Zelophehad’s Daughters

Why I Don’t Want to Believe in Heavenly Mother

Posted by Lynnette

It’s high time I confess a heresy that may put me at odds both with many Mormons and with many feminists: I’m not really all that enamored of the idea of the divine feminine, of the doctrine that we have a Heavenly Mother.

I don’t recall when I first encountered the teaching that we have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Father—though I can say that the idea that Heavenly Father had multiple wives was one that rather horrified me (it still does). But even beyond the potential polygamy problem, the notion of an Eternal Mother was one that left me feeling a bit icky. I projected the kinds of saccharine rhetoric about women that I heard about church onto her, imagining a Mother who was always soft-spoken and dripping with sentimentality. I figured that if such a divine personage did indeed exist, I didn’t want anything to do with her.

For this reason, I didn’t give much thought to the prayer issue; I never felt any great personal need to communicate with Heavenly Mother. Truth to tell, I don’t think the subject bothered me much at all until I encountered some of the discussion surrounding the question. As with some of our other attempts to justify particular practices, I frequently found the explanations more offensive than the original practice. Heavenly Mother was too special to talk to? Heavenly Father was protecting her from her children? Worshipping a woman would lead you in the direction of pagan fertility rites? That’s just the way things had always been done (this, in a church which claimed continuing revelation)? Each argument seemed sillier than the last.

However, I’m still ambivalent about the doctrine. A number of LDS feminists have advocated giving it a more prominent place, of incorporating Heavenly Mother more into our religious discourse and practice. On the one hand, I’m quite sympathetic to many of their arguments and aims. Worshipping a male God without a female counterpart undeniably puts males in a privileged position; God is like them in a fundamental way that God is not like women. I cannot believe that an environment which conceptualizes the divine in exclusively male terms does not to some extent influence the ways in which we think about women and men, and their relative capabilities.

On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I am not persuaded that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is actually all that positive, at least in the context in which we have it. If we have no Heavenly Mother, women have no divine role model which pertains to their gender, and that is indeed a challenge. But if Heavenly Mother exists, what we have is a divine role model for women which may be more disturbing than no role model at all–one in which women are silenced to the point of invisibility, in which they seem to disappear altogether into the identity of their husbands. Though I find the idea that God is a married couple to be appealing, I am unsettled by speculations that the Father in some way represents both of them, or that she is listening or involved despite the fact that we are permitted to address him and him alone. Some suggest that this setup exists because the two are so perfectly unified. But why, I wonder, does unity seem to require that women (but not men) sacrifice their individual identity–in this case, to the point where we can only guess as to whether a female is even present in the relationship? I find it bad enough when we refer to a married woman as “Mrs. John Smith,” but in this situation, we can’t even do that much; we in essence say “Mr. John Smith,” and then suggest that there might be a “Mrs.” hiding somewhere in there.

It also seems to me that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother profoundly reinforces the idea that gender roles are eternal. If there is no Heavenly Mother, women as well as men can confidently aspire to be like their Father, to somehow share in the life of God and all that goes along with that—but the existence of Heavenly Mother indicates that females are on an alternate path. Women, like men, might lay claim to some spark of the divine; but when one talks of women becoming god-like there is always an asterisk, because we do not know what female divinity entails. Teachings about Heavenly Mother can as easily be used to reinforce traditional gender roles as to challenge them; the fact that we see no evidence of Heavenly Mother exercising any kind of power or authority, for example, might be one reason why we are reluctant to give priesthood authority to women on earth. (Though on the other hand, the fact that Heavenly Father seems to be the only parent involved in nurturing the children hasn’t exactly translated into making that men’s primary responsibility here.) And much as I would like to project a 21st century egalitarian model of marriage on to our Heavenly Parents, I cannot rule out the possibility that goddesshood, whatever it is, involves subordination to the presiding male.

Obviously we have very little information about how eternal relationships work, and I am not trying to claim otherwise; I am only trying to explain why the possible existence of a Heavenly Mother does not necessarily quell my anxieties about gender in the eternities—and, in fact, in some ways makes them worse. To put it bluntly, I sometimes think I might rather deal with the difficulties of no Heavenly Mother at all, than with the challenges posed by the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother who is irrelevant to the Plan of Salvation, and who is either unable or unwilling to communicate with her children. With apologies to Eliza R. Snow, I find that it is this latter possibility, even more than the notion that in the heavens parents are single, that truly makes reason stare.

83 Responses to “Why I Don’t Want to Believe in Heavenly Mother”

  1. 1.

    I think these are the reasons that many Mormon feminists try to identify the Mother as some figure with a known role in our theology: Eve, Mary, the Holy Ghost.

  2. 2.

    Terrific post.

  3. 3.

    You articulated well many of my reasons for feeling uncomfortable with the way Heavenly Mother is dealt with in LDS thought and culture.

  4. 4.

    I also find the reasons for not mentioning and/or praying to Heavenly Mother really troubling.

    A while back, this issue came up in a group of less-than-orthodox Mormons and one party suggested that maybe, the issue is that Heavenly Mother’s off building and ruling her own planets, it’s just that, for some reason, we’re on the one ruled by the Father, but on other worlds, it’s all about praying to the Mother and perhaps the Father is a shadowy figure. Takes quite the leaps and assumptions in there to get to this understanding, but it’s surely less offensive than saying Heavenly Mother couldn’t stand having bad things said about her.

  5. 5.

    I projected the kinds of saccharine rhetoric about women that I heard about church onto her, imagining a Mother who was always soft-spoken and dripping with sentimentality.

    Funny. I always saw her as kind of a Norse God in my mind. Sort of a Valkyrie.

    Not that this means much, of course.

  6. 6.

    1. Look at the way Heavenly Father’s role itself is abbused and mocked in the world today. I for one wouldn’t want to put my wife through that same treatment.

    2. Bottom line; is The Book of Mormon true or not? Therein lies your testimony of all gospel doctrine. It’s it’s tue, then the prophets are true, and it they’re true, then the teachings are true.

  7. 7.

    correction:
    “If it’s true, then the prophets are true, and if they’re true, then the teacings are true.”

    There’s must be a Heavenly Mother, or we could not exist. And HF MUST be married or He (nor His Wife) cannot live in the Celestial Kingdom.

  8. 8.

