Sunday, June 27, 2010

Not So Clean Cut


Something has been bothering me for a number of weeks now. A good friend of mine was recently called into a bishopric after a ward split. (No controversy there; I'd sustain him in a heartbeat. I'm just a little perturbed by what followed.) After successfully being interviewed and sustained in sacrament meeting, the stake president's counselor pulled him aside and said that the stake president had requested that he shave his mustache. And that's it. That's what bothers me. Now some might make this a matter of obedience to authority. To that I say "horsefeathers". Of course, feel free to agree or disagree.

Now for some background. My friend had only shaved his mustache once since he started growing it as a teenager--and that was on accident. He's now a [very youthful] grandfather. I sympathize with him; it meant a lot for him to keep his mustache. Adding to the irony was the fact that his well-trimmed mustache was never an issue when he’d previously served in a bishopric, and it was never an issue with his employer--the LDS Church. Yet somehow it's a big enough deal in the eyes of LDS ecclesiastical leaders who’ve now called him to serve in the bishopric.

Deep down he was actually afraid that somebody, someday would ask him to shave it off. Apparently when [then] Elder Uchtdorf came around a few years ago, a local ecclesiastical leader asked him what he could do to improve and was given counsel to shave and remain clean shaven--I guess you could even say "clean cut". I see no problem with giving such counsel to an individual who asked for it. The problem I see is when such "counsel" is then interpreted as a requirement or a commandment, and requested perpetually of others, rather than let each individual choose how (or if) this will personally be applied.

I realize that some familiar with my blog name might find a small irony in the fact that I'm the one who is bringing this up. But while I personally choose to keep a clean-shaven face and a clean-cut haircut, I’d be the last person to suggest this has anything to do with personal worthiness. Quite simply, my wife suggested “Clean Cut with a Coke” and I liked the play on words and the alliteration. For the sake of simplicity I shortened the name, while also enjoying the irony of my apparently "orthodox" appearance belying my sometimes less than orthodox views. In reality, I despise rigid rules and legalistic, dogmatic approaches to the gospel.

To come clean on this issue that is anything but clean cut, I confess that in a previous life I may have judged more by appearances. (And to my brother-in-law, when I gave him a hard time for growing a goatee immediately after his mission, I say sorry. I'm a changed man. And to complete my repentance, I admit now that I was wrong to even make it a big deal.) I've long since become more liberal--and charitable--in my religious views.

While I don’t fully know or understand the rationale behind this specific request, I’d still prefer personal application of gospel principles and free agency. “In essentials let there be unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity”. Suffice it to say I believe this is a “non-essential”, and probably leans more towards “keeping up appearances”.

I'm quite a fan of Hugh Nibley's position. Nibley, who was simultaneously loyal and critical, has been described as being “bothered by what he saw as the unthinking, sometimes almost dogmatic application of some portions of BYU's honor code. Nibley had no objection to requirements of chastity or obeying the Word of Wisdom, but he thought the often intense scrutiny directed at grooming (hairstyles and clothing) was misguided.” In 1973, he said:

"The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism... the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances."

Without reservation I add a “clean cut” amen to Brother Nibley. I'm not sure how ubiquitous these kinds of requests are in the Church, but the whole situation seems all too pharisaical for my liking. The gospel is not a gospel of guilt, or rigid obedience to authority for that matter. After all, Jesus himself was quite the iconoclast. But I'm curious how others' see this. What would you have done (or said) in both the “counselor” and “counseled” roles? What other thoughts or insight might you have?

28 comments:

Anthony said...

You and I are of the same mind on this. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus runs afoul of the scribes, lawyers, and Pharisees for healing on the sabbath. ?!?! Seems to me that the gospel writers wanted to impress on us that a slavish devotion to legality (or the appearance thereof) can blind us to what really matters.

There's something else that bothers me about your example. How can something be considered a commandment (or a revelation) if we can't trace it to an authority speaking authoritatively on the record? I want chapter and verse before I consider myself bound to do something. If off-the-record comments by GA's don't define orthodoxy, they shouldn't be able to define orthopraxy either. A rumor mill isn't reliable even if its participants believe it is.

Papa D said...

I agree 100% with you, CC - but I also shave and wear a white shirt, tie and suit coat in callings when I am asked to do so by my direct Priesthood leader. I find it rather petty and annoying, frankly, when I see local leaders imposing stricter standards than those used in the temple, for example - but I still follow them when asked to do so.

