Kirby: Younger LDS mission age would have cost me a wife

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: October 12, 2012 12:29PM
Updated: November 3, 2012 11:31PM
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Irene Kirby as an LDS missionary

Nearly 40 years ago, an event that would alter the course of my life occurred a thousand miles north of me. A 21-year-old woman decided to serve an LDS mission.

As is the norm in such momentous events — and indeed throughout the majority of my life — I remained completely oblivious.

The woman made a deeply spiritual decision to serve her faith. Despite a promising career, a number of marriage proposals and assorted other respectable options, she submitted the necessary paperwork and was called on a mission.

Coincidentally, a similar decision was being made far to the south. After much internal debate, I concluded that maybe if I got called on a mission, I could avoid being “called” to prison.

After a rigorous series of personal interviews — including a really grim one at church headquarters — I was sent to South America.

I first saw the woman from the north in the cafeteria of the church’s language training mission in Provo. She was with several other sister missionaries.

She didn’t notice me, of course. She was one of a few. I was one of 5,000 white shirts. Had I stood out at all, it would have been the one most unhappy about being correlated.

My first impression of her was admittedly a highly inappropriate one. But that was followed by the more acceptable “OK, maybe this mission thing won’t be so bad.”

I didn’t see her again for almost a year. When I did, she came along just in time. I was living in an apartment with several other elders, two of whom I liked and another whom I would have gladly murdered.

There was nothing in the official missionary handbook that said I couldn’t. When I pointed that out to the mission president, he asked for my handbook and in it wrote, “Do not kill Elder Karpus.”

Don’t you hate it when church rules and policies just arbitrarily change like that?

That new rule and the presence of the woman from the north forced me to become more circumspect. We didn’t like each other much at first, but we eventually became friends. We stayed in touch after our missions ended.

The rules arbitrarily changed again a couple weeks ago. The LDS Church announced that Mormon women may now serve church missions at age 19 instead of waiting until they’re 21. Meanwhile, men (boys, really) can go when they’re 18.

The change stirred up lots of debate — not surprising given that even a simple misspelling in a church manual is enough to set off a storm of criticism.

Lowering the mission age makes a certain amount of sense for males. I mean if you’re old enough to legally vote and machine-gun the Taliban, you’re probably old enough to preach.

As for women, I don’t think the change is all that fair. It certainly isn’t equality. How is it that they get out of having to wear white shirts and neckties?

If the church had to lower the age for women, I’m just glad it waited until now. Had it always been this way, I’d be in serious trouble.

Things have a way of working out. See, I ended up marrying that woman from the north. If she had gone on her mission at 19, I would have missed her by two whole years. And Elder Karpus would be dead.

rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.