If God Looks Upon the Heart, Why do Leaders Look at Grooming?

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

Why do LDS leaders spend so much time looking at white shirts, beards, and short hair?

Apparently, General Authorities really care about how we look, even if some of the local leaders don’t want to make a fuss about it.  My former bishop told me a very interesting story about our stake president.  The stake president was called by Elder C of the Quorum of the Seventy.  Typically, the person that ordains a stake president never returns to the stake.  Well, apparently Elder C told our stake president that there were too many blue shirts and too much facial hair in our stake when he ordained our stake president.

A few years later, Elder C returned.  He reminded our stake president that he would be checking for beards, white shirts, and long hair.  Apparently, our stake president was quite nervous.  Now, if we are to emulate Jesus in all ways, why do the General Authorities care about facial hair?

Apparently, the stake president is following Elder C’s advice.  In my new ward, I’m the home teacher to a guy with really long hair and a goatee.  (I’ll call him Jeff.)  This guy is a great guy, got married in the Salt Lake Temple, comes to church every week, and honestly one of my best friends at church.  I learned that he was asked to be the Elder’s quorum secretary a few months ago.  When interviewed by the stake president, he accepted the calling.  Apparently the stake president told the bishop to tell Jeff to cut his hair.  Jeff refused, so they called someone else to be the Elder’s quorum secretary.  Now Jeff is the Sunday School 2nd counselor.  Apparently the bishop felt that Jeff’s long hair was not an impediment to serving.

As we discussed this, we talked about how stupid the grooming standards are.  Both Jeff and I have a goatee.  I previously served in the bishopric with my goatee (albeit I was merely Membership clerk), under this same stake president.  Then Jeff showed me a wedding photo of his outside the Salt Lake Temple with the former bishop.  The bishop had a moustache.

So, the Elder’s quorum president felt inspired to call Jeff.  The Stake President found Jeff worthy to serve.  Why is long hair a disqualifier?  I don’t understand why LDS leaders look at the shirt, while God looks at the heart, do you?

26 comments on “If God Looks Upon the Heart, Why do Leaders Look at Grooming?

  1. Sometimes I think it’s just a well-intentioned yet woefully misguided test of obedience. I don’t know of anyone personally who ACTUALLY thinks that being clean-shaven per se = bad. Usually the reasoning is something like, “it’s a matter of being obedient to one’s leaders” or whatever. I think there is something to be said for a friend of mine who shaved his beard of probably 20 years when he was called to a calling that asked for it. He didn’t want to, in any way shape or form, but he did, with some sense of humility. I was impressed by that. I think I’d be in the same boat as your friend Jeff – refusing to bow to outward appearances like that… not humble enough.

  2. The issue isn’t “humility” or “obedience” — it’s hypocrisy and ignorance.

    God has a beard; Jesus has a beard (cf. D&C).
    The true reason, if one cares to look deeper than skin, is that the LDS church functions in every respect like a multi-level marketing corporation. It views a “disobedient” member as a poorly performing down line. This is why the plague of MLM thrives in the Mormon west, and it’s why they want to dress you in the robes of a false priesthood — the suit of riches, of a sleazy, slightly fashion-senseless 80s wall street bankster. It judges everyone based on their appearance because it is not what it claims to be. That is the simple truth. Did Jesus judge people based on their appearance or their wealth? Was he himself dressed in fine clothes or attractive in appearance? (cf.: Isaiah 53, the whole Bible)

    If anyone harasses you about your beard or your clothes, use your well-practiced humble voice and respond, “I’m trying to be like Jesus.”

  3. It is proven that how we act and dress affects how we act (as well as affect how people react to us).
    We are in our current society. We can work within that. There are things in every society that signal things to ourselves and others.
    Lawyers tell their clients to dress. Smart job seekers dress the part.
    It is easy to say it doesn’t matter, but it is naive to say it never matters.
    I have a calling right now that puts me in the spotlight while people are singing in sacrament meeting. I try to dress in a way that wouldn’t make them uncomfortable to look at me. That is courtesy.
    I’m very proud of my husband for recently changing the way he dressed for something with his calling. It shows a respect for God as well as a respect for those around him.

