EFY, hair, and culture

The bishop told Amadou he would not be allowed to attend EFY unless the braids were cut.

 Amadou comes from Mali. His family settled here a few years ago and became members of the Church.

Wearing cornrows and braids is a common hairstyle among African men. It has existed for centuries and the patterns used to identify ethnicities as well as social status. Today, for many boys and men of African descent outside of Africa, it is still a form of ethnic affirmation and cultural belonging. The bishop claims to have no choice but to enforce the EFY guidelines: “no ponytails, pigtails, braids, designs, carvings (including Mohawks) or completely shaved heads.” Also, allowing one boy with braids could create tensions as other participants did change their hairstyle to conform to the norms. Amadou could also be sent back, right at registration, and be obliged to travel the 100 miles back home.

 Amadou struggles over his braids and his identity. He may decide not to go to EFY. And, as we have seen with other youth in similar cases, he may not remain active in the Church.

70 comments for “EFY, hair, and culture

  1. Thanks, Wilfried. We noticed this same issue as we were looking at a BYU-I camp for our youth. All but one of the youth in our ward is an African immigrant, but the EFY dress and grooming standards are pretty clearly designed for white middle-class kids. I doubt they were written to be deliberately racist, but the effective racism screams out at you when you’re working with kids who aren’t white middle-class.

    Which is to say, your post is much more politic than the one that was running through my head a couple months ago (I would have mentioned, at the very least, the implicit racism in the rules, though your way is probably more effective) and this post is one I really hope someone who can make changes sees and incorporates. 

  2. Call church headquarters. Seriously. A friend of mine has a son on a mission in Bolivia, and one of his companions was a native of a local tribe; the church has given his tribe permission to wear ponytails as missionaries (elders, that is), since it’s a cultural thing of theirs. I think a similar situation exists in Guatemala. If missionaries can do it…

  3. I really never understood the doctrinal/theological basis for the church’s stance on things such as hairstyles and facial hair. Jesus most likely had a beard, for goodness’ sake! These policies seem to me to be nothing more than a desire to remain consistent with the church’s conservative culture and identity.

  4. Examples like this point up the challenge of applying general principles to specific scenarios. Too often that gap is bridged by a list of rules that turn a general principle into a detailed set of rigid requirements. The BYUs seem particularly good at this.

    There’s a larger point about embracing or at least tolerating diversity across the entire membership of the LDS Church. Global religions learn to accommodate a large amount of diversity across cultures. I think the LDS Church is struggling with this as it expands outside the USA and Western Europe. US expats like it when the LDS churches they attend overseas look and feel remarkably like a ward in Sandy or Pocatello, but that also suggests our numerical and geographical growth has not been accompanied by an expanded vision. In many ways, we’re still just a Utah church that has successfully planted growing franchises across the globe.

  5. Stuff like this infuriates me. There are enough scripturally based barriers to church activity (such as requirements for tithing and chastity), which I’m not arguing against, so why do we have to add to them with things that have nothing whatsoever to do with righteousness?.

    And Jeff’s idea is a good one. I know of a Native American on a part-time domestic mission who was able to keep his long hair (I’d assume usual missionary grooming standards applied to his position, but I don’t know that), so it’s at least worth asking.

  6. I think this goes back to the larger culture of the organization. We measure our worthiness by certain benchmarks, e.g. baptized, temple marriage, tithing, etc., so that it is natural for us to create rules to make us feel like we are doing the right thing. If we miss the benchmark, like wearing a beard or wearing a non-white shirt, it separates those who follow the expectation versus those who do not. Is it not natural that a religion that places such a high expecation on certain elements being met for salvation that we would expand this to more unimportant areas of our life? Some of these benchmarks are completely subjective with no spiritual utility and could alienate people like Amadou.

    Another example, when I was a teenager I wasn’t enthused about going to youth activities but I occasionally did. One time I went while wearing shorts, it was the summer, and we held opening activities in the chapel. I was chided by a priesthood holder for wearing shorts there and for not showing respect. It wasn’t traumatizing or anything and I don’t “blame” anyone, but the point is that they should have just been happy that I showed up. Other people who don’t fit it will naturally fall away.

  7. At first read, I felt that the rule is clearly unfair to black kids and borderline racist. But then I felt bothered by the post itself was a subtle form of racism, where it’s encouraging me to distinguish people based primarily on race.

    And I end up feeling that the point appears to be “no crazy or wild hairstyles”. In which case they could probably ban hair gel with the purpose to make your hair stand up as there are plenty of boys that do that also.

    I guess they should just make the rule say, “if you have a similar hairstyle to that of nicehairdick.com then please change it before coming to EFY”

  8. As wrong as it is to exclude him on this basis, he’ll be better off for not attending EFY.

  9. Once I started writing some SF about a distinct Mormon civilization but stopped when I realized its entire history was squabbles about grooming standards.

  10. So I’ve heard that the “fasting means skipping two meals” line didn’t work so well in parts of Africa, where people normally eat one meal per day, and therefore felt obligated to begin fasting on Thursday in order to skip two meals. A perfectly well-intentioned policy applied to a different cultural context had unintended consequences, and that’s why the “fasting means no food for 24 hours” is also used now.

