A worker for the Payson temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently experienced the impact of church culture clashing with perceived policy, and the results have been hair-raising.
Tekulve Jackson-Vann, 38, of Spanish Fork, and a temple ordinance worker, serves voluntarily on Saturdays in the church’s temple in Payson — and wears dreadlocks.
Jackson-Vann’s cultural hairstyle is a new thing for him, but he said he wants to get back to the roots of his heritage, which is 90% African, including countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
“I decided to grow locks,” he said. “I wanted to feel more close to the culture. This is a big change. I even prepped my patients for the drastic change.”
Jackson-Vann joined the LDS Church when he was 9 years old, attended Brigham Young University and served a full-time mission. He is now a counselor at the Provo Canyon School.
His story is seemingly more about splitting hairs than perhaps putting it into locks.
Jackson-Vann knew that showing up for his temple shift might cause a commotion, so he reached out beforehand to his shift supervisor.
“I sent a photo of my hair to the shift coordinator,” Jackson-Vann said. “There was no need to be anxious. He sent the pictures to the temple president who looked at the guidelines.”
Jackson-Vann was initially told he would not be able to serve as a temple ordinance worker with his hair styled in that fashion, because it might cause concern with some of the patrons.
“I was told, ‘But we would love to see you in the temple,’” he said. “I would still go to the temple; it keeps me grounded.”
In an excerpt from the Priesthood Handbook of Instruction 1 concerning temple workers, it says, “They must be mature in his or her knowledge of the Gospel. They should be in good health, emotionally stable, dependable, respected in the church and the community, and work well with others.”
In all other areas of temple worthiness, Jackson-Vann was in good standing. He wanted to see if he could have a greater discussion with the temple president on the hair subject.
“I felt deep inside we needed to talk about the culture in the church,” Jackson-Vann said.
The temple president called the LDS Church Temple Department for guidance. As long as he was clean and his hair was clean, he was told there is nothing to keep Jackson–Vann from serving.
“President (Lawrence Ralph) Duffin handled this entire incident the way a temple president should,” Jackson-Vann said. “He got a few calls and more guidance and quickly reached out to me.”
In an April 2001 general conference talk, President Russell M. Nelson, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, talked about temples and the necessity to be prepared not only spiritually but physically.
“One prepares physically for the temple by dressing properly. It is not a place for casual attire,” Nelson said. “We should dress in such a way that we might comfortably attend a sacrament meeting or a gathering that is proper and dignified.
“Within the temple, all are dressed in spotless white to remind us that God is to have a pure people. Nationality, language, or position in the church is of secondary significance. In that democracy of dress, all sit side by side and are considered equal in the eyes of our Maker.”
In the discussion between Jackson–Vann and the temple president, an apology was extended and a conversation began.
“I don’t fault the temple president at all,” Jackson-Vann said. “Here in Utah, it’s not a natural thing and may not be understood. It’s good this happened so policy was clear going forward. It was one of those times when church culture was confused with doctrine.”
However, according to Jackson-Vann, it was time to talk about racism in the temple.
While Jackson-Vann said he didn’t see the dreadlocks as a racism issue but more cultural insensitivity, he and others said they have experienced racist comments or issues while attending the temple. He talked with the president about those as well.
Jackson-Vann said he and others have had comments such as, “It’s nice to see your kind here,” or “It would be nice to have more of your kind here.”
He said he was once stopped in the celestial room of the temple, believed to be the holiest place in the building, and was asked what part of Africa he was from. His answer was Georgia.
Jackson-Vann is the Young Men president at Genesis. Genesis is an auxiliary organization of the LDS Church for African American members and their families. He said it was important for his young men to see and hear how the incident was handled and that their cultural hairstyles and testimonies would still be accepted in the temple.
Since the spread of Jackson-Vann’s story, he has received mixed comments from mostly well-meaning individuals who told him to conform and obey rather than question and discuss.
Jackson-Vann’s response is that questioning in the right spirit is OK, and he believes that is how to receive revelation. That is how Joseph Smith, the first president of the LDS Church, did it as he described seeking answers to which church he should join as recorded in the church’s scripture.
“Leaders need to be open with members,” Jackson-Vann said. “Let’s recognize those differences and not ask people to be the same.”
The church continues to grow throughout the world and build temples.
Currently either in use, construction or announced, there are seven temples in Canada; 64 in Mexico, Central and South America; 15 in Europe, Scandinavia and United Kingdom; nine in Africa; 15 in Asia; and 15 in Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand.
Jackson-Vann said it is important to remember there are many cultures that don’t fit the Utah culture, but all are members of the church and all are asked to become one.
“The Lord asked us to be one, not to be the same,” Jackson-Vann said.