A Big Thing?

Jim’s post “A Small Thing” and the comments it elicited reminded me that good Mormons not only can’t have beards, they can’t have tattoos either!

When President Hinckley announced the earring and tattoo prohibitions during the general Relief Society broadcast several years ago I was at my local church building sitting between the two women I visit taught. On my right was a brand new member—a beautiful and brilliant African American post-doc. I sat with her through the missionary lessons and had participated actively in the journey that led her to join the Church. On my left was a woman who had been inactive for many years and was married to a non-member. She was new mommy searching for some direction in her life. The Relief Society broadcast was the first time she’d been back to Church. I had promised her that if she came she would feel the Spirit. That night, I sat between these two women, whom I loved, and tried not to grimace as the prophet condemned tattooing and double earrings. Both of these women had multiple tattoos and body piercings and were made terribly uncomfortable by this talk. Although I have never pierced my ears and do not have any tattoos, I felt their deep discomfort as though it were my own.

This could have been the moment for me to say something profound about prophetic revelation or about responding in humble obedience, but I was blind sighted and angered by this talk, for my sisters’ sake. It would not put too strong a point on it to say that I was ashamed. As President Hinckley indicated in his talk, his remarks, which were directed explicitly to the mothers, were inspired by a Rave party that had been recently held in downtown Salt Lake City. His words couldn’t have seemed more provincial or less relevant to my little circle of sisters sitting in New Haven.

After bearing strong testimony repeatedly to these women for many months about the restoration of the Gospel, about the glorious blessing it was to have a prophet among us, about the spiritual strength and support they would find in and through the Church, even working successfully through one sister’s concerns about the priesthood ban, I sat there after this meeting in bewildered silence. How could I explain to these dear friends that earrings and tatoos were not what the Gospel was really about? How could I tell them that being members of the Mormon Church would bless their lives, that here they would feel the love of the Lord and be accepted for who they are? Perhaps I should have. But as I looked into their pained faces, I couldn’t say a thing. I hugged them both and drove them home. I wept bitterly that night, wishing that things like white shirts and earrings could somehow be irrelevant. I was angry at what seemed to me to be the illogic of the prohibition. How could a distinction be made between one earring and two? If one earring is allowed why is two a desecration of the temple of the body? It troubled me that counsel, which seemed so arbitrary and culturally conditioned could potentially lead women who needed the blessing of the Gospel away from the Church.

Keith and Jed have both have called the clean-shaved expectation, which I think is parallel to the single-earring-only expectation, an issue of “consecration.” In his original post, Jim framed this issue as one of obedience (doing what he was asked to do) and didn’t use the language of consecration. So, I’m brought to my question. Is it helpful to think of these sorts of issues in terms of “consecration.” Is obedience the same thing as consecration? If not, what is the difference? Is it a difference of substance or just degree? Does it have to do with personal initiative? If obedience is doing what is asked, is consecration going beyond what is asked? Since we believe that we are asked to consecrate, and even that it is required of us by our covenants, then consecration cannot be defined as going beyond obedience since consecration is already a law we must obey. To the extent that we think of consecration as a “higher” law, might there be different requirements for different members of the Church? If so, what relevance, if any does this doctrine have for issues like beards and earrings?

65 comments for “A Big Thing?

  1. April 1, 2005 at 10:30 am

    Melissa, so what was their ultimate response? Did they continue active?

  2. Sheri Lynn
    April 1, 2005 at 10:32 am

    I don’t know what an investigator can do if he or she already has tattoos and earrings. It’s sure easier not to get something like that in the first place than to get them undone.

    One young friend of mine (only 15) plans to get her tongue pierced. She thinks of herself as pagan. I’m afraid that most of the Christians she has known in her life have been pretty poor examples. She often expresses surprise that I accept her the way she is and don’t try to change her. If she knew how hard it is on this piercing issue…!

    I know if she gets her tongue pierced it’s one more big step on the crooked road AWAY from salvation. She is rebelling against her (horrible, technically “Christian”) father, but in doing so, she unknowingly rebels against her Heavenly Father as well. On some level she must know this. I am proud to be her friend; she is generous, kind, and remarkably well-spoken for her age. She knows what this thing she is going to do to herself “means” culturally. I think deep down the only real reason she is going to do it is to make her father crazy.

    I know if she ever reads the Book of Mormon and gets a testimony, though, the tongue piercing will come out and it’ll close up and that’ll be that. If she goes further into body modification, however, she’d be treated badly if she investigated. Anyone “different” may be excluded from the Relief Society’s acceptance, most places.

  3. danithew
    April 1, 2005 at 10:43 am

    Sharing the gospel is often a very awkward business. I’ve been pondering that fact a lot lately.

    For one thing, it involves sharing something with people that they might not be wholly interested in. Or maybe they are not interested at all.

    Sharing the gospel is also awkward because it often involves telling people they need to change or that something they have done is incorrect, wrong, etc.

    And there are other reasons sharing the gospel is awkward too. I once tried to share general conference talks with a friend in her car. This was back when I was in high school. The first talk we started to listen to was of a woman who had a very difficult voice to listen to. I can’t exactly remember if it was shrill or squeaky or just odd sounding. Regardless, my friend’s reaction was to turn it off almost immediately.

    I can understand why you felt the way you did. I would have felt the same way if I was in the position you described. For your friends, maybe that wasn’t the right message at the right time. But for many others it might have been a crucial message.

    I doubt that President Hinckley really wanted to give a talk about tattoos and piercings. That he needs to do so is more of an indictment of the Saints than it is of him. No doubt he’d like to be speaking to us about much loftier topics. He has had to speak with brutal frankness about pornography recently as well. Again, I’m sure these are among his least favorite topics.

  4. Frank McIntyre
    April 1, 2005 at 10:50 am

    There is always such a cost to having a single set of rules across people. Inevitably it bears heavily or even unfairly on some people who feel condemned or ostracized. So I imagine God weighs very carefully these costs when considering what rules to give us and which ones are worth these costs to members on the fringe. Apparently this rule passed the test, but it would be nice if there were some way to make it easier for the innocent bystanders. It would be nice if people were good enough that we didn’t even need these rules.

    2 examples: The Word of WIsdom explicitly sets itself up as being mindful of the needs of the weakest of the Saints. And Jacob explicitly discusses how it pains him to spiritually wound those who are innocent because he is called to reprimand the wicked.

    P.S. You’ll be happy to know that the Church didn’t arbitrarily condone one set of earrings. They declined to take a position. Which may have a lot to do with sensitivity to the weakness of the Saints.

  5. Wilfried
    April 1, 2005 at 10:55 am

    Very touching post and very understandable problem, Melissa. It seems Pres. Hinckley addressed the matter in the first place as a specific issue for our young (Western) people, attracted to certain lifestyles, and thus to a certain extent culturally bound. I wonder how his talk would have come over among certain Indian or African cultures. The boundaries of cultural traditions do present new challenges for the (internationally) expanding church. I’m confident Church guidelines will also adapt, in due time, to these challenges. The worth of souls requires it.

  6. Elisabeth
    April 1, 2005 at 11:14 am

    danithew- your posts are always spot on. Thanks.

    But me wearing my cynical observer hat, I think that a focus on the social customs of beards, tattoos, and earrings unfortunately detracts from true message of the gospel.

  7. Pris
    April 1, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Sheri Lynn said: ” If she goes further into body modification, however, she’d be treated badly if she investigated.”

    Fortunately, I can say that, as an investigator, I was never treated badly despite my (relatively extreme) body modifications.

