Black Nail Polish

June 14, 2008    By: Matt W. @ 10:25 am   Category: Life

Last month I was “fired” as Ward Clerk and moved to be Young Men’s President. Our Ward is Small, and so we combine Teachers and Deacons. We have 6 active youth who run the gambit in family settings.

Recently an apparent issue has come up where rumor has it that someone in my ward came up to one of my young men and chastised him for having black nail polish on while blessing the sacrament. (He’s Goth, or Monster Metal, or whatever it is called these days. ). Rumor has it that the boy was pretty angry about these comments. I don’t know what his reaction really is, but I can imagine. I don’t even really know which Young Man it was (I have two Goth kids, could be either one)

Now these are good guys. One always wears a suit to church and purposefully puts his “down to his waste” hair back in a pony tail. He blesses the sacrament nearly every week, and while he has no plans to serve a mission, attends mutual every week, and faithfully helps his grandfather home teach and serve half the widows in our ward. (By help, I mean he takes them the sacrament every week and takes some of them dinner almost every night.) The other is working with me every week towards achieving his eagle scout, despite great personal obstables he has come accross. Both have committed to me to work on their Duty to God awards and Both are 80% done or better.

More importantly, I have worked with these kids for years as a Sunday School Teacher, and I have a personal spiritual witness of their vital worth to God. Before I said these were good guys. Let me not understate this. These are AWESOME young men.

These are really smart kids, going through normal patterns that really smart kids go through, rebelling against the norms of society because let’s face it, the norms of society really suck for teenagers. Sure some could argue that “Goth” culture (or whatever it is) is just another norm of society (a trap as it were so that even those rebelling from the norms would fall into a consumer friendly market that is easy to produce product for). But the real thing is, I don’t want these Young Men to confuse praxis as applied by some members as the Gospel for the Way that brings happiness in this life and the next.

Being a teenager is hard enough. You’ve got the “circus in your pants” problem, the relationships problem, the accountability problem, the “church rules now apply to you” problem. I mean, what isn’t a problem or challenge at that age?

It reminds me of another young man I know who was once given crap by someone for having painted Toe nails while doing a baptism. He had a crazy Dennis Rodman fetish and apparantly Painted Nails were part of that Fetish. That guy later went on a mission to Indiana and baptised me.

My first instinct is to paint my nails black, but I don’t want to exacerbate the problem by openly being a jerk to someone who was a jerk, and it’s only a rumor at this point, so who knows. And besides, wearing nail polish bothers me. My second thought was to have a mini lesson on hedges, based sort of on Geoff’s recent post. Or maybe a mini lesson on stupid people and the church, or even a mini lesson on social conformity and cultural misunderstanding across generations.

anyway /end rant.

Any ideas?


  1. Honestly (and especially if this is out of character for the ward) (and, of course, provided the rumor is true and that the person who chewed out the young man wasn’t his mom or dad and a bunch of other caveats), I’d give or ask somebody to give a stern talking-to to that person. He or she was totally out of line. I had long hair for three and a half of my four high school years and listened to heavy metal and was active and had no intention of going on a mission. But I passed and blessed the sacrament and was otherwise active and, over the course of those years, never had anybody at church say anything about my hair.

    And I ended up going on a mission, not become a rock star, getting a real job, getting married, etc. etc. I doubt that one jerk would have pushed me out of the church, but it has happened to people. Painting his nails may be idiotic—my hair almost certainly was, and I listened to real crap—but it was fun in high school. There’s no reason to push someone out of the church period, but especially not for such a non-issue.

    Comment by Sam B. — June 14, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  2. This is sooo not a battle for anyone to be waging with those young men. I think I might talk to the bishop and make sure I had his support to let the boys know it’s not a big deal. And if he is willing to lose these boys by going to the mattresses over this issue, then you need a better bishop.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 14, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  3. This really breaks my heart to hear. Being a teenager is hard enough. You’re trying to find yourself, which sometimes means trying different things. For me, one of those things was trying out the Church. I was a convert at 15 years old who showed up to her first sacrament meeting with purple hair, black nail polish, and wore a black sleaveless dress. I didn’t know any better, and now that I do, I probably wouldn’t have changed it back then. It was who I was, or who I was discovering inside. It didn’t mean I was less loving and devoted to Heavenly Father.

    I pray that this young man doesn’t leave the Church over such an issue. I think if someone had said something similar to me at that age, I might have. It’s a hard age.

    Comment by Jia — June 14, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  4. I have a cousin for whom misplaced fastidiousness about hair length and white shirts were the beginning of the end of church activity. Anybody who chases a teenager off over grooming preferences would be better off with a millstone around his neck. (Isn’t there a scripture about that somewhere?)

