Zelophehad’s Daughters

Why I Do Want to Believe in Heavenly Mother

Posted by Lynnette

A 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 feminist problems than solve them, and I concluded, “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.”

Reading this post again several years later, I still pretty much agree with everything I said, in terms of the problems I see with our current discourse on Heavenly Mother (or maybe more accurately, the lack thereof). But my thinking on this subject has somewhat changed. For a number of reasons, I find that I do want to believe in Heavenly Mother. It’s a doctrine that deeply matters to me, for both theological and personal reasons.

James Olsen recently wrote a thought-provoking post at T&S titled “In Praise of Heavenly Mother,” making the case that “we, collectively, and particularly in the recent past, have not only failed to follow up on what is undoubtedly among the most profound truths of the Restoration, but likewise neglected even the bare glimpse of eternity that we’ve been entrusted,” and proposing some intriguing suggestions for how we might honor our Heavenly Mother in orthodox ways. I enjoyed the post, particularly the way in which he approached the question. But I found many of the comments disheartening. People described the doctrine of Heavenly Mother as something akin to speculation about Kolob—something not particularly important and probably better left alone, an idea that is a distraction from the essential teachings of the Church—even a distraction from worshiping God.

Even bracketing the theological debate about the role of Heavenly Mother, I find it more than a little outrageous that a teaching that is so closely bound up with something as central as the eternal theological identity of women could be dismissed as a distracting, speculative question. There is something very telling in such a dismissal; an undercurrent of women themselves being a distraction, a side question. If you focus too much on “women’s issues,” I hear, you might forget what really matters—as if women’s issues were not human issues, as if salvation and exaltation were only a male concern.

I find the Proclamation on the Family both heartening in its acknowledgment of heavenly parents, but also discouraging in its comment that we worshiped God as our Eternal Father—leaving Heavenly Mother, once again, invisible. It reminds me of Orson Pratt’s view that we should not worship Heavenly Mother, because the Father is the head of his divine household, and the concerns people inevitably raise about “goddess worship,” as if it were inherently problematic in a way that “god worship” is not. Why would it be dangerous to worship a female divine figure, but praiseworthy to worship a male one?

That said, I do understand some of the reservations that come up around this topic. I am not crazy about some of the directions feminists have gone with this—I am not interested in trying to dig up mythical prehistoric societies which revolved around goddess worship, or connecting the idea of a divine feminine to various New Agey elements. I don’t want to appropriate other traditions or cultures; I want to connect to Heavenly Mother in an LDS context. I have been encouraged by the work David Paulsen and his students have done in collecting some of the historical LDS teachings on Heavenly Mother–it is good to know that the current taboo has not always been in place. (Another take on the subject is Kevin Barney’s Dialogue article; also note BiV’s response and Kevin’s response to her. I’m not going to weigh in on that debate, except to say that it’s good to see these kinds of conversations.)

My sisters and I occasionally discuss the idea of a “feminist linchpin”—the idea that many feminists find that they focus on one particular issue which they see as central. For some it might be males presiding; for others, it might be lack of female ordination. Of course, all of these issues are interconnected, and I can see multiple legitimate starting points in grappling with feminist problems. But I have come more and more to see the silence of Heavenly Mother—whether her silence, or ours—as perhaps my feminist linchpin, a kind of theological black hole that allows for female subordination and marginalization.

I’ve had some moments when the utter strangeness of the situation has hit me. I was explaining LDS doctrine to an acquaintance, and I said, well we also have a Heavenly Mother, but we’re not supposed to talk to her, or maybe even about her. And it sounded so bizarre to me once I said it out loud that I wasn’t sure what to say next; I found it impossible to explain, and I began to wonder about my own acceptance of the situation.

I have a vivid memory of a particular Sunday afternoon last year. I was visiting my sister Kiskilili, and we were walking in a pouring rain. We finally ducked inside a Catholic church to dry off. I’ve been in lots of Catholic churches in my life, so it wasn’t anything new to see statues of Mary everywhere. But for some reason, this time it hit me in a visceral way, the profound lack I feel in my own tradition when it comes to models of female spirituality. And I wondered—what would it be like to believe in a God of your own sex, to be able to really see yourself as created in God’s image, without an asterisk? I don’t like the term “empowerment” because it makes me think of cheesy self-help books, but it’s the best word I have for describing the way I felt. I can only imagine what it would be like to grow up in a world where one could take that kind of connection to God for granted.

Still, it has been a shift for me to say that I want to believe, not just because of the theological implications, but for more personal reasons. As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’ve been resistant to the idea because I don’t like the sappy way motherhood is described in LDS rhetoric, and I envisioned a kind of Heavenly Mother who was too busy being angelic and gentle and feminine to connect with real human beings. But I’ve had some particular experiences and challenges in recent years that have led me to think much more seriously about this, that have led me to feel on a very deep level that this matters.

You may have heard of the Bechdel Test for movies. In order to pass, a movie must meet three criteria: 1. It has to have at least two women in it; 2. Who talk to each other; 3. About something besides a man. It sounds simple enough, but once you start running the test, it’s pretty disturbing how many movies don’t have even this much (including, alas, many of my favorites). But even more disturbing is to find oneself living in a grand cosmological drama which not only fails to pass the test—it doesn’t even manage to get to (1). One of the continuing frustrations I have with LDS discourse about women is that so often our worth is defined in relation to men—women are important and valuable because men need us. But to think about women in the context of our relation to our Heavenly Mother is to radically break out of that paradigm, and I find something deeply liberating in that perspective. It potentially provides a basis for seeing women as fully human in our own right, and therefore able to enter into relationships with men as genuine equals.

In a BYU devotional earlier this year that was much discussed on the bloggernacle, Elder Glenn L. Pace concluded with this testimony:

Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.

I found much of this particular talk deeply troubling in its portrayal of female roles, and I concede that it is not necessarily reassuring to consider the subject of Heavenly Mother in the context in which this comment appeared. And yet I was still encouraged by the fact that he talked specifically about Heavenly Mother. As we all know, President Hinckley said in a 1991 talk that we should not pray to Heavenly Mother. But that is a far cry from saying that we should not even talk about her or think about her. The cultural taboo on the subject, I think, is rooted in several things—the specter of polygamy, its historical tie to Adam-God, and the excommunications of feminists in the 1990s. But I cannot see any doctrinal basis for avoiding the topic. If a General Authority can mention her in a BYU devotional, surely we can talk about her, too, in our various local contexts.

To believe in a Heavenly Mother that is truly equal to Heavenly Father, I think, is an act of radical hope. Given our teachings about gender hierarchy here in mortality, as well as the doctrine that patriarchy is eternal, I can see all too real reasons to wonder about the position of women in the eternities. It is one reason why I have been lukewarm about the doctrine, and why I still grapple with the troubling theological questions surrounding it. But despite everything, and somewhat to my own surprise, I find myself with Eliza R. Snow. I believe in Heavenly Mother.

85 Responses to “Why I Do Want to Believe in Heavenly Mother”

  1. 1.

    Lynnette! Thank you so much for this! I think that HM is perhaps my linchpin too in that I’d say my biggest questions and concerns revolve around her absence/silence.

    It’s especially difficult for me to deal with since the strongest part of my testimony revolves around this being a church that at least recognizes the possibility of a female divinity in a way that is more comprehensible to me than those in, say, Hinduism or Buddhism, though those are inspirational in their own rights.

    It’s ironically, then, been the doctrine that has kept me in the church while simultaneously being the doctrine that has pulled me from the church.

  2. 2.

    The folk-doctrine that “we don’t talk about Mother in Heaven because she needs to be protected” has only become (if possible) even more troubling to me as I have steeped myself in the study of Mary these last few years. At the heart of Mariology and devotion is a reverence for the pain that she experienced — from the social trauma of an unwed pregnancy to childbirth and temporary exile in Egypt to losing her son at the temple to (most keenly) watching him hang on the cross. When Jesus turns to his disciple and says Behold your mother/Behold your son, the metaphor by extension is that Mary can serve as a surrogate mother for all of God’s children. She is beloved precisely because of her pain — that’s the sentiment I hear again and again. She had the grit and compassion to stand by the cross, she knows what it means to lose a child, she followed a hard road. Is she hardier than Heavenly Mother?

    Narrative is important in my spiritual figurings. The narrative of the gospels is Central to how I choose to live, how I choose to interact with diety. Truth be told, since we consider Jehovah of the Old Testament to be Jesus, we don’t have much info on Heavenly Father, either. We infer his character by that of his son’s. So I’ve chosen approach Heavenly Mother through studying Jesus’ earthly mother, from fiat to magnificat. Imperfect, perhaps but it’s been the best part of my spiritual journey the last little while.

  3. 3.

    Beautiful post, Lynnette! Although it’s not your central point, I particularly like how you put your finger on the assumption embedded in many of the comments on James Olsen’s post (and in so many other comments) that women are merely a distraction from what’s really important.

