The Haircut

My son, Michael, turned sixteen on August 2. Old enough to be ordained a priest. Our bishop placed one condition on that ordination: Michael needed a missionary haircut. In fact, our bishop said, Michael would look best in a crew cut. (Apparently, there were some ward members who had commented disapprovingly on our son’s hair.)

Our oldest son had received similar instructions when he asked the bishop if they could talk about missionary preparation. The response “Not until you get your hair cut” became this son’s excuse for leaving the church, and he “went inactive” (what a phrase!) almost immediately.

Of course, I was nervous about how son #2 would react to the condition. I personally loved his long hair. It was red and wavy like mine, and an inch or so past his jawbone. And how was I to respond? I have spent the past several years dealing with a daughter’s eating disorder, and have been hyper aware of the exaggerated significance we place on appearance. I wanted all of my children to understand that their appearance would not be relevant to God, who would look on their hearts. Then again, I am called with my husband to the MTC, and the dress code there is very strict. The missionaries know that their appearance needs to be in line with what and who they represent. There is a mirror in the sisters’ dorm, with the question written above it: “Do you look the part?”

Michael announced matter-of-factly that he would be getting a haircut. Of course, he had his own conditions. He would allow only one person to perform the deed: Tamu Smith. (You can see Tamu in the trailer for Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. “It’s only hair,” he said.

I was relieved, proud of him for putting priesthood advancement above hairstyle, but still conflicted.

Tamu cut his hair beautifully, and he was ordained the next Sunday. After his ordination, we took him to the MTC for dinner. The missionaries were all very complimentary. But one of them expressed some real surprise that our bishop had set that condition. “They do things like that out here in Utah?” he said. (He’s a farm-raised kid man from Virginia.) “My bishop was just glad when I finally wore clean pants to church.”

I happen to love my bishop, who walked a long and winding path to where he is now. And I know there is a huge variety in what bishops will request or insist upon. Yet I wonder about the message we send to our children. What we typically say is, “You are representing Jesus Christ.” The answer, as any teenager will tell you, is “Then my hair needs to be lots longer.”

I suspect that the bishop’s request was an easy excuse for my oldest son to leave the church. But I can’t help wondering if anything would be different had the bishop answered my son’s request to talk about missionary preparation not with the condition of a haircut, but with the words: “Wonderful! I’d love to have that chat. You will be a marvelous missionary!”


  1. I can’t think of much to say beyond what you have very well said.

    Fortunately for your son, his priesthood will not be pulled from him if he chooses to grow his hair out. That only happens under the conditions outlined in Section 121.

  2. I wonder if the Bishop keeps a tally of how many shorn heads he’s caused written in chalk on the side of his desk.

    I can’t help but feel that the haircut thing pushes not the message of “God love you” but instead of “Conform.” And while it wont make anyone leave the church it can be the final straw. Now imagine how the outcome would’ve been if with your older son the response wasn’t “Not until x” but instead of “Yes. Absolutely.”

    There is the saying oft repeated lately, “God giveth and the church taketh away.”

    Oh well. Homogeny

  3. Mayan Elephant says:


    that was a great post.

    when my neighbor and friend went on his mission, his younger brother told him he would not cut his hair until the older brothers’ homecoming. one can grow a lot of hair in two years. my mother finally cut it for him, just before the homecoming and before his own mission. clearly, hair and spirituality are unrelated.

    it is a shame when appearance becomes so overweighted in our value system, whether it is by a person driving themselves to eating disorders, or outsiders judging ones soul by appearances.

    have you ever heard the natalie merchant song, Tell Yourself?

    Ever since Adam
    Cracked his ribs and let us go
    I know, oh yes I know
    What you tell yourself, you tell yourself.
    I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself.
    I know what you tell yourself, you tell yourself.

    Who taught you how to lie
    So well and to believe
    In each and every word you say

    Who told you that nothing about you is alright
    It’s just no use, it’s just no good you’ll never be ok

    Well I know, I know that wrong’s been done to you
    It’s such a tough world,
    That’s what you say
    And I know, I know it’s easier said than done
    But that’s enough girl
    Give it away
    Give it, give it all away

    Tell yourself that you’re not pretty
    Look at you, you’re beautiful.
    Tell yourself that no one sees
    Plain Jane invisible to me

    Just tell yourself
    Tell yourself
    Tell yourself you’ll never be like the anorexic beauties in the magazines
    Like a bargain basement Barbie doll, no belle du jour, no femme fatale
    Just tell yourself, tell yourself
    Tell yourself there’s nothing worse than the pain inside and the way it hurts
    But tell yourself it’s nothing new cause everybody feels it too
    They feel it too
    And there’s just no getting ’round the fact that you’re thirteen right now.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m glad this worked out ok in the case of son #2. It strikes me as a strange request; I still had my afro (this was in the 70s) until shortly before I entered the mission home.

    On my mission I baptized a guy we met at the VA hospital (a very long story how we actually managed to meet him) who had beautiful long, straight brown hair half-way down his back and a nicely trimmed beard. He was a handsome man. I commented on how nice his hair looked, and he said that it was his effort to emulate the Savior. We baptized him and he started coming to Church. Thankfully no one actively harrassed him about his hair, but I noticed the looks people would give him. I always hoped he either wouldn’t notice or would have the strength of character not to let it bother him. Every time I noticed someone giving him “the look,” I died a thousand deaths of embarrassment, for I knew the reason why he kept his hair long, and it felt to me almost as if the church members were judging–and rejecting–the Savior himself.

  5. Interesting. When one of my good friend’s came out of the closet after his mission to his bishop, the first advice the bishop gave him to “overcoming his feelings” was to cut his hair. Wow.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, tesseract, that’s priceless!

  7. Thanks for these responses. Jonathan–I like your haircut. Ronito–I haven’t checked my bishop’s desk. Mayan Elephant–I’d love to hear that song. Nope, it’s not familiar. Kevin, I am touched by that example. Tesseract–Isn’t gender interesting? What if a bishop counselled a lesbian to “school her feelings” by getting a haircut?

  8. As one who had long hair back in the day, I just have to say that I am surprised at this. On the surface, it would seem to say that appearances are more important than substance. However, I understand that the bishop is trying to promote missionary standards early so that they aren’t an issue when the time for service gets nearer.

    There is the issue of respect for offices of the priesthood, yet one’s behavior seems to me to be more important than appearance only. The two areas where the church require specific dress codes are limited to active missionary service, and temple workers in the temple. This is going beyond the handbook, and as a parent, if it is affecting the child, you have the right to approach the bishop in private to discuss it. As your son obviously didn’t think it was much of an issue, it makes things simpler.

    I suffered through some of those same issues as a young man in the early 70’s, but didn’t cut my hair until I was in my 30’s, some 15 years after the long hair did not disqualify me for temple marriage. As I have found out with my own kids, making hair, clothes, etc an issue just turns them off. My youngest swings between having somewhat longish hair, and then will just up and announce he wants a haircut, like last night. It’s now missionary style, but I suspect it will grow out again.

    As a former bishop, if I knew that the haircut issue was used as an excuse by someone who decides to leave church activity, I would have been horror-stricken, just as I actually was over a couple of other mistakes I had a part in. If, as you suggest, Margaret, the haircut was just an excuse for your oldest son, the bishop should have been anxious to dig into the problems and try and find out what else was going on. Please let me know that this is the exception, rather than the rule out there.

  9. It is a sad fact that humans tend to do one of two things: 1) take specific counsel or conditions for one person or group and apply it to all persons and groups; or 2) take specific counsel meant for all persons and groups and exempt themselves from that counsel. It’s not unrighteous dominion, per se, but rather simple ignorance or lack of insight. This post highlights the first tendency.

    Hair length is not a condition of receiving or exercising the Priesthood, nor is it a condition of temple attendance. (I have seen some wonderful ponytails on men in the temple.) It is a condition of full-time missionary service (and perhaps current apostolic service). Likewise, a burning in the bosom is not a condition of positive spiritual witness, nor is a stupor of thought a condition of negative witness.

    I believe in sustaining my bishop (and I would never challenge him openly), but if he had told either of my sons that a haircut was a requirement of receiving the Aaronic or Melchizedek Priesthood or passing the sacrament or baptizing someone or performing any other duty of the Priesthood, I would have met with him privately and explained exactly why I thought my sons should be allowed to do so despite the length of their hair – even if they had acquiesced to the request without objection. I would have done so in a clam and reasoned and respectful manner, but I would have done so directly and without hesitation. I know I am in a position and of a temperament to feel comfortable doing so, but I would have done so for the many years I was “just an average member of the congregation”.

    I think this type of perspective is exacerbated in Utah, having grown up there, because bishops have so many youth who don’t question anything that they tend to compare those who do (or who don’t follow every directive automatically) to a standard that isn’t doctrinal. They tend to see deviations from a communal ideal (not a doctrinal ideal) as problems – emblematic of rebellion. That’s a sad side effect of isolation and homogeny.

  10. Calm manner; I usually try to avoid using the clam manner.

  11. Kevin F–there were other things going on in my oldest son’s life–but he had already taken the initiative to clear them up with the bishop.

    As I work with the missionaries in our MTC branch, I’m not at all sure my son would have been ready for a mission at age 19. He has now done things which, with the “raised bar,” will permanently disqualify him during this phase of his life.
    Last Sunday, he joined us at dinner at the MTC–so we had both of our sons there. The missionary from Virginia asked him how old he was.


    “Oh. So did you go on a mission?”

    “I’m not a Mormon.”

    (A shocked pause.) “Really? What happened?”

    My son mentioned a few things, INCLUDING the condition of the haircut. He may be blaming the bishop for some of his choices, but I can’t say for sure. I know that at the time he asked if he could talk about missionary preparation, he had not done anything which would have disqualified him. (Or rather, he had cleared up the things he had done.) Maybe in blaming the bishop, he also gave himself permission to step over a line he knew would keep him out of the MTC.

    I’m not looking to blame anyone. But it still troubles me. Elder Holland spoke to our missionaries last Tuesday. He said, “If any of you wants to leave your mission, don’t talk to me! I would stand in front of a truck to keep you on your missions. I don’t want you to miss out on those experiences.”

    I love that passion. I love that attitude.

  12. Ray,

    Don’t worry about it. Out here in the Seattle area, there is a long standing tradition of keeping clam.

  13. Margaret, thank you for this post.

    Wow. I’m having a hard time swallowing this fact that Bishops can demand such things. As Ray said, if my sons were directed as such, I would immediatly make an appointment with my Bishop and have a calm talk with him.

    I like what Kevin Barney said- I had several male friends growing up with beautiful, well-kept long hair- by husband once was among those with long hair. Now, he shaves his head, but wears a beard. Will this be a problem when we attend the Temple this fall?

    It seems ironic, since most foyers in our church building have that iconic painting of Jesus in the red robes and the long, flowing hair.

  14. Margaret,

    This is such a complex issue. My oldest son left the church after his mission, my second oldest left after a semester at BYU. Two other sons and one daughter all served missions, and are all now married in the temple. I wish I could say exactly what the issues were for the two older sons. I have some insights, but no firm answers.

