Zelophehad’s Daughters

Musings on the Mormon Mary

Posted by Kiskilili

Among Mormons motherhood is held up as the “highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind [sic].” One might discern, then, a vaguely Mary-shaped silhouette in our discourse in the negative space between our focus on Jesus as the consummate man and our insistence on the near-divinity of motherhood.  In the heavenly realm we lack anything other than a wisp of an ultimate example of maternalism, where in the earthly sphere our most promising candidate for filling the role of superlative mother lacks prominence.

It’s not that she’s entirely absent. “A precious and chosen vessel” (ouch!–are we talking about a person or a luxury ocean liner?), Mary probably gets as least as much airtime as Daniel in the lions’ den. Which is to say that she’s a lesser but still visible-with-the-naked-eye star among our interlocking constellations of heroic scriptural figures. By my calculations, this puts her about 121 lightyears away from and with a brightness about 60,000 times dimmer than that of the Catholic Mary. What accounts for this difference in attitudes? 

Mary occupies a unique position in Christian thought in any event. You don’t have to get all Freudian to scratch your head over the celebration of a woman who achieved biological motherhood non-sexually, thereby (conveniently, one might argue) fusing the seemingly irreconcilable archetypes of the mother and the virgin.

It’s true there’s no religious group we’re more suspicious of than Catholicism, that “great and abominable church,” “the whore of all the earth” (or not, take your pick. Bruce R. McConkie took his–more than once). At the same time, the number of parallels between Mormonism and Catholicism is striking; one might even argue that part of our distrust of the Vatican stems from our very unease with those evident similarities.  But Mary’s status is a clear point of departure. So while boundary maintenance vis-a-vis Catholics and an undeniable affinity for Protestantism likely play a role, I doubt this tells the whole story. Such factors aren’t preventing us from asserting that priesthood is mediated and transmitted through a hierarchical structure, for example.

On top of our aversion to all things “popish,” we’re also quite leery of anything  giving off a whiff of the divine feminine. Is this in part a reaction to the Catholic Mary, or do these roots run deeper in our tradition? Perhaps Heavenly Mother is taboo in our worship to some degree in response to the Catholic penchant for praying to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. (Historically, it’s possible Heavenly Mother’s significance began plummeting toward its nadir as anti-Catholicism in the Church was cresting.) Or, looked at from the other side, does our chariness toward Heavenly Mother prevent us from talking more about Mary since her status borders dangerously on the divine in other traditions?

Finally, perhaps there are theological reasons for our lack of attention to Mary. In traditional Christian thought Christ is God’s Word, the power through which he called the world into being, and God’s Name and Glory whereby God is able to interact with the world without compromising his transcendence.  (In Mormonism, in contrast, there’s no philosophical reason for Christ rather than God the Father to have created the world.) The Incarnation represents the ultimate expression of the bridging of that gap between the unknowable transcendent God and the immanent mundane human world. In taking on flesh, Christ entered fully into the realm of the human. 

But for Mormons the mystery is not how Christ became man, but rather how Christ became God without first becoming man. All spirits come to Earth to obtain bodies; this aspect of Christ’s mission is downright ordinary. And since our anthropomorphic God lives in our ontological neighborhood to begin with, no radical bridge is necessary. By suffering for sin, Christ reconciles us with God in an ethical sphere, but no ontological reconciliation is needed. The Incarnation simply has no resonance in Mormon theology. And it is this very aspect of Christ’s mission in which Mary participates most directly. Perhaps as we sideline the significance of the Incarnation, Mary’s significance recedes with it.

42 Responses to “Musings on the Mormon Mary”

  1. 1.

    Loved reading this! Mary has been very much on my find recently. Between the two of us, maybe we can make this Mary Month on the Blogglernacle :)

  2. 2.

    Err . . . on my MIND.

  3. 3.

    “The Incarnation simply has no resonance in Mormon theology.”

    Wow. This is such a great piece. Thanks for your profound thoughts, and for saying it so well.

  4. 4.

    Kiskilli,
    I realize it’s not central to your musings, but do you really think there’s a strong anti-Catholic sentiment in contemporary Mormonism? I realize that historically there was, in much the same way many Protestant religions decried popism, but in my lifetime, the only reference I’ve heard to the relationship between the “great and abominable church” and the Catholic church has been the denial that there is any relationship. Most people that I know, both online and IRL, are fans of the Catholic church (with the exception of some recent Catholic converts–but I find, again in my experience, that recent converts from any religion tend to emphasize what they don’t like about their former church).

    I’m admittedly biased in favor of the Catholics–I teach at a Jesuit school–but even back in high school, most of my friends were Catholic and I don’t recall ever having a problem with that.

