129–130: New Missionary Age

October 9, 2012
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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.

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24 Responses to 129–130: New Missionary Age

  1. Heather_ME
    October 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    paraphrasing: “there are many young people who would stay in that archeology class and decide they don’t want to go on missions.”

    That is exactly the point. If you give young people the opportunity to actually learn about the world, they’ll figure out the church is bunk. Better to keep them ignorant and paying tithing. Control them from cradle to grave and you’ll never lose them. graduatehighschoolgoonamissiongetmarriedrightawaypopoutkidstakeoncallingsdontever
    stoptotakeabreathandthinkaboutwhetherornotthisisalltrueorworthwhile

    • mapman
      October 9, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      I don’t think that makes much sense. One of the main reasons for the change is to make it easier for people to fit their mission around other things, including education. And it’s just stupid to think that the leaders of the church would make decisions based off the premise that learning will demonstrate that the church is bunk.

      • October 10, 2012 at 6:32 am

        If the women are younger when they get
        out in the mission field they are less likely to find out thedisparityinLDSfolklorethoughtvs.thechurch’sownhistoricaltruths
        before they go on a mission. Then with 18 months (24/7) invested in the church
        they are more ensnarled. More likely to, when coming across truths later in
        life, just put them on “a shelf” and munch “happy pills”.
        If women earlier left on missions
        when they were 21 because they did not get married… guess what they will have
        to do when they come back from a mission and are turning 21? Get
        married right away!!! What
        righteous woman will have time for education when she can be a mother in Zion?
        OR they can get married and
        have kids, while being a student and dependent on a man for financial support. Then [I guess we now all
        can agree] that there is too much invested to start thinking about thedisparityinLDSfolklorethoughtvs.thechurch’sownhistoricaltruths.
        Anyway, I trust the church to
        have a vested interest in this change – a change that is first referred to as a
        “POLICY change” and then as “one MIRACLE at the time”. Maybe
        the producers of “happy pills” are sponsoring this one?! Who knows?
        [My bet is on the sale to increase…]

        • Derrick Clements
          October 13, 2012 at 10:51 pm

          The problem with the argument as far as I see it, that sending them earlier is a way to snare them in the church, is that for many people, missions are a powerfully disenchanting experience where they are exposed to tons of doubts they didn’t know existed before. The rate of RMs who leave is an indication that missions are not necessarily a way to suck people in. This will certainly enlarge the numbers who have that experience, but that will have its costs to the church. I suppose if I had had a mission that felt like a mind-control I would see things differently, but mine was overall a great opportunity to serve people and think about their spiritual concerns.

  2. Jeralee
    October 9, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    This was a fun discussion. I have been talking with friends for 3 days about all the interesting implications of this change. Exciting stuff! Love all you do at Mo Mat my friend. <3

    • Seasickyetstilldocked
      October 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm

      Interesting implications. How about how there will now be 18 year old girls who will be feeling pressure to get married by age 19 because they DON’T want to do their part and go on a mission? Now you will get RMs trolling for 18 years olds even more. Nice.

      Is there anyone else who is shocked at how boys will be doing mission prep at 17 and getting their call when they 17 and all of this happening under the total control of their bishop and stake president and parents?

      Just when you think the church can’t violate free agency anymore than they already do, they go and pull something like this. Let’s call a spade a spade here. The top 15 have totally failed to get their product to be relevant to young adults and have been hemorrhaging future tithe payers for years now. Less young people going on missions, less So, because of their utter failure to create a better and more fulfilling product for their young people, they simply take the short cut and take them right out of high school while they are still unable to even legally act for them self.

      This changes the script? Really? .