    Our youngest, at age 19, has been waffling over the mission issue, but claims (and I believe him) that it is not an issue of worthiness. I worry so much, though, that unlike me at his age, there is not a comfortable place for him as a 19 year old active male member who is not working towards a mission. He also has a combination of minor health issues that currently prevent his doctor from clearing him for missionary service anyway, so we have taken the mission off the table for now. I think if our bishop made an issue of his hair, when it is long, he would reacted negatively. I just hope we can keep him active and involved for another couple of years, and hopefully he will still be on track for temple marriage.

    Glad to hear your son is still spending time with family, and would go with you to the MTC for dinner. Can’t think of a better place for him, even if it is a little uncomfortable. To be there with parents and siblings who love him, and seeing those who are actively giving of themselves in service (you and the missionaries), has got to be a good place.

  15. My own brother stopped cutting his hair his senior year of high school, in anticipation of the missionary cut. He also bleached it.

    The Saturday before his farewell, he had a curly white-boy fro where the final two inches were white and the three inches of roots were dark brown. His girlfriend cut it, my dad took pictures, and my brother teared up. At church the next day, he looked five years older and some members of the ward barely recognized him.

    When he got home from his mission, he promptly stopped cutting it and hasn’t resumed since. At his wedding, his hair was to his collar and he had a ton of facial hair. My stepmother was horrified, but his then-girlfriend/now-wife didn’t mind and it let my brother conform without feeling like he was giving up all of himself.

  16. I’d rather be responsible for removing obstacles than for creating them.

  17. Tracy M (#13),

    Now, he shaves his head, but wears a beard. Will this be a problem when we attend the Temple this fall?

    The answer is “no”.

  18. Tracy M., it shouldn’t be a problem. There is no written policy in the handbook that makes hair style a condition of temple attendance. Personally, I shave only because I want to kiss my wife – and I have been asked to do so as a condition of my current calling. Otherwise, I would go all Grizzly Adams. It’s just a matter of basic laziness for me.

  19. Now even kevinf is saying it more concisely than I. *hangs his head in shame*

  20. When I was an agnostic teen, several ward members complained that my long hair was a public health threat and I shouldn’t be allowed to participate in blessing the sacrament. My bishop protected any fragile sense of Mormon identity that remained in me by blocking their requests that I be disbarred from participation on those grounds. When I learned of it later, I was touched by his tender display on my behalf.

    I finally cut my hair six months after a revelatory conversion experience. Ironically, I did so because I found that people were assuming (in a positive, “what a cool guy” way) I was a philosophic surf-dude instead of a budding college student with newfound faith. People on both sides have trouble understanding the messages our physical appearance communicates.

    I think I probably would have used a haircut ultimatum as a reason to persuade my mother to let me leave the church without having to pay rent (church attendance was her condition for rent-free residence when we were teens). It is hard for me to say at this remove. I am glad that I had easy access to the Mormon spiritual community when I left agnosticism behind.

    God bless your boy for not letting the hangups of others affect his personal experience of faith or participation in a community. That is hard work.

  21. Sam, you’re not a philosophic surf-dude??

  22. Well, I live in Provo, not too far up the hill from Margaret, but in our ward a bishop who tried to pull such a power play stunt would immediately lose credibility with much of the ward, and if he didn’t quickly relent and change his ways, the stake presidency would gently remind him of a text that reminds us that when we get a little power, as we suppose, we tend to abuse it.

  23. I watched the trailer to the film and it looks fabulous! When and where will it be released?
    I wish they would show it at the Oakland, CA interstake center. That would be something!

  24. Ugh. This disturbs me deeply, to the point that if it were my bishop, I’m not sure I could confront him calmly. This sort of arbitrary free-lancing simply has no place among us, and is as out of place as racial jokes from the pulpit in sacrament meeting. I also find it very disturbing that ward members thought it was their business to comment to the bishop on the appearance of the youth in the ward.

    Margaret, your son is lucky because he has supportive parents who love him and who want him to have the blessings of the gospel. But there are lots of young people on the margins whose parents are uninvolved or apathetic. Each week, some of those young people with long hair or too many holes in their ears or excessive makeup or skirts too short get the message that they are not wanted by God’s church and that they don’t belong there. It is heartbreaking and shameful and needs to stop, but it won’t until the attitudes and behavior that convey that message are aggressively challenged and publicly repudiated.

    When we take the attitude that the church’s standards of worthiness don’t go quite far enough, thus requiring that we add a few of our own, we trivialize and demean the church and those standards. Your bishop is completely out of order, and needs to hear it. I find it absolutely mind-boggling that we actually make up ways to exclude people.

  25. My Son has an Afro, so he is put in a different situation than most. It is policy, in our ward, that the young priesthood holders who pass the sacrament have their cut above their ears. Afros afford many ways around this requirement.

    But I like to refer to the young man who asked his Father if he could purchase a car for him. The only condition was for the son to cut his hair. When the boy didn’t cut his hair the Father asked him:

    Son why didn’t you cut your hair.

    Well I thought about Jesus. And Jesus had long hair.

    To this the Father replyed. Yes and Jesus walked everywhere he went.

    Jamie Trwth

  26. I’m really, really puzzled at the demand that your son get his haircut *before* having the “missionary discussion.” It seems like, perhaps, the *discussion* would be the time to talk about his hair! It reminds me of way back in the day, when I was about to finally flunk out of college once and for all…Puzzled by my inability to to even the most basic things (like get out of bed for an *afternoon* class!), I went to see the campus shrink. One of the first questions she asked was, “Do you smoke marijuana?” Well, I was a college student – naturally I did! “Well, then I can’t help you. You have to quit.” I was quite stunned. I asserted that my problems with accomplishing tasks predated my drug experimentation by at least a decade. I promised that I would certainly consider that smoking was part of my problem, but could we maybe continue talking about my larger problems? No, not at all. She literally wouldn’t continue the session. I understand that many psychiatrists believe that you can’t do productive therapy with someone who is self-medicating. But to refuse to even entertain a conversation with such a person! I couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t even take the opportunity to tell me how my drug use could be causing/contributing to my problem, or how I might go about quitting, or anything of the sort.

    So, my personal tangent aside, it seems that such seemingly arbitrary demands are almost always counterproductive. As with the example of your older son, they simply offer someone an easy way out – and that someone is usually the person making the unreasonable demands. I suspect that your Bishop not only doesn’t approve of long hair, but is insecure about his inability to understand, and reach, people who do not fit his preconceived notions of what a missionary is, or what a Mormon is. (Speculating wildly, of course; I don’t know the man at all. It’s probably terrible of me to make such assumptions, but…it’s fun!)

    Oh, and Mark IV (post XXIV) – you couldn’t be more right. During my teen years, I was very active in my local Methodist Church. We had a series of young pastors who really worked well with the youth. At one point, I was even sent to a conference for youth interested in joining the ministry! The following year, my hip young pastor was replaced with a crusty old ogre, who immediately destroyed my Led Zeppelin poster in the youth group because of the “Satanic images” on the bands’ t-shirts. (Without so much as mentioning it to me, no less.) By the end of that year, I’d left the Church, and I have yet to return. It’s tragic the damage that can be wrought by an overzealous authority figure in almost any position, but I think it’s worst of all when it happens in a Church. My wife (who I’ve mentioned in past posts) suffered a similar fate in her LDS community. She’s still struggling with the damage done, a decade later.

  27. We have young men in our ward who have long foofy (unruly, actually) hair, some children of a bishopric member. I think it’s probably unusual for a bishop to make this kind of request, and I can understand why it’s disturbing.

    But it isn’t there a possible flip side? Isn’t it possible the bishop has felt inspired to take this route? A bishop my hubby knows feels he has seen a correlation between hair length and teenage trouble (longer = more trouble). (I haven’t seen this play out in our ward boys, but in his ward, I think he felt there was that, and I think it’s possible a bishop could feel that for those in his stewardship, no?)

    Someone above said: I can’t help but feel that the haircut thing pushes not the message of “God love you” but instead of “Conform.” Does love always mean ‘live and let live”? Is looking a part always such a bad thing, even for non-missionaries? Is conformity to trends (long, bushy hair has seemed to be the thing for the past few years) any more admirable, or any less conformance to some standard?

    Again, I don’t want to be misunderstood. I understand the concern completely that too much emphasis on appearance can create potential for problem and misunderstanding. But I’m not fully convinced that the Lord doesn’t care at all about how we look (I think He does at some level, because we are to represent Him; I think of the phrase ‘neat and comely’ in the scriptures…I don’t think this is just for missionaries, and Pres. Hinckley has said something to that affect, as have other leaders). I’m also not fully convinced that it’s such a bad thing for pre-mission-aged kids to start thinking about these things. I can’t believe they wear certain clothes or hairstyles without some motivation to communicate something with their appearance. So I guess I wonder if it’s really so bad to have a standard of appearance for those who are to “stand as witnesses of God…in all places.” Is it really right to suggest that God doesn’t care about these things at all, esp. when our leaders have said otherwise?

  28. I wished this surprised me but I have actually seen bishops do this before. In fact, I had the reverse done to me. My bishop, upon calling me to be Laurel class president, explained that I needed to grow out my hair and start wearing knee length shorts. I just ignored him. However, this obsession with appearances has only gotten MUCH worse in my adult life. When your a teenager, ward members will indulge what they perceive to be childish rebellions (though lately, church culture is far less tolerant even of teens – as illustrated by this post). As an adult, I have found in every ward I have been in that not looking the part is completely intolerable to other members. Neither one of us attend church anymore and I can’t say this wasn’t a contributing factor.

  29. Mark IV,
    You may be wrong. I think that appearance is important, though its true that some people make it too important. I can not imagine myself refusing to speak with a young man because of his hair length; but upon speaking with him, I might suggest that he begin preperation by making changes in his appearance. Would I bar him from participation? Heavens no…(well, if it was a Swastika tatoo, probably yes). But I think the Spirit would be the determinitive factor in anything said or recommended. In fact, Margaret’s story may have more to do with how things are communicated than what is communited.

    I guess where I may disagree with you is here: I don’t think that a Bishop counseling youth to change their appearance is necessarily exclusionary. Young folks are smart people who can make their own choices. If the norm is different than what they chose, it doesn’t have to mean they have been excluded.

    I believe that words, art, hair and clothing styles have great meaning. And I think that some of the most liberal and non-conformist of fashion designer types would agree with me on that.

    The appearances we traditionally associate with clergy, businesspeople, missionaries as well as “hippies” or “punks” have great meaning. True, not every young woman who wears jeans with “whiskers” even knows about the sexual connotation and not every young man who wears long hair does so as an explicit or implicit sign of “rebellion”. They may simply be doing it because they saw others do it (like colleagues of mine who wear net stockings and knee length boots with short skirts, but don’t seem to realize the connotation).

