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?