  8. Ben S.
    April 1, 2005 at 11:26 am

    I confess to being a little schizophrenic on these issues. On the one hand, for example, I’ve enjoyed the goatee I’ve grown twice (and shaved for Institute and BYU), I like blue shirts, and I’m certainly not a rave-attending counter-culture (or pop-culture-embracing?) member. But, I also believe that the prophets are completely within the limits of their calling when they say things like this.

    Few scholars disagree with the idea that some (many?) of the prohibitions in the Old Testament that seem arbitrary, silly, or without “spiritual” meaning were meant to set Israel apart from its neighbors culturally, to make them distinct in a clear way. Some of those commandments may have seemed quite silly to the Israelites, and yet it was part and parcel of the message of the prophets.

    I am sometimes reminded of the complaint made against the prophets by Israelites in Isaiah’s day, who wanted the prophets to “Prophesy unto us easy things.” (Isa. 30:9-10)

  9. Frank McIntyre
    April 1, 2005 at 11:26 am

    Pris, are you a cyborg? That would be really cool. It would also explain why no one would treat you badly.

  10. Pris
    April 1, 2005 at 11:34 am

    Frank: Not yet, but maybe someday; as of now, they’re more natural. Ha! Maybe that is why the didn’t treat me badly–they were scared of me…

  11. danithew
    April 1, 2005 at 11:49 am

    Ben S. wrote:

    Few scholars disagree with the idea that some (many?) of the prohibitions in the Old Testament that seem arbitrary, silly, or without “spiritual” meaning were meant to set Israel apart from its neighbors culturally, to make them distinct in a clear way. Some of those commandments may have seemed quite silly to the Israelites, and yet it was part and parcel of the message of the prophets.

    This reminded me that the prohibition against tattooing is among those “prohibitions in the Old Testament”:

    Leviticus 19:29
    Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.

  12. April 1, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    Oddly this talk caused an immediate change to the BYU honor code for piercings but not for tattoos. While I admit that it is easier to remove one than the other, I wonder if the athletic department was consulted?

  13. Todd Lundell
    April 1, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    I was sitting between two young, black teenage boys who grew up in the projects of New York City and were on the fringes of the church when the message regarding men and earings was given. Both had their ears pierced. As did I, though I had only worn it on occasion over the previous year.

    I had no problem letting the hole in my ear grow in. And I believe the prophet can speak regarding anything the Lord wants to share with us. That is his role. But I still have a hard time believing that the Lord really cared whether the two boys I was with had their ears pierced.

    At the next general conference, I remember a speaker (I don’t remember who) told the story of his daughter who took her second set of earings out after the prophet spoke. I am probably getting the details wrong, but he said something to the effect of: I don’t know whether her earings would have affected her salvation, but I do know that her willingness to follow the prophet will. I thought that was a powerful message and shared it with them, but I am not sure the got it.

    As the Church grows and becomes less culturally bounded, maybe “general” conference will be recognized as a place to make universal doctrinal statements and not correct local problems. Perhaps not. The prophet can’t speak personally in every locale and, unfortunately, must speak against the greatest local problems when he gets the opportunity.

  14. Paul Huff
    April 1, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    From Elder Oaks, in 1971:
    The rule against beards and long hair for men stands on a different footing. I am weary of having young people tell me how most of our Church leaders in earlier times wore beards and long hair, which shows that these are not inherently evil. Others argue that beards cannot be evil because they see bearded men enjoying the privileges of the temple. To me, this proposition seems so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future. But the rules are with us now, and it is therefore important to understand the reasoning behind them.

    There is nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood. Either of these articles may reduce a person’s effectiveness and promote misunderstanding because of what people may reasonably conclude when they view them in proximity to what these articles stand for in our society today.

    In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, 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. In addition, unkemptness—which is often (though not always) associated with beards and long hair—is a mark of indifference toward the best in life. As Elder Sterling W. Sill has observed:

    “A let-down in personal appearance has far more than physical significance, for when ugliness gets its roots into one part of our lives it may soon spread to every other part.” (The Quest for Excellence, Bookcraft, p. 38.)

    I’ve found this portion of his talk reproduced in the New Era insightful as regarding the “Beard Rule.” I considered many times trying to start a grass roots campaign at BYU to have the beard rule lifted based on his somewhat “prophetic” insight that the rule would one day most likely change. Clearly the cultural connotation of the beard has changed, and therefore so should the beard. 3 out of the 5 people who regularly teach elders’ quorum in my ward have very modest beards. The beard is coming out of its “hippie” age (being young, and not having a whole lot of experience, I imagine you could make the argument that it hasn’t been a “hippie” symbol for quite some time now, but that’s another argument for another time which would require a lot of historical research…). The counter-culture symbolism of the beard in the 60s certainly can be seen in the body-piercings of the 90s. At the same time, you can still enter the temple with more than one piercing, in any part of your body. You can still enter the temple with a tatoo. I suppose doing so would further emphasize one’s desire to be counter-culture… :) At any rate, it’s the whole “appearance of evil” thing, I gather, at it’s core. I can understand it, but I completely agree that being radical about it has more potential to be damaging than helpful.

  15. Paul Huff
    April 1, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Dang. I hate those smileys. I was trying for a : ). That’s embarassing.

  16. Julie in Austin
    April 1, 2005 at 12:29 pm


    Great post. Re your list of questions at the end: I’d like to add one more possibility. While ‘the earring rule’ might be a test of obedience for some, a test of consecration for others, etc., etc., I wonder if one of its functions is to test the Saints to see how they will react to people who *aren’t* following the counsel. In other words, do we smirk at the YM who shows up the next week to sacrament meeting with an earring on and start making assumptions about him? The same could be said for beards, WoW, etc.

  17. Keith
    April 1, 2005 at 12:34 pm


    For the record, Jim did tie his whole experience to consecration: “But in that small thing I learned about consecration existentially” (plus at least one of his subequent responses seems to do so).

    I’ll comment on the post later.

  18. Hans Hansen
    April 1, 2005 at 12:36 pm

    And you can still enter the temple with a beard. I’ve been wearing mine for the past 32 years!

  19. Jed
    April 1, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Melissa: “In his original post, Jim framed this issue as one of obedience (doing what he was asked to do) and didn’t use the language of consecration.”

    Actually, Jim F. did use the language of consecration (“But in that small thing I learned about consecration existentially…”), which is why I used it. I initially I thought of his post as you did, Melissa, namely, as a post about conscience v. obedience, but re-reading Jim F.’s post I found he used the word consecration.

    I think your question about consecration and obedience is a good one, but have no answer. I’ll have to think about it.

  20. Jed
    April 1, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Ah hah, I see Julie already made the point at #17.

  21. Jed
    April 1, 2005 at 12:41 pm

    Keith (#17) not Julie made the point, I see. The Chicago traffic has made my head spin.

  22. MDS
    April 1, 2005 at 12:45 pm

    Julie, I really like that point. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, said a wise man. My fat tummy does not speak well of my efforts to treat my body as a temple, and I would find myself fairly hypocritical for going after someone who had a piercing or a tattoo. I worry that in our rush to judgment we chase more people out the back door than the missionaries bring in the front.

    We have a responsibility to fulfill D&C 121 as a people, not just as individuals. To the extent that President Hinckley or the other prophets sometimes reprove when moved upon by the spirit, we need to be the ones showing forth an increase of love to the individuals in our midst who may be most reproved.

    I think it is also important to keep things in perspective. People with tattoos and modest piercings can still take the sacrament and attend the temple, as far as I know. My little bro. was endowed with a tattoo and a pierced tongue, and left on his mission shortly thereafter. I had a mission companion with a pierced tongue.

