LDS Beards Then and Now
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth..."[i] and God at least portrayed by the earliest artists has been portrayed as having both beard and long hair. According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both God the Father and Jesus Christ, our exemplars, are pictorially displayed as having beards and long hair. The God of the Old Testament even specifically told the Israelite's specific grooming techniques that not only allowed disciples to grow their beards but also was divinely mandated from heaven. In the book of Leviticus, we read a divine command by God that bans the shaving of the beard. "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."[ii] The book of Samuel shows that the shaving of the beard was a sign of humiliation. After some were forced to shave their beards they were sent away and told, "Tarry at Jericho until your beards be grown, and then return."[iii] Moses, Jacob, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, James and John are "known'' to have beards in both early and late paintings. Most early LDS Apostles and Prophets are known through the evidence of old daguerreotypes to have had beards. So what happened? Why are Mormon missionaries and temple workers today, not allowed to grow beards? Why do both leaders and member encourage each other to be clean shaven?
This research paper became a lot bigger and more difficult than I had initially anticipated. In my quest of finding an explanation for the dramatic shift we see in Mormon culture in regards to how beards were looked at in the early restoration of the church and how they are regarded as shocking and undomesticated today, I have found that this research paper is two-fold. There are two worlds we need to look at to find this shift in Mormon culture. There is the world of BYU and the world of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In so doing, I hope to find a precise reason and date of the so called, "Beard Policy that Mormons must adhere to in order to be regarded as "True Members" of the LDS faith.
The World of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
21st century leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its dedicated members have developed a social constructivist tradition that has in some areas of the church, sophisticated itself into that of policy. In early and mid 19th century Mormon culture we can visually see that beards were not only in fashion but also displayed a man's maturity. According to Salt Lake Tribune editor Peggy Fletcher Stack, "When LDS apostle Heber J. Grant arrived in England in 1903 to oversee the Utah-based faith's evangelizing abroad, his predecessor had required missionaries to grow beards as a symbol of their maturity and dignity."[iv]
Though historical evidence shows references to the prophet Joseph Smith as having a "beard of some three days growth,"[v] he was usually clean-shaven and never was known to have a heavy-set beard. On the other hand, the first seven prophets of the LDS church after the Prophet Joseph Smith were known to have heavy-set beards or a well-groomed goatee.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed its policy on beards in 1951 when Apostle David O. McKay became President of the LDS church. There is one hypothesis usually given by members of the church, that President McKay desired to change the look of the church in regards to avoiding any relationship to previous doctrines on polygamy. Early Mormonism was regarded as both extreme and radical freaks to many outsiders because of the doctrine of polygamy. Early polygamist leaders were well known for having beards and many related Mormon polygamists wearing them. With the total loss of polygamous activity with George Albert Smith, (David O. McKay's predecessor) we can see a drastic transition from bearded polygamists to clean shaven monogamists. Although there is no written statement, the hypothesis makes sense logically. Nevertheless, is there any statement made during this time that can aid us in understanding why beards were no longer a part of Mormon culture?
In 1977, we hear for the first time in a General Conference that beards are unacceptable in Mormon Culture. Victor L. Brown (Tenth Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) stood up in Conference and told a story to the world that has now bound the LDS church to its teaching. President Brown quotes Prophet Harold B. Lee from a BYU Devotional Address,
“Now may I make a personal reference, which I’ll try to treat in such a way as to preserve the confidentiality? It involved a beautiful, young wife and mother from a prominent family. She had gone away from her home and was now in the East. She had gone out into an area where she and her husband had taken up with those in the ghetto, and she wrote me a rather interesting letter, and I quote only a paragraph: ‘Tomorrow my husband will shave off his long, full beard. Because of the request of the stake president and your direction in the Priesthood Bulletin, he must not have the appearance of evil or rebellion if he is to get a recommend to go to the temple. I have wept anguished tears; the faces of Moses and Jacob were bearded, and to me the wisdom and spirituality of the old prophets reflected from the face of my own spiritual husband. It was like cutting out for me a symbol of the good things my generation has learned.’ Then the letter concluded with a challenge to me: ‘We are prepared for clear, specific, hard-line direction as youth. Wishy-washy implications are not heard very well here. We look to you to tell it straight.’
