Female Leadership in LDS Missions

Recently a friend expressed some anxiety over the possibility that his daughters might serve missions for the LDS Church.  He was concerned that such an experience might lead them to internalize too much of the intensely sexist rhetoric and behaviour that is observable among some LDS missionaries.  The following day, while meandering on Temple Square, two sister missionaries intercepted me and began trying to obtain a referral.  In that conversation I learned something so obvious that I am ashamed it had never occurred to me before, but which I think could influence the ‘missionary culture’ if it was universally adopted: Sister missionaries, in that mission, hold leadership positions.

This was surprising because I expected that Priesthood was the underlying logic of the mission hierarchy; and yet here was a space in which, of necessity, that hierarchy was (almost) completely  female.  The exception is the Mission President.  The implication of this is obvious: we should have sister missionaries who are potentially district leaders, zone leaders and assistants to the president in every mission of the Church.  There is clearly no absolute prohibition on women serving in these positions and doing well.  Though I think that this practice should be adopted worldwide it seems unlikely and I am curious regarding why.

If there was a small female-only branch somewhere in the world I doubt that, due to a lack of male members, women would be allowed to assume the ward leadership in any meaningful way.  This is because Priesthood is currently required to perform these roles.  There would be no exception to this rule.  Consequently, I cannot accept an argument which suggests that women do not serve as District Leaders in other missions based upon Priesthood authority.  It is clearly not the case. What, then, is the reason for women not being able to serve in the Mission hierarchy?  I might me be a little dim, but I cannot think of a good reason.

Assigning sister missionaries to Mission leadership would shift, though not completely rectify, the gender discourse that currently proliferates among some male missionaries.  Further I suspect that sustaining and respecting female leaders by responding to their counsel might prove to be a valuable experience for young male missionaries to return home with.  In addition, this change would undercut some of the sexist and misogynistic talk that I heard as a missionary by situating those views in a new context in which criticizing leaders is a form of disobedience.

In sharing with those young sisters why I felt their situation was exciting and why I felt this practice should be adopted worldwide they expressed how excited they would be to have a district leader who was an elder.  They thought it would be great to see how Priesthood holders conducted their district meetings.  I hope they don’t wish away their opportunities in the Temple Square mission because they will have the rest of their lives to experience local male leadership (and my experience tells me that it is really not all that exciting).  I wonder if this shift would help my friend feel more comfortable with his daughters serving missions or whether anyone else has similar fears for their children?


  1. I totally agree with you. There were some sisters in my mission that had been much better district/zone leaders, would they had the opportunity.

    The only thing I can think of is that there in most cases is much bigger number of elders than sisters in a mission. And missionaryleaders responsibility is train missionaries in their district/zone. That includes training on companion exchanges. What if the zone leader sisters were the only sisters in their zone? Then nobody would have exchanges, at least on my mission we were allowed to have exchanges only with our leaders. Then again the missionary handbook tells us that it is possible with permission from president for experienced sisters to have exchanges with other sisters in training purposes. But why did that never happen? Probably because there weren’t that many sisters and travels would take too much time. But if there would be sister leaders, maybe president could authorize some elders conduct companion exchanges. So there really is no reason for sisters not to hold leadership positions.

  2. My mission president put a sister in a leadership position who would go on splits with and check up on the sisters in the mission. I’m thinking that was probably an isolated practice (and, if I remember correctly, he didn’t start doing that until about halfway through my mission). I don’t know any details about how well it worked, except that at least one of these sisters ended up marrying an AP soon after they returned from their missions.

  3. Sarah in Georgia says:

    We had a sister missionary in our ward last year who was called to the Temple Square mission but was spending some time in the field. I was under the impression that that was common for all Temple Square missionaries, but I could be wrong. If it is the case, then those sisters have or will have an opportunity to serve with an elder as a district leader. I would be interested in talking to them after that experience.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    Interesting observation. My wife also served in a position like the one Tim described above. One priesthood function currently assigned to district leaders is baptism interviews.

  5. Thanks for the responses.

    The exchanges issue is not so big. We used to go exchanges with the Sister missionaries. To ensure that we were not alone, we would split up and do opposite sides of the street while tracting. A similar practice could be used for Missions which teach more. One companionship finds around the area where the other companionship teaches. They just need to decide how they want them to do it and write it into the handbooks.

    Tim, I don’t think that really addresses the issue. Sisters only being responsible sisters merely perpetuates the division that women can ‘preside’ over other women but not over men.

