“We don’t know much about Heavenly Father either!”

Every time someone complains on the blogs about the fact that we know next to nothing about Heavenly Mother, someone else busts out the tried-and-true argument that we shouldn’t feel bad about this, because we don’t know much about Heavenly Father either. (For example, see the discussion following Tracy M.’s wonderful post “But Where Am I?” at BCC a few days ago.)

This is not a good argument. It kind of suggests that people are wishing to hear little details about Heavenly Mother. Like maybe is she left-handed? Or what’s her favorite color? Or her shoe size? Or how did she and Heavenly Father meet during their mortal probation? Perhaps she was a dentist and he was a bartender, and he totally botched her complicated drink request, but he had such a charming smile that all her friends said she should give him a chance, and she did, and the rest is history.

But of course, it’s nothing like this that people want to know. It’s the basics. The fact is that we know some very basic fundamental things about Heavenly Father than we don’t know about Heavenly Mother.

  • He exists. It seems silly to have to spell this out, but we talk about Heavenly Father all the time. We pray to him in all our meetings and at our tables and in our closets. At least when I was a missionary, he was the first point in the first discussion. His existence is absolutely central to our beliefs. Heavenly Mother, not so much. Oh, sure, we believe in her, kind of. Her existence is more something that we infer than something that’s really crucial. We talk about her hardly at all. Of course this is no accident. President Hinckley famously gave a Conference talk in 1991 where he responded to a teenage girl’s letter by saying in effect, that yes, Heavenly Mother exists, but let us never speak of her again. The result is, as Kevin Barney at BCC put it once so well, a culture where “it’s acceptable to say ‘Heavenly Parents’ (because Proc), but it would take a cattle prod to get anyone to actually say ‘Heavenly Mother’ or ‘Mother in Heaven.'”
  • There is only one of him. This isn’t at all an open question for Heavenly Father. But you can’t say “Heavenly Mother” on the bloggernacle without someone coming along to ask “Don’t you mean Heavenly Mothers?” And it’s a fair question, given what we have to go on. With our refusal to repudiate polygamy, GA statements about Heavenly Mother that often leave the door open for the possibility of multiple Heavenly Mothers, and current GAs who are planning to live polygamy in the next life, it’s no surprise that this remains an unresolved issue.
  • He is important. The plan of salvation/happiness is his plan. The universe is his creation. We are his children. Heavenly Mother? Well, sure, she’s probably important. Maybe. We must be her children too, right? And who’s to say she wasn’t part of coming up with the plan too? We’re free to speculate all we want, since we have nothing to go on at all about how important she is, other than guessing and inferring based on her relationship to Heavenly Father and how important he is. And of course this interacts with the multiple Heavenly Mothers question too. If there are lots of Heavenly Mothers, it seems like any particular one of them is a whole lot less important than the singular Heavenly Father.
  • He is powerful. We pray to Heavenly Father to ask for help, for comfort, for whatever we need. We’re counting on him to ultimately get everyone judged and assigned their just reward in the afterlife. And Heavenly Mother’s power is, like her importance, undetermined. We can speculate that it might be great, but there’s really nothing solid in our teachings to go on.

Of course what makes this lack of information so pressing is that Heavenly Mother is the only model women have for what they might expect in the next life. It’s far easier for us men to wave questions about her away with arguments like the one I’m responding to here. We have models–thin though they may be– for what our experience might be in the next life. We do know some fundamental things about Heavenly Father. Women have nothing to go on at all in thinking about what the next life might look like for them. In fact, it might even be the case that what they have is worse than nothing. We acknowledge the existence of Heavenly Mother, but say virtually nothing about her, which kind of suggests that she’s completely irrelevant, and therefore that’s the likely fate of righteous women who achieve exaltation. So let’s stop using this argument and pretending there’s any kind of equivalence between what we know about Heavenly Father and what we know about Heavenly Mother. There isn’t.


  1. “We acknowledge the existence of Heavenly Mother, but say virtually nothing about her, which kind of suggests that she’s completely irrelevant, and therefore that’s the likely fate of righteous women who achieve exaltation.” Exactly! Thank you for putting that so well.