    Also; ask HF to know why, if it is truely this much a concern to you. As with all sincere prayers of faith, it will be answered.

  9. 9.

    Heavenly Mother or not, you are deffinately a daughter of Heavenly Father, and as such He loves you greatly. Thus He would not that you remain in this state in regards to this matter, He would that we understand the Gospel if it’s our hearts desire:

    We all have stumbling blocks placed before us. Sometimes it’s doctrine. Doctrine is to be understood. If you merely desire to know the tuth, then seek it faithfully and spiritually.
    We are empowered to seek a testimony in all things, and should we follow that path, we will come to a testimony or even a knowledge of that thing.
    Implement Alma’s experiment, and you will come to a true understanding in your own mind of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. Agreeing or disagreeing makes it no less true.

  10. 10.

    But as this post is Titled your desire to not believe in the doctrine will ultimately be the reason why you never do. Unless there’s a time where you truely desire to understant the doctrine, no matter what it entails, as long as it’s the truth. That moment is when you will begin to understand, because you now desire to understand.

  11. 11.

    Maybe she’s at the Great Book Group in the Sky while He’s busy at work with the Universe…

    (Although, I wouldn’t proclaim your discomfort too loudly, or they’ll take your LDS feminist card away. )

  12. 12.

    I would like to know the doctrine found in the lost books of scripture that have not been revealed to us yet. I would also like to know what happened when christ visited and taught people in the other parts of the world and what those books contain.
    However, according to HF’s will and plan, we do not have these writings yet. Probably because we are not ready to handle those thruths. But we believe that all things will be revealed, and that includes, in due time, who our spiritual mother is, but only when we are ready to handle the truth.
    It’s all on HF’s time, not ours, ask the many African members who waited so long for the preisthood. It’s not on our timeline, but all things are on His.
    *End rant here*

  13. 13.

    to #11

    Or maybe She’s a working mom and He stays at home taking care of the children.

  14. 14.

    TomGuero,

    Careful now. I think you just opened quite a few cans of worms.

    Wonderful post. You really articulate this tension well. While I am definitely drawn to the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother, we haven’t exactly painted Her in a light that is appealing to modern sensibilities, especially from a feminist perspective. For instance, the doctrine has often been associated with Celestial Polygamy–it’s been taught that Heavenly Father is married to Heavenly Mothers. To be frank, I’m not too crazy about the idea of a polygamist God, despite what Brigham Young and his contemporaries had to say about the topic.

  15. 15.

    Funny. I always saw her as kind of a Norse God in my mind. Sort of a Valkyrie.

    Heh, that’s great. Maybe I’d have a more positive outlook on the whole thing if that’s the image I’d started out with. :)

  16. 16.

    This is a great post. Like you, although I’m disturbed by the implications of Heavenly Mother’s exclusion from the Godhead, from worship, and even from discussion, I don’t feel any emotional desire to connect with her, partly because of the goopy terms in which we’ve painted her.

    In many ways, we talk about Heavenly Father using “traditionally feminine” terms–as you say, he’s nurturing and caring. Sometimes we even claim that since Jesus and the Father advocated such “feminine” behaviors, then the Church clearly honors women (although I find this logic flawed, and it seems veeerry problematic to me to talk about Christian values and masculinity as if they are at odds–I think this is one of the reasons we convince ourselves men need the priesthood exclusively, since they need a “masculine” way–authority–of interacting with the divine).

    But I wonder about the ways in which this influences our vision of Heavenly Mother. If gender roles are so important, and Heavenly Father is fulfililng a traditionally feminine role, where does that leave Heavenly Mother? It’s relatively clear she’s not fulfilling a traditionally masculine role, presiding over her husband. Effectively, she has to be even <em>more</em> “feminine” than our vision of Heavenly Father, and she gets painted into a corner of ultra-feminine, ultra-passive, ultra-sweet sap.

  17. 17.

    tftcarrie, #11,
    Your comment is along the lines of my wildest speculation: From all that has been revealed to common men so far, I think it may not be likely, however it is within the realm of possibility, that the ultimate ruling power of the known universe is a council consisting of Heavenly Father’s multiple wives, and that He is working off a set of “honey-do’s”, assisted by the other two members of the known Godhead, and others of their children in various stages of eternal progression (Adam, other angels, and other spirits-of-just-men-made-perfect, etc.).

    Only those to whom heaven has been literally shown have any clue of what’s there or the living arrangements. I am sometimes amazed at how many people take many of the throw-away comments of BY and others as official doctrine about heavenly living conditions. The bottom line is: we just don’t know. (Though it can be interesting to speculate.)

  18. 18.

    TomGuero,

    There’s must be a Heavenly Mother, or we could not exist. And HF MUST be married or He (nor His Wife) cannot live in the Celestial Kingdom.

    Actually, I think that’s a debated question. Does LDS cosmology require a Heavenly Mother? This kind of thing has actually been discussed quite a bit on the bloggernacle, which is part of what’s sparked me to think about the feminist implications of believing or not believing in Heavenly Mother.

    I’m pretty much agnostic about this at the moment (though truth to tell, I might lean in the direction of belief despite myself). But I see the teaching as perhaps similar to the King Follett discourse–it’s played a big role in the tradition, and is clearly important in how it’s shaped LDS theology–but there’s nonetheless room for disagreement about its doctrinal status. So in response to your #6, I wouldn’t put questioning it quite on the level of rejecting the Book of Mormon and the prophets.

  19. 19.

    (Although, I wouldn’t proclaim your discomfort too loudly, or they’ll take your LDS feminist card away.)

    Lol. That would be sad; I’d have to steal one from a sister so that I could sneak into the top-secret LDS feminist meetings in which we plan to overthrow the patriarchy. :)

  20. 20.

    Bookslinger (#17), I think you win the prize for “wildest speculation” (though alea, Cynic, and tftcarrie have proposed some good ones, too). One of the admittedly fun things about the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is that you only have to mention it to a group of Mormons, and eveyone’s speculometers (mine included!) immediately go into overdrive.

  21. 21.

    If there is a Goddess, then we know nothing about her. Nothing. I find speculation on doctrinal matters like this very, very irritating. Few things bug me as much as hearing the latest pronouncements by the devout members of the church of making stuff up.

