Soul Patch

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 post:

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?

Comments

  1. Brad, I would think that many Mormons will view this experience and these questions from the perspective of “stewardship”: is an SP entitled to receive revelation regarding the facial hair of the men in his stake?

    If the answer to that question is yes, then I think that gets us much of the way there in terms of whether we’re going to accept the injunction.

    Also, what strikes me from this experience is not the injunction itself — SPs are known to give advice regarding shaving habits — but that it was given in a public address, and couched in the language of prophetic revelation. That pushes it from the domain of “counsel” to that of “stewardship,” I think, and is far more challenging.

  2. I’m going to have to keep quiet on this one.

  3. As a beard-wearing man I am biased. Maybe I’d meet him halfway, shave it all off and let it grow right back.

    But ultimately, these little pieces of counsel seem to bounce off me. I try to be the best member I can be, but some little things become too much sometimes. One SP I had counseled against watching Patch Adams because he thought it taught “reincarnation.”

    My advice? See what the Spirit has to say on the matter. (Just make sure you aren’t projecting your will onto God’s.)

  4. StillConfused says:

    Very odd. Perhaps there is an outbreak of lice or something to which we are not yet aware.

  5. As Steve pointed out, the stewardship issue, I’m not convinced this is within the realm of the SP’s stewardship.

  6. a random John says:

    I think that LDS concern over facial hair is a little strange. Double so because it never comes with any rationale.

    I also think that this counsel is somewhat dangerous in that everyone can plainly see who has followed it and who has not. It isn’t like he said to make sure you have your food storage ready. This might serve to alienate those that elect to have a beard or who were not present when this advice was given. What about those that move into the area a few months later?

    My concern is that this sort of advice feeds our natural tendency to judge one another harshly and will deepen divisions that shouldn’t be there to begin with.

  7. a random John says:

    ugh. “Double so” should be “Doubly so” and please fix the remaining grammar errors in your head as you read my comment.

  8. Hmmm. It becomes so touchy when a local leader makes a decree like this- and becomes even more complicated by our general obedience to the 1P and Q12. If you add in our beleif in personal revelations, it becomes even more foggy.

    If this came down from a member of the 12, I would have a much easier time with it (not that I have facial hair, but my husband does) than from a local source.

    Local leaders, at least in my experience, do well to do as little micro-managing as possible. To me, this falls under that heading.

    It would be a hard sell convincing my husband the SP has stewardship over his face.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    Brad, just an additional thought: this post seems to really be about checks and balances on abuses of local leadership privilege. As such I think you highlight an important issue.

  10. “Moroni 10:4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.”

    Better to ask for confirmation from a higher authority than to follow blindly if it dosen’t feel right.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    I agree with arJ in #6. This would be a real challenge for me, because on the one hand I normally just let this kind of stuff roll off my back (and ignore the “counsel”), but in this case if I were to ignore it I would likely be one of the few in my stake to still have a beard, and it would be like walking around the halls of Church with a big scarlet B on my (blue) shirt. I’m not really sure whether I would want to go to the mattresses over this sort of thing or not. (In the HBO example, no one would really know that I would keep watching HBO.)

  12. I’d trim (pun intended) Steve’s question back to “Is the Stake President entitled to revelation for his stake?”

    The answer to that is an unqualified yes. The next questions becomes “Does God have a reason to ask the men of the Follicle East Stake to shave their facial hair?”

    That’s a tougher question, which I think gets to a fundamental issue. We are all entitled to revelation for our stewardship. Grooming standards would not normally seem to be a topic for revelation on a stake by stake basis. It would seem to be more properly due from the First Presidency with the approval of the Quorum of 12.

    There may be other dimensions, but my first reaction is that: A) While the SP may certainly give counsel and guidance to his stake, the stake members are certainly due the confirmation that the counsel is inspired. If the counsel was to quit having garage sales and instead donate to the DI, we would still be allowed to confirm this for our own individual situations, and B) based on that personal confirmation or lack thereof, your relatives are not necessarily in rebellion for failing to follow the SP’s counsel.

  13. Fortunately, stake presidents rarely issue commandments like this. Imagine how awkward a subsequent Temple Recommend interview might be for this stake president if some dude walks in with a big ole bushy beard on his face.

    Brigham Young ironically would not be admitted to any of the universities that bear his name because of his long hair and chin beard. Here is a shout-out to all of the historians that comment on these blogs: do you have any quotes by Brigham Young about beards? There might be some classics hidden in the archives.

  14. It also depends on what sort of consequences the SP might enforce. I think he is within his right to not call someone to the High Council, for example, who didn’t comply with the request. However, if the Stake started withholding temple recommends…then the President is off the deep end.

    Hopefully the Stake President would be rational about his counsel. I am close to an individual who when he was SP asked his stake to refrain from watching sports on Sunday. I know leaders in the stake who just ignored the counsel, and it was no big deal. There was no PPI inquisition.

  15. What I am interested in is what are going to be the repercussions of this in the stake. Will the SP’s directive during the conference be the end of it and it is not mentioned again? Will High Counselors be instructed to follow-up with Bishops and Councils on the ward level? Will it creep into temple recommend interviews in some subtle way? Will callings be affected? It would be very interesting in seeing the dynamics of this play out over the next few weeks.

  16. cj douglass says:

    Stewardship is a tricky thing but I think just as tricky is the concept of “sustaining local leaders” and finding out what that means. I would guess that this particular SP has a pretty literal interpretation. I on the other hand do not.

  17. Nick Literski says:

    There was an occasion where Brigham Young attended a social dance, and while dancing on the floor sidled up near a brother (I’m sorry, I don’t recall who it was), telling him he needed to shave his beard. The brother decided that when he got home, he would shave. Later in the evening, Brigham Young again danced up near this brother, and reiterated that he had just told the brother to shave his beard. The brother went home, shaved, and returned. Brigham Young is said to have embraced the brother, crying out, “Lord bless you, Brother _____!” for his obedience.

  18. Nick Literski says:

    #14:
    With regard to such an SP refusing to issue a temple recommend to those who did not comply with his directive to shave, I agree with you. On the other hand, I could see the SP arguing that failure to shave in this case was also a refusal to “sustain” your local authorities, and refusing the recommend on that basis.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Kevinf, I disagree with the shortening of my question as you’ve done it — in fact I think that’s kind of a dangerous way of viewing stewardship and revelation. I don’t believe the Bishop or SP have full jurisdiction over every aspect of our lives. Certainly they are entitled to revelation on how the church is run and in giving spiritual advice to each of us, but there are limits to their purview, and the limits are not purely “well, God wouldn’t give them instruction about X or Y.”

  20. When I was kid, the bishop of our ward made everybody stand up and put our arm to the square and “make a covenant with him” to do daily scripture study. He was quickly released (though I think there was more to his release than that one instance).

    Now I have a Stake President who says that it is wrong to go to the temple alone.

    I find it interesting to compare the two. The substance is really not that different, in fact, the SP’s temple instruction is probably less orthodox than the instruction to do daily scripture study. What creates a huge difference between the two is the form. The SP presents it as essentially nothing more than good (inspired) advice. The Bishop presented it in a way that presumed to exert a binding influence, and also (potentially) misused our sacred symbology and diction.

    Couched as it is in the form of public spontaneous revelation, is the admonition to shave more like my SP’s good advice or is it more like my old Bishop’s “covenant”?

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    It’s wrong to go to the temple alone? Huh?

  22. California Condor (#13), Brigham Young actually didn’t wear a beard until the last 10-15 years of his life. I think it’s also important to remember that there is a long tradition of Church leaders giving advice on dress and grooming standards. Brigham Young instituted the retrenchment movement, which included retrenchment from worldly fashions. George Q. Cannon, as mission president, insisted all missionaries wear a black suit and top hat. Even the Apostle Paul advised specific grooming standards to the Saints in Corinth.

  23. Name (required) says:

    Fortunately, stake presidents rarely issue commandments like this

    In the last few years I’ve heard SP talks about not going to car washes, not driving BMW’s or Mercedes, women always wearing pantyhose, organizing bank accounts in a particlar way, and not playing video games.

    As time goes on, I see more and more people just ignoring the advice.

  24. Antonio Parr says:

    The Mountain Meadows Massacre (and the Church’s recent public acknowledgment of the part played by the local Stake President) has forever put an end to the issue of blind obedience to the directives of Stake Presidents.

    I believe that there are 2 duties that one owes to a Stake President: (1) to prayerfully and humbly consider all counsel given by the Stake President; and (2) to refrain from ridicule or other unseemly attacks on the man wearing the mantle, i.e., to love the Stake President as myself.

    Beyond that, the lessons learned from the Mountain Meadows Massacre prohibit me from ever even considering the prospect of blind obedience to a Stake President. (My position in this regard feels like a debt, of sorts, to the victims of the massacre.) Of course, we believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost, and this gift undoubtedly will guide us all on the paths that we need to take for our growth and salvation.

  25. Steve Evans says:

    Antonio, that is certainly helpful next time you SP urges you to dress as Paiutes and slaughter a band of pioneers.

  26. Having been shorted by factors outside my control on matters of facial hair, I hate to think of the reaction to a stake president’s injunction that all the men must stop shaving.

    Would my lack of a full beard subject me to the mocking of the little children: “Go up thou half-bald face”?

    Would the old tired lefties make cruel jokes: “Ho Ho Ho Chi M.B.”?

    Imagine the dollars spent on facial hair transplants, or fake beards/moustaches!

    Oh, the humanity!

    This stake president had obviously watched “The Windows of Heaven” too many times, and forgotten the counsel (beginning, say, in D&C 107) to govern the church through councils. One would hope that one of his counselors would have helped him to see the foolishness before it became public.

  27. I do not have a beard, mustache, or soul patch, but if I heard this from an SP, I would absolutely make an appointment to see him and try to understand his counsel. Depending on how the appointment went, I might begin growing a beard.

  28. Whew! I’m pleased to say that back when I owned a car I rarely went to the car wash, and now that I am “carfree” I never go.

    And I also never drove a BMW or a Mercedes.

    And, unless computer games count as video games, I’m all set on that score too.

    I guess I’m on my way to glory!

  29. What if the counsel was reversed and he asked all clean shaven men in the Stake to grow a beard? Is this any different than asking men to shave? Why?

  30. Christopher (22)

    Brigham Young actually didn’t wear a beard until the last 10-15 years of his life

    But he still had long hair when he was younger.

  31. This a hard one for me to identify with. Any SP who would refer to my facial hair would certainly be over the line. But then again I’m a female.

    My feeling is that the grooming of the general membership is not stake business. I think as a leader of leaders though, the SP’d have the right to ask that bishops and their counselors be clean-shaven. High councel members? I just don’t enough about the high counsel to even make a guess. That said, if I was a guy, I’d probably shave just to avoid the judgements of others.

    A SP forbade all eating in our buildings a few years back. I think the oversight of church property is a resonable thing for a SP to exercise stewartship, but you would have thought that the prophet had given a revelation. People who snuck snacks into sacrament meeting were given the evil eye. No activities could have food unless the activity was in the cultural hall. Anyone who dared to suggest that this was local policy and that the stake next door was still goldfishing and cheerioing away was treated as an apostate.

    People do tend to grasp on to and over react to the visible commandments. It’s like checking for garment lines. Oh good, you are wearing the uniform.! You are one of the faithful, obedient ones. Phew!

    Jami

  32. heard SP talks about not going to car washes

    Car washes? Are they sinful because a frugal Mormon should just use a garden hose on his driveway?

