guest post by Sophia Mason
Almost a year and a half ago I sat on my couch as I realized the LDS president lowered the minimum age for Mormon missionaries. As he lowered the age for young men in the slow, affected manner that has become tradition, my pulse quickened and my face flushed. I repeated in my head, “just don’t leave us behind, just don’t leave us behind…” When he said that young women, too, could serve at an earlier age, I relaxed.
But I didn’t smile. He rolled down the age for men to eighteen, but to nineteen for women. My religion had stepped toward greater equality for the sexes, but I steamed that the leaders of my church felt that I, an eighteen year-old girl, couldn’t possibly be as “prepared to serve” as my eighteen-year-old, male counterparts. In addition, this change shifted the rude expectation for men to interrupt their college years to serve missions, onto women.
I have always intended to serve a mission. After the age change, I vacillated for a few months and decided to stick to my original plan to face the brainwashing and saleswomaning of mission service after I had finished my degree. Expanding leadership roles for women in my church, and the discovery of communities of like-minded Mormon women (such as the Young Mormon Feminist Blog) have helped satisfy my craving for upheaval. But my own mission is the ultimate challenge.
The church regulates every facet of the missionary’s life in order to control the message—so that every person who encounters an LDS missionary encounters the same image, hears the same message, and will see the institution as unified and harmonious. To me these restrictions are the breeding ground for innovation.
Artists often set strict parameters for themselves to foster their greatest creativity. You maximize the impact of one creative choice when you eliminate all the other options. The mission for LDS Mormons is the pinnacle of parametered devotion, lifestyle, and marketing. But the highly regulated mission program leaves me my own testimony—a singularly creative choice—and encourages me to share it.
I believe there is almost nothing harmonious about this faith. Sure, there are some basic doctrines most active Latter-day Saints assent to, but when I hear what Latter-day Saints believe when they drop the codified church language, I find that we assent to concepts in very different ways. And I intend to share that conviction.
I find the Book of Mormon troubling. But it does claim that I can personally ask God if it is not true and expect an answer. I find frustrating a gospel that rides shotgun with a church bent on upholding racism and sexism, but I relish a gospel that once didn’t and can change. I hate that this church alienates so many of its own members for their sincere beliefs, but I celebrate the faith that raised me to thrive, if only to show persecution who’s boss.
Somehow, such things are enough to make me want to volunteer to pay my own way to be sent somewhere I can’t choose and to live with someone I won’t choose to live with so that maybe someday every LDS member’s testimony will contribute to the “image” of LDS-ness. So that I can rest eternally knowing I actually lived what I believe, instead of what the image advertises as my belief.
Or, I could leave the marketing to eighteen-year-old boys. Certainly they are far better equipped to advertise my testimony than I.
Sophia is an art and history major at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.