For some reason, if an LDS male member has any kind of scruff, a beard, or a goatee, they are likely going to have to endure some kind of ridiculous comment from at least a few members of their ward or stake.
In case there was anyone who didn’t know… having a beard, or any kind of facial hair for that matter doesn’t make you evil, unworthy, or rebellious. It doesn’t even make you trendy, worldly, or insubordinate. It just makes you a person who likes to wear a beard.
I’m not trying to defend or justify my own actions in writing this because I’ve never even fully grown a beard of my own. It’s just never been my thing. (Besides, I don’t know how guys get past that itchy, scratchy phase without it driving them insane.)
I just feel bad for those who get caught in the struggle of what we sometimes define as the unwritten order of things. Why can’t we learn from the advice that the Savior gave to Samuel when he said that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
One day, when I was just off my mission for a few months, I showed up at a church meeting with a day or two of scruff and was confronted by a local church leader. That leader slowly approached me, got close to my face, and censured me in front of my family, my friends, and also some non-members. Weird, right?
Observers were confused, I was embarrassed, and I couldn’t help but never want to attend a meeting with that individual ever again.
Was I offended? Yeah. Should I have taken offense? Probably not. It’s always harder than it seems while you’re in that situation to not be offended.
The thing was, I usually always shaved, for meetings especially. I was still in missionary mode. I wasn’t trying to be rebellious. I had simply forgotten my shaver in the bag I was traveling with and didn’t have a razor.
There was literally no need for what that leader did. It’s the sort of thing that sends fragile testimonies spiraling downhill.
But I’m not so much concerned for myself in these situations anymore. I’m more concerned for others whom I’ve witnessed endure the same experience or worse at the most inopportune times in their spiritual journey.
I recently had a meeting with Bryce, a friend and business associate in Utah who was also teaching some classes at BYU. He had quite a beard and I joked that I’ve never seen a BYU professor with that big of a beard… or any beard for that matter.
He joked back and said, “I’m adjunct.”
We laughed a little together and I asked the corollary, “So… how long have you been growing that thing?”
“About 8 years” came the reply!
The beard on this guy was significant, and it was an unrelated story he told later in the meeting that revealed the history and details behind this man’s beard. It’s the story no one else knows as they see him walking around in the halls at church.
You see, this man came home from his mission early. Not because he was a bad missionary, but because he got sick. Really sick. Cancer sick.
He was sent home to fight the cancer and to get better. When he got home, he was going to start treatments and as is often the case, his hair was about to start falling out.
When people get cancer, or other sicknesses, they often make friends with people who have the same illness.
They can identify with each other, challenge one another, and empathize with one another. Bryce made three close friends during this time of turmoil and pain.
In his own words, he said that they “made our little pact before treatment began, knowing that things would be patchy and hair would fall out everywhere during treatment. So rather than bicking our heads and shaving our faces like many do before things start to fall out, we decided that as long as we were healthy enough to grow beards we would until the day we died.”
They saw their beards as a sign of health. A sign of progress. A sign of hope. And a pact of friendship.
Ultimately, of the four friends that were trying to grow their beards together, only one survived. This man who sat in front of me lived to tell the story. He was the only one of the four who survived. His three friends were taken by the disease.
And so he’s kept his beard, eight years later as a reminder of that ordeal and the friends he had lost. He fought his way through many physical and spiritual challenges. He fought his way all the way to the temple.
And yet sadly, he told me of some of his later interactions with other members of the church who questioned his righteousness because of his desire to keep this beard.
It just shouldn’t be that way.
Another close friend of mine and a very faithful and loving member of the church has worn a beard for the last 15 years. He told me one time that he wears a beard because it helps him feel more comfortable in his own skin. He’s not very tall and he’s struggled with his weight. He’s also lost all of his hair. He said his beard helps to cover up his double chin.
You may chuckle a little as you read that, but for many people, the insecurity is real.
Another friend of ours who bears the royal LDS name of McConkie served a mission in our hometown.
He was one of the best missionaries I’ve ever seen. Thoughtful, kind, a diligent hard worker. When he got home from his mission, he continued to dedicate his life to loving and serving others. He’s literally one of the best guy’s we’ve known. But… he has a beard.
Does that beard change who he is on the inside? Does it limit his potential as a disciple of Christ?
We don’t all need to look the same. As long as our hearts are knit together as one.
I’m sure there are some people in the church somewhere that grew a beard for trendy reasons. But if we’re going to go there with people then we’d better start questioning everything about someone’s outward appearance. Skinny ties vs thicker ties. Short hair vs long hair. Heels or no heels, earrings or no earrings. Makeup or no makeup. Stance socks or Kirkland brand. Blue shirt or white shirt. The list could be endless.
But again… It just shouldn’t be that way. It’s not healthy for the individual or the church.
All of our pictures and videos of Christ depict him with a beard. Joseph Smith didn’t wear a beard, but then Brigham Young did. The seven prophets following Brigham Young wore a beard. David O. McKay decided he’d ditch the beard. The next 8 prophets followed suit. We’ll never know if or when another cultural shift in facial hair will occur again.
But one thing is for sure. The Savior doesn’t want us to persecute someone who doesn’t “look the part.” He wants us to strive to be like Him and “look on the heart.”
He wants us to cast a net over all configurations of a person, and welcome them with blind eyes and open arms to the fold.