the world” sin I was guilty of was being from California. ( to Utah Mormons). I even sat down face to face with then Apostle Kimball and we talked some about this as it was issue at that time. A few months later, I had the same talk with the then new Apostle Monson. Both man agreed it was a Church issue, but to them, I was not any less of a Mormon.

  34. john f. on July 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    AMS, why does the Church need to have a “dress code”? This is a religion and we are all equal in our discipleship to Jesus Christ. Aside from the legal realities that behind the Church is indeed the Corporation of the First Presidency, we are not employees of a corporation who need to be subject to a dress code or else fired. We are fellow travellers through life’s journey who believe that Christ is our Savior and who believe in the Restoration of priesthood authority in the Latter-days. Where does the dress code, inspired by US Army grooming standards, come into the picture?

  35. Sam Brunson on July 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I can’t improve on it, so I’ll second john f.’s statement.

    On a tangential point, Alison, I have no problem with standards and, frankly, no problem with offending people (as long as the offense is given politely). So let me try to boil my post into two generalizable points:

    (1) If we’re going to offend people in the Church, we’d better make darn sure that we do so promoting an important end.

    . (1′) Bringing somebody closer to Christ is one of the few important ends I can imagine.

    (2) Most members I have run into in my life do this pretty instinctively–they are able to separate the important from the unimportant. I’ve heard stories of those who can’t–and experienced it vicariously through a new member once on my mission–but I strongly believe those stories are the exception.

    I can’t argue that MY favorite lines are better. And I do think the lines were drawn for a reason.

    Maybe this is where I separate from you. I don’t think there is a “better” line; while some lines may be beyond the pale, there are a whole lot that are comfortably within it. And I certainly don’t think many of our cultural lines were drawn for any reason besides an innate distrust of outside culture.

    prometheus, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who didn’t have a bad experience. I frankly couldn’t grow a decent mustache during high school, although I tried a goatee right around the end of it. But my facial hair abilities didn’t really materialize until post-mission.

  36. Jim Donaldson on July 27, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Way back in the early 70s I was a long (at least should-length) haired bearded college student, who had never served a mission, at a non-BYU school, prior to non-university singles wards, so I attended the local family ward. I got my first adult calling: Teacher Development Director (I was an English major undergraduate) and proceeded to try to teach many older and more experienced how to teach church classes better. I’m sure that I scared most of those folks to death with my appearance, but no one (not a one) ever said a thing about it. Perhaps because they were used to having a university in their ward (although there were less than a half dozen mormon kids going there, I looked typical of the average student) or because they were simply good people, no one ever made me feel the slightest bit out of place, or that they cared a bit.

    It would have been easy to offend me and drive me away, with that post-adolescent chip on my shoulder, but they resisted all temptation to question my choices. Those were the days: a few years later, when in law school, I was an Elders Quorum President in the newly formed singles ward, with the same beard. Perhaps we used to be more tolerant?

    The explanation may be geographic or maybe even chronological, but I couldn’t be more proud, looking back, at my fellow church members. I all but dared them to say something, but they refused to rise to the bait.

  37. Alison Moore Smith on July 27, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    john f. #34:

    AMS, why does the Church need to have a “dress code”?

    Why does the church have to have any standards at all? I assume because someone, somewhere thought the particular standard was meaningful with regard to spirituality.

    I think it’s problematic to accept standards of morality, language, marriage, food, while claiming that dress standards are too unimportant to matter. I’d venture to say that in US culture, for example, walking around naked means more things to more people than drinking coffee. So if we’re going to worry about obtrusive standards, maybe the dress code isn’t the place to start picking.

    Or maybe you don’t accept those other standards either, in which case the discussion is really a different one.

    This is a religion and we are all equal in our discipleship to Jesus Christ.

    Not sure what that means. Clarification?

    Sam Brunson #35:
    Love the line “no problem with offending people (as long as the offense is given politely).” We should all become southerners. I marvel at how they can say the nastiest thing in the most genteel way imaginable. Sometimes it would be days before I’d realized I’d been sliced off at the ankles! ;)

    If we’re going to offend people in the Church, we’d better make darn sure that we do so promoting an important end.

    That is assuming we can divine when someone will be offended. :) A woman told me she left the church because I changed seats in ward choir to one where I could see the director (an important end?). When I called to see what was wrong and what I could do, she said, “Don’t worry. I’ve already forgiven you. But I won’t be able to sing in a choir for a very long time.”

    I’ve seen teachers jump through all sorts of hoops and distortions so class members don’t get offended. Don’t talk about dress standards, because the kids with nose piercings will get mad. Don’t talk about virtue, because the kids who’ve messed around will be offended. Don’t talk about temple marriage, because the kids who’s parents aren’t sealed will feel left out.