  23. Brian Jeffries
    April 1, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    Melissa, great post. Todd raises a question that is at the heart of this matter, and I wonder if I’m all to often guilty of trying to discern when the prophet is speaking as a prophet or as a man. Joseph Smith made a famous statement to that effect, but am I straining at gnats when trying to discern this for myself? I have a goatee, and also a fairly close shaved head. It’s not particularly attractive to some, but I really like it. I shave my head because I’m going bald, but to many, that’s an extreme look, possibly more so than having any kind of facial hair. What would Elder Oaks say to that if it were an issue raised by Pres. Hinckley in a Quorum meeting? It’s a much greater step for many to take than experimenting with a beard and moustache, which many men are inclined to do. How about frosted tips on a spiky ‘do? What about wearing funky ties to church, or ratty khakis with sneakers while passing the sacrament? I’ve seen all of these, but heard relatively few comments. It seems to me that the Brethren try to straddle the line between requiring an out and out uniform for the laiety and complete license. We know the General Authorities have a strict dress code. I’ve never seen one of them wearing white shirts with button down collars, or even three button suits, for that matter, tho I’ve always liked President Faust’s ties.

    I do have a difficult time following the Prophet on an issue that to me, rationally, has very little significance. People point out the odd things the Hebrews were commanded to do, but from what I have learned about the Hebrews, the Torah was written while the Hebrews were in the midst of an Egyptian culture that worshiped death — many of the proscriptions place on the covenant people were symbolic of the Lord’s insistence that the Hebrews create a culture of life. And it seems that in the cultural context of the Hebrews, those symbols may have been obvious. I see the relevance to Elder Oaks’ 1971 statement, but to be completely inclusive, why take the risk that one might be alienating the investigators Melissa and Todd speak of? One hopes that the Spirit would whisper, as one matures spritually, that it is time to leave these fashion ‘accessories’ behind. Until then, recommendations may be warranted, but imposing outward signs meant to display inward righteousness often sits uncomfortably with me. One also hopes that the Spirit would find intercession in such a way that the truths of the gospel and their ability to be comfortable within it’s practices and culture would be manifest, even if they are not yet quite up on “LDS fashion.” How to be inclusive but have standards? If we are to be in the world but not of, how much do we allow the world to set standards, many superficial, by which we much rail against? Shouldn’t we not be true to our core values and wage that war, and allow some of the vain things of the world to remain vain and therefore somewhat innocuous?

    But as a great example, my father shaved his mustache because he was asked to do so some time ago because he is a member of the bishopric, and the Stake President mandates that all serving in administrative positions must be worthy to officiate at the temple, and the LA temple bars facial hair of any kind. (This, at the time, was unique to the LA Temple. It may still be.) I, in my 31 years of life, had never seen him without it. That’s because he had never shaved it. He is a great example of obedience to me, but not necessarily of consecration. He was doing what he was asked to do. I’ve always thought of consecration as going above and beyond the call of duty, or in other words, doing more than is asked or expected. It may be expected that I shave my goatee, but I’ve never been asked. Would that make much of a difference in my spiritual life? Having gone with and without it, I can’t say I’ve noticed any difference, but I have much bigger fish to fry, if you will. In this case, consecrating my shaved head and goatee (and blue and striped shirts, for that matter) would feel like a large sacrifice, but not for the right reasons. And I’m afraid that the spiritual energy it would take might cause me to ignore or rationalize less effort in other areas which are much more pressing to my salvation and current well being.

  24. Rosalynde Welch
    April 1, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    I wonder whether we freight the issue with too much moral weight when we talk about it in terms of obedience and consecration–and whether this extra moral weight leads to judgmental attitudes toward others. After all, if I see my removal of earrings as an act of obedience or consecration, then I would, in fact, have legitimate basis to think that others who don’t remove the earrings are less or obedient or less willing to consecrate.

    As I wrote in Jim’s post, when I removed my earrings it did not represent any really significant moral choice. I saw it primarily as an act of cooperation with President Hinckley’s preferences. I’ve held leadership callings before, and I know how discouraging it can be when the people with whom I work don’t cooperate with my efforts; I didn’t want to be part of a problem I’d been on the other end of.

    I also have no doubt that this is a generational matter, and that this regulation, like many before, will fade when the time is right.

  25. April 1, 2005 at 1:16 pm

    This comment on an earlier thread represents why I think specific rules can be useful and important, and should not automatically be dismissed. But the impact of a case like this raises the question of when such rules have “taken strength unto themselves”, a valuable warning from the parable of Jacob 5.

  26. Jim F.
    April 1, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    To consecrate something is to dedicate it to God, so I don’t think it makes sense to understand consecration in terms of “going above and beyond the call of duty.” If I’ve covenanted to consecrate my life, then it is my duty to do so.

    Was my post about obedience or consecration? I’m not sure because it isn’t easy to tease out the difference between them. The conceptual distinction is fairly clear, but it is hard for me to see how, as a member of the Church, the latter doesn’t require, in general, the former, making them difficult to distinguish existentially. I thought that I was writing about an experience in which I learned something about consecration rather than obedience.

    But, as I said in my post, I’m more than reluctant to draw general principles from my experience or to suggest how others ought to behave in what seem to be similar circumstances. As Melissa points out, these are not easy issues to deal with, and sometimes they can be very big issues, especially for someone new to the faith or weak in it. We should be sensitive to those issues on behalf of others even when they do not matter to us. To reiterate, that my experience helped me understand better the covenant I made to dedicate my existence to God doesn’t say anything about how we ought to deal with beards, shaved heads, tattoos, or multiple ear rings.

    For the record, I personally wish we didn’t put so much value on appearance while, at the same time, I recognize the value of asking us to be a distinctive people, even in the way we look. I’m double-minded and, so, unstable in all my ways.

  27. Jim F.
    April 1, 2005 at 1:46 pm

    Christian Cardall posted (#25) while I was writing, so I will follow up my last post with another: I think the point he made about rules being a consequence of ethical relation rather than its origin is absolutely accurate: we cannot have full relations to one another unless we have rules that govern those relations. (The argument for this is Emmanuel Levinas’s–see Totality and Infinity as well as some of his essays on law and economy.) If the rules, however, are required by relation rather than constitutive of it, then there is a huge amount of variability in the possible rules, and, as Christian also points out, the rules can come to take the place of the relation or seem to be its origin. Indeed, rules can function in the right way for some at the same time that they function in the wrong way for others. That is an additional reason for thinking that we cannot simply generalize from cases of rule-keeping or rule-disobeying.

    This also means that our discussion of rules can be dicey, for that discussion can make the same mistake, taking rule-keeping to be constitutive of our relation rather than necessary to it.

  28. April 1, 2005 at 2:43 pm

    Jim’s point about the indistinguishability of obedience and consecration brings to mind familiar sacred ideas. Obedience, the ‘first law of heaven’, is intimately associated with sacrifice. We usually think of consecration as the `last law’, the one we can’t quite keep yet. Because the etymology of sacrifice and consecrate seem to lead to the same definition Jim gave for “consecrate” in #26 (sacr- being holy or sacred, -fice coming from some Latin meaning “to make”), I have long puzzled over what the distinction is between sacrifice and consecration. We are explicitly told that the latter is to be considered “in connection” with the former; but the serendipitous (or perhaps not) juxtaposition of obedience and consecration in Jim’s comment suggests a long-awaited possible solution. I may have had the wrong topology in mind: Perhaps it is not so much a linear sequence of laws from first to last, but a perfect circle.

    Incidentally, if that comment Jim referred to was useful it’s surely derivative of what Jim was able to teach me about Levinas and postmodernism in the single hour of guest lecture I was privileged to hear from him.