  33. I have three reactions to this post:

    First, the snarky one: How would this sound if the genders were switched–i.e., the SP asks all women to keep their legs shaved if they don’t already . . . Perhaps our predominently-male leadership can get away with asking men to do things that they couldn’t tactfully ask of women.

    Second, see Norbert’s post from earlier today about the difference in importance of some commandments.

    Finally, I like Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby’s take on situations like this. For example, check out this quote from his 10/5/07 SL Tribune column titled “Raising my hand isn’t the same as obeying”:

    Being Mormon doesn’t stop me from being me, and me is deeply suspicious of all forms of authority. If you plan on telling me what to do with any real expectation that I’ll do it, you’d better have something more to offer than some idea that you’re in charge.

    Besides, sustaining isn’t the same thing as obeying. “Support and sustain” may imply blind obedience to some, but all it obligates me to do is listen, carefully consider what I’m told, then make up my own mind.

    Nicely said in my opinion.

  34. I am ready to support a SP or bishop emphasizing a commandment or counsel — our bishop recently stood up after the last speaker and said the promptings of the Spirit were fairly shouting at him, that we as a ward need to get some family history going. It was quite a moment. But this is something quite different. He is creating his own religion. SLC may not be thrilled by beards, they haven’t required mass shavings.

    And I can’t help but see the relationship of this to what I posted today

  35. Steve, # 19,

    No, I think I will stand by my earlier statement that a SP is entitled to revelation for his stake. Trying to extrapolate from that to being entitled to revelation about grooming standards is not what I intended.

    A SP may receive revelation that he needs to speak to his members about tithing faithfulness, or attending the temple more often, or that they need to be more diligent in their food storage.

    Where I draw the line is in formulating rules like the grooming standard mentioned. He may have some good reason for personally wanting his priesthood brethren not to look like professional baseball players, but it can’t become a rule for things like TR or MP ordination worthiness. I’ve watched our SP closely over the last year and a half while serving on the HC, and have seen how this works. A serious concern on his part led to an emphasis on preparedness, both temporal and spiritual for this year, with much positive effect. He has not, however, been denying TRs if you don’t have a year’s supply.

    And in any case, you are entitled to confirmation to know if a specific counsel is intended for you. In this case, it doesn’t matter to me, as I shaved my mustache about three years ago after more years than I care to disclose, for the same reason I grew it when I was 18: it made me look older.

  36. Aaron Brown says:

    This is the sort of story that bolsters my long-held belief that much of the time, we don’t really, as a people, know the difference between “spiritual confirmation” and the waves of personal bias that overcome us at times, from some deep dark recesses of our minds. I simply don’t believe that these are the sorts of “revelations” that local leaders receive, for the simple reason that I don’t believe the being who gives revelations preoccupies Himself with this sort of silliness.

    Even if I grant that a Bishop or Stake President might receive inspiration, pursuant to his stewardship, to ask a specific churchmember to engage, or cease engaging, in some act, I somehow doubt there’s some pressing God-given reason that all LDS men in Tuscaloosa need to shave, while all those guys in Birhingham have no such need.

    It is important, I think, to have bright lines which local leaders should not cross. We talk so much in the Church of the “inspiration” of our leaders, and one of the downsides of such an emphasis is inevitably going to be that some of them will interpret their own prejudiced musings as having come directly from the Lord. Scary.

    Aaron B

  37. Steve Evans says:

    Kevinf, we may just have to disagree on this. I believe the reason SPs don’t give tips regarding what cars to drive or brand of clothing to wear isn’t just because God isn’t telling them what to say — it’s because giving such advice is beyond the scope of their callings as well.

  38. Josh Smith says:

    The stake president sinned, twice: he spiritual micromanaged and he subjected his fold to “too much church.”

    Spiritual micromanagement is a sin. The rationale is simple: we are moral agents capable of making many choices without an appeal to revelation or authority. I simply don’t ask God about facial hair or drinking Coke. Local leader revelation in these matters is due to … I don’t know … maybe overwork, maybe not enough time to prepare the talk, maybe sex problems … who knows. Not revelation.

    Second, spiritual micromanagement festers in an environment of “too much church.” God never intended his children to spend as much time in chapels as we Mormons do. We subject ourselves to enormous amounts of lay-person-at-the-microphone time. If we sit in the pew longer, we should expect to hear less weighty issues and more spiritual micromanagement.

  39. Nick Literski says:

    The simple fact is that well-meaning local leaders make these kind of statements on a fairly frequent basis. When I was a stake executive secretary, serious discussions took place in the presidency about the spiritual danger clearly evident in the lives of men who wore non-white shirts to church meetings. Equally serious attention was given to women wearing “flip-flops” (actually, the president called them “thongs,” and had to be gently urged by a counsellor to call them “flip-flops,” lest misunderstanding arise). These are almost always well-meaning men, earnestly trying to promote the well-being of those under their stewardship.

    When my second mission president arrived, he had been through the training given at SLC to new mission presidents. One of the trainers evidently scared my poor mission president silly with tales of missionaries who supposedly went to the bathroom in a member’s home, and ended up having an illicit encounter therein with a daughter in the family. He somehow was given the idea that this was not an uncommon event. Accordingly, during our first mission leadership meeting, he established a new mission policy, to the effect that missionaries must always be accompanied to the bathroom (yes, INTO the bathroom) unless in their own apartment. Under no other circumstances was any missionary to do his business alone.

    You can guess the reaction of the missionaries in the meeting, though none of us dared say it aloud at the time. The policy was never officially withdrawn, but I can tell you most of the missionaries ignored it, and we never, ever heard of it again. Does this mean my mission president was a terrible, over-stepping dictator? Not at all. He was a loving, caring, wonderful individual, who tried to do his best in the calling he was given, and made one small mistake that I’m sure he later found embarassing.

  40. Name (required) says:

    #36–Did the same spirit that gave this shaving revelation also tell this SP that the church was true?

    If so (and if this ‘revelation’ is bogus like most people here think) does the SP really have a testimony from the real source? Or is it that the SP can’t tell the difference between the spirit and his own feelings? If the SP can’t tell the difference, how can you say that his other revelations about the church (ie–that it is true) come from the spirit?

  41. Aaron Brown says:

    aRJ:
    “My concern is that this sort of advice feeds our natural tendency to judge one another harshly and will deepen divisions that shouldn’t be there to begin with.”

    Yep. This sums up the problem of Mormon preoccupation with facial hair (among other things) nicely. Of course, if there were any serious concerns (with facial hair, or whatever) that could be legitimately raised, they might need to be weighed against the danger of promoting judgmentalness. But there aren’t.

    Aaron B

  42. Aaron Brown says:

    “Or is it that the SP can’t tell the difference between the spirit and his own feelings?”

    Yep.

    “If the SP can’t tell the difference, how can you say that his other revelations about the church (ie–that it is true) come from the spirit?”

    I can’t. Neither can you, or anyone. I hope that they come from the Spirit, of course, and I’m even willing to assume that they do, absent specific reason to believe otherwise. But I can’t rule out the possibility that the SP is misinterpreting the Spirit much of the time, including on subjects that are basic or foundational to his faith.

    Saying that isn’t really particularly controversial. All one can do as a Churchmember is try (and hopefully succeed) to feel and properly interpret the Spirit, and do what you think it’s telling you to do. And one can adopt presumptions as to whether their leaders are inspired, but in the end, these must be rebuttable presumptions.

    Aaron B

  43. No, Steve, I think we are in agreement. I did say in my earlier post that I was doubtful that a SP should receive revelation for his stake about a grooming standard that would be different from the neighboring stake. I think we would both agree.

    My point is that a Stake President is eligible and should receive guidance that is unique to his stake as part of his stewardship. I also believe that does not include such things as car washes, facial hair, or the evils of blue cotton oxfords.

    Lest we misunderstand further, when I still had my mustache, I would have ignored his counsel.

    I, however, cringe about the blue shirt thing. I certainly don’t see the need for a white shirt requirement. When I was bishop, I did not forbid the AP or the occasional MP holder from passing the sacrament if they were wearing a blue shirt, or even no tie. But when I was called as Bishop, and while serving on the HC, I have always worn white shirts to church to avoid offending anyone. When visiting other wards out of town, stripes, blue, tattersal plaids are all in order.

  44. Yeah, I’m inclined to grant any sincere and hard-working leader a little slack when, on one of those rare occasions, they say something stupid. And the best way to do that is just ignore the statement. And I object to labelling this sort of gratuitous advice-giving a “commandment.” No SP would consider their counsel that way; why should anyone else?

    The issue here isn’t stewardship (because the example is outside an SP’s stewardship) and it isn’t personal loyalty (a concept which has nothing to do with the modern LDS Church). It’s about good judgment, which is a requirement for being called to LDS leadership positions, and the occasional lapse reminds us how most leaders, most of the time, know better than to go off the reservation with their counsel.

    Here’s an interesting question — how many men in the stake, after hearing that advice, were tempted or actually did decide to start growing a beard?

  45. Steve Evans says:

    Dave, very interesting. Let me ask you — what leads you to the conclusion that the example is outside an SP’s stewardship? I agree that it is, but where’s the proof?

  46. Latter-day Guy says:

    Brad, while in the original post you say that you don’t so much want to discuss the merits of individual policies, I don’t think that the issue can be examined on a blanket basis. Many local policies are based on local circumstances and are appropriate in one setting while not in another.

    That same argument could be made by any person who does not feel that the this type of counsel is in their best interest: “I feel strongly impressed [that this counsel is not for me].”

    (As for the BYU honor code… I am amused by the fact that, based strictly on grooming, neither Jesus nor Brigham would be allowed to attend classes, but Hitler could. I’ve wanted to grow a square mustache of my own just to test this theory.)

  47. So, what if women started going to the SP and saying that they found their husbands so much more attractive with facial hair? I would be curious what he would say to that…

  48. Steve,

    To me it seems it is indeed outside the SP’s stewardship to ask the men to shave their facial hair.

    I have read the CHI recently and have not seen a section on facial hair.

    The whole thing seems like a giant overreach.

  49. The earnest TBM part of me thinks that this is one of those occasions where this seemingly insignificant directive is merely an opportunity to sustain our leaders and be obedient. It reminds me of that story told several years ago in GC where the priesthood leader asked the men of the priesthood to move to the front rows of the chapel, and nobody moved.

    The other part of me (the majority part) says that this face-shaving stuff is crap. I am interested in the comments made by others that they have seen idiosyncratic commandments like this routinely ignored by the members. I wonder that if this kind of behavior were to continue, if the SP or the bishop would lose the respect of the members, who would later no longer to take his advice on spiritual matters that truly are within his stewardship. I think it would fit under the rubrics of “overstretch”, “mission drift”, or “credible threat.”

  50. StillConfused says:

    I saw a mention above about women and pantyhose. Pantyhose are disgusting and I will never wear them. Gross.

    Facial hair doesn’t phase me at all. I am pretty mellow when it comes to appearance. As long as you don’t offend my nasal passages, have at it!

  51. It’s wrong to go to the temple alone? Huh?

    Yeah, he says that you should always take someone with you, whether it’s a family member or someone from the ward. Even though I rarely, if ever, attend the temple without my wife, I don’t get why it’s wrong to attend the temple alone. I think it’s pretty silly myself, and I don’t understand what could possibly be the reasoning behind it. Maybe it’s easier to get freaked out by all the ritualism of the temple ceremonies if you’re all alone? I don’t know.

    That, and it also discourages temple attendance for some ward members. It used to be that the husband would go the temple and the wife would stay with the kids and then they would switch. Now, more often than not, they just postpone getting a babysitter.