Don't get me wrong: I speak up when I believe something is wrong at a very fundamental level and constitutes harmful abuse of authority - "serious" unrighteous dominion, if you will. In this situation, turning what should have been a request made prior to the calling into an afterthought given when your friend already had accepted the calling . . . yeah, I have a problem with that.

However, I believe in drawing my lines carefully - mostly so that when I do speak up everyone is surprised and realizes I think it is a serious issue. I understand that accepting "trivial" things can feel like a compromise of principle to some - but that acceptance lies at the heart of community and inter-personal relationships and charity and humility, imo. We accept the little things about our spouses that would drive us nuts about others - and I am ok accepting the little things about our religious culture that would drive me nuts in isolation.

I love the Gospel and the LDS Church a lot, even if I am bothered (sometimes greatly) by certain aspects of the culture that arise so easily. I hear Elder Uchtdorf speak about how easy it is for programs and culture to overshadow the Gospel, and I think specifically of dress and grooming standards - so I vow personally not to impose them if I ever am in the position to make that call.

Sally said...

Ooooo...very interesting! I'm sure I know of whom you speak--and there couldn't be a kinder, humbler man.

Part of me is like, well, it may be a sacrifice, but he'll be blessed for following the Priesthood.

But part of me is like, really what does it matter?!?! It seems like a tradition rather than any doctrine. I had a Bishop at BYU and several bishopric counselors at BYU with mustaches. If it's okay for the "Mother-ship" why not San Antonio?

But I have to go back to obedience. As stupid as I may think something is, I believe we'll be blessed for obedience and sacrifice.

Hmm...that's a hard one!

President said...

Spencer you knew that I would comment on this blog as I have been that same person that has only had a baby butt face for the two years I served on my mission. I have had extremes in long hair and in Grizzly Adams beards as well. I do not feel any less able to do my calling with my chin strap beard then if I didn't have it. Now on the other hand I do believe how my employer see's it and that is to not have extreme lengths of hair and if you have a beard to have it trimmed up nice a neat. If asked to shave from a bishop or stake president I absolutely would, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't change my approach to fulfill my calling. I enjoy my beard as you enjoy your caffeine haha.
I had written so much more earlier and right before I finished my home teaching partner (bishop) showed up to go to our appointment so know that I have much more on this topic but not any time to discuss.
Happy Sabbath day!

Papa D said...

Btw, just to add a bit of perspective, the husband in the witness couple in the temple during my last endowment session had a really nice, full but trimmed beard - and a thin, long, braided pony tail. (It went about half-way down his back.) He looked really sharp, and I told him sincerely how much I liked his hair right before the session started - and I LOVED the fact that his hair didn't keep him and his wife from serving as the witness couple.

Rich Alger said...

I also see the possibility that this is picking at gnats. I recall someone I know that was asked in a gentle way to shave on his facial hair. He had never been asked to. He promptly removed it and has been clean shaven ever since.

It reminds me of the talk by Elder Bednar Quick to Observe. Sometimes obedience to a request or counsel is just our way of saying, "I trust the Lord and His servants".

I also recall other person who has less than what I would consider desirable hair style.

In a lecture I attended recently about how the clothing (and I would guess our grooming habits) reflect what _we_ want the world to think of us. I would guess that being clean shaven trasmits the message that we are in line completely with the Brethren.

I also see the tendency there may be to focus on the more trivial and more visible counsel rather than other much more important and invisible commandments.

Aaron said...

I totally agree Spence. Pharisaical is the exact word that came to mind.

Brigham was pretty gorilla looking in his later years, what's the big deal about a little mustache?

Rich Alger said...

Is shaving your face a game?

Jared said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Now this is my opinion but I don't think it is a big deal. So what if he was asked to shave? I understand that people become very attached to their facial hair (and it certainly is very attached to them!) but if a church leader in authority over you asks you to do something, even if you question it (and you can certainly question them or someone "higher up"), you should just do it. People have left the church over lesser matters.

I'm not defending or questioning what was done - that isn't my prerogative. If I was the person in authority over this man would I have made the request to shave? Probably not but that's not a decision I think any of us can really make unless we are in that situation. But that's just my opinion.

Eric said...