    Also, this is just perfectly put:

    And I wondered—what would it be like to believe in a God of your own sex, to be able to really see yourself as created in God’s image, without an asterisk?

    An asterisk! That’s a perfect way to think about it! I think you could extend this to all kinds of women’s experience in the Church–how would it be to have female speakers in General Conference without an asterisk? (this isn’t a GA; her calling is temporary; she’s only talking to women and children; pay no attention)

    Regarding the feminist linchpin, it may have been you who persuaded me that ordination maybe wasn’t it. I’m a hopeless pessimist, but I worry that Heavenly Mother might not be either. I mean, I wonder if it wouldn’t be pretty straightforward to have the Church talk about her more and maybe even pray to her without having anything really change on the ground in everyday experience. But that’s a topic for another day, probably.

  4. 4.

    Thank you for the very thoughtful post, Lynnette.

  5. 5.

    I think it really comes down to the fact that open acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother would be a PR disaster for the church. We’re already accused of not being Christian, worshipping or even talking too much about a Heavenly Mother would be downright pagan. Of course the church is going to want to stamp that out, doctrinally consistent or not.

  6. 6.

    Lynnette, your original post on why you didn’t was fascinating but so disturbing, so I’m glad you got around to presenting the other side of the coin. I’ve always wanted to believe in HM, while recognizing all of the problems it brings up. In my own experience, the reason why most LDS don’t talk of her is fear, and the reason some do talk of her is defiance. So it is refreshing whenever there is any mention of a female Deity without one or both of these reactions.

    Deborah, your comment #2 was striking, and I’m just itching to incorporate your suggestion into my own spiritual journey.

  7. 7.

    Would all the conjecture cease or change IF we knew, for SURE, it was Her choice to be almost totally left out? I’ve thought about that. Since diety is not easy to comprehend or for us to reach THAT level of understanding…YET…..maybe, just maybe, She is SObusy with more important things? Like new creations? Training & education of the next hundred thousand spirit childrend, having delegated it skillfully to others, but carefully keeping a watchful hidden eye upon us..and slipping in directions? Having achieved her elevated state / status, it makes sense that as an evolved celestial Mother of all Mothers…..there has to be a factor pointing to HER desire, for IF, she really wanted to, I’m sure She knows how to partnership assign Father. ANY / or shall I edit and say…’most’ experienced wives KNOW how to work around husbands…or convince…or counsel with the BEST reason and negotiations. Maybe by the time we all struggle enough to BECOME ZION…one in heart….is the time we are ONE enough WITH Mother to Know her / and have all revealed to us.
    The purpose of reserving her has GOT to be attached to the highest divine principles and law, not yet fathomable to we complaining…..whining…questioning (speaking just of me of course :o/) mortals !!!!
    Finally, I’ve written before of a vision I had of Her after questions in prayer and humble supplication. Has anyone else out there been praying FOR, asking strongly FOR knowledge / understanding and revelations concerning all the above comments of ‘why’ – how – where – i.e., about HER and church practice? Might bring forth some solid answers.
    Just curious?
    Love to all.

  8. 8.

    BIV: I highly recommend Sally Cunneen’s “In Search of Mary: The Woman and the Symbol” if you don’t have it already. Kathleen Norris’ “Meditations on Mary” is also fabulous.

  9. 9.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone! Apame, I hear you. Because I actually think our doctrine of HM is pretty cool. And at the same time, the whole thing makes me crazy. I’m reminded of a woman I met at Sunstone who joined the Church because she was so enthralled by the idea of Heavenly Mother. That’s got to have been a bit of a rude awakening.

    Deborah, I like that a lot. Mary was no delicate flower. And realizing that I don’t believe in a Heavenly Mother who has to be hidden because she can’t handle the suffering in the trenches, the coarseness and messiness of life, has been important for me. I need to believe in a God who can stick around.

    Good point about the way in which you could extend the use of the asterisk, Ziff. It reminds me of the problem that women are the marked gender–men are just humans, but women are a particular kind of humans, defined by their gender. The ones with an asterisk. As far as the linchpin question–yeah, I’m not really sure whether it would change anything on the ground. Which as you say, gets us back to a discussion we’ve had so often.

    The interesting thing for me has been to realize that perhaps of all the various gender-related stuff in the Church I have a hard time with, changing this one is one of the things that would be most meaningful to me in my personal religious life. That’s a really new realization for me, and not something I would have said a few years ago.

    Thanks, Kevin (and for contributing to the HM discussion in your own work!).

  10. 10.

    philomytha, I’ve encountered that idea before, and wondered about it. It’s interesting to see where we’ll back down and where we won’t, in terms of downplaying unique LDS doctrine. King Follet can go, but the non-trinitarian Godhead isn’t going anywhere. We’ll keep angels and gold plates, but put polygamy in the closet and hope it never jumps out. But I’d hate to see HM get thrown under the bus in a (futile) effort to get people acknowledge us as Christian.

    BiV, I really like this:

    the reason why most LDS don’t talk of her is fear, and the reason some do talk of her is defiance.

    That sums it up so well. I would be hesitant to pray to HM in a public setting not only because I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to actual practice, but also because I can’t see a way to do it that wouldn’t be a political act. And that’s not what I’m after. I don’t want to avoid the subject, but it’s hard to bring it up without people getting defensive and looking for your hidden feminist agenda to overthrow patriarchy. (Though in my case it’s hardly hidden!) But it would be nice if we could find a way to talk about the subject without all the cultural baggage it currently carries.

    And I’m glad I got around to writing this follow-up, since as I recall, you were going to write a post refuting my first one. :)

    Sharon, I do believe that if she’s silent, it’s her choice (I mean as in, it’s not God the Father keeping her under wraps). But I wonder about that silence, in a church in which we are told we only get answers if we ask for them–your point about prayer is a good one. I also wonder if far from being silent, she’s involved in our lives in ways we aren’t aware of–just because that would make more sense to me than her sitting on a pedestal somewhere. (I have to admit that I’m not crazy about the idea that she’s too busy educating another batch of spirit children to bother with us.)

  11. 11.

    Lynnette, maybe I’ve shared this before, but I love what Pat Holland has said about this. You can read her whole article, but this has stuck with me like glue:

    “I believe we know much more about our eternal nature than we think we do…. The Lord has not placed us in this lone and dreary world without a blueprint for living. In Doctrine and Covenants 52, we read the Lord’s words: “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived.” (D&C 52:14; italics added.) He certainly includes us women in that promise. He has given us patterns in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price; and he has given us patterns in the temple ceremony. As we study these patterns, we must continually ask, “Why does the Lord choose to say these particular words and present it in just this way?” We know he uses metaphors and symbols and parables and allegories to teach us of his eternal ways. We have all recognized the relationship between Abraham and Isaac that so parallels God’s anguish over the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ. But, as women, do we stretch ourselves and also ask about Sarah’s travail in this experience as well? We need to search in this manner, and we need always to look for deeper meaning. We should look for parallels and symbols. We should look for themes and motifs such as those we would find in a Bach or a Mozart composition, and we should look for repeated patterns.”

    I think there is something to be gained in the process of our own personal searching and pondering of these patterns. That to me can be done without violating anything that we have been asked to do or not do (e.g., pray to Heavenly Mother).

    In the spirit of what she has said, I have been reading the BoM looking for these patterns. We think there is so little said about women, and by name, that is true. But wow. I have found so much that I hadn’t seen before. Concepts such as family, peoples, seed, generations, multitudes listening to prophets and the Savior — women are everywhere folded into what is happening. I don’t fully understand why it’s not more explicit, but I think it isn’t just because men wrote the words. I think there may be something that we gain by digging to find who we really are. For me, it has built my faith to have to work and think and ponder what it means to be a woman in God’s plan. It can mean more when you have to work for it.

    My personal experience is that I have also come to feel what Sister Holland talks about — that I know more than I think I do — as I have tried to let the doctrine of marriage, family, partnership, womanhood and motherhood distill on my soul. Maybe some of it seems sappy and superficial at the surface to some, but my experience is that when it sinks into my heart, it’s different. It’s powerful, exciting. Not necessarily specific (it’s not that I can give you a play-by-play of what Heavenly Mother “does every day” (truth be told, we know very little about what Father does anyway!), but I do find and feel power that I feel helps me find more about Her and Her power. Personally, I can’t believe anything but that She is involved in our lives. I can’t see how we could believe anything else given the core of our doctrine rotating around family life. The patterns we learn about here can in my mind help us understand more about life there. But that requires some acceptance of the here, too, in my mind, which I think is a significant part of the battle.

  12. 12.

    I suspect that one reason we don’t talk about Her more is simply that our rhetoric about women is so stupid, and we’d be forced to acknowledge that if we were actually to try to speak about a feminine Deity in the ways we speak about human women–she takes joy in clean celestial bathrooms? She sends her children out into the world in neatly pressed clothes with combed hair? She “has additional opportunities … to participate in activities such as book clubs, classes on parenting and homemaking skills, service projects and social events.”