  29. Kevin Barney
    April 1, 2005 at 4:41 pm

    The year that pronouncement came out my wife happened to be the camp director of our stake’s girl’s camp. One of the girls came to camp with a freshly pierced bar through one of her eyebrows. There was nothing in the camp rules and materials that had been sent home about tats or piercing, but the stake had made it a rule in the interim not to allow them at the camp.

    This girl didn’t want to take it out, because she had just had it done and it would close up. So my wife took her to a tattoo place in the neighboring town and bought her a clear bar to hold the piercing for the week. It cost $30, and since she was the director she absorbed it in the camp budget. My wife also wears multiple earrings in each ear, so she took them out. She tells me it is not a problem when she goes to the temple, but people just get antsy about it in the context of working with the youth.

    I didn’t really have a point, I just wanted to share my wife’s story. This actually happens a lot, where something happens locally in Utah and the GAs then comment on it obliquely in General Conference, and those of us in the rest of the world are left scratching our heads wondering where *that* came from.

  30. Bryan Robert
    April 1, 2005 at 5:13 pm

    Sorry to hear about your situation. It is hard for us to understand the will of God sometimes, because we can only see things from so many angels, where God, and sometimes the Prophet, can see them from all sides. I dont agree with anyone that says that it is not a big deal, or not a problem though. I also seriously doubt that the Church will start to say that it is ok to start wearing tatoos,piercings etc etc….if anything as time progresses I think they will become more strict.

    I am from Louisiana. I just moved to Utah a couple of months ago. Im 29 years old, and actually went to UVSC for a year about 11 years ago. Louisiana and Utah could not be more different. The most obvious is of course members of the Church. Where I am from, there over 200,000 people and only 1 ward. Not very many members. Our culture has 1 major driving force, and that is alcohol ,drugs, and parties. It sounds like 3, but I assure you, that they all go hand and hand. Everyone drinks, all the time, it is just the way things are down there. Drugs are getting worse, so bad that they are just the norm now. On the radio they make references to using Ecstacy in order to promote thier clubs. The party is going to be “rolling” all nite. Come down here and get your “roll” on. On and on, “rolling” is a slang term for taking Ecstacy. They even have “alcohol free” dance clubs, they stay open all nite. Because these clubs do not allow alcohol, they can stay open as long as they want. They can also let in minors, in fact alot of these are promoted as teen clubs. In reality these are dance clubs or mini raves where everyone in taking drugs. It is not strange for kids 11 on up to be there taking Ecstacy and other drugs. As bad and im making it sound its far far far worse.

    Now look at Utah when I lived in Provo before, there was no club that sold alcohol. That drug and party culture was not here, the way it is now. I can see it here now, as plainly as I can see the mountains. I can tell you that the people getting caught up in this start off because of rebellion. In Louisiana, you cannot always tell who is doing drugs on the weekend and who is not. Pretty much assume most do. It has become the accepted norm. Do people have piercings and tatoos, of course. Those most heavily into it more often do. As bad as it is there however, Ive never seen as many people with piercings facial mostly as ive seen since ive been here. There are also bars in Provo, and the majorty of people that have the tatoos and piercings are going to those places, or are going to clubs in SaltLake.

    The people that are doing this in Utah are doing it because they are trying to rebell against the accepted “Mormon” culture.” Hey look at me im not like these clean cut mormons, im different.” “Im not conforming to society, im my own person doing my own thing.” What they dont realize is that they are being tricked by the devil, and are actually following society. Their non conformity is actually making them the same. The same as the people in Lousiana, or any other place in the world for that matter. People need to wake up and see what is really going on in the world.

    Now am I saying that because you get a piercing in your tounge, or 2 piercings in your ears that you are now going to take drugs, and fall away? No. I myself wear a goetee. Other than that im pretty clean cut, and I like the way it looks. Its the extreme looks that are the first step down that road. If you dress like a raver. Get tatoos, tongue rings, guys getting earings ,lip piercings, many earings, dress the part etc etc, you are most likly going to go down that road. It is just the way things are.

    The battle lines are drawn. The reality of things is that there is a war going on, for everyones soul. Satan will do anything and everything in his power to make you stray from the path. If you are down, he wants to bring you lower, if you are getting lost he wants you completely lost. If you are strong, he jst wants to weaken you a little. If he can get you to question things, lose faith, or have doubts, he will do that. If he can get you to dress the part, then most likely he will eventually convince you to act the part. If you dont believe that then go to a bar,club,look around on a friday nite, in any city in any place in the entire world.

    The Church does not conform to the rest of the world. It wants to lead by example, it wants to be seen as different. It wants its members to be reconized, as clean cut, moral people. As members of the Church we are held much more accountable , not only to God, but to society. People are always watching us. When the missionairies knock on a persons door, and that peoson makes a decision to let them in or not, how many people let them in because they remember so and so, that always was different. They knew a member that wasnt like everyone else, they were happy and didnt need to dress like everyone, or party and do drugs to have fun. Or would it be better if they remember the friend who was a member, that was tatooed, with face piercings, tongue rings, and spiked frosted hair? There is nothing different about them then, they are just like everyone else.Its not to say that that person was not moral because they dressed like that, but perception is reality. The perception is, their church is not true..just look at so and so. Those Mormons are nothing special, look how so and so dresses. It would be the same if you hung out in bars and did not drink. You are acting the part, and looking the part. Most people are not going to take the time to find out if you are drinking or taking drugs or not. They will just assume you are.

    Things are bad and getting worse. What is really bad is that things that seemed wrong just a few years ago, now seem ok and acceptable. The greatest trick the devil has it to make things seem normal and acceptable. Anyone remember Threes Company? The whole show was based on the premise that it was not acceptable for non married people to live together. Homsexuality, pornography,pre-marital sex,drugs, etc etc..these things are no longer taboo, they are glorified and accepted. You can turn on reality TV and see real couples cheating on committing adultry, taking drugs, pre=marital sex etc etc. Showing everyone that hey…this is acceptable, its the way things are.

    If the Prophet came out and said it there is a reason. We are in the last days, and things are getting worse. We as members need to lead by example. Planting seeds with everyone we meet. Do you think the Prophet said what he said just to hear himself speak? With all the problems in the world? Your kidding yourself. Read in the Book of Mormon, i says that in the last days, very few people will not wear very fine clothes. And that they will be more concerned with this and their apperance than with the kingdom of heaven. Well, im just as guilty as anyone for that. If you look around though everyone wants to wear fine clothes, and dress to impress. I think the tatoos and piercings falls right into this category.

    I know im going on so I’ll end with this. The Prophet said that the youth today are living with 1 hand on the temple and 1 hand on the world. You cannot server 2 masters. If they understood how in peril they really were they would put 2 hands on the temple and hold on for dear life.( not exact quote) He also said when the second comming comes, alot of members are going to be suprised that they are not making it to the highest level of exaltation. Bottem line is that, nothing else in this world matters except our probation. This world and the things in it really do not matter. All that matters is doing what we have to do to gain eternal life. If the prophet says dont get tatoos, or face piercings etc, and you do it anyway, because you feel that he obvisiously is not referring to you, then you need to do some serious soul searching to see where your belief in this church is.

    I hope this does not sound too preachy, but since ive been reading this forum I am simply amazed at the remarks from members that believe they know more than the Prophet, or God it seems for that matter. This topic really hit home, because I have been in that party culture. I was inactive for many years, and have seen first hand what it is about and how much it has grown. Now comming to see it in Utah and how its grown is mind boggiling. Then to hear people say, I can wear my piercings and tatoos, and go against the Prophet because its just who I am, makes me sad for them.Im as far from perfect as you can get, but im trying to be valiant and do what is right. I did not realize the Prophet said to you cant wear a goetee, but if I found out he did, I would cut it off tommorrow. Why? Because it does not matter as much to me as being valiant and keeping both hands on the temple.

