The LDS Church recently announced changes in the ages that young men and women can now serve missions. Will this announcement usher in a new age in missionary work? A new age for Mormonism itself? In this Mormon Matters episode, host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Adam Jacobsen, Hannah Wheelwright, and Maxine Hanks speculate on just that. What are the far-reaching implications for missions and mission culture, for women’s leadership both there and post mission, for LDS dating and marriages, and, most importantly, for the way women view themselves as valued for their own spiritual gifts and strength and abilities far beyond motherhood?
In Part 1, the panel focuses primarily at the nature of the announcement itself—the lack of downplaying it as a “revelation” and instead as more pragmatic and practical: leaders aren’t exactly sure how it will unfold, how they will handle the sudden influx of new missionaries (especially sisters), etc. On the other hand, in the messaging that followed the announcement, leaders did not hesitate to emphasize that this change can be read as a “hastening” of the Lord’s work, that the changes are not for the missionaries but rather the work of bringing souls to Christ itself. This first part also discusses some of the likely reasoning that led to some of the decisions made, especially an effort to prevent some of the loss of young people during that one-year (for men) and three-year (for women) gap before mission eligibility. The panel also seeks to find a middle position between skepticism that the church desires stronger indoctrination and deeper commitment to it and its goals versus the desire to offer more of its young people the wonderful “rite of passage” that missions provide, including intense opportunities to really learn to really rely on God and serve others—so often so different from any one the young person might ever encounter—and grow in spiritual strength.
In Part 2, the focus is on the what the change in women’s service age from twenty-one to nineteen might mean and bring. How will this affect how women growing up in the church will see themselves and gifts in relation to men, in terms of greater independence in spiritual matters, etc? Will this be heard as a message of (more) equal valuing and partnering in the work of growing the kingdom? What might the cumulative effect of more women serving be on more returned missionaries marrying other returned missionaries (and the ways of relating within marriages themselves), on dating practices, on the kinds of partners they seek? Will there ever be a stigma attached to sisters choosing not to serve a mission similar to what one finds for young men who don’t serve? The panelists also get a bit more speculative in trying to predict how this change in service ages (and very likely gender balance of missions) will affect greater sharing of leadership roles and duties in local wards, possibly leading to more explicit gaining of priesthood or, as panelist Maxine Hanks suggests, understanding (more fully “excavating”) the parallel paths (and even convergences) of men’s and women’s priesthood orders already embedded in LDS doctrine and practice.
Definitely a discussion worth listening to and thinking/speculating along with! We very much hope you’ll then visit back here and share your comments below.