This guest post comes to us from Christian Anderson.
It’s always nice to hear how the old folks at home are doing. It seems like we’ve been hearing more and more about Them recently.
Back in April 2013, Ziff (http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/04/29/heavenly-parents-are-we-really-talking-about-you-more/ and references therein) noted that there seemed to be an increasing number of references to “Heavenly Parents” in General Conference and more widely in church materials. This post discusses three aspects of that trend: 1) It has not only continued but accelerated over the last three years, 2) there has been a shift in which authorities are mentioning Them, and 3) the fraught issue of capitalization.
An accelerating trend
Few speakers mentioned Heavenly Parents in the decades before 1995, with an average of 0.48 references per year (that’s both April and October conferences combined). That all changed with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, which affirms in its third sentence that each human being is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents”, triggering seven references to Heavenly Parents that year. In the years 1996-2012, references to “Heavenly Parents” nearly tripled to 1.41 references per year (p=0.0057), but never more than three in any one year. 2013 saw a spike to a record nine references, followed by a fall back to one reference in 2014, a return to nine references in 2015, and finally a grand total of 15 references this year. Exactly half of the 56 talks that mention Heavenly Parents have been delivered in the last four years.
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. Read More
The For the Strength of Youth booklet makes a good point about agency:
While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences. Whether for good or bad, consequences follow as a natural result of the choices you make.
There have been a couple of notable instances recently of Church leaders appearing to not believe in this connection between their own choices and consequences of those choices.
The Church’s new gospel topics essay on Mother in Heaven says the following:
Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother.
I think it’s interesting that this is a descriptive statement and not a prescriptive one. It doesn’t say that we should not pray or must not pray to Heavenly Mother. It doesn’t say that if we pray to Heavenly Mother, we’ll face Church discipline. It just says that we do not pray to her.
One of the doctrinal situations in the church that many feminists (and even some non-feminists) find particularly challenging is our lack of knowledge about Heavenly Mother. We know that she exists—this has been reiterated by a recent gospel topics essay—but, troublingly, we are not allowed to pray to her or worship her. I’ve personally blogged about the topic a couple of times—once about why I don’t want to believe in her (because she’s silent and subordinate), and once about why I do (because I want to believe that women are equal in the eternities). Every time this topic gets discussed, I encounter women sharing the deep desire to have a connection not just to an eternal father, but to a mother as well. It’s not good enough just to have a father, they say; we also need the influence of a mother in our lives.
It is worth noting, however, that these kinds of arguments are exactly those being made against same-sex marriage. Children need opposite-sex parents. It’s not enough to have just a father (or a mother)—they need the influence of the opposite sex as well.
I’ve always thought that a big positive of the Proclamation on the Family is that it mentions Heavenly Mother. Or to be more precise, it mentions Heavenly Parents. Here’s a quote from the section where they’re brought up:
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.
I have always read “heavenly parents” here to mean a heavenly couple: Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. But I was part of an online discussion recently in which Nancy Ross (who you might know from the papers she has co-written on Mormon feminism) pointed out that the wording here is completely compatible with the possibility of a polygamous Heavenly Father married to many Heavenly Mothers. “Heavenly parents” could be two (as I’ve always read it) or it could be 50 or 10001. Another participant in the discussion, Melissa Mayhew (who you may know from her blogging as Rune at Feminist Mormon Housewives), suggested that it would be interesting to look at other statements GAs have made about Heavenly Mother to see if they’re also compatible with a multiple-Heavenly Mother reading. I thought that was a great idea, so that’s what I’ll be doing in this post.
In May of 2010, I was standing alone in my new room after having just started a new job for the summer working the dorms at BYU. I had just finished completely unpacking, and everything was in place and orderly. And it was at that moment, when all seemed settled, that I decided I had to leave.
There I was, just done with my first year at BYU. The past year and a half of my life had been spent fighting against a thought that started as a small flicker but overtime became impossible to push back. That struggle had been spent with what seemed like virtually constant prayer, and I was feeling very close to God at that time in my life—closer than I had ever felt before.
And so, I sat down at the end of my bed and said a simple, to the point prayer. . It wasn’t a prayer of asking—I am much too decisive a person for that. I said something like “Hey. I know I just unpacked and everything. But I can take it no more, and I have decided to leave the church. No one understands my struggle better than you—you’ve been with me through it all. But I can’t do it anymore. I do not feel welcome, and I do not feel that this is my home. I’m starving slowly and I am finding no nourishment in this church. I am scared if I stay much longer, the damage will not be reversible and I’ll never recover. So, I have decided to leave. I’ll transfer to a new school. I’ll move on from this.” Read More
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is built upon the idea that we can seek answers to fundamental questions about ourselves and our relationship with God. Many celebrate the peace they find in the church through having answers to life’s deepest questions. However, I would contend, that many of the essential doctrines of the church are much more clear when they are applied to men than when they are applied to women. Subsequently, among members of the church, there appears to be a wider variety of opinions about how these doctrines apply to women, while the application of these doctrines for men is much less contended. Below, I have listed three essential areas of doctrine in which I think this is the case. Read More
When Beatrice and I were serving together as missionaries, we were lucky enough to be in a district that included the mission offices. The APs and office Elders were in our district, so more often than not we held district meetings in a cozy conference room in the main mission office building, giving us frequent occasion to see the Mission President and his wife.
Throughout our companionship, Beatrice mentioned to me that she had questions about the role of women as depicted in the temple endowment. We discussed it a few times in companionship study, and then – taking advantage of our proximity to the mission leaders – one day we decided to take the issue to the wife of the MP. To be clear, we didn’t openly dissect elements of the endowment that are considered private or sacred. We talked about the sorts of things that are commonly parsed on fMh, Exponent II, and here at ZD: the hearken covenant; women veiling their faces; the almost complete silence of Eve and lack of other female characters in the pre-mortal realm; and other, similar issues. Read More
The LDS church is often portrayed (and not without reason) as a highly authoritarian institution. When the prophet speaks, you’re expected to listen. But every Latter-day Saint knows that this comes with a significant caveat. If you’re skeptical about something you hear, you can skip all intermediaries and go directly to God for your own answer. Church directives come with a built-in loophole, and even with some official acknowledgment that general principles might not apply to everyone–for example, the oft-quoted comment from a talk by Boyd K. Packer that “we’d like not to take care of the exception first. We will take care of the rule first, and then we will see to the exceptions,” (which acknowledges the existence of exceptions), or the comment in the Proclamation on the Family that “other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.” If you’re struggling with some practice or doctrine, you don’t have to simply swallow it; you’re expected to individually work it out with God. Read More
(In case you missed our April 1 transformation)
It’s high time I confess a heresy that may put me at odds both with many Mormons and with many feminists: I’m not really all that enamored of the idea of the divine feminine, of the doctrine that we have a Heavenly Mother.
I don’t recall when I first encountered the teaching that we have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Father—though I can say that the idea that Heavenly Father had multiple wives was one that rather horrified me (it still does). But even beyond the potential polygamy problem, the notion of an Eternal Mother was one that left me feeling a bit icky. I projected the kinds of saccharine rhetoric about women that I heard about church onto her, imagining a Mother who was always soft-spoken and dripping with sentimentality. I figured that if such a divine personage did indeed exist, I didn’t want anything to do with her.
In writing papers for school, I continually find myself confronted with questions about language and gender. Like most of the academic world, I pretty much take it for granted that saying “man” and “he” simply isn’t going to cut it if I’m talking about the entire human race. The lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular is awkward at times– my own preference is usually to alternate between “she” and “he”– but I’m very much a believer in the importance of not writing as if all humans were male. Read More