I’ve been doing some thinking about the announcement made today regarding the lowering of ages for young men and young women to leave on full time missions. I think this change will have some significant changes beyond the obvious.
First, it ups the ante in Aaronic Priesthood and Young Women classes, particularly in the former. There’s a well-established pattern in which young men make it through high school and then spend a year or so deciding whether to go on a mission and to get themselves ready to do such. Now that young men can leave on missions immediately after turning 18 and graduating from high school, they will have serious decisions and preparation to make while they are still in high school. Likewise, having young women leave at 19 will, I think, make mission preparation a growing theme in the Young Women’s organization. And for those in both groups who are considering serving a mission, Seminary will take on an additional importance.
Second, and somewhat contradictory, the statements made by Pres. Monson at General Conference and by Elder Holland at the press conference afterwards indicate an official Church observation that there is no single age at which young men should leave on a mission — merely that 18 is the earliest age at which they can leave on a mission. For several decades, the “go-on-a-mission-at-age-19″ meme has been a strong cultural milestone within the Church, at least in the US, and young men who choose not to leave on their mission at that age are often looked at with some concern or even disapproval.
But the statements by President Monson and Elder Holland made make it clear that while a young man can leave at 18, he may for various reasons choose to wait longer. The consequence may well be a general acceptance within the members and local leadership of the Church that there is no one set age at which a young man should leave on a mission, but that it is up to him to make a decision on that timing based on his own circumstances, choices, and inspiration. So, for example, while many may choose to go right after high school, others may choose to complete college, vocational training, or military service first, and then serve a mission.
As for the impact on young women in the Church, I can do no better that to repeat the comment made by Becca over at By Common Consent that said, simply, “Fewer child brides; more sister scriptorians.” A glib remark, but one with weight behind it.
[UPDATE -- 10/07/12, 1009 MDT]
Reading some of other posts, tweets, and news reports about this change raises a related thought, one echoed in some of those sources: this will cause significant upheaval in long-established and heavily entrenched social patterns and mindsets among LDS youth in high school and college. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next decade or so. ..bruce..