Clean Cut, I pretty much agree with you. I can't say how I'd respond if I were asked to shave my beard for a calling; I'd probably view the request as silly and slightly insulting, and I might even say so, but I'd probably comply anyway.

That said, I've had fairly visible callings (but not in a bishropic), and no one has ever said anything about my beard or even my longish hair (back in the days when I had it). And I've baptized youth in the temple and been half a witness couple at various times, and I've never got any flak for my facial hair. Although I believe that culturally we place way too much importance on personal appearance, I've never personally been mistreated for such a reason.

Not all that long ago, there were some people in my ward (or so I heard) who were disturbed by the longish hair (to the bottoms of the ears) by some of the boys passing the sacrament and wanted the bishop to do something about it. But his view was that as long as the boys weren't doing anything extreme for the community (in other words, their hair was fashionable rather than designed to attract undue attention), he wasn't going to intervene. (One of his sons was one of the "culprits," so that probably had something to do with it too.)

Basically, I think we have things that are a lot more important to worry about.

S.Faux said...

On Sundays I almost always wear a solid colored dress shirt. It is my tiny act of rebellion.

For many years, my former Stake President wore a mustache. He was also an evolutionist. I suppose he had his tiny acts of rebellion too. But, there was NO doubt about his testimony.

I just hope we LDS are not getting caught up in a lot of little rules. My memory is going down hill, and I am having trouble memorizing all of them.

Jim said...

Clean Cut,

This is interesting. I especially liked the Nibley quote.

My concern is the focus on outward appearance. I wonder if adhering to these norms where compliance is obvious gives us a false sense of security- that since we appear righteous, we need not be as concerned about our "inner" condition- our hearts, motives, desires, thoughts, etc.

Papa D said...

"if a church leader in authority over you asks you to do something, even if you question it (and you can certainly question them or someone "higher up"), you should just do it."

I respect you, Jared - greatly, but . . .

No way.

That, in a nutshell, is Lucifer's plan. ("They will do exactly what I tell them to do, and they won't be punished in any way because they just are doing what they are told to do.") It also is in direct opposition to what our own apostles and prophets tell us regularly - **especially in the temple wording to wives and in D&C 121 with regard to unrighteous dominion**. Let me stress the first point:

Women in the temple are told quite clearly that they have NO obligation to hearken to their husbands simply because they are their husbands - that their husbands can be wrong, and, in those cases, they are not required to agree with or accept their opinions. Men are told explicitly in D&C 121 that their authority is gone when they try to rule on the basis of "because I said so".

As I said, I generally accept what is asked of me - but I can't support an extreme "just do it no matter what it is" stance. Leaders can fall, and leaders can give terrible advice - and, at the heart, I just don't support Lucifer's plan.

One more thing:

We hear all the time, and rightly so, that little transgressions can lead to little sins and to bigger sins - until, eventually, one can be excommunicated for serious sins. I accept that fully. Conversely, I believe the same applies to imposing meaningless restrictions. The acceptance of arbitrary and relatively unimportant restrictions can lead to an acceptance of more specific and damaging restrictions - until, eventually, freedom is lost and we are enslaved. Again, the fulfillment of this idea is Lucifer's plan.

The real irony of this is that those who advocate most vociferously for total obedience regardless in church generally are the same people who argue most vociferously AGAINST such a standard in politics. Take the quote I excerpted and apply it to political leaders . . .

Sam B. said...

FWIW, when I was called into a bishopric, I had a beard. Neither my bishop nor the stake presidency member who called me asked me to shave it, and I haven't. I've got my own religious reasons for wanting to keep it (basically, we have a lot of men in our ward who have beards, and I think it sends a bad message if I shave in response to certain callings). But my fundamental reasons are much simpler--I'd like to look older for my career, I think I look better with a beard, and my wife thinks I look better with a beard.

Does it go without saying that I love my bishop and stake presidency? Because it certainly should.

Thomas Parkin said...

"I would guess that being clean shaven trasmits the message that we are in line completely with the Brethren."

I think, unfortunately, the 'church', as a whole, doesn't really know the message that is being sent by the 'missionary uniform.' My non-member ex-wife thought it sent the message that we were a very strange cult with a penchant for making money in business. I think it might communicate any number of things to different people that have nothing to do with the 'clean' image that it portrayed in the years it evolved. I would really really love to see someone do a good history of it. I know pictures of my father on his mission in Argentina make him look like a bit of a hipster ... complete with fancy little sweater and a vespa. I've imagined that it finally coalesced in response to 60s counter culture - but I don't know anything about it, really.