    This has me thinking about how when other Christians hear LDS ideas about exaltation they sometimes react with surprise or aversion because the idea that humans evolve into something on par with God is blasphemous to them. I grew up with these ideas of eternal progression, but the the more I think about them the more they become problematic to me, because we can’t help but project our current lives into eternity, and that is really absurd (as your second paragraph demonstrates!). I think in focusing on gender roles so much now, we make the mistake of focusing on gender roles in exaltation, and do we really think the nature of Divinity can be described by gendered attributes? Isn’t God inconceivably bigger than that? This is a tangent to the post, the main point of which is that people use “we don’t know much about her” as a way to change the subject and make people shut up about the divine feminine, and that is crap (yes, indeed, it is!). I guess I’m just saying that since your 4 bullet points must apply to Heavenly Mother also, I’d rather not ask “what is She doing up there?” (because, really, I have no idea what He is doing up there either, other than maybe listening to prayers and loving us, which certainly She does as well) but instead just start using inclusive language about God and hope that that will open the way to a more fully developed theology about God, whose important attributes must transcend gender anyway.

  2. Good stuff Ziff. I will push back a little on the notion that there’s no room for consideration of plural Heavenly Fathers. Christ is given the title Father; that makes at least two fathers for us. The name given to Heavenly Father in church cannon is Elohim, which is a plural version of El. And there’s plenty of references to multiple gods taking part in the creation/council motif. See the BOA.

    I’ll grant that the very strong majority view (or at least assumption) in the church is that we have only one Heavenly Father. But there still remains room for members to envision a plurality of fathers in certain parameters. For example, it could be that in the eternities Christ will be formally known as the ‘Father’ but that many exalted men who have been saved through him will participate in ongoing creation of worlds and children, and that all such children will fall within Christ’s stewardship and know Him as ‘father.’ Likewise, while church doctrine does state that HF is the ‘father of our spirits,’ there may be room to conclude that His fatherhood is adoptive rather than literal (in the biological procreation sense that we tend to project).

    For me, the real issue is whether we limit true parenthood to only procreation, or whether we extend it to the many other spheres in which mothers and fathers serve their children. If its limited to procreation, then each of us has only one set of Heavenly Parents, and the only debate is whether our particular set overlaps with others’ and to what extent. Viewing parenthood as expansive – with procreation as an wonderful example, but just one of many ways parenthood is accomplished – leads to the possibility of not only multiple HMs, but multiple HFs.

  3. Amen! Especially your last paragraph about knowing worse than nothing. Heavenly Mother’s silence and the threat of polygamy together make her daughters’ eternal fate seem terrifying at times.

  4. And even the things we say to comfort women about the bleakness of that picture reinforce those fears. Instead of saying that inequalities will be made right, we say women will finally understand why we are unequal and we will learn to like it. We won’t mind being silent partners or being polygamous wives. It’ll be great. Somehow.

  5. Good post, Ziff. I do think it is good to allow ourselves to question our assumptions about what we think we know about Heavenly Father and about the Eternities, and we may very well conclude that we know very little about him, but that lack of knowledge should not be an excuse to dismiss super basic questions about Heavenly Mother as though they were only after esoteric unimportant details. I do think we know very little about our Father in Heaven, but, as you’ve demonstrated, what we do know is pretty basic and important stuff. And there’s nothing like that as to our knowledge of our Mother in Heaven.

  6. That same posting and the resulting discussions also made me think about this lack of knowing and that argument brought to the father. I thought of Christ. He lived here on earth and appeared here and we have others’ records of him doing so. The scriptures seem to make it quite clear that he acted and did what his father in heaven would do, so thereby we again know considerably more about the father than the mother.

    Another thing is the earth itself; it and everything in it evolves. Including our religion. Evolution is a pattern. To think that our knowledge and understanding shouldn’t evolve seems ludicrous. It all brings to mind our scapegoating; we’ve done it anciently and we continue to do it.

  7. Since I was likely the person you’re referring to let me note that I think the fact we know so little about God is important in the sense that it should urge caution in speculative theology across the board. So I don’t think it is a bad argument but an important one regarding theological humility.

    That said, let me address your points.

