Surprise Mormon announcement could open doors for more women missionaries
Now allowed to serve missions at 19, more young LDS Church women will likely take part.
October 9th, 2012
03:09 PM ET

Surprise Mormon announcement could open doors for more women missionaries

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Big news broke in the Mormon world this weekend, when the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a lowered minimum age requirement for missionary service, most notably for women.

Women can now go out in the field to serve their church at 19, instead of 21. Though this may not seem monumental to outsiders,  some Mormons say it's a game-changing moment that may rewrite women's futures and even influence broader dynamics within the LDS Church community.

“The narrative of young women has been that marriage trumps everything else as your most important spiritual pursuit,” explained Joanna Brooks, scholar, blogger and author of “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith.” This shift “signals a reorganizing of expectations for women’s lives. … It changes the storyline.”

By 21, many Mormon women are either too deep in their search for a husband, if not already married, or too entrenched in their education or career path to step away for a Mormon mission, Brooks said. With the lowered age requirement, they have more choice. They, too, can go out in the world, study their faith intensely, follow spiritual callings and grow as individuals before they marry. And, Brooks said, they can be viewed more as equals when they return and start dating.

The surprise announcement by President Thomas S. Monson, who’s considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" by Latter-day Saints, left Brooks in tears. She wasn't alone.  The Universe student newspaper at Brigham Young University reported that dorm halls "filled with shrieks, tears and disbelief." The announcement was made Saturday morning at the semiannual LDS Church General Conference, as more than 20,000 gathered in a Salt Lake City conference center to hear from church leadership. Millions of other Mormons tuned in via satellite, the Internet and television.

Not since the 1978 announcement that black men were able to serve in the priesthood has a revelation been greeted with such excitement, Brooks suggested in a blog post. That sentiment was echoed in the BYU newspaper, where an 18-year-old student drew the same parallel to '78: “It feels like one of those days. There are so many opportunities for so many more people now.”

There are 58,000 Mormon missionaries currently proselytizing in the field, of whom generally about 15% are young women, a church spokesman said. There are also older couples serving in these ranks, but the vast majority of missionaries are young men. Previously able to start service at 19, men can now answer a call to serve at 18 - giving them the option to head out right after high school, a move that The Salt Lake Tribune reported would affect admissions, scholarships and recruiting at Utah colleges. But that decision, too, is a shift that church officials hope will increase missionary numbers.

“We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty – and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable, to respond to the call to serve,” Monson told Latter-day Saints on Saturday. “Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.”

The expectation of women to serve may not be the same, as they do not hold the priesthood. And their missions, if they do serve, are still limited to 18 months, while men serve for two years.

It's details like that that dampen enthusiasm about the age change among some Mormon women.

"We were told today that it's a vital time for the Lord's work and we need all hands on deck. Why are some hands valued more?" wrote Jana Riess, a prolific Mormon blogger and author of, among other books, "Mormonism for Dummies" and "Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving my Neighbor."

"It's progress for women. It's just not equality," said Riess, who initially shared in the tears of joy. "And after a few glorious moments of believing it would be, that stings."

But providing more equity in opportunity, in a church where change happens slowly, is the big takeaway, said Brooks, a feminist and activist who, as a college student and beyond, faced her own struggles to find her place in the only church she’d ever known.

“I would have relished the chance to get out early and put my faith to work,” she said. “Subtle changes can produce wide effects.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Mormonism • Women

soundoff (682 Responses)
  1. roman2819

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    February 12, 2013 at 4:35 am |
  2. IAM

    19 year old Mormon women in the missionary position, that just doesn't seem right to me.

    December 7, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  3. Frank

    one thing many don't understand about cult is th

    December 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
  4. Abdo

    This is interesting baesuce I bet the typical fan of Broadway deeply dislikes Monson and what he represents if they are even aware of him)Yeeash.The amount of musical theater going on in the Salt Lake valley along with the number of those damn Phantom of the Opera t-shirts every girl in my high school wore tells me you're probably wrong about how little people care about Broadway. You and I don't care, but the fact that you can find Mormons that don't care about taking the YM to a shooting range doesn't say anything about how little Mormons like guns.

    November 8, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  5. pastmorm

    And then the door closes on women that REALLY need to get a life. Get and education and RISE above the mormon church ladies. They want to do nothing but suppress you. Why on earth, after generations of trying to be free, would you allow a ALL-male dominated church do this to you???
    So, the past few months, I've been really concerned about a mormon in the White House because of my background with the mormon church (7th generation...ancestor even mentioned in the D&C) and how horrible I know it to truly be.

    No more of CNN (which obviously supported Romnesia, the big hairy ape). No more fighting with a bunch of mormon propagandists. All that matters is that not only did creepy conservatrolls LOSE last night, but the mormon church lost the money it donated to stop gay marriage in Maryland and Maine. LOL! ON top of that, how many members are going to be questioning their religion now? After all that fasting and prayer, surely God would have seen the light and created a win for Romney, the chosen of the mormons and God himself. LOL! NOT!
    So, no more of these boards. And NO more of cnn. In 4 years mormonism will be a skeleton of what it was. All of the things that have come out about it's REAL temple beliefs and godhood, etc, will hit Americans and they will put it up there with the likes of David Koresh. Younger generations are already leaving the church (I've been able to help 7 out of 13 of my nieces and nephews see the light of freedom) and as technology takes over, even more will leave behind the dinosaur led by a bunch of smelly, old, pathetic men, that is the mormon church. BYE mormon LOSERS!!!!!

    November 7, 2012 at 9:40 am |
  6. MCR

    Most Mormon missionaries will tell you they're lucky to make one convert during their missionary time. What adult is going to listen to a 21 year old kid, let alone a 19 year old, talking about their half-baked beliefs and opinions? At 19 most of what kids spout are mini versions of their parents politics. Even those that aren't are fairly embryonic ideas thick with the bias of the short experiences of youth. Heck, at 19 the pre-frontal cortex isn't even fully developed. I don't blame the kids, but for an organization to throw them to the wolves like this is crazy.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
  7. Mike

    Flash, chief cult leader ready to enter the 19th century. I wonder if these new women missionaries will be able to transfer their converts to their future husbands. In case you didn't know, in this cult, women don't get to heaven without men. Men rule them for their lives and for eternity. All the good deeds of any woman only count towards her husband. One more reason to have many wives, EXTRA BONUS POINTS.

    October 22, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • The Mockingjay

      Rubbish! Pure rubbish!

      October 22, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
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      October 22, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • The Mockingjay

      Try the 3rd book. It was great!

      October 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • therealpeace2all

      @The Mockingjay

      "Mockingjay" 'is' the 3rd book. Are we even talking about the same series ?


      October 22, 2012 at 5:36 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.