To some Jews, Muslims and Amish, a beard connotes piety and religious compliance. It can signal a man's identity and sign of affiliation.
For Mormons, though, it has another meaning entirely. With Jews, the practice was suggested by scripture, as in Leviticus 19:27, which says, "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."
But, as Mark Oppenheimer notes in Saturday's New York Times, non-shaving is only one of the Torah’s 613 commandments.
With Muslims and Amish, facial hair is more a cultural tradition handed down through the ages, Oppenheimer writes, than a divine dictate.
Mormons have their own shifting, sometimes contradictory, take on beards.
In the 19th and early 20th century, most Mormon men, including prophets and apostles, sported beards.
When LDS apostle Heber J. Grant arrived in England in 1903 to oversee the Utah-based faith's evangelizing abroad, his predecessor had required missionaries to grow beards as a symbol of their maturity and dignity. A few days into Grant's assignment, a timid missionary inquired as to whether he might be allowed to shave and Grant, the future Mormon prophet, readily agreed.
Still, until 1951, all LDS prophets, save for founder Joseph Smith, were bearded.
Then came the handsome — and clean-shaven — David O. McKay and the rebellious 1960s. Before long, beards took it on the chin.
Brigham Young University, the LDS Church-owned school in Provo, banished them from the student body. That mandate soon spread to the church's global missionary force and, by 2001, it became policy for those who work regularly in LDS temples.
The ban seems to exist for Mormon lay bishops as well (though there are exceptions).
But, like Muslims and Amish, the Mormon expectation is cultural, not scriptural. After all, members are free to beard up.
The LDS Church is even launching a whisker campaign. Dozens of actors and thousands of extras are sprouting beards so they can appear in a series of educational films about the life of Christ that the faith is shooting at a Utah County movie set modeled after Jerusalem.
Peggy Fletcher Stack
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