    1. Existence is a pretty big piece of knowledge for both our divine parents. We even sing about here. I’d love to have her spoken of more and there are zero theological impediments for that. To say that heavenly mother’s existence isn’t central to beliefs just seems wrong though. So let’s not conflate how often we speak of her (not enough) with the theological points about her prominence (which is huge)

    2. Number. But of course the most interesting aspect of most (but not all — see Blake Ostler’s) forms of Mormon theology is that there isn’t just one heavenly father. Most traditional readings of the King Follet Discourse portray an infinite regress of Gods. But even most of the mainstream conceptions of glorification imply that we are a large family. So that we all become fathers and mothers together, implying that this isn’t just an infinite regress of fathers/mothers but also that it goes sideways. It’s simply not revealed whether for this creation we all have one father or whether the children of all the fathers are in this creation together. As such, I think that theologically while some people speculate that we have just one father and one mother or speculate that we have just one father and multiple mothers are on no stronger ground that those who speculate there are many fathers and mother. All are compatible with very orthodox doctrine. It’s a place where further revelation is necessary to clarify things.

    3. Saying heavenly mother is probably important just seems fundamentally wrong. Again what’s revealed is pretty ambiguous. Again the most dominant theologies don’t even have God coming up with the plan but merely accepting a plan that someone else brought up with an infinite regress. Other theologies are of course possible (again Blake Ostler is a prominent theologian who disagrees with this reading). The main theological position I see though is that the plan was a joint work and once accepted everyone together worked on its implementation. (Fathers, Mothers, and all children) Likewise for creation the mainstream theological perspective (although again underdetermined in terms of revelation) is that creation was a joint effort by everyone. (The common joke when I was at BYU was people joking they made the shoreline of Norway – parodying the joke from Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

    Once again I think we have to distinguish how much this is talked about from the theology (or rather lack of official theology)

    4. Regarding power again this is probably the most famous place where our theology is undeveloped because it’s not at all clear how much power the father has nor its basis. Again there are lots of theological views. The church itself seems to just prefer to use the term “all powerful” in a vague and nearly meaningless way only acknowledging occasionally how we don’t follow the meaning of omnipotence in the more platonic inspired theology of Augustine on down in traditional Christianity. So far as we can tell mother has the same power as father but what that is no one knows.

    None of this is to deny that God the father is spoken of more than God the mother. Nor is it to deny that there are ritual acts related to God the father we don’t have for God the mother. (Primarily praying for reasons we just don’t know) However I think those concerns (which are important and very valid) simply get conflated with the issues of how much about God we know – which isn’t much.

  8. We do know a lot about Heavenly Mother. Brigham Young even disclosed her identity. She is Eve because Adam is our Father in Heaven.

    Now….you know why no one in authority wants to talk about Heavenly Mother. She is a vestigial concept from the Adam-God doctrine.

  9. Heavenly mother can not create, she is not part of the godhead. She is prohibited from being in touch with her children on earth, as no one can talk to her or pray to her, and she can not talk to them.

    Sounds like a miserable existence if you ask me.

  10. Helen, depending upon what you mean by the godhead I’m not sure that’s correct. Again though it depends upon how one reads prominent non-canonical texts like the King Follet Discourse. There clearly are parts of the KFD the church thinks are incorrect (like the resurrection of children part which is often excluded in church reprints of the sermon). But it has a prominent place in LDS thought at a minimum. Since the 90’s the Church has tended to try and leave alone ideas not locked down in canon – partially due I think to a reaction to some of Bruce R. McConkie’s writings. That’s why I think even with regards to say the plurality of gods Pres. Hinkley sounded ambivalent in the press. (Say his famous Time interview) I think the move by the church to acknowledge our ignorance is extremely helpful – especially given some of the theological excesses in the previous eras.

    John, I think this is a big part of it as is polygamy which Ziff mentioned in the original post. For quite understandable reasons I think many just don’t want to touch those topics. I’d say though that of Adam/God proper the only part technically treated as false doctrine is the idea that Adam in the garden isn’t the father of our spirits. If you adopt a reading such that Brigham just got that part wrong, treat Adam/Eve as titles rather than fixed individuals, that most of the doctrine is still commonly held in the church. Minus the variations by some like Heber C Kimball and possibly even Brigham Young about reincarnation such that one has to be born as a Jesus on an other world in order to become like deity — while I can’t recall a formal repudiation of that teaching I’m fairly confident the church would see it as false doctrine.