    I think the same thing has happened here: some white middle-class teen from Sandy who gets corn rows is Trying To Make a Statement about his Deep Uniqueness and is, rightly, I think, squashed by EFY. (EFY, at its best, should be about kids realizing that unusual grooming is an immature way to show one’s uniqueness.) But now translate the no corn-row rule to another context, and it becomes a completely unnecessary stumbling block (Amadou isn’t trying to Make a Statement) that has troubling racial overtones.

    I hope they will change this policy soon.

  11. Racism and native cultures aside, I have issues with the dress and grooming standards for EFY that ban extreme hairstyles.

    My son did baptisms for the dead with blue hair (once I promised the temple worker the dye would not come off in the font — no chance, I said, sadly…).

    It’s an interesting tightrope we walk: show your humility by complying so you’ll be worthy to feel the spirit, OR come to EFY and have a life-changing spiritual experience that may lead you to change your behavior and comply.

    What is it President Packer keeps saying? Teaching DOCTRINE will change more behavior than teaching behavior?

  12. Similar to what Julie said, in the US tattoos were usually a sign of edginess. Even with their increased resurgence (because, apparently, people are still dumb as stumps), they are still a “statement” element of fringe groups.

    But in Samoa, getting a chest to calf tatto isn’t counter-culture, it’s a rite of passage. To have the same stigma associated with them doesn’t make sense.

    Of course the dress standards are about “a desire to remain consistent with the church’s conservative culture and identity.” The standards, to a great extent, are relative to the prevailing culture. Clothing that would have been positively scandalous for the Retrenchment Society is worn by our general female leaders to every General Conference. But compared to the rest of the country, it’s stodgy.

    That said, I don’t know how to accomplish that standard across cultures efficiently. It’s not an easy task.

  13. “That said, I don’t know how to accomplish that standard across cultures efficiently. It’s not an easy task.”

    True. How about this: “Don’t wear clothing or groom in such a way that might cause others to identify you with a rebellious or extreme lifestyle. We’ll leave it to you to figure out what that means, because it changes every 10 minutes and every 10 miles.”

  14. “What is it President Packer keeps saying? Teaching DOCTRINE will change more behavior than teaching behavior?”

    The confusion here may be that those teaching behavior feel that they are teaching doctrine.

  15. I’m surprised so many have a problem with EFYs rule. If you don’t want to follow the rule – don’t go. Many don’t go to BYU and BYU Idaho because of that same reason. To each his own. To make the Church bend to every social “norm” from every country of each attendee would be futile and a slippery slope.

    I imagine if there were an EFY in another country, they would follow the social norms of that country, but this one is in the USA.

  16. “I imagine if there were an EFY in another country, they would follow the social norms of that country, but this one is in the USA.”

    In an only-white-middle-class USA, that would be feasible, Jeremy (15). But within a multicultural society, which the Church wants and encourages, we need to try to make everyone feel welcome, in spite of different social norms. Church units in Europe sometimes count members of 20 or 30 different nationalities and cultures. There are no monolithic “country norms” anymore. What this post asks, is to think about measures of adaptability.

  17. I believe the key here is to LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT. Having raised (almost) nine children in the LDS church, I spent 99% of my efforts making sure, sometimes forcing, them to adhere to gospel/BYU standards. That’s what I sincerely thought my job as a mother in zion was, to make them conform. As you an imagine, that attitude created all kinds of problems. Looking back, I would change so much of how I parented my children. I was in an lengthy abusive marriage with a “righteous” Mormon man and I tried with all my might to do what I perceived was “right.” One of my daughters once at me “I can’t wait til I leave home so I can wear a tank top!” an ultimate rebellion for a good LDS youth. Another son had arrows trimmed into his scalp during a haircut, which horrified his dad so much that dad took son to a friend on a Sat. night to have son’s hair shaved bald because “No son of mine will pass the sacrament looking like that!”

    I attended BYU as did a daughter and some of my kids went to EFY over the years. Youngest daughter just got back from BYU music camp. I do agree with the comment that it’s easy to “see” who is doing what, as far as following the rules, and we severely judge one another by all these silly rules. Does Jesus really care? I believe He cares about the one, the lost sheep; and forcing these damnable rules on kids especially only serves to alienate them from the church. Of course I realize rules serve a purpose, but we need to use our hearts, ie: listening to the Spirit.

    I also often wonder if we dumped many of our LDS rules, if we would be able to listen to the Spirit more and self-govern, just at JS said. My heart simply breaks each time I hear or read about a youth being turmed away for such a supposed silly infraction of a LDS rule. I recently was working outside in the heat, wearing a tank top when a sister from my ward brought my daughter home from an activity. Her eyes got big at my attire – riduculous! So many things we strain at simply don’t matter.