    But then again, that isn’t really the subject of this thread.

  52. Accusations that Brigham Young, Jesus, or any other bearded prophet or god could not attend BYU or be in harmony with the SP in this particular stake are unfounded. Brigham Young was in harmony with the dress and grooming standards accepted by the Church is his day, and there is no reason to claim he wouldn’t do the same today.

  53. Steve,

    Let’s look at what would be outside the “stewardship” of a SP, as that seems to be the key issue. A first step would be anything that is different from established church standards, which I think most would agree are the questions on the TR list, as a foundation. Facial hair doesn’t fit this list. Interesting that I have trouble with the requirement that temple workers must not have facial hair, as that is a different requirement than going to the temple.

    What would have been the response had the SP said “I feel that all the families in our stake should pay 11% tithing”? That is contrary to established church standard, as would be to say that tithing should be paid on gross income (no threadjack, please), also contrary to church standard.

    On the other hand, a SP whe gets up, pauses, and says that he feels members should look at their own situations, and see if they can’t double their current Fast Offering donations. There is no church standard, and the counsel is to see if you can double your donations, but avoids any specific quantification. That is the sort of thing I could expect a SP to get revelation about.

    A SP or Bishop should also never counsel a couple to get a divorce, no matter how much the situation screams for it. That’s not part of their stewardship, but it might well be for the counselors at LDS family services!

    It’s the very public and “aura of revelation” that makes this particular incident difficult for me to accept. Even President Kimball, when he received the 1978 revelation, waited until the next day for the announcement to be made, and made sure his counselors and the 12 were on board. This SP might be well served to talk this over with his counselors and HC.

  54. Sam Kitterman says:

    I have had a beard or goatee and mustache most of my adult life, including the 20 years I and my family have lived in our house.
    I recently shaved the “facial hair” off for personal reasons dealing more with comfort more than anything else. However, I found it of some interest that when I showed up for Church the next Sunday, those who wanted to know what stake calling I had received or if we were going to have a change in the Bishopric, etc.
    I quickly grew the goatee and mustache back.

    On a more serious note I would have to question a SP (or any authority) giving the announcement of all men shaving off facial hair without there being a logical reason for the announcement. For example, I was a Navy judge advocate and was ordered to shave my beard. That was because if I served on-board a ship, the beard could interfere with an oxygen mask or other life safety equipment. That I can understand.
    If the reason is because one’s personal perception of facial hair is that it reflects one being rebelous or otherwise not conforming what one’s perception of appropriate appearance norms, then I would be one to say, The Gospel does not mandate we all be from the same mold or the same cookie cutter…

    But consider this. When the FP advised women of the church they are to have only one set of earrings, did any have discussions with their spouse about that and whether it made any real sense?

    It seems certain appearance norms “encouraged” by the Church are far easier to accept, e.g., no tattoos (although I would love to discuss that one with members from the Islands whether Maui, Somoa, etc.), than others… As for facial hair I’ll keep mine, thank you….

  55. I was told a while back that there was a SP in my area who advised the priesthood holders in his stake that they would not be able to hold church callings if they wore blue dress shirts to church. I secretly wished that this was my SP so that I could be relieved of my duties and enjoy the Sunday meetings unencumbered.

  56. Accusations that Brigham Young, Jesus, or any other bearded prophet or god could not attend BYU or be in harmony with the SP in this particular stake are unfounded.

    I don’t know why, but imagining a bearded Jesus sitting in a BYU class is a funny image.

  57. When I moved from Utah, I promised not to bash Utah Mormons. It was interesting to note that I would have had to shave my mustache to serve in a bishopric in my old Davis County stake, but didn’t have to here in Washington.

    In fact, five of the ten bishops in our stake when I served as bishop, including me, all had mustaches. Three of those bishops now serve in the stake presidency, but all five of us shaved our mustaches a few years ago, before getting our current callings. No requirement, just a decision we all came to on our own.

    I think I would have put up a fight about it in Utah.

  58. David, not as funny as an unbearded Jesus with a missionary hair cut, white shirt, tie and suit.

  59. So lets take it up a level or two in authority.

    In my brother’s Stake in Eastern Canada it was announced a week or two before Stake conference that the GA that was attending had sent advanced word that priesthood holders with facial hair were asked not to attend the Stake priesthood meeting.

    My brother (who doesn’t like to shave anyways) had at the time grown a large bushy beard because he was appearing as an extra in a movie being filmed at the Hill Cummorah. Filming wasn’t complete, and he had to keep his beard for several weeks, so he didn’t attend.

    Can the SP ignore this counsel/directive? Can he write it off as “uninspired”, or “not within the GA’s stewardship”? Obviously the SP complied because the announcement was made, and as far as I know heeded.

  60. I would suggest that we can get personal revelation, as to the inspiration of advise of leaders, and we should.

    I know some leaders un-justly do these kinds of things from time to time. They will be judged accordingly.

    Unless I received an answer by revelation to pay no attention to the SP, I would shave, just to support him, right or wrong. Something of real moral importance may require a conformation greater weight. But frankly, if the SP just said would you guys please shave, I would comply.

    -David

  61. It’s pretty hard for a SP to argue with a GA, but Talon, that’s just wrong, without some other explanation. I have a brother who was asked to grow a beard to appear in the Nauvoo pageant this last summer. I’d have a really hard time sustaining that kind of counsel. Going to Stake Conference PH Leadership meeting may not be very high on a lot of people’s lists, but being asked not to attend over something that is not a current worthiness standard, just seems to be a lack of charity. If there is something evil about facial hair, maybe the prophet should tell us all! Then none of us would be worrying about this silly thread.

  62. I should point out that I am a very compliant person, normally. Hence, the large number of white shirts in my closet, pretty much for Sunday use only.

    I guess the thing that troubles me is this kind of counsel given without any explanation or justification. Perhaps it’s supposed to be as clear as the hair on our face? :)

    No slight intended to the GA mentioned in # 59, but I have a pretty strong reaction to that.

  63. In 61, I’m not referring to my brother’s beard, but instead would have a hard time with the counsel to not attend Stake PH meeting with facial hair. Lest I not be clear.

  64. Actually, I have to say something (contradicting #2):

    If a local Scientology leader told his congregation to shave, it would stink to high heaven of cultish behaviour.

    For those who don’t know the Scientology Rule: if policy x would look cultish coming from a Scientologist, then x probably is cultish.

    I have no interest in being a member of a cult.

  65. You know, it is (stuff) like this that is really making me reconsider my conversion to the church two years ago. The gospel is still true but The Church is starting to ruin it for me.

    A GA asks men with facial hair to stay away from stake conference? Then I’d take my goatee and my tithing checks home forever. Say, while he’s at it, why not ask blacks, hispanics and others to stay away, too?

  66. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE 52:

    Yeah, Brigham might shave, but Jesus was a rebel. He’d probably tell the HC Office where they could stick their policies.

    (I was joking Chris… I hope you were too, otherwise… wow… I’m horrified.)

  67. Tony,

    I think the reason we are discussing this is that it is the exception, rather than the rule. These kinds of issues generally create much more heat and smoke than their actual frequency of incidence would indicate.

    What we are not doing in this situation is getting spiritual confirmation before we post comments, as opposed to how most of us would handle this in real life. Some of us perhaps have been given to throwing a little gas on the metaphorical fire here.

  68. Tony,

    In the words of an old friend of mine who has since left the church, “with all the crap we have to worry about in this lousy old world, the church’s pettiness kills me.”

    But let’s take heart in the fact that these are outliers. In my 31 years in the church, experienced in three countries, I have never had a leader go off piste like this. They have all been good, sensible, wise men. (Which is not to suggest that this particular SP isn’t, it’s just that in this case such mitzvot-making is deeply unhelpful to the cause of Zion.)

  69. Kevinf

    Maybe it was for the pagent, but I swore he said it was for movie that was being filmed, I’ll have to ask him, it was a couple of years ago.

    Tony

    Don’t do anything rash on account of my story, for all I know I got it all bass-ackwards, I’d have to confirm the details with my brother.

    Many people on the thread have said that the SP’s counsel was silly and can more or less be ignored. I more or less agree, but the intent of my question was to ask how far up the chain this attitude can/should be applied?

    Perhaps the SP simply passed the agency on to his congregations, and said “I was asked to make the annoucement, I did, and its up to the members to heed it, or think its silly and disregard it”.

    I don’t think complying with the request to make the announcement suggests the SP agreed with it, or does it?

  70. As a goatee wearer in a stake with early AM priesthood meetings, I’d gladly comply with the GA’s request.

  71. Steve Evans says:

    kevinf, you refer to the TR interview questions as a standard, which I think is interesting. Similarly, bbell refers to the CHI, which is also interesting but understandable. Both of you seem to anchor the SP’s jurisdiction in policy documents.

  72. Brad Kramer says:

    UPDATE:
    I have just learned that the stake in question is about to undergo reshuffling — i.e. new wards created, new boundary lines drawn, new leadership called in several areas. My relatives surmise that the face-shaving measures were enacted as a kind of quasi-Abrahamic test to separate the wheat from the tares.

    There may, however, be a less cynical way of looking at it: the SP might just have wanted to take the ridiculous superficialities of facial-hair standards of worthiness consideration totally off the table. You can rule out far less men as candidates for leadership positions based upon dubious standards than you could before. The standard, to be sure, is still dubious, but the actual pool of potential (and otherwise obvious) rule-outs is now far smaller.

    My fairly charitable ruminations aside, I have to agree with Ronan that the Scientology Rule here, as everywhere, applies. I hope those Mormonism’s cult-fetishizing critics don’t find out about this one.

    I guess the cat’s already out of the bag…

  73. Steve Evans says:

    Tony, have faith. The Church is weirder and more wonderful than a few of these irritating anecdotes convey.

  74. Talon,

    There have been a couple of films recently, including the current Joseph Smith movie, that could have been involved.

    I’ll only add to your other question that it’s probably easier for a bishop (or member) to stand up to or disagree with a SP, than it is SP to say no to a GA. We usually know the SP from years in the area, and know somewhat of their feet of clay that goes along with the mantle.

    In the case of a SP and a GA (not his regional rep or whatever they are called these days), the SP probably deals directly with a GA on rare occasions, and seldom the same one. He likely got called by one GA, then every other year or so, may actually have another one come to a stake conference. They generally have never met before, and know little of each other. They will likely never meet again. I think that sets up a whole separate set of circumstances about questioning counsel.

  75. Brad Kramer says:

    In response to Talon’s chain-of-command questions, the Scientology Rule, to which I have now assented, gains salience the farther up the chain the origin of the injunction.

  76. A few scattered thoughts:

    I wonder if the facial hair aversion might be based on the same logic as the no-masks for Halloween guideline. A portion of the face is covered and one might be tempted to do something one might otherwise not do. My children remain unconvinced that wearing a mask would empower them to behave more recklessly than they already do. Perhaps that’s because I am also unconvinced.

    As for wearing nylons, we’d lose a whole generation of young women and a few of their mothers as well.

    Gotta love the Scientology rule. Never heard it before, but I feel strongly impressed that it is true.

    Jami

  77. Several years ago when my husband was serving as the EQ President our SP was visiting the ward and announced in EQ that all men with facial hair should shave it immediately. It was done much in the same manner as described in the original topic here – with an explanation of a “impression from the spirit”. My husband had a beard he sometimes grew and out and sometimes shaved depending on his mood. He shaved, although a bit begrudgingly.