    Sarah, they do have a mix. The sisters I had met would probably go out to another States mission at some point. Not all do this, but your right, it would be interesting to see what they might say. If there is anyone who has had that experience it would be good to hear from them.

    John you raise a good issue except that it would be easy to find a ‘Priesthood’ leader to perform interviews. This happens regularly anyway when the DL or ZL teaches the candidate. Though, admittedly, this is probably not a problem that the sisters in Temple square face regularly, unless I have mis-understood what they do.

  6. StillConfused says:

    Maybe a woman missionary in a position of power would be too sexy?

  7. #6, Yea, those name tags get me all hot and bothered as it is.

  8. I have heard that some women need to include disclaimers at the beginning of their talks because they are so insightful and inspiring that some of the men in the congregation will be attracted to speaker.

    However, assuming this is rare, and that women could serve in these positions, would it change anything?

  9. The only literary example we have of female mission leadership is that woman from the rescue mission in Guys and Dolls, and if I remember corectly, she ends up with Nathan Detroit in various gambling dens in Cuba. Not sure this is a good idea.

  10. Also, I’m not sure that we can draw many lessons from the extremely pulchritudinous mission environment at Temple Square and apply them more broadly. All we know for sure from Temple Square is that hot women can preside over other hot women. Whether hot sisters can preside over the non-hot or ugly sisters, or men, or whether ugly and non-hot women can preside, is still totally unknown. Tread carefully.

  11. Wow. A new vocabulary word. Thanks, gst. I agree with the post that I see no reason Sister missionaries could not or should not be called to leadership positions. And it would not be totally without precedent for women to be in a leadership position over men in the church, since it currently occurs in primary. Good idea.

  12. The only thing I can think of is the idea that the main responsibilities of the Priesthood are “preaching the Gospel and administering the ordinances thereof”. In this viewpoint, full-time missionary work would fall under Priesthood responsibility to administer and lead.

    I don’t think it should preclude sister missionaries in leadership positions, but I can see it used as a reason.

  13. John Mansfield says:

    gst, that is not the only one. There is also Major Barbara.

  14. E, you are right. Unfortunately, in England, where the membership is so few and where we have a policy (I’m not sure if it is Church-wide) that men cannot serve in Primary without a female counter-part it is almost unheard of to have a man have a calling in Primary.

  15. Aaron R, my sister’s ward has the same policy. I’m still in a singles ward, so I don’t know how church-wide it is.

    When I was on my mission, though, I never thought about the fact that all my leadership was male, any more than I think about the fact that most of my leadership in the ward was male. Of course, in my mission, there were ~150 elders, and ~10 sisters, not including the senior couples.

    Most of the elders were very kind and respectful to us–and those who weren’t were never put in a leadership position. The sexism I saw came more from Mormon culture than from the actual hierarchy of the mission–for instance, on of my companions said that her brothers were teasing her when she received her call, saying that they could never marry a returned missionary. (although, brothers telling their sister they could never marry her is probably a good thing, right?)

    Now, for full disclosure, I do have to say that gender roles in the Church is probably the one thing that could drive me away, but honestly, on the mission, it simply wasn’t an issue.

  16. #3 My mission had that too. The APs went on splits with the elders and the “traveling sisters” (can’t remember what title they were given) did the same with the sisters. My mission also had sister district leaders, but only when that female companionship constituted the whole district.

    This all brings up an interesting point I never considered. Its obvious from these examples that missionary leadership is not priesthood based. Does anyone know of sisters ever presiding over a district with elders?

  17. Aaron R., if I understand, you are proposing to have sister missionaries be in positions of leadership over both sister missionaries and elders? Frankly, I don’t see this happening. I remember a former bishop who called a sister to be Sunday School President. He was promptly told that SSP was a priesthood calling and the sister was released. Apparently a woman couldn’t preside over men? The only exceptions to this order of things that I can see are “second tier” positions: Activity Chairperson, Music Chairperson, Scouting Den Mother, etc.

    I think the easier development would be sister DLs and ZLs with authority over the sisters. And maybe a female equivalent of an Assistant to the President? (“Assistantess to the Mission Mom” anyone? Blech.)

  18. Oops. I mean in response to #2.

  19. How about if hte women in authority wear burkas?

    I love having men in primary..thye tend to understand that children like to MOVE. I especially value their influence on my 10 yo son.

    We had splits on our mission-2 elders and 1 sister. I can’t say it was ideal, but it sure was interesting.