  31. Jim F.
    April 1, 2005 at 6:43 pm

    Bryan Robert: As you guessed, you do come off as too preachy. The problem is that you infer people’s motives based on what they have posted. For example, you say that you have heard people say that they can wear their peircings and tatoos and go against the prophet because it is just who they are. Perhaps you’ve heard people say that some place, but this isn’t one of them, at least not so far. You explicitly say that those commenting here think that they know more than the prophet. But no one on this thread as advocated going against the prophet or claimed to know more than he, so when you write a long post telling them how awful the world is (which I’m sure most of them have also experienced–all of us on this site are adults; most of us live outside Utah County) and implicitly accusing them of not following the prophet, you should expect that they will take you to be condescending and preachy.

    I suspect that you did not intend to come off that way. Your motives seem to be to encourage others to live righteous lives, a good thing. The problem is that you seemed to have made assumptions about what they were saying, though those assumptions aren’t borne out by what they actually said. Giving a more charitable reading to what others have written will help you understand better how to say what you wish to say without coming off as you did.

    (By the way, I’ve lived in Provo since 1965, with three years off for a mission and three years off for graduate school. There have been bars here since at least that time. Unfortunately, they aren’t new to Provo.)

  32. Bryan Robert
    April 1, 2005 at 9:14 pm

    I re-read my post and I do see that it seems somewhat preachy. I was not only referring to this thread, but many others that seem to question, or outwright dismiss what the Prophet says.”I do have a difficult time following the Prophet on an issue that to me, rationally, has very little significance. “But me wearing my cynical observer hat, I think that a focus on the social customs of beards, tattoos, and earrings unfortunately detracts from true message of the gospel. ” Those are just 2 quotes, and their are some other allusions to it.

    I guess saying that people were outwright saying they were not listening to the Prophet was a little harsh. I was more trying to point out that people seemed to say more that it was not a big deal. They are looking at it only from their experience, and the Prophet would not have made a big deal about it if it was not important.

    Also I have to disagree with you about people knowing how bad it is. If you went to any parent in Louisiana, or anywhere for that matter and told them that their 13 year old straight A, little angel was doing Ecstacy every weekend, or that most likely many of her friends were, I think they would laugh at you. Being older may give you wisdom in some things, but keeps you in the dark about many others. Not to say that everyone is in the dark, but your kidding yourself if you think the majority here are not when it comes to that subject.

    As far as bars in Provo, let me clarify that. There may have been hole in the wall bars here, but not club/bars. When I lived here, there was only really 1 club that you could go to do dance, and that was The Edge. They did not serve alcohol. If you wanted to drink , dance and party, you had to go to Salt Lake. Now on the strip there are multiple club/bars that cater to the party/rave/girls gone wild culture that is sweeping the world. These all now serve alcohol.

    I know this forum is to discuss, play devils advocate etc when it comes to LDS topics. I definitly did not want to offend anyone. However, this topic kinda hit a nerve, because I have seen first hand that how you dress is usually who you become. That can be said about tatoos and facial piercings, to very immodest clothing. You are projecting an image, and often become what you have projected yourself to be. I can absolutelty accept people disagreeing with what im writing. Just like every other post here, its just my opinion. :}

  33. Sheri Lynn
    April 1, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    I hope this won’t seem off-topic. I don’t think it is. Bear with me. I’m watching what is happening at the Vatican with the death of Pope John Paul II. The outward show of faith is a powerful thing…here stand thousands of people all holding up candles, unified for a moment in their deep love for a person whom they revere, who is suffering and dying….and we know that in the days to come, there will be even more ceremony and a show of pricy glitz Vegas couldn’t rival. I don’t mean to put it down and I hope it doesn’t seem that I am. It’s just so different from how we handle things that it is stunning to me.

    Watch what happens in the coming days, if this man does indeed pass away as they expectl, and let yourself wonder occasionally about how this funeral, this selection process of the next pope, compares to what our leaders did when President Benson, President Hunter, passed on their keys to their successors. If our Church were as wealthy and large as the Catholic Church, would we be given to memorable shows like this one will be?

    I think not. We show our reverence for our buildings and our leaders more quietly. Our Prophet has nothing like a Popemobile, as far as I know. There are no gaudy trappings for our leaders to wear, just modest suits not noticeably different from that which any other member might wear on a Sunday. The Prophet wouldn’t stand out in a crowd if you weren’t looking for him. The hair cuts and the necessity of covering our garments with our outer clothing make of us one people, just as much as holding up candles for a dying pope help make the Catholics feel united. The no-piercings, no tattoing thing is an extension of all that makes of us peculiar people, set apart from the world.

  34. pd mallamo
    April 2, 2005 at 12:00 am

    On the other hand, Sheri Lynn, Mormons have a great deal in common with the Catholic Church – an authoritarian, hierarchical, patriarchal, rather secretive leadership for one -and, no, that’s not a put-down, either, just a comment on structure – unfortunately a structure that’s caused severe problems for the Catholic Church. ( Are we also at risk?) The early Saints were certainly not immune to displays of pagentry, especially in Nauvoo. We share with Catholics many of the same seminal/originative impulses and tendencies and make some of the same claims. And who knows, by the time we’re as old and as big as the Catholic Church, we may have the equivalent of the Popemobile. I can’t imagine what we’d call it but I know somebody out there can fill that in.

    Melissa, your post was courageous. Few of us would be as publicly honest and forthright as you were

  35. Brian Jeffries
    April 2, 2005 at 2:26 am

    Jim, I can see how my comments about consecration going above and beyond wouldn’t make sense in the context of covenants. Given that God requires a ‘broken heart and a contrite spirit,” it seems that anything that is asked can be either obedience or consecration, depending on the attitude of the one who humbles himself and gives his offering to God. Sometimes we obey grudglingly, sometimes we obey faithfully, and the hope is that we will someday obey because our nature is changed, changed to the extent that it no longer feels like obedience. Having said all of that, consecrating, as Melissa said, has always seemed to me to be a higher law. Strangely, I’ve realized that I’ve always seen consecration from an economic standpoint, so I suppose part of my initial reaction has to do with contributing more than the expected financial amount. But in the higher law context, I’ve always seen consecration as something I can do or not do, something that is very personal, something that comes with much fasting and prayer and introspection. True, I have convenanted to consecrate, which would make my consecration mere obedience, but this misses what I view as the heart of consecration: a sacrifice of my will, something that maybe only I can sacrifice, something I haven’t been specifically asked to do, or it could be something I’ve been asked to do but have struggled mightily to do. But further, I wonder if consecration isn’t something I would do with no expectation of blessings, only what can i give to the Lord, as opposed to obedience, which commonly creates some sort of expectation. I know I’m not expressing myself very well, but I don’t think we’re in any disagreement, Jim. Having said that, I’m not sure I’ve made any more sense!

  36. April 2, 2005 at 9:10 am

    Brain at #23 – The DC Temple just received a letter from Salt Lake this week stating that temple workers and volunteers are not to have any facial hair at all. I suppose it’s safe to say that it’s a churchwide policy now.

    And, thanks Paul at #14 for the helpful Elder Oaks quote.

  37. Sheri Lynn
    April 2, 2005 at 12:18 pm

    We’ve been broke enough that the cost of razors was significant to us, and my husband grew a beard at those times just to save money. I hope that this is not a heavy burden for some Saints.

    I suppose this rule applies to sisters, too. Middle age has some unexpected burdens. That’s all I’ll say about that.