    We wouldn’t dare.

  13. 13.

    One thing I’ve thought about is that when Adam and Eve (= humanity) are driven from the Garden, the Father ensures their complete separation from the Tree of Life by imposing cherubim and a flaming sword to prevent their future access to the Tree. If we understand the Tree as representing our Mother in Heaven, then our lack of access to Her in this mortality is actually a theological consequence of the Fall. In the Garden they had access to every tree of the Garden, or full access to Mother, but that access is denied us in this fallen telestial world.

    Why that should be the result I don’t know, but at least it is a scripturally based rationale and doesn’t require something like the Father protecting His precious flower of a wife from having Her name abused the way His is.

    Just an idle thought while watching trashy Saturday night TV.

  14. 14.

    Lynnette ~ You may remember that I commented on your post over a year ago. Since then I’ve done my own post on the subject. (Yes, I know advertising posts at your own blog in your comments is tacky, so sue me.) I really liked your original post on this subject and have linked to it in numerous comments elsewhere on the Web. Thank you for sharing your further thoughts on the matter.

    I’ve often felt that this is one area where Mormon feminists and I simply have to part ways. They’ll never be able to look to me for help on this like they can with the ordination of women in early Christianity or research demonstrating that egalitarian marriages are happier, more stable, and less prone to spousal abuse. I completely understand their need to explore this issue given the rest of their theology, but I don’t think I can empathize, and I remain skeptical that the topic can ever be salvaged into something that can truly be empowering for women. However, the fact that the issue is so often glibly brushed off by other Mormons as “not important” and “not central to salvation” is just staggering and heart-breaking to me.

    I do agree that it would be so different to go to a church where I could look around at the walls and see statues and paintings of women as often as men. I think I partially fill this need with paintings and images of strong Christian women in antiquity, but I know it isn’t exactly the same. Just going to a church that is pastored by a woman where women regularly speak, teach, baptize, and administer the Eucharist has lifted such a burden from my soul.

    I don’t even know if I have a “feminist linchpin” issue. It’s hard to pick one thing since they’re all interconnected. If I do, it’s probably my die-hard belief that roles should be dictated according to gifts and abilities, not gender. If I as a woman am capable of showing pastoral care for a congregation of people, there’s no reason why I should be barred from serving as pastor/bishop. If I’m the one who’s good at taking initiative and overseeing the spiritual functions in our household, there’s no way I’m going to hang back and try to prod my husband into doing it just because he’s the man. Etc.

    In any case, I may not be joining you all on this “heavenly mother” journey, but I will send you my love and wish you the best of luck.

  15. 15.

    Lynette, Thank you for your thoughts here.

    As much as I feel like I’ve been embracing Heavenly Mother lately, I’m still so afraid of her. Afraid to claim her. To mention her. I’m ashamed of my cowardice.

    But then the other day, my husband (who hears all about my HM yearnings and issues) mentioned her in a prayer. I don’t want to say that he could care less about her. But…he could care less about her. Which is why him mentioning her in a family prayer with our girls so touched me. It’s something I’d never even done. Was too afraid to do. Maybe because I’m too crazed over the whole thing. And then this casual mention: (something along the lines of “help us to learn about you and Heavenly Mother” in an FHE prayer). It was the casualness that I loved. That inspired me.

    And you’re right. There’s something about describing these taboo-laden unspoken doctrinal-mentioning rules outloud (or typing them, anyway) that seem to slap a person in the face with the absurdity of it all.

  16. 16.

    Kristine,

    IMO, it all depends on how you look at it. There are no bathrooms in heaven so of course we can’t talk about Her with that exact language. But I think minimizing what motherhood and womanhood include in our fallen world minimizes Her.

    So I would disagree with you quite strongly the way I look at it. I think we can see even our most mundane, mortal tasks as things that can give us glimpses of our Parents’ love and nurturing and care for the details of our lives, messy (and sometimes mundane) as they may be.

  17. 17.

    There are no bathrooms in heaven so of course we can’t talk about Her with that exact language.

    No bathrooms in heaven? Gross. If we have to go in the celestial woods I’m out.

  18. 18.

    p.s. I want to be sure that it’s clear that I don’t think that motherhood and womanhood is reduced to just the mundane. I think we have rhetoric that is very powerful.

    p.s.s. If you want to understand better why Sister Beck meant when she said what she said (one of the things I think Kristine is alluding to), it might be worth listening to the Mormon Radio Conversations interview she and her daughters did. She was talking about the depth of respect the women in Africa have for the ordinances of the gospel. It wasn’t about the clothes or the hair, it was about the things they do to show their devotion, including the best of their best for the Lord’s sacrament and the impact such faith can have on the rising generation. That’s what I got from it all, all the more so after listening to their interview.

    p.s.s.s. Geoff — ha.

  19. 19.

    Kevin Barney — that is an interesting thought.

    When I was in law school, I used to tutor over at the English writing lab to relax. I remember a guy who came in. He needed math tutoring, but the math tutor he got was female and he wanted a male tutor, so he wandered over to the library and the writing lab. … ok ….

    I often wondered what grade he got.

    But the thought of us in this life as being babysat, and of our Heavenly Mother as dealing with more adult pursuits and with us as more adult is one that I’ve wondered about, as I have that many things that we think of as being imperfect being a result of the fall.

    Though I’ve got a gay friend that suggested that we happen to actually have a gay marriage in heaven and that was what was being concealed by the vagueness.

  20. 20.

    Gaining the perspective of age may help answer some of the angst you feel. While you are young and involved knee deep in raising families, you see the world through that experience. But a time will come when your own children are well on their way and even the grand kids are all teenagers. When you have entered this stage of life you begin to understand more the concept of our earthly journey as being a soul with a body, rather than a body with a soul. We are in love with our earthly experience. I think we have to expand that view beyond our very limited understanding, to come anywhere even close to what is beyond the veil.

  21. 21.

    I loved your post this week! (I was musing on Divine Feminine last week on D&S)

    Our view of MIH is my linch pin for sure. The fact that we have no image or teachings in the LDS church of such a mother is SO telling. It really does affect how we view ourselves and our spirituality and our power. It does affect our destiny – and negates the statement in your post about meeting our mother at the end of it all. We may meet her, but we will be miles short of realizing our own potential and power. Realizing our potential eventually means being shown what that looks like.

    I love Pres. Hinckley – but I am not surprised that a man in power says that we shouldn’t pray to Mother in Heaven. I find it a laughable, and not in a funny way.

    When I realized the role I played in creating this very structure – this limiting idea of what women are and should be – I couldn’t follow counsel like that anymore. Yes, it’s a bit radical – but if we want a feminine divine in our lives, we as women have to create it because nobody in the patriarchy will do it for us. I dare say, they shouldn’t.

    We have to create her, embrace her, and live with her. We need to open up a space for her. For me, that meant praying to her, imagining her, and seeing myself through her eyes. This is something that as women of the LDS church we can do. We are women, we know how to give birth!

  22. 22.

    michelle, we’ve done the rounds on Sister Beck’s talk, so I’m not going to go into it again. That wasn’t the only instance I’m talking about, and I didn’t have it particularly in mind. And the holy in the mundane? Have you read _anything_ I’ve written? Like my response to Sister Beck’s talk, maybe?

  23. 23.

    We have to create her, embrace her, and live with her.

    You have to create her? Seems to me that any deity you have to create probably isn’t worthy of your worship.

  24. 24.

    Kristine, I’ve read lots of what you have written. And yet all you have to say here about the “rhetoric” (which is in and of itself minimizing what it all is to me) is that as simply being “so stupid.” I am not sure what you expect, but I was responding to what you said here, which I felt was overly negative and not nuanced at all (where other things you have written have been).

  25. 25.

    I believe a balance must be struck here.

    Should we remember that we have a Heavenly Mother? Yes. Women need to bear in mind that they have an exalted place in heaven, patterned after the most supreme female in existence, and that their goals of salvation and exaltation are perfectly in line with God’s plan.

    Should we preach lessons specifically about Her? No. That detracts from the gospel of the Son of God, which is the only way to our Heavenly Parents’ presence.

    While Her existence shouldn’t be a grand secret, there is little need to preach much more about Her than what already has been. The few things we know are that She is perfect in her sphere and capacity and is a celestial Parent.

    I worry, in all this, that some people want to push extra hard against the bounds so one certain doctrine get “normalized,” as they preach excessively about it so it gets more publicized. That is dangerous territory.

  26. 26.

    Scott, nice thoughts. I agree there definitely has to be a balance.

    I also disagree with Laurie that somehow we will fall short as things are now. I firmly believe that the Spirit can help us know what we need to know to fulfill our eternal potential, and that includes women. And imo that doesn’t have to include deviation from or drastic addition to what we are taught and taught to do (e.g., praying to Heavenly Father).

