As unmarried Latter-day Saint young women approach their 21st birthdays, one question is repeatedly thrown at them: “Are you going to serve a mission?”
Some sisters may wish to go, and that’s wonderful. However, other sisters do not feel that the “white field, all ready to harvest” is the path for them, at least for now.
“I think there are girls who go on a mission because they’re single, and that’s not the best motivation,” said Lisa Summers, a senior studying interior design.
When single women are constantly asked if they are going to serve missions, they are put into the potentially awkward position of having to say “no” and explain why.
“With reference to young sister missionaries, there has been some misunderstanding of earlier counsel regarding single sisters serving as missionaries,” said President Gordon B. Hinckley. “We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot. But it should be kept in mind that young sisters are not under obligation to go on missions. They should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men, but some will wish to go.”
Even though it is not a woman’s duty to serve a mission, many unmarried sisters feel as though they are looked down on because they choose to not serve.
“I’ve known incredibly righteous women who just knew they weren’t sposed to go on missions. We shouldn’t be putting any kind of pressure [on sisters] at all,” said Greg Palmer, a professor in the BYU-Idaho Religious Education Department.
The choice to serve is just that — a choice. As President Spencer W. Kimball said, “This responsibility is not on [the young women] as it is on the elders.”
Twenty-one-year-old women are not the only ones to feel the stigma that accompanies LDS mentality.
“If you are a 19- or 20-year-old guy on this campus, you get judgment cast on you all the time,” said Meredith Acree, a junior studying communication.
Young men aged 19-20 are a scarcity at BYU-I. Usually, young men are serving a mission during these years. When a young man’s mission is postponed, he sticks out.
“I would always get girls asking me what mission I served in. When I told them I hadn’t served yet, they’d say, ‘Oh, OK,’ and go talk to someone else,” said Eric Anderson, a junior studying English.
There are some young men who are not ready and some that cannot serve missions right at 19. Due to medical reasons, Anderson’s mission was postponed.
“People don’t seem to understand that there are extenuating circumstances that prevent young men from going on missions, either right away or at all,” Anderson said.
Pressure is one of the constant feelings of a pre-missionary, whether it be from family or a home evening sister.
“Pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s our BYU-I brotherhood and sisterhood to be understanding. We need to allow for individual differences,” Palmer said.
The Savior has given the children of the Lord a marvelous gift — agency. Agency gives everyone the opportunity to make decisions, whether those decisions include serving a mission or not serving at all.
“Instead of asking an individual where they served, we should ask if they had the opportunity to serve,” Anderson said.
There should not be a stigma that comes with different ages, whether it be placed on young brides, males of missionary age or those who are labeled a “menace to society” (young adults who are single and 25 or older). Stereotypes should be abolished and replaced with understanding.