MMM deals with two subjects: dress and grooming. And he got me thinking because he explained at least one of the reasons why he does not have a beard. He posted this quotation from a talk by Elder Russell M. Nelson:
To bear the priesthood means you have a personal responsibility to magnify your calling. Let each opportunity to serve help to develop your power in the priesthood. In your personal grooming, follow the example of the living prophets. Doing so gives silent expression that you truly comprehend the importance of “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God.” Russell M. Nelson, October Conference, 2003.He listed some other reasons, but they don’t matter to me at all.
I have from time to time reflected on why I have a beard. I’ve worn a beard off and on (several years on, several years off) since grad school over 25 years ago. And when anyone has asked me why I have a beard, my answer (thought, not always spoken) is, “Why not?”
I’ve only been asked to shave my beard once in all those years, and that was a few years ago when I was called to serve as an ordinance worker in the Taipei Taiwan Temple. I happily shaved. (As I told a young friend who thought it unfair that I had to shave, I would have gladly shaved my head to work in the temple.)
I’ve worn my beard while serving as a bishop (twice). The first time was in Latin America and I had a beard at the time of my call. It never occurred to me to ask if I could keep the beard. I just kept it. And no one said anything about it – not my stake president, not the area authority seventy who lived in our stake, not even Elder Hales, whom I chauffeured during his visit for a regional conference.
The second time was in the US, and I specifically asked my stake president at the time he extended the call. He said it was my choice. There was another bishop serving in our stake at that time who also had a full beard.
No one at work has ever asked me to shave, either. I’ve had a beard while working far from our home office in foreign assignments and also while working in the world headquarters of our Fortune 10 company.
My family likes my beard (although my youngest daughter doesn’t like it when I’m growing a new one; it’s too scratchy). My wife likes my beard, but has never pressured me to keep it.
I have no issue recognizing that in certain callings (for instance, temple service and full time missionary work) the church asks men to shave. That is the church’s prerogative, and I feel no need to justify that choice or to have an explanation. But except for Elder Nelson’s counsel as quoted by MMM, and the specific guidelines for temple workers and full time missionaries, I have seen nothing official that suggests a restriction on beards for men. (Yeah, I went to BYU, so I know they also have restrictive grooming standards, but BYU is not the church.)
So what to do with Elder Nelson’s counsel? I could:
1. Ignore it, assuming this is one man’s opinion.
2. Interpret it as a dictum against beards and shave mine in obedience to the counsel of an apostle.
3. Assume I am following it. After all, I do look to the Brethren for guidance in my dress and grooming: I wear white shirts and ties (if not always a suit; sometimes I wear a sport coat and dress slacks) to church. My hair and beard are neatly trimmed and are quite conservative in their appearance.
Some background on how I feel about this sort of thing:
1. I dig obedience. Nephi was obedient and was blessed. Joshua was obedient and blessed. (Those are the two prophets I’m reading about right now as I’m reading for Sunday School and trying to keep up with my son’s Old Testament reading for seminary.) And I do sustain the apostles and first presidency as prophets, seers and revelators, so I’m anxious to be obedient. To obey is better than to sacrifice (see 1 Samuel 15). Blessings are predicated upon obedience (see D&C 130).So with that background, what do I do?
2. My mission president taught us an interesting lesson from his experience. Although of German descent, he lived in Idaho prior to his call as a mission president. He used to drive to Salt Lake for conference, and then home again. He liked to drive fast. In one particular conference, President Kimball reminded people in his concluding remarks to obey all traffic laws on the way home, and my mission president was crushed. The 55 mph speed limit was in force in those days on interstates, and he felt compelled to drive that speed because President Kimball asked him to. (Don’t start a discussion about why he wouldn’t obey traffic laws without the prophet’s specific request; that’s not the point.) So, obeying prophetic direction is a good thing.
3. Also on my mission I heard Elder Theodore M. Burton speak. He was a Seventy and was the Area Administrator (a predecessor to area presidents) for the area that included our mission. He taught a valuable principle for scripture study: the most important lessons are repeated in the scriptures. It’s more reliable, he taught us, to focus on doctrine that is found in multiple passages than in one half of one obscure verse. The most important truths are taught regularly.
4. I believe that we can often receive counsel specific to our situation and our circumstance in conference. The revelation that comes through the Holy Ghost may or may not be directly related to the message we’re hearing. President Eyring visited our stake and talked about this once. He said he’s learned not to disagree with someone who thanks him for speaking on a specific subject that the listener needed to hear, even if he did not specifically address that topic. He said he’s learned that sometimes the spirit will augment what he says so that a listener may get the message he or she needs. Similarly, I’ve noticed for myself that some messages in conference bear more weight based on my needs or questions at a particular time.
1. Apparently when Elder Nelson made this particular comment it didn’t strike me enough to make an impression – at least not the impression that I shouldn’t have a beard. Many conference messages do strike me, by the way. I take notes in conference and I note specifically messages of importance to me.
2. It seems a no-beard reading of Elder Nelson’s comment has not been corroborated specifically in other conference addresses. I’ve heard no one else speak in those terms in other conference addresses, in other leadership meetings, or even in our post conference discussions of Elder Nelson’s talk.
3. I do not like the notion that whether I wear a beard or a white shirt (or whether a sister wears a particular style of dress) is a tacit indicator of my righteousness. And I don’t think Elder Nelson would be happy with that idea, either. (Elder Nelson has given plenty of talks suggesting that all of God’s children can qualify for his blessings, and plenty of the Brethren have reminded us that we should be accepting of diversity among us, encouraging all to come unto Christ.) I do my best to honor my covenants and to keep the commandments. I frankly wouldn’t enjoy looking at my fellow saints and wondering why they do or don’t shave or wear the same clothing as I do or have some number of piercings or tattoos. That said, I completely agree that we ought to dress and groom carefully for church to honor God (not to show off – remember those nasty Zoramites?).
As for me and my beard, what will I do? I don’t know. Probably nothing for now. But I’ll keep thinking about it. And you can bet if my wife or my bishop or my stake president asks me to shave it, I will.
PS: As I did some research for this post, I found a number of commenters on other related posts who claimed that President Hinckley taught "some years ago" that all priesthood holders should be clean shaven. If someone can provide me an accurate reference for that quote, maybe I'll provide a prize!