    I doubt my experience is a complete outlier–and I realize that 30 or 40 years ago there may have been a strong anti-Catholic feelings in the Church, although Pres. McKay seemed to be pretty friendly with the diocese in Utah, if I remember Prince’s biography correctly–but I’m willing to stand corrected.

  5. 5.

    My reaction is the same as Sam’s. I have never noticed anti-catholicism in the church in my lifetime. I don’t notice “distrust of the vatican” or an “aversion to all things popish” in the church. I have always felt that mormons and catholics get along well. I personally feel comfortable in catholic settings such as schools and churches. Catholics are not involved an any anti-mormon activity in Utah as far as I have seen.

  6. 6.

    It’s hardly a representative sample, of course, but anti-Catholicism was alive and well among the American missionaries with whom I served in Italy in the mid-1990s. Bruce R. McConkie’s identification of the Catholics with the great and abominable church was frequently repeated, Mariology was ridiculed, cathedrals were derided as Satanic, all in a working day’s conversation.

    I can only hope things have improved, and I suspect we’d agree that anti-Catholicism is, in general, on the wane among North American Mormons. But as with many such matters, one encounters surprising pockets of resistance to general trends.

    McConkie’s racist justifications for the temple-priesthood ban are also clearly on the wane, widely denounced, but as anyone who interacts with a broad enough range of Mormons can attest, they stubbornly refuse to die. I suspect we’re at a parallel historical moment with anti-Catholicism–it’s waning, but persistent. And as long as Deseret Book keeps selling Mormon Doctrine, it’s going to persist.

  7. 7.

    Sam B., generally the Church has a modest pro-Catholic strain, which is interesting.

    I would note that the LDS involvement in Prop 8 led to support by several Cardinals when the LDS Church decided to build a temple in Rome (rather than any opposition).

    Mormon Doctrine’s current edition (and the one sold for the last thirty years) has the anti-Catholic portions excised.

    But the entire thing has interesting regional flairs and some interesting implications.

  8. 8.

    Eve,
    There may have been a modest strain of anti-Catholicism when I was a missionary in Brazil, too. (I don’t really remember–15 years ago turns out to be a long time.) But to the extent there was, I don’t think it was anti-Catholicism as much as it was anti-dominant-religion-of-the-region. I suspect that a missionary in the South of the U.S. would tend toward being anti-Baptist, a German missionary would be anti-Lutheran (if the Lutherans have any significant pull in current Germany), etc.

    For the most part, missionaries’ anti-other-religion feelings strike me as a bunker mentality–it’s us against whoever most of our contacts won’t convert from. And I suspect that most missionaries outgrow it shortly after they are no longer missionaries, in constant conflict (at least in their minds) with said dominant religion.

    Which is to say, it’s sad that missionaries can be anti-Catholic (or anti-Baptist or anti-Lutheran or whatever), but I can’t take missionaries’ views seriously as representative of the membership at large.

  9. 9.

    I don’t know enough about the history of Mormon Doctrine to know at what point the old version was replaced by the expurgated version, but the missionaries in my mission were definitely quoting the old on Catholicism (for some reason, I suspect they would have been significantly more uncomfortable quoting the old on race, but that’s just my impression). Likely it’s just part of a more general trend of young missionaries positioning themselves as God’s army at war with Satanic institutions. (I’ve always wondered if the same level of anti-Catholicism existed, or exists, among missionaries in Latin America, for example. It would be really interesting to see some sort of systematic comparison.)

    Clearly shifts in the political and religious landscape–Prop 8, and the culture wars of the last several decades more generally–have helped bring about greater alignment between Catholics and Mormons. I would suspect that a decline in anti-Catholicism among Protestants generally also plays a role.

    (We really need an up-and-coming Mormon historian to write her thesis on the history of Mormon anti-Catholicism!)

  10. 10.

    Sam, at the same time, I don’t think it’s just the missionaries, though. I’ve sometimes been amazed at the attitudes the turn up among older members who lived through and (entirely understandably!) absorbed the discourse of earlier eras. Racism and anti-Catholisism are moribund but still with us.

  11. 11.

    I grew up in Catholic countries, attended Catholic and other religious schools, and even celebrate some Catholic holidays that my family has acquired in various places in our own way (taking down our tree on Epiphany, filling shoes with candy on St. Nicolas Day, sometimes even going to Christmas Mass, which is wonderfully uplifting by they way), and having godparents (who are also LDS, but it’s a complicated story), etc. I’ve always been very positive on Catholicism and never heard anything against it from LDS church members (except by people whose logic was too ridiculous for me to take seriously) until I went to BYU, but I dismissed it as more Wasatch Front Culture than anything else.

