So...I grew up as, and proceeded to live years of my adult life as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
I was a Mormon.
Story for another time.
I'm no longer an active participant for doctrinal reasons.
Another story for another time.
But it is part of who I am and how I came to be.
I'm connected to it in a way that is deeply cultural.
Not just religious.
I love many parts of the culture and appreciate what I've learned.
I didn't leave with an angry bang.
I left with a sad heart and a love of the community.
But it would be hard to go back.
Unless some things changed.
Today some of those things changed a little.
Young men in the LDS community have been expected to serve a two year mission when they turn 19, for as long as I've been alive, even longer. Women have been allowed to go when they turn 21, however, it is not an expectation. In fact, it's been often perceived and taught to be an option (at least in my classes) "if you aren't married by 21" causing a stigma and far less women than men serving missions. Women are invited to go at 21 for a year and a half.
Today at a Bi-Annual meeting of the church, known as General Conference, a massive change in the missionary requirements occurred that has made an emotional impact on me that I'm still processing. The age for missionary service changed-men are invited to serve at the age of 18 and women at the age of 19.
I happened to be trolling Twitter this morning when I noticed one of my favorite Mormon/Feminist/Authors tweeted the changes as they were happening and I was immediately taken back by how emotional my reaction was. I haven't been involved in the church in more than 5 years and while I miss certain aspects, I try not to dwell on it often. The Twitterverse was a buzz with the news including, and perhaps the most impactful to me, the news that the Young Women and Young Men's programs would be taught via the same manual. Almost as important a change as the attempt at equality in the age of missionaries in my mind.
Part of the reason I choose to not participate in the church with my family today are the confusing messages I received as a young woman concerning my fate in life, my understanding that my worth was only as a homemaker and my "less than" status compared to the boys my age-my job was to control my behavior and dress as to not tempt the boys in my vicinity to behave or think inappropriately. Concurrently-I was to support the boys my age as they prepared for missions with the understanding that IF I wasn't married by the age of 21 I could also serve my religion IF I choose to do so. Those "less than" feelings were not something I was comfortable exposing my daughters to and passing that guilt and burden on to.
I should say at this point that this is MY experience and MY understanding, I know some of you felt differently growing up in the church and had different experiences and that's ok. This is just what I felt.
Today I felt a monumental shift. And while many sources are pointing to different reasons the change was made (needing more missionaries, BYU attendance issues, etc) I feel strongly that regardless of the reason behind the change, the change will be one for the better and the long lasting effects are progress in the making.
Also announced, as I understand it-I didn't watch Conference myself, is that the Young Men and Young Women's programs will be taught from the same manual. This marks a significant change in which boys and girls, ages 12-18 are being taught the same things, week by week, and held to the same principles for the same reasons. To me, this is huge. I have fought back tears all day at the thought alone and the validation my 19 year old self feels with these changes. It's hard to explain if you are outside of the culture. I look forward to the day no girl in the church is aware of the licked cupcake analogy or the already been chewed gum object lesson.
Someone on the internet today called it "Progress With an Asterisk". It's a seemingly small change but I think it's a Neil Armstrong moment. One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. I don't need men and women to have the same responsibilities within the church to feel comfortable going back but I do need to know my daughters would be stretched to be the best they can be and feel as important and as valuable in their capacity to serve as my sons would at the same age. This change could be the beginning of that.
Or it might not be.
I'm an eternal optimist.
I believe in evolution.
Even in religion.
Who knows what we will see in our life times.
At the risk of sounding dramatic...
I never thought I would see this.
So I remain cautiously optimistic.
From a distance.
Progress is often slow but always worth it.