    That’s why I don’t have any desire or a need for a connection to the “divine feminine,” especially from within the context of a patriarchal religion. “I don’t want anyone talking about MY wife that way.” Yeesh. Like the Goddess can’t take care of herself.

  22. 22.

    I’m so intrigued to hear someone dwell on it, because I’ve never really worried about it. And I’ve never pictured her saccharine-y. Actually I’ve always seen her as a spicy little tamale. She must be flippin’ amazing to be HF’s wife. I have always just known that she loves me.

    I really just trust in HF so much, I don’t worry about it. And I don’t mean that as in…wow, look at me I’m a trusting little saint…just that I have had so many wonderful life experiences where I have seen His hand in my life, I would be a fool to think there isn’t a very important reason why we don’t know more about her. And I do think we will learn in time. I have had no problem believing that HF loves and respects strong women. Maybe it’s the women in my life that lead me to feel that way.
    By the way, to an earlier post, I have been reading “Earth: In the Beginning” and the first few chapters are about the spiritual creation of the earth…and us. And the author gives evidence through the scriptures and and prophets about how this all happened. It’s pretty cool, you might want to check it out.

  23. 23.

    Before I go much further, lets do the math:

    1. Is temple marriage not a requirement for the Celestial Kingdom?

    2. Will we then assume that equal numbers of males and females will be found worthy of the celestial kingdom? I mean to an exact 1:1 ratio?

    3. If the numbers are not even, what happens to the left over who would otherwise be worthy of celestial glory?

    4. Does anyone truely think that the numbers will be even, or that worthy men will out number worthy women? Or do most think there will be more worthy women?

    5. If there 100 worthy males, and 103 worthy females….what about the 3 left over? what if you were one of those 3? Is that fair, orare the blessings promised to all who are worthy?

    6. do the math…..is plural marriage the celestial answer, as temple marriage is a requirement? What if you were married worhtiy, and your mother was not married, but was worthy otherwise..what would you hope her options were?

  24. 24.

    Lynnette,
    In my opinion, the reasoning that seems to require a Heavenly Mother is the path given to us to follow for our exaltation: eternal marriage and the promise of spirit children to the eternal union. That alone should be enough of an implication, but add to it JS’s statements (in King Follet discourse?) about how our path is the same as Heavenly Father’s and “all the gods before.”

  25. 25.

    Now see Isaiah 4:

    It is taught that all celestial laws must be practiced on Earth for a time.

    Read Iaiah’s vision on the mellenium in chp 4

    I’ve discussed this with groups of friends as well, when we get into a deep thoughts on the gospel discussions.
    What if Heavenlt Mother is not discussed to a degree, because we’re not ready to handle the possible fact that your Heavenl yMother may not be my Heavenly Mother.

    What if the prophet stodd up and releaved; “Yes, Heavenly Father has multiple wives.” Think of the rammifications that may have at this time without us being ready to hear such things yet.

    Marriage is required, and then what is there is not an even 1:1 ratio of men and women worthy to enter the ceestial kingdom? How you you justly handle that situation while holding to the temple marriage requirement?

    And as for adopted….no. We were “created in the image of God” He did not adopt us, He created us. God does not change…..the law does not change. The way to create children is with a wife, a partner you are married to. Would He require something of us that He is not required to do? No, that would be an unjust God.

    Bottom line is HF promised eternal happiness, the way this works out in the end is perfect in it’s design. We will be happy, and we will reign in celestial glory and be Gods and Godesses of our own worlds….meaning that God himself was once……just a man.

    What would you do with 100 men and 103 women, worthy to enter the Kingdom?

  26. 26.

    1. Is temple marriage not a requirement for the Celestial Kingdom?

    No. Temple marriage is required for _exaltation_ in the Celestial Kingdom. There are two other lesser degrees of glory in the Celestial Kingdom. And I’ll go even further, such temple marriage is not absolutely required in this life. Think of all those who die before the age of accountability, whom we have been told will inherit the highest degree of glory. There will have to be some kind of post-resurrection temple marriage for them if that promise is to hold.

    2. Will we then assume that equal numbers of males and females will be found worthy of the celestial kingdom? I mean to an exact 1:1 ratio?

    No.

    3. If the numbers are not even, what happens to the left over who would otherwise be worthy of celestial glory?

    Celestial polygamy.

    4. Does anyone truely think that the numbers will be even, or that worthy men will out number worthy women? Or do most think there will be more worthy women?

    I think the consensus is more worthy women.

    5. If there 100 worthy males, and 103 worthy females….what about the 3 left over? what if you were one of those 3? Is that fair, or are the blessings promised to all who are worthy?

    Listen to what the GAs say to single adults. “No worthy person who remains single, through no fault of their own, will be denied any blessings.”

    6. do the math…..is plural marriage the celestial answer, as temple marriage is a requirement?

    Yes.

    What if you were married worhtiy, and your mother was not married, but was worthy otherwise..what would you hope her options were?

    Again, the GAs’ quotes on this are clear. No blessings will be denied those who are worthy and who remained single through no fault of their own.

  27. 27.

    I had a talk with my wife on this awile back, as she’s a convert. She happened to marry a guy who likes to discuss this deeper stuff, and the idea had….well, troubled her.
    After a lengthy discussion similar to what we’ve ead here I said “Hun, imagine this scenario…what would you want done? Your lifelong best friend (insert her name) who you love dearly, almost more than me somedays…you and her are together at the final placing of degrees of glory. LEts say she’s not had the opportunity to marry in the temple, but she is otherwise worthy to join you and I in te celestial kingdom. She has no single males available as options at this point…what do you do?
    Do you hug her and cry, and let her go to a lesser degree? Or do you turn to me, and begin to consider the alternative?” “What if the roles were reserved and the men did out number the women…and it’s my lifelong best friend who’s the odd man out…?”
    She thought about it for awhile, and said I’d have to want her to marry you too so she could have her celestial glory….I love her, and if she needs to marry into a family, why not ours?

    Its a tough idea to handle….for all of us, believe me, MOST if not ALL men do not like the idea of having more than one wife either….it even seems wierd to us. We can hardly handle the ones we have now! Ya’ll are so complicated! It would be very difficult for both sides to comprehend.
    In the end…I’m sure you all will outnumber us males, so again how do we get you all into the celestial kingdom?