  3. Emily
    October 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    This podcast was so great! I can’t stop thinking about the recent change… I’m so excited that it will be easier for my daughter to go on a mission now and if I’m honest I’m also a little bummed that this age policy wasn’t in place when I was 19. I loved what Maxine was talking about with parallel orders between the men and women in the church. I would love to hear more about this. I think you should definitely do another podcast with her about that and her perspectives in general. I also loved what she said about going to mormon church to be with a community of people who want to be connected with God and to feel of that spirit, and not for intellectual discussion. I think if I try to adopt this attitude my Sundays will be less likely to induce anxiety and frustration to my soul :)

  4. Adam
    October 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    As a 17 year-old who was planning on serving a mission at 19 (after a year at college), the implications of this new policy change are of great interest to me. Thanks for the great discussion, as usual!

  5. Seasickyetstilldocked
    October 10, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    The leaders could not solve the problem of less young men and women getting married.
    The leaders could not solve the problem of young men and women figuring out the church is not what it claims and moving on.
    The leaders could not solve the problem of men waiting too long (by their definition) to get married.
    The leaders could not solve the problem of less RMs remaining active.The leaders could not solve the problem of less young men and women going on missions.The leaders could not make their product relevant to young people.
    So they take all of these problems and put them on the kids while they are still under the emotional, legal and financial control of their church leaders and parents. At every life stage choice became the problem the leaders could not solve so they removed choice altogether for the boys. As for the girls, don’t for a second think this is a move toward equality. The church is simply going to get more kids on missions and they are now desperate enough to drop the age for the girls. Do you think then that the church will lesson the YW rhetoric telling them the most important things they are to do is to get married and have kids? Not a chance. The girls are just given one more major thing to feel cog dis about while the church leverages their labor in the vineyard. The same problems that exists for a girl at 21 will exist at 19 only the church will get more missionaries.

  6. An interested member
    October 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I’m leaving for my mission soon, but I have not always felt good about a mission. There is so much pressure to serve a mission as a young man in the church. I have felt good about my mission at times too, but I’m not sure I was ready for the decision to go, although it’s pretty much already made.

    • October 13, 2012 at 7:34 am

      If you are not absolutely(!!) certain, why give two years of your life?
      If people can not accept you, unless you cave to peer pressure, they are not your friends to begin with!

      • An interested member
        October 14, 2012 at 8:42 am

        I’m going because I’m taking the position that this experience isn’t for me. This gospel is something I truly believe, and I want to spread the truth that had brought such joy to my life to those willing to accept it.

    • Derrick Clements
      October 13, 2012 at 10:46 pm

      We need more missionaries who have listened to Mormon Matters! You could do a lot of good. I taught at the MTC for four years (up until August) and found it to be a really great experience even through my faith transition/new perspective. I think you will be unhappy as a missionary only if you have none of your own reasons for going. The pressure to go is an unfortunate consequence of our culture. But it can be a powerfully rewarding experience as well as a huge opportunity to give of yourself and serve others.

      • An interested member
        October 14, 2012 at 8:39 am

        I believe I could do a lot of good on my mission. I have a deep understanding of the gospel and I work well with people. I’m simply worried that a person with my personality type, not being rigid in my thoughts, may find the experience to be too overbearing to appreciate. As I said, I’m going. I’m just having some last minute apprehensiveness.

  7. Carmina
    October 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    I liked serving at 21 because I had two years of college in the US and 2 previous in my home country.I had plenty of time to really “think” about this decision and I was more mature. I came home got married and finished my degree. I had a friend serving at 19, she came home, got married and didn’t finish college. I think it is good to have some time to study or earn money before you go and really think if this is what you want to do. I think more girls would go on a mission who haven’t really thought of “why” they want to serve, maybe out of expectation like some of the men.

  8. Dan Wotherspoon
    October 16, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Enjoying the discussion. For Heather and Christopher and SeaSickYet… especially, you’re focusing pretty heavily on church “control” and attempts to shield and also hang on to their young people, etc.–all things, like Derrick suggests, seem to me to be far more at risk when someone goes on a mission and has the chance to really look around at other faiths, other ways of living life, other values people embody, as well as to experience spiritual things in deep ways that they likely wouldn’t if they just faded into the sunset living a less risky and engaged spiritual life either in or out of Mormonism. Is it possible that a mission will damage a person? Sure. But is it also possible (and even more likely) that some through their missions really and truly learn to love others and connect deeply–things that seem hard to deny as positives for this world? I think so. And then, even if life serves up complicating factors to the standard story, they’ve tasted something more than truth as simply ideas but rather as involving full spirit and heart, making it more likely that when/if they depart from Mormonism they’ll have a better grounding that makes flourishing in different paths more likely.