  20. #14 – Aaron, I’m pretty sure that is an urban myth. In our ward we currently have two men serving in Primary without a female counterpart. I think the problem in the UK is that there are more male-only callings but often more active sisters in our units. Therefore, the sisters dominate the callings where either sex can serve.

  21. “saying that they could never marry a returned missionary. ”

    That’s funny. I swore I’d never marry a girl who wasn’t a return missionary… but then fell in love with a non-return missionary and wisely married her anyway. 11th anniversary in a few weeks.

  22. I had a group of FHE brothers sit me down to try to discourage a mission…they said I was intimidating enough without being a return missionary. I’m afraid my answer did not show much femininity.

  23. dblagent007 says:

    We had sister APs in our mission . . . until the area presidency found out. The sister APs were only over the sisters in the mission, not the elders.

  24. Hunter, I can’t see it happening either, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t.

    In fact, mission rules are exactly where sexism is the most blatant in the church structure. There’s no way to argue that there’s a “separate but equal” sphere for women–they have received the same call and are doing the same work as the elders, but are excluded from leadership solely (and arbitrarily, as Aaron’s post points out) because they are female.

  25. “Apparently a woman couldn’t preside over men? The only exceptions to this order of things that I can see are “second tier” positions: Activity Chairperson, Music Chairperson, Scouting Den Mother, etc”

    For a recent singles conference in So Cal, instructions were sent on how money was to be collected from the participating wards, and I remember clearly that the person managing the money was a woman (I can’t remember the title) and that two ward clerks (clerks are designated priesthood callings) were appointed as her assistants. Also, the recent regional public affairs meeting which stake presidents, bishops, and RS presidents were to attend was conducted by a woman (regional public affairs director) and she seemed entirely comfortable giving those SPs their assignments. An area authority presided, of course.

    Clearly, both cases are somewhat removed from the standard church hierarchy, and these women weren’t really “presiding”, but it’s still notable.

  26. Gomez, you might well be right. I only know that when the suggestion has been made it has been shut down by the higher-ups. It also might be a reflection of some of the problems the ward I am in has had.

    I’m glad that it apparently is not the case everywhere.

    Corianne, thanks for commenting. I agree that the wider culture is a problem as well. My hope, though completely unfounded, is that a change in this area might have a small influence upon this wider culture.

    Kristine, exactly.

  27. #3 and 5–My sister served her mission on Temple Square; while she was there, the policy was all of the sisters serving at Temple Square were sent elsewhere in the States for somewhere around 3-6 months to get the experience of a “regular” mission.

  28. #14 and #26: in the two wards i’ve been in the salt lake city area for the last 10+ years, there has been an explicit policy that a man cannot serve alone as a primary teacher. and that policy is represented as being church-wide, not local.

    i’m not aware of any official decree, but that’s the word on the street.

  29. I spent a couple years in the primary with women presiding over me. Strangely, I don’t remember their ovaries becoming a hinderance to their authority or ability to lead . . . but maybe I just didn’t notice.

    I’d love to see sister missionaries take leadership roles in the mission. Maybe if hell freezes over and I ever get called to preside, I’ll call sisters to be my APs. Damn the man.

  30. #28 It is US-wide policy not to have men serve alone in the primary. Furthermore, they’re not to team-teach with women who are not their wives. So, when it comes to teaching children, it takes two men to do the job of one woman.

  31. I’m kind of ignorant about how Temple Square missionaries function. How much do they teach? If someone they teach decides to be baptized, who does the baptismal interview?

    To me, the wild card is the baptismal interview. As I understand it (and I could be wrong), the missionary effort falls under the umbrella of the Quorums of the Seventy under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve. Mission presidents and missionaries, then, are an extension of those Quorums in proclaiming the gospel. It would seem to make sense that judging a person worth of baptism is a responsibility specific to the priesthood and delegated to district leaders merely out of necessity (nearly ever other position of judging worthiness requires a High Priest).

    Whereas the district leader is the one responsible for conducting baptismal interviews, it makes sense to me that they would be priesthood holders. If priesthood and baptismal interviews aren’t married, then I don’t really care. Then again, if they are married, I wouldn’t care if a sister were the district leader, but another elder were assigned to perform interviews in that district. I see no reason why a sister can’t teach and instruct elders to be better missionaries.

    Please enlighten me if I’ve proven my ignorance.

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Great observation and suggestion, Aaron. (I thought of the Salt Lake sisters as being at temple square, but I just had tours of Welfare Square and the Humanitarian Center, and those involve sisters as well.)