    Later when my husband was serving as the Bishop of our ward and this SP was a member of our ward (but no longer the SP) he mentioned something about someone in the ward having facial hair and that my husband should ask him to shave. My husband informed our former SP that he was not going to anything of the kind, as this was 1. a recent convert and 2. none of the ward’s concern. The former SP then told my husband that he was very uncomfortable with facial hair on Priesthood holders and that he had always felt it meant “they are hiding sins”.

    He’s a good man (the former SP) and did many great things for the stake when he served – but in this instance, I’m not convinced it was any sort of “inspiration” but more an “irritation”. Several of the guys in EQ had facial hair and I just think it really bothered him.

    I think sometimes it is difficult for us to understand the difference between irritation and inspiration.

    I am convinced however that SP’s and Bishops DO receive inspiration about things that are really important – but generally speaking I think it’s usually about matters far more important than facial hair.

    As members, I think we need to use our heads a little bit when we hear these kinds of things and maybe wonder if the Lord is really micromanaging facial hair of the membership.

  78. ed johnson says:

    I’m not sure how this is any different that if the instruction came from the president of the church. On what basis can you criticize the SP for this action that would not also allow you to criticize President Hinckley for his counsel about tattoos? Both are authorized to provide instructions for the domain over which they preside.

  79. Brad,

    Let’s hope the Mitt-bashing media doesn’t stumble upon your story. I can see it now: “Leader in Mitt’s church tells men in congregation, ‘God wants you to shave your beards'”.

    Alternatively, Mormons not for Mitt could sneak a question into the debates. “Governor, if your Stake President told you God wants you to grow a beard, would you do it?”

    (Serious point: if it’s kosher for Mitt not to take all his cues from the Prophet (and Mitt would want us to believe it is), is it OK for a Stake to choose to not follow its SP without sanction? Answer: yes. Of course, yes.)

  80. In my post #33, I (facetiously) asked what the reaction would have been if the SP had asked the sisters to keep their legs shaved. A couple of people here have given much better examples where priesthood leaders have on occasion asked sisters to conform to extraordinary grooming standards: for example, always wear nylons, and no double earrings or other body piercings. (This second one was from the church president himself.)

    So although we have focused on facial hair and shirt color here, I suppose women have received their own share of questionable personal grooming requests.

  81. Steve,

    I think there is a strong and compelling reason to refer to what you call “policy documents” in situations like this.

    Policy documents are designed as general standards or instructions to avoid situations like this.

    By heading the CHI the local leader avoids inserting his personal opinion and politics into PH leadership.

    FWIW at one point last year 2 of our BP counselors, the Exec Sec, Ward clerk, EQP and HP group leader all had facial hair. Big deal. Facial hair is currently fashionable

  82. Re: 59 and 61

    I agree Stake PH leadership training meetings are not high on a priority list. I blew mine off last weekend in favor of the Princeton Mormonism conference and I don’t doubt for a second that I enjoyed the Princeton conference much more than I would have the PH ldrshp mtg. To make matters worse, I brought others with me to the conference who also should have been at the ldrshp mtg and, to top it off, there was a GA at our stake conference. At least, I am clean shaven.

    #6 hit the nail on the head, imo. Everyone makes their own decisions about how to live, but orthogonal things like facial hair and earrings provide very public dividing lines over pure trivialities or unimportant lifestyle choices.

    Where does it stop? In the stake in question, the church tells the members what kind of underwear is spiritually appropriate (garments), what type of grooming for men is appropriate (clean shaven), what type of food/drink is spritually appropriate (wow) and so forth. (No word on whether women in that stake are allowed to say opening prayers or not.)

    There has to be some kind of check on this type of behavior. How does a member of the stake appeal this kind of nonsense, assuming there are consequences to not complying.

  83. Steve,

    I would submit that the CHI is the least-read church publication by the membership in general as its distribution is rigorously controlled. However, I also think it is one of the most worn-out, dogeared document in the church. In our HC meetings, we have instruction from the CHI in just about every meeting, always about pretty basic stuff. The SP refers to it all the time, marks it up, highlights sections, lines out and adds the deleted and redacted sections as it changes over the years.

    I think that the reason we can generally trust our SP’s and bishop’s counsel is that they don’t have to rely on inspiration for everything. It is also interesting to note that the CHI has gotten shorter in the current edition, more attuned to basics, less concerned with trivialities. I have lost track of how many times it gets referred to in leadership meetings.

    As to TR questions, that is a standard that is pretty readily available to the membership as a whole.

    Perhaps you could look at many sections of the D&C as policy documents, as that seems to be where a lot of the CHI policiy statements seem to come from.

    Ronan, I like your Scientology Rule. Or did you mean “SCIENTOLOGY RULES!”? That seems to fit the rule as well.

  84. Policing local leadership–whether it is their comments over the pulpit, the manner they conduct temple recommend interviews or their enforcement of dress codes–is a blood sport in the internet age. DKL and others, arguing leaders ought to be held accountable for abuses of power, have encourage outing them on the internet and in other public fora. Taken to its extreme that approach can have potentially severely negative consequences in that it both promotes a mob mentality and enforces norms so rigidly that there is even less room for local variation. Every one who has ever bemoaned correlation should think carefully about the long-term consequences of bench marking behavior against Salt Lake.

    If a leader is allowed to flout norms too often he or she may veer further off course than is desireable or (less likely in the church context) the norm will weaken and stop influencing behavior. In my immediate family, for instance, the wider norm against some kinds of curse words is almost entirely absent. A larger risk is the internet/blogosphere’s potential to so powerfully enforce norms that all variation is quashed. By allowing a far larger group of people to participate in shaming the individual and because the internet provides a measure of anonymity or distance from the norm breaker, the responses may not only be more numerous but much harsher. The punishment (shame, embarrassment, harrassment) can quickly outstrip the crime. As the costs to serving in a quasi-public role become higher fewer people will agree to do so thereby exacerbating the limited selection problem the church already faces in most areas.

    In Western society we pay a fair amount of lip service to diversity and the the pleasures of local color, but in the Mormon church we seem incredibly uncomfortably with it when it appears. That may well be and, IMO is, at least partially the result of a message promoted from within our faith. Petty self-directed correlation is something we ought to be trying to get away from.

  85. Steve Evans says:

    bbell (#81), I don’t disagree — I just think it’s interesting that we would turn to those items.

  86. Kevin,
    My Scientology Rule has been much maligned in the past. I’m glad you like it. It has nothing to do with whether beliefs are weird (all beliefs are weird in their own way); it’s about finding a useful way to step back and observe identifiable cultish behaviour in others so that we can avoid it in ourselves.

  87. David Wingate says:

    Interesting.

    First, reasoning by extrapolation is dangerous. It’s easy to talk
    about other examples of things done by other people in other
    circumstances, and try to come some general principle. But it seems
    treacherous. It can quickly devolve into verbal sparring where
    parties trade examples back and forth.

    I prefer to look more deeply at this specific circumstance. Does this
    fall within the SP’s stewardship? If so, how? It’s clear that there
    isn’t a general church policy, but that does *not* imply that the SP
    might not have been genuinely impressed to make a pronouncement.

    That’s because all *spiritual* issues are under his stewardship, and
    there might actually be a spiritual dimension to facial hair. It
    might not hold true in general, but it might hold in this particular
    case, which is why the SP may be perfectly within his bounds to say
    this.

    It’s just like anything else: the act is different from the quality of
    the heart that performs the act. It may not be the fact that people
    have beards, but *why* they have them. Everyone in the church knows
    that the First Presidency, the Quorum of the 12, all of the seventy,
    and all of the missionaries have no facial hair. Some people may
    decide that they want facial hair, and that can be a spiritually
    acceptable choice. But it also might *not* be spiritually acceptable
    if they decide to do it to prove a point, or to express rebellion.

    What’s odd about this situation is that such people are right (dress
    and grooming doesn’t necessarily reflect our inner spiritual
    worthiness), but it *can* reflect your spiritual conditions if you
    start dressing differently deliberately to spite other people. By
    instructing the church, you can actually turn a spiritual non-issue
    into an expression of pride. That’s not true of everyone, of course
    — which is exactly how it can be justified as being a non-issue for
    everyone.

    So I believe that it might be within the SP’s stewardship if he feels
    like facial hair in his stake is symptomatic of something spiritual.
    Perhaps he feels like too many people are using it as a mechanism to
    rebel. Perhaps he feels like people are generally too worldly.
    Perhaps he feels like people are generally too caught up in their
    appearances. There could be any number of legitimate spiritual
    ailments that are going on. We simply don’t know.

    I’m troubled most by the (only half joking) comments by people who
    have said that they might grow a beard as a result of this counsel.
    Why? Just to spite the SP? Just to prove that he shouldn’t have said
    that? Just to prove that you’re right [about your opinion that it's
    baloney], and he’s wrong? That is *exactly* how it can become a
    spiritual issue.

    Where is your heart? Do you *want* to sustain your leaders? Or are
    you interested in sustaining them only to the extent that they agree
    with you? Do you wish that the Lord would soften your heart and
    instruct you in the truth of the matter, or are you watching for
    iniquity? Are you completely convinced that there is no possible way
    that facial hair can have a spiritual dimension, and that the SP is
    sensing something important?

    These sorts of pronouncements evoke a reaction in many people. They
    feel offended. They feel like leaders are overstepping their bounds.
    Perhaps they are. But perhaps they are not. Unless we’re very, very
    careful, what might have been a non-issue can become one. By loudly
    proclaiming that it *shouldn’t* be an issue, we can actually *make* it
    one. A much better solution is to listen carefully, pray more
    carefully, sustain our leaders, and always, always ask, “Is it I?”

  88. Has there been previous discussion here about women not saying opening prayers in sacrament meeting? I’d love to go read that! Where does that come from anyway? I have a hard time convincing my mother that the church is not a cult of sexist weirdos bent on subjecting women to their every whim when crap like that is policy in some stakes.

    Jami

  89. Jami,

    I will only say that it DOES NOT appear in the CHI. It appears to be some kind of local affectation that has gotten some traction in many areas of the church. Rumors of letters from GA’s or regional reps are rampant, but I have never seen one. I do know there is counsel (perhaps in a letter) that bishops should not make a practice of calling husbands and wives to give the prayers in tandem at sacrament meeting, to avoid alienating all the singles, widows, divorced members who otherwise might think we are all a cult of sexist weirdos. They’ll have to find other reasons to think so.

    David, you are right about knowing our motives. I’d not grow my mustache back just to spite someone (most likely me). But if I had serious issues with it, I would likely want to discuss it personally and privately with the SP. I appreciated folks who came to me with their concerns while I was bishop. Sometimes they were wrong, but I appreciated talking with them anyway. Goes without saying that sometimes I was wrong, too.

  90. Josh Smith says:

    Mr. Wingate,

    Your post is too long.

  91. #90
    It may be long, but I appreciate the points and second them.

  92. By loudly
    proclaiming that it *shouldn’t* be an issue, we can actually *make* it
    one. A much better solution is to listen carefully, pray more
    carefully, sustain our leaders, and always, always ask, “Is it I?”

    I wouldn’t loudly proclaim anything, I’d likely just disregard the counsel without confirmation of the spirit. What if he feels inspired to tell me to wear only blue socks? Where does it stop?

  93. Josh Smith says:

    Mr. Wingate,

    God has endowed us with the capacity to feel after truth and act on it. Authority and church revelation can reveal meaningful solutions to some of the ethical dilemas we face, but its jurisdiction limited.