  28. 28.

    [edited because I don't want to follow that threadjack]

    However, I’m quite familiar with more standard LDS beliefs about this. I might even agree with them, because I like the idea that God is really our Father. I’m just pushing the question a little, because I’m interested in what the feminist implications might be if there weren’t a Heavenly Mother.

    I simply don’t buy the “there will be more righteous women than men so we’ll have to practice polygamy” argument. It seems that you could just as easily observe that far more males die before the age of eight than do females, and posit a shortage of men (and the necessity of polyandry perhaps?) The assumption that women are more righteous is also one I find extremely problematic. In any case, this only seems to be a problem if you assume a finite number of intelligences. (Was it Starfoxy who did a fun post on this at FMH a while ago?)

  29. 29.

    Ann (#21), I must confess that I’m sometimes rather entertained by speculation (as is doubtless evident in this thread!) In any case, I like your comment about not wanting a connection to the divine feminine from within the context of a patriarchal religion–that gets at something that I’ve been struggling to articulate.

    Amy (#22), I appreciate hearing your perspective on this.

  30. 30.

    Lynnette;
    If temple marriage is a requirement for celestial kingdom…the number of intelegences could be infinite, but a couple is 1 man 1 women, so if it’s 2 men and 2 women, or if it’s eleventy hundred men and eleventy hundred women, the ratio must still be 1:1.
    In that, those numbers cannot be manipulated.
    If anything other than a 1:1 ratio exists, then what happens to the rest? (male or female)(we can also assume the possiblity males will outnumber the females)
    How do you justly handle anything other than an exact 1:1 ratio?

  31. 31.

    Request to all: I’d like to keep the subject of this thread generally on the implications of belief in Heavenly Mother (or lack thereof). Whether or not there are multiple Heavenly Mothers seems relevant, so I’m leaving in the ever-recurring polygamy in the CK debate, but I don’t want to have an extended discussion here about theological reasons for accepting the doctrine–it’s certainly okay to mention your general views on this, but if you want to argue at length about the underlying theology, please take it elsewhere.

  32. 32.

    But why, I wonder, does unity seem to require that women (but not men) sacrifice their individual identity–in this case, to the point where we can only guess as to whether a female is even present in the relationship?

    When Pres. Hinckley commented on praying to Mother in Heaven, he made a point that I thought was really important. He said “none of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 97)

    I think this is important for lots of reasons, not the least of which that any explanation that has turned you off to considering that She exists probably is an explanation that shouldn’t have been given in the first place. Note that he says that we have no revealed knowledge about this! I would suggest that we not make decisions based on false or at least unverified and unauthorized anything. We know we are children of Heavenly Parents, and that exaltation means a married relationship between a man and a woman. And we know exaltation means a glorified, perfected state. But that’s about all we know.

    I think we need to be really careful about any other assumptions we might make, whether it be about the details of eternal roles, or eternal polygamy (if it it exists and how), or what an eternal marital relationship looks like, etc. I think that the more we speculate, the more we risk getting upset or concerned or excited or whatever about stuff we really know little to nothing about — and we might be upset or excited or concerned for nothing.

  33. 33.

    There is another aspect of this issue which wasn’t the point of your post, but which is worth mentioning. Regardless of all of the ex post facto scriptural rationalizations mentioned above, there is indeed nothing in the LDS canon that states that there is a Heavenly Mother. The belief rests on Eliza R. Snow and some other early Saints’ claims that Joseph Smith taught the doctrine to them privately (there is no record of any public pronouncement of the doctrine by JS) and the subsequent acceptance of those claims by Church leaders. However that acceptance has been in tacit rather than active — although you can find General Authority speeches referring to the doctrine, it has never been formally adopted by votes of the Church leadership or general conferences. Clearly this thin authority bothers President Hinckley, and that is the reason he cites for downplaying discussion of the idea.

    Now, like many others, I would love for a Prophet of the Church to request and receive further light and knowledge by revelation on the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. However, in the apparent continuing absence of such revelation, we are left in the position of not knowing. This is an uncomfortable position for Latter-day Saints, because we are supposed to have the extra revelation with all of the answers. Since we obviously do not have all the answers, this attitude can make us arrogant, defensive, and susceptible to speculation (although I do like #13 above). I would suggest that just admitting that we really don’t understand the doctrine of Heavenly Mother until we receive further revelation on the subject has some value as an exercise in helpful doctrinal humility for Latter-day Saints.

  34. 34.

    p.s. Of course we can be excited about our potential — I meant getting excited about some theory that may or may not be correct.

  35. 35.

    has some value as an exercise in helpful doctrinal humility for Latter-day Saints.

    I like this perspective. It also requires faith and trust in a way that probably stretches the heart strings of some who struggle with women’s issues in the Church in the now. I think we all have these kinds of issues…just different for all of us.

  36. 36.

    No time to say more, but great post, Lynnette. Very thoughtful.

  37. 37.

    Thanks for the comment, m&m. I agree with you that the point that we really know very little is important to keep in mind when it comes to speculation about this–and I freely admit that much of what I’ve said in this post is indeed speculation, and I could be completely wrong. :)

    Though if this makes sense, I don’t think it’s the variety of speculative nonsense I’ve seen that bothers me so much as the very fact that our knowledge is so sparse–that she apparently isn’t crucial enough for us to know about. It seems to me that we learn what’ s important, what really matters, not only from what does get mentioned, but also from what doesn’t–and that leaves me with some difficult questions.

    zeezrom, that’s a good point that’s the doctrine hasn’t ever been formally accepted, which gives it a kind of ambiguous status, and that we Latter-day Saints are perhaps not always the best at dealing with situations in which we don’t know.

    I realized after I wrote the last paragraph of this post that perhaps there are some parallels here to the standard theodicy problem. Some people say, in essence, given the choice between a God who would allow such horrendous evil in the world, and no God at all, I’ll opt for the latter. And I sympathize–but because of my personal experience, I still maintain a belief in God, though I have no idea how to answer the haunting question of God’s apparent silence in the face of suffering. Any explanation seems hollow. Could I possibly say something similar about Heavenly Mother? I might believe in her, but in a similar way, I simply cannot account for her silence. It continues to trouble me–and perhaps, as I think is the case with suffering, it should.