  18. One more story. One of my daughters-in-law is a convert and told me about a dance the missionaries told her and a girlfriend about. The girls showed up in immodest attire and a sister there took them home to find dresses in her daughter’s closet. The girls returned to the dance and the Bishop still wouldn’t let them in because they had on tennis shoes, which he said were not appropriate, even though most of the kids at the dance kicked of their shoes anyway! One of the missionaries wisely pointed that out to the Bishop, who let the girls into the dance. They had a great time meeting Mormon kids and were later baptized. And my DIL met my son that night and they later married. You never know where listening to the Spirit might lead. I believe Christ invites us all, as we are, to come unto Him, to His church. One of my favorite quotes is from the Dalai Llama – “Harmony in Diversity.” Thank God we’re all different, just as the birds and the animals and the plants; all which were created by loving Parents. We don’t have to be, dress, speak, think, do the same to be good Mormons!

  19. you never know. I thought there was a rule that it is not well tolerated if one laughs from myrth in church on sabbath. Turns out this is not so. It is always easy to tell new people about “rules” that an individual who is doing an induction for a new person likes- and makes it look like this is universally accepted so hopefully it will not be questioned. But if the rule is really there then there is very little one can do. One could appeal but we are talking about one week for the kid in EFY ? It is good to show young people where there are boundaries within the system. Part of growing up.

  20. We are becoming Latter-Day Pharisees instead of Latter-Day Saints. I love this quote:

    “The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism … the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.” – Hugh Nibley in his talk ‘What is Zion?’

  21. “It is good to show young people where there are boundaries within the system.”

    Absolutely, Christine (19). But the question can be raised which boundaries are gospel-founded and morally strenghtening, and which are local and temporal, based on white middle-class traditions.

  22. I went to Wylie College one summer when I was a teenager for a summer camp encouraging women and minorities in maths and sciences. Wylie is a historically black liberal arts college, and I was the only white girl there. I treated with some coldness, a mix of hesitation and muted hostility by some people there, mostly adults, until my roommate braided my hair. And then everything changed. It was as though I had said, through my hair, that I didn’t think I was any better than anyone else. I fit in better. I was still a white girl, but people no longer assumed I felt superior because of that. It was a good experience.

    I put up my hair in braids off and on through the rest of high school. Because I was the only white person working at our local doctor’s office (there weren’t many white patients either), braided hair continued to be a very useful conciliatory fashion statement.

    I had my hair braided at BYU a couple of times, mostly during multi-week field camps I did for geology. But I did get in trouble with the honor code office for having an extreme hairstyle when I had beads woven through the braids. It was quite annoying. I had become used to that very functional hairstyle and wearing it didn’t feel like an act of extremity or rebellion. But BYU has a very different culture than Wylie, and just as some people at Wylie had learned through hard life experience to judge people based on their skin color, people at BYU had learned through repeated lessons to judge others based on superficial things like hairstyle.

  23. This afternoon I walked past an EFY group at an orientation meeting in one of the BYU ballrooms. In their matching t-shirts, they all looked pretty much the same. I suppose that can be a great comfort for kids coming from the “mission field” where, like I was growing up, they are the only kids in their high schools who are LDS. After spending a lifetime of sticking out by being a Mormon, it can be nice to blend in, to realize that there are other people just like you.

  24. “Don’t wear clothing or groom in such a way that might cause others to identify you with a rebellious or extreme lifestyle.”

    In many places in the world, just being active Mormon is a “rebellious or extreme lifestyle.”

    Long hair on men is about as rare in Germany as it is in the U.S., and yet on my mission I served in one branch where a huge percentage of the men had ponytails. Including a member of the branch presidency.

    We also baptized a white girl who, two days before her baptism, had her hair braided into braids similar to those pictured above–attached to bright green hair extensions. No one in the German ward seemed to care. (We didn’t mention it to our Utah-born mission president).

    In many places in the U.S., being Mormon is all about conformity. In places like Germany, it’s all about being a rebel. I prefer the German way–where they’re happy just to have people show up and participate.

  25. I do not think being a Mormon is about being a rebel, I think it is about being wise about your lifestyle and help others. And to try and speak the truth always and have a future beyond death to think about… If you have to be a rebel in THIS LIFE, I am not sure there is enough there in the LDS to satisfy you.

  26. Christine, doesn’t it depend on what you are rebelling against?

    For most of its history, the Church has been a rebellion against the traditional Christianity based on the Nicean creed. Even today, I think that we are told that being Mormon is a rebellion against “the world” — at least it is easy to interpret many General Conference addresses that way.

    I hope we are all rebelling against evil and immorality.

  27. Diversity is only useful insofar as we can unify ourselves for the most important tasks before us, such as the task of adopting the appearance of the power-holding majority in the USA.

  28. The rule on haircuts is clearly intended to suppress expression of rebellion. But it seems that the wearing of a traditional hairstyle like this is an expression of cultural CONSERVATISM. Do the rules also rule out women wearing scarves, or a burka, even though those styles of clothing are modest?

    One of the female attorneys I worked with told me that, whe she was getting her BA at BYU, she was turned away at the testing center because her bra strap was partly visible. She went to the women’s restroom, removed her bra, and returned to the test center, and was admitted.