    Apperance has deep and important meaning. In the case of Margaret’s son above, it meant putting personal prference beneath sustaining and getting along with a Bishop. I think Margaret’s son had the right attitude.

  30. I can’t help but think that if your bishop hadn’t provided the catalyst for leaving, someone else in the missionary pipeline surely would have. You have to put up with a lot of stupid trivial stuff in the MTC and then in the mission field.

    You sure someone wouldn’t have nailed him eventually?

  31. m&m
    Are you suggesting that a young man having long hair is communicating something bad with his appearance? Can longer hair not be as neat and comely on a man as on a woman? I don’t think that anyone suggested that the Lord didn’t care about these things–but that maybe he doesn’t think long hair is all that diabolical. It’s a cultural bias.

  32. M&M, sometimes local leaders are wrong — and it’s OK to say so, honest! Apologia for bad acts makes people crazy.

  33. Pardon the multitude of spelling errors…

    I hope the sincerity of my above comment (27) will not be ignored because of this:

    As a teen I had occasion to “harass” friends who had long hair with this scripture: 1 Cor 11:14.
    One friend of mine took it humorously as it was intended. Now days I try to use the verse immediately following on my wife to influence her hairstyle…but to no avail!

  34. Kevin Barney says:

    I feel very confident that if a young man in our stake here in Illinois expressed even the slightest interest in serving a mission, the response would be an enthusiastic “Yes, by all means, let’s talk!” The boy is going to have to cut his hair at some point along the way. The boy is not an idiot; he is well aware of that. So to focus on this prematurely as a condition for even considering missionary preparation seems like putting up a completely unnecessary and misplaced barrier to the process.

    If I had been told I had to cut my hair in order to be made a priest, I might have said, “No thanks.” You’ve got to pick your battles, and I think we’ve learned from long experience that picking the battle of male hair length with teenagers is probably not a wise choice of battle to pick.

  35. Douglas,

    Sure, I may be wrong, and often I am. I’m also willing to allow that, in the particular case of Margaret’s son, the bishop was inspired. However, I discount that possibility very heavily because he appears to be making a habit of it, and because it appears that his congregation has taken its cues from him. When members of the Geritol set feel free to complain to the bishop about the appearance of other people’s kids, the ward has far, far greater problems than a 16 year old boy with hair over his collar. That is disgraceful behavior, and we ought to say so.

    In my opinion, the bishop is not sustaining the established order of the church, and an appeal to the SP is a high priority. He is, in effect, saying that the standards of worthiness that are outlined in the handbook are not good enough for him, and he chooses to disregard them. We would wet our pants and have heart attacks if somebody claimed to be inspired to say that women shouldn’t wear red dresses to church because of what they connote. Why do we not get just as upset over other wacky ideas?

    I used to have a calling where I had to make decisions concerning other people’s worthiness. I was interviewed by a GA who asked me if I thought a young man with an earring should be allowed to bless the sacrament. I gave what I thought was a safe answer, and which I am now very ashamed of, and said no, he shouldn’t be allowed to participate. To Elder X’s everlasting credit, he scolded me and called me to repentance. He made it plain that when we either add to or detract from the gospel, we’re exercising unrighteous dominion.

  36. To echo Mark IV, Elder Faust once told leaders to not let the handbook and general guidelines keep them from receiving the inspiration to which they are entitles and which they need. We need to be able to recognize exceptional circumstances and act properly therein. However, I also think that an established, consistent practice (like requiring every single young man to have a missionary haircut in order to be ordained a Priest or talk about missionary preparation) is not seeking inspiration outside of the handbook for unique cases. It is a systematic and practical change to the handbook – and I discourage that without exception.

  37. cj douglass says:

    Good heaven are there still bishops in the church like this? WOW. Frankly it stinks of “exercising control or dominion or compulsion”. The price your son would pay for not cutting his hair (accusations of insubordination) is not even close to the importance of the request (not very). Just plain silly.

  38. One of my sons recently turned 16, and I doubt if his response would have been so accommodating as Margaret’s son’s was. He would have probably just not been ordained.

    I suppose things like that don’t come out of the blue, so I’d guess that Margaret’s son had thought about it and made the decision that was right for him. In my ward, such a request would have been a shock. Here (not in Utah or a state bordering it), I don’t think there’s a single high school boy who has a missionary haircut. And that includes the bishop’s son.

    I like the attitude that my stake president displayed recently when our family went to have our oldest son set apart for his mission. Our then-15-year-old’s curly hair at the time was well over the bottom of the ear. The stake president looked at him and said something to the effect of “If I still had hair and could get away with having it cut like that, I sure would!”

    At a stake priesthood meeting recently, this same stake president told about a dozen of the teen boys to come wearing the same clothes they wear to school. So they did (in a few cases after mothers telephoned him to make sure those were indeed his instructions!). He ended up making the boys into an object lesson — bringing them to the front of the chapel and telling everyone how great Aaronic priesthood holders these boys were and telling us that if we had judged those boys by how they looked we’d be missing out on receiving blessings from knowing them. It was a great lesson with a clear message.

  39. Steve, of course local leaders can sometimes make mistakes, but I think that we can sometimes make mistakes in judging their actions as wrong. While I have never met a bishop who got as specific as this one did, and truth be told, I might be uncomfortable with it in practice, I have heard of it before. I also don’t think it’s all based on insanity or control. If BYU could demand a dress code for students, why not a bishop for his priesthood quorum?

    Of course, I think Mark IV’s story illustrates an important principle, too. I can’t help but think you might get different responses from different leaders on this topic, actually.

    I’m not here to try to say that I think the bishop was uncategorically correct, but just to consider that it may not always be bad for leaders to stress appearance to their youth. I think sometimes we swing to one side of the pendulum that suggests that appearance really doesn’t matter, and I think that may be too far the other direction.

  40. Mark IV,

    Maybe we have found a couple of areas of agreement. First, if I were a priesthood leader, I would not let the comments or complaints of the “Geritol set” (or anyone else for that matter), dictate how I counseled members. Second, I agree wholeheartedly with what the General Authority said to you, and I think my original comment is in harmony with that.
    Three ideas I would like to convey are: first, appearances do matter and are not totally outside of the purview of local leaders; second, that we should sustain local leaders. It gets trickier when local leaders are (in our opinion) using their ecclesiastical authority to exercise unrighteous dominion (particularly in areas that may have been otherwise in their purview, i.e., “counseling” members, versus making worthiness determinations).
    Bishops have been given a given a charges as judges, along with discernment and a stewardship over the members of their flock. I think no matter how much I disagree with a priesthood leader at first blush I should take the time to swallow hard on my pride and consider if I am the one that needs changing. And even when my thoughts and prayers still leave me to consider that the Bishop is wrong, I might ask myself if the matter is one of moral conviction or a matter such as appearance—one where sustaining a leader would lead to harmony rather than discord and would not be worth the costs of discord. It is easy to judge these lay leaders who are left to the handbook, the Spirit and their own diverse backgrounds in making decisions. And while I would not likely make comments in the first place about another’s hair or earrings, I hope I would at least listen and ponder if a priesthood leader made those comments to me.
    Third, [and this is a new idea], I think one snare in a true church that is full of humans prone to error, is when we seize upon the mistakes of others, particularly when that mistake is the real or perceived sin of being judgmental. I have seen too many people fall away as a result of their anger toward the judgmental attitudes of others and ultimately I wonder if the sin/mistake of the fallen as also being judgmental.
    Ultimately, it depends on your vantage point as to whether you believe the actions of Bishops like this are a greater problem in the Church than taking offense (as ostensibly Margaret’s first son did). I am somewhat of an outlier (rebel?) in that I think, the latter as a more dangerous problem.
    One reason I respect Margaret’s post is that she appears to withhold judgment of her Bishop and his unique background while being understandably concerned about everything that has gone on.

  41. Margaret,
    All I’ve got to say is that your son has a stellar birthday.

  42. You’re exactly right, m&m: Some people do choose to go to BYU, and other people choose not to. The dress code there is one of many things that influence that decision, and they weigh the pros and cons as they make that decision. They don’t have to get a haircut before talking to the bishop about getting his support in favor of that decision.

    This situation speaks more of the bishop’s own, personal biases and preferences than of inspiration. Are you really advocating that bishops ‘raise the bar’ on their own to the point that they don’t even *discuss* a mission with a potential missionary unless that person complies with a demand that is not even required by the church? Blech! I’m no fan of standardization, but this case Margaret describes makes me think it is a good thing.

  43. My youngest is a deacon and he has really long hair. Longer than mine, longer than his sister’s. It’s not that big of a deal here in southern Cali, lots of boys with long hair—but just last Sunday an older lady started nagging me about making him cut his hair. I just ignored her. I love his hair long. He’s a redhead and it’s gorgeous.

    If our bishop pulls something like that, you can be sure me and my husband both will be having a talk with him. I can’t imagine it happening, though.

    A friend of ours in the ward asked him how long he was going to grow it, and he said, “Until I can step on it.” If he grows it out until he serves a mission, it’ll probably be down to his waist at least.

  44. “True, not every young woman who wears jeans with “whiskers” even knows about the sexual connotation”

    Huh?? I have to say this is a new one to me.

  45. Does your bishop know that the crew cut is not an approved missionary style (too short)?

  46. If BYU could demand a dress code for students, why not a bishop for his priesthood quorum?

    Because it is a quorum, not a university. Because we are competing for the moral attention of these young men with the world, and the world is offering fabulous prizes for accepting its moral codes, and we’re drawing a line in the sand at haircuts and earrings? We will lose. Not every time, but way, way too often.

    And we’re not pandering to the world by lowering our standards, because they are not standards, despite Douglas’ symbolic reading of youth fashion. These are cultural issues, not moral.

    A quick example: I had a priest in my ym group whose non-member father, who was antagonistic about the boy’s involvement in church, bought him a new Trans Am for his sixteenth birthday. At church, he got hassled about an earring. He wa gone before he was 17. Competing with a Trans Am is tough, but we certainly have more to offer than criticism of an earring — the entire ward ought to have applauded every time this kid pulled into the parking lot and carried him around the building on their shoulders.

    Behavior is only provocative if we are provoked. The best way to keep adolescents exploring their individuality through mildly rebellious behavior is to refuse to be oppositional.

  47. I think Douglas summed up my thoughts well.

    I will point out again that I live in a (Utah) ward where several boys wear their hair long. This isn’t long, beautiful hair, it’s really quite unkempt and imo looks awful. But the bishop has said nothing, at least to my knowledge. The parents obviously have not enforced anything, either (one son is son of a bishopric member). These boys are allowed to bless and pass the sacrament. I’m not advocating that leaders draw lines in the sand as this bishop did. Like I said, in general, such a line would likely make me uncomfortable. But I’m not going to suggest that I think this bishop was wrong, because I do think a leader could get inspiration on counsel or expectations. Maybe, just maybe, even to this degree. So, no, Michael (42), I’m not advocating that this be standardized. But I disagree that this is simply about an individual’s biases. Enough leaders have talked about how we should look (even if we aren’t missionaries or aren’t at BYU) that I’m not comfortable dismissing this completely as personal bias or preference. It could be more than that. I just suggest we consider that possibility.