    Each of your posts reveal a focus on “whetherornotthisisalltrue” and “disparityinLDSfolklorethoughtvs.thechurch’sownhistoricalrecords” and “cog dis.” Is it possible that religion and spirituality are not primarily (or best) centered in our brains and correspondence as the pre-eminent theory of truth? Is it possible that life’s most important lessons serve to help us move to appreciate deeper connections with reality than what words and stories can convey? It seems to me that we undergo these types of learning and shifts with every other aspect of our lives and are glad for it (or are you outraged when your inherited view of U.S. history is complicated when learning of messier realities, your family’s spin of its past, etc?). For these reasons, I say “Yay for missions” and for more chances to sort through this kind of stuff (while on the mission and even if one is in the church just a few more years or their whole lives) while still engaged in worthy service.
    And if the control is so great, how did each of you break free? Harder than healthily individuating from parents? Should life not ask such things of us as choosing our own values and learning to stand on them? Should existence be tension free? Should it not call on us in our very depths? I’m assuming that each of you are on a spiritual journey and seeking true connection with whatever it is that grounds existence. If that’s the case, rigidness seems to me to have served you well. (I’d be interested in hearing if any of you served missions, and if you’re glad but just not wanting it for your children/loved ones.) You may only now know what you don’t want for you and those you love, but that’s at least an important start!

    Sorry to ramble here! I’ll post anyway…

    • Seasickyetstilldockedj
      October 19, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Dan, lets not pretend that a mission is some chance participate in some innocuous right of passage that give us the opportunity to somehow fairly evaluate other religions let alone other ways of living. We can’t pretend the one true church paradigm does not color the glasses we look through on a mission. Let’s focus on the rule rather than the exception and the rule is that when you are on a mission all other religions are false and don’t have as much good or as much of the truth. All other ways of living, if they don’t conform to the value system of the church, for example as found in the Proclamation to the Family, are misguided and the people don’t have their priorities straight or whatever. Bottom line is a mission is framed so that you think you are going out to save the elect from a fallen and evil world as the only person armed with ALL of the truth and ALL of the spirit etc. Can great things be learned on a mission? Absolutely. The question is not whether a person could get some god out of a mission but whether that is the best option for them…………and at 18 or 19, they kids are not equipped to make that decision. There is way to much institutional and parental and priesthood pressure.

      What the church should do is say something like this “”We trust you, we love you and we respect that the spirit of revelation resides in you. We know that you must walk your own path and work our your own salvation and so you may all decided to go on a mission as early as 18 or you may decided a mission is not for you. We respect both decisions EQUALLY because we love and respect you. Find out your interests and passions and goals in life and have the courage to go wherever that leads you and know that we will support you the whole way” Dan, what would happen to the number of kids going on missions if the Church actually let the kids and parents independently own the decision without fear or guilt or shame coming from either the culture or the leadership? We both know the numbers would go down. This is why I am harping on the institutional control.

      The Church does not put the person first. The Church puts their narrative first, cloaks in the unquestionable drape of revelation and then tells the kids this is the best way for them and you and I do our best to try to make the best of it. I would stop harping on the control issue if the Church ever decided to give control back to the individual. As for how I broke free? Sometimes I wonder myself because I hit every tbm note from my youth through BYU through ward leadership. What I do know is that it was a very painful process because I had to unwind all of the control and onetrueness of it all. There has to be a better way and simply sending boys and girls when they are younger is not it.

