Mormonism and the nature of God/Heavenly Mother

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Mormon belief in a female divine "Heavenly Mother"


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Gospel Topics: "Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them"

"Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Eliza R. Snow, a Church leader and poet, rejoiced over the doctrine that we are, in a full and absolute sense, children of God. “I had learned to call thee Father, / Thru thy Spirit from on high,” she wrote, “But, until the key of knowledge / Was restored, I knew not why.” Latter-day Saints have also been moved by the knowledge that their divine parentage includes a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father. Expressing that truth, Eliza R. Snow asked, “In the heav’ns are parents single?” and answered with a resounding no: “Truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.”45 That knowledge plays an important role in Latter-day Saint belief. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”[1]


Question: Do Latter-day Saints believe in a female divine person, a "Heavenly Mother" as counterpart to God, the Heavenly Father?

Latter-day Saints infer the existence of a Heavenly Mother through scripture and modern revelation

Because LDS theology rejects the doctrine of creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo) as a post-Biblical addition to Christian belief, and because they see God as embodied in human form while rejecting creedal Trinitarianism, having a female counterpart to Our Heavenly Father seems logical and almost inevitable. This is especially true given the LDS embrace of the doctrine of theosis, or human deification. Thus, the Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Father, and shares His attributes of perfection, holiness, and glory.

There is evidence for this doctrine in ancient Israel,[2] and within the Book of Mormon.[3]

As early as 1839, Joseph Smith taught the idea of a Heavenly Mother.[4] Eliza R. Snow composed a poem (later set to music) which provides the most well-known expression of this doctrine:[5]

In the heav´ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I´ve a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?

In 1909 the First Presidency, under Joseph F. Smith, wrote that

man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father [as an] offspring of celestial parentage...all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity....[6]

The 1995 statement issued by the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, entitled The Family: A Proclamation to the World, states that all men and women are children of heavenly parents (plural), which implies the existence of a Mother in Heaven.[7]

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.


Question: Are we allowed to pray to our "Heavenly Mother"?

It is not considered proper for members to pray to Mother in Heaven since there are no scriptural examples supporting such a practice

Despite these beliefs, Mother in Heaven plays virtually no role in LDS worship or teaching beyond that outlined above. It is not considered proper for members to pray to Mother in Heaven, since there are no prophetic or scriptural examples encouraging such a practice. Members of the Church pray as taught by the Savior, "Our Father, who art in heaven...." (Matthew 6:9, 3 Nephi 13:9, 3 Nephi 17:15, 3 Nephi 18:21, 3 Nephi 19:19-21, (italics added).)

Christ specifically says "After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father" in Matthew 6:9 and 3 Nephi 13:9. God condemns worship of Asherah (thought by many to perhaps be Heavenly Mother) in the Old Testament.[8]

As President Gordon B. Hinckley observed:

Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven...The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her...none of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.[9]

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes:

Latter-day Saints infer from authoritative sources of scripture and modern prophecy that there is a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejects the idea found in some religions that the spirits or souls of individual human beings are created ex nihilo. Rather it accepts literally the vital scriptural teaching as worded by Paul: "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." This and other scriptures underscore not only spiritual sibling relationships but heirship with God, and a destiny of joint heirship with Christ (Romans 8:16-18; cf. Malachi 2:10).

Latter-day Saints believe that all the people of earth who lived or will live are actual spiritual offspring of God the Eternal Father (Numbers 16:22; Hebrews 12:9). In this perspective, parenthood requires both father and mother, whether for the creation of spirits in the premortal life or of physical tabernacles on earth. A Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Heavenly Father. This concept leads Latter-day Saints to believe that she is like him in glory, perfection, compassion, wisdom, and holiness.

Elohim, the name-title for God, suggests the plural of the Caananite El or the Hebrew Eloah. It is used in various Hebrew combinations to describe the highest God. It is the majestic title of the ultimate deity. Genesis 1:27 reads, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them" (emphasis added), which may be read to mean that "God" is plural.