  11. Brilliant, Ziff.

    And wouldn’t it be great if They did meet at a bar? Reflects the powerof the aronnent in which They embrace. *sigh*

  12. Clark, I think you’re missing the point. When we say that HF exists (or is important, or is powerful), it’s something clearly grounded in revelation, something found throughout our canonized texts and ritual. If we say that about HM, it’s grounded in speculation. It’s not just a matter of talking a whole lot more about HF (which we do, of course); it’s that we don’t even have the same kind of basis for knowledge about HM. That’s a serious problem.

    “So far as we can tell mother has the same power as father but what that is no one knows.”

    And speaking of speculation . . . Given the inequalities between the genders in sacred spaces, why would we simply assume that HM as the same power as HF? It’s not that I don’t think you can make that case, but it’s at least complicated by the gender hierarchy we teach as the ideal. Going back to my point above, it’s stuff like this that make the absence of revelation so painful.

  13. I think the most important point is that we talk about Heavenly Father *all* the time. In Relief Society, I don’t ever hear that we will become like our Heavenly Mother, I hear that we will become like our Heavenly *Father.* When talking of procreation, we talk of being partners with Heavenly Father in creating new life. Not Heavenly Parents. Motherhood is a sacred responsibility where Heavenly Father has entrusted one of His spirit children to your care, and you need to seek direction from Him for that child. It is odd not to have a model of eternal womanhood when you think about it, but the fact is that many members never think about it. Being a daughter of a male God and seeking to be like a male God (and His Son) doesn’t strike many Mormon women as weird.

  14. Here’s an article from this year’s Ensign about how vitally important it is to know and work on knowing Heavenly Father. Our Mother doesn’t even get a shout out:


    Also, we have LDS writers writing LDS books about the Divine Nature of Women that do not include a mention of our Mother:


    Finally, this week I had an institute teacher tell my class that Elohim is a plural noun that refers to God the Father and Jesus. And that they both had help creating the world! People like Joseph Smith helped.

    Divine Maleness is critical and important. Divine Femaleness doesn’t even warrant a mention. Probably because it is sooooo important.

  15. Lynette, we know mother has all power because all divine being with unity have it. D&C 93:17,20. As I said it’s not at all clear what on earth “all power” means though.

    When we say mother exists it’s grounded in revelation and reaffirmed in the proclamation on the family. She’s not in the standard works directly, it’s true. I’d argue even ignore all the revelations on the subject and it being repeated by GAs in conference that it’s a logical corollary of many scriptures as well. Of course I wish there were more, but her existence is required theologically.

    Mary Ann, how people speak will of course vary regionally. I can but say she’s discussed regularly at church in the wards I’ve been in. Again, do I think she should be discussed more? Yes. But that seems a different topic, as I said, from what we know of her. Probably we all agree on wanting to know more and thinking we should discuss her more. I just don’t think my comments on knowledge really affect that one way or an other.

  16. One thing I’ve noticed lately that bothers me is the repeated explicit emphasis in primary that Heavenly Father is the model and source of our mortal bodies. This is an especially clear example of how excluding and erasing Heavenly Mother actively excludes and erases women, girls, and mothers on earth.

    Nursery Manual Lesson 9: “I Have a Body Like Heavenly Father’s”
    https://www.lds.org/manual/behold-your-little-ones-nursery-manual/lesson-9-i-have-a-body-like-heavenly-fathers?lang=eng (including the quote “I have a special body Heavenly Father gave to me,” not even giving earthly mother her due there, let alone Heavenly Mother)

    Primary Lesson 2: “Heavenly Father Has a Body”

    “her existence is required theologically”

    This is like saying that, on the one hand, we know what the chemical makeup of the atmosphere of various stars and planets are, and we also know lots of stuff about dark matter because its existence is required to make the physics equations work out right in describing the observable universe. In other words, you’re just making Ziff’s point for him.

  17. Clark, Nephi makes it clear that the center of our theology lies in Christ (2 Nephi 25:26). Christ made clear his mission was to glorify the Father. All our worship is to be directed to the Father. Christ declared that knowing him meant knowing the Father, and we know a LOT about Christ. In the late 1800s George Q. Cannon made clear that our theology of the Godhead was firm, and our theology of Heavenly Mother was not (see the BYU Studies article on Heavenly Mother). In the August 2016 Ensign, an article concerning the divine roles of womanhood condensed from a larger talk had every mention of Heavenly Mother excised except for a vague reference to “Heavenly Parents.” If Nephi argues that we talk constantly of Christ to help our children know who to look to for exaltation, then there appears to be some correlation between what we talk about (and how much we talk about it) and what we believe is important to our theology.