  38. Seth Rogers
    April 2, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    As far as I’m concerned, nobody should be making a big deal about this.

    Church members who conform to the prophet’s instructions on piercings and tatoos should refrain from commenting on the multiple piercings displayed by their fellow Mormons. That is a private issue between individual members and God (and their Bishop possibly). Nowhere do I recall President Hinckley authorizing the general membership to make judgments based on the appearance of a person.

    Those who have multiple piercings should remove them. If this truly isn’t a big deal as you claim, you shouldn’t have any problems getting rid of the extra earrings.

    Is it stupid to fuss around with trivialities like piercings? Yes. It was also stupid that Namaan was required to bathe in the River Jordan.

    “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.”

    But I repeat the words of Namaan’s servant:

    “if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?”

    People need to get over it. If the prophet says take out your earrings, take them out. If your bishop says shave, shave. These are not matters of cosmic importance.

    That said, it’s really none of my business whether you conform to these instructions or not and I hope I will not judge those in my own congregation who do not conform.

  39. Bill Logan
    April 2, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Sheri Lynn, it does seem to me as if you’re putting down the Catholic Church a little. I mean, “even more ceremony and a show of pricy glitz Vegas couldn’t rival.” Really? And if someone were to try to assassinate President Hinkley, I bet there’d be a “prophet-mobile” pretty quickly.

    This is off-topic, so I will be brief. I dispute pd mallamo’s later claim that the Catholic Church is secretive. Certainly not compared to the LDS Church. You can read John L. Allen’s column for the National Catholic Reporter, “The Word From Rome.” Read the current column and go back through the archives. Can anyone point out anything similar for reporting on the LDS Church? (That’s a serious question; I’d love to know if something similar existed.)

    For people interested in the structure of the Catholic Church and its decision-making proces, I would highly, highly recommend the following two books:

    (1) Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, by Thomas J. Reese, S.J.

    (2) All the Pope’s Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks, by John L. Allen.

    For those interested in the election of a new pope, the best and most-widely available book is Conclave: The Politics, Personalities, and Process of the Next Papal Election, by John L. Allen (although his list of papabile is a bit out-of-date). I would ignore the book by Peter Hebblethwaite.

  40. Sheri Lynn
    April 2, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    Okay, I think I’m done posting here. Goodbye.

  41. Bill Logan
    April 2, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    I didn’t mean to hit the “Make Comment” button so soon.

    More on-topic than my book references is this. The Catholic Church is a worldwide organization. It pays tremendous attention to the potential effects of its actions and pronouncements throughout the world. If you read the book All the Pope’s Men, you can see that one reason there was such a delay in responding to the crisis of sexual abuse by priests in the United States is that the Catholic Church was considering this problem from a world-wide perspective. Not only did this mean that the problem was being considered by people who had no first-hand understanding of the United States, but also that potential solutions to the crisis had to be considered for their effect in other parts of the world where, for instance,repressive regimes might use those reforms intended for the United States against Church members. And the effect on the Catholic Church’s doctrine always has to be considered.

    Contrast this with Melissa’s example where President Hinkley is making doctrine based solely on the lone incident of a rave party (dance?) that occurred in Salt Lake City. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much attention paid to the rest of the world or possible effects. OTOH, the downside to the example of the Catholic Church responding to the sex-abuse crisis is that the response certainly wasn’t speedy.

  42. Jason Johnson
    April 2, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    I know I am late to the party here, but wanted to comment that while the counsel against tatoos and multiple piercings is like the one against beards – the quote from Elder Oaks outlined the reasons for that fairly well. The counsel against tattoos and multiple piercings does have another element relating to the desecration of the temple of the spirit.

    I don’t think that this is new counsel at all. My mission president (a man who kept a two liter of coca-cola in his desk drawer at all times) gave us a pretty exhaustive doctrinal discourse on the evils of tattoos back in 1991 after he found out that a certain Samoan elder had been giving tattoos to the other missionaries in his apartment. (His wife chimed in with a hygenic case against tats)

    I would guess that President Hinkley’s comments were inspired by the recent explosion in the amount of tattooning and piercing happening. I am suprised it took the bretheren so long to respond. It is the old story of defining deviancy down. (as an aside, when I was a missionary in San Francisco we used to catch the bus at the corner of Fillmore and Haight in front of a “tattooing, piercing, and branding” studio – I wonder what how many words their sign has grown to in the intervening 14 years)

    This does not mean that converts to the church or members that have or are returning to full activity should be condemned, shunned or given the stink-eye for their cutaneous ornamentation; but by the same token we shouldn’t shy away from studying the reasons why and sharing them with those members and investigators.

    Full disclosure: I have been wearing a beard from October to April every year since I got off my mission. In Vermont, where I grew up it was not uncommon for ment to wear beards to church even back in the 80s. I figured that the strictures against beards were weakening as my parent’s generation (smelly hippies) aged. Maybe I will have to rethink that given what people have written here about temple policies. It will be sad to lose my shield against priesthood leadership callings.

  43. Aaron Brown
    April 2, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    Whatever the merits of the “no beards, no tattoos, no double-piercing” rules may be, it is not clear to me how these regulations constitute examples of Mormon “distinctiveness” or “peculiarity.” I think I understand the argument that God might want his chosen people to have an outwardly distinctive appearance. But our choosing not to sport tattoos doesn’t accomplish this in any measurable way. Most non-LDS people I know don’t have tattoos either (nor multiple piercings, nor beards, for that matter). If the point of these rules is to make us distinctive, they fail miserably. A better idea would be to mandate body-tattoos, encourage multiple piercings, require oddly shaven beards …. or perhaps require a burkah, a small dagger under our garments, etc.

    Perhaps I am misconstruing arguments about “peculiarity” and “distinctiveness”? I don’t think so. I just don’t see how the arguments do any work here.

    I do like Elder Oaks’ comments, as quoted above. And I agree with a lot of the other comments that have been made. But here’s my one wish: Assuming that there is truth to the gripes that preoccupation with these rules of outward appearance have a number of negative effects, both on many Church members and many investigators (and I agree strongly that they do), and further assuming that there is nonetheless good reason to retain these rules (perhaps for the very reasons Elder Oaks gives), I would appreciate it if Church leaders would literally spell out their rationales for these rules in detail when they give their admonitions from the pulpit. It would be a quick and easy thing to do, and I think it would alleviate many of the unfortunate (and presumably unintentional) side-effects of these rules.

    I blogged about this issue at BCC once (my “green pants” thread), but I’m much too lazy to provide the link. Steve? Steve?

    Aaron B

  44. Bill
    April 3, 2005 at 12:19 am

    A few years ago the prophet was coming to speak and the decree came down that no one in the stake choir could have a beard. This news came at the last minute, after several choir members with beards had volunteered substantial time at rehearsals. It was also right around the same time a general authority had spoken at stake conference, reminding the leadership that it is important never to offend the less active who may smell of cigarette smoke or dress slightly less formally, but to make them feel welcome. The choir members in question were of varying levels of activity, and some were actors or had otherwise legitimate reasons for having a beard (this makes it sound like there could be some illegitimate reason which I’d rather not concede) and could not reasonably remove them. Their services, however, were no longer needed, appearances apparently being more important. The choir director (not me) had a very difficult time explaining this arbitrary ruling, since no rationale had been provided. Perhaps some unknown good had been realized, but mostly, it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

    I don’t know where the idea came from. I suspect is was not from the very top (the prophet wondered aloud from the pulpit why we went to such trouble to put together such a good choir only to sing one selection — well, the choir could easily have done more, having done a whole concert recently, but had been carefully instructed to sing only one selection) On the other hand, Jim F.’s question went up to the very top, so who can say? I think if I were an intermediary leader, however, this is not the type of question I would refer back up the chain, needlessly bothering superiors, when they have so many pressing matters.

