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Gospel Q&A: Why Are There Restrictions Against Facial Hair for Ordinance Workers, But Not for Patrons?

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Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “Why are there restrictions against facial for temple ordinance workers, but not for patrons who attend?”

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This question has two parts.

The first implied question is, “Why can’t temple workers have beards and other facial hair?” and the second is, “Why is this not the standard for patrons?”

Story time.

I was a temple worker in the Las Vegas temple briefly before my oldest son was born. I loved serving in the temple and feeling the Spirit there. I loved getting to help other people feel the Spirit in the temple as well. I knew that many of the patrons attending the temple came with a need to feel the peace the temple brings. It was always my goal to be a part of that peace and never to detract from it.

This included before I even began my shift.

I came to the temple in my Sunday best, changing into my white dress upon arrival. To this millennial (and likely most women of my generation or younger), “Sunday best” does not typically include wearing nylons. I had only ever worn tights with my Sunday skirts or dresses during cold Utah winters in college. As a Californian teenager, they were seldom necessary, and as a pregnant Las Vegas resident, I believed they were downright uncalled-for. I noted, however, that women in generations older than mine often felt that wearing nylons was just part of being dressed up. It often seemed that these women felt that bare legs were vulgar or disrespectful, or at least underdressed for the occasion of going to the temple.

I didn’t grow up that way and meant no disrespect by going to the temple with bare legs. It meant nothing to me. It was just cooler and more comfortable than wearing nylons. But to some of these women, it was a distraction from what they had come to the temple to do.

We all know that other women’s thoughts are not my responsibility. Each of us is responsible for our own thoughts. But, as a set-apart temple worker, I knew part of my assignment was to facilitate a peaceful experience for the patrons who had come to the temple.

If my wearing nylons could prevent unnecessary distraction from some of our patrons away from the sacred work they were doing, then I could wear nylons.

Nylons don’t matter, but making myself the message, instead of the work going on in the temple, does matter.

If, to some of the patrons there, my lack of nylons was the message they went home with, something from their experience was lost. It was my responsibility to not detract from the Spirit of the temple. It was not my responsibility, however, to teach elderly sisters not to unnecessarily pass judgment on younger women with bare legs.

I believe this is the same reason why male temple workers are asked to keep clean-shaven.

Do beards matter in the eternal scheme of things? Absolutely not. Dallin H. Oaks, then president of Brigham Young University, put it this way:

There is nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood. Either of these articles may reduce a person’s effectiveness and promote misunderstanding because of what people may reasonably conclude when they view them in proximity to what these articles stand for in our society today. 

This statement was given in 1971, so his use of “today” may no longer be accurate, but there is still a whole generation of men and women who remember what beards and long hair stood for in the ΄60s and ΄70s.

President Oaks also gave an example of what long hair and beards represented with a story of two young men, active members of the Church, who had adopted these grooming standards.

Soon after they arrived in Gary, Indiana, to look for work, and while they were walking down a street, a peddler of narcotics approached them and invited them to make a purchase. Faced with that temptation at that time in that place, the boys chose not to resist. Soon after this transaction they were arrested and charged with possession of the drugs they had purchased. After the[ir] bishop heard their story in jail, he asked them, “Why do you think the peddler approached you?” One boy responded, “I guess it was our appearance; we just looked like users.” These young men had taken upon themselves the badges of the drug culture, and they were easily identified and approached by those who sought to profit from their weakness.

Long hair and particularly beards no longer represent a counter-culture. They are no longer tokens for anti-government, drug use, and “free love.” They’re just beards.

And they’re just nylons.

And someday the expectations and even prejudices will change. But in the meantime, as temple workers, the standards for our appearance are similar to that of missionaries: “Your appearance is often the first message others receive about you, and it should support what you say and do.”

And similarly to how the standards for missionaries are different than the standards for “member missionaries,” so are the standards for ordinance workers different than for patrons. Missionaries wear name badges that include the name of the Lord. Temple workers, at times, symbolically represent the Lord and stand in His place. Patrons don’t share that same responsibility.

My advice, if you’re interested, is to not let the standard bother you or detract from your experience in the temple. While it may just be nylons or a beard to you, it may affect someone else based on the time and place that person comes from. In the moments we have to be bearers of Christ’s messages of love and hope through our appearance and offered service, let’s protect the patrons from misunderstanding the message.

While they are still responsible for what they think, we can help temple patrons direct their thoughts toward Him instead of letting their thoughts dwell on nylons. Or beards. And in this way, we provide greater service to our brothers and sisters.

And isn’t serving others the best part of being an ordinance worker?

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright
Becca loves audiobooks, dark chocolate, singing, hiking, walking,  going out with her husband, and raising their chickens and children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see flowing lava and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.

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