    I think the rationale for male-only leadership in the missions is indeed priesthood. Your observation shows that that is not a necessary or consistently applied rationale, but that’s the rationale nonetheless.

  33. For any youth teaching position, a man may teach if accompanied by (a) another adult male, or (b) his OWN wife. Can’t have a man with an unrelated woman alone with any under-18s.

    My mission had “Traveling Sisters”, who were resposible for for splits/field teaching, and who reported to the Mission President. Similar to the AP positions, but the sister missionaries at large ALSO reported to their own District and/or Zone Leaders.

    I only had one Zone Leader who seemed to think that his was a position of priesthood stewardship over the elders in his zone, and he took it upon himself to have regular Personal Priesthood Interviews with each elder. He was also a certified idiot, with a personal Church career track mapped out for himself.

    The first time he tried to pull a PPI on me, I told him that I didn’t see that he had any priesthood authority to do so, since there hadn’t been a sustaining vote of any kind presented to the missionaries in the zone. He disagreed, I asked him how to spell “unrighteous dominion”, and he got on the phone to the mission president. Shortly thereafter, I was transferred to a remote area where we didn’t live in our area, had no car, and where a previous missionary had impregnated the daughter of a high counselor.

    So I learned that even if you’re right, you can be punished if the zone leader’s dad is a General Authority who happened to practice law with the mission president.

  34. Latter-day Guy says:

    26, 28, 30:

    Really? I served as a primary teacher in 2008, and had no team teacher at all, which explains why nobody made a fuss when I started to replace hangman with Texas hold ’em. (We kept the stakes pretty low, ‘cuz ten-year-olds have the most obvious tells. Still, man, I made a killing.)

  35. Just a bit more clarification on the policy for men serving in the Primary:

    There must be a) two men, b) a man and his wife, or c) a man teaching in a room with a window in it. This policy was crafted to protect the men, the children, and the church from claims of sexual abuse.

    My wife and I have been Primary teachers since we got married a little over two years ago. There is only one other male Primary teacher, and he teaches solo. However, all of the Primary rooms in our building have windows. Also, many of the women in the Primary will have their husbands sub for them at times.

    Regarding the topic of sisters in mission leadership, I think this is an example of tradition trumping. There is no good reason. Yes, district and zone leaders do baptismal interviews, which a sister would not be able to do, but, unless every single leadership position was filled by sisters (something I don’t see happening simply because most missions have far more elders than sisters), it would just be a matter of having one of the elders in leadership, or just a member of the mission presidency, do the interviews.

    Incidentally, it is my understanding that Temple Square sisters (and the ones in Nauvoo Visitors’ Center) are primarily “finding” missionaries, and they turn their investigators over to whichever mission’s proselyting boundaries cover the area that the found investigators live.

    The sisters in my mission went on exchanges with each other if they were in the same zone, but neither of my mission presidents would let them leave the zone to go on exchanges.

  36. Since I can:

    Additional Policies for Primary Classes (Including Nurseries), Primary Activities (Including Scouting), and Relief Society Nurseries

    1. Where possible, classroom doors should have a window in them.

    2. Where men are assigned to teach or work with children, at lest two responsible individuals should be present at al times. The two individuals should include two men or a married couple.

    3. In small branches or wards where it is not practical to have at least two teachers in a classroom, a member of the Primary presidency should be assigned to frequently visit and monitor classrooms where a man is teaching.

    (First Presidency, Feb 23, 2006)

  37. 36: yeah, but in Cub Scouts you have to have 2 adults present even if they are women.

  38. “So I learned that even if you’re right, you can be punished if the zone leader’s dad is a General Authority who happened to practice law with the mission president.”

    Gosh… this is like a deja vuh from my mission.

    I agree with the original post. I think qualified sisters should be allowed to hold leadership positions. In general, I think the whole leadership system of the Mission field must be re-alighned. Too many unqualified missionaries are called to be leaders. The whole notion of “inspiration” is just a cloudy means to justify many things. The leadership responsibilities, goals and limits don’t seem to be very well defined currently; and if they are defined, they seem to be less than appropriate in some areas. The feedback from other missionaries (who don’t hold leadership positions) to the President is often trumped by the feedback of the “leaders.” It just needs to change at several levels.

    I am convinced that regarding women and leadership, the Church will shift its views once again (as it has happened with many other issues) and quietly and slowly (very very slowly) women will be part of the actual leadership in the Church.

