Who is it that we really honor?

Below are several comments from Church and educational leaders that directly or indirectly relate to the Honor Code. I appreciate they way they expand my thinking about the relationship between dress and conduct and the process of learning in spaces that are dedicated to God.

1. Dressing for “Brain Work”

Elder Charles Didier made these comments in his devotional address on 21 September 2004:

What about our clothing and our physical appearance on this campus or in other circumstances? Does it matter, or does it make a difference in your behavior and influence your environment if you wear baggy or immodest clothes or tattered jeans? Does what I read in the Honor Code about modesty really apply to you? “Modesty and cleanliness are important values that reflect personal dignity and integrity, through which students, staff, and faculty represent the principles and standards of the Church” (Dress and Grooming Standards, BYU Honor Code).

I cannot resist quoting from one of your professors, S. Neil Rasband, stating that what you wear affects the educational environment:

What about torn or tattered jeans? They simply suggest that someone is unable to distinguish between being engaged with intellectual challenges and working on the welfare farm. They’re dressed for barn work, not for brain work. . . .

Next time you are tempted to wear something that is too casual or inappropriate to class, think of what you are communicating to yourself and others. Think about the attitudes and manners you are adopting by wearing it. Think about the effect it will have on your learning and your learning environment. Then ask yourself, “Do I really want to wear this?” [“Viewpoint: Do I Really Want to Wear This?” BYU NewsNet, 5 November 2002, http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/40706%5D

2. Who is it that we really honor?
In his September 6, 2006 devotional address, BYU President Cecil Samuelson quoted President Hinckley regarding the BYU Honor Code:

And so, my friends, we ask you to subscribe to these codes and to have the endorsement of your respective bishops and stake presidents in doing so. It is not that we do not trust you. But we feel that you need reminding of the elements of your contract with those responsible for this institution and that you may be the stronger in observing that trust because of the commitment you have made. With every trust there must be accountability, and this is a reminder of that accountability.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Trust and Accountability.” BYU Devotional, 13 October 1992

His talk continues a long line of comments in speeches devoted, at least in part, to this topic. Here is a portion of President Samuelson’s thoughts that align nicely with the post I recently made quoting BYU-Idaho President Kim Clark:

…like the Word of Wisdom, the Honor Code is not primarily a law of…blind conformity. It is a principle of obedience. It is an outward manifestation of our inner appreciation for and understanding of the privilege of being at BYU.

As we do our best to live the Honor Code in this light, we are assisted by focusing on “the weightier matters” ourselves and by not distracting others by our carelessness or neglect of those things “not to [be left] undone” (Matthew 23:23).

I like the attitude and approach of the Apostle Paul. In a discourse that has many applications to our current Honor Code dialogue, Paul makes some observations that I suggest for your consideration. The specifics of his attention had to do with the eating of meat and offerings made to idols. Our doctrine has not changed, although many other dimensions of life have. Listen to Paul’s words and try to grasp the Honor Code implications of things that you might have considered to be of little importance or consequence:

But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. . . .
Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. [1 Corinthians 8:8–9, 13]

If you do not care enough to shave for yourselves, do it for your associates and friends. If you do not respect yourselves enough to dress modestly and appropriately, do it for others.

If you are ambivalent about the importance of the little things as they apply to you, do them anyway out of respect for those who have sacrificed and do sacrifice in order that you might have the remarkable experience of a BYU education. Is the Honor Code a small thing? I do not accord it as such. Is compliance with the Honor Code to which you have attached your signature and pledged your personal honor really that significant? I judge it to be.

President Samuelson’s closing words:

Might we truly recognize what it is and who it is that we really honor. Might we understand the trust that has been bestowed upon us and the accountability that is ours….

3. A sign of your respect for the process of learning and teaching 
I have been impressed by BYU-Idaho President Kim Clark’s comments about the Church Education System’s Honor Code. In his September, 2006 devotional address “God Hath Prepared a More Excellent Way,” he said:

Each area of the Honor Code is important, but today I want to focus on the dress and grooming standards and, in particular, what you wear every day to class. I have noticed, for example, that jeans and T-shirts are the daily wardrobe of choice for many of you. If they are modest, not too short, not tight fitting, not torn or ragged, do not have holes in them, and do not have inappropriate messages on them, then jeans and T-shirts meet the baseline standard of the Honor Code. But as you reflect on your personal bar, listen to these words from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:

. . . choose your clothing the way you would choose your friends—in both cases choose that which improves you and would give you confidence standing in the presence of God. Good friends would never embarrass you, demean you, or exploit you. Neither should your clothing.
. . . from ancient times to modern we have always been invited to present our best selves inside and out when entering the house of the Lord—and a dedicated LDS chapel [and I would add, the Lord’s university] is a “house of the Lord.” Our clothing or footwear need never be expensive, indeed should not be expensive, but neither should it appear that we are on our way to the beach. . . . We should be recognizable in appearance as well as in behavior that we truly are disciples of Christ, that in a spirit of worship we are meek and lowly of heart, that we truly desire the Savior’s Spirit to be with us always.