    In the last 15 years I’ve lived in 6 wards in three states. In none of those wards would I ever say she was discussed regularly. We clearly run in different circles.

  18. I wonder if much of our reluctance to understand more about our Heavenly Parents is rooted in history.

    Goddess worship has historically been focused on carnality. And worship of multiple entities tends to become very divisive. Maybe it’s not that we can’t know these things, maybe it’s what we would do with that knowledge that is the problem.

    Ultimately, what we need to know here and now is the reality of the Savior, our potential for repentance and eternal progression, God’s unconditional love and concern for us, and our capacity to become part of His eternal joy. We shouldn’t water down that message.

    We already know the rest anyways, we have just forgotten. Lack of clarity is part of the point of this earth. We’ll have a surfeit of clarity when we join Him again. It is up to us to choose whether we trust Him, even without perfect knowledge.

  19. SilverRain, there are plenty of god’s that were worshipped in the past in an entirely carnal way, and yet we worship our male deities now, in non-carnal ways. I don’t think your point on goddess worship is valid, I’m afraid. Also, the point is, in all of those saving items you pointed out there is no female participation. In a world where women have been treated so poorly, and continue to be treated so poorly, it would go a long way to even things up. Speaking freely of, and acknowledging her has been so meaningful to me, once I learned it wasn’t an unholy thing to do. My relationship with my Heavenly Parents is better than ever before, and I think that is something we should be striving to do for more people: make heaven feel more accessible. Consciously speaking of Heavenly Parents, and using a woman as the model of women are such easy avenue to go through.

  20. This all reminds me of Karen Armstrong’s book, The History of God. It addresses several points that have come up in the OP and comments, like acknowledging vs worshipping other gods, and changing perspectives of divinity.

    Overall, I think this post makes some really good points–a lot of the discourse about HM tends to fall apart if we apply it to something or someone else.

  21. I think SilverRain’s point is important, especially given historic Mormon understanding of Asherah/groves in the OT (see this description: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/grove?lang=eng). We don’t tend to tie problems with morality to Baal (more just idolatry or worshipping someone other than Jehovah). In talking about Asherah or the groves, there is almost always an association with immorality. Even outside Mormondom, you can look at something like Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Bringing in a wife to Christ (and descendants) apparently wasn’t enough. He had to bring in ritual sex to celebrate the merging of male and female. There is definitely a cultural sexualization of goddesses and/or female priestesses.

  22. Mary Ann, but was that sexualization always there? Historically it was not. Noted biblical scholar Margaret Barker has some excellent information on the subject you might find interesting.

  23. Melissa, I’ve read some of her stuff. That’s why I phrased it more as a historic Mormon understanding as opposed to actual historic practice. The *perception* of immorality associated with goddess worship is powerful, even if it may not be historically accurate.

  24. Thank you, Ziff! This articulates much of what I’ve been thinking.

    Clark & others bringing in the theological possibility of multiple Heavenly Fathers – the trouble is that when multiple Heavenly Mothers are implied, there is a spectral assumption of polygyny and the far reaching ramifications of patriarchy and inequality. When multiple Heavenly Fathers are suggested, it is almost exclusively on the ‘infinite regression’ model and distinctly not polyandry. In other words, the possibility of multiple sets of Heavenly Parents doesn’t bother me much, but the possibility of Heavenly Polygyny is right out. I want no part of that, but it seems to be what my church believes.

  25. And to Mary Ann in number 17 – I firmly believe that this absence of a divine feminine is part of why Mary worship is so central for many Catholics – it’s an attempt at a divine feminine, and I find that beautiful.

  26. I just stumbled onto this great post and vibrant discussion and wanted to share something hopeful…Desert Book has just published a new children’s book where Heavenly Mother is included in all aspects of Godhood–designing, creating, loving, and leading the human family. There’s even a line celebrating that girls are created in the image of Heavenly Mother. We–the co-authors–feel that this book can create a significant change in the way we understand and discuss Heavenly Mother. If children grow up with these powerful ideas and language, the church can grow to include the Feminine Divine in our curriculum, conversations, and culture.