    I think the idea that “there has to be a rule” makes the power to exclude more important than the understanding of what is the purpose of a rule. But since beards and long hair were just fine with Brigham Young, there is clearly no inherent reason why those characteristics of appearance whousl disqualify someone.

    For example, with the “bald head–What if the person is undergoing chemotherapy and lost much of their hair, so they thought it looked better just shaved? In my high school, the swim team shaved their heads to decrease friction, and as a mark of distinction.

    I would rather see a guideline that said something like: “Hairstyles that are worn in order to express rebellion and disobediance are not acceptable. Hairstyles which reflect cultural traditions of a person’s ancestry will be respected. Hair must be kept clean and orderly, and the eyes and face must be visible.”

  29. Yah way to go, Kent. I see now why Mormons get all that heat about not being Christians (Nicene not Nicean Creed but I had to google it.) Not very rebellious now but I can see where a hot and spirited discussion might be derived from Mormons having the “audacity” to reject the Nicene Creed in favour of something they consider better. And heads might occasionally roll…

  30. How would you know if the person wears the hairstyle for childishly rebellious reasons, the rebelliousness could be temporarily hidden like a bra strap…like what would offend innocent co-attendees beyond reasonableness. Hence the dress code. Many clubs and stores do not permit entry without a shirt and / or shoes. Is that reasonable ? I think so.

    I feel a serene institution like a church should be able to enforce within reason a sensible and not overtly attention seeking dress code. If everyone has corn rows then no corn rows are looked upon as WEIRD. A dress code could be anything and then we have to figure out what is reasonable. Seriously though, if someone said I have to shave my head every day to be able to attend sacrament meeting I would also not do it. I would have sacrament meeting at home. This kid could totally undo the corn rows and put them back in after that week at EFY or ? He seems to have had them for a while and had gone to sacrament meeting with them ?

  31. This is so mind-numbingly stupid it’s unbelievable. What about young native American men…who gladly wear a white shirt and tie to church as Aaronic Priesthood bearers…..but who have thier long hair down their back in a single braid AS IS THEIR CUSTOM? What believer in Jesus Christ in his right mind would tell those young men to cut their hair?

  32. “In their matching t-shirts, they all looked pretty much the same.”

    Rachel (23), that may well be. But the thing is, they don’t all look the same, and I’m not sure that’s a good message to send. And I realize you’re not advocating that kind of attitude, but it’s an attitude I see. Our ward’s youth consist of a handful of African immigrants, an African-American, and a white boy. They come from different socioeconomic and family situations. They look different. What they have in common is that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. And that seems to me a better message to teach at EFY than the lesson that you can all look the same.

  33. Sam, you’re right that I would prefer to celebrate the ways that we can have different appearances and still be of one heart and one mind. I saw the group of kids from behind; just the backs of their heads, no faces. From that vantage point, seeing only matching shirts and faceless anonymity, it’s easy to forget the individuals and their private struggles. Thanks for putting me straight.

  34. So, should any dress code be allowed? I mean any type of dress, is it OK to show the belly button (this was the one rule that my school in Germany had, they do not have uniforms)? How about no shoes? How about the silliest dress you could ever come up with? How about a tshirt with a defiant message on it? How about we all try to dress normal and if the bishop says something about the dress consider it done. i.e. sustaining our bishop. I have to say that not being ALLOWED to go to church (no matter what dress) seems rather unusual. Everyone here is so on about how important sacrament meeting is for the relationship with God. Maybe one of the more seasoned commentators can shed some light. I am very curious as to why that could be preferable.

  35. Thanks all for the discussion up to now. I appreciate the input. However, as sometimes happens when discussing norms, there is a risk that we move from the specific topic to other facets. The topic is culture in its ethnic and anthropological sense and how to learn to accept facets within the church that do not match our traditional criteria. Let’s avoid personal stories of frustration with rules outside of our topic.

  36. If you are a member of the majority, then allowing others to stray outside of the norm makes life more difficult. It forces one to accept that there is complexity; that there are gray areas. When we forbid those with cornrows or with tattoos from participating fully then we make a number of errors:

    Such policies allow us to disregard someone who has a lot to give. Many in this stream have mentioned that cornrows may be allowed if they are simply a cultural emblem, but perhaps we shouldn’t allow them if they are a sign of protest. The only way to understand someone’s motives is to engage them in conversation; the only way is to spend time with them. Thus a policy that doesn’t allow the participation or attendance of someone outside of the norm doesn’t allow such interactions to take place.

    As also mentioned, such policies may drive people away. We have so many potential stumbling blocks that we should work hard to remove those that are arbitrary, shallow, and insubstantial. These policies teach us to be narrow-minded and exclusive. I recently traveled to Pakistan and there found that everyone male… or at least almost every male, wore a beard. I don’t see that many beards in the U.S., and because of my age (over 50) I grew up in an era when beards were a symbol of protest. In Pakistan, the meanings of beards are very different. I recall gently chiding my brother-in-law (in SLC) when he recently shaved his trim and neat beard after being called into the Stake High Council. He told me that he felt good about shaving the beard, and said this: “I would hate to find that the fact that I am wearing a beard was a stumbling block to someone who is struggling in the church. I would hate to be the one who drove them away from the church.” My reply, unsaid, was this: “What about sending the message that someone with a beard may be someone who we should not only ‘tolerate’ but embrace and respect? What about sending the message the someone with a beard has as much to contribute as someone who is clean shaven?”