    Thanks for the kind words, Norbert.

  38. 38.

    I’ll admit, the Mother in Heaven = Holy Ghost idea is rather tidy and has some real appeal to it (for one thing, it would land Her squarely within the accepted Godhead). But that no-body thing is problematic, I suppose. Also problematic is what you do if there’s more than one Mother. Evangelicals already give us enough grief for believing there is more than one god (or “local system lord” as they ironically term it) in the universe. Can you imagine the hissy-fit they’d be throwing if we tried to turn the Holy Ghost into a title shared among multiple women?

    Hmmm… Actually, that might be a good argument FOR using it… Always fun to rattle the cages…

  39. 39.

    Tom,

    4. Does anyone truely think that the numbers will be even, or that worthy men will out number worthy women? Or do most think there will be more worthy women?

    Your argument depends women being in the majority in the Celestial Kingdom. It seems that many members of the Church assume that this will be the case. But what if it is the other way around? As Lynette mentioned, what if, because more males died before age eight (or for whatever reason), there were more men in the CK? Then would that require that women take multiple husbands? Would you accept that proposition?

    The assumption that women will outnumber men in heaven, however common it may be, is unjustified. And without that assumption, you can’t argue that men will be required to take multiple wives in the hereafter unless you are willing to admit the possibility that the reverse might be necessary.

  40. 40.

    Lynnette, it might be worth pointing out in this context that Mormonism broadly lacks information about the identity of God the Father, as well. Available theories in our tradition include: an exalted former mortal, a self-exalted being of a fundamentally different ability level from us, Adam, a council of deities, Jesus Christ, and a sealed male-female couple who have adopted the name “Father” as a joint label. I’ll certainly agree that even less is known about the Mother, but I guess the point here would just be that the lack of information about deity we suffer from is actually rather more widespread than it sometimes appears.

    I think the consequences of there not being a Mother are rather seriously negative. If there is only a Father, then it turns out that, ontologically, males really are eternally in charge. A male-only priesthood is justifiable by analogy to the male-only Godhead; same with the male-only hierarchy. Language about mortal men becoming kings and priests, and women becoming queens and priestesses to their husbands takes on a real edge, since the kind of exaltation potentially available to each gender is actually quite distinct.

  41. 41.

    I agree with RT on this. We know a lot less about God than we often assume we know despite the restoration. Most arguments about MiH are tied to unverified assumptions about FiH.

  42. 42.

    I don’t agree with the assumption of women outnumbering men for the simple reason that I don’t think women are inherently more righteous than men.

    I think that’s a sappy little piece of folk doctrine we’ve invented to patronize women.

  43. 43.

    Seth, I can see why some have proposed the Mother in Heaven=Holy Ghost idea; it at least gives you some identity for her, and then you can also find her everywhere in the scriptures. But I’ve personally never found that idea at all appealing; it seems to raise as least as many problems as it solves. Interestingly, there’s a parallel discussion in mainstream Christian feminism: some have proposed that we should think of the Spirit as female–and others have responded that making one-third of the Trinity female doesn’t really solve the problems posed by a male God (and is weird to boot).

    A couple of comments have hinted that we don’t teach the multiple Heavenly Mothers doctrine because people couldn’t handle it (whether members of the Church, non-members, or both). I’m skeptical; we’ve managed to teach a lot of other doctrines despite their sounding strange. Though I do suspect that one reason we’re wary of the subject is that polygamy has such an ambiguous doctrinal status, and this inevitably brings it up.

    RT, that’s a good point our sense of the Father isn’t all that clear, either. I would note, however, that on that subject we have a lot more to go on given that Jesus said things like, if you’d seen him, you’d seen the Father–we do believe that you can understand the Father through the Son. And even if we’re not clear just who the Father is, we have a lot of teachings about his characteristics and abilities. I think you can make a plausible argument that those would apply to a Heavenly Mother as well–but if we believe in some kind of eternal gender essentialism, it’s not clear how far we can take that, because we don’t know what aspects of God are tied up in his maleness.

    I do think you’re right that belief in an exclusively male God poses some serious challenges. If I were really to push this, I might be tempted to move in the direction of a more traditionally Christian concept of God as one who transcends gender–except that then you sacrifice the idea that God is in some sense a person like us, and I’m not sure I want to give that up.

    Language about mortal men becoming kings and priests, and women becoming queens and priestesses to their husbands takes on a real edge, since the kind of exaltation potentially available to each gender is actually quite distinct.

    I think that gets at the heart of my concern–but I’m thinking that’s where the doctrine of Heavenly Mother potentially takes us. The existence of a divine male and a divine female suggests that exaltation comes in two flavors, as it were, a male version and a female version. If you have only a divine male, I definitely think, as you’ve pointed out, that raises some real difficulties. But if you still maintain the idea that humans, women as well as men, can become like God, you might simply end up concluding that exaltation isn’t inherently gendered, that whatever it is that’s constitutive of godhood, it’s available in the same way to males and females. The notion of a male God who creates both males and females in his image is, I think, a serious challenge to gender essentialism, and it’s in that way that I can see potential feminist appeal (depending, of course, on the kind of feminism).

  44. 44.

    By the way, I’m enjoying this discussion, and I’ve appreciated the many calm, thoughtful comments on what can be a rather explosive topic.

    Kiskilili asked back in #16,

    If gender roles are so important, and Heavenly Father is fulfililng a traditionally feminine role, where does that leave Heavenly Mother?

    That’s a great question. It seems that our teachings about Heavenly Father might in some ways actually subvert our teachings about gender roles. Also, if God can exhibit feminine characteristics, even going so far as using feminine imagery to describe himself at times, that raises some interesting questions about any notion that we have to firmly police gender boundaries.

  45. 45.

    As a youth when I got on a tear about something I didn’t know or understand but thought my father or mother, a teacher, a sibling, or a friend did I didn’t hesitate to ask, ask, ask…. And speculation was certainly part of the growing process. The notion that a Mother in Heaven isn’t scriptural seems kind of naive since the Savior himself constantly referred to the Father in Heaven, and not just his but “your” Father in Heaven. He could have just referred to God without using terminology that was lucid to all of us. I propose that we don’t ask enough. We don’t possess the will to know.