    But when I took a class on the histories of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic reformation, I was surprised when the teacher asked at the beginning of the course whether she thought Latterday Saints had more in common with Catholics or Protestants and the entire class except me raised their hand in favor of the latter, many with comments about how false Catholicism is. The teacher asked me to explain my position.

    “Well, do you believe that there is some sort of definite governing authority in the Church?” I asked, the class nodded yes.

    “And do you think that there is a line of authority that goes back directly to Christ?” More nods.

    “Do you think that living a life of virtue is necessary for heaven, “works,” if you will?” Shaky nods and murmurs of “faith without works is dead…”

    “And do you dismiss the idea that some people are predestined for hell, however good a life they may live?” Vigorous nods.

    “And do you think that addition to a virtuous life, there are certain ordinances necessary to salvation?” Nods and murmurs of “Baptism…marriage…”

    “Congratulations! So far, you’re all Catholic!”

    By the end of the class, lots of students had completely switched their thinking that Catholicism = Great and Abominable Church after seeing how many things that BOTH the Catholic and Protestant movements seemed to go against what we believe to be correct. I think that Mormonism is right to look to Protestant Reformers as the vanguard of freedom of religious thought, but we must acknowledge that, theologically speaking, we fall between the two camps.

  12. 12.

    Eve,
    That was my initial question; like I said, I’ve never seen the anti-Catholicism except among missionaries and, on rare occasions, among recent converts. And the only times I’ve heard the great-and-abominable-church stuff is when I was hearing it debunked as a kid. If you were a missionary mid-90s, we’re at least the same generational cohort; if you’ve been more exposed to anti-Catholicism than me, I wonder if it’s a regional thing (or maybe an I’m-oblivious thing–that’s a very real possibility).

    Or, if you’ve heard it mostly from older members, maybe it is a generational thing. If that’s the case, it seems to have been passed down to our generation in an insignificant manner, if at all.

    This all escapes the OP–I agree that Mary is strangely central and peripheral at the same time in Mormon discourse. And historic anti-Catholicism may explain it, or maybe just absorbed Protestantism (which also seems to largely ignore Mary). I just don’t think, in my subjective experience, that any current thread of anti-Catholic thought in Mormonism exists that could explain a marginalization of Mary.

  13. 13.

    Even though we like our Catholic neighbors, it is difficult for us to teach about the Great Apostacy and the need for a Restoration without a bit of anti-RC creeping in.

    I have no answers and nothing to add to the conversation, but I appreciate how this post has framed important questions. Well done.

  14. 14.

    I think (completely unsupported) that we as Mormons tend to diminish Mary because we believe we should only worship God the Father. We don’t even pray to Jesus, rather we pray in his name. To pray to Mary or one of the other Saints seems too close to idol worship in our collective religious imagination.

    There’s also the now quiet historical Mormon rejection of the immaculate conception. We believe that God has a physical body, like a man’s. Brigham Young taught that Christ was not begotten by the Holy Ghost, rather Mary was overcome by the spirit so she was not destroyed by the presence of God. If you take out the virgin birth, Mary becomes less miraculous, less worthy of devotion.

    I also wonder if our view of eternal plural marriage comes into play. If God was married to Mary in a field by Gabriel (Michael Quinn, Mormon Heirarchy, Extensions of Power, p. 786 footnote), Mary is just another wife of God. We have a few reference to a Heavenly Mother, but given our doctrinal polygamist history, wouldn’t it be heavenly mothers? But that’s uncomfortable for our current one-man-one-woman marriage culture to contemplate, so we don’t hear official discourse on the subject.

  15. 15.

    I have several friends who were raised as pagans of various traditions, but mostly with goddess-worship bases, and then converted to Catholicism as adults. One thing they noted was the historic assimilation (for lack of a better word) of goddess-religions into Catholicism, though the adaptation of Mary as a sort of mother goddess role.

    The LDS church doesn’t have that historic connection… we weren’t trying to get more backsides in the seat in pagan England in 600 AD.

    My parents are first-generation converts in the 1970s; we were not raised with any sort of bias against Catholics, so I can’t speak to any anti-Catholic bias.

    However, historically in the US, the formative years of the LDS church were marked by very prevalent anti-Catholic bias from all walks of life. Particularly as Irish and Mediterranean Catholics began to emigrate en masse, it was feared by “Nativists” (largely Protestant, native-born US citizens) that allegiance to the Pope would take precedence over allegiance to the US, and dilute the liberty and personal push of the still-young republic. That attitude was in no way limited to LDS people, though. It was pervasive in the US culture.

  16. 16.

    *THROUGH* the adaptation of Mary.

    Dang. I even proof-read it.

  17. 17.