    Comment by Kristine — June 14, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

  5. There will always be people who have serious issues with black nail polish, long hair, skinny ties, fat ties, hair gel, etc. It’s a losing battle to try to change their minds.

    When serving in youth callings, I’ve had more luck by focusing on my relationships with the youth. If they know that I think they’re fantastic people, they have a much easier time shrugging off the mean-hearted comments. Teens are smart. They figure things out. Sounds like you’re in this calling for a reason.

    Comment by Ahna — June 14, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  6. Saying what you’re all saying is any easy thing. But, this raises an interesting question: Is it anything goes for teenagers passing the sacrament -or is there a line at which point something should be said. Not by anyone, but by the bishop? Let’s say a young man wants to wear no tie, or wear a T-shirt with some clever saying on it. What principles are involved here?

    Comment by Hal — June 14, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

  7. Matt,

    I like Kevin’s suggestion and I like your idea to talk to them about hedges and stupid people. It is a good teaching moment and they are lucky to have you as their leader.

    My long hair played a small part in my almost-expulsion from the MTC (I had just cut it for my mission and I thought it was REALLY short, but apparently it didn’t look short to the branch president). In my second area, I had a discussion with my ward mission leader about whether we should let a hypothetical worthy priest with blue hair pass the sacrament (I argued that we should). This led to him reporting me as a trouble missionary to my mission president who never did fully trust me after that I don’t think. It just boggles my mind that there are people out there thinking it is a big deal to bless the sacrament with black nail polish on. Black polish or blue hair, I say we should be trying our utmost to make sure they are at the table worthily blessing the sacrament every Sunday. The worth of a soul is great even with the polish on.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 14, 2008 @ 5:58 pm

  8. The worth of a soul is great even with the polish on.
    Indeed. Well said Jacob.

    Comment by Howard — June 14, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

  9. When I was over the deacons in the YM presidency, one of my deacons regularly wore a black shirt with flames on the bottom. Kind of like a decalled hot rod. He also had an earring. Unsurprisingly, the bishop asked me to talk to him about them. My response was to get one of the boys to give a quorum lesson on passing the sacrament.

    He never took out the earring, but he did wear the shirt less.

    Not that it mattered much. He’s nearly 19 and no longer comes to church. He did come to an elders quorum social in November though.

    Comment by Kim Siever — June 14, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  10. Hal: Let’s say a young man wants to wear no tie, or wear a T-shirt with some clever saying on it. What principles are involved here?

    Mostly the ark-steadying principle I suspect. The Bishop is the president of the Aaronic priesthood and the presiding high priest in the ward — it is entirely his prerogative to decide when nail polish or whatever is acceptable for passing the sacrament in that ward or not. A ward member is out of line when criticizing/accosting a young man over such things outside of the direction of the bishop.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 14, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  11. I agree, that is my point. Its the bishops prerogative…I’m asking, if you were the bishop would it be anything goes? Those of you who have made comments, if a bishop decides to teach the young men the principle of reverence and includes dress in that – is that an attack on that young man’s worth? Obviously, done wrongly and it could be, but can you see how it could be done well?

    Comment by Hal — June 14, 2008 @ 8:37 pm

  12. Hal,
    My mission president new how to do it well. He’d tell us the rules as he received them, (example, have a part in your hair) tell us why we didn’t need to follow that rule (philipino barbers cut hair too short for parts and always cut american hair the same way. prez was bald and said he wouldn’t ask us to do anything he wouldn’t do himself, including part our hair.)
    I’ve also seen it done the wrong way (bishop in aneighboring ward gets up and says no denim skirts at church because it’s trashy looking.)

    everyone else, thanks for your comments, I’ll let you know what happens tomorrow.
    In the philippines, I was always impressed with the effort the went to in order to have clean tshirts for church. I baptized a man once because I was the first person in over ten years of his wife being a member that said he could wear shorts to church.

    I guess I am saying my version of common sense says all we can do is teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 14, 2008 @ 10:15 pm

  13. Hal,

    If I were the Bishop, I would certainly try to encourage reverence for the sacrament. And I certainly wouldn’t allow “anything goes” as far as dress and grooming. However, black nail polish would not even cause me to wonder if I should be saying something to the young man.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 14, 2008 @ 10:33 pm

  14. My son wants to dye his hair blue in January, when he turns 14. Here is his reasoning: he can’t do it while he is a deacon and passing the sacrament. He can’t do it when he is a priest, and blessing the sacrament. He can’t do it on a mission. When he gets off his mission he will be too old. So he needs to do it while he is a teacher.