    It’s not a matter of if it happens, but it is a matter of when and how. The same way it happened with previous anachronic pragmatic dogmas that were let go either quietly or by means of an official declaration. The Church lagged as usual and will keep on lagging, there will be lots of resistance as usual from those benefited from the current situation; but I believe it will happen.

    It certainly won’t happen by itself. In other words, the brethren are not going to bring about these changes just out of their own initiative and/or “revelation.” (They never really have). It will happen thanks to the work of the saints that make their voices heard one way or another, and their desire to receive true spiritual guidance; just as it has happened with all prior anachronic pragmatic dogmas that had no inspired foundation.

  39. I know this sounds crazy, but as a sister missionary in 1993, I was a district leader for about 3 weeks (Salt Lake City PROSELYTING, nothing to do with Temple Square). Remember, in SLC, the areas are tiny. In our district, we had 4 elders plus my companion and me. One elder was emergency transferred out; the other was reassigned. The president consolidated their area with ours. The other 2 elders didn’t get along (one small fist fight) and one was trunky and about to go home (in no shape to lead the district, I guess). The president called me on the phone and asked me to be the DL until regular transfers later that month, and for some reason, I think he rather got a kick out of it. I was scared, but we worked hard, held district meetings, etc. and everything went fine. Luckily, I didn’t have to break up any fights!! I got along famously with both elders individually, so maybe they just figured they would get along for my sake. I will check my journal for any other details. Oh, and a DL from a nearby district conducted a baptismal interview.

  40. 38 – thats awesome.

  41. (38) – You say: “Shortly thereafter, I was transferred to a remote area where we didn’t live in our area, had no car, and where a previous missionary had impregnated the daughter of a high counselor.

    So I learned that even if you’re right, you can be punished if the zone leader’s dad is a General Authority who happened to practice law with the mission president.”

    Setting aside whether my probing here suggests that I agree or disagree with what I think your post is getting at, I am sincerely interested in knowing a few more details:

    1-Do you know that you were transferred to this area (which you characterize negatively) because of your “calling out” this Zone Leader? And if so, what is your basis of knowing this?

    2-Do you know whether the decision (by the President or otherwise) to send you to this area was because of the Zone Leader and the President’s relationship with the GA? If so, what is your basis of knowing this?

    3-What is the rest of the story? Did you have to have a PPI with your new Zone Leader in your new area?

    I’m sincerely curious about these details. Thank you.

  42. 33. Ahhhh, I meant (33), Sorry (38). I’m a rookie, but still a curious one.

  43. Every Sister knows that a mission is a man’s world: having the Elders serve as DLs/ZLs/APs in NO way inculcates the idea that men (even stupid ones that are younger than you) are in charge any more than religious practice within the Church. If anything, it helps because you see the leadership up close and personal and know that they can be stupid and uninspired. Since my mission, I have never felt there was some hoodoo voodoo about the Priesthood (which I see a surprising number of women fall for) because I have done exactly what the boys do. So your friend’s daughters will likely fare better to serve than to not serve.

    That said, I think few men who have served with women and have normal brain operations would feel that their missionary work is somehow superior to the work performed by the sisters. Most sisters are a powerful and positive force in their realms. Think of your average ward: who is more on top of things? Your YM president or YW president? Almost always it is the YW president. There are exceptions, of course, but anyone who hangs out in the Church long enough meets enough women whose work is so exceptional that there is no doubt the Priesthood is somehow a sign of superiority.

    “Travelling Sisters” certainly were a thing once upon a time (mission specific), but I haven’t heard of them lately. Any time ever a group of missionaries leaves the MTC to travel to the mission together and a sister is in the group, SHE WILL BE THE DESIGNATED TRAVEL LEADER. I have never seen an exception. That is how I got to carry a senior couples’ bags through LAX accompanied by 12 strong young men who just carried their own baggage. Such authority.

    I, for one, was really glad not to have access to leadership positions. So many elders got so caught up in keeping track of “promotions” around the mission–it was really distracting. I am sure sisters could have fallen for that competitiveness too.

    As others have said: proselyting is a PH responsibility, so women are just a bonus (although I know not everyone sees them as such). They are never going to be put into leadership, I don’t think. SOME of that may be the intimacy developed with the MP in some of those positions. I am sure no one wants to have to worry about “appropriateness” in addition to the rest of the stuff mission office staff deals with.

    And all T2 sisters serve in the field–the only variation is the length of that stint.