For Latter-day Saints, the concept of eternal family is more than a firm belief; it governs their way of life. It is the eternal plan of life, stretching from life before through life beyond mortality.

As early as 1839 the Prophet Joseph Smith taught the concept of an eternal mother, as reported in several accounts from that period. Out of his teaching came a hymn that Latter-day Saints learn, sing, quote, and cherish, "O My Father," by Eliza R. Snow. President Wilford Woodruff called it a revelation (Woodruff, p. 62). In the heav'ns are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason; truth eternal Tells me I've a mother there. When I leave this frail existence, When I lay this mortal by, Father, Mother, may I meet you In your royal courts on high? [Hymn no. 292]

In 1909 the First Presidency, under Joseph F. Smith, issued a statement on the origin of man that teaches that "man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father," as an "offspring of celestial parentage," and further teaches that "all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity" (Smith, pp. 199-205).

Belief that there is a Mother in Heaven who is a partner with God in creation and procreation is not the same as the heavy emphasis on Mariology in the Roman tradition.

Today the belief in a living Mother in Heaven is implicit in Latter-day Saint thought. Though the scriptures contain only hints, statements from presidents of the church over the years indicate that human beings have a Heavenly Mother as well as a Heavenly Father.[10]

We do not know the exact reason by which God has commanded us to only pray unto him and not Heavenly Mother. Whatever the reason, there are two things we can definitely rule out:

  1. Heavenly Mother being muzzled by a sexist, patriarchal Heavenly Father or not being in total unity with the Father in their decision to have her be more silent—seeing as she has to be in unity with Heavenly Father to be a goddess (3 Nephi 11:27).
  2. Heavenly Mother being muzzled by a sexist, patriarchal prophet.
  3. Heavenly Mother "needs protection" from the blasphemy of her name among us mortals.

She's a mother and a goddess. If she felt that she needed to speak to her children more directly, her power and glory, much greater than any of ours as mortals, could and would be wielded to speak to us.

You are not going to get different answers by praying to Heavenly Mother than you are to Heavenly Father. Again, she is one with God and would answer the same as him. As a goddess herself, she knows that the Godhead works in complete unity one with another. She would do the same.

Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

Very little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library application.[11] Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more. You too may still have questions and want to find more answers. Seeking greater understanding is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious. Reason cannot replace revelation. Speculation will not lead to greater spiritual knowledge, but it can lead us to deception or divert our focus from what has been revealed.[12] For example, the Savior taught His disciples, “Always pray unto the Father in my name.”[13] We follow this pattern and direct our worship to our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ and do not pray to Heavenly Mother.[14][15]


Question: Is it true that little is known about our Heavenly Mother because she is "protected"?

This idea is simply speculation, and has no basis in scripture or Latter-day Saint doctrine

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that God has a wife. This Heavenly Mother has been claimed to not receive much mention in Latter-day Saint theology. In trying to understand why Heavenly Mother is not mentioned frequently in Latter-day Saint discourse, Church members have circulated an idea that Heavenly Mother is not mentioned because the father wants to protect her from blasphemy and maligning.

Contrary to popular belief, there actually hasn't been a singular General Authority that has advanced the notion. Additionally, references to Heavenly Mother by General Authorities are actually multitudinous as has been demonstrated by David Paulsen and Martin Pulido. These teachings have "explored her roles as a fully divine being, a creator of worlds with the Father, a coframer of the plan of salvation, and a concerned and involved parent of her children on earth."[16] There have been no revelations that have told us why we don't know more about her. Church members who have arrived at this conclusion have evidently done so based on poor information. Church members should be more careful in how they theologize this.

If, as President Gordon B. Hinckley has stated, a prayer to Heavenly Mother cannot "add to or diminish her glory,"[17] then certainly blaspheming against her cannot harm her either. She is a goddess and thus much more powerful than any human being. She won't need protection from us.


Question: Is Heavenly Mother not talked about more because the prophets are sexist?