    He kind of has a point.

    Comment by Bored in Vernal — June 15, 2008 @ 2:21 am

  15. Matt,

    It’s too bad this happened, but it sounds like you are the right man for the job.

    If I were in your position, I’m not sure I would escalate this situation, or even make explicit reference to it with the young men themselves. It is clear, as Geoff pointed out, that the chastiser wasn’t “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”, but nonetheless there needs to be an “increase of love” shown towards this precious young man.

    Here’s what I’d do: In this month’s Ensign, Elder Holland writes about the early life of Pres. Monson, and includes the detail that as a young man, TSM often took meals to shutins. I would read that story to them and then spell out in detail that they are doing the sames things that the president of the church did when he was their age, and that they are as beloved by God and as needed in His church as Pres. Monson. I’d help them develop enough confidence that they will be able to overlook the petty bullcrap, because this certainly won’t be the last time they encounter it in the church.

    I just don’t understand how grown men and women feel justified in doing the full wigout over their own pet insecurities, and thereby convey to our precious YM and YW that they are not wanted in God’s church. Unbelievable.

    Comment by Mark IV — June 15, 2008 @ 6:49 am

  16. I am somewhat regretting posting this. But in for the penny, in for the pound, right? I am the one dissenting voice in PEC regarding this. The full situation is an adult went to the bishop and told him black nail polish offended him. The bishop asked the boy’s grandfather to talk to the boy and the boy said he would no longer bless the sacrament. The bishop is now going to talk to the boy. I basically told the bishop that I think he should leave it alone. (in about 20 different ways for 40 minutes in PEC) Maybe my young man is smarter and better than I ever was. Maybe he’ll say people are dumb and this is only nail polish.

    One thing is for sure, I have been as vocal as I feel I can be without breaking the bounds of propriety.

    And maybe I am wrong on this and everyone else in my ward is right. Maybe when grown ups come to the bishop and say they are thinking about going to other wards over nail polish, they represent many who share similar feelings.

    I’m in SS right now typing on my centro. I am obviously emotionally irrational still at this point.

    stupid heads

    Comment by Matt W. — June 15, 2008 @ 8:50 am

  17. I dunno Matt. It sounds like the adult who was put off by the nail polish did not overstep his bounds after all. Going to the bishop with a complaint about it is a LOT different than accosting the young man directly.

    We have to remember that we are a community of saints. We all have a community responsibility and if we are doing something that offends a fellow saint we all need to look at our own actions first. If the judge in Israel agrees that there is some merit to the complaint then that “ruling” counts for us. These community responsibilities apply to teens too — the worth of souls is great at all ages, right?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

  18. I think if he is implying he will go inactive over it to the bishop, he is overstepping his bounds, Geoff.

    I agree with you however, that our teens are just as culpable as the rest of us to the rules, and more so, in some regards, as the rules are so much easier to break as a teen. However, it isn’t really a question of rules or procedures. Basically, it is a question of whether we as a Church need to take more care to not drive away those who are different. Didn’t Elder Wirthlin just give a talk about this.

    My Young Man in question is a smart young man. At the procedural level, Is it too much to ask that if the bishop wants to council him to bring him in and council with him, rather than to send his grand father to do it? (Further the Bishop still has not met with the Young Man, even though he said he would this morning.)

    Further, again this is a young man who wears a suit to church every week and is highly active. Wouldn’t it be wiser to show a little adult restraint and to teach him correct principles and let him govern himself?

    In truth, I am much less upset about this now than I was this morning. This isn’t MMM or anything that dramatic. And yes, I needed to calm down a bit. I was over the top this morning. But if nothing else, at least the Young Men will know I love them and will go to battle for them.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 15, 2008 @ 7:25 pm

  19. when grown ups come to the bishop and say they are thinking about going to other wards over nail polish,

    That’s the part that causes me to believe that this person is still very much out of order. Yes, we are a community, but a bishop who makes a habit of allowing threats like this is going to end up with a ward full of whiners. Ultimately, the proper response might be: “Don’t let the door hit you”.

    It would be ideal if the young man could just take this in stride. He may still have a little growing up to do. But in my opinion, the anonymous adult in this situation is behaving like a three year old, and the lion’s share of the growing up that needs to done lies with him/her. We simply can’t make progress by indulging these people.

    You have my sympathies and best wishes, Matt.

