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Friday, December 9, 2011

Missionaries: Why Guys at 19 and Girls at 21?

Hey Bro Jo,

First, a little background. I'm 19, a month and a half away from reporting to the Sao Paulo MTC.  I've been in two situations so far where I have been explaining the reason why I am going on a mission to someone who is not familiar with the Church. This inevitably led to them asking about the young women in the church and when they can go on missions. From here the conversation has gone like this:

Me: The women can go on missions at the age of twenty-one.

Person: Why do they have to wait until twenty-one to go?

Me: (seriously fumbling about in my head to find a legitimate answer and probably have a dumbfounded look - the best of which I could come up with is this) Well in the LDS church families are very celebrated and as such the young women are given those three years between 18 and 21 to (and I'm not sure if this is true or not) meet someone and get married in the temple, because ultimately that is the 'end goal' of the church.

Person: That sounds kind of sexist to me.

I'm not satisfied with my answer, even though its the truth. I need a better way to portray this. And if there are any points that I should be corrected on or if you have any ideas it would be greatly appreciated.

- Better Appearances

Dear Better,

Congratulations on your call, and thank you for your willingness and worthiness to serve.

I'm not really satisfied with your answer, either, but I don't think you need to "portray" anything.

The advice I have for you might be something that helps you in the mission field as well: you don't have to know the answers to everything, probably shouldn't make stuff up if you don't know, and when you're in situations where you don't know what to say trust the spirit.

If somebody asked me why girls don't serve until their 21 I'd tell them the truth: "I don't know; I can think of some reasons why it makes sense . . ." and I'd add: "but I trust the Lord has a reason".  I might even say "Tell you what, I'll ask and then we can talk about it".

If somebody accuses your faith of being sexist, which it certainly is not, I'd say "people toss that label around a lot; I find that anyone who feels that way about the LDS Church could benefit greatly by learning more about my faith; we honor women and revere femininity and womanhood; I'd be happy to teach you more".

It’s a win-win-win. Either you'll get to teach them about the Gospel and how the LDS Church has throughout its history been quite progressive and cutting edge when it comes to women, their equality and freedom, and how LDS Men are trained to love, honor and respect their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters; or they'll back off. Regardless you'll have made your point.

"Sexist" has become one of those quickly tossed around labels, used too frequently by people who either have no idea what it means or because they want to label something derogatory that they fail to understand, likely because they have an ax to grind or an agenda to follow.

Frankly, I think within and without the Church people quibble too much over “gospel minutia”, things that really don’t matter and how no bearing on the truth or salvation. It’s the basics that are really important (think “Fourth Article of Faith”).

Its okay not to have all of the answers; be obedient, do your best, work hard, love the people, and testify of Christ. That's all you've got to do.

God speed!

- Bro Jo


LovelyLauren said...

I think a large reason is that the age difference between men and women prevents "missionary crushes" from happening as frequently, since missionaries are usually at an age where girls can be a distraction. I think that's a very legitimate reason to give to someone asking you about it. Another I've commonly heard is that women are encouraged to pursue an education during those years. I think those are both very legitimate and realistic reasons for the age difference and would make sense in an explanation.

And you have to understand, to an outsider, the difference can seem quite sexist. Those kind of gendered differences don't occur nearly as often in society as they do in the Church and I find that a lot of members of the Church don't understand that.

Susan said...

It was my understanding that the guy, Better Appearances, was correct in his thoughts of why girls have to wait until they're 21. According to The Family: A Proclamation to the World, men and women are different and have different eternal responsibilities. It is a priesthood duty for men to serve a mission; women do not have the same obligation. Their first calling is to marry and raise a family. People call it sexist because they feel it is not equal. Well, men and women are different, but this does not mean they are not equal.
On a different note, the rule of women needing to wait until they're 21 to serve has been around for a long time. Most women aren't getting married around 18-20. It's usually in the early to mid-twenties now. It's proving to be a problem for returned missionaries, because all of the women their age or a little bit older are on missions, and all that's left is women a lot older than them, or women right out of high school. Maybe the church will eventually change the rule, maybe not.