Another Endowment of the Change in Missionary Age Policy?

Posted by on October 30, 2012 in mission, missionary work, ritual, temple | 22 comments

This last Sunday, we had combined Relief Society and Priesthood opening exercises owing to the Young Women needing rehearsal space for a fireside planned for that evening. Forgotten announcements of the switch resulted in a slow but eventual gathering. In the temporarily combined room, the seating arrangement resulted in a change in the average seating patterns, which in turn resulted in people sitting and chatting with people whom they might not routinely sit with. This was not uncomfortable for me; I rather like a good mix up- besides- it was just for opening exercises.

In this, I began to notice something interesting. It seems to me that “average” church meeting small talk is along the line of “how are you/your family doing?” But in this meeting, and in other interactions I have had in the last few weeks with church members, the small and big talk is focused on the recently announced change in missionary age.

In nearly every conversation, the reaction is one of happy excitement; 18 year old males who had thought they had a year to prepare are suddenly, yet happily questioning if they should go sooner. Further, it seems to me that a very large number of women between the ages of 19 and 20 have already spoken to their bishops and are in the process of submitting their papers (I personally know of 3).

Interestingly, in this combined meeting moment, a member of the Stake Presidency pointed out an observation of his that seemed to almost border on a concern. This was that males still had to be ordained as Elders before they could serve; hence, they would need to be sustained in Stake Conference. I do not know why this seemed to concern him (perhaps a Stake admin issue that could be challenging?), but I could not help but consider the implications in relation to age. Based on a male’s birth date, high school graduation date and stake conference scheduling, it is possible that he could very well still be 19 years old the soonest he is eligible to serve a mission.

If this is the case, and a young man was anxious to serve a mission, is there an equality argument for males to forgo Melchizedek priesthood ordination in order to be as readily eligible to serve as un-ordianed women? It seems to me that a general consensus is that the redefined age policy will increase the number of women who choose to serve missions. If this is the case, could the ritual for men’s mission preparation be amended to forgo ordination? It seems unlikely to me for the church to relinquish ordination, yet it begs the question if men are still required to submit to the cultural ritual of ordination, should not younger missionary sisters also be subjected or invited to participate in similar preparatory rituals? In short- are women a step closer to ordination within Mormon ritual and theology as a result of theis age change?

But let’s take this a step further in regard to ritual. I presume that before this new missionary age announcement, that the majority of Mormon women who take out their endowments for the first time are married or about to be married. This is based on an (admittedly) older statistic that the average age for first marriage for women in Utah is 22. With the younger age of females serving missions, and the church policy of ordination and endowment in preparation for a mission, it seems to me that on average, more and younger Mormon women will be eligible and encouraged to engage in the temple endowment as a routine part of preparing to serve a mission.

Because of this, I can’t help but wonder if this will effect a change in the endowment ritual. The temple ceremony is traditionally described as being based on biblical traditions and symbols, as a means of worshipping God and with a focus on eternal families. The family is considered “central to God’s plan” in Mormon ideology, a concept that bleeds into nearly every aspect of Mormonism, including the temple. Congruent with the Family Proclamation, traditional marriage is the doctrinal requisite foundation for families.

The Mormon concept of marriage is often patterned on the Bridegroom (Christ) and the Bride (Christ’s church), as modelled in the New Testament and Pearl of Great Price. Though I believe this to be symbolic and therefore not literal direction in regard to gender roles within a marriage, the patriarchal structure of the institutional church most often does not agree with my interpretation as a matter of masculine/patriarchal (rather than divine) culture. Likewise, the symbolism and pedantry associated with the tradition of the temple and temple marriage (when interpreted literally) places women in a ritualised secondary position to their husbands, perhaps as a result of the temple being the first and only institutional rite for women within Mormon theology.

And yet- if there is an increased number of women who seek the ceremony and tradition of the temple endowment in preparation for missionary service, it seems fair, if not obvious– to anticipate and seek– a change in the traditional interpretation associated with marital gender roles within the temple ceremony. In short, I believe an extended effect of the change in missionary age for women is that both women and men will disavow unequal traditional marriage interpretations commonly associated with the temple because more women will seek the temple ritual outside of (or prior to) marriage.