~

BHodges said...

I am not a fan of the antipathy towards facial hair in the church.

Kelark said...

Interesting thread. Don't forget that Jesus wore a beard.

Hair said...

In your post you write:
"After successfully being interviewed and sustained in sacrament meeting, the stake president's counselor pulled him aside and said that the stake president had requested that he shave his mustache. And that's it. That's what bothers me."

Then...
"Apparently when [then] Elder Uchdorf (sic) came around a few years ago, he gave some counsel to a local ecclesiastical leader(s) to remain clean shaven--I guess you could even say "clean cut". I see no problem with giving such counsel. The problem I see is when such "counsel" is interpreted as a requirement or a commandment, rather than left up to each individual to choose how (or if) this will personally be applied."

However, your story, in the way it is portrayed, doesn't demonstrate that the stake president was 'commanding' this man to shave. In fact, it seems he could have simply been giving counsel you '...see no problem with giving...'

In other words, if this man would have said no to the shave would he have been released from his calling? It seems to me that would not be the case. Especially since 'this occurred after successfully being interviewed and sustained.' Rather, it appears he was given an opportunity to follow a leader's counsel, and it looks like he did.

Perhaps you are splitting, or cutting, hairs where they needn't be (i.e. making an issue out of nothing)...

Eme said...

My brief thoughts on this are as follows: if this were the straw that would keep you out of His Kingdom, would you obey and do it? While I will never have this problem (hopefully ;) I must personally opt to follow the admonition of the Brethren on this one. If the then Elder Uchtdorf offered the recommendation as I know that other Brethren, including our most recent prophet President Hinckley, then that is enough for me. Perhaps that your friend was not asked to shave prior to his current call was a simple oversight on part of his ecclesiatical leaders, but now that he is being asked, I think it's a matter of praying for the humility to do as instructed. Perhaps a similar argument may be made for the one pair of earrings rule, which is also an admonition from a servant of the Lord. In essence, I look to the Brethren as models to follow in these topics. There are no CURRENT General Authorities with facial hair and as they are special witnesses of Christ in our day, I feel their counsel is one to follow. Ultimately, I strive not to allow such "Gospel hobbies" to become the "hidden wedges" of offense that lead to apostacy. The Gospel of Christ is TOO important and filled with TOO many blessings to let such things drag me down.

Eric said...

... but now that he is being asked, I think it's a matter of praying for the humility to do as instructed.

Wouldn't it make more sense to pray for guidance about the best thing to do?

I agree that it is possible to let something that is relatively trivial get in our way of following the gospel. But is there a possibility that it can work both ways? Is it possible that it's the stake president who has the "gospel hobby"? Is it possible that God might be leading this new member of the bishopric to prayerfully reject the counsel as a means of helping the stake president to see that he has misplaced priorities? Is it possible that the stake president was exercising unrighteous dominion and needs to in some way be reminded of that?

(I'm not saying this is the case, and I'm not questioning the new bishopric member's decision in the least. I'm merely raising a hypothetical.)

The way I see it, counsel is just that. Sometimes we're commanded, and sometimes we're counseled, and they aren't the same thing. It's possible that we may be counseled to do something not so that we do it, but so that we prayerfully consider the issues involved. That's part of personal revelation is all about.

Dave said...

I've been struggling with this question lately. I'm the kind of guy who likes to have a beard, as my God-given trait as a man. But I also feel it is important to obey council from our leaders as long as it is founded correctly. With all the misinterpretations out there, the line seems kind of fuzzy. So I’m kind of stuck in the middle. I was a counselor in a bishopric with a full beard, though it was nicely trimmed and I didn’t have long hair. I was “well groomed”. However, when I was asked to be a temple veil worker, I had to shave my beard. I’m heard from some that that is a church-wide standard for veil workers, but not so from others. Any insights?? Perhaps this “no beard” thing falls under the “unwritten order of things” in the church, as coined by Elder Boyd K. Packer back in 1996?

There is an interesting address that was given on this subject of grooming standards by Elder Dallin H. Oaks to BYU students back when he was the President of the university in the early 1970s. The quote I give below from this address should be taken in the context of the audience and the time period. I think it is at the far end of one side of the spectrum:

“There is nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood. Either of these articles may reduce a person’s effectiveness and promote misunderstanding because of what people may reasonably conclude when they view them in proximity to what these articles stand for in our society today. In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture.”

