Readers’ Forum: Are beards so bad?

BYU graduate Nefi Treviño trims his beard. Brady Bowerbank asks, “Are beards so bad?” (Universe Archives)

In August 2023, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made updates to the Honor Code at CES institutions. These changes were intended to “develop disciples of Jesus Christ” and to help the CES “adopt a principle-based approach.” They include alterations to the Ecclesiastical Endorsement questions and to the Dress and Grooming Standards. Most of these changes are positive, focusing on gospel principles and discipleship. However, to the confusion and frustration of virtually all students and faculty at CES institutions, one much-desired change was conspicuously left untouched — the beard rule.

In his Aug. 28 speech titled “Quick to Observe,” President Reese said the “updated Dress and Grooming Principles and Standards … are grounded in core principles.” The question that we are left with, then, is “What is the core principle for banning beards?” 

I asked President Reese that question in an email. He replied that one of the core principles “is for members of our campus community to ‘Maintain an elevated standard distinctive to education institutions of the Church of Jesus Christ.’” The standard is certainly distinctive, but by what definition is being clean shaven an “elevated standard?” In a world where doctors, lawyers, businessmen and politicians sport facial hair, it’s hard to defend the claim that it’s somehow a lower standard.

Some defend the prohibition by saying that some men can’t grow “good” beards. This is true, but some men also can’t grow “good” scalp hair. Should all men be required to shave their heads? To defend the rule on this basis is shallow and un-Christlike. And what about those men who genuinely look good with facial hair? Let men decide for themselves what looks good and what doesn’t.

Some also defend the rule by saying “If you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else!” If that is your only argument, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate what value the beard rule brings to the Church Educational System.

The Church Education System Honor Code states that the Honor Code seeks to help accomplish the CES mission to “develop disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, the Church, and their communities.” How is requiring men to be clean shaven developing disciples of Jesus Christ? What value does it add? What gospel principle does it represent? The beard rule simply doesn’t fit in an Honor Code that is based on gospel principles. It sticks out and serves to make the Honor Code seem outdated and arbitrary rather than based in inspired doctrine and good principles.

In 1971, then-BYU president Dallin H. Oaks said “Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time … the rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future.” It has now been 52 years since he said that, and attitudes toward facial hair have changed. It’s time to drop the rule. Let us adopt dress and grooming standards that are in line with gospel principles and do away with arbitrary, outdated, silly rules that serve only to distract from BYU’s mission.

Brady Bowerbank

Pleasant Grove, Utah

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