Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Thou shalt not grow a beard

Psychologists in America have interviewed ten male members of the Latter-day Saints Church (i.e. Mormons) who've grown beards despite their church preferring members not to have facial hair. Michael Nielsen and Daryl White argue the stories these men tell provide rich material for exploring issues of social control and individual identity.

In the early years of the LDS church, it was actually common for leaders to wear beards. However, since 1951 when the clean-shaven David McKay became president, the church has urged its members not to wear facial hair, and in some situations (e.g. formal voluntary work in its temples) facial fair is forbidden. Today, the church leadership consider being clean shaven to be associated with purity and devotedness. Moreover, since 1969, Brigham Young University - owned by the LDS church - has formally forbidden its students and staff from having beards (see image on right, taken from the University's webpages, via Wikipedia).

One of the men, Alan, doesn't rule out ever shaving his beard, but says he would have to check with God first: "I'd have to spend some 'knee time' to find out if that's what I was supposed to do. Cause my own heart tells me that ain't so, that I don't need to do that."

Another man, Frank, explains that his beard is central to his identity. "It's me! It's me! I would not be me if I shaved my beard off."

Although he'd worn a mustache for ten years, another interviewee, David, agreed to shave when offered a senior position in the church. "I'd probably still have a mustache," he said. "I might still have it, but I decided not to create any friction with the leaders here."

The researchers say these cases show men attempting to manage "contradictory senses of self".

"Faced with unnecessarily invasive requests to shave, requests that sometimes took the shape of ultimatums, some men expressed resentment at having to choose between a mere show of compliance and deeply felt, even intimate identities: discomfort, embarrassment, and shame are exchanged for a token show of obedience, with resentment likely to follow."
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ResearchBlogging.orgMichael Nielsen, Daryl White (2008). Men's grooming in the Latter-day Saints Church: A qualitative study of norm violation Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 11 (8), 807-825 DOI: 10.1080/13674670802087286

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

17 comments:

  1. We have "strict rules prohibiting facial hair"? That's news to me.

    They seem to have confused "The LDS Church" with "Brigham Young University" here. Common mistake for someone whose done less than three minutes of research :P

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  2. There's a cultural bias against beards, but no, there are no "strict rules" against Mormons having beards. (And I don't even know that the cultural bias extends beyond the United States . . .)

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  3. Who are these ten men that were interviewed? I don't recall ever having been told to not grow a beard....that is odd perhaps I should start carrying a razor with me so I can get rid of those hairs as soon as they pop out....

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  4. Anonymous3:33 am

    I know that men in leadership positions (bishop, stake president, etc.) are ENCOURAGED (not even demanded, but encouraged) to not have beards. However, I have had more than one bishop who has kept his mustache, and at BYU you can also have mustaches. I think this beard issue (at BYU) is a cultural thing for the time being. If you will notice, it is also a trend in business to be clean shaven as well. Nobody demands it, it just happens. There are absolutely NO strict rules within the LDS church about facial hair. NONE. It is merely a matter of personal opinion. The only thing they ask is that we be "well-groomed." How that is interpreted is entirely up to the individual. And seriously, praying as to whether or not you should have a beard? Come on dude! There's also a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants that says it is not necessary for one to be commanded in all things -- that such a person is a slothful servant. Right?

    Next time it might be wise to talk to someone who has a church handbook in his possession (a bishop, a stake president, a general authority, and so on) before publishing something so utterly silly, and false.

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  5. I'm afraid I have to agree. Our church doesn't object to facial hair. Never has, never will. There's nothing wrong with beards.

    BYU, on the other hand, does not allow beards. Mustaches are fine, beards are not. BYU is a school, not a religion. They are allowed to have more strict standards if they want.

    Please consider your research more carefully in future.

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  6. Thanks for your messages. I will alter the wording to make the rules sound more equivocal. For reference, here are some relevant passages from the journal paper concerned:

    "Since the time McKay became LDS Church president, the trend of church leaders has
    been to shave. This has been reflected in grooming norms in the church more broadly, and
    may be best represented by the 1969 adoption of a formal policy banning beards at
    Brigham Young University (BYU), the church’s flagship university."

    "LDS concern with grooming and dress extends well beyond the BYU campus.
    A recent, formal change in grooming policy is that men who volunteer to work in the
    church’s temples in official capacities must be clean-shaven. The new policy is more
    stringent than that for BYU students, staff, and faculty."

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  7. CanuckGuy3:27 pm

    Growing up in the 1970s, I grew my beard. I was past 19 and a few local elders sometimes commented that I couldn't go on a mission if I had a beard. By the way, I served as a ward executive secretary at the time and recall attending a regional priesthood leadership conference where I noted that at least half the men in the clerks and exec sec session had beards, long sideburns or cookie dusters!
    I know some fine bearded men who will likely get to the celestial kingdom, where I know they will feel comfortable with the white-bearded God and Jesus (as they are depicted in church films).
    I miss having a beard in winter, and boy could I sure use one this year!

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  8. I just got rid of my pony tail a few months back but no church leader ever asked me to. Admitidly, I was the only man in our branch with longish hair.
    My brother is a temple worker and, yes, they are required to be clean shaven. But members have no hair style regulations other than cultural.

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  9. Anonymous6:43 am

    lol, CavDawg,

    Speaking of not doing more than 3 minutes' worth of research, go read the article instead of the little synopsis that's included here. Although some time is spent talking about temples, BYU, and missionaries as special cases where the rules are pretty strict, the majority of the article is a case study of 10 men in the same ward, not in Utah, and their experiences. Perhaps you and your friend Brother Kjar should go read the article instead of pointing out the problems with the research without actually reading it.