  44. My “38 – thats awesome.” comment was in reference to what is now numbered 39 (by Swisster) apparently Manuel’s comment was held in limbo or something.

  45. “Any time ever a group of missionaries leaves the MTC to travel to the mission together and a sister is in the group, SHE WILL BE THE DESIGNATED TRAVEL LEADER. I have never seen an exception.”

    I don’t recall if we had a travel leader, but I can guarantee you that if we did, it wasn’t the one sister in our small group.

    As another sister at the MTC put it, most sisters go because they want to serve, a few go because they’re not married yet, and a handful go because they’re just plain psycho.

    For the record, all the other sisters I met on my mission were great missionaries.

    In my mission, the mission president thought he could get a good idea of what was going on by just talking to a handful of missionaries in each zone. Unfortunately, that meant the mission president didn’t have a clue about what was going on. All sorts of bullying, unrighteous dominion, etc. practiced by Elders who then turned around and kissed up to the mission president (and got leadership positions because of the kissing up). The biggest regret of my mission is that I didn’t report the actions of certain district and zone leaders.

  46. Both ways traveling a young man was the travel leader…on the way there, we were 4 women and 1 man and he was the travel leader.

  47. Thanks for this post. I agree 200%.

  48. When I was DL, I had a type-A sister missionary in my district who was a natural leader and had a tendency to automatically start running things, which was amusing ’cause she was also big on priesthood authority. I thought she was great. My favorite line from her: “Elder [Martin], would you please call on someone to open with prayer and then we’ll get started.” Awesome. Good preparation for marriage.

  49. mellifera says:

    Yes. We have a (male) friend who served under female DLs and ZLs and maybe even APs. He served in Bolivia sometime between 2001 and 2004.

    This came out when we were talking to him about some issues we were having with my husband being ward mission leader– the mission culture at the time had some SERIOUS ISSUES, overhyped machohood being one of them. It’s really amazing– it seems like they couldn’t stop at just being Macho Tough Guys, they also had to be hatin’ on women.

    You got a vibe from the elders that they just knew that (Gentile) women were sexbots sent out by Satan specifically to sully Their Mission by forcing them to become horny (we live in Florida- so people don’t wear much- it’s about the weather, guys, not you); they baptized gazillions of single moms in the ghetto and dutifully helped out with home teaching, though neither they nor their mission president seemed to have given a thought to visiting teaching, which mamas have to do either with their kids or after dark (neither would have been advisable in this case!) and couldn’t figure out why the ward did such “unsatisfactory” work with their converts, etc.

    I think this impression on my part may have been exacerbated by my having been in grad school at the time even though I have a kid; thus in the elders’ eyes I was a Bad Woman and it was just so shameful that my husband Let Me Go To School. Thus, and for other reasons (like he thought it was a good idea to think twice before telling unmedicated schizophrenics to listen to what the “Holy Ghost” is telling them) they decided he wasn’t worth listening to.

    Yeah. These guys definitely needed a crash course in taking some perspective and/or leadership from women, or at least someone outside their little macho-man bubble. They did NOT get good preparation for marriage from their mission experience.

  50. The main reason I almost left the Church was because of unrighteous dominion from elders on my mission. The APs were probably the main culprits. It was like they were mini Roman Emperors, doing whatever it toook to get to leadership. The sisters on the other hand were awesome, in fact the best missionary I ever knew was a sister missionary from Idaho as I recall. The story goes that her sister had served a mission and told her that the elders would mistreat her and she had to work extra-hard to “show them up” and so she did. I would be happy if sisters were given more responsiblity in a mission as say like a goto for sisters for help.

  51. Yes, there was a designated “travel leader” but since there are no clear responsibilities, I am not surprised if you don’t remember one. And I am shocked to hear of men serving as one–in all the MTC districts I saw, if a sister was in the group, she was the TL.

  52. Left Field says:

    Until she was released about a year ago, I and a sister (not my wife) in my ward served as Den Leader and Webelos Den Leader. The two groups of Cub Scouts always met jointly, and as far as I know, nobody raised an eyebrow.

    When I was a missionary, a newly-called mission president (later a 70) instituted district leader splits with the sisters in the district. The DL was allowed either to work with two sisters together or to have two elders work with one sister. My DL always chose to ditch his companion with us and work with both of the sisters together. We suspected his choice might not have been entirely motivated by what was best for the missionary work.

    We did wonder what people thought at the door approach. “Hi, I’m a Mormon, and these are my two wives.”

