An announcement was released by the LDS Church that young Priests can officiate baptisms and girls assist in ways adult women do in the temple. Most discussion about this predictably is about the different roles girls and boys have related to the Priesthood. Another issue pretty much ignored is how age determined what could be done or not in the first place. The reasoning for the change is that Priests have the right and responsibility for baptism, and that should extend to the temple ordinance. What that doesn’t answer is why these were not in effect long ago. More than likely it was because of age and maturity perception.
Choices about age permissible actions are common in both religion and secular society. Like many things the two are at odds in some circumstances. A few vocal critics insist anyone under a perceived adult age should not be taken to a particular church, much less initiated. For some religions the age of marriages should be up to the parents and ecclesiastic leaders, and not a soulless government. Difference in opinion can go both ways with one side believing a person must be older and another a younger age is acceptable. How the ages are decided may seem at times logical, but the laws and edicts when given a closer look seem arbitrary.
The argument for ages is often dependent on a belief that the young are not capable of deciding for themselves. Cognitive abilities for understanding the consequences have not developed enough to make intelligent choices. Although there is some science to back this up, the exact age when a person can be considered mature enough is wildly inconclusive. Studies indicate anywhere from about 10 to the unbelievable 25 before the brain is fully matured. Much of this difference is based on what the study is trying to discover. It could be language acquirement, ease of learning new material, ability to make logical inferences, and more. What they don’t do is ask when a person gains a moral center for independence. That is what most laws and codes of conduct rely on for determining age permissions. Yet, it is the most vague evaluation.
Mormons learn from the Moroni 8 that little children are not accountable enough to repent. Because of this, it is a sin to baptize any little ones. After the Book of Mormon was revealed and the LDS Church organized, a revelation was given (Doc. and Cov. 68:25-27) that says to teach children the Gospel of faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost. It would then be a law, “their children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old, and receive the laying on of the hands.” The Scriptures specify that they are accountable at that age. This does not mean they fully understand the consequences of their action as any parent or observer can attest. It is a revealed base line of when a child can understand the concept of right and wrong. The Lord then gives the age of 12 when the first authority of the Priesthood is given to a boy. Joseph Smith received the First Vision when he was 14 and organized the LDS Church when in early twenties. The Lord has never given an age when a person becomes an adult.
Governments don’t have prophetic insights, but they do act as if the final authority for a person’s life. Despite questions of appropriateness for an eight year old to be baptized (age 10 seems better), at least there is consistency of progression. Secular laws end up all over the map with little more justification than that is what has been determined. Sure, they claim many reasons for declaring age restrictions anywhere from maturity level to avoidance of undue influence by authority figures. Instead of a catch-all age, the activities can be 14 for driving some places, 16 for marriage some places, 18 for joining the military, and 21 years old for drinking alcohol. The excuse for this is a circular logic. A person isn’t old enough because they aren’t adults, although there is no official age to be an adult when some adult activities are possible at different ages.
Probably the most arbitrary of age restrictions and laws has to do with physical relations and marriage. A person who is a teen can have physical relations with another teen, unless they are 18. Anyone 18 and above cannot have physical relations with anyone below 17 even if they are only a few years apart. True, some states do have age distance laws that have limited protections for those who are barely past their teens themselves. But, there is no real reason given why an 18 year old is not still considered a teen. Beyond that, a parent or judge can give permission for a teen to marry a teen even though a non-teen cannot under any circumstances marry a teen. The logic behind all this is missing. There is no underlying moral reason a person who is a teen should have the right to physical relations with another teen and not a non-teen save it be a cultural displeasure. Since the argument is that a teen cannot choose properly with an adult, the same should be said with another teen. Certainly it would make more sense for age distance laws (say, no one can marry or have physical relations ten years older or younger than themselves), or specific adult determination age (nobody can have physical relations or marry before age 20).
Having mentioned it before, there are all kinds of age laws based on some vague morality that somehow transforms at a magic number. A person can learn how to kill and be killed by the U.S. government at age 18, but not drink alcohol until 21. Of course, its not everywhere on the planet this is the case. Some European countries allow very low ages (if any) where a person can drink. Not too long ago the safest drinking was at least a light alcohol if you didn’t want to get sick and die. Then there is heinous crimes where by law a minor cannot be charged as an adult, until they can be. Simplicity of law should dictate that certain acts are adult ones and no matter the age should be tried as an adult. If not that, then stick with (not preferable) no minor for any reason can be tried as an adult.
The discussion of age, morality, and law could go on for a long time. It is neither a conservative or liberal weakness, as both sides seem content to let things remain illogical. Despite the complicated issue, it is not much talked about either in church or society. The reaction to bringing it up is either “its for the children”, or “of course that is the way it should be,” with virtually no thought. A person who studies or practices the law would have to describe how much or little this discussion exists among the field of law. At the moment questioning the relationship between age and morality might as well be taboo.