    Everything in the gospel relates to standards and teaching the truth about them (assuming there is any truth) ALWAYS has the potential to offend. I’m guessing almost everyone BELIEVES they are “promoting an important end” when the offend by promoting a standard. And I’d guess that they believe the “important end” to complying with church policy and counsel IS to get closer to Christ.

    I’m not suggesting that I disagree with your standard for offense, but I think it’s almost useless as a guideline because it changes almost no behavior, if you know what I mean.

    Maybe this is where I separate from you. I don’t think there is a “better” line; while some lines may be beyond the pale, there are a whole lot that are comfortably within it.

    I didn’t say there was a better line. I said that I couldn’t argue that my favorite lines were better than those we’ve been given by church leaders.

    By “line” I did not mean that my preferred standard is an exact demarkation. For example, I haven’t decided that my sons’ hair must be exactly 1.72″ long all around. Saying you have a range of acceptable behaviors within a class is still a standard. And even ranges of standards are very difficult to defend on specifics. Yet it’s fallacious to claim that, because of that, they shouldn’t exist.

    And I certainly don’t think many of our cultural lines were drawn for any reason besides an innate distrust of outside culture.

    Hmmm. That’s an interesting idea. I think it’s worth discussing, but not a very good justification for practice.

    The problem I have always had is that MY standard is almost always somewhere on the other side of “worldly” when it comes to this stuff and I always seem to have to modify what I WANT to do with the counsel and standards that are given to us. And even though I can argue the merits of pretty much every standard I prefer, I don’t think it makes sense to dismiss the given standard because of it.

    So even though we would all have liked to be cooler, we still stuck to the church counsel to cover shoulders and wear longer shorts. Even though I loved my piercings, I took them out when President Hinckley gave that counsel (after waiting a few months to see if I could rationalize not doing it…) And I threw out George Michaels’ “I Want Your Sex” CD when my YW found it and I realized that having skanky music in my library wasn’t a great example of “good music.”

    On a related note, I am of the opinion that most of the gender-related exclusions in the church are likely to be a result of millennia-old, long-accepted, cultural sexism. Do you believe these standards were decided similarly? But I haven’t started praying to Mother in Heaven or baptizing my kids. And I suspect if I did, there would be some push back.

  38. Kirk Donaldson on July 27, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    Sam, what are you implying when you label some church policies as rhetoric? Is that to say that the policy is in word only, but hardly enforced? I think I like Steve’s (#13) explanation of some actions as discouraged, but not strictly forbidden or formally disciplined behavior. Clearly some of the local leaders do take action to try to enforce the ‘lesser’ policies. Action to do so is not necessary faced with reprimand from higher authorities. But I can’t see these policies as simply virtually meaningless rhetoric.

  39. Sam Brunson on July 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Alison, great comment with lots of stuff to react to. But I need to prepare dinner, so I’m going to limit my reaction:

    I love that you bring back music, because maybe that will let us expand the discussion beyond clothes and hair. Your George Michael example kind of exemplifies what I’m trying to get at: you threw out your GM, not because (I assume) somebody told you that “I Want Your Sex” was inappropriate, or that George Michael was inappropriate, or that 80s dance pop was inappropriate. You threw it out because you came to the conclusion that it was inappropriate (or, at least, incompatible with what you wanted to teach the YW). And I think that’s fair: I agree that there is inappropriate music, and that we shouldn’t listen to it. The problem comes when you, I, or someone else, deigns determine, for the Church, what that inappropriate music is.

    Hicks’s Mormonism and Music has a great chapter that traces Church reactions to various musical styles throughout the 20th century. The quick summary is that the Church’s reaction has almost always been, Kids these days. In the early 20th century, we had distinguished Church members explaining the inferiority of the “jungle rhythms” of jazz. The Deseret News hated, hated, hated the Beatles and, for that matter, electric guitars. Etc. Most of the musical condemnations were wrongheaded and just plain wrong. But they reflected the culture of the condemners.

    So to tell somebody that George Michael is inappropriate is both wrong (I assume–I have to admit, I mostly know “Faith”) and unhelpful. Wrong because I doubt there’s anything inherently inappropriate about his music–at worst, he’s got a couple songs that should be skipped–and wrong because it doesn’t help somebody figure out how to determine if music is inappropriate. That is, throwing out your George Michael because someone at church pushed you to do it, but holding onto your Mr. Bungle (which, IIRC, had pretty much nothing but catchy horn licks and bad language) because nobody told you specifically to get rid of Mr. Bungle (because nobody in the Church has likely heard of the band) doesn’t really do anybody any good.