    I worry, therefore, that such policies that result in the shunning of a cornrowed African has two very significant negative consequences: It drives away those people who do not enjoy a uniform corporate appearance, and like all racist policies, it hurts those in the majority as much, or more, than those in the minority by allowing the majority to be comfortable in their incorrect assumptions.

    I can almost hear those saying that we have to draw the line somewhere and that the rules, as they are, are as good as any. They might also argue that the confusion that might arise from a less clear-cut line may also be discouraging to others. To this I say, don’t worry. We will get through it. The VAST majority of the “riff-raff” are taken care by our drug-free, alcohol-free, sex-free, tobacco-free standards.

  37. Thanks for that thoughtful contribution, Stephen (36). You touch upon the main issue of the consequences of some of our attitudes: driving people away, or at least contributing to driving them away. From friends who are better informed on EFY, I hear that EFY tends to exclude some youth from the onset rather than giving them a chance to join in and discover how to improve. Also, that in certain countries EFY tends to foster a fundamentalist strand of future leaders. I hope EFY also teaches a lot on compassion and tolerance.

    I did not comment yet on the suggestions for different guidelines. Noteworthy:

    Julie (13) mentioned: “Don’t wear clothing or groom in such a way that might cause others to identify you with a rebellious or extreme lifestyle. We’ll leave it to you to figure out what that means, because it changes every 10 minutes and every 10 miles.”

    Raymond (28) thought of: “Hairstyles that are worn in order to express rebellion and disobedience are not acceptable. Hairstyles which reflect cultural traditions of a person’s ancestry will be respected. Hair must be kept clean and orderly, and the eyes and face must be visible.”

    Indeed, principles, rather then detailing “no ponytails, pigtails, braids…”

  38. One could make a rule and then allow exceptions on an individual basis. Do we need to consider that the person flat was not wanted in that course and the hair style was an excuse to get rid of him ? because of his ethnicity or cultural background ? I was under the impression the church had moved beyond that.

  39. I can not understand why someone (who?) thinks a higher standard is required for EFY than the temple. He would be allowed in the temple why should he be excluded from EFY.

    Why would we make it more dificult for our youth than necessary. Perhaps they think, the lord thinks the youth are having it too easy and need some more tests, trials, difficulty? I think if the youth are willing to attend that is enough.

    As for rebelious, doesn’t it depend on what you are rebelling against. Rebelling against the Gospel is a problem, rebelling against rediculous rules, common sense. Should be rewarded.

    My wife is in her 60s and has purple, blond red and blue stripes in her hair. She attends the temple without a problem. She is not rebelling, just expressing herself, but if her grandaughter had similar colours she would be excluded from EFY. CRAZY.

    Is expressing your individuality really rebellion?

  40. Sometimes, we need to mentally separate the Church from non-Church programs. There is no need for a bishop to be involved in the EFY process — EFY is not the Church and is outside a bishop’s stewardship. The bishop’s only involvement might be handling his own child’s registration in his capacity as a parent. Well, since BYU is a church-owned institution, the bishop could allow some space on a bulletin board for an EFY poster, but that should be the extent of it, as I am thinking now.

    This would be one step to help Amadou discern that BYU is a program separate from his faith and his Church represented by his bishop. EFY can enforce its own standards without involving bishops.

  41. That’s an interesting point, ji (40), that EFY is not a “Church program” in its proper sense. Indeed, EFY is organized by Continuing Education at BYU. To what extent is the program under Priesthood direction from the top? In Europe EFY seems to come from the Area Presidency, but are they just a willing conduit to pass the information to local levels? I heard that in one stake the stake presidency does not support EFY (bad experiences in the past). In other places, the bishop is the one who conducts the interviews, as if the program is under the Priesthood. It seems that Continuing Education, in its BYU-Honor Code sphere, is pushing norms beyond what the Church would normally require. I assume many youngers, certainly outside the U.S., have no idea that these norms are not universal Church norms. Hence confusion and potential fundamentalization. With potential victims, like Amadou.

  42. It seems as though the article clearly states that the Bishop (a Bishop) has things to say about who can go to EFY, maybe the author can clarify. It is possible that Amadou is not going to the temple and he might not get a CTR with his appearance. What the article implies is that the issue is deeper and more with his skin colour as per … dare I say it the Randy Bott problem in February this year. I do not see the blue / purple hair “verboten” in the guidelines. I still say exceptions should be possible on an individual basis and in this case for Amadou because he seems to have missed out on seeing the guideline. Generally speaking agree with the guidelines and personally am never offended but sometimes amused about how people dress for sacrament meeting (insanely high heels for example).