    Eve, I was a missionary in the US in the early 1990′s. Maybe your experience was more a function of serving in a country that was overwhelmingly catholic and where religious minorities may have been discriminated against, socially and legally?

  18. 18.

    “The Incarnation has no resonance in Mormon theology”? Please explain that outrageous statement a little further. Am I misreading the opening chapters of Matthew & Luke, not to mention the wonderful stuff in the writings of Nephi?

  19. 19.

    I have little to offer except as a representative sample of a 25-year-old from Eastern Idaho. I heard that the great and abominable church stuff quite a bit growing up, I can’t believe I was the lone child wandering through primary and seminary chosen to receive this choice nugget of disinformation. Along with sidenotes about the curse of Cain and crosses and crucifixes being evil.

  20. 20.

    DWR, I think you’re actually illustrating my point by pointing me to the birth accounts in Matthew and Luke rather than to John 1, perhaps a clearer formulation of the doctrine of God’s Logos (mind or speech) taking on human flesh. The birth of Jesus as a historical event is important to Mormonism insofar as it was a necessary precondition to his ministry and Atonement. But I fail to see how the Incarnation itself serves as a theological fulcrum in any real sense for Mormons.

    From a theological perspective: unlike the classical Christian God, the Mormon God the Father is anthropomorphic, able to move, able to emote, and able even to interact directly in the world (rather than acting exclusively through his Logos/Wisdom/Glory=Christ). One attestation of this would be the account of the First Vision as we have it in the Pearl of Great Price, in which God the Father is said to appear to Joseph Smith. God’s “natural” state is basically human in Mormon theology; thus, there is no gap between a “wholly other” divine being and our physical existence. So Jesus doesn’t radically bridge any gap by taking on human form, because our understanding of God doesn’t necessitate such a gap to begin with. On the contrary: taking on human form is what all spirits who kept their first estate do.

    From an empirical perspective: why is there a section on the Incarnation in the Catholic catechism but not in the Mormon Gospel Principles manual?

    I’m not making a value judgment. I’m simply pointing to what I see as a difference between the classical conceptualization of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son and the Mormon one. Maybe you can explain to me what you see as the significance of the Incarnation to Mormon Christology.

  21. 21.

    Re: 18–I would say that at the very least, the Incarnation is something qualitatively different in an LDS worldview. For traditional Christianity, it’s an event in which a God who is fundamentally different than humans decides to become one of them. But because LDS doctrine don’t posit the same gulf between humans and the divine, Christ being born as a human doesn’t involve any fundamental shift in his nature. The God of traditional Christianity is uncreated, infinite, and transcendent, in contrast to humans who are creatures, finite, and embodied. For an uncreated God, one who is radically different than us, to decide to become one of us–that’s really wild stuff. And I agree with Kiskilili that in that sense, the Incarnation simply doesn’t have the same resonance for Mormons.

    Going a bit further with that, theologies dealing with salvation tend to emphasize one of three elements: the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection. What is it exactly about the life of Jesus that saves us? LDS theology, I would argue, emphasizes the Cross (in our case it tends to be the Garden rather than the Cross, but it’s still the element of suffering), though we also talk about the role of the Resurrection. But there are theologies which argue that the Incarnation itself is what is salvific–in other words, we’re saved by the very fact of God assuming human form, even apart from Jesus’ death and resurrection. It’s hard to imagine saying that in an LDS context. I don’t think the Incarnation is as important to Mormons (even the term Incarnation seems a bit problematic, since talking about a God incarnate in human form doesn’t quite work in an LDS context, given that divine and human aren’t ultimately different kinds of things).

    Anyway, I’m intrigued by Kiskilili’s suggestion that this might have something to do with our lack of emphasis on Mary, since it’s in the Incarnation that she plays the most central theological role. I’d never thought of that; I’d always assumed that the near absence of Mary was simply absorbed from a Protestant context.

    In regard to some of the discussion on this thread, I’m also wondering whether even if our cultural wariness toward Catholicism is on the wane, we might not still use them as a kind of foil against which to articulate our unique theological identity. I’d say that we definitely do this with evangelical Protestants; the fact that they are currently our most visible theological opponents influences the doctrines that we emphasize. I doubt that Catholicism plays that strong a role, at least at the moment. And yet, I’m also thinking that a basic LDS challenge is to establish ourselves as Christians who are neither Catholic nor Protestant. Since so much of our doctrine and structure is actually closer to Catholicism, I wonder if our reluctance to do much with Mary might still reflect the need to maintain a clear boundary between Mormons and Catholics (even if our on-the-ground relations with them have become much less tense).

  22. 22.

