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Women and Missionary Service
by W. John Walsh
This page gives an explanation of why the Church has different standards for men and women regarding their eligibility for missionary work.
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, every young man is asked to serve a 24 month mission, starting at age 19. President Ezra Taft Benson has taught:
"As a young man, are you earnestly preparing to serve a full-time mission? The Lord needs every young man between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six, worthy, prepared, and excited about serving in the mission field." (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.178)
On the other hand, the Church does not request young women to serve missions.
Why does the Church treat men and women differently in this matter? In the Church, men and women have different responsibilities in building up the kingdom of God. All young men are expected to serve a mission as part of their priesthood responsibilities (See Priesthood Organization home page). Since women do not hold the priesthood, they do not have have this priesthood responsibility (See Why Don't Women Hold the Priesthood?).
Instead, women are encouraged to make marriage and motherhood their first priority (See Teachings About Motherhood and the Role of Women home page). If a woman does not have the opportunity for worthy marriage, she may be allowed to serve a mission, starting at age 21. The higher age requirement for women helps limit the number of young women who request missionary service. However, women still serve for only 18 months instead of the 24 months served by men. This time restraint does several things, including: 1) help reinforce that women have no obligation to serve, 2) help return sister missionaries back in the dating pool during their years of greatest marriage opportunity, and 3) limits the time spent by women doing full-time missionary service during prime child-bearing years. President David O. McKay taught:
"It is surprising how eagerly the young women and some married women seek calls to go on missions. We commend them for it, but the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ rests primarily upon the priesthood of the Church.
In this connection, we advise that mothers who have dependent children, that means children who are in their teens or unmarried, should not be called on missions even though the grandparents are willing to take care of the children. No nobler work in this world can be performed by any mother than to rear and love the children with whom God has blessed her. That is her duty, and that is far greater than going out into the world to proclaim the gospel because somebody else can do that who does not bear the responsibility of rearing and loving the children who call her mother." (Gospel Ideals, p.128)
On this subject, President Gordon B. Hinckley has said:
"Now I wish to say something to bishops and stake presidents concerning missionary service. It is a sensitive matter. There seems to be growing in the Church an idea that all young women as well as all young men should go on missions. We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot.
I confess that I have two granddaughters on missions. They are bright and beautiful young women. They are working hard and accomplishing much good. Speaking with their bishops and their parents, they made their own decisions to go. They did not tell me until they turned their papers in. I had nothing to do with their decision to go.
Now, having made that confession, I wish to say that the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve are united in saying to our young sisters that they are not under obligation to go on missions. I hope I can say what I have to say in a way that will not be offensive to anyone. Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.
I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.
We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life's program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.
We constantly receive letters from young women asking why the age for sister missionaries is not the same as it is for elders. We simply give them the reasons. We know that they are disappointed. We know that many have set their hearts on missions. We know that many of them wish this experience before they marry and go forward with their adult lives. I certainly do not wish to say or imply that their services are not wanted. I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of their lives.
Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter. " (See Some Thoughts on Temples, Retention of Converts, and Missionary Service for the full discourse)
(See Daily Living home page; Missionary Work home page)
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