  43. Wilfried, I think you’re raising very important questions here that extend well beyond EFY. I heartily agree with Julie’s assessment (which I read you as sharing) that this is not a case of intentional or mean-spirited racism or suppression. Rather, it’s an unfortunate tension that naturally arises in the transition from a white, middle class, inner-mountain West context to an international context. The transition can quite naturally go from perfectly appropriate guidelines in one context to institutionalized racism in another.

    I assume that the original thought behind the EFY policy is not to implement a more strict guideline or excessive hedging of the law or desire to “try” the youth (a la Geoff-A), but rather an attempt to implement policy based on the general principles of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. Which gets at your point in #41 – the line between official and unofficial strictures in this and many other cases is less than clear.

    We can certainly hope that our transition to more culturally sensitive and ennobling norms (in more than just EFY) is quicker and more painless than not.

  44. Execellent assessment, James (43). It has been said by Church authorities that the internationalization of the Church is one of the greatest challenges we face. It means, among other things, how to find the balance between needed unity and unavoidable diversity in other countries and cultures. The need for adaptations and transitions becomes obvious, sometimes painfully, in numerous little incidents, like the one with Amadou. It is from these incidents that the larger lessons must be drawn. Hence the need to draw attention to these incidents, while at the same time avoiding irritation and anger. This kind of informing is also a function of our posts and blogs. I am confident Church leaders pay attention to these local voices and are willing to consider changes. It just takes time.

  45. Maybe I’m just being idealistic, but why the need for any norms at all related to appearance in the Church? It seems that if we truly consider our tribe to be all of humanity (i.e., we are all spiritual brothers and sisters), then distinguishing ourselves from others can actually be counter productive to the goal of unity.

  46. So, I just went to the EFY website. There was something for a teenager to electronically sign: a standards statement, with a reference to the church youth handbook. There was information for parents to complete.

    There was no “box” for a bishop’s name, or anywhere for a bishop to sign.

    I am not sure how a bishop got involved with a decision to keep someone out of EFY.

  47. I wish to try to re-make a point I made earlier, and that is the point that these exclusionary practices are bad for those excluded, but they are also bad for those who are included, that is they are bad, maybe even worse, for those inside the approved circle.

    I was raised during a time when the church officially blocked the participation of those with African heritage from full participation in the church. I am sure that I was repeatedly told that Africans had the same value before God that everyone else did, but I also heard plenty of those discussions about WHY Africans couldn’t participate in certain things. Of course, no one really knew just why, but that didn’t stop a number of people from trying to explain the unexplainable. I believe that part of that heritage, for me, is a nagging sense that Africans have a lesser status, an idea that I reject totally, but something from which I don’t believe I can completely escape. That is, the Priesthood ban was bad for Africans to be sure, but it was bad for all of us.

    When we tell our youth that their standards are higher, aren’t we also telling our youth that they (our youth) are better persons than others? By banning this person from EFY, aren’t we sending the message to our youth that this person is less valuable to God? Less worthy, more rebellious, whatever. I worry that our youth testimony meetings can sometimes come painfully close to rameumptom prayers:

    Alma 31:16

    ‘Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children;…’

    I worry that even as our church makes efforts to grow in Africa, Europe, South American, etc, that we won’t be able to embrace those who simply look differently than we do. Dress and hair styles are cultural more than they are eternal.

  48. Silhan, in one respect you are correct. Unity is the opposite of diversity, and hence, of individuality. However, do we really want a unity that comes at the expense of diversity? The kind of soul-crushing conformity and uniformity that leads to everybody becoming perfectly identical?

    I would propose an alternate meaning for unity. A people that are united are a people that can tolerate, accept and embrace others, despite their differences. We can acknowledge that none of us are the same, and yet love each other despite that. That is the only kind of unity that I have any interest in pursuing.

  49. “Where there is no vision [revelation], the people perish”. Rules have replaced revelation and now seem to be replacing common sense.

  50. I was ready to be offensed and outraged on behalf of the young man presented until I read Wilfried’s very wise comment (41). EFY is not a church program and BYU ,as the sponsor of the event, has the priviledge and responsibility of establishing and enforcing their own standards. A wise bishop as steward for this young man was kind to explain to him that he would not be allowed at this event because of the conflict with the published standards. Further, any reaction to what happened is not based on based temple, missionary, or sacrament meeting dress code But BYU dress code. I also support the thought that the young man needs to be made aware that this was a BYU event and therefore their standards must be used. Two areas of concern I can see , first, the need to rethink rules and standards as the church becomes more inter-national and second, the tendency to confuse BYU, or Deseret Book, or a number of other people and places that have ties to the church with the gospel.

  51. #49 themormonbrit: I think we are in agreement. Your definition of unity is actually what I had in mind.

  52. To what extent EFY is a “church program” remains in limbo when one looks at the various sites. As far as I could find, the BYU Continuing Education site does not claim any other organizational unit above its own division. EFY is simply called “a youth program” without reference to an organizing authority. The one-day EFY Express is defined as “a BYU Continuing Education one–day program designed to help youth…”. But the BYU-Idaho site defines EFY as “a CES Program for youth administered by BYU in Provo, Utah“. CES is the umbrella for all educational endeavors in the Church, under priesthood authority, including Seminary and Institute.