    Besides, I think Margaret’s son has the best response yet: “It’s just hair.” At some point, even IF a leader is wrong on something like this, it’s not always such a bad thing to just do what they say. Yes, yes, I know that could be problematic, but sometimes, it’s really not that big of a deal. We don’t have to cry ‘unrighteous dominion’ every time a leader does something we don’t agree with. Life and learning are processes for ALL of us. We put up with their weaknesses as they put up with ours. It’s part of the package of being part of the Church. We test each other’s charity and Christlikeness. And who knows? Maybe in the future this bishop might do something differently. We’re all imperfect trying to do our best and need each other’s support along the way.

    Anyway, I’m totally impressed by Margaret’s son’s attitude.

  48. m&m, First, I agree with just about everything you said in #47. Literally, as basic principle, just about everything. I believe completely in sustaining my leaders, even as they make mistakes. Heaven (and my wife) knows I need that from those who sustain me.

    However, Margaret’s son’s attitude (“It’s only hair.”) stands out as laudable partly because it is juxtaposed against the Bishop’s insistence that “It’s not only hair.” I can’t state strongly enough that I believe it is NEVER justified to make the length of one’s hair a condition of Aaronic Priesthood advancement – unless, perhaps, it is a singular exception inspired in an undeniable manner by the Holy Ghost – as true revelation of the most obvious kind. Otherwise, it simply is so beyond the pale of everything the Church itself has written for its leaders that it is indefensible, IMO.

    If it is inspired on an individual level, then it is because it is symptomatic of deeper issues – that need to be addressed much more urgently than hair length. If it was a follow-up to previous discussions about those deeper issues, I would have less trouble with it – even if that “follow-up” step were applied more generously than I would tend to do.

    The simple fact that it appears to be an established and uniform practice/policy, particularly as a first step, destroys that possibility for me.

  49. I should add that this topic is very personal to me, since I have two teenage sons who are as rock solid in their testimonies as is possible at this point in their lives – and who both like to wear their hair just a little longer than the standard Mormon stereotype. One has my thin, slightly curly brown hair, while the other has my wife’s luxuriously thick, beautifully red hair. The redhead grew his hair out a couple of years ago and looked just like Ron Weasley when The Goblet of Fire was released in the theaters. The next day, he had our foster son’s girlfriend put it in cornrows and wore it that way to school the next day. When they prepare to serve missions, they will cut their hair without concern, since they also realize that “It’s only hair.”

    To think that the length of their hair somehow is reflective of their spirituality and/or to insist that they cut it to missionary length long before their missions in order to exercise the Priesthood they hold righteously . . . I struggle to find words for that perspective.

  50. I think this type of perspective is exacerbated in Utah, having grown up there, because bishops have so many youth who don’t question anything that they tend to compare those who do (or who don’t follow every directive automatically) to a standard that isn’t doctrinal. They tend to see deviations from a communal ideal (not a doctrinal ideal) as problems – emblematic of rebellion. That’s a sad side effect of isolation and homogeny.

    It’s not a Utah thing, per se, Ray. It’s a “Utah mindset”. I grew up in Big-10/AFC North/AL East-Central country and Utah Mormonism was alive and well there.

    Because we are competing for the moral attention of these young men with the world, and the world is offering fabulous prizes for accepting its moral codes, and we’re drawing a line in the sand at haircuts and earrings? We will lose. Not every time, but way, way too often.

    Let me play the contrarian for a moment, and suggest that the Lord actually does this through his own ministry and in the Modern Churhc — he sets up difficult, seemingly unnecessary tasks as a method to prove his people.

    I’ll never come up with the right link, but we’ve discussed it here on BCC and in other Bloggernacle places — the fact that religions that require more sacrifice tend to retain the faithful.

    I guess I’m not bothered by an honest request to cut one’s hair as a precursor to going on a mission. Do I think it should be standardized? No. But I’m not bothered by the request. I’m not going to go so far as to say that anyone who would disobey that request would probably disobey other requests — that’s a bit far-fetched in the general case. But seeing as that he would have to cut it anyway — it doesn’t bother me.

    We talk about how the Lord doesn’t look on the outward appearance, as a rationale for shunning requests to dress a certain way. But are we equally guilty if we cite the same rationale as an excuse to maintain our own prideful appearance? We are supposed to give up everything for the Lord. Why not a little hair?

    (Some would say that this stance is analogous to those who would give up freedom for security. I disagree. No one is obligating anyone to cut hair.)

    [Disclaimer: I have facial hair, and I’ve never had a leader — except one BP counselor — bring it up. But at the same time, if a priesthood leader, like my bishop, sincerely asked me to shave, I would.]

  51. Thomas Parkin says:

    re: long hair. We are forever concentrating on what seem to be symptoms, how rarely on the heart, on the deeper causes, the deep personality. That long hair might mean something quite other than

    I fully admit that my own history gives this a real charge for me. But, I can’t stand it. It is deeply discouraging to me to read. I cant stand that a leader would not follow the Lord, of whom we read, He looks not like men on the outward appearance, but on the heart. Can’t even talk about a mission till the boy has a missionary haircut? Not even talk?? Why not just open the corral gate and drive the black sheep right out, let em fend for themselves on the hillsides for a while.

    When I was a teen, my father told me that my long hair was a matter of rebellion. I told him it was a matter of integrity. It was one of a number of things that caused me to internally reject a mission. I never told anyone I had decided not to go – because I loved my parents. No single leader knew my heart, they never bothered to look. But they did know I had long hair. So, something must be wrong. Well, some things were wrong, but those things were not reflected in my hair. Had I got a proper haircut, they would have remained and perhaps even intensified.

    post heavily edited.


  52. Margaret, have you all gotten all the funding you need for the documentary? I couldn’t give more than $10, but I’d give you the shirt off my back if I thought it would help.

    I can say that if a Young Man expressed interest in my ward, the chances are pretty good we’d throw a party.

  53. Let me play the contrarian for a moment, and suggest that the Lord actually does this through his own ministry and in the Modern Church — he sets up difficult, seemingly unnecessary tasks as a method to prove his people.

    Possibly. And if the point is that we only want the most obedient young men to be active members of the church, than I agree that this will be effective. But given the state of activity rates among late-adolescent males in the church, I’m not sure we should be weeding so heavily. And a bishop’s arbitrary decision about membership in the priests’ quorum applied in his ward beyond the scope of church policy doesn’t equate with the what the Lord does in his ministry in my mind. But I can see your point.

    But are we equally guilty if we cite the same rationale as an excuse to maintain our own prideful appearance?

    I agree — it is a sin of pride. But I guess what I’m saying is, cut the kids slack on this so we can be on their side for more serious and life-altering temptations. I might say wearing flashy cufflinks is a prideful act, but I’m not going to stop someone from becoming a high priest because of it.

  54. queuno, As I said to m&m, I agree with everything you just said – in a philosophical vacuum – except for the following sentence:

    “No one is obligating anyone to cut hair.”

    By denying a young man the opportunity to exercise his Priesthood over something that obviously has nothing to do with that individual young man’s worthiness to do so, a Bishop, in practical terms, is “obligating” that faithful young man to cut his hair. In reading of Margaret’s son’s response, it seems obvious that, while he did not think it was any big deal, he certainly realized that he was “obliged” to cut his hair in order to be allowed to do what he wanted to do.

    How would you react if the Bishop had required any young man who wanted to advance in the Aaronic Priesthood to dress like a missionary every day – throughout the day? What if he had required that the young men not date until they had returned from their missions? What if the requirement had been to go out with the missionaries for at least 10 hours every week? What if it had been to distribute 3 pass-along cards each and every day? Where is the line – when the requirement is given to *all* young men and not just a particular young man for whom it might be inspired counsel?

    Every one of these requirements might be perfectly fine for a missionary, and each one is a good thing in a philosophical vacuum, but not one of them has anything to do with righteously exercising the Aaronic Priesthood.

  55. Thomas Parkin says:


    I often agree with you but you are dead wrong on this one.

    Margaret’s second son does have a laudable attitude. For him, it is just hair. But how about the first one? What did the hair mean to him? Did anyone ever know? What about his tender heart, and the pugilistic attitude it was shown? What about his talents lost to the church – not only to the mission field, but to wherever he may have served in the church – mission, no mission?

    Margaret, your sons are both good men, and they will both be in my prayers tonight.

    I’m probably bugging out on this one. My own passions are too strongly engaged.


  56. Thomas Parkin says:


    I agree that I would grow my hair back if I was asked it of my bishop. But, I’m a 42 year old man, not a 15 year old boy with a sensibility.


  57. To add to what Thomas Parkin said so eloquently and continue on a very personal vein:

    My foster son was judged immediately and viscerally because he was a 6’6″, 15-year-old, dark, Black young man with problems accepting male authority figures. When he smiled, the world flocked to him; when he scowled, the adults around him ran in terror – or tried to suppress him out of fear. I saw his heart; I held him as he cried with frustration; I taught him to breathe deeply – to clench and unclench his fists – to walk away from confrontations with adults. Not one administrator at his school and only two teachers reached out to him and really tired to understand and appreciate him.

    The others looked on the exterior, judged him on his appearance, and tried to force him to change by establishing arbitrary rules that simply made no sense – to him or to me. Those rules had *nothing* to do with his attendance or his behavior or his performance; they simply were enforced to make him conform. ‘Cause, you know, the assistant principle and one teacher in particular knew how to “handle these (Black) kids.”

    I dare say each and every person who contributes here would rail against the educational system that would do that to their son – punish him for minor, non-performance related decisions by taking away his right to participate in the one thing that meant the most to him about being in school – that had absolutely nothing to do with his effort or dedication or performance.

  58. If it is inspired on an individual level, then it is because it is symptomatic of deeper issues.

    I think this is a really good point. Unless, of course, the Spirit directs a bishop to start with the hair. :) Really, folks, I am not trying to suggest that this is behavior that ought to be standardized…just that we ought not categorically condemn it without knowing what’s behind it.

    Thomas, I agree that it’s sad when a youth or anyone leaves the Church because of a leader’s wrongful attitude or behavior, but I can’t believe that such leaving always only on the shoulder of the leader. If someone is offended, that person does hold some responsibility. That doesn’t mean I don’t have compassion for that first son, nor, like I said, do I believe this kind of restriction ought to be normalized. I think a leader needs to have extreme sensitivity to the Spirit when addressing what could potentially be extremely sensitive and isn’t handbook-authorized. Please don’t misunderstand me. But it really seems unfair to put all the blame of sadly lost talents to the Church on a bishop who may have goofed.

    Margaret, out of curiosity, is this something the bishop applies across the board (of course you might not know if the situation hasn’t presented itself)? And do you think the bishop really would have withheld the ordination from your son had he wanted to keep his hair long? I guess what I’m asking is if it was more like a nudge in that direction as opposed to an ultimatum.