    At some point, an institution that demands obedience on even trivial matters divests its members of the respect due a moral agent–it asks blind obedience; it doesn’t pass the Scientology Test. Institutions that demand obedience on trivial matters set up unneccessary divisions among members, and these institutions waste time on trivial matters when they could focus on doctrines that infuse meaning and purpose into members’ lives.

    It seems most on this thread believe facial hair revelation exceeds the Church’s jurisdiction.

  94. Church members have no obligation to follow instructions that a Stake President has no authority to give. I would not feel any divinely-imposed duty to obey the Stake President’s instruction to shave facial hair because I cannot think of how it could possibly fall within his authority.

    Furthermore, I think a good rule of thumb is to be skeptical of instructions that prohibit things done by Jesus and former prophets, e.g., having facial hair.

    Also, I do not believe God requires me to be blindly obedient to local leaders when they overstep their bounds. What if the Stake President had told everyone in the congregation to stand on their heads? I think we actually have a God-given duty to object to instructions that overstep a leader’s authority in order to spare ourselves and others from unrighteous dominion and prevent shame from coming upon the priesthood for such abuses.

  95. DW and DJW, you are right about sustaining our leaders, but I think we are all better off realizing that it is a two way street. Yes, we can easily criticize what appear to us to be bad decisions, but the converse is true. That’s what makes our lay leadership so intriguing, so refreshing, so right. For every time I have felt offended, I know that I have also done a corresponding offensive action in a calling that I have had. The greater the calling, the greater the possibility that you will offend.

    We need to understand our motives, but I am entitled and encouraged to seek inspiration for myself to know about following the counsel of our leaders. I am not obligated to follow/obey blindly, and I am not obligated to not ask questions. There are the church policy documents mentioned here to keep folks from going too far out on their own, and the act of sustaining our leaders, which implies a lot more than just raising our hand and saying yes. If you see somebody falling victim to the Scientology Rule that Ronan mentioned, then perhaps as an act of sustaining, you hold up a mirror or ask questions.

  96. Better yet, what if the Stake President had ordered the men in the room to take up arms and slay some Gentiles? (See Mountain Meadows)

    Those who believe it’s better to just obey than to question the Stake President’s authority to give an instruction should think twice.

  97. As a fresh-faced RM my stake president instructed me- for some reason- to “wear temple appropriate clothes, suit and tie, in my wedding announcement.” I was home about a week. I didn’t get married for 3 more years, and I wore regular clothes in a wedding announcement. Was I wrong in doing that? I would say hardly.

  98. Kevin and Andrew, there is no argument in what you say. My concern is about those who, upon hearing the counsel would begin to grow facial hair out of spite, or those who wear blue shirts just to bug the leaders. It all lies with motivation.

    I wish I could remember the General Authority who said that one of the great fears that he and other General Authorities had was that the members of the church would take everything that they said blindly, without seeking confirmation of the Spirit.

    Prove all things, but there is deep danger in being rebellious just for the sake of rebellion.

  99. ed johnson says:

    A number of people have said that this does not fall within the SP’s “bounds.”

    So what bounds does a SP have? Obviously, some bounds are set by the CHI and other instructions from above. But where these sources are silent, what, if anything, limits the authority of the SP to speak on any given issue? Where do we find these bounds?

    A related question: does the First Presidency have any bounds that they might overstep?

  100. 1) A SP has the “right” to say whatever he feels like saying.

    2) A member has the “right” to follow or ignore it.

    3) A SP does *not* have the authority to demand compliance with, or mete out discipline of any kind for non-compliance with, a standard that is stricter than that asked of the membership at large. (e.g., He has the “right” to request each MP holder in the stake shave, but he doesn’t have the “authority” to enforce it in any way.)

    4) A SP does not have the “authority” to judge worthiness based on compliance or non-compliance with such a standard.

    5) A SP does have the authority (and, in fact, a mandate in many cases) to request that members in his stake focus on specific aspects of the Church or principles of the Gospel during his tenure, but he does not have the authority to try to enforce it in any way.

    So, to answer for myself the actual questions posed in the original post:

    a) no line is crossed in the request, even in the case of an example like this that I personally would not accept as inspired in *most* cases (the follow-up explanation from Brad being one I actually can understand and accept); a line is crossed if enforcement is attempted; compliance is 100% a matter of choice my the individual members.

    b) No disobedience or rebellion involved.

    b – 2nd question) Prayerful consideration. That’s all.

    Last paragraph question) I have no idea. That has to be considered case-by-case, with a generous helping of the CHI. As a general rule, however, I like kevinf’s distinction between requests that are outside the CHI and those that are in opposition to it. If it is in opposition to the CHI, the line has been crossed without question.

  101. Brigham Young was in harmony with the dress and grooming standards accepted by the Church is his day,

    Somebody up there said this, and it’s just nonsense. I guess there were notions of what constituted modest dress, but I think the church spent more time trying to survive back in Brigham’s day than worrying about what was growing on anybody’s face.

  102. #100 correction: In the last paragraph I meant to say, “That has to be considered case-by-case, with a generous helping of the CHI and the Holy Ghost.”

  103. Josh Smith says:

    ed johnson,

    Maybe Mormons need a “papal infallibility” doctrine … Mormon style.

    There is wisdom in the Catholic’s doctrine: the pope must be speaking from the office of pope, the statement clearly derives from his apostolic authority, the issue is one of faith or morals.

    I don’t know what ours would look like. You hit the question on the head.

  104. BHodges (#97):

    The counsel to wear temple-appropriate attire in wedding pictures was passed around widely a few years ago. I was given this instruction in 2000 or 2001. My then-current bishop said that the stake president had received this instruction during a training session with general authorities. I’m not sure what the impetus was, but my stake president and bishop emphasized that everything surrounding the wedding (announcements, wedding breakfast, reception, etc.) should show reverence to the main event–the temple sealing.

  105. While I think that the SP went beyond his stewardship, I have to agree with #87 about the motives behind grooming choices. In my ward there are many women who wear lovely pant suits to church. I think they are doing a great job of living the principle of wearing their best clothes to show respect. I have often wanted to do the same, but I know that, in my case, it would be a political statement akin to saying, ‘See, I can wear pants to church, ha ha ha’ and NOT a true show of respect. Until I can get over that (which may never happen), I will stick to skirts and dresses. Just one example of the same outward action having different spiritual implications for different people. I guess that actually reinforces my idea that this blanket statement about the appropriateness of facial hair may be misguided.

  106. Ray,

    In #100, you say that a leader crosses the line when his requests/counsel go against the CHI. Well, let me pose a real-life situation:

    Ten years ago, a mission president in a foreign country advised his full-time Elders that they could teach single sisters with no other adult male present if necessary. The church was very new in this country, and there were really few members that could accompany the Elders on visits to single sisters.

    In this case, the mission president gave specialized counsel to those under his stewardship that flatly contradicted a very official set of instructions–the white missionary handbook.

    So how does this situation fit into your calculus? Did the mission president overstep his bounds? Did he have the authority to make this kind of decision? How should we feel about a missionary who refused to take advantage of the leeway granted by the mission president?

  107. Brigham Young was in harmony with the dress and grooming standards accepted by the Church is his day,

    Somebody up there said this, and it’s just nonsense. I guess there were notions of what constituted modest dress, but I think the church spent more time trying to survive back in Brigham’s day than worrying about what was growing on anybody’s face.

    Mark B. You are wrong. Brigham was actually quite concerned with how people dressed, as were other leaders of the day. Don’t flippantly dismiss something as “nonsense” just because you diagree with it.

  108. CE,

    The question is whether the MP asked about the variance from the missionary handbook, which by the way is only binding on a limited subset of all church members. Did he get permission from someone in SLC to allow missionaries to do this? The missionaries themselves might not know that.

    I do believe that instructions on home teaching from the CHI are that any visits to single sisters need to be done by two PH holders, so the missionaries were in compliance with the broader standard.

  109. CE, as often is the case, kevinf beat me to it – by saying almost exactly what I would have said. IF the MP did it on his own without consulting “the powers that be,” I believe he crossed the line – good or well-intentioned though the policy probably was. IF he saw a situation outside the normal guidelines and received permission to address it in a unique way, there was no line crossed.

    BTW, thanks for clarifying that point. I missed it completely in my comment.

  110. Solution: Grow an awesome neck beard.

  111. I wholly agree with David Wingate’s assessment.

    And while I could leave it at that, I should add that it concerns me a great deal at how so many of us are comfortable saying “it falls outside the stake president’s stewardship”. Categorically removing areas of one’s life from the realm of the spiritual seems dangerous to me.

    It’s my opinion that there is nothing about my inner or outer life that does not fall within the stewardship of my leaders.

    The question, for me at least, isn’t whether the Stake President could possibly receive revelation about facial hair — but whether he actually received such revelation.

    How would I have handled it? Well, I couldn’t grow a beard to save my life, but if I had facial hair, I’d go home and shave — then I’d talk to the Stake President the first chance I had.

    I agree with most here, that such council doesn’t seem wise — and wisdom is certainly one part of a large and complex equation used to weigh the counsel of others. But I just can’t get past how comfortable we are at set the counsel of those set to be judges in Israel at naught.

    The irony here, of course, is that there seems to be a very easy explanation for why the Lord would have asked the Stake President to make such a pronouncement: the stake was about to be split, and perhaps the Lord knew the hearts of those making leadership callings — and knew that facial hair would be an issue. So he gave everyone fair warning.

    But there I go, steadying the ark.

    In the end, it’s not a matter for us to really quibble over. It’s between that Stake President, his stake members, and the Lord — collectively and individually.

  112. Wow… sorry about all those grammatical and typographic errors.

    * cringes *

  113. Steve Evans says:

    Silus, let’s remove or switch the heirarchies here and see if you still think that receiving the revelation is what matters: let’s say I receive a revelation for my ward, and announce it over the pulpit that every male member must wear a white shirt to church. I am not in any position of leadership, but let’s suppose for the sake of argument that my revelation was bona fide — does it matter?

    I believe that your comment is internally inconsistent. Either leadership and hierarchy matter (and their inherent limits and privileges also matter) or they don’t, and revelation trumps all.

  114. 110 – Have me rollin’ in laughter, man!

  115. An area seventy, who says he received this instruction from a general authority, recently told the SPs in our area that, from now on, the only instruments permitted in sacrament meeting are pianos and organs, even though the handbook developed by the First Presidency expressly permits other instruments. As a local stake presidency, we don’t think we should be bound to follow an unwritten directive from an area seventy that would supersede the handbook, so we intend not to follow it. I assume that most of the BCC community agrees with this approach, but would love to hear any thoughts to the contrary. Also, if the area seventy follows up with a written confirmation of this directive, which cc’s our area president, we will then reluctantly follow it. Any thoughts to the contrary on that additional wrinkle if it occurs?

  116. I wish I could remember the General Authority who said that one of the great fears that he and other General Authorities had was that the members of the church would take everything that they said blindly, without seeking confirmation of the Spirit.

    It was Brigham Young:

    What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.

    (Brigham Young, “Eternal Punishment,” Journal of Discourses, reported by G.D. Watt 12 January 1862, Vol. 9 (London: Latter-Day Saints Book Depot, 1862), 150.)

    ..bruce..

  117. I think the church spent more time trying to survive back in Brigham’s day than worrying about what was growing on anybody’s face.

    I think somebody needs to do a bit more reading on what life in Utah was like from 1847-1877 (in case you didn’t know, that thirty year period was “Brigham’s day”) before making statements like these. Sure, things may have been tough during the first few years in the valley, but I can assure you that from around 1850 to 1877 BY was doing pretty well and had the ability to worry about what was growing on someone’s face.