    Regarding Bruce's comment about having "no hair style regulations other than cultural", that's the whole point of the article and the authors' line of research.

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  10. I have to agree that there is a social stigma among many members of the church towards those who grow beards. I believe this stems from the strict guidelines for missionaries, church employees, students at Church sponsored schools, temple workers, and all those formally associated with the church organization, etc. Thus, there may be a natural tendency for members of the church to correlate "more righteous" with "clean shaven". This does not mean I hold any ire toward my church. It is just an interesting social / cultural issue.

    Personal Story: One of my very close relatives is a temple worker. He has been a faithful member of the church all of his life, and a faithful temple worker for over 25 years. He is a retired gentleman on a fixed income, and a professional Santa Claus. He has a beautiful long flowing white beard, kept neatly trimmed. He IS Santa to thousands in his community. He makes a significant portion of his yearly income from his yearly Santa work. His real beard is important to his employment, and a deep part of who he is (his wife and children have actually never seen him without a beard). Thus, when he was told several years ago he must shave his beard to be in compliance with the rules or be ousted from temple service, this caused a lot of pain. He decided to petition the leadership of the church, and received a personal letter signed by then-Elder Monson that allows him to keep his beard. There are a few fellow temple workers who hold a grudge against him for getting this special treatment (mainly men who had to sacrifice their beloved beards). This has saddened my relative, and he often shakes his head at the current mandates which too often forget the "spirit of the law". Meanwhile, he is beloved in the temple, and the patrons are always thrilled to see Santa beyond the veil in sparkling white from head to toe. Literally. :)

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  11. Anonymous10:23 pm

    My Stake President went on quite a rant about facial hair at a ward conference a couple of weeks ago. He is not a fan.

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  12. Anonymous1:29 am

    I joined the church in 1974 when I was 20 years old. Shortly thereafter I decided I wanted to go to BYU, but was told I couldn't unless I shaved my beard and cut off my shoulder-length hair. I asked if Mormons thought beards and long hair on men was "evil," but no one would give me a yes or no answer.

    I imagine the justification for this rule was to keep out the rebellious youth element of the 1960's (BYU passed the rule in 1969). Since I had been an active member of that group, it meant the rules were created to keep me out.

    The rules achieved their intended purpose, and I never attended BYU. Thank God I live in California.

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  13. I was asked to shave off my bread when I was called as Ward Mission Leader. I was a new member of the Church at the time. After I was released, I grew it back. I had it when I was an Elder's Quorum Pres, a Bishopric Counselor, serving on the High Council and as a Veil Worker in the Oakland Temple. However, when I moved to Colorado and asked to serve as a Veil Worker in the Denver Temple, the Temple President told me I'd have to shave off my Beard and that it came from the Prophet himself. So Temple Workers here have any facial hair that I've seen. Still, I have never gotten a reasonable explanation about it.

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  14. that should be "beard, not bread.

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  15. My husband has had a large "Wilford Brimley" style mustache ever since he could grow one and it is definitely a part of his identity. One of the old-timers in our ward, a former Mission President, often tut-tutted over his facial hair and frequently remonstrated with him saying that he wouldn't be able to serve in the Temple, etc. He was recently called to serve on the Stake High Council and really agonized over whether to shave off his mustache, even though the Stake President never said a word about it when he was called. He prayed about it and wasn't given any direct answer but the day he reported for his first HC meeting he was clean-shaven, mostly because he felt like if he was in that much turmoil over it, he should let it go and see if the Lord would confirm the decision. When the Stake President saw him he got tears in his eyes, and told my husband that he'd worried over whether to have a talk with my husband about being a representative of Christ, etc. but had decided to leave it up to him to work out for himself. I know he'll have a mustache again in his life, but I feel that he was blessed for trying to be sensitive to the needs of others, even though it wasn't easy for him. And he looks 10 years younger, no kidding!

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  16. Anonymous4:34 pm

    I'm wondering - those of you who say the LDS church does not object to facial hair - are you sure you attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? The one headquartered in Salt Lake City? Because that one definitely frowns on facial hair. GAs are not allowed to have facial hair. Missionaries are not allowed to have facial hair. Temple workers are not allowed to have facial hair. BYU students are not allowed to have beards. Men called to leadership positions are routinely asked/encouraged to shave their facial hair (sometimes the calling is revoked if they don't). How could anyone say the LDS church does not care about facial hair and has no rules about it? Sure, the normal member can decide for himself, but haven't we all heard talks from the prophet, from GAs, and other church leaders about how men should look to the GAs for examples on how to look, and we have also been told to adhere to missionary grooming standards. Facial hair is most definitely frowned upon. When I was 18, I was sitting in the choir seats during stake conference. I had a beard at the time. The visiting regional rep was at the pulpit speaking, and decided to make an example of me and he made a snide, disparaging remark about beards and looked right at me. I could have sunk into the floor, I was so embarrassed. Unfortunately I did not have the spine at the time to say something to him, but now I would.

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  17. Comparing US and other regional facial hair norms to LDS practice is relevant here. For instance, compare the facial hair of LDS presidents with US presidents and you see that facial hair reflects the larger cultural preferences, not so much particular relgious beliefs in this instance.
    My experience is that facial hair is on the increase in the US LDS community. In Elders Quorum recently a High Priest visitor (& former Stake Pres.) asked if he needed to have a beard to be allowed to our meeting, as he was the only one (besides myself) without facial hair.
    I believe that we are in a slow transition back to a culture where facial hair becomes more of the norm, perhaps in a roughly 100 year cycle. I'll predict that by 2050 we will have our first LDS general authority with facial hair since George Albert Smith passed away.

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