Every time you walk into a classroom on this campus, you are walking into a space that has been dedicated and set apart by the prophets of God. This is the Lord’s university, a temple of learning, a disciple preparation center. When you look in the mirror in the morning before you walk on this campus, say to yourself: “I want to be a disciple of the Savior; and I am going to look like, and act like, and, in fact, be a disciple of the Savior today.” If it is a devotional day, dress in your temple best. On other days remember who you are and wear clothes that are a notch or two up from jeans and T-shirts.

Now, you may wonder why what you wear is important. After all, the Lord has said, “. . . man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” I want your hearts to be pure and your faith to be true, but I think there are two reasons why what you wear to class is important. First, like being on time, it is a sign of your respect for the process of learning and teaching that occurs in those dedicated places. It is a measure of your respect for everyone involved in that process—including your classmates, the faculty, and especially the Holy Ghost.

Second, what you wear affects how you and those around you behave. Simply said, your dress will affect how you and your classmates engage in the learning process and how much you learn. If you come to class better dressed, you will help to establish a sense of respect, seriousness of purpose, and focus that will affect how the class works. Through your obedience and through raising your personal bar, you will bring a better spirit to class and help to create an environment in which the Holy Ghost can minister, not only to you, but everyone around you. This means that raising your personal bar for dress and grooming is not just about you. It is an act of faith, kindness, service, and love for those around you. It is a powerful step on the path of discipleship.

(The emphasis above is mine – SJ)

4. Each signs with a firm promise to obey
Below is a statement from President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1974 BYU Devotional, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect”:

It is my understanding that each student who enrolls in this great institution understands before coming here what he rules and regulations are, and he or she signs the enrollment sheet with a firm promise to obey those rules and regulations. There is no argument. It is definite and firm. Each student approaches the University on his own volition. There is no compulsion.

There are many other universities in the land, some of which have far less stringent regulations. Every student should consider this well; if he objects to the rules and is unwilling to follow them, he should look elsewhere. If the location, the faculty, the courses, the leadership, and all other conditions are agreeable to him, he should weigh them carefully, then sign the pledge or oath or promise only if willing to observe it strictly. He is most untrue to himself and to the institution to sign and then default.

When we enroll in this institution we accept the standards; that was not for the registration day only. They are to be effective so long as we retain a place in the student body of this institution. It is not a matter of whether or not one is totally converted to the rule. He or she has accepted the standards, whatever they be. We note that we signed this: “I hereby commit myself to conduct my personal life consistent with the standards of Christian living on and off campus, and I adhere to the code of honor and dress and grooming standards.” If I could not agree with the rules of BYU, I would hand back the enrollment sheet and say, “No, since I cannot agree and since I intend not to live the rules, therefore I will not pledge something that I will not do”; or “I have decided to wear immodest dresses. Therefore, I will find a school which will accept my standards”; or “I will not keep the law of chastity. Therefore, I will seek a school which does not require me to so pledge. I will, therefore, not enroll. I will not sign to do one thing and then do another.”

President Kimball’s quote remind me of the closing words of Elder Richard G. Scott’s 1998 devotional Learning to Succeed in Life, in which he said:

I am aware of the very large investment of the Church in this institution, both in money and in human resources. I ask sincerely that if anyone who hears for reads this message has decided to concentrate only on formal education, ignoring the other unique opportunities here; or if a faculty member has chosen to be more concerned about peer acceptance than meeting squarely the goals and objectives of the university; or should there be anyone who has any intent to break the Honor Code, please consider fulfilling your expectations at another university. Your ambition can be adequately met there, and you would open a place for another to fully utilize the unique experiences offered at this university.

5. Comfort and informality may sink to slovenliness

“I was struck by the lack of self-esteem revealed in the manner by which so many people now clothe themselves in public. To attract attention or in the name of comfort and informality, many have sunk not only to immodesty but to slovenliness. Against their own self-interest, they present themselves to others in the worst possible way” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1981, 8; or Ensign, May 1981, 9 ).

6.  The university, once again, will come to be an uplifting principle in the history of the western world

José Ortega y Gasset, the man who for me is the most gifted and persuasive Spanish voice of the twentieth century, said of education, and specifically of university education,

In history–in life–possibilities do not become realities of their own accord; someone, with his hands and his brain, with his labor and his self-sacrifice, must make realities of them. . . . All we are given is possibilities–to make ourselves one thing or another. . . .

[But] slovenliness. . . penetrates our whole national life from top to bottom. . . . [To oppose slovenliness] the individual must. . . go into training, and give up many things, in the determination to surpass himself. . . . [A] generation [who will do that] can accomplish what centuries failed to achieve without [it]. And there, my young friends, lies [your] challenge. . . .

[Yours is] the historic [task] of restoring to the university its cardinal function of “enlightenment.” . . . In the thick of life’s urgencies and its passions, the university must assert itself as a major “spiritual power,” . . . standing for serenity in the midst of frenzy, for seriousness and the grasp of intellect in the face of. . . unashamed stupidity.

Then the university, once again, will come to be what it was in its grand hour: an uplifting principle in the history of the western world. [José Ortega y Gasset, Mission of the University, trans. Howard Lee Nostrand (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1944), pp. 39­45 passim, 86, 99]

Jeffrey R. and Patricia T. Holland, “In the Thick of Life’s Urgencies,” BYU Devotional, 11 September 1984

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