  118. 110
    Silias–

    It’s my opinion that there is nothing about my inner or outer life that does not fall within the stewardship of my leaders.

    That’s a joke, right?

    There is a very long list of things that my Bishop and SP have no stewartship over in my life. Married sexual practices, my course of study in college, how I vote, how much I weigh, the number of children in our family, where we go on vacation, what brand of bread I buy, paper or plastic.

    Come on now there’s got to be some limits on what you’ll let someone tell you to do. Aren’t there?

    Jami

  119. a random John says:

    Come on now there’s got to be some limits on what you’ll let someone tell you to do. Aren’t there?

    This seems to encapsulate well the tension I see between the true goal of the Church (bring souls to Christ and salvation) and the methods it sometimes uses to try to accomplish that goal.

  120. Mind if I play devil’s advocate to stimulate discussion from another point of view?

    A stranger asks three poor fishermen to follow him, and they drop their nets and do so.

    Angel appears to teenaged Jewish virgin and tells her she is going to be the mother of the son of God through a process that involves a powerful overshadowing and she is humbly accepting.

    A starving widow is asked to feed a hungry prophet the last sustenance in her home and she does.

    A rich man inquires what else he can do to gain eternal life and is told to sell his possessions to feed the poor and follow the Lord…and he goes away upset.

    A wealthy couple sells land for the Church and holds back a portion of the profit for themselves. They lie about it and die.

    Different people, different stewardships? yes
    Different sacrifices, different risks? yes

    I’m sure that we all would like to think that if the Savior was speaking to us we would drop our nets, offer our bodies/reputation, sell all our goods and follow immediately.

    Neither the poor fishermen or the virgin questioned the stewardship of the messenger, or prayed for confirmation before responding to total strangers. The widow didn’t complain about the impropriety of playing hostess to the strange male who came to visit and expected to be waited on and fed before she and her son ate their last meal.

    But when we are asked to give up something truly almost insignificant like facial hair, an extra earring or two, wearing beach attire to church, or watching a specific channel-we react in the opposite manner as those throughout history who were asked to give up far more did.
    We know what it says about them but can we ignore what is says about us?

    My question/viewpoint for consideration is, what if such “inspirations” given by SPs etc. were actually very revealing two-fold tests being conducted by the Lord? 1-Tests to see if our local authorities will follow promptings that they know won’t be accepted happily-to see what these leaders value more…popular acceptance or being obedient. 2-Tests to see just how much the Lord can require of us before we complain? To see if we turn inward and scrutinize our own righteousness and responsibility or if we turn outward and scrutinize the righteousness and responsibilities placed on those in authority over us?

    IF such tests were being administered…what would the results show?

  121. 113-

    I realize your example is for the sake of argument, but you’ve combined hierarchy and revelation in your example.:-)

    Two questions…

    A-Does the Lord give us revelations for those we have no stewardship over?

    B-Are we responsible to be clean, obedient and worthy of having the Holy Ghost before we ask for personal revelation?

  122. RE #115
    A couple of years ago our SP got a bit of a “talking to” by a visiting GA from SLC for having a sister give the opening prayer in Stake Conference. He was told that only PH holders could give opening prayers in general meetings. At our next HC meeting we were told to instruct all the wards to follow this “policy”. I suggested that the CHI gave no such instructions. The SP told us that he brought the same point up with the GA. The GA said the “policy” was part of the “unwritten” procedures of the Church. That of course brought up a long and humorous discussion of how to follow these unwritten procedures. Our SP said he was going to do what he was told. Has anyone else heard reference to these unwritten procedures? Also, for what is’s worth my friend served his full term as a Bishop with a mustache, under a SP who is now a GA.

  123. Antonoio Parr says:

    To Steve Evans re: Comment 25, above.

    Not quite sure your point. Mine is that the blessings of history and of remembering, teach us plainly that the principal of blind obedience to Stake Presidents is a principal that need not trouble us. We should love our Stake Presidents, pray for them, and never resort to petty criticism. We should also give their guidance humble and prayerful thought. But if a Stake President says one thing, and the Spirit whispers another, then I will follow the Spirit every time. That goes for “dressing like Paiutes and [the] slaughter a band of pioneers”, facial hair, blue shirts, whatever.

    This one is very, very easy for me. No need to stress or fret over the need to jump reflexively at every command. Just the need to love the Lord my God with all my might, heart, mind and strength, and love my Stake President, dearly.

  124. Tosh,

    Answers: A) Categorically no.

    B) Yes, but sometimes revelation is given even to unworthy individuals in certain circumstances (even though they didn’t ask for it). Balaam springs to mind, also Laman & Lemuel had visitations and manifestations while patently unworthy and unfaithful.

  125. i have seen mission presidents ban certain colors and styles of ties. i have seen temple presidents ban facial hair by temple workers (the bretheren that is, i have noticed plenty of facial hair on some of the sisters). i knew a member of the 70 who insisted that blond was the only suitable color a woman should dye their hair as other colors were too “rebelious”. personally, i don’t know if there is any such real authority to make these additional rules. the church has a colorful history of leaders making any number of unofficial proclaimations that may/may not have real sanction or true divine inspiration. these are the things that each person must discern for themselves through the spirit.

  126. Brad Kramer says:

    RE #122
    See DKL’s recent post on unwritten rules.

  127. Re: 122 – Funny you should bring up the “only men can give the opening prayer” thing…That was another “unwritten directive” in our stake as well, purportedly suggested by a general authority to our prior stake president. Precisely six months ago, that unwritten directive was revoked by one of our area authorities, much to our relief since we as the current stake presidency had already decided not to follow it. Perhaps in answer to your question, there is a talk called “The Unwritten Order of Things”, by Elder Boyd K. Packer given in 1996 at BYU, which could well be the foundation for the various unwritten directives that we as local ecclesiastical leaders seem to get, and not infrequently, which often seem to contradict the handbook prepared by the First Presidency, and sometimes even the principles taught in the scriptures and the writings of our modern prophets. Among other places, it can be found at http://www.lds-mormon.com/unwrittn.shtml.

  128. Brad Kramer says:

    DKL’s piece liberally references the BKP talk, Skip.

  129. Antonoio Parr says:

    In addition to my 2 posts on this subject, I wish also to incoporate by reference the Ronan mandate, as it seems strikingly appropriate to this entire discussion. How do we even begin to explain to outsiders our angst over such issues as trite as facial hair, blue shirts, and whether we should give unfettered obedience to a position that once failed the Church in a way that haunts us to this day.

    No wonder so many Americans refuse to even consider voting for a Mormon.

  130. A rule that seems to afflict some wards and not others is that Aaronic priesthood are to wear only white shirts if they want to pass the sacrament. In my ward it doesn’t seem to be blasphemous if a deacon shows up in a blue button-down oxford, but in my friend’s ward anyone not wearing a white shirt is sent back to his parents. Anyone, is this a rule from Church headquarters?

    On the subject of beards, I shaved my goatee (which I’ve had for 25 years) to obtain a veil worker recommend. My wife and I both hated my new look, so I grew it back. Since then I’ve used the recommend several times and have yet to be turned away.

  131. No, David, it is not a rule from Church HQ.

  132. Steve Evans says:

    Tosh — if my SP told me to cut my hair as a test from the Lord, I’d find a new Church where the Lord doesn’t engage is such stupid tests.

    Antonio (#123) — I think I understand you now. Your use of incorporation by reference warms my scabby, calloused heart.

  133. @ Steve Evens:

    You’ve misunderstood the thrust of my comment: I assert (apparently without much clarity) that the stake president most definitely has stewardship in this matter because it deals with the comportment of his stake members. I believe the question of stewardship to be a straw man. The question, then, isn’t one of stewardship (those questions are only pertinent when the subject crosses stewardships), but of whether his statement was wise/inspired/what-have-you. I then state that I’m not comfortable making that judgment because I’m not privy to the salient details, nor am I likely to receive spiritual direction on the question.

    @ Jami:

    It’s most certainly not a joke.

    The problem is that we’re lacking proper language to frame the discussion. My leaders have stewardship over me. Period. Stewardship, however, is only one part of the equation. If I’m hearing direction on how to run my ward from another bishop, then I can dismiss it as the opinion of another man. I don’t have to even wonder whether it was inspired, because another bishop has no stewardship over my ward (I may still listen, because wisdom comes in many forms — but I don’t have to discern whether his comments were inspired). Once the question of stewardship is settled, there’s still the very real and very important question of whether the direction was inspired.

    Come on now there’s got to be some limits on what you’ll let someone tell you to do. Aren’t there?

    Of course… one of the great purposes of life is to become an agent unto ourselves… to act and not be acted upon. But the question of stewardship is the wrong battlefield for this scenario. He’s a stake president giving direction to his stake. The question of stewardship is pretty much closed.

  134. Antonio Parr says:

    Steve Evans:

    If I knew that I had the potential to warm a scabby little heart, then I would have written “incorporate by reference as if stated fully herein”.

    Next time, I will be more mindful of my audience . . .

  135. Steve Evans says:

    Silas, it’s far from closed! You assert it’s a straw man, but I view it as central. Fundamentally you believe that a SP can receive revelation on any topic pertaining to anyone in the entire stake, and I just don’t think that’s so. I honestly don’t know where the idea comes from that somehow these people have such broad jurisdiction. I mean, I can admire your devotion, but I disagree with you.

  136. Steve Evans says:

    Ahh, just like that Antonio the magic is gone. If only you’d said “incorporated by reference to the Post 10-Q of the Registrant.”

  137. Way back in #72, Brad gave us an update. It appears that the possibility is that with a division coming up in his stake, the SP was inspired to have men shave their facial hair so that other new bishops, etc, would not reject them out of hand as potential new PH leaders, HC, etc.

  138. Got cut off, but meant to say that it appears that the Lord can work around our shortcomings, as well.

  139. Do Brad Kramer’s extended family members live in the Arlington Texas Stake? Because his description of the counsel sounds almost word-for-word what I heard reported from their recent stake conference (maybe 2 Sundays ago).

    (I do not live in the Arlington Texas Stake, but I have friends there.)

  140. Sam Kitterman says:

    I wholly agree with Antonio (#129) regarding why there is a significant percentage of those polled who will not vote for a Mormon for president.

    And it would seem to me such “directives” would be in violation of the admonition in the D&C about commanding us in all things results in we becoming slothful servants. I realize there are those who believe we should pray about every decision we face during the day and if we suffer from confusion or inability to consider the matter clearly, then it’s wrong. On the other hand, how can we develop faith if we are continually asking H.F. what do I do now? Brother of Enos tried that approach and was clearly told what he had to do before he asked the Lord. Likewise with Oliver Cowdery wanting to translate.

    And in the end, by simply doing what we are told without obtaining personal relevation confirming it is of the Lord, we have brought Brother Brigham’s fear to pass…. And we will have become the Lemmings….and how that can equate with our belief that “The glory of God is intelligence” is wholly beyond me…..

    On the lighter side of this discussion I would be amiss if I did not remind us all of Samson and what happened to him when he allowed his hair to be cut short. And that wasn’t even facial hair…..

  141. Steve #132

    I think there is a substantial enough difference between being asked to be “clean shaven” or to honor Sunday worship by dressing in a non-casual way and being asked to kill innocent travelers that I might not even trouble the Spirit about one, and would demand personal dialogue for the other.

    I mean…define “stupid” tests. One might consider what God asked Abraham to do as beyond stupid…to horrific.