    I like the Ursala LeGuin refrain from one of her novels, “truth is a matter of the imagination”. Perhaps our Mother in Heaven wants us to use our… Oh, but then am I not suppose to speculate. Speculation leads to discovery.

    we

  46. 46.

    Given that some of the cultural rationalizations for our lack of information about a Heavenly Mother turn out to be Victorian Projections, and that some of the more radical suggestions turn out to be Politically Correct Agenda Projections, an alternative to special interest speculation or resignation to ignorance exists in the form of new research. The most important recently for LDS, IMHO, is Alyson Von Feldt’s lengthy review of Dever’s Did God Have a Wife? in the FARMS Review 19:1. I find this an astonishingly insightful review, bringing out many things that Dever himself did not see.

    http://www.farms.byu.edu/display.php?table=review&id=639

    The link is to the html, though the PDF has the best graphics, which are very important.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  47. 47.

    Lynette–
    interesting thoughts. Personally, I am currently OK with this mystery, but I enjoyed reading your ideas.

  48. 48.

    In my life, I never really gave much thought about a Heavenly Mother. And then I had a sister who received her patriarchal blessing and it said some interesting things about Heavenly Mother (e.g. her character traits and role) that really brought her, and the concept of her, to the forefront of my mind. Since then, I have thought on her often.

    I’m not sure how much credence people give to patriarchal blessings as I know it is “personal/individual.” But, the fact that she was discussed by, as I believe, divine inspiration, really gave me a sense of her reality.

    But, again, to each his/her own.

  49. 49.

    Lynnette #43, one difficulty here is that, under the most common readings, we have more than one divine male. We have a divine Father, who Mormons typically want to think of as genuinely male for reasons you mention. We have a divine Jesus, who was obviously actually male while alive and is presumably still male after the resurrection. Furthermore, in a temple context, Adam/Michael obviously seems to have godlike attributes, as do Peter, James, and John. Similarly, when Moses and Elijah appear in the Kirtland temple, they seem to have godlike traits. Do we have any records of parallel female appearances during the resurrection?

    One divine male may in fact serve as a basis for rebuking gender essentialism. But several divine or godlike males becomes a different message. (The probability of this many males if males and females play equivalent roles in the eternities, and the observed data are a random sample from the possible data, is about 0.004. ) This is, I think, where a need for revelation about female exaltation becomes urgent.

  50. 50.

    (The probability of this many males if males and females play equivalent roles in the eternities, and the observed data are a random sample from the possible data, is about 0.004. ) This is, I think, where a need for revelation about female exaltation becomes urgent.

    Hear, hear! It’s haunting the way ritual female subordination to males is apparently reflected in our vision of the divine realm by an absence of divine female figures. In sacred space said to be closer to heaven than any other, women are subordinated to men, and in the eternities, they’ve become all but invisible.

  51. 51.

    Kevin, thank you for the link. I found the article fascinating.

    The way I see it, any revelation concerning a Divine Being is difficult to attain. Even prophets see through a glass darkly. They describe their encounters the best they can, and there are many discrepancies, even within our own faith tradition. I think it must be part of the human experience that we must strive for knowledge of God. We must ask, and seek, and knock. I think we have much more information concerning the nature of a Heavenly Father because that is what leaders as well as followers have yearned for.

    Right now we have a situation in the LDS Church that any searching concerning a female deity is covert and suspect. It is not surprising to me that we have little knowledge of her. I don’t think her state of being is hidden or submissive as much as I think we (speaking of the church collectively and not individually) have not sought this knowledge.

    If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:4–6)

  52. 52.

    Personally, I’m growing more and more fond of the idea of Erastus Snow (among others) that God is somehow both male and female, whether as a single being who somehow encompasses both the male and female principle (maybe the Shakers were onto something!), or, as is perhaps more commonly suggested, as a sealed married couple that has adopted the title “God” jointly and is usually referred to as “Father” because of some quirk of our fallen world. (Though I might be going in that direction, I refuse to believe that he/she/they/whoever really wants to only be called “Father”–perhaps, as a patient and loving God, he/she/they/whoever hasn’t yet revealed this truth of duality because we couldn’t handle it, or of course for some other reason that I can’t think of but that is certainly not because the Father speaks for both of them.)

    Whatever the real Truth is, though, I’m with you, Lynnette, that the way Heavenly Mother is talked about, if at all, turns me off to her. If the Divine Feminine uses the Relief Society voice, I want no part of her. And if gender roles are eternal, and if she’s supposed to be up there providing a model of a woman’s gender role in the eternities, I’m even more disturbed. Plus, even assuming that gender roles are forever and the greatest calling a woman can have is to be a mother and etc etc all those things I have a hard time with, how does having a silent, noninterventionist Heavenly Mother demonstrate a major part of those supposed roles, that women are naturally nurturing and talented at child-rearing? With that logic, mothers might as well start totally ignoring their children, with the justification that they’re simply following the divine gender-role pattern.

  53. 53.

    RT, that’s a disturbing point, and one I must confess I hadn’t really considered. What does it mean that we have all these exalted males, and not one example of an exalted female, aside from hints about a Heavenly Mother? In D&C 138, Joseph F. Smith mentions seeing “our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters” in his vision, but I’m thinking that’s not quite on the same level.

  54. 54.

    RT- 49- I’ll have to dig up the reference, but Mother Eve did appear to Joseph Smith at least once.

  55. 55.

    I think some would say the reason for an all-male divine presence in the Bible and BoM is obvious – they were all written by male chauvinists.

  56. 56.

    Hi Lynnette, I haven’t been here (or anywhere) for a while, but I wandered over on a link from T&S and had to comment that I share both your emotional indifference to the idea of a Heavenly Mother and your skepticism that such a being really exists. My skepticism isn’t based on horror at the implications you outline (although I understand the horror, and I agree that those implications do flow from the tenuous folk doctrines we have); I have no conviction that eternal realities (if there are any) will conform to my present sensibilities. My skepticism is based simply on the fact that she has never revealed herself, nor has any revelation from God ever confirmed her existence; what we have is purely and merely inference. Lots of questions simply evaporated once I began to entertain the possibility that there was no such being.