    I’m astounded that people here haven’t encountered anti-Catholicism in the Church. When I find some free time I’ll open another thread on this topic and channel comments there, since it’s apparently an issue of some interest.

    For now I’ll just say that (a) positing a relationship between our attitude toward Catholicism and some other aspect of Mormon practice does not require us to believe anti-Catholicism has remained constant to this day. Because it staunchly resists change and the appearance of change, I would argue that Mormon theology has a fairly self-sustaining impulse; (b) in the original post I specifically suggested that our relationship to Catholicism does not account entirely for our view of Mary.

  23. 23.

    Kiskilili,
    I agree that historic anti-Catholic sentiment, combined with the inertial conservativism of religion, is likely a source of our views toward Mary. But what I, and, I believe, others found jarring in the original post was this:

    It’s true there’s no religious group we’re more suspicious of than Catholicism

    It’s true that, later in the paragraph, you describe it as a possible source, but this blunt assertion doesn’t match my personal experience, and I was curious what underlay it. (In my experience, Mormons in general are much more suspicious of Pentecostals and random crazy guys in past wards have been hugely suspicious of Islam).

    That said, I apologize for my part in a threadjack, and look forward to your possible post on anti-Catholic views in the contemporary church (because, again, I’ve never encountered it).

  24. 24.

    I can speak to Catholicism being identified as “the whore of all the earth” in both northern and southern Idaho during the 70′s and 80′s–my grandma taught it to me, as did my uncle (a bishop at the time) and later my older cousin in a letter from his mission in Chile. I can’t recall being taught this disinformation in an actual church class or in seminary, but I do remember it being addressed in an institute class as a falsehood, when someone brought it up.

  25. 25.

    Sam,

    I maintain that we’re qualitatively suspicious of Catholics in a way that we’re simply not of any other religious group. For my next trick I’ll demonstrate how. :)

  26. 26.

    Lynnette (#21):

    I don’t think the Incarnation is as important to Mormons (even the term Incarnation seems a bit problematic, since talking about a God incarnate in human form doesn’t quite work in an LDS context, given that divine and human aren’t ultimately different kinds of things).

    You make an excellent point, Lynnette. I suggest that we Mormons should refer to the Incarnation as the Reincarnation. :)

    (Geoff J, for one, should like it!)

  27. 27.

    Kiskilili,
    I look forward to it! :)

  28. 28.

    Re-reading amd re-thinking the sentence “The Incarnation simply has no resonance in Mormon theology”–some of the comments, including Kiskilili’s reply to my first comment, lead me to consider the following re-wording: “The Incarnation has a different resonance in Mormon theology.” Would that be fair? Our Christmas hymns, the First Presidency’s Christmas devotional (an annual event for how long now?), the spectacular displays at Temple Square, etc., all tell me something important is being remembered and celebrated. And yes, the first chapter of John’s gospel is amazing, but it seems more cosmological, whereas Matthew and Luke are more nitty-gritty and down-to-earth, for lack of a better term. And my earlier reference to Nephi, where he discourses on ” the condescension of God”–that certainly resonates with me.

  29. 29.

    Kiskilili: So, what does it say about your original hypothesis that most of the responses to your post have nothing to do with Mary . . .?

  30. 30.

    Hilarious, Deborah! I guess I don’t have to demonstrate Mary’s marginality to this crowd! (Great post, by the way.)

    That’s a good point, DWR, about the role of Christ’s condescension in Mormonism. I’m not sure “Incarnation” is a particularly Mormon way of framing it but otherwise think we’re probably generally in agreement.

  31. 31.

    LOL, Deborah! Why talk about Mary when you can argue about the existence of anti-Catholicism?

    I had an interesting experience this spring. I was visiting Kiskilili, and we were wandering around Boston in the rain one Sunday afternoon. Partly just to go somewhere indoors–and because we’re both suckers for pretty churches–we went into a Catholic church we happened upon. I was looking at all the different statues of Mary. And though I’ve been in lots of Catholic churches over the years, for some reason this time I was really struck by how it felt to have a female figure be so central–the power of that. I tend to have some wariness when it comes to the topic of female spirituality, so it’s strange for me to say this. But I was really drawn to that image in a way that I can’t quite articulate. It made me feel more poignantly the lack of that kind of model of female spirituality in an LDS setting. I’m still processing that. But Marian devotion makes a little more sense to me (on an experiential level, and not just an intellectual one) than it has in the past.

  32. 32.

    Bringing up certain topics (like, say, infant baptism) with various members of my ex-gf’s extended family was a good way to see anti-catholic sentiment in action.

    Especially if said family members (or missionaries *cough*) weren’t observant enough to notice the crucifix around my neck.

  33. 33.