  4. Lol I got a chuckle out of the irony saying it’s not about humility. It’s totally an issue. Actually, I really do agree that the culture is messed up, we should not care at all about facial hair. It takes eating some humble pie though to shave even when the reasons for being asked to are lame. E.g. You have to shave to be an ordinance worker. You can think whatever you want about an idiotic rule like that, but, hello, it takes a lot of humility to go ahead and shave anyway because you want to work at the temple.

  5. Unfortunately, this is our modern version of the Pharisees.

    Ironically, it will probably fade when the leadership consists of today’s 20 and 30 year olds who now wear goatees. The question is will they insist on facial growth and argue that being clean-shaven is a sign of rebellion?

    All pretty silly . .

  6. “The question is will they insist on facial growth and argue that being clean-shaven is a sign of rebellion?”

    Probably! The “rebellion” or “obedience” is in the process, not the content… even when the content is silly.

  7. I agree with Steve; I do think the insistence on grooming standards are a marker of the current generation of leadership and will fade away in coming years. There are a lot of members in my (urban Seattle) ward who sport facial hair, and my convert husband has a “soul patch” and often wears non-white shirts on Sunday. My husband hasn’t reported any rebukes in Elder’s Quorum as yet.

    As for me, I don’t get what grooming has to do with spirituality at all. What silliness.

  8. Re: Jana H – it may be location as well… in my ward in the Midwest, the 2nd counselor has a full beard, and colored shirts are everywhere.

  9. I think the facial hair issue has its roots in 1960’s counterculture. Clean-shaven was the norm in the 50’s, beards and long hair came in as a form of rebellion. Today’s apostles were all in their teens and twenties during the 60’s and they associate facial hair with rejection of traditional values. I agree standards will be different when today’s teens and twenty-somethings are in the Quorum of the Twelve. So give it another 50 years.

  10. “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. [T]he haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.– Hugh Nibley

  11. I think it’s merely an accidental power trip. To me, the gospel is never about hierarchy, but I think because of the era which the church expanded rapidly, things like long hair and the sort were seen as “wild.” Once the church is free of this “cultural” clash, I think this tradition will go away.

  12. But the inhabitants of the world do look upon the outward appearances, and do we send a message— intentional or not— by our habits of personal grooming.

    “We sometimes even defend our idiosyncrasies, as if these protrusions somehow constituted our individuality… discipleship is a “contact sport”” — Neal A. Maxwell

    “I think all will agree that dress and grooming standards are not the most important standards required of those who attend this University.
    But they are among the very most visible as we associate with one another and as we come under the eyes of those who visit this campus.
    Consequently, these matters have been emphasized, and will be emphasized, to an extent beyond their intrinsic importance.
    Those who take exception to this emphasis should remember that while most of these standards are not vital matters of personal morality, neither are they burdensome.” – Dahlin H. Oaks, to the BYU student body, 1971

    “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” — Lectures on Faith

  13. “But the inhabitants of the world do look upon the outward appearances, and do we send a message— intentional or not— by our habits of personal grooming.”

    There are two issues that I have with this quote. First, since when are we suppose to placate to the likes of the world? Is the slightly higher respect we get from the business class really worth the mentality that you have to look a certain way to be a good Mormon? When Christ said we should be a light unto the world, by light did he mean good works and compassion, or by light did he mean short hair and freshly pressed pants? Is it a bad thing to be well groomed? No. Is it a bad think to place a substantial amount of value on looking a certain way? Definitely. Second, it is a bit presumptuous to think that everyone in the world values the 1960’s professional look. If we are trying to visually appeal to others in a respectful way, everyone dressing like an executive is not the way to do that. While long hair is often associated with hippies, short hair and dark suits are often associated with the likes of AIG, Bear Stearns, and Bernie Madoff. Respectable dress is not limited to dark suits and short hair.

    When we pretend that the Church places a high value on a specific look so that the world will respect us we are just hiding from that fact that WE are the ones the place the high value on a certain look and WE are the ones that have to learn not to judge a book by its cover.