    One other point: you’re absolutely right that idiosyncratic people can take offense at anything. (Heck, random internet people take offense at the mention of tax, absent some sort of adjective describing it as devilish.) And you’re absolutely right that we can’t keep from saying anything because somebody, somewhere might take offense. But we do a pretty good job (unless we’re a pundit, politician, or troll) of generally not offending people in most social situations. (At least if we can hold a job and get invited back to social situations.) What’s wrong with using the same grace in our Church interactions? And, when in doubt, holding our tongues, unless it’s something for real important?

  40. Sam Brunson on July 27, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Oh, Alison, I realized that, in my rush to prepare dinner, I forgot to respond to your gender issue. I’m totally agree that, as far as I can tell, the gender things in the Church are culturally, not revelatorily, sexist. But there is, nonetheless, a difference between telling a woman not to baptize and telling her not to listen to the Beatles: the baptism is an institutional action, whereas the music isn’t. And the Church as an institution clearly has an interest in maintaining institutional standards, whether those standards are capital-True or not. (If someone doesn’t want to deal with the True or not of women baptizing, the same would apply to choosing to use pianos, rather than drums, in African church services. As much as I love the piano, there’s no eternal superiority of piano over guitar, drums, or whatever.)

    (Yes, I’m ignoring the praying-to-Heavenly-Mother. I’m thinking about that (at least in its public, at-church iteration) pretty much the same, but the lines at the margins–i.e., why that’s different than blessing the sacrament in a black shirt with long hair–is fuzzy, and so I’m willing to say, lines get fuzzy.)

  41. Alison Moore Smith on July 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    KIrk #38:
    My thoughts exactly. That was why I asked in #31 how Sam was using the term. It seemed a way to denigrate particular counsel, but I wanted clarification.

    Sam Brunson #39:

    The problem comes when you, I, or someone else, deigns determine, for the Church, what that inappropriate music is.

    Absolutely agree, 100%. The problem I see is that some of your examples are NOT some lay member deigning to determine “for the church” what is inappropriate. It’s lay members deigning to mention or discuss what the church leaders have determined is appropriate. For example, you said:

    My daughters–both under the age of 6–rarely wear dresses with sleeves, at least during the summer.

    Then you suggested that you’d be offended if someone offended your daughters (ostensibly by talking about the lack of sleeves).

    FTSOY says this: “Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner.”

    Granted this is specifically addressed to Young Women, but it is outlined in the pamphlet as being immodest from a general church sanctioned source. (Which, I believe, prompted someone to ask at what age you believe modesty should kick in, if not before six.)

    While I completely agree that members making up rules to condemn others is a bad idea (and personally I don’t find shoulders offensive or immodest), I think often what’s happening is that people are discussing real, authoritative counsel and we don’t like it because we’ve chosen not to conform.

    There are lots of times in my life I’ve chosen not to conform with counsel, I jus think getting offended when someone talks about those bits of counsel is silly.

    …random internet people take offense at the mention of tax…

    I think you meant “tax, evil incarnate.” Yes, that’s better.

    Really appreciate your thoughts in #40. Thank you for taking the time on that issue.

    I’ve typed way to much the past couple of days, so I need to back out. But thanks for the good discussion and thoughtful response. :)

  42. Sam Brunson on July 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Thank you. too, Alison; I’ve enjoyed the discussion.

    A couple thoughts in response to questions you’ve raised (meant to clarify my thinking, not demand a response of you):

    I’ve avoided specifying the age I think modesty should kick in, mostly because it’s a lot older than most church members probably do. But I think 8 is a super-conservative estimate, and 12 or 13 is probably a realistic estimate (although I’d probably push it higher than that). (Of course, remember again that my oldest isn’t quite 6 and I’ve spent my adult life largely in urban areas where Church members tend to move out before their kids become teenagers–I reserve the right to rethink my ages as my girls get older). I should also mention that I hate our culture’s sexualization of young girls, but that strikes me as an issue separate from modesty, not a subset of modesty. If your “modesty” definition includes that, then our disagreement is probably more semantic than substantive.

    As for FTSOY, I have problems taking it seriously. A lot of that is based on its (former–the new version has changed the language and made it a lot better but, since I don’t work with youth, I’m think of FTSOY as it stood in the 90s, when I was a teenager) this language about music:

    Music can, by its tempo, beat, intensity, and lyrics, dull your spirituality.

