T&S guest blogger Dan Burk has an interesting discussion of what he refers to as "anecdotal evidence suggest[ing] that someone in the bowels of Church headquarters has launched yet another installment in the periodic holy war against masculine facial hair." This points up a more general problem: How does any member distinguish new and valid "unwritten rules" from unauthorized, invalid ones that are just a local leader's personal impositions? The Church doesn't make official letters, the kind read over the pulpit from time to time, publicly available for a member to check. Even the Church Handbook of Instructions is not accessible to average members. Sending letters to Church Headquarters is not generally felt to be a method for getting answers to actual questions--they generally get redirected to the very local leaders one is inquiring about, I'm told. I'm puzzled by the Church's insistence on making such information so inaccessible to members. It makes members vulnerable to those in a position to misrepresent LDS policy.
What's left as options? (1) Assume any local directive, however odd, is valid. (2) Give deep and prayerful consideration of the form "Dear God, please confirm whether my beard offends thee and should be shaved?" in order to determine one's response and course of action. (3) Make your own informed decision about whether requests are reasonable or not and whether they merit your support, with no particular regard for what "official" policy is (since the Church seems to make it so difficult to confirm what "official" policy is).
From the recent "Don't Believe Everything You Hear" letter, it's clear the leadership recognizes there is a problem. Seems like the solution is to make MORE information available to members from verifiable, official sources.