"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 31, 2013
Why We Are Losing Our Boys, Part 3b
by Emily S. Jorgensen

I once took a class from a BYU professor who was also a practicing marriage and family counselor. He told us one day that he had counseled couples who were heading for divorce largely because the husband had not been called as a bishop or a stake president yet. So, naturally, the husband was defective and the wife felt gypped.

Obviously, these were extreme cases.

If you have read my other columns in this series, you will remember I argued earlier that in our culture we don’t seem to expect our young men to develop spiritually at the pace we expect from our young women. It is ironic, then, that we would ever assume that our men should boast a resume of impressive church service proving their spirituality.

And yet, I think we sometimes do just that.

Myth 3b of the Ideal Mormon Husband: To be worth marrying, a man must have served a mission.

I want to say right off the bat that I totally support the call of the Prophet that all worthy young men should prepare for a mission and should try their best to serve. President Thomas S. Monson has said:

To young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and to you young men who are becoming elders: I repeat what prophets have long taught — that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission. Missionary service is a priesthood duty — an obligation the Lord expects of us who have been given so very much (“As We Meet Together Again,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 5-6).

And, I have to own up to some hypocrisy here, because I dated my husband in high school, and his serving a mission was definitely a deal breaker for me whether I would marry him or not.

Although I am glad he served, I can see now that it was not the Most Important Thing that I thought it was then.

To make my point, let’s compare a full-time mission with home teaching.

Full-Time Mission

  • Opportunities to change people’s lives for good.

  • Learn about other cultures and languages.

  • Meet new people you’d otherwise never know.

  • Satisfaction of doing the Lord’s work.

  • Full-time.

  • You may or may not like your companion.

  • You never know when you’ll get a new assignment.

  • You might get to teach the gospel, perform selfless service, give blessings, and otherwise minister and exercise the priesthood.

  • Standard service period is 2 years.

  • You get to wear a suit every day and a spiffy name tag.

  • However, you don’t get to kiss any girls.

Home Teaching

  • Opportunities to change people’s lives for good.

  • Learn about other cultures.

  • Meet new people you’d otherwise never know.

  • Satisfaction of doing the Lord’s work.

  • Part-time on call.

  • You may or may not like your companion.

  • You never know when you’ll get a new assignment.

  • You might get to teach the gospel, perform selfless service, give blessings, and otherwise minister and exercise the priesthood.

  • Standard service period is your entire adult life.

  • Sorry, no name tag. Go ahead with the suit if you’d like, though.

  • You get to kiss whatever girl will let you.

When I compare the work of a missionary and the work of a dedicated home teacher, I see a lot of similarities. Now, I am not saying that either one takes the place of the other, nor am I arguing that a young man should be excused from mission service if he is willing to be a home teacher.

What I wish to point out by comparing the two is they both have the potential to do the same type of great, soul-saving work.

However, the way we treat each of them could not be more different.

To encourage men to do their home teaching we give talks on the subject and bear our testimony that it is important. We ask them privately, usually over the phone if they have done it this month.

How do we encourage our young men to go on a mission? Unfortunately, it can include pressure both public and private, poking fun, and embarrassing questions.

Why? Because we view it as a marker of success or failure for a young man who has reached adulthood in the Church.

This is erroneous. He should serve, and he should want to serve, because of this testimony and commitment to God. No one can do that for him. Parents may be instrumental in helping or hindering him in getting to that point, but ultimately it is his responsibility and a matter between himself, God, and maybe a bishop.

Serving a mission is not a requirement for salvation. In fact, serving a mission is not even required for people who are seeking temple recommends. Therefore, it is not the mark of success or failure we tend to see it as.

I remember in Young Women being told all the time to make it my goal to be worthy to enter the temple. But, I heard the Young Men being told with equal emphasis to be worthy to serve a mission. Why do we propagate this disparity? In order to serve a mission, one must be worthy to enter the temple.

Furthermore, the temple covenants are a requirement for salvation, not the mission.

When a young man is constantly told that a mission is the goal, and then he doesn’t go on one, what is then his aim and direction? Conversely, if a young man is admonished to be worthy of the temple, this is a goal he can keep regardless of whether or not he serves a mission.

Yes, it would be ideal of every young man served an honorable mission. But the choice to not serve, or the inability to serve, should not be the door through which he leaves the Church and his faith behind. I worry that the emphasis on mission preparation sometimes, if we are not careful, communicates an all-or-nothing expectation. Serve a mission or else you are failure as a Mormon man. This is just not true.

Another aspect of the mission question that makes life harder for our boys than it has to be is the way we put such a deeply personal decision on such public display. I would be incredibly insulted if someone publicly jazzed me about when I was planning to have my next child or asked me in the hall at church if my husband and I were using birth control.

When was the last time you were personally and publicly called to task by one of your Sunday School teachers about whether you did your home teaching last month, or whether your temple recommend is current? Those are priesthood responsibilities too.

And yet, that is what we put our teenage boys through all the time.

So, why do we think it is acceptable to speak to young men this way about their decision whether or not to serve a mission?

I don’t know how many young men have left the church over the mission issue. I expect it is a staggering number.

An insensitive question to ask an 18-year-old boy is, “So, when are you going on a mission?” This communicates an expectation, which many young men will feel as pressure to perform.

A better question to ask an 18-year-old boy is, “So what are your plans after high school?” After you have listened to everything he has to say, and if you have a strong personal relationship with him, perhaps you can ask if he is considering a mission. For good measure, you may throw in a bit about how you know mission clothes cost a lot and if he chooses to go, you want to know so you can contribute to his mission fund, or something supportive like that.

At the end of the day, a mission isn’t essential for salvation.

Does that make it superfluous? No, but when a young man doesn’t go, for whatever reason, it is vital that his choice is immediately accepted by his ward family and that he is loved unconditionally.

We must remember that, although desirable, serving a mission is not the end-all, be-all of a successful launch into adulthood in the Church. Rather, it is one of many possible steps to take toward perfection in Christ.

I believe that if we emphasized the simple goals of making and keeping covenants to our Young Men, it would help them feel like adult responsibilities in the Church were attainable, rather than too lofty to attempt.

And if we showed a greater acceptance of each other’s righteous choices, even if they are off the beaten path a bit, it may show our boys what we are showing our girls really quite well: we love them unconditionally, we accept them for who they are, we believe in their goodness and want to help them along on their path back to Heavenly Father.

In short, maybe we would stop losing our boys.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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