"If it's causing you more stress than it's worth... it's not worth it." - Yellow
Question #92920 posted on 02/21/2020 3:37 p.m.

Dear 100 Hour Board,

What do you think has to happen for the beard policy at BYU to change? To me it feels like the parts of the BYU honor code that actually involve honor are largely ignored while the beard policy, ridiculous housing rules and the mere appearance of religious piety are the main focuses of the honor code. Consequently, things like academic honesty, career integrity and service toward others (cough, summer sales, cough) take a back seat. How can the students take steps to reign in the BYU Orthodoxy and dispel the fence laws imposed on upon us?

-Русский бот


Dear Dimitri,

Unfortunately, there's not a lot that mere students can do to rein in the "BYU Orthodoxy," and it seems for now that the beard policy is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

If you want my honest opinion--I don't think there's a silver bullet as to "what has to happen" in order for BYU to be a little more introspective. But I do believe there's room for the larger culture at BYU to become more cognizant of the fact that, like every university, BYU has its own politics, disagreements, and policies of varying degrees of efficacy. It may be owned and operated by the Church, but that doesn't actually mean it's "the Lord's university" (in some morally perfected sense) or that every policy and administrative decision gets divine approval before going forward.

That might sound like an excuse to soapbox like I usually do about the nature of revelation and human fallibility, but in my experience, it's a real problem in Latter-day Saint culture. There are lots of people out there who are unwilling to ask questions about even the least spiritual of BYU's policies, because presumably the apostles involved in oversight of the university approve of how it runs, and if it has apostolic approval, then to question is verboten, perhaps even apostate. This is the same line of thinking too many people buy into in the Church. It is my opinion that the only significant reason that the beard policy has remained this long is because our discourse about university policy (at least at the student level, where I participate) is much too enervated. Too many students are prone to conflate it with divine revelation rather than brooking any serious conversation.

An example springs to mind. On my mission, where we had access to mobile devices, a lot of missionaries would use the review section of the approved catalog of apps to post memes, jokes, generally waste time, or complain about the latest poor changes to the Area Book planning app. What surprised me, and led to me writing this answer the way that I have, was the response to those complaints from other missionaries. Many of them piously informed the rest of their brothers and sisters that they had no right to complain; didn't they know the app was approved by the apostles? Didn't they know that church leaders wouldn't have allowed those changes to roll out if they weren't beneficial? Missionaries should have been grateful that the Lord permitted us to use technology at all, and furthermore, since the Lord directs the work, there was no point complaining about the app being harder to use, or losing valuable features, or just not working at all.

Now, I don't know the individual (or combined) programming experience of the Quorum of the Twelve, but suffice it to say that I scarcely believe they are personally involved in the low-level code review of the apps designed for missionary use. I have no doubt the writers of the code prayed for inspiration and guidance in their work (as a cybersecurity major working on far less important projects, I can relate), but do I think God personally dictated--or personally approved--the code that led to the app we got at the time? No. A lot of good things in the Church come about from God adding on to the good ideas that we bring to Him and letting us try our best to do the right thing, even if we get it wrong sometimes. There is a persistent idea in the larger culture that things seem to work in reverse--that good comes about when we wait for God to give us the instructions and raising concerns is pointless if not faithless. I would suggest that the story of the brother of Jared lighting the stones ought to have taught us to be more proactive in seeking and doing good. Lighting a handful of stones by God's divine touch was not the only way forward; surely something else could have been improvised. But it was the way that was brought to God by His people, so He accommodated their request.

I digress. To your point, I believe the beard policy has lasted this long because, being an official administrative decision at a university owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it carries undue weight of divine inspiration, just like each release of Area Book updates did. I don't expect it to change until our dialogue about it comes around to the fact that not every BYU policy must be adamantly defended as an unchanging principle of the kingdom of God. At a university, some policy decisions are just that, policy.

Before I sign off, I do want to caution you not to think too harshly of the BYU environment and the people in it. I fully understand your frustration with the housing rules and with students who are more concerned with appearing righteous than actually being so. But don't let that frustration lead to pride. Be the change you want to see on campus. If the BYU spirit means service, honesty, and integrity, then serve others, be honest, and have integrity. Those people for whom BYU is only about appearing righteous or genuine, with no underlying sense of our divine responsibility to be like Christ, have already received their reward. If BYU is about more than that to you, then focus on living up to that responsibility, and encourage those around you to do the same. It's natural to be frustrated when policy decisions or the larger culture let you down--but the best thing to do is to turn the other cheek and focus on what you can change first.