When the Option Becomes the Expectation


Elder Holland at the October 2012 press conference following the historic announcement in General When the Option becomes the Expectation.

By Michael Barker

“I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available” (President Thomas S. Monson, October 2012 General Conference; click here to read all of his opening remarks).

Following this historic announcment, Elders Nelson and Holland held a press conference.  You can listen and watch the entire conference by clicking here:

Part of what Elder Nelson said  was the following:

“…This is an option that will allow more young men and women to enjoy the blessings of missionary service…Let me be clear, we are not suggesting that all young men will or should serve at this earlier age.  Many will still prefer to start at age nineteen or older…These age adjustments are now options now available to bishops in evaluating what is best for each of his youth. Young man or woman should not begin his or her service as a missionary before they are ready – spiritually or temporarily.”

Elder Holland said the following:

“As President Monson said and as we have repeated here and as Elder Nelson has just said, this is an option and a wonderful opportunity.   It is not an edict or a mandate.  Not all young men will choose to enter missionary service at age eighteen…In an ever-growing church that needs evermore missionaries, this is just an option.”

On June 10, 2013, Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune reported an interesting occurence at the most recent Bountiful High School graduation:

“As is the custom, graduating seniors wrote their names on a card to be read aloud as they crossed the stage. Apparently, dozens of young men added what appeared to be the place of their Mormon mission as a “middle name” – as in John “Russia” Doe and James “New York” Smith….By the end, perhaps 50 or more had done this, according to one parent in attendance…Chris Williams, a Davis School District spokesman, said the fake names were “inappropriate.”…Some students might feel “ostracized for not being part of a group,” Williams said. “Everyone should be treated equally. Our thought is that it should be a respectful ceremony where real names are read”” (click here to read the entire article).

We clearly see here an example of an option becoming the expectation.

When the announcment in the change of eligible missionary age came last October, I was concerned.  Concerned that this “option” would become an

Elder Nelson at the press conference following the October 2013 General Conference.

Elder Nelson at the press conference following the October 2013 General Conference.

“expectation” within our culture.   At the time of the announcment, I was the Young Men’s President in my ward and expressed my concern to my bishop.   He expressed the same concern.  Already, in my ward I see this option slowly turning into the expectation.

I quickly realized during my mission that the missionaries that had spent time away from home, either in college or working, did much better mentally on the mission.   If the cultural expectation continues, I think we will see a lot more missionaries coming home early due to mental health reasons.  And as we all know, this becomes a painful scar and embarassment for that young man for the rest of his life;  much more painful than the stigma of just waiting until you are ready to serve as a full-time missionary.

Why isnt the message of President Monson and Elder’s Holland and Nelson being heard and heeded?  When is the action of the membership going to match the rhetoric of the brethren?

Oh, one last thing before I forget.  You Utah-Mormons have to stop doing crazy stuff like what was done at the Bountiful HIgh School graduation.   It just makes the rest of us Mormons look like complete whack-a-doodles.  Seriously, stop it.

Miguel is a Guatemalan-American Mormon living in the Northwest with his family. He is one of the proprietors of the Rational Faiths blog.

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