Just as I liked the “good mix up” that came from the temporary realignment of routine sitting habits as a result of the combined opening exercises in Relief Society and Priesthood, I see no problem with the development of parallel ritual within Mormon culture for both women and men in and out of the roles of wife and husband. What’s more, I hope that the change in missionary age and its associated implications for the tradition of taking out endowments before service will positively effect the temple ritual in terms of justice, opportunity and privilege for both genders, thus removing any subservient dogma associated with the literal (rather than symbolic) roles of Bride and Bridegroom.

Have you had any lingering thoughts about the changes in further association with the policy change in missionary age?

 

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22 Comments

  1. While it is customary for men to be sustained in Stake Conference in order to be ordained an Elder, it is quite often done retro-actively. I do not believe waiting for Stake Conference would hold up a missionary departing.

    • Its actually also possible for missionaries to arrive at the MTC and not yet been ordained an Elder or been through the Temple. It’s taken care of first thing, but it’s still possible.

  2. I think Davis has a good point. That aside, the language of the announcement seemed to indicate that while the possibility for Young Men to go on missions starting at age 18 is now church policy, opening up the option to YM who are ready at that age, there wasn’t a significant push for all YM to actually pursue that. In other words, it didn’t seem to be an invitation for all YM to go at 18, rather than 19, so the possibility of having to wait for Stake Conference wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. I don’t think the Stake President needs to be too worried. :) I’m sure everything will work out. I’m quite interested in some of your other ideas though. It will be interesting to see what happens!

      • Yes, I thought that some of the Stake stuff could be done post-mission departure; seems to me from memory that there was an elder who was presented in varioues wards following a conference when his vote was forgotten or omitted. Still, it was interesting to me that the member of the stake presiddency saw this as an issue for males; but saw no issue whatsoever for females. The concept of ordination led my thoughts on the temple segway, and I had not been able to shake the idea that the temple ritual could be ammended to better fit the purpose of women as servants of Christ, rather than partners to husbands.
  3. In response to your last question.. . . . .here is a thought that still lingers for me. What do you think will happen to college graduation rates for LDS women if a mission is served in the earlier years. Is it likely that fewer will complete college?

    • Roger,
      I don’t think this will be a real issue. I think you questions is aimed at addressing north-American (i.e. discovery or German-based educational system) memberships. If you consider that Rote (or English) education systems, wherein a student can start University (or College) after year (grade) 10, then there will still be countires wherein the female membership has undergraduate university degrees at the age of 19. Likewise, I think those who want to obtain an education will do so, and following a mission might help direct or inspire women to make different career choices than they might have made without a mission.

      As well, are you trying to blame missions for the perception (a la Elder Christofferson) that men seek less education, and that the previous delay in mission service was the reason that women might be more likely to obtain tertiary education?

  4. “In short, I believe an extended effect of the change in missionary age for women is that both women and men will disavow unequal traditional marriage interpretations commonly associated with the temple because more women will seek the temple ritual outside of (or prior to) marriage.”

    Good luck with that.

  5. “While it is customary for men to be sustained in Stake Conference in order to be ordained an Elder, it is quite often done retro-actively.”

    If you hearken back to past stake conferences you may remember the stake president or counselor asking the congregation to “ratify” an ordination (as opposed to “sustain”). This means that ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood could have taken place many months prior. Also, the ordaining of young men at 18 often happens already when young men go away to college. Personally, I like the idea of young men and women going away for a year to college and living on their own. It was a good preparation for my son.

  6. Yes, I very much agree that the age change has many possibilities for the future, including changes in the Temple Endowment and even toward some sort of ordination.

    I think the biggest part of the announcement is the reminder and hope that big things -can- change in the Church. it’s been 34 years since the last big change, and many people have gotten into the thinking that the Church has always been and always will be the same.

    Now we can just hope its not 34 years til the next change.

  7. Faschinating. Authorization for your men to be ordained elders upon turing 18 dats back to the 1970s, yet in the US (and, I suspect, only in the US) continue to treat it as directly related to mission calls — or to an age of 19 or older. Even before this change, there was no reason a young man could not be presented for ordination in a stake conference or stake general priesthood meeting (both are options) and ordained well in advance of a mission call. And as other commentators have said, the presentation can be done in the ward first then retroactively approved in stake conference, something we have often seen for young men headed to college or military (though why they weren’t ordained earlier is often unclear) and for older men ordained high priests in order to accept a calling that requires that ordination (most often, bishopric counselor).

