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?