    Comment by Mark IV — June 15, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

  20. Well here is the problem Mark — neither you or I are the bishop of that ward so speculating on what he should have done is not really particularly useful. He has the mantle; we don’t. Either he acted in an inspired way or he didn’t. If he did act with the approval/inspiration of God he was right; if he acted contrary to God’s will he was wrong; but we have no way of knowing which it was from our vantage point.

    I feel confident that God is not universally opposed to black nail polish on priesthood holders. But the question is whether this young man can handle being asked to avoid wearing while administering the sacrament. This kid doesn’t have to be totally coddled does he? I doubt you are implying the entire ward, indeed the entire worldwide church must walk on eggshells around him or something. At what point are we simply being disrespectful to the young man when we assume he is so fragile that he can’t handle even the slightest correction? If he wilts under this kind of rather predictable criticism it seems to me he is likely in trouble in any organization/job he will belong to for the rest of his life… (unless he is just looking for an excuse to bail of course).

    I agree with you though that the whiny adult in this situation needs to grow up and get a life. There appears to be no shortage of doofuses in the church and I suspect that will never change. (Isn’t there a scripture that says “Doofuses you always have with you”?) It seems to me that the most practical approach is to help the young man learn to cope with the dinglefritzes he will encounter throughout his life. Enduring to the end takes a long time after all.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2008 @ 8:24 pm

  21. PS — I took the “say they are thinking about going to other wards over nail polish” comment as hyperbole. Are you saying that actually and overtly happened Matt?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 15, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

  22. Fellas, I no longer feel comfortable discussing this in a public forum. Other ward members read this.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 15, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

  23. Fair enough Matt. I can blather on though, right?


    I am hearing your various points and agreeing mostly. I agree that we have to care about whoever the adult is (who is probably acting with the best of intentions), and I agree that everyone needs to learn to take correction (certainly the youth do). But, when I consider the whole situations on balance, I am with Mark IV.

    In principle, everyone must learn to take correction, but it is much easier to take correction when the correction is not asinine. Furthermore, the kind of busy-bodiness that leads someone to complain to the bishop about black nail polish should be roundly condemned, in my opinion. If this isn’t straining at a gnat, I don’t know what is. It is so easy to “omit the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” These we ought to be focusing on.

    Comment by Jacob J — June 16, 2008 @ 9:28 am

  24. I’m also a youn men’s leader.

    We had a simmilar situation. We had some priest who wore their baggy pants so low people could see their boxer shorts. Our bishop very gently asked them if one hour a week they could wear their pants higher. They accepted.

    I would remind them they do a sacred duty, and an honor. What they do is similar to the work old testaments priests did in the temple. Having said all of that, I would always apply what we read in D&C 121:

    41 No apower or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the bpriesthood, only by cpersuasion, by dlong-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
    42 By akindness, and pure bknowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the csoul without dhypocrisy, and without eguile—
    43 aReproving betimes with bsharpness, when cmoved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of dlove toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
    44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of adeath.
    45 Let thy abowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let bvirtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy cconfidence wax strong in the dpresence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the edews from heaven.
    46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant acompanion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of brighteousness and truth; and thy cdominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

    Comment by Carlos U. — June 16, 2008 @ 10:42 am

  25. All of our problems can lead us to a learning situation. I really have to agree with Geoff J. in #20 above. Even teenagers need guidance and sometimes correction, also. If the Bishop were to ask me today, my opinion would be to speak with the Young Man and find out how big a deal it is to him to wear black nail polish all the time. My association with females throughout my life leads me to believe that they re-do their nail polish on a regular basis. If it’s not that big a deal to the young man, maybe try to get him to agree to take the polish off on Sunday morning and re-paint on Sunday evening. (might even be more healthy for the nails.) Glad he’s the Bishop… and pray that he has the inspiration to bless all parties involved.

    Comment by mondo cool — June 16, 2008 @ 10:47 am

  26. Just to make light of a serious issue…

    I personally draw the line at black nail polish. Pink, orange, and earth tones are great.

    Comment by Latter-Day Sustainablist — June 16, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  27. We had a kid in our ward a few years ago that dressed in this type of way. What was eventually done is that the young man came to church dressed in his Sunday best and looking every bit the part of a priest. After Sacrament meeting was over he changed his clothes and his whole image for the rest of the meetings.

    This had an interesting effect I think. Many people respected the fact that he was willing to look the part during the ordinance, and seemed to be more tolerant of him during other times. Also, I think the change appealed to the young man. Dressing like some of these kids do is supposed to be shocking and disturbing to adults. And the before/after was shocking (which is what he wanted anyway).