Introduction to Question

Critics assert that leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not seek revelation about Heavenly Mother because they do not want to know about her. These critics believe that a supposed “cultural belief” of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is that men are inherently superior to women and thus the prophets only seek revelation from God the Father and not God the Mother.

Additionally, it is sometimes asserted that Jesus was sexist in the scriptures because he instructed his followers to always pray unto the Father when praying to God (3 Nephi 18: 19-21, 23, 30).

This article will provide a brief response to this question.

Response to Question

Heavenly Mother Would Answer Prayers the Same as Heavenly Father

The first point is that Mother in Heaven would answer prayers in the exact same way as Heavenly Father. You do not miss anything by not praying to her. Some people feel that praying to the Mother will yield a different answer and/or spiritual feeling than when praying to the Father. But the Mother is going to be in total unity with the Father. Thus, when you pray to the Father and receive spiritual impressions from Him, you can be assured that the Mother is in total alignment with the Father and that you would not feel differently if you were praying to her.

Heavenly Mother is in Unity with the Father, Christ, and Prophet

The second point is that Mother in Heaven must be in unity with the Father, Christ, and the Prophet. If the instruction by Jesus to pray only unto the Father and/or our lack of knowledge about her were obviously wrong, we would hear about it. Nothing can keep a Mother from her children.

The thought that it might just be a sexist prophet or Heavenly Father patriarchally asserting their dominance over Mother in Heaven and restricting her from revealing herself to humanity more is frankly laughable. She is a goddess and has infinitely more power than the prophet.

All this to say that there has to be something deeper going on that we need to be sensitive to and seek out more. Her silence must be something that goes deeper than mere sexism.

It should also be mentioned that prophets have spoken repeatedly about Heavenly Mother.[18] They obviously want to know more about her. It's highly improbable that they have kept back knowledge about her by their own biases since their biases clearly lean towards learning more about her. Elder Dale G. Renlund stated plainly that "[v]ery little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven, but what we do know is summarized in a gospel topic found in our Gospel Library application.[19] Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject. I wish I knew more."[20] Learning more about her would certainly solidify and illuminate Latter-day Saint doctrines of marriage, sex, deification, and morality.

Keep in Mind What Sexism Actually Is

We’ve written a modest philosophical essay on the FAIR Wiki about sexism and how to properly define it. We recommend that, if the reader hasn’t had the chance to get through that, they read that now.

As one can see, part of the definition of sexism is that providing justice is possible but not acted on. The possibility of justice can be defined in terms of morality or practical circumstances. We cannot accept that sexism is something that God endorses. He has declared that “he inviteth all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembered the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33, emphasis added). There must be a moral and/or practical reason that Heavenly Father and Mother cannot reveal more about Heavenly Mother to us.

What could that reason be? It’s very unwise to commit ourselves dogmatically to any reason. Elder Dallin H. Oaks observed the following in relation to the priesthood and temple restriction but it easily applies here:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[21]

Elder Renlund made the same point in relation to Heavenly Mother:

You too may still have questions and want to find more answers. Seeking greater understanding is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious. Reason cannot replace revelation. Speculation will not lead to greater spiritual knowledge, but it can lead us to deception or divert our focus from what has been revealed.[22][20]

Thus, let’s not commit to any reason dogmatically. Let’s consider potential reasons in a spirit of prayer and humility but then not teach those reasons as the reasons for silence.

Conclusion

In the 21st century, questions about sexism in Church doctrine, history, and practice are going to abound. We need to be ready to give "a reason for the hope that is in [us]" (1 Peter 3:15). To do that we will continue to need to be sharp moral thinkers and courageous in pushing back against these accusations so that we can hold a place in the marketplace of ideas.