  53. When I left the MTC, there were about a dozen of us in our group, including one sister. The travel leader was one of the elders.

  54. Well, I am still shocked by this. Never seen it. If sisters are travel leaders anymore, maybe the Church isn’t true anymore.

  55. BTW: I was one of those Japanese missionaries who was in the MTC for an EXTRA LONG time and then worked in the MTC and since talked about this Sister as Travel Leader thing with a number of sisters and just have never seen a sister NOT be TL. I wasn’t just basing it on my experience.

    Still, it appears Elders lead sometimes. I am corrected.

  56. I was in the mission office as a secretary for about 8 months. When I was going to be released the president asked me and my companion who we thought should replace us. We named two sisters. He had wanted people that were book smart and we had some really bright sisters in the mission. Our jobs were pretty technical and it would help to have someone that could pick it up quickly.

    The president mulled it over for a day and decided it was unworkable.

    Occasional bloggernacle commenter Carl Youngblood was my second choice. He deleted all the custom applications I had written to automate mundane tasks in his second week. In the third week he asked how I did all that stuff. Would the sisters have done that?


  57. i’m living in a family branch and a couple years ago i served as the ward mission leader….though they called me the branch mission secretary. i had the exact same responsibilities and attended the monthly missionary meeting with the bishops, ward mission leaders, stake presidency, mission presidency, and zone leaders in the high council room.

    i’m sure some of the men thought it was a little odd to have a woman in the room, but most of them thought it was kinda cool to see a woman in that position. the stake presidency was awesome and would always have me sit near them.

    my mission also had traveling sisters…we always had a head traveling sister too. we also had elders go on splits or “travel” us too. both of these practices were ultimately discontinued.

  58. Fantastic post.

  59. “Still, it appears Elders lead sometimes.”

    Well, I would be hesitant to use the word “lead” to describe what the Travel Leader did… Ours almost left the sister in our group behind, and myself and one of my buddies lagged behind to make sure she stayed with our group. This same buddy of mine and I also helped make sure the elders heading to New York got to the right gate (the rest of us were going to California).

    In regards to sisters in general attending missionary meetings and the such, my bishop recently noted that the GHI says that he can invite anyone he wishes to any of the meetings held before church. He invited our RSP to attend PEC, by saying, “Sister […], would you like to join us?” to which she responded, “Oh, goodness, no!” I thought it was funny.

  60. The implication of this is obvious: we should have sister missionaries who are potentially district leaders, zone leaders and assistants to the president in every mission of the Church. I served in the 1970s and we had sister district leaders, zone leaders and APs.

  61. Stephen that is excellent, however it was clearly the exception rather than the rule. I hope that it changes.

  62. to continue the meme… ‘if the gave the sisters leadership, they’d get all the leadership since they have those leadership skills already perfected and they’ll actually do it. Then the elders wouldn’t ever get a chance to learn leadership before they are future bishops’

  63. While it is a like-able notion, the administration of the gospel is done through proper authority of the priesthood. Any other way to justify God’s order and laws would seem to try to negate the way the laws of God are laid out. On my mission there were fantastic sister missionaries. Very hard working, dedicated and all around great examples of sharing the gospel. The Priesthood is what governs the church, and they way God is governed. So, I don’t see how there can be an argument that would go against the way we understand the way certain organizations are presided and administered.
    Interesting comments, I have enjoyed reading them and learning from everyone.

  64. Eric, except that you have not responded to the examples and arguments in the post. How do you explain the fact that there are clearly instances, and even a whole mission where this form of leadership is offered to sister missionaries. Also, this is not a question concerning the Church as a whole; it pertains to Missions alone.

  65. To further elaborate on Aaron’s response to Eric, the organisation of mission leadership, except for the mission presidency, is not based on the principles of the Priesthood.

    Assistants to the President, Zone Leaders, and District Leaders are not called – they are assigned. They are not sustained. They are not set apart. There is not Priesthood authority relevant to the position. Mission leadership is entirely a matter of logistics – the mission president and his counselors do not have time to talk to every single companionship in the mission to get daily and weekly reports. So he assigns a handful of missionaries to do so.

    While I was serving my mission, I was always annoyed when a pompous elder would claim that he received inspiration for my area because he was my District or Zone Leader, and that I should respect his Priesthood authority. There were only three people in my mission at any given time with any sort of Priesthood authority over me: my mission president, and his two counselors. And, really, in my mission, the counselors only had stewardship over one half of the mission, so it was more like only two people had any authority.

