Zelophehad’s Daughters

Heavenly Parents, are we really talking about you more?

Posted by Ziff

After April Conference, I was asked by someone in the fMh Facebook group to check whether this Conference had featured an unusually large number of references to Heavenly Parents. The answer is yes, it did.

Oh, you wanted to see some data to back that up? I thought you’d never ask! I used the Corpus of General Conference Talks to look up uses of the phrase “heavenly parents” in General Conference. Unfortunately, the Corpus only goes up to 2010. I was able to fill in counts for years since then by using Google to search the Conference part of lds.org (by adding site:lds.org/general-conference/<year> to the search–thank heaven for logical URLs on lds.org, because the search tool on the site was recently changed so it doesn’t show all matches for a search anymore).

Here is what I found for number of mentions per year since 1970:

refs to heavenly parents in general conference

The reddish dots are the actual counts of mentions per year, and they are connected by the faded dashed line. Because the data are so lumpy, I also added a 5-year moving average (the bright red line) so we can get a better sense of which way the wind is blowing.

The peak year is 1995, which is when the Proclamation on the Family, which explicitly refers to “Heavenly Parents,” was issued. Other than that year, though, 2013 has more mentions than any other year, and we haven’t even had October Conference yet! Interestingly, Angela C. at BCC pointed out that there were also some points in talks in this Conference that seemed like perfect setups for the speakers to say “Heavenly Parents,” but then they fell back on “Heavenly Father.” The 5-year moving average also looks somewhat positive: it’s been above one mention per year since 2004. And in a similar study that looked at Church materials more generally, TopHat found a couple of years ago that there has been an uptick in mentions of Heavenly Parents in recent years.

I’m not sure what this trends means even if it is a real trend. Is it an attempt to placate the troublesome feminists? Or is it retrenchment with an eye toward the Family Proclamation? Whatever it is, I’ll be interested to see if there is a lot of talk of Heavenly Parents in October Conference, or if this was just a one-time blip.

8 Responses to “Heavenly Parents, are we really talking about you more?”

  1. 1.

    Any idea how many of those “heavenly parents” references this year (or other years) were direct quotes from the PotF versus speakers choosing to say HP instead of HF?

  2. 2.

    Great question, LRC. I just looked at the last three years.

    2013: 1/5 was a FamProc quote
    2012: 0/1 was a FamProc quote
    2011: 1/3 was a FamProc quote

  3. 3.

    Thanks for responding to my request for more statistical wizardry! This is fascinating to see.

  4. 4.

    Neat analysis, Ziff, as always. Am just a bit curious: when was the last time Heavenly Mother was mentioned over the pulpit in General Conference?

    Sometimes I wonder why we don’t embrace the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, of the divine feminine. It clearly is part of our theology. I sense that the reason is that we don’t want to seem weird to mainstream Christian American churches, but hasn’t that ship already sailed? I’m skeptical that we’ll ever get past our weirdness. Judging from the opinion polls and reactions to the last presidential election, clearly many denominations remain distrustful of Mormons in the U.S. So why not embrace our weirdness and reap the benefits from all those women (and men) who feel that mainstream Christianity doesn’t speak to them because of the gender inequalities?

  5. 5.

    OK, since I already made a comment about the post I don’t feel bad about a threadjack.

    Ziff, have you ever done an analysis of what the apostles talk about, i.e., the topics they most frequently cover? I know you did that cool analysis about how often they repeat themselves, but I would be interested to know who talks about what.

    If you have, would you send me the link? If not, can I suggest it as a topic that you might sink your analytic teeth into?

  6. 6.

    Thanks for the suggestion, Mike. I’ve actually thought of doing something like that, but it just seems like so much work! That and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be a reliable coder of topics, so my results could always be questioned on that basis. For example, if I find Elder Nelson talks about gender roles all the time, is it because he really does, or is it because I expect him to, and that affects how I code his talks?

    Still, I might try some limited version of something like that at some point.

  7. 7.

    For what it is worth, lds.org does classify talks by topic https://www.lds.org/general-conference/topics/2013/04?lang=eng. You have to look at each instance of general conference separately, but you could look at changes over time (it seems like they use the same list of topics for all past sessions?) Although, whoever classified the talks may classify things in a different way than and outsider would.

  8. 8.

    Thanks, Beatrice. I didn’t realize they had already done the heavy lifting for me!

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