Kirby: It’s well past time for churches to let their hair down — as LDS temple dreadlocks case shows

Robert Kirby

Tekulve Jackson-Vann, an ordinance worker at the Payson Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was recently “uncalled” from his position because of his haircut.

Actually, it was more because of his hairstyle than his haircut. Jackson-Vann, who is black, had his hair done into some excellent dreadlocks.

Knowing of his church’s obsessive past — not only with grooming standards but also race — he sent a picture of his new dreads to his boss at the temple as a form of warning.

The temple president replied to the effect that dreads violated church guidelines mandating that temple workers’ appearances be clean and conservative.

The matter soon went further up the church chain of command, where it was reversed/resolved. Jackson-Vann is back in the game, new “do” and all.

Religious grooming standards are not particular to Latter-day Saints. Many faiths have them. Short hair, no hair, hidden hair and facial hair can have deep religious meaning.

For example, some Orthodox Jewish men sport earlocks, long, curly loops of sideburn hair referred to by some as “white boy dreads.”

Before we go further into this, please note that I do not consider circumcision to be a grooming standard.

Exactly when God became particular about grooming standards depends on one’s faith. This is probably due to the fact that physical appearances have long been dictated more by culture with theology catching up.

After all, my people (Mormons) didn’t start out with short hair. Pictures of my great-great-grandfathers show them wearing enough hair to stuff mattresses. I don’t know when we entered the hair oil days or if it required a new revelation.

Some faiths are stricter than others when it comes to proper dress, hairstyles, cosmetics and accessories.

I think it’s more than a bit idiotic to obsess over such trivialities, but that’s not unusual. I often find myself in situations where what I think doesn’t matter.

Case in point, the razor-burn haircut forced upon me at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, shortly after high school.

The same concern arose when I later reported to the Latter-day Saint mission home to begin another form of properly groomed service.

Within minutes of entering those august doors, I found myself directed into a room with a dozen other brand-new elders.

The reason for our sidelining soon became apparent as a member of the mission home presidency inspected our heads. We were haircut violators.

Down the line he came, saying “a bit more off the top” and “trim those sideburns up” and “might as well get used to short hair, son. You’re already going bald.”

Then he got to me, frowned, and said that the church didn’t allow “hippies” to serve missions.

Him • “Get a real haircut. This morning.”


I’m kidding. That’s what first came to mind. What I actually said was “OK.”

I went across the street to a barbershop that apparently specialized in missionary do-overs, because the barbers were already smiling when I walked through the door.

It’s long past time to stop thinking of God as a white guy in a J.C. Penney suit with a close-cropped head. Multiculturalism is where it’s at. In the Rose Summit Ward I attend, we have Hispanic members and Pacific Islanders. And they’re not bashful about representing their heritage. When Sister Pili gets up to talk, she says, “Aloha!”

The entire ward better say “Aloha!” back with enthusiasm, because she’ll keep doing it until we get it right. It’s one of my favorite parts of church.

It’s simple. If a global church is what Latter-day Saints truly hope for, then we’re going to have to back off our Utah corsets a notch or two.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.