    This seemed like a unique and effective compromise for this young man.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — June 16, 2008 @ 11:33 am

  28. Just curious…I’m in Southern California and have never seen Goth, or black nail polish, on anyone at church and I’ve been in lots of different wards the last few years. I see it around town a bit – but not much. Is this common at church wherever you are? Or is it pretty rare? (please don’t suggest they aren’t at church because we have driven them all away – I don’t believe that.)

    Comment by Hal — June 16, 2008 @ 11:44 am

  29. I agree with all that you wrote in #23 Jacob. I think we all vigorously agree that judgmental busybodies are obnoxious. But in the end I was considering a practical way out of this mess.

    Comment by Geoff J — June 16, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

  30. My family was not active when I was growing up. I started going to MIA when I was in the 9th grade. It was fun, I was connecting with what I could remember as a small child. I has only been going for a few weeks, maybe two months. One week I went and the MIA teacher started ragging on me after I had my ears pierced (only one in each hole, it was after all 1969). I was so proud of my new fake diamond earings…. It took me until 1983 to come back to the church, and I made many attempts at other churches before I made it back.

    I know how the boy feels. It is very difficult to be criticized for something that is not wrong anywhere else and what you are comfortable in. I hope that the Bishop can talk to him and help him understand why he should not wear it. Even if it is just on Sunday for church.

    What I am grateful to have not read is that he said never mind, I will just not go to church with a bunch of old people that don’t have a clue about anything. Because that is, after all, what we are to a child that age. Hopefully he will talk to the Bishop and all can be made right. Hopefully it won’t take so many years away from the blessings of the church for him.

    You sound as if you will be a fabulous YM Pres. I hope you can reach the boys as they reach for their potential. Good luck.

    Comment by MontanaMuse — June 16, 2008 @ 9:50 pm

  31. There are a lot of issues here that deserve to be discussed in some way. Geoff makes some good points in #20. But I have to say that this whole post makes me really uncomfortable. Real people are being discussed with little care for their privacy.

    Comment by C Jones — June 17, 2008 @ 9:13 am

  32. make inappropriate jokes with the young men about how you’d like to run the offender through a giant meat grinder and spray their blood all over the congregation during sacrament. If they’re really metal-heads, they’ll know you’re making a GWAR reference.

    Comment by SingleSpeed — June 18, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  33. Today I got to see who the mature person was in the situation. I haven’t wept while sacrament was blessed in a long time, but I wept today. My Young Man took the high road.

    Comment by Matt W. — June 22, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  34. it looks like I’m a bit late here. but didn’t Jesus usually have a black fingernail or two? you know, carpinter

    Comment by english — June 23, 2008 @ 9:11 am

  35. My son is 17 and has long hair a lip ring. That’s actually the least of my concerns. Lately his attitude about the church has dipped negative. That’s my main concern.

    Comment by V the K — June 25, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  36. Mr. Blue’s 2-step process for fixing this and getting your point across:

    1. Find out if the rumor is true
    2. if true
    paint your nails black also and convince the youth to follow suit i nprotest
    3. make sure people see your nails

    ps. GWAR sux

    Comment by Mr. Blue — August 24, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  37. Well, this entire story is remarkably sad at numerous levels.

    Having said that, I understand the situation and have witnessed many similar episodes in my life … the bottom line is that I have seen many YM pass the sacrament displaying many fads, fazes and fashion statements. Some YM are sensitive to requests to change, others are not. Some go on missions having previously adopted unusual fads, some don’t. The fashion is often not the point …

    Usually the issue is the strength of the home and the love of the parents and family that help swing the scales in favour of ongoing growth in living the gospel. Who’s to say whether or not kind loving parents aren’t patiently teaching their son the gospel and encouraging him to be kind etc. This appears to be happening when one considers the charitable efforts that are being engaged in with granddadd.

    I like the previous blogger’s use of the D/C 121 scriptures, because that is another bottom line. I think that tolerance and patience and love unfeigned is essential in these delicate situations and I also feel that critical adults need to think more about what they are doing before they lodge complaints. They are entitled to be concerned but they need to be considerate in expressing those concerns.

    In my teenage days it was love beads, afros, ponchos, kaftans, flowers in your hair, sandals and huge sunglasses etc … no one complained when these things were worn on Sunday, even though it was not entirely kosher to some of the older folk in the ward. Needless to say, I survived without any harm done and I lived the gospel with great devotion in my kaftan, love beads and ponchos. Not quite the same but you have to take my point … fashion doesnt’ dictate a love of the gospel which it seems this YM seemed to have …

    I hope all’s well that end’s well

    Comment by Kaftan Queen — August 25, 2008 @ 11:58 pm