    #29 so funny. I do remember my Mom telling me we didn’t worship Mary or pray to her like Catholics do when I was young. I can’t remember the context though. It must have had something to do with seeing statues of Mary. Oh I wish I could remember the whole conversation.

    My mom has collected lots of Nativity scenes and subsequently I now have a nice collection of some diverse Nativity scenes. I am struck by the beauty of Mary, Joseph and Christ as a baby. I think I am struck by the enormity of their calling as parents, especially in the context of their youth and situation.

    What attributes do most Catholics or those who worship Mary give her or believe she possesses? Do they believe she agreed to be Jesus’s mother, that her faithfulness is paramount or is it other?

  34. 34.

    She’s seen literally as the Queen of Heaven and probably the most perfect human to ever have lived. She herself was the product of a Virgin Birth so she was untainted by original sin, just as Christ was, so that she was worthy to give birth to God himself (remember the trinitarian doctrine, note). She also remained a virgin perpetually in Catholic dogma. Debate still rages, but another accepted belief is that she did not suffer temporal death, but was “assumed” into heaven, although many believe she did die first.

    Catholicism recognizes that saints have the power to intercede on behalf of mortals, to use their influence to sway God towards mercy towards sinners.
    Saints, in Catholicism are held up as additional examples to believers of virtue and the reward for the righteous. It’s a common misconception that Saints themselves are worshiped like God. While there might have been some blurring of this in the Middle Ages, the modern Church tries hard to emphasize that it happened in the past but is not part of current doctrine (kind of like Mormons and polygamy).

    Lots of Catholics don’t like to say that they “worship” Mary, but rather that they “adore” her or “venerate” her, in the Latin sense of those words. They, like other Christian demoninations, don’t want to be accused of idol worship or worshiping other gods (which, in theological history, tends to go badly if you look at the OT).

    A common juxtapostition you find throughout history, art, theology, etc., is showing Christ and Mary to be the flip-side of Adam and Eve: just as the world was brought to sin by the latter, so it was saved by the former. And really, by that logic, I think that venerating her makes sense.

  35. 35.

    I’ve heard some debate among Catholic feminists on this–some raise concerns about the way in which Mary has been historically idealized, for being submissive and virginal, while others argue for her as a symbol and a source of female empowerment. As an outsider, it’s probably easy for me to say, how cool that a female plays such a prominent role in the tradition–but I can also see that it might be a two-edged sword.

    The parallel question for Mormons is: is Mary a Woman Who Knows? ;)

  36. 36.

    #30 and OP, et al –
    I am another lurker. I converted to the LDS church 40 years ago and am struggling enormously with my identity as a woman within the church. Please bear with this somewhat disjointed post, I am in a hurry (Christmas season) but want to respond to this topic. This post should, I hope, make sense in the end, and I promise to link it to the Mary issue! I also apologize for being the parenthesis queen.

    When I returned to college in the early 1990s, textbooks were just starting the change over to what was then called “gender inclusive language” meaning no more generic male pronouns. At the time I scoffed thinking why are they going to all this trouble and expense, I know “he” includes me as a woman. Then I read my first inclusive book and had the experiential hit that literally took my breath away. I felt included in a way I had not anticipated in the least, and this changed my perspective forever.

    Now in my late 50s I have an increasing soul hunger for the feminine divine. I am a professional in a social science field finding myself ambivalent about the LDS church after all these years of intense activity. I am rethinking choices made primarily influenced by what was taught across the pulpit in the 1970s when I was in my 20s that shaped my decision to marry in the temple despite breaking my non-LDS parents’ hearts, my subsequent choice to drop out of college to have babies right away, the anti ERA amendment bandwagon pushed by church leaders at that time, the escalating emphasis on obedience over all (see Milgram and Zimbardo), the increasingly literal interpretations of biblical stories, etc. etc. etc. Prop 8, both the issue and the church’s political role were a last straw for me, but let’s NOT start a Prop 8 thread here. At my life stage I am re-evaluating so many LDS influenced choices – cultural and doctrinal – that began a trajectory leading me to this unexpected choice point: how do I stay, but also how do I leave the LDS church? I so wish the choice weren’t so polarized although I do realize that I could become a “third order Mormon”.

    I believe that I would resonate with and be able to return to fuller activity if church lexicon and hymnals changed to inclusive language, if some form of feminine divine was included, and if women were truly regarded as equals. Rhetoric aside, and all due respect and gratitude to the late President Hinckley whose leadership style I greatly miss, the patriarchal structure of the LDS church simply does not make me feel equal even with a kind and respectful spouse like mine.