  14. I think the leadership focus on grooming is entirely petty. David O McKay was the first clean shaven prophet, and it appears that he was trying to make a break from the polygamous past with his look. I’m not saying the hippy 60’s don’t have an impact, but I think there is more to the story of the clean shaven image than blaming it all on the 1960’s.

    I mean it seems really petty to focus on this, when clearly God doesn’t care. If God cared, Jesus wouldn’t have a beard. JohnE, I love the Nibley quote–I fear that the Pharisees have taken over, and it is ridiculous.

    Matthew, your quote from Lecture on Faith deals with consecration, not grooming. Let’s not forget that most GA’s had facial hair when that was written, so let’s not take things out of context here. And as a church, we don’t require “all things” as we did in Brigham Young’s day.

    Jesus said it is what comes out of our mouths that defile us, not what goes into our mouths. I think the same analogy can be applied to grooming. It’s funny to me that Orthodox Christian priests purposely do not shave because they think shaving shows vanity. I think they are right, and our leaders’ emphasis on personal grooming is merely vanity. I agree with Randall and others that have said that focusing on grooming is misguided. In other cultures, such as Judaism, Islam, and Orthodox Christianity, beards are a sign of piety. Most religions just don’t care one way or the other. But I think LDS leaders like being called a “peculiar people”, so that’s why they latch on to petty, vain things like this. Well, it is peculiar, but I’m not sure it’s a proper sign of piety one way or the other.

  15. I’m with ya, MH. The over-emphasis on the dress and grooming is ridiculous. I’m convinced many ecclesiastical leaders are looking “past the mark” on this one. Not sure if you happened to catch my post on the same topic: “Not So Clean Cut”

  16. Some leaders look at appearances harshly while others are kind welcoming and never say anything at all. I remember when I was still going to church before I fell away for a decade. I was a priest. I was a skater, growing up in the Salt Lake suburbs. My hair was of the typical skater aviety and style at that time- long bangs, shaved near to the head on the sides and semi-long in the back. Some members disliked it and other didn’t mind. Back then i always judged people on how they judged me- if they judged me by my outward appearance then I did the same back. Those who judged my heart I too returned that favor and judged them in their heart. This approach has somewhat stuck with me through the years- judge others how you yourself want to be judged. I still to this day do not like anyone who judges my appearances or others appearances. I have seen to many young prospective tenagers who fall away because they are critiqued on their dress appearance in the smaller things. The church does not officially give standards of dress for church members other than being “modest”. Only those passing the sacrament are encouraged to wear special dress- that of a white shirt, to add to the dignity of the service. But even still it is not a requirement to wear a white shirt and tie. Nothing is mentioned about the length of hair, makeup and color of it, jewlry etc other than not being overdone.

    Personally i think the church from it’s leadership want to move beyond the petty little things that some get caught up in such as dress and appearance. There will always be those few who it will bother and will make issues of it though.

  17. Rob – your example resonates with me because of a companion on my mission. Even as a missionary his hair was a little long. He was a skater as well. One of THE nicest and most humble people I have ever known. We lived in an apartment of 4 missionaries, and when one would come in and complain that the dishes weren’t done, and myself and others would think, “gosh he complains a lot” – this “skater” would be up doing the dishes before I could finish my thought. Not that he was servile – he was just really humble, worked hard, and got along with almost everyone. When he finished his mission I’m sure his hair grew out a little more. Big deal.

  18. Adam, sometimes I have asked myself over the years if the church is more into making a mold for people to fit into or really creating an atmosphere where salvation can be found. It reminds me of one other story.