      • Dan Wotherspoon
        October 20, 2012 at 10:29 am

        SeaSick, Thanks very much for sharing so much more
        of your story. I’m so sorry the unwinding of control and onetrueness of it all
        was so difficult for you. I wish you nothing but the best.

        We all grow up and experience Mormonism and “the
        church” differently (two different things, in my mind). For me, “control” wasn’t
        the overriding experience, and I think I am not in the minority. Certainly
        there are elements of hoping to please one’s parents or other authority figures
        in our lives, but that’s natural for all persons and groups and cultures.
        Certainly in Mormonism there is a lot of messaging about “only true” church,
        but for many of us it doesn’t really take in the form of judgment of others as
        bad but instead as feeling special in an encouraging way. (For instance, Joanna
        Brooks’s book articulates this beautifully.) Perhaps being raised outside the
        Mormon corridor helps this, but simply having friends outside the faith for one’s
        whole youth dispels any “only way to be happy” kinds of messaging. And even if
        you think “well, for eternity it is the only way” kind of thing, when you’re
        young, you (I, anyway) generally don’t think a lot about that sort of thing.
        Or, if you do, hopefully you also imbibe the “no hell” and “all glories” and “get
        what we choose” kinds of messaging, so basically one is free to love your
        friends and not fear for them. 

Given all of this, I’m not pretending, when I
        suggest that for most who choose to go on missions, they never really have in
        their hearts in a super judgmental way that “all
        other religions are false and don’t have as much good or as much of the truth.
        All other ways of living, if they don’t conform to the value system of the
        church, for example as found in the Proclamation to the Family, are misguided
        and the people don’t have their priorities straight or whatever.” And even
        if that were the kind of rhetoric they might use as they contemplate entering
        the field, it fades fast out there. I am also not pretending when I suggest
        that missions often do open pathways for learning to trust one’s
        “own” experiences of God and work on that important sense of
        differentiation from the authority of parents and other figures that is
        healthy, and that they open windows for viewing life and others’ religious
        journeys as wonderful, even desirable to emulate in many way. In my experience,
        these kinds of opening are not the “exception to the rule” that you
        state.

        I’ve shared in a talk at Sunstone, as well as in my
        Mormon Stories interview with John Dehlin, about an experience I had at the
        close of my mission in which I had a taste of the “quaking and trembling” that
        the Book of Mormon states the sons of Mosiah experienced at the “very thoughts”
        that others wouldn’t have the gospel and might endure endless torment. And
        while “endure endless torment” has the language that sounds a lot like hellfire
        and might lead one to imagine them as judgmental if that were their real
        language, my own experience and theirs I’m sure was one of love, indescribable
        love. And even if theirs and mine were experienced in the particularity of our
        own view of what eternal happiness is (all love HAS to be particular), it was
        still overwhelming and beautiful and life changing. If interested in reading or
        hearing:

        https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/154-20-27.pdf

        
http://mormonstories.org/235-238-dan-wotherspoon-mormonism-broad-and-deep/

        Of course, many humans live and act out of fear, and this can translate
        into the desire to control others and keep things nice and tidy and less scary. And missions can, of course, be places
        where controlling temperaments become further distorted, where fear becomes
        contorted into thinking along the lines of “church leadership callings are
        evidence of my righteousness” or “delivering every one of my children to
        missions and a temple marriage shows my righteousness.” I certainly encounter
        leaders and members with this mindset, but it’s so clearly shown lacking when
        compared alongside the beauty of those who simply love and honor agency and take delight in individuality and those who are differently gifted, it’s easy to name the former and
        reject it. And also, my experience is that this desire to control is not the dominant Mormon mode or
        mission mode–or General Authority mode. I’m sorry if you’ve experienced it differently.

        Missions, I believe, far more than almost anything
        else a young person can do, lead to more loving hearts, more trust in God.
        Sure, they can and often do lead to increased commitment to the LDS Church, but for many the
        emphasis of their being in the church remains on the chances it gives to serve
        and learn to love others, not control them. Church becomes, as Martin Luther named and Eugene England championed, primarily a “school of love.”