    Kevin’s earlier comment about trees reminded me of this article/presentation. I’m sure many of you have already read it, but just in case some haven’t. Valerie Hudson’s “Two Trees” (I don’t necessarily agree with it all, but I think she has some interesting thoughts.)

  27. 27.

    While Her existence shouldn’t be a grand secret, there is little need to preach much more about Her than what already has been.

    I think you may have missed the thrust of Lynnette’s post entirely. This is a much easier thing for a man to say, given that we have divine male role models that we are allowed to talk about.

    And imo that doesn’t have to include deviation from or drastic addition to what we are taught and taught to do

    This isn’t at all meaningful to me, michelle, because you take this as an axiom. In your eyes, nothing is, or ever could be, wrong with how things are currently done in the Church.

  28. 28.

    To clarify, michelle, I’m saying that you’re not adding anything to the conversation because your position is always to be an apologist for the status quo and to argue that everything is perfectly all right how it is. But because this is always your position, it’s clearly not based on engaging Lynnette’s post, but rather on the apparent fact that any questioning of how the Church is run disturbs you. I’m sorry that you’re disturbed, but it doesn’t make you right.

  29. 29.

    Should we preach lessons specifically about Her? No. That detracts from the gospel of the Son of God, which is the only way to our Heavenly Parents’ presence.

    By the same argument, shouldn’t we also avoid preaching lessons about our Heavenly Father, since that will only distract from the importance of the Son’s atonement? This strikes me as wholly after-the-fact reasoning. We don’t preach about Her, so let’s come up with a reason why not. It’s because she’s a distraction from important stuff. That’s it!

  30. 30.

    Should we preach lessons specifically about Her? No. That detracts from the gospel of the Son of God, which is the only way to our Heavenly Parents’ presence.

    It’s interesting (by which I mean, kind of disturbing) that you see Heavenly Mother as a distraction from the gospel, rather than a part of it. Are you saying that she’s more peripheral than tithing, the Word of Wisdom, the pioneers, and all the other things we have lessons about?

    While Her existence shouldn’t be a grand secret, there is little need to preach much more about Her than what already has been.

    I’m not clear as to the basis of your conclusion that there is little need for more discussion of this doctrine. If you personally don’t see a need for it in your life, I can hardly argue with that, but even skimming just this thread, you might note several LDS women for whom this is not a minor concern. I’m not sure how closely you read my post, but it was actually an attempt to explain why I do personally feel a need for more, and someone simply asserting that we don’t need it doesn’t really address any of the issues I mentioned.

  31. 31.

    I really, really appreciate this post, Lynnette. I am going to chew on your points because I am interested in female spirituality, and I have not given enough thought to Heavenly Mother and how her centrality and marginality interact in LDS thought about women (although I have felt miffed and perplexed about her status), probably because of the taboo hangover. But devotionally I have tried to find her. I found praying to Heavenly Mother awkward; I don’t know why. But I’ve tried praying with more feminine aspects or mother-like qualities of God in mind when I needed the God to whom I was praying to not be male.

  32. 32.

    Kristine (#12), I’m thinking that’s one of the most complicated issues surrounding this–the problem that we describe femininity in very narrow ways, and it’s more than a little disturbing to think of projecting that on to a divine being. And it’s especially tricky because we’ve already given HF all the virtues, both the ones we code as masculine and the ones we code as feminine. So what space does that leave for HM? One almost inevitable temptation seems to be to define her by her femininity, which means that we end up with an androgynous male God paired with a very “feminine” female one. Which is one reason that discussion of her so often ends up disastrous, describing a being who, as one of my sisters put it, is a divine party-planner. We see her femininity as constitutive, not her divinity.

  33. 33.

    Good to hear your perspective, Jack (#14)! I can see what you’re saying about how this is a particularly Mormon problem, as opposed to something like, as you say, working for egalitarian marriage, which is a goal shared by feminists in a variety of faiths. I can’t say I don’t sometimes share your skepticism about whether there is any hope of salvaging the situation. And yet as I said in the post, I’ve somewhat unexpectedly found myself in a position of belief, and even of hope; I suppose my continuing task is to find a way to give a reason for that hope that is in me. So I appreciate the good wishes, and especially the validation that it’s both outrageous and painful to see this dismissed as a trivial question.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Lacy (#15); I love that story about your husband casually mentioning the subject in a prayer because that seems so right. We reverence God as sacred and yet that (ideally) doesn’t mean distance and fear. I think of this also in terms of trusting in a God who isn’t scared by us–one who doesn’t share our cultural anxiety about the topic, and isn’t going to zap us on the spot for even raising the question. (One of the more bizarre implications of the “HM is being protected” idea is that in that situation it’s actually God the Father who is the fragile one, the one who can’t deal with what we may say about her. I would really hope that both of our heavenly parents are stronger than that.)

    IdahoG-ma (#20), I’m not sure if your comment was aimed at me, but I’m a single woman with no children, so being knee deep in raising families isn’t really shaping my perspective much at the moment. ;)

    Thanks, Laurie (#21)! I agree that there really is something powerful to see your potential in the image of a divine being. (I do think Mary Daly’s classic observation, “when God is male, then the male is God” hits on something real.) I also think that’s a good point that reassurance that you’ll finally find out about her in the next life isn’t terribly helpful in the here-and-now. We don’t say, you’ll find out if families are eternal in the next life, so don’t worry about it now; we see that as a something worth knowing before then, because it can inform our lives here.

    Geoff J (#23), it’s possibly worth noting that our access to the divine is always mediated through imagination and symbol, through the structures we create. That’s what I got from Laurie’s comment, as opposed to a metaphysical assertion about where HM comes from.

  34. 34.

    Thanks, ep. I always like hearing what you have to say, so I hope you keep mulling over this one. And ah yes, the devotional problem. I personally haven’t figured out where to go with that, and yet in some ways it’s at the heart of the situation; the proscription isn’t on speech or belief, after all, but on devotional practice. Because the prayer ban is so recent, I have hope that it will prove to be temporary, but in the meantime, here we are. And on the one hand, as I think I mentioned in an earlier comment, I tend toward the conservative—perhaps it’s a temperament thing, but for some reason I can question doctrine endlessly and disagree with all kinds of things, but I’m very hesitant to move too far out of the bounds of orthopraxy. But on the other—this matters to me in a very personal way. We talk a lot about the tension in the church between institutional, external authority, and individual relationship to God, and on this one, it’s much more than an intellectual observation—I feel like I’m living it out as I’ve wrestled with this question. In the end, I would say, my relationship with my heavenly parents is between me and them—but I also have the taboo hangover (love that phrase!) But lately I have found myself very much needing a connection to HM, and I guess I am trying to sort through the cultural baggage that has become attached to the subject (from so many different directions) to find my way there.

  35. 35.

    michelle–I mean no “minimizing” by the use of the term rhetoric. Indeed, in the absence of scripture or established theology, rhetoric is constitutive of all the doctrine we’ve got on these topics.

    Lynnette seems to have gotten the nuance just fine, despite my exasperated tone.

  36. 36.

    Thanks for this post, Lynnette; I’m finding this a really fascinating discussion, partly because it’s nice to hear talk of Heavenly Mother at all, but partly also because Heavenly Mother is not my feminist linchpin at all. In fact, I tend to shy away from feminism that focuses on Heavenly Mother, as I often find it to be too emphatically feminine, as if we can compensate for millennia of emphasis exclusively on the masculine by focusing only on the feminine, instead of by striking a balance between masculine and feminine. I realize this is probably an unfair characterization, but it often seems to me that people arguing for Heavenly Mother, or a feminine divine at all, are also willing to throw out any masculine divine, and in effect are proposing a sort of segregation of worship in which men worship men and women worship women. (One example here is The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, a book I’ve heard recommended several times on the blogs, which I recently read but hated for the above reasons.)

    In any case, I don’t think anyone in this thread has done the above, and so it’s refreshing to get a discussion like this, and I certainly agree with your point about how disturbing it is to see an issue like the eternal destiny of half the population brushed aside as an irrelevant distraction.

    I’m also intrigued by the idea of a feminist linchpin, and I’ve spent the past few days thinking about what mine might be, since it’s not Heavenly Mother. I’ll have to think more about how to articulate this clearly, but I think, in essence, my feminism comes down to my essential disbelief in eternal gender. I’m not sure I really believe that men and women are so fundamentally different in spirit that we should have different eternal roles; I’d much rather think of gender as a primarily earthly construct, built from a combination of physical facts and social conditioning, that will either disappear or be drastically different in the eternities, i.e. Galatians 3:28, “there is neither male nor female.”

    I realize that’s pretty much indefensible in a Mormon context, though, so maybe I should work towards having Heavenly Mother as a linchpin after all!