  66. Follow-up for Eric S (41)

    1-Do you know that you were transferred to this area (which you characterize negatively) because of your “calling out” this Zone Leader? And if so, what is your basis of knowing this?

    -I was told by the mission president that my transfer was because of my disagreement with Elder T. Apparently, the work in the city where I was at was “being watched carefully by The Brethren and was too important”. This came from the same mission president who six weeks previously had called me “one of the finest teachers in the mission”.

    2-Do you know whether the decision (by the President or otherwise) to send you to this area was because of the Zone Leader and the President’s relationship with the GA? If so, what is your basis of knowing this?

    -No basis, but it was pretty standard. For example, I was given a midnight transfer out of a ward just before a prime baptism (and I mean Article For The Church News Prime). The elder who replaced me was from the MPs home ward, and I was told, “Elder K is going home in three weeks, and he needs a really good story to tell them in his homecoming talk.”

    3-What is the rest of the story? Did you have to have a PPI with your new Zone Leader in your new area?

    -Never had a PPI with a Zone Leader again. I didn’t mind going on splits with ZLs or DLs to get a chance to talk and get to know each other, but something about being called into a bedroom one at a time for a PPI with a zone leader felt very, very wrong – especially when he started in on the whole “any sins or shortcomings that you feel should be confessed to your Priesthood leader?” line of questioning.

  67. I think my head just exploded after Eric’s comment.

  68. Mark Brown says:

    Not to worry, Stephanie. Remember, the world has need of willing helpmeets, usually to bring food and refreshments, and the priesthood really appreciates how you wonderful sisters do such a wonderful job fulfilling your role.

  69. I think all you people that are pressing for female leadership in missions are just a cackle of rads.

  70. While we’re on the subject of sister missionaries, does anyone know the reasoning behind the 18month for sisters vs 2years for elders rule? I’ve never understood why sisters serve 6 months less. Would 2 full years make me infertile and unable to return and make lots of little “future missionary” babies? Not that I’m complaining, 18 months was plenty for me. Just curious.

  71. Maybe if the women’s General Leadership would stop using such annoying baby voices in their General Conference talks, we could get somewhere.

  72. Kevin Barney says:

    Jenjen, it’s the same rationale underlying the 21-year old requirement: it’s meant to be a subtle nudge towards marriage.

  73. Good post, Aaron. And Kristine (#24), I really like your summary.

    Only slightly tangentially, I think that our claim that callings like Sunday School president or ward clerk require priesthood are motivated by the same impulse that typically requires missionary APs, ZLs, and DLs be male. In other words, there’s no obvious reason that a SS president or ward clerk must hold the priesthood; it seems like just a handy way to make sure women don’t get into positions of too much authority.

  74. The fact that sisters serve shorter missions would make a difference in difficult language missions like mine in Finland. There would be a pretty short window of linguistic competence for sisters to serve in leadership positions if they were still doing 18 months.

  75. Owen, I’m sure you recognize that that’s an argument for equalizing the mission rules, not continuing to exclude women from leadership. Because it’s a little tautologous otherwise:

    A: we treat women like second-class citizens
    B: being second-class citizens makes it harder for them to lead;


    We should treat them like second-class citizens who can’t lead.

  76. “tautologous” — Kristine showing off. Geez, mahn!

    And after throwing my rock, I’ll retreat back into the ignorant unwashed masses from whence I came.

  77. I probably spelled it wrong :P

  78. scw- um- When was the last time you went to conference? Sister Beck gets a lot of pot shots around here, but annoying baby voice is not one of them…

  79. Mommie Dearest says:

    Re: 75, 76, 77:

    Actually i wasn’t dazzled so much by the way cool vocab skillz so much as the plain, unvarnished (dare I say bald?) logic with which she deconstructed this whole post. And a lot of the comments.

  80. I was talking to DH tonight about this, and he said that he had female District Leaders in his mission. Fortunately his head exploded a bit, too, when I told him about Eric’s comment, so we can stay married.

  81. Mark Oliver says:

    This is the saddest part of the original post:
    “In sharing…they expressed how excited they would be to have a district leader who was an elder.”

    I think it’s sad to have women who aren’t excited about learning and growing in leadership positions, and who’ve been trained by church, parents and general expectations to look to the men for guidance and leadership. We do a great deal of damage to the spirits and the potential evolution (spiritual evolution, I mean) of women by boxing them into such tight quarters.

    If women are priestesses (as the temple says) why can’t we treat them accordingly?

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