    Because seriously, former FTSOY, what does that mean? Charlie Parker and his 280+ bpm tempos dulls my spirituality? The intensity of a Beethoven sonata dulls my spirituality? An emphasis on beats two and four, rather than on one and three, dulls my spiritual intensity? (I realize that this has happily changed, but the FTSOY of my youth is likely to always color my view of that pamphlet.)

    I think you meant “tax, evil incarnate.”

    That’s exactly what I meant.

    I should point out, I don’t advocate getting offended and, frankly, talking trash about my little girls is one of the only ways you can offend me. (And they’re so sweet that nobody talks trash about them.) I’m stubborn and egotistical enough that there’s basically nothing that anybody could do to offend me out of the Church. But not everybody thinks of themselves as highly as I do; I worry about sending bad messages, even if it’s as innocuous as, To be a good member worthy of a visible calling, you need to be clean-shaven and wear a white shirt. (That thought has made me keep my beard for about a year and a half longer than usual–my traditional pattern is I get bored with however I look about every six months, which generally means six months of beard, six months clean-shaven. Although part of keeping my beard is also so that I look older than my students.)

  43. Sam Brunson on July 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    (although I’d probably push it higher than that)

    Actually, on a couple minutes’ reflection, I take that back. I’ve been conflating a couple things in my mind. I think modesty concerns probably kick in somewhere in the 8-13 range, because clearly a teenager has the capacity to be modest or immodest.

    However, I don’t think that sleeveless (or whatever) automatically means immodest; I think, honestly, that what constitutes modesty is a much more personal thing. And, in fact, the same piece of clothing can be modest for one person and immodest for another. So when I said I’d push it higher, what I really mean is that I don’t buy the argument that, for a 16-year-old girl to be modest, she has to wear sleeves. Instead, she needs (undoubtedly with the help of her parents and others, I’m sure, but, having never been a teenage girl or father to a teenager girl, I’ll defer to others’ experience on this) to figure out what is and is not immodest. A blanket proscription keeps her away from the edge of immodesty, but it also costs her the chance to figure out what modesty means. If “modesty” just means “wear sleeves,” I think the concept is stripped of any ability to help a person grow.

    But now I threadjack myself. Sorry.

  44. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    Packer is right to focus on teaching the atonement. Amen.

    . When I called to see what was wrong and what I could do, she said, “Don’t worry. I’ve already forgiven you. But I won’t be able to sing in a choir for a very long time.” — isn’t that the truth of it that idiosyncratic people can take offense at anything. and that what is your heart is my idiosyncrasy.

  45. Al on July 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Why is it that this discussion recurs on every LDS blog about every three months? Why hasn’t anything new been said in all the years of the “bloggernacle”? My challenge: if you are a rugged individualist and tend towards skepticism towards authority dig up and post the best statement in support of church standards (i.e. “rhetoric”) that you recall. If you are a conformist then find the best statement you can recall to demonstrate our proper attitude towards non-conformists.

  46. Jon Young on July 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Rhetoric never exactly fits, and sometimes it’s completely useless, when applied to the practical necessity of meeting even our highest needs.

    Perhaps this post would be more applicable discussing adult topics such as debt and working mothers, but maybe that’s just because I have an axe to grind against simplistic and dogmatic obsession with rules.

  47. Al on July 28, 2011 at 8:26 am

    Is it possible that dogmatic obsession with rules is the problem of non-conformists and not conformists?

  48. Julie M. Smith on July 28, 2011 at 8:59 am

    “I think modesty concerns probably kick in somewhere in the 8-13 range.”

    This makes me nervous; girls in that age range are already dealing with enough issues related to body image and puberty and independence without adding theologically fraught ones to the list. This is why I support ‘modesty’ for littler ones–not because they need to cover their shoulders, but because starting to cover your shoulders at 8-13 is adding more fuel to the fire.

    At the same time, I seriously disliked the modesty article in the Friend. Yes, I realize this is hypocritical and no I can’t explain it.

  49. Sam Brunson on July 28, 2011 at 9:27 am

    because starting to cover your shoulders at 8-13 is adding more fuel to the fire.

    Right. (I guess—I’ll get back to you on that in a few years.) Which is why I said “modesty,” not “covering your shoulders.” I don’t think covering one’s shoulders is a modesty issue at all—it’s a covenantal temple issue. If modesty required covering shoulders, and we needed to be modest, not even one-piece bathing suits would be permissible. As a church, though, we haven’t condemned one-pieces, at least not within my lifetime. So the covered-shoulders things becomes more of an appropriate-for-the-activity thing than a “modesty” thing, notwithstanding the way people try to frame it (but see my last paragraph for my view on consistency).