    Historically, EFY grew out of a local initiative in 1976. I find the Wikipedia-info remarkable because it links Elder Holland’s authority to the start: “The program was created by Ronald C. Hills, in 1976 when 172 youth and 15 counselors met for the first session of the summer program. Jeffrey R. Holland, now of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was one of the banquet speakers at the founding session.”

    Someone should be able to clarify the exact present status of EFY in the Church, unless it is a hybrid thing (partly personal initiative, partly BYU institutional?) that grew out of its original boundaries and took on an official life of its own. My remarks on its status should not be interpreted as criticism. But it is obvious that, when it comes to defining the responsibility of a local bishop to be involved with EFY, confusion should be avoided.

  53. This discussion ties into the main reason why I have worn a beard since I separated from the military, and why I almost always wear something other than a white shirt to church. When you go to sacrament meeting and look around, who is most likely to wear something other than the Church Uniform? Investigators and non-members. They are generally pretty self-conscious the first time they attend anyway. Why add to the stress they would feel if they look around and don’t see any other men that aren’t dressed like the centerfold from the Conference Issue of the Ensign?

    When my wife and I first moved to Colorado Springs, our intent was to “ward shop” until we found someplace where we felt comfortable. The first ward we went to had a sign language translator, a black member of the High Priest Group leadership, one of the counselors in the Elders Quorum and his wife had adopted a black child, and one of the Young Women leaders had visible tatoos, and we found out later that the Bishop shaved his legs (competitive bicyclist). It wasn’t a “cookie cutter” ward in any sense, and we knew we had found a ward where we would be accepted.

  54. Wilfried, I assume Elder Holland spoke at that first EFY because he was the president of BYU at that time and it was held at the Provo campus? That explains the genesis of the EFY dress code, it descended from the BYU dress code. But the program has outgrown those roots and the standards should grow as well.

  55. So what would you all like for a new standard which is more multicultural and open, inclusive, inviting minorities. How do the European countries handle the situation. We recently had an investigator here in our ward who fancied the goth look. No one told her to change her attire when she came to church looking like a goth. I think she had piercings. Which is fine by me. What kind of minorities are in LDS who whould need to be considered. How many have converted from Islam etc. on http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/000H14.html I see someone with a shaved head on a CD cover…

  56. Wilfried, I don’t think I’ve seen you post for a long time. Maybe I’ve been in la-la land.

    I find this very sad. I’m sure the policy will change, but maybe not in time for this boy.

    My first husband was rudely turned away from a church dance because he wasn’t wearing a tie and he never went back.

    We HAVE to stop this behavior.

  57. In recent years an EFY program has been conducted in Australia. It is known as a special multi stake youth conference but all the material is directly from the EFY program, including the CD’s, counsellor clothing and youth dress and grooming standards. Bishops had to sign off on worthiness or willingness to meet EFY standards, and stakes and wards contributed to attendance costs.

    The usual problems stemming from the dress and grooming standards followed. Some youth felt excluded, others felt that there was an in crowd, some youth left the program early because they felt smothered by the experience. And other youth enjoyed the experience and say they learned a lot and grew personally.

    None of which addresses the intention of the post. I would suggest that every time we try to make a rule (be it about hair or movie ratings or anything else) we indicate that we have failed to teach and failed to tolerate – which seem to me to be God’s primary methods of dealing with us.

  58. Here in Europe EFY has been turned into Official Multistake Activities, and many parents (including myself) are absolutely horrified. The stakes don’t know what to say and think. Teachers getting paid to bear their testimonies? Youth excluded because of their outward appearance? Hair length taught to be directly connected to ones spirituality? Youth divided into classes of rich and poor where the poor are excluded due to their parents limited circumstances?

    Many are shocked, to put it mildly. But I think even worse than the first immidiate shock, is the sorrow and discouragement in peoples eyes. How can this be? In Jesus own church?

  59. I generally prefer to leave rule-making at the lowest level possible, made by people who are closest to the people involved. For example, I and other adults recently took our Aaronic Priesthood young men on an airplane trip to summer camp and we required that they wear their Scout uniforms — we made the rule. Another ward’s young men may not have worn uniforms. We also made some expectations about showers and hygiene for our boys that might have differed from the expectations set by leaders of other ward groups. But leaders at all levels need to make rules for participation, and they need to do so sensitively while letting as many decisions as possible flow down to a lower level.

    [Let’s not turn this into a YM-YW argument — our ward’s Young Women will take a 21-hour ferry ride to their girls camp — our geography requires air or boat transportation for every stake activity. Equal opportunity here.]

    But my point is that every leader makes rules of some sort — every classroom teacher has to adapt to his or her circumstances — and these rules are best made at the lowest possible level. We cannot possibly want every such rule to be made at the highest level — and we also cannot possibly want no rules at all.