    Not to mention “sell all you own and follow me”, or “go show yourselves to the priests”, “wash in this river” “just look at the brass serpent” “you figure out how to light it” “build an ark” “double back three days journey and get the plates””pick the guys who only drink with one hand” “march around this fortress for seven days”…etc

    Killing your son, being homeless and penniless, go show the priests that you still have leprosy=stupid, irrational, non-sensical

    Consecrating everything to the Lord to obtain all that He has and dwell with Him forever=priceless

  142. Sam I agree with you in theory, but isn’t the simpler answer staying faithful and close to the spirit so that we know when what we are being told is truly of God and when it’s not?

    Brigham Young’s words are often interpreted to mean that we should question every word our leaders say to us, when he doesn’t say that. He says that we all need to gain a testimony from God that our leaders are walking in the paths of God and being led by Him. He states that having that testimony can strengthen our leaders and that our salvation is on our own heads, not our leaders. I see blind obedience and critical doubt on everything as opposite ends of a spectrum, neither one containing any faith.

    I like how Elder Sylvester Q. Cannon puts it:

    Now, we do not believe in blind obedience, but we do believe in discerning obedience. Every one of us is entitled to enjoy discernment. What is discernment? It is recognizing the difference between right and wrong, or developing clearness of judgment or insight. If we are living the Gospel we are entitled to enjoy the light of the Holy Spirit to guide and bless us, to enable us to judge rightly. We do not have to accept the judgment or counsel of the man who stands at the head of the Church here upon the earth; but we will know that the things he advises are right, if we will divorce ourselves from personal or political desire or ideas. We should strive to enjoy the spirit of discernment. The Apostle Paul tells us that one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost is the discernment of spirits. In like manner one of the gifts is discernment of right and wrong. What a wonderful thing it will be when we shall all learn correct principles, and have the discernment to govern ourselves in righteousness.

  143. In my stake somewhere in Asia, I was recently translating at the Saturday night priesthood leadership session of a Stake Conference. Interestingly, the topic of the session was changed at the last minute, and most of the planned speakers for that session were called three days before the conference and released from their assignments to speak. The new topic chosen at the last minute was obedience. An American senior missionary was asked at the last minute to be one of the speakers, and in his talk he talked about the danger of the word “almost,” and how water at 98 degrees Celsius still doesn’t boil. It was pretty over the top, I thought, in an area where the church needs to encourage members to stay and improve themselves, not “drop out” if they score a 98% on the test of Mormonism, as this talk would lead us to believe.

    Anyhow, he decided to illustrate obedience by asking the SP (a native) and his second counselor (an American expat) to stand up. The second counselor has a mustache. He asked the audience to pretend the counselor had a full beard, and proceeded to say how if the Stake President asked his counselor to shave his beard, leaving the mustache would be incomplete obedience. To my knowledge, there has never been counsel from the SP about facial hair, because most natives here can’t/don’t grow it anyway. But as I was doing the simultaneous translation, I was thinking what a bizarre, convoluted, potentially inappropriate or misleading example this was, given the pseudo-doctrine of clean-shavenness in the United States. If you’re familiar with that pseudo-doctrine, especially coming from the mouth of one American and into the ears of another, it sounds like a chastisement of the counselor for his facial hair. This struck me as particularly odd and out-of-place. I wish, at moments like that one, that I were clever and quick enough to come up with some alternative lesson to give. Hopefully no one misinterpreted it.

    It’s kind of like if I called a sister with multiple earrings up and said, “Now pretend your bishop told you to take out your earrings…”

    Sure seems fishy to me.

  144. RE: 137

    I think that explanation follows from the thrust of the original post, but it still does not make much sense or change pettiness and stupidity of the original story. It only takes the pettiness up one level. So the SP is asking the men to shave b/c a GA is coming to town to create a new stake and the SP is worried the GA might overlook a potential new SP or SP counselor b/c that person has facial hair?

  145. Nate McConkie says:

    A decree such as this is scripture when it meets the criteria established in D&C 68:3-4. Joseph Smith frequently cancelled others to go and ask God for personal confirmation regarding difficult matters. If my SP said this and I had a beard, I would be very interested in a personal witness that the decree was given by the spirit. I hope this isn’t redundant.

  146. I think the church spent more time trying to survive back in Brigham’s day than worrying about what was growing on anybody’s face.

    I think somebody needs to do a bit more reading on what life in Utah was like from 1847-1877 (in case you didn’t know, that thirty year period was “Brigham’s day”) before making statements like these. Sure, things may have been tough during the first few years in the valley, but I can assure you that from around 1850 to 1877 BY was doing pretty well and had the ability to worry about what was growing on someone’s face.

    I may put more reading about life in Utah on my list, but it’s behind a lot of other things.

    If you can find anything that Bro. Brigham had to say about facial hair or hair length on men, I’d be happy to change my comment about the “grooming” part of the post I was addressing. And I know he was concerned with the way the young women dressed–why else the Retrenchment Association?

    Otherwise I’ll stick with my assertion that, as to “grooming standards” in the 19th century, there were none. They didn’t exist in the church (or at BYU) until the 1960’s when suddenly men’s hair started growing long and beards began sprouting from their faces.

  147. I know I am late to this discussion, but I can think of an example that shows how we, at least as participants in the Bloggernacle, treat “suggestions” from Pres Hinckley as being within his stewardship.

    First, how many women got rid of that second earring? How many suggested he was just expressing a Wasatch-front cultural bias? That suggestion from him didn’t get very far.

    In contrast, how many of us re-read the Book of Mormon when he challenged the whole Church to do so? From what I read in this and other blogs, many of us did, and most of us who did thought it was a pretty good idea.

    I suggest that some of the difference in reaction to the two specific items of counsel he gave was that we are all pretty sure scipture reading is within his stewardship, but not so many of us are sure that grooming standards are.

  148. Speaking of Brigham Young, here’s a fun quote:

    Suffice it to say, the Lord has not established laws by which I am compelled to have my shoes made in a certain style. He has never given a law to determine whether I shall have a square-toed boot or peaked-toed boot; whether I shall have a coat with the waist just under my arms, and the skirts-down to my heels; or whether I shall have a coat like the one I have on. Intelligence, to a certain extent, was bestowed both upon Saint and sinner, to use independently, aside from whether they have the law of the Priesthood or not, or whether they have ever heard of it or not.

    “I put into you intelligence,” saith the Lord, “that you may know how to govern and control yourselves, and make yourselves comfortable, and happy on the earth; and give unto you certain privileges to act upon as independently in your sphere, as I do in the government of heaven.” (JD 2:139)

  149. 106 Re: Missionaries and teaching single investigators

    We had been teaching single sisters in my mission until we got a new mission president. The new MP quickly squashed that.

    At a zone conference, the MP and a member of the seventy were in attendance when someone asked for clarification on the rule. The MP deferred to the member of the seventy who told us to teach them. His interpretation of the rule was that your companion was an adult. You aren’t supposed to be around someone of the opposite sex without another adult present. Your companion is an adult. You’re covered. He said we can’t deny the gospel to single people because of a misinterpretation of that rule.

  150. @Steve Evans:

    I’m sorry, but your argument is unconvincing. There are limited stewardships in the Church: the stewardship of a deacon or of a Sunday school teacher. But offices such as Branch President, Bishop, and Stake President are called to care for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the saints — much as parents are called to care for their children. As such, their stewardship encompasses the whole of the being. That does not grant them prerogative in those affairs, but they most certainly fall within their stewardship.

    My argument for this (what seems to me traditional) view of stewardship is top-down, with cones of stewardship cast like shadows from the leadership more lightly the higher you go. Descending until you reach the individual, upon whom the light and shadow are most clearly delineated.

    It’s powerful language in the Church to proclaim something outside of one’s stewardship — so it’s a natural point of interest for people debating a subject such as this. But the matter (for me at least) is closed.

    It seems that we differ in this way on the question of stewardship: I see stewardship as a question of “might” — “might the stake president receive revelation on this?” — whereas you seem to see stewardship as “should”. In the end, we may be arguing semantics.

  151. BHodges,

    Nice quote.

    But, no need to appeal to authority to establish that authority is unneccessary in many spheres of personal choice.

  152. rc, # 144

    While I reject the “doctrine” that a lack of facial hair is superior, I believe that what Brad was getting at is that by asking the PH brethren in the stake to shave, it was avoiding the possibility that many others, not a GA, might misjudge men because of facial hair. If I recall correctly, there were several new wards, which meant multiple bishops, bishops counselors, HP Group Leaders and EQ presidents and counselors, YM presidents and advisers. If followed, the counsel would have prevented anyone with a predisposition to judge someone by their facial hair from making that mistake when asked to come up with names of counselors, etc.

    I don’t want to put words into Brad’s mouth, but that was my interpretation, admittedly my own, and probably no more correct than any other.

    Can the Lord see that we occasionally judge unwisely? You bet. Do we sometimes misunderstand his directions? Frequently. This explanation makes more sense, and helps me to feel more charitable towards the poor SP who has been held out as a bad example of unrighteous dominion by many here, including me.

    In this case, if this is truly the reason, it makes more sense to me, and makes it easier to say, “I’ll shave for now, but grow it back later”, and not feel bad at all.

  153. But, no need to appeal to authority to establish that authority is unneccessary in many spheres of personal choice.

    I just liked Brigham’s attitude about it. (oddly enough, you might say the people who would need to hear that quote in order to ‘obey’ that concept are still only following authority on every little thing in that regard. Just a funny situation.)

  154. Silus Grok,

    The differences appear to more than semantics. Your shadows of stewardship seem to cover every aspect of the individual’s life. I don’t accept this proposition. I don’t accept this proposition because of both world and church historical events. I don’t accept this proposition because of personal experience.

    When you argue that limiting ecclesiastical jurisdiction opens a lot of gray area, you’re correct. That it opens our lives to a lot of uncertainty is also correct. I don’t have answers to where to draw the lines, but I am convinced that lines exist. Cones of stewardship are limited.

  155. QUESTION: Does the following quote from Elder Oaks have any application to the Stake President’s counsel about facial hair?:

    A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable.

    We should study things out in our minds, using the reasoning powers our Creator has placed within us. Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it if we receive it. If we do not receive guidance, we should act upon our best judgment. Persons who persist in seeking revelatory guidance on subjects on which the Lord has not chosen to direct us may concoct an answer out of their own fantasy or bias, or they may even receive an answer through the medium of false revelation. Revelation from God is a sacred reality, but like other sacred things, it must be cherished and used properly so that a great strength does not become a disabling weakness.

  156. BHodges,

    Thanks for the quote.

  157. re: 152

    I see your point and I, unfortunately, have to agree. It’s a sad state when we are asked to bring everyone down to a lower, irrelevant standard to comfort leaders or fellow members burdened with ignorant personal biases.

    I don’t know where the impulse to look to the brethren for so many things in our lives stems. How in the world would a silly topic like facial hair ever get on a priesthood leader’s radar? Is there a mythical stake where there are no broken homes, nobody struggling with testimonies, nobody committing serious sins that the priesthood leaders have nothing else to do but waste time worrying about facial hair, what colored shirts to wear and what sex says the opening prayer in sacrament meeting? Think of all the time and talent wasted on these inane, pointless items that could be spent actually serving people or, better yet, in the individual homes of the church leaders. I shudder to think about how many kids’ practices, games, recitals or other events that are missed while their fathers are toiling away in a priesthood presidency meeting or HC meeting discussing these really stupid things.