    Years ago, I worked for a small commercial cabinet making business. At that time I wasn’t going to church. I smoked, drank a little, and used sometimes vulgar language. But, I was a decent hard working and hoest individual. Our company landed a contract on the BYU campus at their legal building to do some cabinet work. The first day we showed up we were met by security who handed out a list of all these rules for us to follow. Amongst these were that we wouldn’t smoke on their property, even if it was just in our work trucks. Another rules was that we couldn’t wear cut-off shirts, couldn’t look at women or talk to them unless they talked to us first. We also couldn’t use vulgarity etc. Our dress appearance was to be modest etc. It struck me as odd that of all the contracts we got, this was the only one that had rules to abide by while on the job site. But, the job site itself- where the specific work was happening was closed off to the public. Those fellow workers and myself were treated as outsiders, as evil degenerates. And, in turn we viewed them as stuck up snobs who lived in their superior world who wanted nothing to do with us lower class individuals. This was about the time my wife started investigating the church and was later baptized into. It has always bothered me that we as mormons come off that way to people. I have viewed it on both sides of the tracks and my coming back to church was in large part due to moving away from the negative memories that were built up while I lived in the mormon capital. Its not the mormons fault. But, we have fallen at times into the traps of basing everything off of class and appearance. The church in general comes off a lot of times as being saw as snobbish, upper class, etc. This is because of the members themselves and their individual attitudes and perceptions. I lived back east for quite some time when I was youg and the mormons are looked at quite differently because they are so far outnumbered. Mormons there do not puff themselves up in pride or any of the follies we see in predominantly mormon areas like SLC. In order to survive in some areas, mormons must really be true Christians and treat others as true servants. One other story, real quick-

    When I was young and searching for a job I went through a temporary job service who placed me at the LDS facility in SLC where they made new furniture and mattresses. I was hired on to be trained as a woodworker- a lathe operator making legs for various furniture pieces. I worked there for a week and one day while on break one of my superiors who was in charge of the department saw me smoking out in the parking lot. He came out and smiled and then informed me that if I wanted to keep working there I would have to stop smoking. That was my last day on that job. My smoking wasn’t causing any harm to the other employees, I was not leaving my butts on the ground, I wasn’t even smoking by their front sign or anything. I saw it as an “image” thing and was quite upset that they would judge the entirety of my character off of what was hanging from my lips. Does it really matter if the church employs people who smoke or drink? If they truly want to help people why not be more gentle and understanding?

    I have since returned to church and have learned from seeing it both ways how important it is not to judge others. I have learned that We shouldn’t mold our members into beings that they aren’t.

  19. Is this really about spirituality…or is it about power?

  20. Since all religion is made up by men, those in charge of running the organization can make up whatever rules they want – and it makes sense in this regard since they want to limit dissent and encourage conformity. The irony here is that Jesus allegedly had long hair and even though he didn’t set up an offical church organization in the Bible story, that was done a few hundred years after he died, it certainly seems silly to insist there are rules of hair length for belonging to an organization founded in his name. I think pointing out the analogous situation of what the Pharisees required is a very apt point.

  21. @Rob Osborn
    Thanks for the stories, Rob, I appreciate it. Those experiences seem to be invaluable for understanding others.

  22. I understand perfectly why Elder C would be concerned by the blue shirts. If you have served in the bishopric then you would notice that men wearing shirts that are not white is a way of creating an excuse for not participating in priesthood ordinances when really the root of their issue is not being worthy. The young men do this all the time to avoid blessing the sacrament.

    It’s very difficult for me to believe that an individual was declined a calling for facial hair. You are missing the obvious. Your friend Jeff was extended the calling. If there was conditions from the stake president he would have made them before extending the calling. You YOURSELF served in the ward with grooming standards that are a-typical to LDS men. YOU weren’t given stipulations were you?

    So the simplest explanation is that your friend Jeff was released from his calling because he had worthiness issues. Instead of telling you that, he made an excuse.
    I’m guessing the Sunday school calling did not come until things were cleared.

    All the same, if we are given direction from priesthood leaders that we don’t understand or agree with, we can either find offense and complain about it, or we can pray for understanding, insight, and direction.

    Did your friend pray about cutting his hair and get no as an answer?

    If he didn’t then was he truly sustaining his priesthood leaders?

  23. the simplest explanation is that your friend Jeff was released from his calling because he had worthiness issues.