  59. Patata Brava says:

    Let me relate my story – or rather my brother’s story. I grew up in a family of seven. I am number six. ALL the older kids either served a mission or married an RM. My mom was a seminary teacher for four years (and come to find out later was asked to be Stake RS president, but turned it down).

    When I was on my mission my little brother got kind of wild. I don’t think that he was drinking in high school, but he did dye his hair blue, green, red, stuff like that. My mom was at her wits end as nothing with her previous 6 kids prepared her for something like that. My dad was even more confounded than my mom. One Sunday my mom told my sky blue haired brother (who was a Priest) to go over to the Sacrament table. He did, and the Bishop told him to never bless the sacrament again until his hair was “normal”. That was the last time my brother exercised his Priesthood. The kid he stood next to was on the football team. Clean cut, but he might have been hung over from Saturday night. Anyway my brother soon met some girl, and well, never even really considered going on a mission after that. My mom asked for help from the Bishop, but he said, “I’m not a babysitter, deal with it yourself.”

    Now, the Bishop holds the keys to the Aaronic priesthood in his ward. There are always some better ways to handle issues. Bishops have a hard job. They don’t get paid for it, but they are asked to do all sorts of crazy things, and deal with crazy issues. They take time away from their own family to deal with crap. So I’m willing to cut most Bishops a lot of slack. And call me old fashioned, but I do think that passing the Sacrament with bizzare hair is disrespectful and distracts from the spirit of the ordinance. I just wish that that Bishop would not have brushed my mom off like that. More than ten years later she still hurts and talks about my brother going inactive.

    Sometimes we will look for an excuse to do something we don’t want to do. Anything convenient will work.

  60. m&m–
    I agree that maybe a bishop could be inspired to make this suggestion. I also don’t have a problem with her son’s response. Ray also has a good point in #48 too though.
    It is impossible to miss your own bias when you say “This isn’t long, beautiful hair, it’s really quite unkempt and imo looks awful.” That is simply your opinion, and may simply be the bishop’s opinion too. You keep mentioning how our leaders want us to look nice, but you are assuming this isn’t nice enough looking.

    “The parents obviously have not enforced anything, either”
    How would parents enforce a haircut? Pin their boys down and cut their hair?

  61. Dreadful.

    Having just moved back to the ward of my youth, I have been reflecting on why some of my pals are no longer active. I still remember what one of them told me when we were 16 and he stopped coming:

    “The church is petty.”

    Yep, petty. Kids hate that. No wonder we lose so many of them.

  62. mmiles, maybe if you saw the hair, you would understand what I mean. Perhaps ‘awful’ was too strong, but….

    I will freely admit I prefer short hair on males, but there are men in my ward with long hair (I’m talking to the shoulder and the waist) and I wouldn’t describe their hair in anywhere near the way I did with the boys’. Maybe you will have to take my word for it; I don’t think my comment is simply about personal bias about what does and doesn’t look nice, or about a bias against long hair. And don’t get me wrong. These are really nice boys. I just don’t like their hair.

    And fwiw, note that I agreed with Ray and what he said in 48.

  63. I aspired to a Robert Smith hairdo in my youth and it was a big deal to lop it off for the mish, though it was admittedly the least of my bishop’s concerns at the time.

    Post mish I recall being welcomed back to the fold one Sunday by a kind brother and being perplexed about it until I realized I wasn’t wearing my Doc Martens* that week.

    *With the yellow stitching appropriately blacked out as per mid-1990s MTC standards.

  64. I the SLC ward I attended until recently, long hair wasn’t the style among the teenagers but rather Hobbit-hair, which is long but in the shaggy sense, not the down-the-back sense. Luckily, my bishop didn’t say something so silly as a haircut would be a prerequisite for becoming a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood (at least to my knowledge).

  65. Hair length only means something because we (some) make it mean something. In high school, my step-mom was explaining to her son why he couldn’t buy a pair of canvas shoes with skulls printed on them. I sat in the car watching with amusement. She turned to me and said, “I guess your dad gave up the grooming battle with you already!” I told her that there never was a battle between me and my dad (I had various non-missionary cuts including asymmetrical skater-type looks, one-length long hair and others).

    However I wore my hair, it never meant anything between me and my dad. Not rebellion or anything else. He didn’t care and it was my business. It was impossible to rebel against my dad with my hair, and I didn’t care about it either. It only meant something demonically evil for my step-brother to wear shoes with skulls on them because his mom created a dynamic where that was possible.

    Appearances only mean something to those who want or need them to mean something. For the rest, hair really is only hair.

  66. 2 types of members, those who choose to listen to prophets counsels and those who don’t.
    When he counseled to only wear one set of earings, who took the extra set out? When they counseled to wear white shirts to church how many hung up the lime green one back in the closet?
    Is it conforming or is it following counsel and heeding a prophets voice?
    Which member are you?

  67. I was in the airport a few days ago and had an elder walked past me. He was wearing a suit and nametag. His hair was the “hobbit” style, very bushy covered his ears and 1/2 his suit collar. He was wearing what I would describe as an Amish style hat and carrying a guitar case.

    Unless he was called to play a young Joseph Smith in a remake of “the First Vision” film, his appearance and demeanor were totally inappropriate for a missionary.

    Some of these guys need clear and direct instructions.

  68. Which camp are you in, Gunner? The one who makes hair-length a requirement of priesthood advancement (contrary to the official handbook)?

  69. MAC, did you check the elder’s knees for prayer holes (’cause if there weren’t any I’d say your characterization is more than justified)? Did you inquire whether he had spent his remaining MSF on food for the poor rather than a haircut? Did he have a boarding pass marked “One Way Ticket to Home for the Bad Kids” stuck in his back pocket?

    We need details!

  70. While I would not have made the same requirement as this Bishop generally speaking. I do see it as a possibility that the Bishop was inspired in this particular case.

    However there is a grave misunderstanding that because the Lord looks on the heart how we choose to present ourselves to the world doesn’t matter. Isaiah talks about how the haughty daughters of Zion were distinguished as such because of the things that they wore.

    The first sign of apostasy and pride in the Book of Mormon was what people would wear or more specifically “costly apparel”. How we choose to present ourselves to the world is often a sign of our inner pride our spirituality.

    The question of course is which comes first the pride or the clothes? I think that it is cyclical the pride brings on the appearance which also affects how one views themselves and can easily bring about more pride.

    It was just this morning in my the child and adolescent development class that I teach that we talked about how kids stereotype themselves and see their identity as a function of their hair and their clothes. These kinds of things can affect how kids choose to develop. Now church members should never judge one another or look down on one another because of this. I love working with the rough looking kids a lot. I don’t judge them harshly because of it but I do teach them in my classes that what they wear will affect how they see them selves how they categorize themselves and what they want in themselves. I teach them to present themselves better, but in a non judgemental way.

    The bottom line is that kids are sending a message to the world about who they think they are. That is why these things become important to them.

    I teach my students that my philosophy behind how I dress is that I want people to notice me and not how I dress. I want my message not to get garbled up by distractions.

    A priesthood holder does have a message to the world. He is God’s representative on earth. He should present himself in a way that best reflects that. That will of course change as culture changes. In Jesus time long hair didn’t effect this but it does now as culture attaches meaning to these kinds of things.

  71. Peter LLC

    Details… I didn’t speak to him but these are the assumptions I made based on my impression;

    1) He was going to the mission field, not returning
    2) Because of the gate he was sitting at he would have been going to the Billings, Mt Mission
    3) No worn knees, his suit was spotless

    His hair was obviously groomed into that particular style, not simply “grown out.” His entire appearance suggested that he was very much trying to make a style statement.

    Does it make him a “bad” missionary, no. Does it limit the number of people who would consider him serious about what he is doing, yes.

  72. My home computer only lets me access Mormon Mentality for comments. (Isn’t DKL into some kind of computer technology? He may have more power than we had suspected.) So, I wasn’t able to comment until I got to my office.
    I’ll make this into three posts.
    I want to make it very clear that I love my bishop. We have an interesting dynamic. My husband and I both teach at BYU. Our bishop was lost his job when Geneva Steel went out of business, and has spent several of his years as bishop without employment. He has only been active in the Church for about eight years, having left activity when he was a priest. I am aware of his learning curve, and aware that Bruce and I could set ourselves up in our own little Rameumpton. And for years, Bruce was in the stake presidency, so our bishop could have felt intimidated by us. I would not want that for the world.

    There was one time I did gently correct a misconception he had about our foster son (something similar to your experience, Ray). It clarified things for him, and I did it without malice.

    I honestly stand in awe of my bishop. I’m aware of some of the crap he’s had to put up with, and some of the huge challenges our ward brings in its confluence of several cultures, newlyweds and nearly deads. I think he has met the challenges remarkably–not perfectly, but remarkably. I have seen him grow from a grumpy man who bore a five-word testimony to a truly radiant soul who often takes the opportunity to conclude a meeting with his own very good insights.

    I don’t think his instruction to either of my sons was inspired, but I think their responses were telling.

    My bishop stopped by our house to help us with a plumbing problem last week. He did it all without charging a penny. Bruce knows Shakespeare, but he has no idea how to fix pipes. It was a simple act of love from a good-hearted man who is doing the best he can. I honor him, and I want that understood.

  73. Steve Evans says:

    Hell, MAC, if he was going to Billings on his mission I’m surprised he wasn’t packing a compound bow and some cammies in his bags as well.

  74. Jeff,
    If the problem really is “fine-twined linen” and “haughty” apparel, then why the hell are we picking on the kids and their hair? Why not the designer suits, fancy shoes, posh cars, and expensive bling owned by some grown-ups?

  75. #2:
    In reading the comments this morning, I was really moved by several of them. But Thomas Parkin’s comment #55 surprisingly broke me down to weeping. Completely unexpected. I wonder what chord was touched by the reminder of my son’s tender heart. Thank you, Thomas, for acknowledging it.

    Twenty-one years ago, I went to visit my sister in the hospital. She had just delivered her first son. I took my newborn son with me to join his cousin. My sister’s son will return from his mission in three days.

    Because I have made such an effort to provide a non-judgmental refuge for my son, I have also (inadvertently) distanced myself from him somewhat. I sometimes have to leave if I hear him doing role playing games with his friends, because the constant fantasy bothers me. (This is not an invitation to discuss RPG.) When this son commented casually that he imagined the temple was some kind of spiritual experience because it involved emotions, I did answer strongly: “It is not just emotion. It is empowerment.” Of course, the temple could be portrayed as some kind of RPG–but there is real power there. There are consistent moments in the endowment ceremony when I literally feel a flow of power into my body. I want that for my son. Not so that I can “play the role” of Mormon Mother who casually mentions where her children served their missions, but because HE IS MY SON. I think what Thomas tapped into was the depth of love I feel for him, that has not really let itself be acknowledged lest it also acknowledge the disappointment.

    I describe his journey as an arc. I don’t know if it will come full circle or not. (My bishop’s did.) I am still surprised by the strong emotions Thomas conjured in me. I suspect my son is disappointed in himself as well and would probably like to change course. If I do what I should, that change can come without my direction, indeed without any compulsory means. I will simply be here, waiting.