        Clearly you and I have different views of both church and missions, based, I’m
        guessing, on different experiences. We’re both also letting these color our
        views on missions as good or bad, as healthy or not, and whether the younger
        age move should be seen more as a desperation move to keep control (in the many
        ways you outline it here and in your response to the Matters of the Heart essay—or
        my language in how I described it, anyway—by Joanna Brooks) or a
        practicality-driven experiment that might also be seen as serving to provide
        different messaging, especially for women, and will lead to many more youth
        having adventures in experiencing new cultures, new people,
        needing to rely on Spirit, and in learning to love.
        I’m glad we have both taken the
        chances here to share our perspectives in greater detail.

        • Seasockyetstilldocked
          October 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

          Dan you are one super nice dude. What else can I say? We could not see this more differently. Lol. I think your podcasts are a great thing and I mean that. My only humble suggestion would be to include a more “cynical” voice on your panels because it really is only the other very real side of the lds church experience.

  9. StormanNorman
    October 23, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Someone mentioned Pres. Packer’s statement on “the YM/YW will have grandchildren” as if it is Gospel Doctrine ——- I really doubt it. Remember other talks about Prophets are human and make mistakes when they say “new” things without the Spirit. I think this was specifically directed at Pres. Packer’s latest talks. I did challenge Pres Packer by email and other Prophets that either introduced potentially ‘new doctrine’ or said things that were not in accordance with current LDS doctrine (as far as I understand it). I received a great response and admission that what he said was not as clear as it should have been from one Prophet (Elder Scott) who I admire for taking a minute to respond to a truth seeker ——— Pres Packer on the other hand did not respond. I have my opinion why but will not present it here!

  10. Maxine
    October 24, 2012 at 12:05 am
  11. Scott
    March 20, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I am grateful for the missionaries. These kids who choose to go out and teach what they believe to be truth about God and religion for two years paid for entirely on their own seems to be utterly unique. Two sister missionaries taught me the “discussions” years ago when in my twenties. I joined the church and the discipline it gave me to lead a healthier life, to look at God as someone who is personal and to Jesus as a concrete reality changed my life for the better. It was like someone turned on a light in a dark room. To exist in an environment where I had the opportunity to teach, serve etc and not just sit in the pews and absorb helped increase my “spiritual ” progression. To have such a strong structure as the LDS church to provide a system and model to point to a higher purpose than a more worldly one is of great importance to many who choose it. Like I said, it helped me significantly. On the other hand, such structure at the hands of what is considered absolute authority on the part of the Prophet and General Authorities can have very negative consequences and like it or not, drives many to depression, confusion, guilt, shame and fear. Like “Adult Children” of alcoholics the LDS system is also liable to breed “Adult Children” of its patriarchal authoritarian system of control. And by control I do not imply any negative motive. Religion, like corporations and secular governments, exercise control within their own domain to keep itself alive and profitable. Which is why, after so many years in “The Church” I hold deep concern that these well meaning missionaries are out first to promote the church and prove it is “True” and only second to testify of the Savior. I like to remind LDS missionaries I come into contact with that Jesus does not exist because the church is “True”. If “The Church” were to suddenly be proved false, Jesus would still exist and be there for all of us as he always has been. What truthfulness that is contained within the LDS church is only an extension of the fact that Heavenly Father and Jesus bless all those who try to sincerely follow spiritual law and keep an open mind and ask. This is open to all religions, all people, all the time.

    The other concern I have is that these young missionaries have no idea what they will face in the real world when confronted with the more unsavory aspects of church history. More than one missionary I have seen return with a stunned almost zombie like look to them as if they had just been punched in the face. Because they are unprepared for these experiences and information they seem to either go atheist or retreat into an absolutist “Us vs Them” mentality that further entrenches the churches cult like attributes and further polarizes people who should be uniting together as one human family of great and wonderful variety.

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