Here’s the guest post from NoSurfGirl. Be sure to check out her blog. My return post is already up on her blog, but I’ll post it here tomorrow as well. Enjoy….
p.s. For my non-familiar-with-BYU-culture audience, BYU requires that students be clean shaven. Those who cannot shave for whatever reason can apply for an exemption known as a beard card.
Mormon Beard Theology
I want a beard card.
By all accounts, the beard card is the most exclusive of church recommends. I have often wondered, jealously, what it would take to get one.
I have heard that you have to have a medical condition. What kind of medical condition would require you to grow a beard? Is it a skin sensitivity thing, or more along the lines of facial deformities, that qualify you for the card? Or is it dpi (like on a printer, dots per inch, only in this case, it would be hairs per inch of chin that a person is capable of growing?)
It is interesting, when contemplating the no-beard phenomenon among LDS church members, to look back on history. In these troubling times, we really ought to reflect on the sacrifices that the early church members made, and see if we can learn a lesson from them. Thus, I have decided to delve into the topic of Beard Theology in the LDS church.
If you study the past precedent (by looking at past presidents) you will see an interesting trend.
First, you have Joseph Smith. On a scale of 1-10, I’d rate his beardosity at a .5, because of the sideburns. You will note that they are longer than the regulation middle-of-the-ear missionary requirement, and quite bushy, too. But then, you see Brigham young, and whoa! We’re at an 4.5. What happened there?
I have two theories. a) Emma liked to kiss her husband and b) the conflicted self-image of prophethood.
a is self-explanatory. Let me elaborate on b. So when you read church history, you you see that Joseph Smith was already an unconventional leader. He didn’t buy into stereotypes. He didn’t like having authority. And so he felt no desire toward the added authority and association that a flowing set of chin-tresses might offer a prophet. He liked to get down with the people, stick pulling and rug-beating and all that, and a beard could only get in the way. Put people off.
Brigham Young was more of a no-nonsense prophet.
He had a lot to do, what with the trek west and the move south and the apostatizing California saints (look how history repeats itself), and so he didn’t want anyone to waste his time. In his younger yearsas leader of the church, lots of people argued with him. Maybe he got tired of people not taking him seriously enough, and one day, he sat thinking to himself, what does Moses have, being slow of speech and all, that I don’t. When he really stopped to think of it, it was obvious what the real trouble was!
And so he just threw up his hands and grew a beard. You have to admit, it’s a lot harder to argue with this (below).
It must have worked for him, because he kept it for the last twenty years of his life, and every succeeding president for the next eighty years all had impressive facial foliage. It got to the point where people thought the Mormons were weird: bearded, polygamists in top hats, with canes and black suits.
Enter Reed Smoot. An enterprising politician, son of one of the founding Pioneers of salt lake city. He asked president Joseph F. Smith for permission to run for office in the senate. He did run, and won: the first Mormon in full-fellowship to serve at that level of government (after a very hairy set of trials, I might add). Here is a picture of him before he was made senator (left).
And here is a picture of him later in life (bottom),
when his political influence and respect within the senate was a noteworthy thing. How strange. How symbolic. People don’t want Moses serving in their senate.
The church presidents seemed to follow suit. Look back at that first picture of the presidents, at the beardosity of Joseph F. Smith (I’d put him at an even 10), and then Heber J. Grant (we’re at a 5, now), and George Albert smith: a dismal 3 if I’ve ever seen one. And then…whoa! Look at that sparkling clean chin on President McKay.
It feels so strange to me, to know that people that I actually know remember David O McKay as the prophet of their childhood. He was the clean-cut, good looking man that was appreciated so much in the fifties. I don’t object to that at all. We as a church, have always aspired to refinement, to making a good impression. For very good reasons.
The only complaint I have is, what happened since? I miss beards on my prophets, on my bishops, on my spouse (OK, I don’t really miss that, who am I kidding.) But a perverse piece of me wants for him to grow a beard, just because he can’t. Because he works at BYU. He also can’t wear his crunchy Birkenstocks and knee-length shorts (one of the many reasons I was attracted to him. Who can resist a guy in birks?)
Anyway, my point is, maybe it’s time to move on, get over this whole five-o-clock-shadow complex. People made fun of Mitt Romney because he had perfect hair. What does that say about us? Maybe we should mess things up a little? Grow a few beards? Cultivate some arresting, mane-like tresses? I hate to say, but we as a church have lost our peculiar, charming sense of individuality in our style. I mean, there are those out there who are trying. To them, I say, keep up the good work, even though a moustache without a beard is possibly the most disturbing facial appendage known to man (well, woman, really.)
I must also end this post by saying, I think it is wrong to exclude women from the beard card, just because we are women. The fact that our hair follicles are biologically different, doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of handling beard-card-carrying status in the church. It is unjust. I feel suppressed. I feel excluded.
*Whew. Glad I got that off my chest.*