  37. 37.

    Petra, I’m with you, both on HM as a problematic linch pin and hating _Dance of the Dissident Daughter_. If Heavenly Mother is no apron-and-pearls-wearing eternal short-order cook and housemaid, I think she’s equally unlikely to be the hippy-earth-mother gatherer-of-daughters-to-the-red-tent (to cite another “feminist” book I’ve thrown across the room in rage recently). Like you, I think an exclusive/separate spheres conception of godhood is deeply problematic. My sense is that gender is one of many, many kinds of differences given to us to learn from in this life, so that we can start to understand the complicated unity (_not_ uniformity) that makes up godhood and godhead.

    I think Heavenly Mother might be likely to show up at otherwise staid Mormon occasions dancing in a gold lamé toga from time to time ;)

  38. 38.

    Kristine, thank you–that’s a beautiful way to express what I’m trying to get at. (And I, too, hated The Red Tent.) And maybe I’ll write about this in more detail later, but I just can’t believe that gender is the end-all-be-all difference that our rhetoric makes it out to be; while I definitely feel different from the men in my life sometimes, I’d venture to say that I feel more similar to, say, my husband than I do to a random woman in a remote New Guinean village, and, likewise, I feel more similar to my brothers than I do to the women of the Old Testament. Some gender differences exist, but it’s hard, if not impossible, to say how many of those are biological and how many of those are social, and, moreover, how many of those are truly significant, as opposed to cultural differences of time and place.

    And if Heavenly Mother ever does show up in a toga, I’ll certainly be ready to play a shepherd and hold the flashlight for Her.

  39. 39.

    Kristine, I love your idea regarding gender and godhood. One of the problems that makes the Heavenly Mother interersting theologically, for me, is finding a place for Her in the Mormon Godhead. It is the very disruption that Her inclusion brings which helps us to think more carefully about what these three divinely-intimate (presumably) males signify. These questions about sex/gender and unity are made far more provocative by the inclusion of the female divine into that multiplicity. I suspect that the big danger in losing Mother in Heaven is that we will lose the need to ask the same troubling questions about apotheosis because of the immanent/transcendent female/male divide. It seems that we are reducing the HM to speculation at the same time that we are reducing apotheosis to speculation (cf. Hinckley). Thus speaking about, and consequently questioning our inhibitions against that speaking of, the HM will result, I suspect, in our ability to articulate far more clearly our claims to divinity. Additionally it will stay, in part, the move toward of LDS theology toward an increasingly Christian assimilation.

  40. 40.

    I’m not sure I buy the argument that talking about Heavenly Mother takes away from time we should be talking about the Son. We have meetings devoted to food storage, tithing, seminary and institute, and a whole host of other topics that don’t sound much different from a Tony Robbins rally, where the Savior and His Atonement are never mentioned.

    That said, I believe there are some things we know, some things that can easily be deduced from what we do know, and some things that are pure speculation. I realize I am speaking from a male perspective, but for me it is enough to know that She is there, that She loves me, and wants me to come back Home. I know it is speculation, but I wonder if Alma isn’t talking about Heavenly Mother in Alma 40:11, when he says that when we die we are taken home to that God who gave us life. I can see myself doing on that day what I did on so many other days as a child coming home from school. I’d walk in the door, put my books down on the kitchen table and yell, “Hi Mom! I’m home!”

  41. 41.

    PS: Philomytha, I think that’s the most cynical thing I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, I don’t think that means it’s not true; as Aaron R. points out, there are a number of other elements of our doctrine that we seem to be moving away from in public, which certainly raises some interesting questions.

  42. 42.

    Petra and Kristine, thanks for articulating some of my own frustration with the way this topic so often gets discussed. I dislike the saccharinization (I know that’s not a word, but it should be) that happens in LDS discussion–but I equally dislike the rhetoric that comes out of certain strands of feminism that all too often seems to have found a feminine divine at the expense of critical thought. It’s actually kind of fascinating to see where conservative women and radical feminists sometimes end up in the same place, positing women as special and idealizing some construct of femininity.

    On the issue of gender, I’ve been playing around a lot with this lately, because I think our christology actually undermines a lot of our gender rhetoric–and I would say our christology should be foundational, not our ideas about gender. Elizabeth Johnson, a Catholic feminist theologian (she wrote a book fabulously titled She Who Is) has an approach to this that I think might have some potential. (This is from a paper I’m writing, and I feel ridiculous quoting from such a thing, but I’m too lazy to look up the book):

    One possibility proposed by Elizabeth Johnson, which I think could prove useful, is to re-think the dualistic model of anthropology underlying much gender discourse, a model “that casts women and men as polar opposites, each bearing unique characteristics from which the other is excluded.” This does not mean a simplistic and clearly false assertion that there are no differences: “reduction to an equality of sameness by ignoring sexual difference is also unacceptable.” Rather, she proposes another possibility: “one human nature celebrated in an interdependence of multiple differences.” This is “not a binary view of two forever predetermined male and female natures, not abbreviation to a single ideal, but a diversity of ways of being human: a multipolar set of combinations of essential human elements, of which sexuality is but one.”

  43. 43.

    (But HM is still my linchpin. At least for today. We should do a poll–I know some of my sisters would disagree with me on this one. I’m going to win, though, because my linchpin is an all-powerful being.)

  44. 44.

    “we know”

    There is no such thing as things “we know.” Knowledge is an individual matter, and no one can say what another person knows. Based on Alma 12:9, the people who do know are likely to be very circumspect in what they communicate. There are things that are openly broadcast among “we”, but even with those things there will be people who understand them very well, and those that know nothing about them.

    I feel like I need to point this out pretty much every chance I get. The reason being – what is collectively “known” should never be a reason to not push ahead into the darkness and learn. Back to Alma 12, it says that those who do not harden their hearts receive the ‘greater portion of the word’ and know more and more about the mysteries of God until they _know them in full._ There is no reason to think that knowledge about Mother in Heaven isn’t contained in this promise. Based on that scripture, my own program is to try hard not to harden my heart (no mean feat, on many subjects), put myself in a condition where I can _personally_ receive they ‘greater portion of the word’, through direct revelation and experience. What any of you, or Pres Hinckley, or anyone else may or may not know doesn’t excuse me for constantly augmenting my own store of knowledge through revelation. Knowledge about Mother in Heaven is certainly a part of this.

    Though, I’d note, that the way we come to knowledge about the divine is through a knowledge of Christ. He contains all perfection both male and female. (I personally don’t believe there is such a thing as a female perfection that isn’t a male perfection, and vis-a-versa … so that any eternal gender role must lie in what is absolutely fundamental and therefore not subject to ‘perfecting’, or can’t exist at all.)

  45. 45.

    Aaron R., I like the point that the disruption caused by an inclusion of HM is actually a worthwhile disruption. As far as the cultural situation, I can see some competing forces going on. One is the one you mention, the downplaying of Lorenzo Snow couplet in a move toward greater cultural acceptance. But on the other hand, I suspect that the anti-SSM campaign might have the potential to revive her a way to promote heteronormativity. (I find myself cynically wondering whether that’s why she made it into the Proclamation on the Family, however vaguely.)

    CS Eric, lol on the observation about having Tony Robbins-style rallies while shying away from Heavenly Mother because it might be too distracting. And I think the speculation issue really is a central one—we have so little that could fall under the rubric of official LDS teachings (already a problematic category, I realize), that we end up speculating and often in very bizarre ways. (That wasn’t a dig at your personal speculation—that’s a provocative point about Alma 40:11 that I hadn’t ever considered, that “the God who gave us life” might not be most applicable to a male God.) But I’ve seen how often the speculation runs right off the rails. So what to do, if you’re a person like me who wants to talk about her more? I’m still thinking about that one. I suppose the obvious answer in a church like ours would be continuing revelation, but our revelation seems to have become somewhat less continuing in the years since Joseph Smith. Not to mention the issues of, are male church leaders likely to spend the kind of time and energy asking about these things that was devoted to say, blacks and the priesthood–and the even more complicated question of whether it undermines the whole thing to have Heavenly Mother revealed through patriarchy.

  46. 46.

    […] everything come back to women and priesthood, as Margaret Toscano has suggested?  Is Heavenly Mother’s status the heart of the issue?  Maybe Eve’s punishment–marital […]

  47. 47.

    Ziff,

    Mindlessly defending the status quo and talking about how I’ve found the divine feminine with what we do have as I’ve pondered it for over a decade to me are not the same things. I understand that you don’t really like my style, but I do wish you would not dismiss me outright. I feel my experiences are legitimate and relevant even if they may differ from how you or Lynnette or others might approach this.

    Indeed, in the absence of scripture or established theology, rhetoric is constitutive of all the doctrine we’ve got on these topics.

    And I would say what Sister Holland says — I think we know more than sometimes we think we do. I also think like Thomas said we can learn a lot by learning about Christ and, I would add, the doctrine surrounding His Church.