    • I was ordained and Elder on my 18th birthday, 17 months before my mission. It just took me going to my Bishop and saying that I’d like to be ordained. I think you’re right, though, that a lot of people do indeed treat it as something related to a mission call, rather than something related to turning 18, as I did.

  8. A related question: should the change affect when young women move into Relief Society? The handbook has long said that they move at 18, but the exception allowing a later move has been the rule in most US wards and branches. and will it affect visiting teaching? Home teaching is valuable mission prep: it puts young men in the position of dealing with unknown adults. Should young women begin to take a parallel role in visiting teaching?

    • JRL,

      This is an interesting idea! I do think you could be on to something. The recent change with the combined RS/YW opening exercises suggested to me a degree of paralleling with the YM/PH tradition of combined quorum opening exercises. To date, I would suspect that the only initiation to visiting teaching for YW would be in the opening announcements.

      But I suspect this has more of an international adaptation. i.e. a way in which to create a central policy for missionary service that suits the international church. As President Monson mentioned in the announcement, in some “countries”, men had been able to submit mission papers at the age of 18. If there are YW who are in the English-based rote education system and choose to complete high school at year (grade) 10 to go into trade, begin university or otherwise, in the wards where I have seen this, they often prefer (and are sometimes encouraged or “allowed”) to go to YSA Sunday school classes and Relief Society. If there are females under the age of 18 in these circumstances, I think it would be very beneficial for them to have visiting teachers, as well as be visiting teachers.

      Thank you for your clever comments and observation.

  9. Also, Being ordained an elder at 18 is custom, not doctrine. It is entirely possible and there is precedent for making 17 or even 16 year-olds elders. If this turns into an administrative nightmare (which it probably will) they may start ordaining boys at 17.5 or 17, or ordaining them as soon as they put in their papers so that the machine does not have to be tweaked.

    • I had not thought of this, Nate. Not sure I like this idea, if only because of my perception that many 17 year old males are so very arrogant, and that this could feed an ugly fire of perceived power and unrighteous dominion. On the other hand, I further wonder if this is one of the purposes– for males to be ordained earlier so that they might be better focused on missionary and church service, rather than “falling off the rails”?

  10. As far as your question goes. Emily and I spent a few nights speculating on how this change will affect church culture long-term. A quick overview of our musing:

    1. The 2-year marriage age gap will start to narrow. This should lead to more general equality among newly weds.

    2. In the mission field, a parallel leadership structure for Sister and filled by sisters to the district leader, zone leader, AP to facilitate Sisters’ work will be practical and probably common. In missions with an equal number of Elders and Sisters this has been done in the past with great success.

    3. The scriptural knowledge gap between adult men and women will narrow dramatically especially among younger adult LDS members.

    I think those were the big three we optimistically saw as positives.

    • While I agree that leadership roles where women lead other women in missionary work would be an improvement over always having only men lead mixed gender groups of missionaries, I get frustrated because even the most forward-thinking Mormons can’t envision a situation in which female missionaries hold leadership callings over mixed gender groups, or in any other church capacity. Whyever not? In most organizations in Western Society, it is unnecessary to divide men and women nto gender-specific groups in order to promote women to leadership. And I know many Mormon men who would be greatly blessed by the opportunity to have a female church leader.

  11. Spunky, I had never thought about the potential implications of this change on the temple ceremonies. That reasoning seems to me to fall right in line with the shift that the Young Women leaders will (hopefully) be making as they prepare girls to serve missions before marriage.

    I didn’t serve a mission, so I don’t know much about this. April, are district and zone leaders positions that require the priesthood? If not, I think you make an excellent point. What better place to have mixed gender leadership opportunities than in missions when so many are first given those leadership roles.