  76. #3 (and then I’ll be finished)
    In regards to the documentary–thank you, Matt and MMiles for your comments. If anyone on this blog has time to look at the trailer (the link is in the opening post), I’d really appreciate it. I’m getting reports from some that it works fine, and from others that it starts and stops. Sound worked fine for one person, but didn’t work at all for another. I’m assuming these are problems with various computers. But if you could see if it works and let me know if it doesn’t (Margaret_Young, I’d appreciate it.
    Yes, we need more money. But we are nearly done. We still have to do some studio work and sound mastering.

  77. Well Ronan I actually did pick on those things as a Sunday School teacher, and when I give talks in church, which I do often. I think those things are spiritually damaging. I’ve had a few people angry at me because of it.

    The point is that how we present ourselves is important.

    As far as the hair goes I think that kids are making a statement by that as well. Many kids I think are making the statement that they don’t want to be the clean cut “Mormon kid” or Peter Priesthood or whatever. Not all are saying this of course but I think that it is there. I know I had that attitude as a kid when I started getting interested in certain music groups and wearing their T-shirts and so on and so forth. I didn’t want to listen to adults about this but a friend helped me and I think that it was a reflection of my inner spirituality.

  78. Just to clarify when I said that I picked on those things I meant I pick on the fancy clothes, expensive cars, big homes, etc. when I was a teacher, and currently when I teach in different situations. More so than I do on teenage hairstyles. But I do think that the hairstyles reflect something inside as well.

  79. Thomas Parkin says:


    I should give you my mother’s phone number. :)

    I’ve put my parents on a rolleroaster ride, to be sure. I was a strange teen ager, then intensely active for a short time in my early twenties, then inactive for many years, and way stranger (from my parents persepctive) than before, I think, and now very much in the heart of the church.

    While I was out of the church, I would sometimes feel the Spirit. I did rather know what it was, and wondered about it – because I was almost as far as you can be from being a pure vessal. I imagine that someone was praying for me. I also know my parents put my name on the temple rolls. I don’t know if that would have annoyed me, or if I would have shrugged it off. Maybe either, depending on the day. But there is this: we are generally pretty second rate shepards, but the Lord is very very good at it.

    All the things your son has been exposed to can speak to him at some level, including your love, however imperfectly you feel like you may express it. I have a memory that I’ve often recalled. It may be an amalgam by now. I’m sitting in a primary class in Paradise Utah, during our short sojourn in Utah – so I’m in the second grade. The primary teacher is holding up the old picture where Christ is knocking on the door, in the night, in the lamplight. And I remember not knowing what to think, but thinking ‘this is who you are, this is for you.’ You son has those kind of things at work in him too, and eventually they can show.

    My best to you and yours.


  80. Thomas, I’m going to have to quit reading your posts. They’re making me cry all over the place. This is really embarrassing–and I have to teach today.

    My son had gall bladder problems. Bruce gave him priesthood blessings several times during the attacks, and the attacks abruptly stopped. Once, when this son was ill and not active at all in the Church, I asked him if he’d like his dad to give him a blessing. He said yes–and it was beyond acquiescence. He believes in priesthood power, despite himself.

    Elder Marion D. Hanks is a dear friend of our family. Though he is declining rapidly, he is still coherent enough to interact with us. I took my kids to visit him last year. He looked at each and made a comment. He held on to my older son’s hand, looked him square in the eyes, and said, “You’re mad.”

    Spot on.

    There is deep anger in my son. I don’t know all the reasons behind it. He has discovered aromatherapy and yoga, and both soothe him. But he needs to be healed. Whatever hurt him (even if it was me) needs to be forgiven. He needs to stop hating himself.

  81. It’s interesting how everyone is ripping this bishop except Margaret (who knows him) and Kevinf, who was a bishop.

    Can I just ask everyone where they would draw the line? Would a priest with purple hair, those horrible looking earrings the diameter of a quarter that stretch out the earlobes, multiple piercings, black t-shirt with holes in it and jeans be fine blessing the sacrament? (I know that’s excessive, so please tell me, which of these is ok, which is not, and why it the line arbitrarily where you put it?)

    Ray, in 54 you pushed the line to the one extreme to make a valid point. Isn’t everyone’s own opinion just their own arbitrary point?

    In my ward, the previous two bishops did nothing but love and encourage the YM. They let them do whatever they wanted and just supported it. Our of about 15 YM, 2 went on missions. I don’t know if that’s related, just an observation.

    Our current bishop things the youth have never had to sacrifice for the gospel and is trying to raise the bar. It’s amazing how much criticism he endures from the parents.

  82. Wow. Lot of typos. Sorry. Let me just add some of the criticism I hear from parents:

    It’s just tight clothing.
    It’s just coffee.
    It’s just seminary.
    It’s just one Sunday.
    It’s just a small tiny stud [in her nose].

    Being a bishop seems incredibly challenging. I’m not saying Margaret’s bishop didn’t blow it. But would any of us have done any better?

  83. Like Kevin said earlier, one of the blessings of being from a very small Midwestern ward is we don’t worry too much about such things. We have three young men and we will take them anyway we can have them. One of them has been growing his hair out for two years for locks of love and now it is long enough his mom doesn’t want him to cut it (he has very nice hair). I usually shave my head in the summer, but with the recent diagnosis of our Relief Society president with breast cancer, I have decided to join my wife and daughter in growing out my hair for locks for love as well. Since it was shaved a month ago I think it will take over a year for me to do. If they decide to make me a high priest during that time I look forward to what the stake president has to say.

  84. So Anonymous,
    You’re saying that doing nothing but love the youth is the wrong path? And yes, I do think that a lot of people here are saying the would’ve done differently put in the bishop’s place. None of us are saying it’s easy.

    It’s also interesting to note that out of your “it’s just” list only one would be a sin (coffee). Appearances are just that appearances and do not necessarily drive action.

    Look at Judas. He kept impeccable company.

  85. Gunner

    Me, my blue shirt, and my rebellious spirit are in the second group.

  86. Ronito,
    The love was expressed in the form of encouraging them with whatever they wanted to do. If they didn’t want to go to seminary, great, who likes waking up so early. If participation in sports kept them from church on sunday, great, we’ll announce the score from the pulpit and cheer. They don’t want to participate in a service project, great, we’ll get someone else to do it.

    My point was just that we may call a white shirt vs. a blue shirt arbitrary. But isn’t a collared shirt vs. a t-shirt also arbitrary? Or any shirt vs no shirt? I completely understand the “You have to pick your battles” approach to parenting, but that does mean that some battles have to be fought. You’re right, not attending seminary isn’t a sin. So should we even recommend it? Encourgage it? And someone could probably keep the sabbath day holy without attending church. So should we not ask people to do that either?

  87. It’s also interesting to note that out of your “it’s just” list only one would be a sin (coffee). Appearances are just that appearances and do not necessarily drive action.

    Margaret, I’ll ask that you pardon me in advance, this comment is not at all directed at your situation, about which I know nothing. BTW, I liked the trailer.

    I think in some cases wearing one’s hair long may be a greater sin than drinking coffee. It may not be carved in stone because it does not carry the same weight with all individuals. But if it was the one prideful thing, that was the obstacle to my willingness to submit to the gospel, I would hope that someone more inspired than me would challenge me on it.

  88. Good comment, Mac.
    I did mention the haircut to my dad, who told me about an experience he had as a mission president. The missionaries contacted a family who said they weren’t interested, but that the young man who lived behind them was always reading the Bible. (This was in Latvia.) The missionaries found him and said, “So, we understand you like the Bible.”

    “Yes,” he said. “But I prefer the Book of Mormon.”

    (We call that GOLDEN.)

    He had an interview with my dad before his baptism, and his hair was very long. Dad SUGGESTED he cut it. He did.

    Thanks for taking the time to look at the trailer, MAC. I assume it worked without any hitches for you. I’m getting reports of all variety on problems with audio or jumpiness.

  89. MAC, isn’t supposing that hair is the problem that blocks the acceptance of the gospel a bit silly? IF the hair really were the SYMPTOM of some kind of pride or resistance to the gospel (which it by no means is in every case but certainly could be), then shouldn’t the CAUSE be treated and not the symptom?

    No doctor cures people by treating their symptoms. Causes are treated and symptoms disappear. Challenging someone with long hair about their hair, even if the hair is symptomatic of a problem, seems like a silly and ineffective course in dealing with whatever real problem may be there.

    Of course, if the hair isn’t a symptom of any problem, then no “treatment” of any kind is necessary. As brothers and sisters in the gospel we need to be helping each other with real issues, not trying to shape each other from the outside in.

    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

  90. It’s interesting how everyone is ripping this bishop except Margaret (who knows him) and Kevinf, who was a bishop

    This is really more of what I was responding to–this sort of exasperation with ‘bishops like this’ as opposed to cutting them some slack. Margaret, I can feel the love you have for your bishop.

    I’m very sorry to hear about the pain of your older son, and the pain you must feel as well. I, too, will include him — and you — in my prayers. I have great hope in the power of those “tentacles of Divine Providence” that Orson F. Whitney talked about.

  91. I am of the opinion that YM need both a soft touch and at the same time a firm hand and love all the time.

    Who gets the soft touch and who gets the firm hand depends largely on the individual circumstances as far as I am concerned.

    One kid might need a firm hand on one issue and at the same time soft touch on another.

    His younger brother might need a opposite approach.

    I personally as a YM leader do not care much about hair. I may tease a kid a bit but then again I had a mullet in the 80’s. I care about personal prayer, seminary attendence etc.

  92. To continue with my health analogies, it sounds like you are into preventative medicine bbell!

  93. will, #89

    Not symptomatic, symbolic.

    The whole Pharisee thing was a little overly dramatic though, I wish you were in our Sunday school class, keeping us on the back row awake and listening.

  94. Actually, m&m, it is precisely bishops who understand better than others how damaging his actions are, and who also know (from sad experience) how easy it is to confuse our own pettiness with inspiration. He is subverting the established order of the church, period, just as much if he were to (shudder) allow a prayer to Mother in Heaven.

    When we think we are witnessing divine inspiration every time a bishop opens his mouth, we are probably failing to fulfill our covenant to sustain. We sustain others in their callings when we help them to succeed, not when we assist in their failure. Believe me – a bishop looks back with regret and heartbreak on the times his own blindness caused him to indavertantly drive the flock out among the wolves. At those times, a true friend is someone who speaks up in an inspired way.

  95. Mark IV, et al,

    I have to give Margaret’s Bishop the benefit of the doubt, because the two primary callings of a bishop are to shepherd the youth, and be the “common judge”. In Margaret’s oldest son’s case, those two responsibilities coincide. I can only assume that if he knows his youth as he should, then challenging them on their hair, even though it is something I shied away from, is within his calling. It could be that he looked at the haircut as a test of faith and obedience, and made his decision on that basis.