  27. Elizabeth (29) I don’t think anything’s really been revealed on that point so I don’t think we can say anything positive or negative. I don’t think it’s just regression though for the reasons I mentioned. i.e. the ambiguity in LDS theology about whether each person gets their own creation or shared a creation with Jesus and populate it with all their children together. You don’t need the questions of polygyny or polandry for that joint creation work to function. i.e. it’d work with or without monogamy or other marriage forms.

    Regarding questions of multiple marriages, I suspect that it would be pretty difficult to answer many questions about heavenly Mother without answering those questions. It seems to me no matter what the answer people will be upset as it goes against core emotional beliefs. i.e. the perception that being sealed to multiple people is inherently misogynist versus telling people who may have been married for decades and want to be together in the eternities together that they can’t be. It’s interesting that many of those who push for non-heterosexual relationships in the hereafter because it’s cruel to separate loving couples typically demand loving couples be separated in the eternities on other grounds.

    BBS (31) My sense, perhaps incorrect, is that the church is attempting to elevate the doctrine more. As I alluded, I think a lot of the backtracking on the topics was due to Pres. Hinkley (quite appropriately) trying to distance the Church from various speculative and often controversial theologies people held just because the proponents were prominent general authorities. To my eyes Pres. Hinkely was very concerned with what I’d call epistemic humility with regard to theology.

    Silver Rain (22) It’s interesting since of course many aspects of goddess worship were tied to cultic prostitution. Often this was due to the place of goddess worship in patriarchal societies rather than matriarchal ones. Not that there aren’t sometimes issues in matriarchal societies too, but my sense is that the drives are different. Likewise religion and government developed together and both are often tied to power and its exercise. While we can say there’s a true religious drive, almost always it’s also used as a form of control on society. Given that, using sex as a method of control by legitimizing certain aspects of it makes sense. (Not that always happened, and of course what drives particular societies in the particularies varies)

    Anyway, in the middle east I suspect the legacy of cultic prostitution and human sacrifice plays a huge place in the move against the broader Canaanite deities (which parallel Hebrew ones closely) While I’m somewhat skeptical of Margaret Barker’s often fairly speculative reconstructions of pre-exilic Israel, it does seem clear that what constitutes Israeli religion often is due to whatever apostasy movements are opposed. (Much like one could argue that LDS theology that develops in the 30’s through the 80’s can in many ways be seen as an opposition to the fundamentalist breakoffs on the issue not only of polygamy but other doctrines like Adam/God they tend to maintain)

  28. Clark, I think what people find misogynist about the way our church treats multiple marriages is the way men can be sealed to multiple women in this life but women cannot be sealed to multiple men (they can after they die, but the assumption is that they will choose one partner). It is this inbalance and its implications that are troublesome and objectionable, not necessarily the multiple marriage partners. Right now, a woman can be married to her second husband (but cannot be sealed to him) for decades with no expectation of being with him in the eternities.

  29. One big thing I grew up knowing about god: he had a name. I can’t say how much it sat ill with me growing up that I was taught I knew my father’s name but wasn’t allowed to know my mother’s. Post-mormon now, but I still think about this more often than I care to admit.

  30. Moss, I agree. And we definitely need more revelation on the matter. At a minimum I’d like to see them go to what they do for vicarious sealings and marry them and let god work out the details in the millennium. This would require a pretty new revelation though.

    I’d also like to see temple annulments better handled. There’s a lot there that could be done as a change in policy that doesn’t (at least from what I can tell) require a major new revelation. Likewise I think there’s a lot more that could be done at a ward level in providing better models for young women. Giving ushering responsibilities to young women as well as young men, equalizing scouts and activity days more (although some wards like mine do well and also are inclusive in pinewood derbies and the like of young girls). Things have improved a lot the past 20 years but more could be done.

    As I said I suspect we all likely agree upon more than it appears at first glance. I just get a bit squeamish at how people really don’t acknowledge the high level of ignorance we all have theologically nor the amount of revelation really necessary to change things. (And the assumption they’ll change in a particular way with further light and knowledge)


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