    I think in the 8-13 range, kids become capable of being modest, but I’m not willing to pin a specific definition on “modesty.” It certainly shouldn’t be something that accentuates body-image issues, though.

    Yes, I realize this is hypocritical and no I can’t explain it.

    I like to embrace my inconsistencies—at the end of the day, I tend to favor pragmatism, not intellectual consistency.

  50. Jon Young on July 28, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Al, I think you are correct in that a non-conformist can be obsessed with rules, but my statement wasn’t really about conformity. I can be a conformist but not feel rules like “stay out of debt ” are right because the rule itself is sublime. Rather it’s a good rule because many will benefit from it. Those who don’t benefit from the rule will need to amend or even reject it. That can place rightful need over “dogma” where the rules are followed regardless of practical outcomes.

  51. Rob Perkins on July 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    #21 Sam, I don’t agree that that’s all the Friend story was. It could be a story about following examples. It could be a story about obedience born of self-motivation. It can also be seen as a story about the desirability of small children thinking through their choices and choosing a culturally correct option. The number of lenses through which this page of text can be seen is legion, as is the number of lessons possible.

    But let’s assume that’s all it is. If all it is a rhetorical device to inflict four year olds with an inaccurate picture of the world, my question is, what isn’t? Without any help from anyone else, every child develops an inaccurate picture of the world. The idea that even my 16 year old daughter has it sussed is laughable, let alone any kid in a Sunbeam class.

    Besides which, speaking to the idea of mitigating damaging rhetoric, if she parrots the behavior in the article, it’s brutally easy to negate it by simply responding as a parent differently than the mother in the article does! In that way, the rhetoric of a provincially-minded church magazine editor cannot harm.

    If it’s harmless, then it loses its power to offend me, and leaves me nonplussed when others go on a tear about how offensive it is.

    As for actual standards of clothing modesty, the only thing I can really contribute is that in any context, bared feminine shoulders have always drawn my eye involuntarily, since the age of about 15 or so. That much is food for thought, if the definition of “modesty” has anything to do with not inconveniencing others with tangential distractions.

    Re #34: As for arguments of whether the Church should have people teaching that clothing matters, I counter with the idea that if they didn’t, there would not be any kind of fashion media, and we all have to contend with that reality. The Church, thus, has a complete right to offer its members a coping mechanism for something which is very common in human society. Whether or not one agrees with the teaching is also food for thought.

  52. Rob Perkins on July 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Sorry; “I counter with the idea that if clothing didn’t matter to people, there would not be any kind of fashion media…” and so forth. Please forgive the ambiguity.

  53. Al on July 28, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Thread jacking to be sure but modesty always has context. A swimsuit at the pool is more modest than a swimsuit in sacrament meeting. And yes the word is modesty not just appropriateness. Appropriateness is encompassed in the word modest but it isn’t the whole of it.

  54. Chino Blanco on July 28, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    OK, I’ll bite and drop off this admission, Al: As a non-conformist, kicking once against the dress code pricks at BYU is almost as fun as finding a dozen places to write about it later. My favorite time was groveling humbly at the Honor Code office after my Helaman Halls dorm frau turned me in for long hair. The trick is to get a rubber band and color it to match your hair and use it to keep your hair off your back collar.

  55. Al on July 28, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Yes but Chino the nonconformists are supposed to find something positive to say about standards or at least something worthwhile in favor of them.

  56. Chino Blanco on July 28, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Kinda slow on the uptake there, Al. I’m saying that the standards are an important part of the hilarity that is the BYU college experience. Or maybe you’re not understanding me because fun = positive and worthwhile in my weird upside-down world. Sheesh. I should’ve gone with my first instinct and dropped off an angry rant about the damage done by the sugary cereals on the menu at Helaman Halls. Or something.

  57. Al on July 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Sorry Chino I was alluding to an earlier post I made. Didn’t realize that you didn’t see it or didn’t care. Carry on.

  58. Chino Blanco on July 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    You’re the same Al that used to troll Washington Monthly, aren’t you?

  59. Al on July 31, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Why do you suggest that I am a troll? Because I don’t conform to the norms of T&S?

    I don’t know anything about Washington Monthly. Wrong Al.

  60. David Scott on July 31, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Sam, my oldest son is an exceptionally gifted young man. He is a great husband, father and a true Christian. When he was young his hair went from very long, to mohawk. He was also known to wear tennis shoes to church. Never really bothered me. I can also tell you that it didn’t bother members of our ward. Our ward and leadership has always concentrated on important aspects of the gospel. Not really into sweating the small stuff. I enjoy your blogs