    I’ve also been thinking a bit about whether women can be exalted, and I agree with RT above that it’s a fairly uncertain proposition. In a lot of ways, my understanding of Joseph’s view of celestial exaltation would hang together very nicely if only men are exalted in the way God is. The best evidence from the scriptures that I can find suggesting that women are exalted is D&C 132:19, where the plural pronoun “them” suggests that the blessing of exaltation pertain to husband and wife. However, the language later in that verse explicitly recalls the endowment, which demonstrates pretty clearly that men have a different degree of or role in exaltation than do women. So I don’t really know what to make of it.

  57. 57.

    Petra (#52),

    Good pull on the Erastus Snow reference. I posted on that general subject here.

  58. 58.

    Geoff J,

    I’m pretty sure I first came across that reference through your post. So I’m glad to have the chance to thank you for it!

  59. 59.

    Though if this makes sense, I don’t think it’s the variety of speculative nonsense I’ve seen that bothers me so much as the very fact that our knowledge is so sparse–that she apparently isn’t crucial enough for us to know about.

    It does make sense, and that was what I had in mind when I mentioned the fact that this really is one of those faith issues. I know that can feel like a frustrating copout, but that is where we are on it all.

    but, I agree with RT, who said what I was then going to say.

    Lynnette, it might be worth pointing out in this context that Mormonism broadly lacks information about the identity of God the Father, as well.

    While we can’t know for sure, I think we don’t know much about His role, but we do know about His characteristics, and by the nature of our doctrine, if we can all become like Him (which to me is about characteristics in large measure) then I think if we know Jesus (in character) then we know our Heavenly Parents. Perfected, glorified, loving Beings.

  60. 60.

    I’m working on figuring out the Eve reference I have.

  61. 61.

    Matt W., I appreciate the effort on locating the Eve reference. But actually extending the list to every non-mortal being that Joseph Smith saw in a vision, etc., would make the situation even more desperate seeming than I noted above. Joseph Smith saw a lot of people at least once, and the overwhelming majority were male.

  62. 62.

    “(The probability of this many males if males and females play equivalent roles in the eternities, and the observed data are a random sample from the possible data, is about 0.004. )”

    p-values on ZD. I thought I would never see the day. It brings a tear to my eye…

    But RT, don’t you think the independence assumption is likely to be violated? If they appearances are correlated–if Peter, James, and John were more likely to appear together than Peter and Mary Magdalene, for example, precisely because Peter would rather hang out with the guys–then the probability wouldn’t be quite that low. It would still be low, but it would be higher than .004.

  63. 63.

    Ziff, the independence question is a tricky one. But, look, the thing that needs to be independent is gender, not identity or role. So the question would be: why is it Peter, James, and John, not Peter, Mary, and John? The fact that all three of these linked roles are occupied by males seems to be the relevant point — not that the three people filling these linked roles appear together. So it seems to me that the independence assumption, regarding gender rather than individuals or roles, is probably what we want for the null hypothesis here.

  64. 64.

    I’ve been following this intriguing conversation over the last few days; great post, Lynette.
    I have had the same concerns and questions for about the last year and a half. I’ve even posted my doubts that HM exists at fMh and a few other threads, but didn’t seem to get any responses that others had similar doubts. I’m actually glad to hear that there are people who have these same questions.
    However, I am currently a sleep-deprived mother of a newborn, who spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a mother. In between diapers and spit-up, and older children screaming, I really think there is something heavenly about newborns and motherhood. I’ve been trying to pay attention to my feelings, or the Spirit, on this issue, as it doesn’t begin to make sense in my brain.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is my experience with a very new baby: holding, touching, feeding, smelling, and watching him has given me a deeper sense of God’s love for me as a woman and mother. I don’t know that I have a mother in heaven, but I know that God has given me something special in this new child that is miraculous, and not ordinary at all. Right now, that is enough to give me a sense of peace on the issue of a mother in heaven, or my possibility of being exalted like (or unlike) my husband.
    This is not to discredit these concerns at all, I still have them, but this is just where I’m at today. I have peace.

  65. 65.

    I guess a mother that absents herself from her children would upset me more as well if I didn’t keep on other thing in mind. This life is but a minute in the grand scheme of things. Our little brains don’t get it so it seems like a LONG time to be separated from our Heavenly Mother. She knows though. I guess you could liken it to a mother leaving her child with a caregiver. I know I had a baby that hated it and would cry and cry but I still had to leave him a couple of times- even knowing he would hate it and not understand it and would probably think I was leaving him so alone. But I knew I wasn’t. Did it still hurt me to leave him? Of course. I cried too because I knew what he was thinking. But was that reason enough for me not to leave him for just 1 hour or 30 minutes to take care of something necessary? No- because I knew it was something he was scared of because he didn’t know better. I knew he would be just fine. It’s really NOT the same at all because well, some of us may not be able to be in her presence again and that probably tears her apart. It’s just something I like to keep in mind. We’re only away from her for just a minute- just feels like forever for us.

  66. 66.

    Thanks for your perspective, Lena. I think my own concern isn’t so much about not having a relationship with her here (for some reason that’s never really bothered me much personally, though I can certainly appreciate why people might find the situation difficult), but with the theological implications of her absence–specifically, what that absence might suggest about the role of women in the eternities.

  67. 67.

    Lynnette, I just want to thank you for that post – it brought a lot of things into focus for me.

    I just finished reading a couple different posts, so i hope I’m relying to the correct comments!

    I think that the reason we have so little revelation about Heavenly Mother is (at least) two fold, and related. First, our leaders are men, and as such, tend to think more about our Heavenly Father, and receive more information about him, and second, that the revelations of women are not counted as highly as that of men. I know, I know, got to keep up the hierarchy, or all the world would crumble into chaos, it wouldn’t do for more than HALF of the humans on this earth to be capable of receiving revelation from God that has any bearing on anyone other than their immediate relations.

  68. 68.

    [...] Like a dutiful child, not only did she not speak, but she didn’t even speak when spoken to! Lynette at ZD has a very clear critique of this version of [...]

  69. 69.

    [...] of the questions which came up in my post last fall about my reservations concerning the doctrine of Heavenly Mother was that of female exaltation more generally. It’s an issue that’s been at the back of [...]

  70. 70.

    I always imagined Heavenly Mother kicking a** my whole young life…like a superheroine, defeating enemies in the war in heaven. I only really started getting horrified when people started talking about her like a passive bimbo. Heck NO!