    Regarding the Mormon Mary…. with polygamy named in doctrine as the heavenly ideal, how can we publicly honor one single Heavenly Mother? And with the disavowal from a legal standpoint and the related de-emphasis doctrinally of polygamy, how can we overtly worship many Heavenly Mothers? This appears to have no resolution (I invite readers to explore other options that may not occur to me). Moreover, with an all male leadership, how will leaders understand the need for female inclusiveness in language and doctrine, particularly the need for a feminine figure of worship as a model and spiritual guide?

    I recently read, related to, and recommend Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” (warning, needed tighter editing but still worth the read) and the book she coauthored with her daughter “Traveling With Pomegranates” (better editing). She is a former Southern Baptist (another religious group with many similar beliefs and practices to Mormonism) whose spiritual journey led her to a deep search for the feminine divine. Some of that journey is reflected in her first novel “The Secret Life of Bees”. She ended up leaving Christianity after first leaving the Baptists joining the Episcopalian church .

    To close, thank you all for thought provoking posts and responses. This blog feeds my soul. Thank you also for opening the forum to allow lurkers like me to join the discussion.

  37. 37.

    Hi Pepper! Thanks for your heartfelt comment–I really appreciated reading it. I too have been amazed by what a difference gender-inclusive language makes to me personally. At this point I can only imagine what it would mean to have some clear indication that womens’ souls extend both before and beyond this life in some significant way, or that women can be spiritual role models in the way men can. It’s such a striking absence. I don’t know what you do when you feel Mormon and non-Mormon at the same time.

  38. 38.

    I don’t know what you do when you feel Mormon and non-Mormon at the same time.

    Love that. I don’t know either.

    we’re also quite leery of anything giving off a whiff of the divine feminine. Is this in part a reaction to the Catholic Mary, or do these roots run deeper in our tradition? Perhaps Heavenly Mother is taboo in our worship to some degree in response to the Catholic penchant for praying to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Or, looked at from the other side, does our chariness toward Heavenly Mother prevent us from talking more about Mary since her status borders dangerously on the divine in other traditions?

    Interesting to note the potential implications on ‘doctrine’ based on reactionary needs (theoretically at least) to differentiate Mormonism.

    Finally, perhaps there are theological reasons for our lack of attention to Mary…. But for Mormons the mystery is not how Christ became man, but rather how Christ became God without first becoming man. All spirits come to Earth to obtain bodies; this aspect of Christ’s mission is downright ordinary. And it is this very aspect of Christ’s mission in which Mary participates most directly. Perhaps as we sideline the significance of the Incarnation, Mary’s significance recedes with it.

    Very interesting to think about. And yet Mormon theology asserts that we have both Heavenly Father and Mother (at least one of each)– at least I think its safe to say that its considered somewhat doctrinal by a majority. So while Mormons aren’t overly concerned with how Christ became man and thus Mary’s great work of bringing Christ to be is less (or more, take your pick) fantastical in a sense; why still the uncomfortableness with anything remotely connected with a sort of divine feminine? (back to the differentiation again) A Heavenly Mother would certainly be so. Or at the very least, it would seem appropriate to venerate Mary for her extreme faith (faith enough to bear the Christ), in the same way that Nephi, or Moses, or Joseph are venerated for their great faith.

  39. 39.

    I was just thinking the other day that we probably don’t speak highly enough of Mary. There are certainly a few conference talks, etc. that reference her.

    But to turn a phrase we’re all familiar with it could probably be said of Mary that, no women has done for the salvation of men in this world, than any other woman that ever lived in it.

  40. 40.

    With Regard to the feminine divine,I found This paper rather interesting: http://www.dialoguejournal.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/4104-05Barney.pdf

  41. 41.

    Just a Catholic lurker here who loves talking about different religions. I have noticed some terms used outside of their definition and wanted to clarify.
    But first I’ll give my two-cents of the existence of anti-Catholicism in the LDS church. I have attended institute with one of my friends and part of the discussion was on the “great and abominable church.” Although it was stressed that they do not know which church it was or that it could have been any church. I immediately thought of the Catholic church, not because I agreed with the statements, but because in early Christianity there was only one church. Although I can’t remember the specifics of the lesson any more, I do remember that it would have taken place before the Protestant Reformation and before the split of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. I have also heard of the Catholic church referred to similarly by some people of other denominations. I will say that I have not seen or heard any hateful things to the Catholic church by members of the LDS church.

    She herself was the product of a Virgin Birth so she was untainted by original sin, just as Christ was, so that she was worthy to give birth to God himself

    The Immaculate conception refers only to the conception of Mary, not to the conception of Jesus. This is a very common misconception. I have gotten into arguments over this with other Catholics. The Immaculate conception basically refers to Mary being conceived without sin. Jesus was not the product of an Immaculate conception, being God (in the trinitarian view) he was already without sin. He was conceived of a virgin. Mary was not born of a virgin, she was conceived naturally.

