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
“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.
I have the same concern and agree that it seems “missionaries that had spent time away from home, either in college or working, did much better mentally on the mission.” I’ve worried a lot that the pressure for preparation for a mission is really going to increase for YM during high school. The last year when they would typically be thinking about where they are going to go to school for their freshman year…. they will be asked “hey aren’t you going to be putting in your papers”? During their senior year when they should have time to think about their future, schools, careers, life…. they will be having lessons/activities/firesides that are painting a mission at 18 as what the truly “obedient/faithful/stalwart” boys do. If they choose to wait they are going to be in the minority and viewed as perhaps not quite worthy to go yet…
The experience of living on your own for a time (even if only a few months/semester) is HUGE in personal growth. To have boys who have never had a chance to do this heading out on missions with the huge demands/stresses/new cultures that they face…. it’s asking for trouble. Of course many of them will adapt but what about those who really aren’t ready? We are talking about 18 year old boys!!!
Why the push to get them right out of high school? I have to believe it’s because enough YM are ending up during their freshman year discovering that perhaps they don’t believe in the church enough to want to serve a mission. They’ve been exposed to things outside of their home environment for the first time and have begun to try and decide for themselves what they believe. Don’t we want them to be able to do that? Don’t they deserve to have time to discover and experience life before we ask them to make that commitment?
As you know, they also changed the missionary age for women in that announcement. Prior to the announcement women definitely saw a mission as an “option” if they were still single at the ripe old age of 21. Now that they can leave at 19 the ranks of women have swelled to the point that nearly 50% of the missionaries entering the MTC are female. How long will it be before missionary service for women becomes a requirement (culturally) as well? I think it will be a very short time. All it will take is for guys to start to saying they only marry a girl who has served a mission.
Lets all just admit to ourselves that it doesn’t matter how carefully the bretheren word these announcements, the members here in Zion will run with it. Or should I say run away with it…
What happened at the Bountiful High School graduation?
They would replace their middle names with their mission call… So I would be Paul Rosario-Argentina Barker.
I’m sure glad there are folks like you around to keep those reckless brethren in check.
imagine the nerve of those guys, inciting these young people with ideas like “the Lord is hastening his work.”
I mean, how dare they launch such a program unprepared for the response!
Big fan of sarcasm but it seems you have confused the message of this post – please read it again.
Believe it or not but this reminds me of Relief Society Enrichment. Roll that lovely word around your mouth. Enrichment! If you have learned 5 different ways to sprout wheat and 75 delicious ways to cook them and that is what will be happening at RS, it is not necessarily enriching.
Time spent with your sisters may be enriching opportunity, but not if you are tired and worn out from caring for kids all day. You are not just ‘expected’ to go it is one of the temple recommend questions. It can happen so easily and people just don’t notice how an opportunity to do something becomes an expectation, then a requirement for worthiness.
Your point is well made Michael. I saw no criticism of the brethren at all; I saw concern that people would not listen to the word ‘option’ – the one you wrote that the brethren said over and over again.
Splendid article. Also, I must note it is amazing someone was able get a picture of the brethren after the October 2013 General Conference. Does this mean forthtelling will be making a comeback?
Concentrate TTENTON, concentrate.
I understand your thoughts about the Bountiful High Graduation, but lets look at it a different way. When I got my mission call, the greatest place on the earth was Scotland. I was excited to share that with everyone. These graduating seniors are excited to go on their missions. They want their friends and family to know where they are going.
When someone feels ostracized just because another person put the country of their mission in their name, is that a problem with the person who is excited to share where the next 2 years of their life is going to be spent, and what they are going to be doing there? Do we need to put limits on how excited someone is to serve a mission, how many people they can tell, how public they can make that announcement? One of the main benefits of missionaries is that we show to the world that we have young men and women who have lived good lives and are bursting with excitement to share the gospel they believe in. Young men and women that are at an age where many others outside their church are getting into trouble or wandering without purpose.
I think it is dangerous to try to bridle this enthusiasm, especially when it does no harm. We sometimes go too far in the quest to “not offend” anyone.
I emphasize the word “option” to the young men in my ward all the time. I went on my mission at the ripe old age of 19 years and 8 months. I wasn’t ready a year earlier to begin preparation, I wanted to go when I felt ready. I had not lived away from home prior to leaving, and I knew then I had to leave when I wanted it, because I didn’t want homesickness to overwhelm me. I was pumped when I left, and only had a brief bout with homesickness when two family members had died.
this sounds truly terrible, but at this point I find myself wondering who, on earth, CARES!
Having seen one special needs (but loving and very bright-spirited and in many ways VERY capable and very eager to teach the gospel, which was one of his few abilities)
son be turned down rather brutally for a regular mission (not well handled at all) and then watching him not quite make it to another special mission (others were more competent, though he came so close) and then, again, not getting the chance for training for another special mission program–
and finally giving up–
and now not being involved in the church at all–
I find myself wondering why any of this matters–
let the golden boys (and girls) achieve and be praised–
so many young people who have powerful testimonies of Jesus Christ and WANT to serve–
and who don’t care about the accolades or the protocols or the options–
fall through the cracks–
yes, I’m trying to overcome my bitterness–
Rick, why don’t all graduating high schoolers just insert the name of the colllege they’re going to attend in their name, “John Harvard Smith,” David Stanford Brown?”. Im sure the non-LDS kids would love to tell their friends and family where they’re going to live for the next several years too. High School graduation excercises are simply NOT the place to make such an announcement. Period. It’s inappropriate and in bad taste, and shows immaturity and cultural provincialism. But, want do I expect? They’re high school kids, after all.
I find it tragic to continue with the froward suggestion that an elder who leaves their mission early should be scarred for life, with a life of embarassment. Clearly, no forgiveness from within.
I was going through old posts and this one caught my eye. Our son entered the MTC earlier today, but my wife and I live out of state so he was dropped off by other family members. We told him all along serving a mission is a choice, and he is choosing to go. My son graduated last year and was the only member in his graduating class of 40 students.
As for myself, I grew up in Utah, and graduated with a class of 320 students 33 years ago from Bountiful High (mentioned in your blog) at a time when there was strong cultural pressure to go (seems like little has changed). It was the cool thing to do; everybody was doing it. Missionary farewells and homecomings dominated sacrament meeting agendas month after month. I, too, went on a mission as did all my friends. Even then I knew it was a choice, and I wanted to go. However, I had companions that in my opinion had no business being on a mission. Some were coerced by family members or church leaders to go. Others only went because, again, everybody else was going.
In the 30 plus years between my mission and my son’s mission, I have perceived (no factual data) the exact trend taking place that you used as a title to this blog, which is the concept that young men and missionary service has moved from being an option to an expectation. Again without researching conference talks over these 30 years, my perception is that the message has moved from:
1. “all young men and young women are given the option to serve a full-time mission”; to
2. “all young men are encouraged to serve full-time a mission – young women, it is still an option”; to
3. “all young men are to serve a full-time mission – young women, it is still an option”; to the current message
4. “young men, if you do not serve a full-time mission, you are not fulfilling your priesthood responsibility – young women, it is still an option” with the implication that young men will be under some sort of condemnation if they don’t go.
It saddens me to think anyone would feel a young man who chooses not to serve a mission is somehow under God’s condemnation when God clearly states in D&C 4:3: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work. . .” In other words if you want to go on a full-time mission, you can put in your papers and be called to the work. It is your choice and your option. The loving God that I believe in would never condemn a young man for not serving a mission!