    That’s been my experience. I understand others’ mileage may differ.

  48. 48.

    ” I also think like Thomas said we can learn a lot by learning about Christ”

    I think I’m saying more than that. I’m saying everything we can learn about Her we learn by learning about Christ. Just as everything we learn about the Father we learn from learning about Christ.

    John 14:

    ” 6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
    7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.”

    Is there any reason to believe that we come to know Mother in some other way? Is there any attribute that He possesses that isn’t also possessed by She? I propose, as speculation of course, that there is no attribute of perfection that either posses independent of the other, and that all those attributes are aslo perfectly manifest in Jesus. Also, that we come to know those attributes through our discipleship of Christ – which contains _fully_ the process of learning and becoming. The only thing left is to talk about femaleness and maleness, but both are things someone can possess _totally_ without any necessity of perfecting them. In other words, I’m a male now and have no need to become any more male, I have only to to develop divine attributes, and those are divine in both male and female. So that there is, in fact, one way, for both men and women.

    After this there only remains one thing – that we enlarge our awareness of the reality of Heavenly Mother by including her in our collective discourse. Unfortunately, the opposite trend seems to be dominant. But, I think we can hope this is cyclical – because our idiosyncratic doctrines are not only beautiful, they are appealing – not to mention true – and we won’t always be in this unfortunate space where they are de-emphasized.

    hm.

  49. 49.

    Thomas (#48), I think what you’re talking about is similar to what I’m saying about our christology being in conflict with some of our ideas about gender. When we look to Christ as the ultimate role model for both women and men, I think that undermines any tendency to make certain virtues sex-linked. What does it mean, for example, to say that women are innately nurturing in a way that men are not? Does that mean that Christ can’t serve as a role model for that particular virtue, because of his maleness? And if Christ understands all human experience, if he suffers “the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam”— I think that problematizes our gender binaries which define men and women primarily in terms of gender , rather than humanness.(Maybe that’s what Petra was getting at earlier?) Because if men and women are these qualitatively different creatures, how can a male savior possibly save women?

    So I’ve been thinking too about what it would mean to say that we come to know Heavenly Mother through Christ. It’s striking to me, given our belief in an exalted divine couple, that their representative would be a single man (I’m not going with BY’s theories on that one . . .) On the one hand, it leads to all the classic feminist problems with males always being the actors in our cosmological drama—but there is also something potentially liberating there, in the ways it challenges our categories.

    After this there only remains one thing – that we enlarge our awareness of the reality of Heavenly Mother by including her in our collective discourse. Unfortunately, the opposite trend seems to be dominant. But, I think we can hope this is cyclical – because our idiosyncratic doctrines are not only beautiful, they are appealing – not to mention true – and we won’t always be in this unfortunate space where they are de-emphasized.

    I have that hope as well.

  50. 50.

    And if Christ understands all human experience, if he suffers “the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam”— I think that problematizes our gender binaries which define men and women primarily in terms of gender , rather than humanness

    Yes, and thank heavens for that. I’m rooting for Christology over ProcFamilyOlogy on this one.

  51. 51.

    I keep trying to write comments and they keep sounding pathetically angsty. Anyways I’m another one who feels like a lot of problems would be solved if we gave up the idea of gender as a meaningful and insurmountable distinction.
    If we insist on keeping that distinction then we either have to admit that women are objects in the plan of salvation, (necessary objects, but objects nonetheless), or assert that there is a separate & comparable feminine power that, for some perfectly valid reason, we don’t have access to right now.
    I can really see the appeal of that last option but I just can’t imagine it playing out very well at all. For example:
    14 year old Joann Smith prays and receives a vision of Heavenly Mother and … ? (Her incarnated Daughter, that we’ve never heard about before?). They tell her where to find a book of scripture that will reveal the missing truths in current understanding. Joann writes down her amazing- world shaking- revelation, and mails it to SLC. The prophet (who got to read the letter before they forwarded it back to her stake president) is totally stoked! And announces all this at the next general conference, before turning the pulpit over to Joann for her to present herself for sustaining (having been ordained to the Priestesshood in the mean time). Everyone accepts it all without a bat of an eyelash. Balance will be restored to the universe, nature will blossom and little white rabbits will be floating everywhere.
    Hrm. There’s that angst again.

  52. 52.

    #45: I’m glad someone brought up the ironic connection between our SSM rhetoric and HM. This was something Carol Lynn Pearson talks about in her Mormon Stories podcast, which I only very recently listened to. Here’s a comment I had meant to make about it on T&S a while back but chickened out. :)

    At times it seems our whole organization has been devoted to public, legal and doctrinal defense of the idea that children can scarcely survive childhood without both a father and a mother, who have such radically distinct traits and roles, each so phenomenally important, that we can’t possibly countenance either one of them being missing. The fierce urgency of this notion is explicitly connected to exaltation and (heterosexual couple) eternal increase.

    And yet in the exact time that this trend is on the rise, the idea of a Heavenly Mother is on the decline into strict taboo. I really don’t get it. We’re being asked to deal with the most bitter fruits of this doctrine (pain caused to our gay brothers and sisters), yet we aren’t being offered the sweet fruits of this doctrine. Worst of both worlds…

  53. 53.

    Lynette, I was moved by your blog, and grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss this matter with you. I have thoroughly enjoyed the conversation here, and quite unlike my post that you reference, I think the comments here have been much more serious and interesting. And I sincerely apologize upfront for what is going to be a lengthy comment.

    BiV and Lacy: I wholeheartedly agree that we ought to try and avoid both the fear/taboo and its partnered defiance. I personally think the field here is ripe; faithful discussions of Heavenly Mother will naturally lead a crumbling of the taboo together with its dissonant opponent. I’m also optimistic that more open, faithful discussions and open yearning after light and truth will in fact bring about new revelations on Her. This is, no doubt, largely because I simply believe in Her – genuinely and deeply.

    One thing I think we ought to acknowledge is the reality that God has been quite content to allow most children and even prophets go through life with limited (perhaps even flatly incorrect) understandings concerning the nature of God (that is, if we take the knowledge revealed in the Restoration as a criterion). Nonetheless, I very much believe that God responds to our genuine needs that arise out of present historical context, particularly when we seek after it.

    Michelle (#11 et al) I appreciate your insights and genuinely admire your efforts and success in what you describe. But I think your prescription is deeply unsatisfying if we take it as a general one. You outline an elitist attempt to get nourishment from the crumbs that fall from the table. But religion’s not meant to merely be a stumbling block that can exalt the superhuman. Even if I simply agree with your elitist model, however, why don’t men get the same excruciating task of having to mine every bit of scripture to find our eternal role model? Are women lesser beings who need an extra exalting trial that men don’t?

    Jack – as always, I enjoy your insights a great deal, but as is sometimes the case, I find your concerns (exculpably) foreign. Within the context of Mormonism, wherein the family gives us the most profound glimpses into the nature of and our relationship with deity, an absence of gender and sexuality in God merely creates another (very common to religion but very foreign to Mormonism) unbridgeable gap between us and our God. Obviously, however, as many of the comments manifest, Mormon cosmology and its opposition to more traditional theological stances does not always sit well with contemporary Mormons.

    Something that often seems to get lost in these discussions is the relevance of the opposite-gendered parent to our spiritual development. Women obviously have and do find deep spiritual connection, edification, and development in their relationship with Heavenly Father – this is true without at all denying the need for a deeper understanding of and discourse with their Mother. Likewise, however, it’s not merely women who need a Heavenly Mother – I can at least give personal testimonial to the fact that we men also suffer with the absence of knowledge of and practices with regard to our Mother. I can certainly entertain ideas about what a de-gendered Mormon cosmology and salvific picture would look like, but one has to admit that it’s certainly a far greater disruption and deviation from our present picture and historical narrative than is an embracing of Heavenly Mother who is, eternally, a female united and exalted with our male Father. Nothing in this need bring in our silly, saccharine, or historically bound cultural gender divisions.

    I think that problem that keeps cropping up in the comments on gender is a serious tension that exists between a traditional Christian understanding of Jesus as an omni-everything (one that currently captivates many Mormons) and a traditional Mormon understanding of Jesus as our literal brother who facilitates our divine progression. Personally, I’m quite happy to de-omnicize Christ. One can certainly believe he was and is the Messiah who fulfilled God’s plan, is “the way, the truth, and the life,” for us, without having to ad-hoc project onto Christ the ideal of every ideal. Christ can play his central role in salvation without overwhelming the rest of religious understanding and experience. In other words, I’m “rooting” for more a more anthropomorphic deity with which we can existentially connect and respond to in the here and now. This would obviously mean less of the abstract-the-every-ideal-and-infinitize-it-to-Christ model that wipes away our mortal experience and makes God something that we can perhaps trust in but can’t really understand or grow towards.