    I respect that Margaret feels that perhaps it was not inspired, but no one in any calling is ever perfect, and we all make mistakes. It’s easy to say, as is my first reaction, that his choice of a haircut as a line in the sand is wrong, but I don’t have that stewardship for his ward, his youth, and Margaret’s son.

    Nothing hurts worse than losing these youth to the church, both as a parent, and as a bishop. Sometimes, though, you are merely the catalyst for a decision that they have already been contemplating. Give this bishop a break.

  96. I couldn’t disagree more Anonymous. I know as a fact that when I decided I wasn’t going to go to Seminary anymore everyone gathered the troops to try and save my troubled soul. Not one of them asked me why. If they had asked they would’ve gotten an honest answer that I was fed up with the CES stuff I was being given and figured I could get more out of that time on my own. But no, everyone thought I was delving in sinful ways.

    When I decided scouting wasn’t for me again the troops came worried I was on the verge of being inactive. Again they didn’t ask or bother to notice I was at church every week.

    When I had long hair everyone thought “Oh he must be in with a bad crowd.” When in fact I was more active then than ever.

    I’d suggest you misread what I’ve said. It’s easy to say “oh but if you wear a blue shirt to church isn’t it entirely possible to deny christ! It’s a slippery slope with permissiveness!” There are things that matter and things that don’t. I personally couldn’t care less how many nose rings my kids have if they keep the commandments and have compassion. Some of the best people I know have long hair and a few extra piercings and some of the worst I know are incredibly clean cut.

    I’d say what we have here is not an issue permissiveness, but an issue of prejudice. Some are prejudiced in that if someone doesn’t go to seminary, or scouts, or has long hair, or nose rings they are automatically less holy. This is the problem of the beholder not the person whom they are beholding.

  97. Come on ronito, everyone knows that you can judge someone’s spiritual state by their outer appearances and that you can change their spiritual state by controlling those external elements!

    Or at least some seem to.

  98. kevinf,

    I’m honestly surprised. In the recommend book, the instructions explicitly state that leaders are not authorized to add to the requirements for worthiness. They are to ask the questions as written, nothing more nor less. Consequently, we can know for certain that anyone who goes beyond that is acting in opposition to the written and explicit order of the church. How far out of line are we willing to allow a bishop to go and still presume that he is inspired?

    I think a bishop who is concerned in any way about the youth of the ward has many options. Group firesides, individual interviews, consultations with parents, etc., can all be worthwhile, and if he is worried about hair length, those are the places to address it. But to make hair lengh a condition of ordination is so far out of line I cannot think of a way to make it legitimate.

    Nobody’s perfect, and we shouldn’t expect perfection from those who serve us. When people make mistakes we need to be charitable and give them a break, as you suggest. But to call mistakes inspiration isn’t giving a break, it is becoming complicit in future mistakes. Am I the only one who sees a connection between the bishop’s approach to hair length and the apparent ease and comfort with which members come to him and complain about the appearances of others?

  99. will,

    I think you are missing the point. It isn’t a matter of outward appearances, but how we choose to respond to council and what I intend those actions to represent.

    If my bishop announces this Sunday from the podium that he would like the ward to stop driving unnecessarily large and environmentally damaging trucks and I go out that week and purchase the jacked-up 4×4 pickup that I always wanted, my actions say something about *me*, regardless of what the particular directive might be.

  100. Mark IV,

    When I was bishop, I adhered pretty strictly to that rule. Occasionally, someone would bring up something that we would discuss, but it was clear that unless it impacted the questions, I should leave it out.

    However, and this is a big however, our current SP relies very heavily on inspiration during his TR interviews, and he often will say, “This is not one of the TR questions, but are you having a problem with…….”. These often bring out issues of morality, pornography, addictive behaviors, etc, that need to be addressed. Bottom line, though, is that the bishop and stake president are signing the recommend not to say you are worthy, but they have asked the questions. You sign to say you are worthy.

    You are right that there are many opportunities to teach correct principles. But I repeat, this bishop has the stewardship and the mantle. I can’t second guess him, and neither should you. Others have already said that going to the bishop privately if you disagree with his efforts with your own kids is the way to approach that. But for me to go to my current bishop, and complain about someone else’s appearance, is way out of line.

  101. Kevinf, if your SP is asking additional questions during TR recommend interviews, that’s a pretty big problem. It’s not sanctioned by the Handbook. The mantle is a great, great thing, but it is not a permission slip to govern in ways that are prohibited under Church policy.

  102. kevinf,

    this bishop has the stewardship and the mantle. I can’t second guess him, and neither should you.

    Your statement directly address the underlying question of this thread, I think. But of course we all can think of situations where we absolutely would second guess a bishop, for instance, if he started getting inspiration about some of the Laurels as plural wives. Don’t laugh, it’s happened. So, somewhere between revelations instituting the second coming of polygamy and withholding priesthood ordination over a boy’s hair is a line most of us are unwilling to cross.

    I also echo Steve’s concerns about your SP. Why is it that when leaders think they need to stray off the reservation, they always go straight for the porno/morality angle? A leader is absolutely entitled to ask those questions, just not in the context of a TR interview. A leader is also justified in conselling a young man about his hair, but not in making hair length a factor in priesthood ordination.

  103. I just realized something interesting. BCC is often seen, inaccurately in my opinion, as insufficiently orthodox. It should be noted by everybody that the BCC permas who have participated have all come down in favor of a conservative, strict and literal reading of the Handbook. Could all the rest of you liberal apostates please tone it down a bit?

  104. Steve, Mark IV,

    If a bishop or SP is conducting an interview, and feels by inspiration that something is amiss, and asks “do you a problem with pornography addiction”, two things can happen. The interviewee can say no, and there is no problem. You get your recommend.

    However, if he or she says yes, then that can lead to a discussion of repentance, and corrective counseling.

    I don’t think my SP makes a habit of asking these kinds of questions out of thin air. I did have a SP many hears ago who actually did ask everyone some additional questions. The most innocent of them was “do you drink cola drinks?”. He wouldn’t deny the TR, but people used to avoid going to get their recommends signed on the evenings when they knew he would be there. Eventually, a regional representative counseled him to stop, as was appropriate.

    And, yes, I would have a huge problem with a bishop getting revelation about polygamy. I am just trying to understand and respect Margaret’s bishop, even though I personally disagree with his apparent choices.

    I once visited my sister in law’s ward in Southern Utah, where her bishop in PH meeting, counseled the ward members not to support the stake blood drive. He gave no explanation, only that it was an unsound doctrinal practice to give blood. Fortunately, one of his ward members, a paramedic, called him on it openly, and he backed off.

    There is a line that we shouldn’t cross over here, in appearances, and many other things. My only point is that it is harder to see when you don’t sit in that chair.

  105. I’m done. I’ve gotten sucked into this, and I should be working. I’ll look again later tonight.

  106. I find I am caught once again in the middle of a discussion that seems to be missing a central point I tried to make but failed miserably. It is:

    There are proper, constructive ways to keep the handbook from limiting inspiration in a calling – and improper, destructive ways both to use and ignore the handbook.

    Having said that, I feel that the following is much more important at this stage in this thread:

    I have nothing but love and admiration for *any* Bishop who doesn’t exercise unrighteous dominion. I am NOT making that charge (unrighteous dominion) in this case, nor am I condemning Margaret’s Bishop or judging him personally in any way. I mean that sincerely. I am addressing one particular action – or, more accurately, what appears to be one particular pattern of action.

    I have made similarly incorrect errors in my various leadership positions, and I have appreciated *deeply* and *profoundly* those instances when someone has approached me privately and, in a sincere expression and attitude of love, pointed out the error of my actions. It has been far worse when nobody did so, and offense was left to fester. In fact, I have preferred to face an angry member and apologize for my mistake than to realize down the road why that member drifted into inactivity.

    My focus in my comments was supposed to be forward looking (as in, this should not happen to someone else) rather than backward judging (as in, what a terrible Bishop!). I wish I had made that clearer as I commented, since I obviously did not do so.

    Summary: I wish we were more able to discuss and critique actions with a mutual goal of eliminating, to the best of our own ability, similar mistakes in the future. I know now that my tone contributed to some people misunderstanding what I was trying to say – that some took my comments as attacks on a good man who was and is doing the best he knows how to do. For that I am sorry – deeply and sincerely sorry. It does not change how I view the nature of what Margaret described, but I hope it changes how others interpret my view.

  107. Steve Evans says:

    Kevinf, I’m not questioning the intent or even the feeling that a bishop or SP may receive that something is amiss. But that kind of inquiry is simply inappropriate in a TR interview. Outside of that context a bishop or SP may ask whatever they like, according to their inspiration: that is the purpose of meeting with the bishop or SP for counseling reasons. But temple recommend interviews are subject to fairly strict guidelines for a reason, and your SP is off the reservation regardless of his intent.

  108. So just to be clear, any bishop who forbids a priest to bless the sacrament barefoot in shorts and a t-shirt is clearly abusing his authority?

  109. Mark IV and Steve, I agree that a TR interview is not the place for questions not listed on the form, but, as kevinf said, I have had instances where I felt inspired to break off the TR interview and change it into a simple interview. “Do you drink cola drinks?” is off limits – no question about it; “Are you addicted to pornography?” is not, IMO, if, and only if, it is an occasional question prompted by the Spirit and asked apart from the TR interview questions.

    I believe that if someone habitually or regularly finds himself deviating from the form it is a good indication that he is not being guided by the Spirit. Likewise, if the questions being asked rarely illicit a response that exposes a problem, I also believe they probably are not inspired. Otherwise, if they happen rarely and regularly unearth real issues of worthiness, I have nothing but praise for a SP who is that in tune with the Spirit.

  110. anonymous, no. Try one that isn’t so blatantly obvious.

  111. If that’s all the boy has yes. Yes he would be.
    Again, it’s a matter of prejudice and your reply is a perfect example. You think that simply because he’s barefoot and in a T-Shirt he’s disrespectful or irreverent instead of thinking “Hm..there might be a reason for this.” It would be an opportunity for the Bishop to have a discussion with the boy about proper respect and such and to get to why he is acting the way he is. If he’s doing it out of rebellion that’s one thing. If he’s simply got nothing else that’s a complete other case isn’t it? HOWEVER, to just keep him from doing it without taking the opportunity to figure out why he is doing what he is, is a prejudiced decision.

  112. Ann A. Nimmis,

    Ah c’mon, ask something serious, like whether a boy should be allowed to bless the sacrament buck nekkid.


    I don’t think you need to apologize at all, and I don’t think you were misunderstood. The problem isn’t anything you said, the problem is that we lack the vocabulary and experience to judge a priesthood leader. Any attempt to evaluate or critique is automatically seen as criticism and evil speaking.

  113. Ray,

    I certainly did not have you in mind when I got sucked into this discussion. I do feel the pain for Margaret and her sons, and what seems to be an arbitrary and capricious decision based on appearances, and I groaned inwardly when I heard it.

