To shave or not to shave: that is the question. Ever since President David O. McKay changed the face of the Church with his smooth cheeks and chin, transforming a prophet’s image from a beard-to-the-chest pioneer to a civilized and debonair man of the twentieth century, our church has been led by clean-shaven men. Which leads some to ask: must a leader be clean-shaven in order to lead? Opinions are divided, and they seem to be divided to a large degree along generational lines. The older generation of members tend to believe that leaders must be bare-faced and not bear-faced. The younger generation is more open to the idea of non-conformity in appearance and tend to think a bearded bishop belongs to the modern age. But let’s look more in-depth at the two opposing camps on this issue.
Camp “Let Em Grow”
This camp is mostly comprised of those who have weak chins, sensitive skin, and radical ideas. They quake when they pass the Stake President in the hall. The sight of a razor in their bathroom makes their cheeks itch. And they’re sure that inactive neighbor down the street is only friendly with them because they dare to look like something outside of the cookie cutter mold.
In case you couldn’t tell through the whiskers, that was tongue in cheek. But in all seriousness, there are some valid arguments for this camp. So let’s share those.
1. Many men look better with facial hair and have worn it habitually for years. Many a wife cringes at the thought that her husband looks like a teenager with his bare baby face. For some, it’s a source of their identity and long established appearance. For others, shaving presents a real challenge for their skin. Which is better, they wonder: a clean shaven bishop with irritated red bumps all over his face or a bishop with a beard? And then there’s the itchiness and the aggravation. Is it really so important considering all of that discomfort?
2. There can be legitimate reasons for wearing a beard. I know of a bishop serving overseas in a military ward. He wore a beard because he was an undercover CIA agent and the beard was a part of his secret identity. (How cool is that?) Of course nobody expected him to shave.
3. The sight of a bearded bishop can open doors to some who may feel like they don’t fit the typical LDS mold themselves. Got tattoos? Smell like cigarettes? Came to church in flip flops? It’s okay. Look. The bishop has a beard. You’re welcome here.
Camp “The Whiskers Must Go”
The men in this camp always wear a white shirt to church, have their shoes spit-shined, and wouldn’t dream of taking off their suit coat, no matter how hot it gets in the Sunday School room. Beware these sheep! You probably are one yourself, and if you are, you don’t even realize how dangerous your blind obedience is. Before you know it, you’ll be buying matching ties for your counselors so that you look as unified as possible while sitting on the stand. (You surely saw that tongue sticking in my cheek. After all, I just left the barber shop and my face is as smooth as a baby’s bottom.)
All joking aside, there are great arguments for being clean shaven while serving in a leadership position. Here are a few of them.
1. Follow the prophet, the primary song tells us. And that means follow the prophet’s example of appearance, especially when he’s participating in priesthood responsibilities. Indeed, many a General Authority has given this reasoning when asked about this very topic. “We follow the example of our leaders,” they say, “even in appearance and dress.”
2. It’s a cultural expectation for leaders to be clean-shaven. Having facial hair can be a distraction and a stumbling block for some members, making it difficult for the leader to minister to and lead in the way the Lord wants him to. The most effective leader becomes invisible and allows the love of the Lord to shine through him. If his grooming makes him stand out, he has placed himself as an obstacle between the Good Shepherd and His sheep.
The Handbook aka The Final Word
Okay, okay. I know what you’re all wondering: but what does The Handbook say about shaving? Honestly? Nothing. It is remarkably silent on the subject, which leaves it up to area leaders to determine what is appropriate in each area or stake.
So what do you do if your leader asks you to shave but you don’t want to?
1. Follow Nephi’s example and pray for understanding, but in this case you’re not asking for clarification on your father’s dream but clarification on your leader’s call to action.
2. If you’re still struggling, make an appointment with your leader to discuss your concerns privately.
What do you do if you’re the leader and your bishops or high councilors are not following your counsel to be clean shaven?
- Consider how you can more effectively share your vision as a leader
- Apply the principles with love and the guidance of the Spirit