    The insistence that an eternal binary necessarily reflects cultural gender-types is rather lacking in imagination. A theological conception that there is a metaphysically complimentary being with whom one must unite in order to be exalted and progress in a way otherwise not possible simply does not demand that we import any historical notions of gender to descriptively fill out the nature of that complimentarity.

    I think this is quite related to our caricature obsession with the male Jesus as fulfilling every salvific yearning or need over and above a notion of the atonement which facilitates what really matters – namely, our familial exaltation and following of Christ by finding and renewing ways in which we subsequently serve as saviors on Mt. Zion ourselves. In other words, a more strictly Mormon cosmology simply does not create the problems that arise for a Heavenly Mother inside of a Christian cosmology.

  54. 54.

    Excellent point, Sister Blah 2.

  55. 55.

    ” When we look to Christ as the ultimate role model for both women and men, I think that undermines any tendency to make certain virtues sex-linked. ”

    yes. Agree completely. And I follow the rest of your logic, as well.

    Since it is not male attributes that empowered Christ to act out his role, the fact that He is male may be completely arbitrary; ultimately not meaningful. ~

  56. 56.

    “Christ can play his central role in salvation without overwhelming the rest of religious understanding and experience.”

    Disagree. What aspect of our salvation do we look at where He isn’t present.

    As far as you mean that He isn’t the whole of the universe, I’m with you and agree that allowing limitations on deity is a central Mormon insight.

    ” I’m “rooting” for more a more anthropomorphic deity with which we can existentially connect and respond to in the here and now.”

    Not sure there is a better place to look for this than Christ, who has a resurrected body that has been touched by His friends.

    :) ~

  57. 57.

    #53 James ~ Good to hear from you again.

    I’m not sure if your comments here are meant to address my comment on this thread specifically or the post I linked to back on my blog; I’m kind of assuming the latter, and that’s why I’m somewhat confused by the thesis of your remarks here:

    I find your concerns (exculpably) foreign.

    My concerns with the LDS doctrine of Heavenly Mother, as I outlined in my post on the subject, are:

    – She is undefined, unnamed and unknown
    – Her children are barred from praying to her and often chided by leaders for making more round-about attempts to learn about her
    – She is silent and has no delineated role in the Plan of Salvation
    – All this in spite of the fact that her current status is the apparent destiny of all mortal women. I can’t speak for other women, but if that’s what I’m meant to be, I’d like to know a little something about it.
    – She is often used by Mormons as a tool for reinforcing traditional gender castes

    My own reading of Mormon feminist literature has led me to believe that my concerns are widely shared by Mormon feminists. Are you different?

    If you’re saying that my methods of reconciling similar problems in evangelical Christianity are foreign and not satisfactory to Mormons, that I completely understand, and I think there’s little help for that. It’s a matter of different paradigms, and I don’t expect much of a bridge there. So I think your objections to my solutions are largely valid from within an LDS framework.

    If I’ve misunderstood you though, please feel free to clarify.

  58. 58.

    I have fast forwarded through the comments, (having read the first 40), just so that I would remember to share some thoughts that occurred to me while I read. Although male, I don’t necessarily feel that the seeming ‘absence’ of our MIH can be laid at the feet of the “patriarchy”. I have wondered if there is something about love and godhood that we just might not fully understand. The Savior prayed during His mortal ministry to our Father in Heaven that His chosen apostles ‘might be one even as we are one’. The Scriptures also seem to describe marriage as the two becoming ‘one flesh’. This concept of oneness could be the key to the perception that our MIH is ‘absent’. What if our Heavenly Father and Mother have reached a level of harmonious oneness that when we address our prayers to Him we are actually speaking to both?
    Could they be so much one that they each know what the other is doing and thinking at all times? Could they be so perfect in their love that they fully concur with each others actions, indeed they act in perfect harmony at all times to achieve their common goal of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of their children? Perhaps this kind of oneness is the zenith of a celestial, eternal marriage. In this life we are given the principle that we must learn to think (and act) as if we were literally ‘one flesh’. Perhaps that is a type and shadow of what it will mean to become ‘one’ flesh, ‘one’ spirit and being always and forever one in purpose. I think that in the eternities the word ‘patriarchy’ might be nonsensical from their perspective. Though they are still separate and distinct beings, their ‘oneness’ makes them see themselves as truly one. This idea of a ‘he’ and ‘she’ in a mortal contractual marriage where each has their own personal interests, goals and agendas may be exactly what we need to overcome in order to become celestial beings. I don’t think one could ever conceive of a more egalitarian relationship than that. Oh, and FWIW, I personally don’t believe there are facilities (i.e. toilets) in the eternal realms, at least not in the Celestial Kingdom. Every description of Deity we have in the Scriptures or Church history all testify that their “brightness and glory defied all description”, or that their countenances were “brighter than the noonday sun” or “like lightning”. Although I am no physicist, this indicates to me that Deity, and by extension, all celestial beings, are beings of pure energy. But they also have that unique ability to change that pure energy into bodies of flesh and bone at will. Thus anything they might eat would be fully consumed and transformed into pure energy with nothing going to waste. What a boon to travel that would be! One could travel throughtout the vastness of the universe without a potty break at a rest area! A celestial body could easily lack a digestive system and function quite well without it.
    Of course, all of this is speculation, but I do firmly believe that the celestial realm and celestial beings are going to be quite different from what we mortals have become accustomed to for ourselves in this life. I feel the same about celestial love versus mortal love. Celestial love must be so far and beyond that which we call and comprehend as love here, because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”. That degree of utterly selfless love still leaves me humbled, awestruck, and amazed. The motto for all eternal sealed relationships could well be, “We Are One”.

  59. 59.

    “often chided by leaders for making more round-about attempts to learn about her”

    Find me three instances. “often chided”? Come on.

    “She is often used by Mormons as a tool for reinforcing traditional gender castes”

    Find me one instance.

    What you’ve said doesn’t make sense – if nothing is said about her – you’re right about this- then how can she possibly used as a reenforcement of any role, traditional or no? Rather, traditional gender roles are sometimes projected on to her – and these are generally assumed rather than stated.

    Maybe nothing is said about Her so that we can have these difficult conversations.

  60. 60.

    “She is often used by Mormons as a tool for reinforcing traditional gender castes”
    Find me one instance.

    How ’bout the folk doctrine I have heard over and over and over again since I was a child that we do not speak to her or use her name because HF is protecting her from having her name used in vain. I’ve heard women bear testimony of this in reverence — what a good husband to protect his wife from “the world” this way.

  61. 61.

    And I’d be fascinated if you HAVEN’T heard this frequently, because I hear it most often in Relief Society or on blogs from the mouths of women, not men.

  62. 62.

    How about this: http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=f50bd0640b96b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

  63. 63.

    Yes, Deborah. Good example.

  64. 64.

    Although I’d be interested in knowing that average age of the women you’ve heard say that. My guess is that, like many things, it is a generational attitude that is fading.

  65. 65.

    Also, I wonder if you all feeling that hearing discussion about Her in those kind of terms better or worse than not having her discussed at all. Pure curiosity. :)

  66. 66.

    Or this: “Women are endowed with special traits and attributes that come trailing down through eternity from a divine mother. Young women have special God-given feelings about charity, love, and obedience. Coarseness and vulgarity are contrary to their natures. They have a modifying, softening influence on young men. Young women were not foreordained to do what priesthood holders do. Theirs is a sacred, God-given role, and the traits they received from heavenly mother are equally as important as those given to the young men.

    Sometimes misguided women or men direct our youth away from their divinely appointed role. Worlds without end, men will never be able to bear children. Every young woman may be a procreator with God and carry a little one under her breast either in this life or in the eternal worlds. Motherhood is a wonderful, priceless blessing, no matter what all the world may say.”

    (Vaughan Featherstone, October conference 1987)

  67. 67.

    #49 Thomas ~ Three instances of leaders discouraging round-about attempts at learning about Heavenly Mother — try Chapter 11 of Women & Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism. (I’d link to it, but I don’t know how many links my comment can have before going to moderation.) I’d say that the excommunications of high-profile feminists who explored this issue such as Janice Allred and Maxine Hanks also acted as discouragement.

    One instance of Mormons using Heavenly Mother to reinforce traditional gender roles — Deborah’s #60 is pretty good. Kristine’s #62 and #66 are also good. The talk that immediately comes to mind for me is the talk that Glenn L. Pace gave at a BYU devotional in March, “The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women.”

    What you’ve said doesn’t make sense – if nothing is said about her – you’re right about this- then how can she possibly used as a reenforcement of any role, traditional or no?

    It makes perfect sense if women are expected to play a silent, subordinate, and supporting role in the eternities just as they (largely) do in the LDS church today.

  68. 68.

    Thomas 65 — these comments are often made as a way of shutting down discussion, so it slices bad both ways!

  69. 69.

