Our guest, Brad Kramer, grew up (debatable verbiage) in Utah. He attended BYU, where he earned a degree in Russian, followed by a stint at the University of Utah where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in US History. He now resides with his family (wife, three sons, one newborn daughter) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he teaches Russian and is earning a PhD in Anthropology. He did his master’s research on late nineteenth-century Mormonism, focusing on the dynamics of conflict, accommodation, and transformation, with a case study on the founding of Rexburg, Idaho. Brad writes: “As an anthropologist I plan to study Christian conversion in post-Soviet states (I served a mission in Russia), from the perspective of sociolinguistics and Marxist theory. In addition to being a husband, father, Mormon, and academic, my other salient identities include mediocre musician, amateur chef, Hollywood liberal, and Capricorn.”
Brad will be guest posting with us for the next couple of weeks.
The following story is true. I have withheld the actual location of the stake in question, because I’d hate for my comments to be taken personally by any of the individuals involved; but the story is verifiable (for those interested in doing a little detective work) and really, actually took place:
Last Saturday night, during the adult session of a Stake Conference somewhere in the continental United States, a Stake President (hereinafter “SP”) addressed a large gathering of saints, not a small number of which happen to be members of my extended family. During his remarks the SP (who, according to all accounts I’ve heard, is well-revered as a level-headed, not at all whimsical or eccentric man) stopped himself abruptly, and after a moment of semi-awkward silence said something like the following: I feel strongly impressed — I don’t know exactly why and cannot give a logical explanation or justification other than the strong feeling I have — to tell the men of this stake that if you have facial hair you need to shave it immediately.
Several (though not all) of my attending male relatives have made the difficult decision to shave beards, goatees, or mustaches in the past week.
Let me make absolutely clear at this point that this is not a thread for substantively second-guessing the SP; that is, this discussion will NOT devolve into a debate/thinly-veiled piss-fight over the relative merits of formal or informal male grooming standards in the Church or LDS culture. I expect Steve to unceremoniously delete any and all comments referencing the BYU honor code. Facial hair is not the topic of discussion here.
The questions I’m interested in discussion here are:
a) while local authorities certainly have some discretion for implementing locally binding programs, emphases, and strategies for encouraging greater conformity with the teachings of the Church, is some kind of line appropriately crossed when said leaders create (debatably) new, increased standards of righteousness for their members that set them apart from the general body of the Church? As another example, I once had a SP enjoin local membership specifically against watching MTV. That seemed like relatively sound advice (since I despise MTV), so I didn’t much care. But it’s just as likely (and reasonable) that a local leader would forbid the saints from watching, say, HBO — in which case I might well throw a fit of untold proportions. But those cases, I admit to my chagrin, feel more defensible because the reasoning behind them is, presumably, fairly clear. What if a SP admonished members to avoid watching Iron Chef or eating caramels?
Which leads to a second question: b) are those of my male relatives who attended the meeting but have not shaved their facial hair engaged in meaningful acts of disobedience or rebellion? what kind of injunction are we under as LDS when our local leaders make demands of us, not as individuals privately counseling with our bishop or SP, but collectively that stretch beyond the general, clear-cut standards that apply to the rest of the Church?
Again, this is not a forum for debating the substantive merit (or lack thereof) of any particular locally-implemented policy, whether real or imagined. What I want to know is, where is the line that separates necessary and wholly justifiable counsel from local priesthood leaders from the arbitrary capriciousness of banning Bobby Flay?