    What attributes do most Catholics or those who worship Mary give her or believe she possesses? Do they believe she agreed to be Jesus’s mother, that her faithfulness is paramount or is it other?

    Although I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean that Catholics worship Mary, I do feel inclined to say this. Worshipping anyone or anything other than God is a sin in the Church. I’m sure that there are Catholics who engage in actions that appear as though they worship, seem to worship, or actually do worship Mary. The Church has no way of knowing what these individuals are doing or believing. Even if someone were to mention this during Confession, they would not be punished because Confession is completely confidential and mentioning this in Confession would mean that they truly intend to no longer engage in these actions or beliefs.
    for stuff on Mary-
    http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt1sect2chpt2art3p2.shtml
    especially the “In Brief” section near the end
    on saints and praying to them-
    http://www.usccb.org/catechism/text/pt1sect2chpt2art3p2.shtml
    see paragraph 956
    intercession is just the act of praying for another person. it happens on earth all the time
    sorry for its length

  42. 42.

    Late comment, here. I gotta get this offa my chest. You people are *killin* me.

    I’m a Catholic who has been drawn into a certain lurid fascination with all things LDS – I have to say that threads like this blow my mind. It’s interesting that the post was on Mary, but the bulk of the comments have been about anti-Catholicism.. Interesting.

    It used to be Mormon missionaries used to stun me tongue tied. See these nice, sharp, clean cut kids professing things so incredible that my mind begins to warp, if ever so slightly.. The reverse Ton Tiki armada from Arabia to Peru, and the planet Kolob aside, the sheer cheek of the doctrine of the apostasy always left me mute. Do these kids understand how bloody offensive what they’re teaching is to a committed Catholic like me? The LDS are the restoration? That means that .. But no. They have no idea. This is just the echo of Know-Nothing anti- Catholicism old Joe soaked up in 1830 when the Irish started to hit upstate building the canal.. They aren’t the KKK..

    Hold yer tongue Charles, They’re to likeable to spank.

    So I’d juist keep my mouth shut, and go “The angel Moroni? Golden plates? Really..”

    I’m getting cranky in my dotage, though.. The last two sets of missionaries I’ve talked to, I gently told them how it is. They were so cute.. They got all boo – boo faced and protested that the “abominable church” is unidentified. I was like, look, the Catholic (i.e., Universal) Church is the one established on Pentecost. For 1500 years everybody was doing the same thing, and now the Apostolic Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian, etc.) are stil all doing the same thing (7 sacraments, hyperdulia of Mary, veneration of saints, one priesthood rooted in the episcopate, etc, etc.) .. The West is Christian because of Catholicism.

    But you want me to believe we went apostate at some vague undefined point, and that the apostles were teetotalers preaching celestial marriage? No dudes, that was Emmanuel Swedenbourg, not St. Paul.

    The missionaries have been like “that’s deep stuff, man.. If I weren’t Mormon I’d be Catholic.. Can we shown you the plan of salvation?”

    No kidding. I’ve had two missionaries profess admiration for the Church in six months. Good stuff, amusing times.. Yessir..

    Well, in closing,

    I have to say that in many ways the LDS do in fact jibe with us. I am constantly amused by the way some rabid fundamentalist prots attack both of our churches with such fervent ferocity.. As if Rome were Mordor, and Salt Lake Isengard or something, Makes me want to suggest a union of the towers, so we together can crush the followers of Jack Chick.. The missionaries can do the work of the Uruk Hai.. The Jesuits can offer up their cardinals as Wringwraiths.. All the nominal Catholics out there will be the hordes of Mordor..

    It’ll be great fun.

    Ah.. Yes. But the more I think about all this we’re modalsts or henotheists or something,” “God was once like us, we’ll someday be like God with our own planet,” “we don’t pray to Jesus but only in his name,” and “the cross is an evil instrument of torture,” so on and forth, makes it pretty clear that we’re not at all on the same page.

    Jack Chick believes in the Incarnation and Trinity. He’s just as much a Christian as I am, in that minimal sense. That he won’t grant me the same in return is funny and sad, but whatever. I say he’s not thinking straight- one proof of that is the he doesn’t see that Mary, as the Theotokos (God Bearer) and Ark of the New Covenant and anti- Eve is just as much responsible for our salvation as is her Son. Without her assent, we would not have had His.

    The thing about the LDS is that you all do not assent to any of that, and that is the crux of the Christian faith, as it was preached from the beginning. We’re not professing the same thing, at all.

    I still love you all though. Especially those goofy missionaries. That’s how it is. Peace.

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