    Lynn, your comment has to be one of the most unrighteous, snap judgments I have ever seen. You really need to back off here. If Jeff is worthy enough to routinely go to the temple and the stake president found him worthy, then there is absolutely no worthiness issue here. (Incidentally, Jeff wears white shirts every week–I don’t.) For you to insinuate a worthiness issue having never met Jeff is unbelievable to me.

    If you didn’t gather from the OP, the stake president has never had a problem with facial hair in the past, or long hair. He didn’t ask Jeff to cut his hair when they met to discuss the calling. Rather, the stake president cleared Jeff to serve, and then had the bishop play the “bad guy” and ask Jeff to cut his hair. This is absolute vanity. If Brigham Young or Jesus came back today, would they have to shave and cut their hair too? Are we to question the elder’s quorum president’s inspiration in recommending Jeff to serve? Or rather, is the elder’s quorum president following the example of 1 Sam 16:7?

    For the record, Jeff’s bishop from 10 years ago (in the same stake as now) wore a mustache to Jeff’s wedding at the Salt Lake Temple. Jeff showed me a photo. The former bishop still had a mustache until a few weeks ago. It is apparent to me that the stake president is getting “guidance” from Elder C to cut down on facial hair, because this hasn’t been an issue in the past, but Elder C apparently has a pet issue. This is absolute vanity.

    Jeff never formally received the calling. He was extended the calling and accepted. Before it was brought to a sustaining vote before the stake, they asked him to cut his hair and shave. He refused. So, they called someone else. If Jeff hadn’t told me about the issue, I would have never known he had been asked to serve in the presidency.

    I didn’t ask Jeff if he prayed, but he was pretty adamant that he liked his look and didn’t want to cut his hair. He is trying to be like Jesus, even look like Jesus. So Lynn, do you pray about your appearance too? If you do, you are unbelievably vain. I have a friend in another stake who has acne scars. He currently serves with a beard as Executive Secretary in the bishopric. If he shaved, everyone would see the scars, and frankly he looks better with a beard. Should he shave too so that everyone can see his scars?

    Perhaps Elder C could use a lesson on unrighteous dominion, rather than the members need another useless lesson about “sustaining the brethren.” And you obviously need to re-read Matt 7:1, as well as 1 Sam 16:7. Maybe you’ll learn not to make such poor snap judgments of people you’ve never met.

  24. Elder C…

    If I had to bet I would guess this is the same guy who bragged to my entire mission that his nickname was “Complete Control Carmack.”

    just a hunch. who knows, there’s a bunch of total C’s up there.

  25. What a great topic. I’ve seen more and more of these types of judgements recently. A couple of years ago when serving in the Young Women’s program I changed my look to what I would describe as [moderately] extreme. I wanted to have a little fun with my look and did something non-permanent but different. I wasn’t even the most extreme look within our YW leadership (IMO). I noticed right away that one of my girls began treating me differently. She wouldn’t talk to me or look at me and answered any direct questions with the least amount of interaction possible. During a Mutual activity, I finally confronted the whole class and asked them what was going on. It took a little prodding but the girl in question finally spoke up and said she couldn’t follow a leader who didn’t listen to the prophet. [Insert incredulous look here.] She then told me that in the For Strength of Youth pamphlet the prophet clearly states that we should avoid extremes in dress and appearance. She was 12. While it is possible that she came up with this on her own, my guess is that mom may have been talking at home and someone picked up on it. Anyhow, I enjoyed the opportunity that I then had to teach the girls about treating people in a Christ-like (and more mature) manner.

    In my opinion, Church leaders who voice such petty and vain opinions are creating a Church-wide culture of intolerance and division. Dress and appearance is just the tip of the iceberg. What lies beneath that surface, I fear, are the judgements that make so many people feel that they have to have the perfect family and have to create and image of “exactness” in themselves and those around them. In turn, so many people are left feeling like no one understands that they are left alone and unable to accept or give support that could change this.

  26. I’m reading this some 5 years later. Jeff moved to a new stake, and served in the Elder’s Quorum presidency under a different stake president. Now he’s serving in scouts.

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