    In any case, Elder Oaks’s statement “In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority,” may have been true in 1971, but I can’t see how it is today.

  45. Seth Rogers
    April 3, 2005 at 12:42 am

    Guys, it doesn’t matter whether the prohibition makes sense or not. It doesn’t matter whether there is a valid connection between appearance and reality.

    The prophet has asked for our obedience here. If you can’t be obedient over small and trivial things like a stupid piercing, it’s doubtful whether you’ll be obedient over the big things when they are required of you.

  46. Jason Johnson
    April 3, 2005 at 12:56 am

    I have always found 1 Corinthians 8 helpful with these sorts of minor issues – caffinated colas, white shirts, beards, etc.

    Again, I wear a beard seasonally so I am as guilty as any.

  47. Hans Hansen
    April 3, 2005 at 10:34 am

    I wear a beard and moustache year round and have for most of the past 35 years. If the leadership want me for some position they’ll have to take me, “warts and all”, because this is the total package. No compromise, no surrender, this is who I am. My bishop and stake president have both been informed that my beard is registered with The National Beard Registry and are both cool with it. I am also a certified member of The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas. It’s never stopped me from getting a temple recommend and I have served as an assistant in my High Priests Group as well as Stake Choir Director. If they want my whiskers off they’ll have to shave them from my cold, dead face,

  48. Ryan Israelsen
    April 3, 2005 at 11:30 am

    I have seen more than my fair share of SISTERS (usually elderly, but not always) with visible beards. I suppose that as with hair length, sisters are exempt from the beard rule.

  49. pd mallamo
    April 3, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    By now, I think we’ve all adequately proven Melissa’s point. This entire conversation has a ‘straining at gnats” quality about it. There are so many other more important things to consider and act upon in this world. Thousands of people on the planet die from war, malnutrition and substandard medical care each day, my God, and we’re talking -and the leadership is talking – about beards and skin art! The house is going up in flames and we’re frantic about the flower beds. Depressingly, overwhelmingly stupid, and so beside the point of Christ’s message, at least as I read it.

    This self-absorption is an aspect of Mormonism I detest. We now see it in the so-called national Christian dialogue, where “morality” is currently judged in terms of one’s opposition to gay marriage and stem cell research instead of by the broader (and more Christian) measures of social activism and brotherly love.

  50. Seth Rogers
    April 3, 2005 at 1:24 pm

    I don’t consider it self-absorbtion.

    I consider it espire de corps.

  51. pd mallamo
    April 3, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    My point exactly.

  52. Seth Rogers
    April 3, 2005 at 2:14 pm

    Well, it is kinda necessary in a results-based religion.

  53. Jason Johnson
    April 3, 2005 at 2:18 pm


    It is not self-absorption, I see it as just the opposite (not my will…) And to propose that we cannot worry about such matters until we have succesfully immanentized the eschaton is just plain silly.

    P.S. A personal request: In the future please be more careful with the way you refer to deity.

  54. Taylor
    April 3, 2005 at 2:46 pm

    On the issue of distinctiveness, a friend of mine just finished his dissertation on the rhetoric of distinctiveness in early Christianity. He argues that in several early Christian texts, the argument for being distinctive and the substance of that argument are often quite different. For example, early Christians were taught to be good to one another, to not commit fornication, adultery, lie, steal, etc. This really isn’t all that different from the ethics taught by philosophical schools and other religions of the day. It turns out that the issue of distinctiveness is frequently more about self-identity than it is about really being different from those around you. I suspect that the same is very true for Mormons as well. Most of the things that we teach about being distinctive from other people are the kinds of things that most sensible people are doing already.

  55. pd mallamo
    April 3, 2005 at 2:56 pm

    Sorry, Jason, but utilizing the expression “my God” in the context of immense human suffering seems quite appropriate. I am also tempted to use it in the context of immense Mormon dithering, but, with your caution in mind, will not.

    The larger issue, it seems to me, is that we, as Mormons, seem obsessed with trivia. What we look like. What we won’t drink. Our hometeaching percentages. Who is attacking the Church today. How liberals are destroying America. And so on. The larger meaning of Christ’s message seems entirely lost. Sure, we’re “good people” as far as that goes. But we certainly are self-absorbed and passive and materialistic and unlikely to consistently engage the most desperate parts of the world, even desperate parts of our American world, with the passion and committment that are at the very heart of Christ’s message. Hugh Nibley offered up this same critique of church culture, and, in a less pointed way, so did President Kimball.

    You may rightly point out (forgive me for speaking for you) that nothing prevents us, as Saints, from engaging the world in this way, and I will agree. But that is not the emphasis, even from our pulpits. That is not the direction we move as a people.

    This thread stimulated me to these thoughts. It seems more concerned with what, in a recent address, Sheri Dew called “precise obedience” than with what I’d call “broad, inclusive, love-driven” obedience – a focus less on one’s own situation and more on a troubled world. Our world.

  56. Aaron Brown
    April 3, 2005 at 3:14 pm


    Your comment #45 is just a weak attempt to change the subject away from something you’d rather not talk about, and is about the oldest trick in the book. The distinction between (1) trying to critically analyze the origins, costs and/or benefits of a policy (which is largely what’s been going on in this thread) and (2) arguing for blatant disobedience against a prophet’s instruction is very obvious, and no one should have to point it out to you.

    Aaron B

  57. Jason Johnson
    April 3, 2005 at 3:38 pm


    I’m glad you see may point even if you don’t fully agree with it. I think I see yours as well. My wife and I think that some of the best service we ever gave to the church and in the world came as we served as Peace Corps volunteers in Bolivia. The Church could do more to alleviate suffering in the world, but at the same time we all have seen the sad fruits of churches that dedicate themselves to social justice, but neglect to engage in the doctrines of personal righteousness.

    Suffering will always be part of the world. The Church’s primary responsibilities will continue to be those outlined in the threefold mission of the church. Nevertheless “men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness”.

    Nothing is stopping any of us from showing the way through our actions. You were right, these are my thoughts, and I can’t wait until our kids are a little older and I have developed my career to where we can return to Bolivia.

  58. Seth Rogers
    April 3, 2005 at 4:14 pm


    I see your point, however several of the posts seem to be stating the following:

    “This is a stupid rule and I’m not following it.”

    This is a lot different than saying:

    “I’ll follow the rule, but here are the reasons I think it is ill-advised.”

  59. pd mallamo
    April 3, 2005 at 4:20 pm

    Jason, thanks for your response. Much appreciated.

  60. April 5, 2005 at 6:21 am

    Seth- who exactly was saying it was stupid and they weren’t going to follow it? There has been some discussion that way with beards- but that is not a church wide pronouncement or command- and pretty much every one seems to agree that they will follow the body art and excessive piercing rules.

    Bryan Robert- that said, you claim that once some one starts down the path of looking outside the mainstream they are going to continue- why does your goatee (or my beard) not also belong in that category? If a second ear-ring in a girls ear or a first in a guys are a rejection of the standard Mormon image but not really a rejection of the popular societal image than why wouldn’t extreme hairstyles or facial hair also be a rejection of the Mormon image?