    BYU (an auxiliary of CES, which is itself an auxiliary of the Church) offers the EFY program as a service and as a help, and it has to set some standards. I hope the dress and grooming standards allow for exceptions rather than absolute rigidity. Perhaps Amadou should ask for an exception based on cultural grounds — or just go along for the event. In either case, I hope he can separate the forest and the trees in his thinking, and that he will choose to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And even if the rule is iron-clad and he doesn’t go to EFY, I hope he will still choose to be faithful.

    As I noted in 40 above, EFY is not the Church. EFY administrators are people with their own goals and objectives, which may sometimes differ from the goals and objectives of other church members.

  60. Unfortunately, EFY is grossly entangled with the church. Our stake (and I presume many others) has contracted with EFY to provide this year’s Youth Conference, thus making EFY an official church activity. Priestcraft causes all kinds of problems.

  61. Kristine (no. 61) — I regret your stake’s circumstance, but that is a decision made by your stake presidency and stake council. From other posts above, it looks like some stakes in Europe are doing the same thing. Whatever happened to homemade youth conferences? Can I start charging for my services to my ward’s youth? :-)

    Since your stake contracted with EFY for its youth conference, perhaps your stake president insisted that the program serve all of your stake’s youth.

    But I will still stop short of calling EFY an official church activity, even if I have to go through mental distortions to do so — I don’t want to call it an official church activity. Sacrament meeting is an official church activity, but even there the speakers are not official church agents.

  62. Maybe it is all about why people feel excluded, ostracized alienated and leave the Church when they could have a fulfilled life in the Mormon Church if they could endure more to the end, and / or the rest of the Church would treat them better…In other words, it is not important if it is an official Church activity, but the alienatee will blame it on the Church.

  63. Hopefully, the alienatee’s friends will help him or her discern the difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church that carries its name on the one hand and the often-well-intentioned-but-sometimes-misguided efforts of people on the other. I would hope that no one would feel alienated by the efforts of another member — hopefully, we’ll choose to act instead of being acted upon — after all, the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored and, as the old song goes, when the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there… Everything has to be looked at in some proper context.

    Even so, I appreciate the need to be careful and sensitive in all of our ministerings so as not to put a stumbling block in front of anyone else, and the original posting raises a good question.

  64. ji,

    EFY in Europe is an Official church activity. It is a fact stated on both global, stake and ward levels. It was brought to us on direct decision from Salt Lake. The problems have arisen as the semi-official way EFY is run in the US has been turned into an official activity in Europe without any cultural considerations at all. But perhaps worse, it has been turned into an official activity without proper changes to line up with official church standards.

    As these selfmade rules and regulations of EFY have made it into offical activites things have gone very wrong.

  65. annegb (57), great to hear from you. Indeed, I have not been posting frequently.

    Excellent clarifications from previous commenters. Especially interesting to hear from other parts of the world – KSF from Australia (58), Carl from Europe (59, 65 – which country?). Let me try to summarize some of the main facets of the discussion.

    It’s clear EFY is a BYU-based program from the division of Continuing Education. As such it is part of CES and thus of the church. But over the years it has become a massive endeavor, outgrowing its local aims. The transfer to other parts of the world is no doubt well-meant, but creates intercultural challenges and ecclesiastical ambiguities.

    On a BYU campus and perhaps in most of the broader (white middle-class) US-environments where BYU-standards are known, the typical BYU-sphere and its Honor Code requirements can be justified for EFY. Members in other parts of the world are usually not familiar with these standards. It can disturb those members with different traditions as they are unable to place the requirements in the proper context, in particular when the program becomes a church-sanctioned program announced and supported by area presidencies.

    The effects are divisive. BYU tends to foster a feeling of elite belonging (understandable in the local Alma Mater academic context, but less or not elsewhere) and imposes that feeling on EFY (orginally organized on the BYU campus alone). Moreover, registering for EFY costs money. It is not easy to transfer those elements to different national and cultural environments and to families with other backgrounds and limited financial means. Dramatic is the feeling of exclusion that some of our young people may experience because of it. As to the participants, worrisome is the potential development of a network of future leaders with a fundamentalist bend, belonging to the small group of emerging “LDS dynasty families” who, indeed, would be the first to send their children to EFY.

    Finally, there is the concern that anti-cult organizations can distort the image of EFY as a brainwashing boot-camp, just as they are doing now with Sea Org of Scientology. The emphasis on strict entrance norms, the “higher level” program, and the threat of exclusion can easily be misinterpreted.

    I think we can agree that adaptations are needed.

  66. #44: No, he couldn’t just remove them… he would be required to cut them OFF.

  67. BYU can be quite pharisaical, and this is coming from someone who wasn’t very worked up about it while I was busy studying and having fun (and enjoying Wilfried’s excellent French Grammar class). Luckily they have many good teachers and President Samuelson to keep them in line, EG this great talk on zeal. We can read between the lines I think.

  68. Thanks, Cameron! You bring back nice memories.

    Indeed, anything that is “over” is too much. Overzealous, overbearing, overactive, overmodest…

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