    “It makes perfect sense if women are expected to play a silent, subordinate, and supporting role in the eternities just as they (largely) do in the LDS church today.”

    Yes. But this is just what I said: projecting assumptions about gender on to Mother in Heaven, rather than saying something definitive about Mother in Heaven and trying to enforce it as an ideal. Kristine’s example _is_ ascribing attributes to Mother in Heaven – but I reject the idea that this is common on grounds that no discussion about Mother in Heaven is common. It dominates the discourse: but what discourse? I suppose the fear of expanding the discourse will simply lead to more of what we’ve already got … but I think as time goes by the content is going to change quite radically.

    I have a lot more to say, but am suddenly short on time.

    I hope that we can both broaden and deepen discourse on this subject. My contribution would be pretty much the things I already said. I think a lot of current and historical bits are … really very wrong. I think, though, we need to be gentle with people who are attached to their received ideas – without being dishonest or compromising our own true views. It’s tricky, I know. The solutions will emerge over time – and that solution will not look exactly like what anyone expects. So, I intend to do my best to remain open.

  70. 70.

    “I hope that we can both broaden and deepen discourse on this subject.”

    Agreed — and it heartens me to see an inter-gender exchange about this here. Thank you.

  71. 71.

    Oh Lynnette.
    I love this. I really love this. Thank you for the beautiful inspiring words. I had so many “Amen!” comments while reading that I’d have to block quote the whole post here to capture them all.

    So I’ll just say, “Amen!”

  72. 72.

    Jack – sorry, my note was sloppy and unclear. You hit it at the end. I share your listed concerns and very much appreciate your ability to empathize. While I do think there’s a difference in paradigm, I’m far from being an isolationist; I believe in our ability to fuse horizons, and you’ve taken as significant steps toward this end as any evangelical I know.

    Thomas – notice that you changed what I said in your disagreement. But even so, taking it as you’ve written it, there are still aspects of my salvation narrative in which Jesus does not play a role (or at least not an exclusive or “overwhelming” role): my own agency, repentance, and striving, my attempts to keep commandments or act virtuously in ways that we have no authoritative knowledge of Christ ever doing or having been in a relevantly similar situation (e.g., how I treat my wife and children); and presumably my Heavenly Parents and the Holy Ghost are neither mere redundancy within the plan of salvation, nor is my relationship with them mediated wholely through Jesus; likewise, the necessary ordinances for salvation are mediated through others (my wife, the acting priest, officers holding keys and authorizing the ceremony, dedicated location, etc.) – this is true even if Christ’s role is a necessary precursor or his atonement a necessary facilitating condition for these ordinances.

    Yes, I very much agree that the resurrected Christ and his various post-resurrection appearances are ideal images of Mormon notions of a metaphysically limited God concretely embedded in this world.

    Finally, isn’t silence concerning the necessary feminine aspect of our salvation narrative (which you acknowledge) itself the most significant reinforcement of damnable cultural attitudes? Much like you, I’m heartened by the various conversations being had now (such as this one here), and I too hope to see our discourse “broadened and deepened.”

  73. 73.

    Haven’t been able to read all the comments. Just wanted to throw a couple things out there. Sorry for any repeats.

    – As a man, I can’t relate to the genuine concerns expressed in the OP and comments, but I can try to be sensitive and empathetic. I wish I could alleviate all the anguish over the issue, but I can’t. But I can, in my sphere, listen and act in a Christ-like fashion. I hope the fact that I read the post and some of the comments, and that I’m commenting gives the women here some small glimmer of hope that those of us who may one day be called to certain positions (knock on wood…I have no ambitions in this area) aren’t interested in simply dismissing the issue.

    – In reference to the comment “the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother who is irrelevant to the Plan of Salvation…”
    I didn’t realize she was irrelevant. Without intending to dismiss genuine feelings of second-class-ness, and certainly without justifying unrighteous treatment of women, I would say this comment assumes HM has no future or past responsibilities/opportunities (confession: not a fan of the word ‘role’ in issues relating to doctrine) in the plan of salvation. It doesn’t answer why there’s not much about her in the mortal realm, but this sort of discursive slip reveals what preoccupies…well, me. I worry that my sisters, mother, friends will make this logical leap, and that it will cause anguish.

    Ms. Jack (#57) avoids the logical leap somewhat when she writes: “She is silent and has no delineated role in the Plan of Salvation.” It’s true her role is not delineated, at least, not for us. But we needn’t affirm her irrelevance in the entire plan of salvation as the OP does. Also, though silent, perhaps she is not inactive. Maybe she does a lot that we are simply unaware of. And maybe there is a reason why that we simply aren’t privy to.

    – Were the women cited above excommunicated for writing about the subject of HM, or for advocating praying to her? If the former, why haven’t those who have recently spoken about her been ex’d. I recall a while back looking at the feminist literature cited, and it seemed like those I remember crossed a line from talking about to advocating. Please correct me if I’m wrong, it has been some time since visited the material.

  74. 74.

    No one who was excommunicated advocated prayer to Heavenly Mother, at least not in print. That wasn’t the reason given for the excommunication, either, although it’s unclear exactly what the reasons were.

    The reason people who have spoken about her recently haven’t been exed is that the climate in the church has changed dramatically, in part, at least, because of the sacrifices of those women who said, at great cost to themselves, what we’re now allowed to say freely.

  75. 75.

    Oh ZD what have you done to me? I choose to believe it was the Spirit that led me to read this thread right before the missionaries knocked on my door this afternoon while my child napped and I had unlimited time to press them on their complete disregard for the very existence of their Heavenly Mother. The good news is they didn’t cry. The bad news is they clearly wanted to- or at least an easy exit. For my part I truly did try to sidestep the M&M trap and actually engage with their arguments but I would be lying if I didn’t confess that there was a part of me that wasn’t keenly aware that this may be one of the only opportunities for these young men to hear the opposing (feminist) view so I did rather aim for the rafters. I blame ZD.

  76. 76.

    .

    I’m a little late to this party so I’ll keep this short, but I’m looking for Her too.

  77. 77.

    Thanks for this post, Lynnette. I think that you’ve articulated perfectly some of my own thoughts, both in your prior post and now here. My stance on Heavenly Mother boils down to: love the potential, hate the execution.

    The church has the pieces in place to be an amazing, radically egalitarian community. Heavenly Mother could be the linchpin of that framework. And instead, we get mostly just another boring complementarian Protestant-ish cultural space. That is such a disappointment — seeing such feminist potential just squandered is almost almost enough to make you wish the church didn’t have any to begin with.

  78. 78.

    Beautiful post, Lynnette.

  79. 79.

    This was an interesting and beautiful discussion.
    I think that this is a problem that is being solved on a different front. Mormon appologists – at least some of them – are coming to see the role of Mother in Heaven in the Old Testament, and by extension in the Book of Mormon. I expect this trend to continue and to expand. Margaret Barker – the Methodist exponent of Temple Theology – has helped us (that is, the Mormons) to recognize that Mother is a scriptural concept, critical to understanding the First Temple theology. Ancient near eastern concepts of the Menorah, the Shekinah, and Wisdom as direct references to Her, and therefore revelations about Her character and role – are more compelling and persuasive than Lavina Fielding Anderson knew when she started to speak about them.
    In short, at some point, the far “right” of the Church intelligencia and the leftier of us are going to meet on this issue (see Petersons’ “Nephi and His Aserah” in JBMS, for example). Some of us conservativy types are already starting to suspect that Mother in Heaven has been there all along, not missing, not absent from our devotions at all. We just did not know what we were doing when we were doing it.
    The time is coming. Or it has come, depending on what you want.

  80. 80.

    Mark, I’m not sure who you mean, but I’m sure it’s not Lavina. You might mean Margaret or Paul Toscano, Janice Allred, Maxine Hanks, Lynn Whitesides, Cecilia Farr, Gail Houston, or Lynn Matthews Anderson, all of whom have written and spoken about Heavenly Mother. It’s probably important to get that straight before you characterize them as less persuasive or compelling than Margaret Barker. (They might be, I don’t know Barker well enough to be sure).

  81. 81.

    You missed Lynnette! She’s also written and spoken about Heavenly Mother.

  82. 82.

    Indeed, but I KNOW her stuff is better than Barker’s. :)

  83. 83.

    It is quite sad that with all this discussion that GOD’S word is not used at all to justify some guys word…You are taking a man’s word over GOD’S lasting word through thousands of years…
    Matthew 24:11
    Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.
    Mark 13:22
    For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
    2 Peter 2:1
    But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
    1 John 4:1
    Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

  84. 84.

    I think what’s sad is that GOD’s word is being accepted over GODDESS’s.

  85. 85.

    […] don’t talk about) Heavenly Mother, with the way she is absent and silenced. However, as one feminist Mormon blogger states, “To believe in a Heavenly Mother that is truly equal to Heavenly Father, I think, is […]

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