BYU Studies, ""A Mother There": A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven"

David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido,  BYU Studies 50/1 (2011)
Since the 1840s, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) have taught that in addition to a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. This cherished doctrine has been an important, although relatively obscure, part of the Latter-day Saint understanding of the premortal origins and divine nature of humankind. The authors, a professor and a student of philosophy at Brigham Young University, present historical statements by Mormon leaders about Mother in Heaven. Contrary to criticism in some quarters, Church leaders have not relegated this deity to a confined role. Statements from the late 1840s onward show that leaders and influential Latter-day Saints have explored her roles as a fully divine being, a creator of worlds with the Father, a coframer of the plan of salvation, and a concerned and involved parent of her children on earth.

Click here to view the complete article

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Notes

  1. "Becoming Like God," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (February 25, 2014)
  2. Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, "Does God Have a Wife? Review of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 81–118. off-site wiki
  3. See Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11:8–23," in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, edited by Davis Bitton, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1998). [191-243] direct off-site A shorter version of this article is also available in Daniel C. Peterson, "Nephi and His Asherah," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (2000): 16–25. off-site wiki
  4. Elaine Anderson Cannon, "Mother in Heaven," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), :961. off-site
  5. This is Hymn #292 in the current LDS hymnal ("O My Father"). Written at Joseph Smith's death, the poem was originally published as Eliza R. Snow, "Invocation," Times and Seasons 6 no. 17 (15 November 1845), 1039. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.) (See Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (Oxford University Press, 2007), 168. ISBN 0195167112. ISBN 978-0195167115.)
  6. Messages of the First Presidency, edited by James R. Clark, Vol. 4, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 205–206. GL direct link (italics added). Originally in First Presidency, "[Evolution:Primary_sources:First_Presidency_1909 The Origin of Man]," Improvement Era 13 (November 1909), 61–75.
  7. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," Ensign (November 1995), 102. (Statement issued by President Gordon B. Hinckley on 23 September 1995.) off-site
  8. "Asherah," Bible Study Tools, accessed June 23, 2022, https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/asherah/.
  9. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Daughters of God," Ensign (November 1991), 97.
  10. Elaine Anderson Cannon, "Mother in Heaven," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:961.
  11. See Gospel Topics, “Heavenly Parents.” Another resource providing information on this subject is the Gospel Topics essay “Mother in Heaven” (topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
  12. Even sincere questions about partially revealed or unrevealed truths can lead us to look “beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14). In particular, we need to rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19), Jesus Christ. Suggesting the need for something more than what Jesus Christ offers effectively diminishes the scope and power of His infinite Atonement. In so doing we divert our attention from the ultimate “source [to which we should] look for a remission of [our] sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).
  13. 3 Nephi 18:19.
  14. See, for example, Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 47.
  15. Dale G. Renlund, "Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny," Liahona 45, no. 5 (May 2022).
  16. David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, "A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven," BYU Studies 50:1 (2011): 71-97.
  17. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Daughters of God," General Conference (October 1991).
  18. David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, "A Mother There': A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven," BYU Studies Quarterly 50, no. 1 (2011): 70–97.
  19. See Gospel Topics, “Heavenly Parents.” Another resource providing information on this subject is the Gospel Topics essay “Mother in Heaven” (topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
  20. 20.0 20.1 Dale G. Renlund, "Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny," Liahona 45, no. 5 (May 2022). Emphasis added in 3.0.
  21. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  22. Even sincere questions about partially revealed or unrevealed truths can lead us to look “beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14). In particular, we need to rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” (2 Nephi 31:19), Jesus Christ. Suggesting the need for something more than what Jesus Christ offers effectively diminishes the scope and power of His infinite Atonement. In so doing we divert our attention from the ultimate “source [to which we should] look for a remission of [our] sins” (2 Nephi 25:26).

Best articles to read next

The best article(s) to read next on this topic is/are:

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "Daughters of God," Ensign (November 1991), 97.
  2. Kevin L. Barney, "Do We Have a Mother in Heaven?," (Mesa, Arizona: FAIR, 27 June 2001).
  3. Elaine Anderson Cannon, "Mother in Heaven," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:961.
  4. Alyson Skabelund Von Feldt, "Does God Have a Wife? Review of Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel," FARMS Review 19/1 (2007): 81–118. off-site wiki