Kent Larsen at T&S has a great list of possible effects of the changes in minimum missionary ages that President Monson announced in Conference. Many of the effects discussed are straightforward and closely tied to missionary work (e.g. enrollment at BYU), but others are more weakly tied and more speculative (e.g., divorce rate). I want to push things out even father, and guess about other possible changes in the Church that are completely unrelated to missionary work, but that might be made more likely by the missionary age change.
First, I wonder if the eventual divorce between the Church and the BSA might be hastened along by this change. Let me explain. President Monson said that part of their reason for the FP and Q of 12 thinking that elders could serve at 18 was that they were already doing so in many cases in different countries, and it was going well. In his description of the change, he made clear that the age rule is now going to be the same across the world. He said that the new policy for elders applied “regardless of where they live,” explicitly contrasting this with the earlier policy, which he called “country-specific.” So this missionary age change is at least partly about standardizing how the Church operates across the world. I’m sure you see where I’m going. In most countries, the Church doesn’t use boy scouting for part of its young men’s program. Each time the Church standardizes its practices across different countries, as it has here, it’s another precedent for the eventual standardization of young men’s program that includes ending the relationship with the boy scouts.
Second, based on the same line of reasoning, I wonder if this standardization doesn’t also mean a small step toward ending the US-specific one-year waiting period between a civil marriage and a temple marriage. In most countries, a couple can be married civilly and then right away in the temple; in many, this is required because the temple marriage doesn’t meet legal requirements. Eventually, this country-specific policy will probably be dropped in favor of a single standard policy, and as in the change in missionary ages, it will be the outside-US policy that will become standard.
Finally, I was fascinated by Elder Holland’s response on the question of why they didn’t also change the length of the mission to 24 months for sisters. From the post-session press conference, as reported in the Salt Lake Tribune,
He did note that officials had considered doing so [equalizing mission length] but wanted to see how this change played out.
Wait, what? They wanted to see how this change played out? Don’t they already know? I thought they were prophets!
I know this sounds like snark, but I’m actually trying to make a point. By saying this, Elder Holland is clearly suggesting that the FP and Q of 12 are not infallible. Yes, yes, I know that we don’t technically believe in infallibility, so his suggestion of fallibility shouldn’t be a big deal. But given how often we’re taught in the Church about exact obedience, and given how many people will, in discussions of Church policy, argue bizarre things like that every detail of the organization of nurseries or early morning seminary is based on the very word of God as it fell from God’s lips, it’s pretty clear that we at least go for practical infallibility. Elder Holland’s straightforward statement that they are going to wait and see what happens with the new missionary ages men makes it clear that the FP and Q of 12 don’t see themselves as infallible.
If Church leaders are going to admit fallibility, then my hope would be that they take the next step and openly take suggestions from the general membership about how to make the Church run better. Maybe instead of the usual First Presidency letter that says “Please don’t write to us,” we could get one that says “Please write to us, but realize that your suggestions will be reported to us only in the aggregate, and that we can’t promise to make the changes you ask for.” I realize that this is a big stretch, even compared to my first two, but I can always hope, right?
So what do you think? Are the connections I’m proposing to these remote effects too tenuous to even consider? Or might there be something to them? Also, please feel free to speculate about any other far-off effects of the missionary age change that you foresee.
- 15 October 2012