  158. Tosh (#141) among the many problems with your comments is the equation of what an SP says with what God says. They are not the same thing, possible D&C references notwithstanding. Your SP asking you to shave is simply incomparable to God directly telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. It’s an insulting and dangerous comparison.

  159. RC, # 157, my experience has been that most meetings I have been in are not consumed by those kinds of issues, but the potential is there, I suspect.

    Tosh, et al, I have to agree with Steve. A SP stewardship, ends, I believe, where mine begins. A SP can receive revelation for his stake, which may include me as a general category, but his stewardship is always trumped by my agency. IT would seem that your “shadow of stewardship” grows darker and more distinct, the closer it gets to the individual, whereas my interpretation is that it gets less and less distinct. I would much more expect that a Bishop’s stewardship is more relevant to my person than a SP, and an quroum or group leader, even a home teacher, even more yet than the bishop’s. But like the proverbial right to swing your fist, it ends where my nose begins.

  160. Mark B. (146)

    I may put more reading about life in Utah on my list, but it’s behind a lot of other things.

    If you can find anything that Bro. Brigham had to say about facial hair or hair length on men, I’d be happy to change my comment about the “grooming” part of the post I was addressing. And I know he was concerned with the way the young women dressed–why else the Retrenchment Association?

    Otherwise I’ll stick with my assertion that, as to “grooming standards” in the 19th century, there were none. They didn’t exist in the church (or at BYU) until the 1960’s when suddenly men’s hair started growing long and beards began sprouting from their faces.

    We can play GA poker all day (“I’ll see your Brigham Young and raise you a Spencer W. Kimball”), but it’s pointless. I imagine David Grua’s point was that you should keep your arrogant mouth shut when discussing historical issues that you know nothing about.

  161. Mark Brown says:

    Patrick, let’s keep it civil, please. You are free to disagree with Mark B. (who is a different Mark B. than I) or anybody else, but there’s no need to use the words you did.

  162. I find it interesting that when you search for the word “appearance” in the scriptures, the only scriptures you get are those admonishing us AGAINST looking down on someone because of their appearance:

    “[F]or man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7.)

    “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24.)

    “For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart.” (2 Cor. 5:12.)

  163. I am surprised no one has brought up the admonision by President Kimball not to hunt (Spencer W. Kimball, Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live, Ensign, November 1978). There does not seem to be much attention given to this talk.

    I remember my mission president in the MTC state he was impressed there was someone in the audience who needed to confess sins. This was in the big get together before all the parents left. I was initially impressed with this, but I later found out he said the same thing every week.

  164. chas, lol. I remember complaining to my MTC branch president about some rotten things my companion had done and he open his scriptures and had me read the D&C where we are commanded to forgive all men. At the time, I was amazed at his inspiration. Looking back now, I bet he used the same scripture twenty times a week.

    It was still good advice, though.

  165. What id the SP said for everyone to go a dip into the ocean seven times, without an explanation? Would you do that?

    -David

  166. #165
    David-

    Which ocean? Which month?

    San Fran in Feb, no way.
    Hawaii anytime, you bet.

    Jami

  167. Ok, so I may be a little late to the discussion here. Please forgive me.

    I don’t understand the fascination to create such rigid “rules” around such superfluous things as beards, earrings, nylons, and white shirts. They so easily become devices for us to literally shun those who don’t follow the rules (for one reason or another)?

    It’s become as if there is no room in the church for the imperfect (or those who don’t live up to other’s ideals)?

    What ever happened to the belief in the statement by Joseph Smith, “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.”

    I’d rather that we focus our efforts on Christian fellowship, forgiveness, service, and building our communities rather than worrying about whether I should cut my hair, shave my beard, or wear a white shirt.

  168. #165

    Are you kidding? I’d be packed and on my way to the airport before I called my kids to testify that the SP was a righteous and inspired man!!

  169. I was present at the meeting Brad has made reference to and I have both a beard and a mustache. I heard the SP’s admonition and refused to comply. I even called him an idiot under my breath as I left the building. During the last week, I discovered that my beard had become infested with “beard mites” most likely during a recent visit to a third-world county. Due to almost microscopic bites from these mites I have now potentially contracted a very rare but most often fatal filovirus which is only carried only by these extremely tiny mites. It is interesting that they can only reproduce on thick strands of facial and animal hair. Now that it appears that I may only have months to live, I wish I would have shaved!

  170. Greg (169),

    I don’t know what is more funny, your response or the fact that that’s how far fetched a scenario we’d have to create to find a justification for this type of injunction by the SP.

  171. Which “third-world county”?

    Santaquin?

  172. Brad Kramer says:

    Maybe the third world “county” in reference was the one where all the facial-hair obsession originated (i.e. the one just south of Salt Lake County).

    The presence of deadly beard mites would make the paranoia seem oddly rational.

  173. Steve Evans says:

    tosh, don’t take this the wrong way, but if you post another comment that long you’ll get banned.

  174. Dave (#171) – Having been raised in Santaquin, I was going to ask if it was Spanish Fork – or Eureka.

  175. Mea Culpa

  176. Generally I think that when you follow difficult counsel from your leaders you are blessed for it. Obviously the counsel has to conform to the doctrines of the Gospel. No murder, stealing and the like.

    But I think it is interesting to see the test of worthiness here. The SP in question may have been inspired to make that public pronouncement as some type of worthiness test and it will qualify or disqualify certain members from future callings.

    I can’t see how someone can fork over 10% of their earnings but not fork over a bit of stubble. If you’ll do one and argue about the other perhaps you have the issue?

    If your actions harm no one and are within the bounds of the Gospel, whats the big deal? Don’t go reaching for odd obscure, “but what ifs”. We’re talking about one case, and if you want to make it into a “but what if” it could be you who is probably being a little prideful.

    People were asked to give their life savings to the church and they did it and went on to live meager lives as a result. And here we are bickering, questioning at best, the concept of a Stake President asking the Priesthood holders of his stake to shave?

    I’ve made more important covenants than that, and I fear that the cavalier attitude many things are discussed on this site, as though all things should be up for a private, anonymous debate is the same thing as questioning and wondering face to face with your Bishop, spouse, family member of friend.

    There is no doubt in my mind that this type of discussion can and does flirt on the edge of harming people’s faiths.

    I don’t know what the solution is, and certainly don’t want to come off as a holier-than-thou person who thinks all internet discussion of the Church should be done away with. But it does cause me to feel some warnings in my heart…am I the only one feeling this?

  177. sam, no, you aren’t, but, I personally think the discussion is very valid. I don’t agree with every comment made, and I think that there is too much reflexive rejection, but I also think there sometimes is abuse and too much reflexive acceptance.

    There are more issues involved in this than just one. There is stewardship, authority, enforcement, sustaining, agency, dominion, individual vs. communal directives, public vs. private communication, counsel vs. command, etc. It’s just as easy to complain about one extreme as the other; the real exercise of agency, in my experience, is often found in sorting out the proper middle ground between two (or more) competing ideals.

  178. Sam Kitterman says:

    Well said, Ray.
    And unfortunately the middle ground is often lost in the fray that arises after the extreme manifests itself….

  179. Well said Sam.

    I feel that way… which is why, though I have a negative reaction to the advice, I’m getting caught-up on the stewardship comments.

    Anyhow.

    The thread is nearing the point of, well, pointlessness. So I’m bowing out. Wonderful discussion, though!

  180. I think the “inspiration” referred to and the defense that some have given it are a little rediculous. If I were really “hiding” something because of my facial hair and the SP senses it, is it really his solution for me to shave? If I come to church shave, does that mean that the thing I was “hiding” is no longer important? Do clean shaven men never “hide” anything? I think this is all nuts.

  181. Long time listener, first time caller here–mostly due to the constant “Hey check out what I said on my nerdy Mormon blog,” from Brad himself.
    I am former mission companion and long-time friend of Bradley, and as such, I want to point out that he has the facial equivalent of Barbie hair. Perhaps–and I’m just shooting in the dark here–Brad’s post is the result of a tactful SP’s desire to restore attendance to his stake which had recently fallen off due to the patchy monstrosity that is Brad’s unshaven face.
    Anyway, thanks alot Brad, you’ve finally outed me as a closet reader of the blog.
    And yes, I called all of you nerds. Except for Sam, who is clearly more of a sheep.
    Brady
    PS: Do I get some sort of badge or armband for joining this club?

  182. I’m so hopelessly sinful and unvaliant that whether I follow such special instructions can’t possibly change the balance in which my (un)righteousness will be weighed.

  183. “the patchy monstrosity that is Brad’s unshaven face.”

    . . . and now you know the rest of the story.

  184. Adam Greenwood says:

    I had a bishop who made a claim like that of the Stake President. I shaved off my beard.

  185. My stake president asks all male leaders to model their appearance and manner of dress after that of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. He specifically asks YM leaders to groom and dress to missionary standards.

  186. Adam Greenwood, would you shave your pubic hair if that’s what the bishop asked?

  187. DKL,
    Your hypothetical alters the pubic/private portion of this discussion while at the same time adding a new dimension to the whole “covering your sins” side of it.

    Interesting…

  188. LOL, Brad. Good point.

  189. I know I am late to this discussion, but as a convert (and an RM) I am amused by the whining! Most of you served missions. Without batting an eye, my beloved missionaries asked me to give up 95% of all beverages I had consumed, smoking, wearing jeans to Church, my wonderful female Pastor, and most of my 8 earrings. I also grew my hair into a more conservative style. I did this, turned around, and asked it of others. Why? Were the jeans harming me? Is iced tea (as opposed to the red-punch garbage that is consumed at so many functions) really worse? No. I did it, and continue to do so, because the GOSPEL is true. That being said, I was asked by several Elders why I refused to wear panty hose in southern California while tracting. Since they were bold enough to ask, I told them I did not enjoy getting yeast infections…that shut them up, but good! LOL

  190. Re #186:

    Islam requires for [...believers] to remove your pubic hair like you would remove the hair in and around the armpits. You would do so to such extent that you feel comfortable with. You do not have to start shaving down to the knees, the anus or the thighs. These are not really parts of the pubic area. The area from which the pubic hair should be removed is mainly the part above your genital organ and around it. While removing these pubic hairs you do not need to start from the right. Shortening hair on the penis and scrotum can also be done. The pubic hairs are to be removed for the same reason as the removal of the hair around the armpits. It is part of the hygiene that the Prophet, peace be upon him, promoted as a Sunnah [or Practice of Allah's Messenger]. However, the exact detail as to how far we remove our pubic hair is left to the individual to decide.
    –Understanding-Islam.com ( http://www.understanding-islam.com/related/text.asp?type=question&qid=2903 )

  191. That’s more than I ever wanted to know about the grooming required of the Islamic “genital organ.” But still, it’s nice to know that the Islamic “genital organ” does not inlude the anus. I wonder if the Mormon “genital organ” does.

  192. But we digress.

  193. “Digress” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  194. I don’t think it is any big deal.
    It is no more ridiculous than asking someone
    to look at a serpent on a pole. Maybe there
    is someone in the audience that is learning
    obedience by doing it. I suspect that the SP
    will forget about it in a short time. Maybe he will
    will notice some guy who saved it off and make
    him a leader just on the basis of the act. I
    remember a SP in Hawaii that went on about how
    we should give service and asked us all to
    come over and pull weeds outside the meeting
    houses. My wife and kids and I went we were
    one of about four families. No one really paid
    any attention to us and none of the stake leaders
    even showed up. We all had a good feeling
    doing it.
    The same is true of the facial hair.

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