    I am sorry for the direction this has taken. Margaret’s original post was well written, and full of pathos, and I had empathy both for her and her husband, and also with their bishop. I recognize her concern for her sons, and yours for your foster son. I have my own sons I worry about. I think we should all feel a little humbler tonight.

  114. Just for the record, I’ve attended sacrament meeting in the U.S. where the young men who blessed and passed the sacrament were barefoot, and wore their Sunday best blue jeans and t-shirts. It was a great ward, partly because they had more important things to worry about than looks.

  115. To echo ronito, would a Bishop be justified in denying every priest the ability to bless the sacrament if they were wearing jeans and a t-shirt? I have served in branches where the sacrament was blessed and passed in exactly such attire – by some of the most dedicated, spiritual, amazaing young men I have ever known, including a gang leader who faced death if he left the gang but courageously stood his ground and insisted that his gang allow him to avoid illegal activity and attend church on Sunday – specifically so that he could honor his Lord by administering the emblems of his sacrifice. What he wore had NO bearing whatsoever on his spirituality.

  116. Amen, kevinf.

  117. Posting trollish comments and coy questions under the guise of anonymity isn’t particularly welcome. Especially since admins know who you are anyways, Anonymous. Ronito and Ray are both right.

    Ray, I see no exception in the Handbook for further questions in the TR interview for porno problems. Now, if you’ve asked if they keep the Law of Chastity and the topic comes up in the reply, then I think it’s a fair avenue to explore and one that should be discussed with the Spirit. But otherwise?

  118. I mean I wasn’t criticizing Ray. I am not criticizing anyone. I have enough of my own baggage. This discussion has gone way off track, and the perception is that we are either pharisees straining at gnats, or hopelessly oblivious to the moral breakdown of our society around our ears.

    My apologies to all. Ronito, you are exactly right. We should be asking why someone is acting the way they are, and not make snap judgments. But a bishop would surely want to ask one of the priests why he is wearing a Corona Gold t-shirt before he actually shows up at the sacrament table. The references to lines being crossed really aren’t lines, they are ambiguous borderlands, shrouded in fog and misperception. If it was always clear cut, we’d all see it, and then we wouldn’t be having these discussions.

  119. “Ask one of the priests why he is wearing a Corona Gold t-shirt”

    Because he is cool, probably a parrothead, and clearly a ladies man! Now, if it were a King Cobra t-shirt you’d have trouble.

  120. Hmmm. Maybe I’m tone deaf, but two commenters I respect tremendously (kevinf and Ray) have expressed regret at the direction the thread has taken. I don’t see much here that is the least bit objectionable, but I’m willing to be corrected.

  121. Steve,

    You mock me. If I’d known he was a parrothead, then clearly, he’s cool! How did you know I wore a Hawaiian shirt to work today?

    Mark IV, another apology. I just felt that we were into contention, rather than meaningful discussion. Since Steve has reminded us that we were way past meaningful discussion, and into serious parody, then I wouldn’t have been concerned. I’m going to go fix my blown out flip-flop now.

  122. kevinf, no need to apologize, no need at all.

    But I’m curious – was that pop top you stepped on from a caffeinated soda can?

  123. Steve Evans says:

    Kevinf, this is the bloggernacle. “Meaningful discussion”?? That train left the station 5 years ago.

  124. Diet Pepsi max

  125. Mark IV, I don’t regret so much the direction as I do the polarization – and I regret my apparent inability to make my points more clearly than it appeared I had. Perhaps there was no way to avoid that result – and I regret that, in a very generic sense. I have been told I have a Don Quixote complex, so my regret probably is just a result of that and over-sensitivity to contributing to misunderstanding.

    This seems like a good place for a :-)

  126. #99 MAC

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. If the point is “how we choose to respond to council and what I intend those actions to represent” then I always (with every situation I’ve encountered so far) follow the council and let those who gave it be responsible for how inspired it is.

    Pardon the veering.

  127. Diet Coke with Lime for you, ray. On ice, with an umbrella. A windmill shaped umbrella.

  128. Steve,
    I wasn’t trying to be coy. And I posted as anonymous because I thought my original comments regarding bishops in my ward may be too obvious to people familiar with the situation.

    My point was that we can all have our own arbitrary standards of what’s important and what’s not. And ronito said exactly what I would say…it depends and it’s the bishop’s call. We all just hope that the bishop considers all possible factors and acts in the best interest of the youth.

    The handbook does not list any dress code for the administration of the sacrament for the exact reason mentioned after my question. There could be and are wards where such clothing could be very appropriate. The reason I asked is because I wanted to know if anyone else thought there would also be situations where it would be inappropriate. And if so, then who are we to judge that bishop from making that judgement?

  129. Also, I apologize if my question was too blatant or phrased in a rude way. I certainly didn’t mean it like that. I had asked earlier using the example of a sliding scale (white shirt, collar,) and no one answered. Perhaps I should have picked up that as a cue and bowed out of the discussion.

  130. Anonymous,

    Your question was not rude, and I thought that we covered that there is no hard and fast rule or line. Ronito is right, there are reasons we dress the way we do, and it often has nothing to do with personal worthiness. The attire for attending church in the MCR has taken on at least a symbolic standard, but the reality is that we are all just glad anybody shows up. I expect people in rural Bolivia to dress differently than we do here in the Seattle area. All it means is that we are more affluent here, so while I have multiple suits and dress slacks, a kid in Croatia may only have one pair of pants that he wears for everything. If he or she shows up at all, we should all be glad.

    Livin’ on sponge cake, watching the sun bake….

    I’m outa here.

  131. Kevin Barney says:

    Some of you may be too young to remember the cowboy days of what amounted to institutionalized voyeurism in TR interviews. Although in general it is an abominable book, the description of these types of interviews in the book Secret Ceremonies is actually an accurate portrayal of what many of these interviews were like. This interview practice was in my view an abomination and not fitting for true servants of the Lord.

    Which is to say that the Church is very wise and has excellent reasons to insist that Church leaders stick to the script on TR interviews and not go off the reservation in that setting. Anyone who intentionally disregards that well considered counsel is simply ignorant of the sad history that made it necessary.

    In my view, this is one area where the past problems make appeals to the “Spirit” in any movement back to the old practices simply not well taken.

  132. Thanks, Kevin Barney. I appreciate that background. You are right; I was not aware of that issue being a widespread problem. That changes the foundation for breaking off a TR interview to only doing so, as Steve mentioned, if something comes up in the course of asking the basic questions.

  133. Yep, familiar with some of those stories. A former stake president of mine from some many years and several states ago got into trouble for those same reasons. People avoided going to him because of the off-topic questions. I believe a GA had to rein him in.

  134. Well, I’ve got long hair and a beard. My previous bishop didn’t like me too much because of my appearance, but matters were made worse when when my wife and I went to see him last year about some very bad things happening in our lives and he ended up counselling my wife to leave me (in my presence), which, after I heard, I reported him to the stake president and the area authority seventy. Nothing was done by either men to help our situation and both my wife and I stopped going to him for anything. Now, we are in a new ward and the current bishop doesn’t know what to think of me since when membership records are transferred, there is a place that a bishop can check off to indicate to the new bishop that he should talk to the previous bishop. The new bishop talked with the old bishop, the old made plenty of accusations, which unsettled the new bishop. So, when it came time for my daughter to be baptized last month, and I was scheduled to baptize her, the new bishop wouldn’t let me do it. When I asked him why, he said it was because of the old bishop’s opinion of me. When I asked if there were witnesses or a charge of iniquity brought against me, he said there wasn’t that he knew of, but the old bishop claimed there was evidence (but no witnesses) which the new bishop hadn’t seen. This has been over a year now without a single accusation brought against me (other than long hair, a beard and now I don’t wear a white shirt and tie to church.) It doesn’t matter that I pay a full tithe, attend church, am married in the temple, have served a mission and there hasn’t been a single charge and no witnesses of unworthiness. All on the opinion of one man in authority, a man (or woman) can be blacklisted continually, despite the law of witnesses. So, my daughter remains unbaptized. Since I refuse to answer groundless charges where there are no witnesses, we are essentially at a stalemate, with my daughter’s baptism indefinitely postponed. My feeling is that I’m innocent until proven guilty, which is what the law of witnesses is all about, but the current bishop wants me to prove my innocence of the previous bishop’s accusations before he’ll allow me to use my priesthood for an ordinance of church record. So, this phenomena of basing worthiness on appearance is not a Utah-centered thing, it exists here where I live, too. There is really nothing that can be done about it, either, as the “follow the brethren” dogma is prevalent in the church, even to the point of “copy the dress styles of the brethren”, or as the area authority seventy termed it, “the unwritten law.”

  135. Son of B–would you e-mail me personally?

  136. TStevens,

    Before donating to Locks of Love, you should read the recent NYT article, at .

    Not that LoL is bad. But many of their contributors don’t fully understand their limits. For example, they typically _don’t_ give wigs to cancer victims. (They focus on other ailments). A few other charities focus on cancer victims.
    And a large portion of donated hair ends up discarded, as it doesn’t meet their requirements. Look at the NYT piece for some elaboration.

  137. As I’ve been reading this “hairspray” thread, since I admit I’m also a male with, well, wavy hair that maybe I’m either too lazy or else simply not vain enough to make staight, your discussion has got me wondering if I should do more morning prep with it–and maybe spring for a jar of DippityDoo along with a diffusing blow dryer, too? Still, with regard those young men in the ward referred to above who also sport less-well-groomed-of-“locks,” I’m wondering: if also a visiting teaching sister’s curls were unruly, would helping her make an aquaintance with grooming products be OK or would the only acceptable fix be for her to get a pixie cut? (I’m middle aged–at least I didn’t call it a “bob.”)

  138. I’m posting again since no one else’s has intervened since my last one. Saw this youngish woman today–she is a fry cook at this fish stand at the Jersey shore. I wouldn’t have noticed her except for my having read this thread. But that’s the point. Although she was clean and “casual” (no makeup, a tattoo on her arm, no product in her hair, of a “style” (or non-style), length and waviness approximating mine), its not-so all-primped-‘n’-pretty effect represented a type of understated modesty to me.

  139. I was sixteen in 1968 with long hair. Along the way I decided that anyone who made an issue of hair was looney. So I don’t make an issue of hair myself. If the stake president wants it cut to missionary standard, as our did for years, I cut it. At the moment I’m quite Grizzly Adams–I just spent 31 days in the wilderness and enjoyed not shaving etc but if a church leader asked me to shave and get a haircut, the strongest reaction it would get would be a smile. I wouldn’t even be sure who I was smiling at. There’s a lot I don’t know and I don’t have time to form an opinion about whether such is a correct request. It just doesn’t matter. Siding with youth who get huffy about such things seems folly to me. I might commiserate with them but adding up all the reasons a bishop is out of line? I’ll save that for other things.

    I’d just be glad no one asked me for my fatted calf.

  140. LDS Anarchist says:

    A scripture comes to my mind about this:

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


  1. […] in the discussion following Margaret Young’s post “The Haircut” at BCC, several commenters matter-of-factly noted that her bishop was going beyond the […]