I’m sure there are plenty other quotes from the brethren that lean to the other side of the spectrum, like the one posted in the original blog post, but I think Elder Oaks explains well why the church has felt apprehensive about beards, at least in the past. I think things have changed in our culture now days and there are more respectable men with beards. I don’t feel it is associated with hippies and drugs so much now days.

Also, different regions in the US seem to have different standards of expectations when it comes to beards. For example, in Southern Appalachia, where I live, many men in my ward have beards, including one on the high council. (not that callings should make any difference, sorry for bringing up the calling cards in this discussion, I suppose the standards should be the same for everyone regardless of their callings..) Anyway, my point was that it seems to be more accepted here, perhaps people aren’t as likely to misjudge a man with a beard in this region because of it? So maybe it varies by region and subculture as far as "looking the part"?

I have heard some quote Elder Ballard’s “Raising the Bar” talk at GC in 2002 as official council to not have a beard. But perhaps it could have been misinterpreted. He counseled returned missionaries to still “look the part” and to not “follow worldly trends and fashions.” I think he was referring here more to the type of fashions that are more obviously rebellious like baggy torn pants, pierced noses, etc… I feel that I can still look like a “respectable” Mormon with a “clean cut” beard and hair. For example, I was walking in New York City with my beard in casual, but neat, clothes, and a random woman approached me and asked, “Are you Mormon?” I said yes, and she progressed to ask me questions about the church. Perhaps in the end, it is okay to have a beard, so long as we remain clean inside.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kurt Manwaring said...

I enjoyed your post. A few years ago, I worked as an intern with a judge in Salt Lake City. The previous judge would sanction people for wearing "inappropriate clothes" in the courtroom. The new judge, however, felt that it was not his place to judge how people dressed. I admired his sense of compassion, tolerance and respect.

Elder McConkie does suggest that dress and grooming standards have an impact on our ability to serve with the Priesthood. In 1975, he said, "An immoral man can never generate the faith to raise the dead. A person who does not keep the Word of Wisdom will be hindered in healing the sick, and so on right down to the dress and grooming standards."

There are definitely points to be made on each side of the isle. A mustache doesn't make a good man bad, nor does the lack of one make a bad man good. There do seem to be reasons the Brethren encourage members to maintain a dress code at the same time.

BHodges said...

Faith > Grooming standards, always. :)

Anonymous said...

We often find it difficult if not impossible to live all the commandments along with duties in
the Church. Why? Because we try to live two lives. What we must do and what we want to do. Often,
they are diverse in nature. You
cannot serve 2 masters. It is hard because we try to live a double life. Therein is the conflict.

BHodges said...

That may be true, Anon, but facial hair typically has very little to do with whether a person is living the gospel of Jesus Christ, imo.

Anonymous said...

Indeed the trends of the world have shifted to a more lax and non conforming style that transcends fashion, body art, piercings and an ever lowering standard of civility. As a "peculiar people" we are called to be "in not of the world" then what voice shall we heed? Just as the employer asked the hireling the question of how close he can drive a team and wagon to the edge of the canyon drop off without disaster. The man hired said, "I drive as far from the edge as I could".
Ours should not be blind obedience but faithful obedience. It's how we are perfected. Ours should not be blind obedience but faithful obedience. It's how we are perfected. To do that which the flesh makes hard to do is to pursue the divine. It's only about faith.

Howard said...

Back around 1985 I was a veil worker at the Los Angeles Temple. I took a three week leave to travel around the country on vacation. On this vacation I grew a beard which I thought looked pretty nice, my wife loved it. anyhow, I came back and was headed for the veil room when a brother pulled me aside and said the Temple President wanted to see me right away. When I sat down with him in his office, he proceeded to tell me that I could not work in the Temple with any beard or mustache. He would not explain his decision and so I looked up at a picture on the wall of Christ and his Apostles I turned back to the President and said "I guess even they would not be welcome here"! I then left and never came back. A few years later I applied to work at the Jordan River Temple and during the interview the President talked about my beard. I told him I wanted to serve and if I had to shave it off I would. He then said just keep it trimmed nicely and welcomed me to the Lord;s work.