    (warning: threadjack) I also wanted to point out one more thing. This discussion is dominated by men (which I’m not knocking–I’m so pleased to see men participating in this forum), and I myself almost didn’t participate because I know so little about priesthood structure and missionary life. I wonder how we can, as a culture, have discussions like this one that revolves around policy and structural changes that invite women to feel comfortable being a part of the conversation.

    • District, Zone Leaders and Assistants to the President are not Priesthood assignments, evidenced by (at least) the Temple Square Mission, which is all Sisters. I’ve heard of a couple other Missions that had women serving in this way as well, but it depended strongly on the Mission President. Wish I knew one personally, so I could ask if there’s been any instruction on it.

      • I don’t know if it is technically a requirement that mission leadership positions be held by priesthood holders, but they do not perform any priesthood ordinances. The duties of these mission leadership positions include supervising other missionaries, handling logistic issues and interviewing potential new members. Of those duties, one might argue that the last is a sort of “judge” role and therefore should be performed by a priesthood holder, but I don’t really see any argument for the other parts of the assignment to exclude non-priesthood holders. And frankly, I find even the argument that sisters should’ not interview to be weak.

  12. Since I have been contributing to a major threadjack (sorry Spunky) I thought it would be appropriate to actually submit a comment on the real post topic. I attended the temple prior to my mission and years before my own marriage. Just as Spunky suggests, since I had no husband, I did not interpret the temple ceremony as requiring me to do any particular thing in regards to marriage. How on earth could I hearken unto some nonexistant person? However, I was not blessed with Spunky’s mind for theology, either. So I just saw this as a learning activity where we did a little role play about Adam and Eve. Since we don’t believe we are punished for Adam’s transgression, I didn’t see any logic requiring me to receive Eve’s disciplinary action either.Now, while the ceremony did not bother me at the time, I do not feel the same way now, and I would love to see changes, preferably to the ceremony itself, to remove any implication that women go to the temple to covenant to their husbands instead of God. M ore explicit temple prep that clarifies that the temple ceremony really isn’t about gender roles may help, but I worry about whether it would be enough. Spunky, I like your interpretation of the ceremony much better than a gender roles training interpretation, but even with this interpretation, women role play the subservient role while men portray Christ, and the type casting still has negative connotations.

    • April, no need to worry about “threadjacks,” I don’t see the comments as thread jacks, rather-they are along the same lines-of the ritualistic tradition played by men in current church culture and doctrine to be lords over women, whether in calling, assignment, duty or marital relationship.

      I absolutely agree with you in regard to the hearkening covenant and negative placement of females to males.

      At my endowment, which I did not do in preparation for marriage, I felt like the entire ceremony was aimed at preparing me for marriage. To me, the ceremony suggested I was not a whole person because I was not married, so my covenants really amounted to nothing. I wondered why married people were more righteous than me to receive the blessings of the temple, and I wondered what greater revelation they were able to obtain because they were married. I do not think this now, as I noted in regard to the Bride and Bridegroom symbolism, but it was a real for me at that time.

      Like you, I also disregarded the ideology that I would be punished for Eve’s transgression. But because of my initial understanding of the temple made the temple irrelevant to me as an unmarried woman (and in many ways is irrelevant to me unless I apply abstract and doctrinal interpretations which invite symbolism that is not traditionally discussed in the church), I hope and believe that changes to the temple will become a necessity –not just a desire—a necessity, because younger women will seek further light and knowledge prior to missionary service, and will expect to be held to a standard of righteousness and obedience to Christ rather than a standard of hearkening to a spouse, worthy or not, who may not even exist.

      The funny thing is, that in some time following my temple experience and first interpretation, I made the assumption that *if* I married in the temple, I would be required to hearken to man, and many of the RMs I knew simply did not interest me. In this period, and because people kept telling me that the endowment did indeed give me the gift of further revelation, even outside of marriage, I came to the conclusion that if there was no Mormon husband, then I was privileged to be making all of my own covenants directly to God. For me, it was an argument against temple marriage, and perhaps a catalyst for my marrying a non-member.

      I do not believe that I am alone in this thought; hence, if more women seek the temple outside of marriage, I think the leadership of the church must reconsider the traditional ritual in order to not drive women away from the temple and temple marriage. In other words, i agree with you: more than just basic changes need to be made in order for the ritual to not be oppressive to women.

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