  71. 71.

    I ran across this post due to a recent link from fMh and saw it because it’d been resurrected by the comment above, but I just wanted to say, great post. I’m not LDS but I sort of abandoned my search for a distinct divine feminine years ago for some of the reasons you mention.

    If there is a distinct divine feminine, I’d like to think that she’s capable of making her identity known to the world and isn’t simply a submissive, hidden, absorbed part of a divine masculine. At this point I don’t see much hope for that. Either the divine masculine isn’t all that masculine and somehow relates to both genders, or women really are supposed to eternally play a supporting role. I know which one I would rather believe.

  72. 72.

    Thanks, Bridget! I’m glad you like the post. I still have the objections I raised here but my thinking about the subject has gotten a bit more complicated in the past year; I should maybe re-visit it at some point.

    jddaughter, your image of HM made me laugh.

  73. 73.

    Lynnette: You pose a pretty tough question, and I admire your honesty.

    TomGeuro: with all due respect (very little) – shut the —- up. The last thing any of us needs is the finger-wagging, issue-polarizing, and pointed questions you’ve shat out in your frivolous posts.

  74. 74.

    [...] awkward about using words like Goddess or insisting in a Heavenly Mother. At times, I’ve even doubted her existence. But now I really believe that it’s not so much that the Divine Feminine doesn’t exist, [...]

  75. 75.

    I realize this post is long dead, but I really find fault in some of TomGuerro’s and others’ logic. We know God’s works and worlds and creations and posterity are endless. So while, after our final judgement, there may not be a 100 men to 100 women ratio (1:1), I’m sure God’s got a bunch more sons or daughters on the way. Or maybe he can ship a few in from other worlds. And I really don’t think it’s going to be a matter of “if I don’t make my husband marry my best friend she won’t get exaltation” kind of deal–how much would that suck for the best friend? To feel like the last, unwanted cookie on the table? I really think that God has more in store for singles than that.

    As far as whether there is or isn’t a HM, if there’s not, where does that leave us women? How can we aspire to be like God if that isn’t possible? Anyway, I agree with your questions and statements. Great post.

  76. 76.

    i was born R. Catholic, became Jewish due to an ex-husband, in the Reform Jewish tradition, ended up LDS, much to my surprise after exploring Wicca, Native American, secularized meditation based on Budhism, Yoga, etc. i’ve been here, it will be 19 years on 4/14/10.
    One thing that sticks out in my mind is this: if Jesus was like us in every way except sin and called Rabbi, which has, for centuries in more traditional forms of Judaism meant that one MUST be married- because the first of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments) in the Torah/Pentateuch is “Go ye out and multiply” – the sanctity of motherhood, i believe in our Church also comes from that scripture in part. But i’ve long wondered WHO Jesus might have been married to? Is it Mary Magdalene as the Gnostic Gospels of the Nag Hammadi Library? (which were found buried in the earth like the Book of Mormon and the Dead Sea Scrolls) or is it someone else? or was He also different from us in not expressing His sexuality at all as well as in not sinning? i know Augustine of Catholicism implied reproduction was always tainted with sin since the Fall – one reason i left the RC tradition. But that just doesn’t go with LDS teaching too well, now does it?

    Lately i think the more common LDS Woman – at least out East here among us mostly converts – is thinking about this more. i’ve heard two non-theologian and not very feminists teachers in R S make these comments: one said she wondered if “God’s wife had a name” and “if God had more than one wife”. i.e. she – a black lady and 2d generation LDS- was wondering if differences in race were due to their being separate Heavenly Moms for each race. Another spoke of Heavenly Mother as if she knew Her personally and they were “bff” – and someone else i know – a convert who has moved to UT told me she prays to Heavenly Mother, despite what the G.A. tell us that we should not, because she FEELS at a gut level that Heavenly Father either does not care for Her or is too busy. These are average women and mothers in 2 of the 3, who would not call themselves feminists. i do think maybe if the Church doesn’t address it, those of us who are not trained in theology may be birthing our own revelations and that these, even when they do not agree, will come forth from the ordinary women – because nature and i suspect the super-natural realms, abhor a vacuum. For example i’ve found several R S sisters who pray the rosary as they don’t know any more LDS Mormon way to connect with the Divine Feminine, so to speak. i agree – i have a hole in my heart that can only be filled by Her, and if my mind isn’t given the answer, my gut and imagination take over. It’s not just the theologians, male or female arguing anymore. The average woman is looking for answers that feed her soul as well as her mind.

    This concerns me as a young gal who calls me “mom” in the Church, a young mother (single) recently went into Wicca because she couldn’t get straight answers for the ordinary female in the Church. i couldn’t tell her this is wrong, because i can find no answers myself.

  77. 77.

    My feelings about Heavenly Mother continue to evolve, but I think one reason we don’t see her more clearly is that we’re still a part of her spirit body in some way. That is, I think we as a species have yet to be born, in some crucial sense. So we don’t notice her or speak of her mainly because we’re still part of her or inside her or something. So it’s similar to the way a fish doesn’t think about water much.

    Not sure if this makes sense to anyone else besides me…. =) Ignore the idea if it’s not helpful to you.

  78. 78.

    [...] discussion of Chapter 1 (2006) fMh discussion of Chapter 1 (2010) Why I Don’t Want to Believe in Heavenly Mother Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon [...]

  79. 79.

    [...] couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled “Why I Don’t Want to Believe In Heavenly Mother.” Basically, I argued that our teachings about Heavenly Mother in their current form raise more [...]

  80. 80.

    [...] message of “it’s special so don’t let anyone go there” is kinda like how LDS feelings about Heavenly Mother: so sacred we don’t talk about her and she becomes taboo. (Though, thankfully, that taboo [...]

  81. 81.

    [...] I am put off by the idea that I as woman might be eternally giving birth to spirit babies, and the status of Heavenly Mother – my immortal role model – is angst inducing if I sit down and think about it for very long. But in my positive moments, I have some hope that [...]

  82. 82.

    [...] a Heavenly Mother—but I think this is largely unrealized. (If you want to know my concerns, see this post.) I also want to note that many of those mainstream Christians who do not believe in a gendered God [...]

  83. 83.

    [...] Again, my debt to Lynnette knows no [...]

Leave a Reply