  61. Bryan Robert
    April 5, 2005 at 11:18 am

    As I said if the Prophet said that we were not allowed to have goetees, I would shave mine off in a minute. You know exactly what I was referring to though when I said extreme looks. Do I think a girl with more than 1 earing is extreme? Personally no. 5 or 6 in each ear I would say yes. A guy or girl with tatoos? Yes A guy or girl with facial piecrings? Yes. A guy with a beard or goetee? No

    Now these are MY opinions. The problem however, is that in the Church everything has to be black and white. The reason is because unfortunatly, for the most part people cannot be left to their own judgments. If we say..well this is alright, but not this..or use your own judgments on what is extreme, then people will by nature push those boundaires. It is better to say. None oof it is allowed. Is taking 1 drink,1 drag of a cigarette, 1 pill, etc etc going to hurt you? As some people here argue, is it really going to affect your salvation? I mean its just 1 time. Well, it probably wont, however we cannot say, its ok to take a drink now and then, just on holidays. We cannot have very many flexable laws. It seems on this subject the only 1 that I have not seen a black and white rule, is on goatees/beards. Probably because this is the least extreme look of them all.

    And for the person that said this was the worst idea to make us distinctive, I have to disagree. Do I have friends that are not pierced and tatted up? Of course, most of my non member friends are. There are alot that do though. If people know, that all Mormons are clean cut, not extreme, honest rightous people, then we are distinct. If we are all like that then we will be incredibly distinct. If we dress the way of the world, with whatever new piercings, or extreme looks are going around, then we will be nothing special at all.

    Is this a “big thing”? From the agressivness that we have seen on this thread so far it is obviously a big thing. And this is just a handful of people. Imagine the deep feelings that this subject really inspires if we could ask all members. I think it goes back to the idea that if the Prophet took the time to say it. And he did say it, then there is a reason, a “big” reason why it is important to follow this. The rave may have happened, for a reason, to have the Prophet pray and ponder the subject. If you look at almost anytime inspiration comes to a Prophet throught the scriptures, they were praying/fasting/pondering etc earnestly on a paticular subject. Perhaps it happened to give him the idea to pray on the subject.

    We really do not know. All we know, is that as Seth said. It is a small thing for us to do. Perhaps if we had a better understanding of all things we would know that sometimes very small things, can have a huge impact.

    Alma 37- vs 6-7

  62. Travis Anderson
    April 5, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    Having read these 2 strings (“A Small Thing” and “A Big Thing?”) with some sympathy, I think it bears pointing out in the interest of balance that to follow explicit prophetic instruction and inspired counsel is one thing (and behavior I heartily endorse), but to bend unquestionably and without resistance to the will of every opinionated or misguided member or leader luxuriating in his or her power or excessive enthusiam is quite another. In cases where rules and demands originate in the latter kinds of sources, I think good sense, if not the spirit of consecration already cited, demands tactful and gentle opposition, or we risk complete surrender to the lemming mentality we so often exhibit in our culture. From the pupit we condemn the cowardice implied by bending to peer pressure from outside the Church, but then we often implicitly endorse (or unapologetically expect) that same cowardice when the peer pressure comes from within.

    I think that in the spirit of cooperation and fellowship, we should certainly make every reasonable effort to be agreeable to requests for propriety, exemplarity, and sometimes even conformity. We all know only too well how difficult it is to fulfill a Church assignment in the face of needless or ill-intentioned resistance. On the other hand, merely complying with ridiculous, whimsical, or ill-considered demands does us all an equal disservice, I believe.

    For instance, I was lately reprimanded by a member of my bishopric for using my PDA to read a scripture during PEC meeting. He legitimated that reprimand with an anecdote about someone who was similarly reprimanded–and humbly repented, of course–when a high-level general authority of the Church reportedly told him it was inappropriate to read the scriptures from a palm device instead of a real book. In addition to questioning the veracity of the story, I pointed out to him that I had down-loaded the program from the Church’s own web-site, and suggested that were digital versions of the scriptures displeasing to God, then reading the scriptures from a book, rather than a hand-copied scroll would certainly be just as heretical. In response, he gave me the same exasperated look I received when some months earlier he had pulled me aside after a Sunday School class to tell me (completely blind to the irony) that church was not an appropriate place to ask questions about the gospel, and even earlier, when I failed to demonstrate proper remorse as he chided me for having worn a blue shirt to church, rather than a white one, when I agreed to substitute at the last minute for someone who had failed to show up for a sacrament meeting talk.

    I think in cases like these the only appropriate response is to tell such people–lovingly, of course–to blow it out their ear, lest under the guise of priethood authority personal predilection run rampant. Some things matter; some things don’t. And some things matter–or don’t–for reasons that are not at all obvious. And sometimes what matters most is that we are charitable enough to admit to ourselves, personal predilections notwithstanding, that some things we want to matter to others as much as they do to us, simply don’t–and perhaps shouldn’t. Or vice versa. But in every case, a thoughtful (and sometimes prayerful) consideration of the situation is well-advised.

    Many years ago I was told, by someone who ought to know, that the major reason BYU prohibited facial hair at that time was due to strong feelings on the matter by a particular general authrority, and while his fellow general authorities didn’t particlarly agree, neither did they feel strongly enough about their disagreement to dispute the decision. I have no way of knowing for sure if this is true, but clearly many admonitions and policies enacted by leaders great and small have similar origins. And some, like BYU’s prohibition (during my time here as a student) against sandals without socks, are so stunningly silly it’s hard to imagine that have a rational origin at all. It seems to me that whether or not we follow such rules more often than not is a matter of community, consecration and a willingness to suffer some inconvenience (or worse) in order to participate in the sacramental work of mutual growth and salvation. But sometimes it is not all wrong to remind ourselves and others that reason and good sense are indeed godly attributes, and not lamentable consequences of the Fall–and thus, that not every demand need be answered with blind compliance.

  63. Rosalynde Welch
    April 5, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    Here here, Travis! (Or is it “hear hear”?) I especially enjoyed your sentence: “And sometimes what matters most is that we are charitable enough to admit to ourselves, personal predilections notwithstanding, that some things we want to matter to others as much as they do to us, simply don’t–and perhaps shouldn’t.”

    This is good advice on a number of issues, including some that matter quite a bit to me.

  64. April 5, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    Since I have really long hair, several earrings and have thought a lot about getting a tattoo, Hinkley’s talk “A Small Thing” also made me very uncomfortable. I appreciate Melissa’s blog and the comments made about it. What I find very interesting is the fact that there is a movement among evangelical Christians to embrace (or at least) engage those elements of pop culture that are not necessarily linked to degenerate lifestyles. Many evangelical youth have earrings, other piercings, tattoos, ride skateboards, and listen to loud atonal punk or hardcore music. Indeed, there is a festival of Christian rock music and it has increasingly embraced the “affect” of the alternative/punk counter-culture. Hinkley’s strategy seems to be to try to keep the youth away from what is truly dangerous by banning them from anything even remotely associated with it. The evangelicals’ strategy seems to be to try to claim the counter-culture affect for their own and associate it with the Christian lifestyle. I believe that teenagers are not stupid, but quite insightful. And they will see the arbitrary nature of restrictions concerning bodily appearance. They need to see role models who can embrace the music and culture of the counter-culture without embracing any destructive values that it might bring. If they can adopt the affect without the associated destructive values, then they can own it and transform it.

  65. Rosalynde Welch
    April 6, 2005 at 2:24 pm

    C’mon, Dennis, your hair isn’t *that* long!

    You’re making a distinction between cultural forms and ideological content: let’s let the kids have the forms, you say, but supply them with different content (CTR tattoos, anyone?). This is an attractive strategy with a long history–in the sixteenth century, poets adapted the forms of profane (that is, not sacred) Italian love poetry to Reformation theology–and certainly cultural forms can be transformed, adapted, recycled, and transmuted. But most cultural theorists would object to your easy dissociation of form from content: the two, generally, tend to cling.

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