“I don’t know whether she knew just what she was asking for when she asked me to tell it straight, but these are some things I wrote to her: ‘In your letter you address me as, “Dear President Lee,” and in your first sentence you refer to me as the Lord’s prophet. Now, in your letter you tell me that you are saddened because with the shaving off of the beard and the cutting of the hair, which, to you, made your husband appear as the prophets Moses and Jacob, he would no longer bear that resemblance. I wonder if you might not be wiser to think of following the appearance of the prophets of today. President David O. McKay had no beard or long hair; neither did President Joseph Fielding Smith; and neither does your humble servant whom you have acknowledged as the Lord’s prophet."[vi]
In February 1993, the LDS church posted an article in its Ensign magazine stating, "Church leaders, recognizing that fashions go in cycles, are sensitive to the rich cultural diversity within the Church. For example, they have recently held that clean, neatly trimmed and managed beards …are acceptable for the temple, provided they are not inherently offensive or vulgar."[vii] However, by 2001 being clean-shaven "became policy for those who work regularly in LDS temples."[viii]
Boyd K. Packer stated that even though policy is policy, "When a leader knows the gospel, he will have loyalty toward the instruction in the handbooks…"[ix]
Not until 2007 do, we again hear an LDS Apostle stand up in General Conference and give a talk under the title, "Raising the Bar," do we again hear to be clean-shaven. L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the twelve apostles pleaded with saints to improve "your physical appearance." He then asks the saints, "to dress a certain way, projecting a clean-cut appearance that includes an appropriate haircut; being clean-shaven."[x]
The last reference to date was last year in an October 2012 conference by Prophet Thomas S. Monson wherein he referenced in a story of how a missionary looked at potential converts as already Mormon. "The young man said that he attempted to baptize every person whom he met. He said that if he knocked on the door and saw a man smoking a cigar and dressed in old clothes and seemingly uninterested in anything—particularly religion—the missionary would picture in his own mind what that man would look like under a different set of circumstances. In his mind, he would look at him as clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and white trousers… "[xi]
The World of Brigham Young University
In January 1949, students of Brigham Young University along with "The Blue Key Fraternity," established an honor code system that all attendees were required to accept and adhere to with consequences for those who were disobedient to its policies.[xii] According to John J. Hunters book, "History of the Formal Honor System at Brigham Young University During the First Ten Years (1950-1960), there is no record whatsoever that BYU had a beard policy. In fact, the LDS church established Ricks College in Idaho, which in 1952 held a whisker contest that enabled men to grow their beards and win a prize.[xiii]
The closest one can come to the BYU beard ban is December of 1971 when President Dallin H. Oaks of Brigham Young University made mention of it in the New Era magazine. President Oaks specifically designates beards as "...associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards ...may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent."[xiv]
LDS Beards Today
Today the LDS church considers beards unethical for those participating in priesthood callings and ordinances. For example, those desiring to work in the temple must be clean-shaven with short hair. The youngest and largest missionary force in the world are those of the LDS church who sends teenagers out in the world with the demand of being clean-shaven. Those who act in rebellion to this mandate stick out like a sore thumb and are considered "to prove a disturber and an annoyer of [the Lords] kingdom"[xv]
But are those ultra-orthodox members of the LDS church who consider this as "doctrine" or "divine policy" propose a Pharisaic threat of tradition and policy trumping over doctrine and salvation? Are we liable as becoming like the Pharisees who were more apt to follow traditional policies rather than the commandments of God?
In 1973, LDS Scholar Hugh Nibley said, "the worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism... the haircut becomes the test of virtue..."[xvi]
[i] Genesis 1:1
[ii] Leviticus 19:27
[iii] 2 Samuel 10:4-5
[iv] Stack, Peggy F. "Will Mormons Stop Bristling at Beards? | Following Faith | The Salt Lake Tribune." Faith Blog RSS. N.p., 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
[v] Roberts, B. H. A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 2:350. Provo, UT: Published by the Church, Brigham Young UP, 1965. Print.
[vi] Brown, Victor L. "Following the Living Prophet." N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.
[vii] King, David S. "I Have a Question - Ensign Feb. 1993 - Ensign." I Have a Question - Ensign Feb. 1993 - Ensign. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. .
[viii] Stack, Peggy F. "Will Mormons Stop Bristling at Beards? | Following Faith | The Salt Lake Tribune." Faith Blog RSS. N.p., 9 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2013. .
[ix] The Things of the Soul 1996, p.66
[x] October 2007, L. Tom Perry "Raising the Bar" General Conference
[xi] October 2012 General Conference, See Others As They May Become, President Thomas S. Monson.
[xii] Hunter, John J. "1." History of the Formal Honor System at Brigham Young University during the First Ten Years (1950-1960). N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.L. Tom Perry Special Collections (BYU)by John J. Hunter. L. Tom Perry Special Collections chapter 1 "introduction to the honor system history"
[xiii] 1952-11-04 The Viking Scroll Vol 65 No 7
[xiv] Standards of Dressing and Grooming, December 1971 Dallin H. Oaks.
[xv] Pearl of Great Price- Joseph Smith History 1:20
[xvi] Waterman, Brian and Kagel, Brian Kagel. The Lord’s University: Freedom and Authority at BYU. Signature Books. 1998. ISBN 1-56085-117-1).