FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of the doctrine, practice, and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormonism and the nature of God/Worship of God
How Mormons worship God
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- Question: Does the Church violate the Biblical command against "graven images" by displays sculptures of Christ?
- Question: Are we allowed to pray to our "Heavenly Mother"?
Question: Does the Church violate the Biblical command against "graven images" by displays sculptures of Christ?
Exodus 20:3-4 does not mean that one cannot have pictures, statues, or images of earthly or heavenly things in one's home or in church
It is claimed that the Church violates the Biblical command against "graven images" because it displays sculptures of Christ, statues of the angel Moroni on the spires of our temples, or paintings showing scriptural scenes, within temples, chapels, visitors' centers, and publications. (See Exodus 20:3-4.)
- God is the revelator of the verses in question, and
- God is God, and
- Moses was there and heard firsthand,
one should side with God and Moses and say that Exodus 20:3 does not mean that one cannot have pictures, statues, or images of earthly or heavenly things in one's home or in church.
Instead one should stick with the unambiguous interpretation of this principle that is given in Exodus 34:17, "Thou shalt make thee no molten gods." We are commanded not to worship images, or anything else besides God, and members of the Church do not.
It is ironic that those who accuse the LDS of not being Christians then complain that the Saints use images of Christ to remind them of their worship of him.
The prohibition in Exodus 20 is not the production of graven images per se but the bowing down and serving of such images
The prohibition in Exodus 20: (see also Deuteronomy 5:) is not the production of graven images per se but the bowing down and serving of such images. We should remember that God later commanded the construction of the seraphim and cherubim for the ark (Exodus 25:17-22, Exodus 37:8-9) and temple of Solomon (1 Kings 6:23-35, 1 Kings 8:6-7), and the veneration given to the Ark of the Covenant, as well as the brass serpent (Numbers 21:6-9).
In similar fashion, Latter-day Saints do not bow down and serve/worship images of Moroni and images of past and present leaders.
One of the facts that must be reconciled with any interpretation of Exodus 20:3-4 is that the Bible states that God explicitly commanded that the Israelites make images and include them in their holiest places of worship. The text explicitly says that these images were revealed to Moses while he was on the mount (Exodus 25:40 and Exodus 26:30), meaning that they were given at the same time as the Ten Commandments and are part of the environment in which Exodus 20 must be interpreted.
- Exodus 25:18-20: God commands that gold Cherubim be made to cover the mercy seat in the tabernacle. (Exodus 37:7-9 says that Moses made the image.)
- Exodus 25:33: God commands that the tabernacle bowls be almond-shaped with flowers. (Exodus 37:19 says that Moses made the image.)
- Exodus 26:1: God commands that Cherubim be fashioned on the Tabernacle curtains. (Exodus 36:8 says that Moses made the image.)
- Exodus 26:31: God commands that Cherubim be on the vail of the temple. (Exodus 36:35 says that Moses made the image.)
- Exodus 28:33: God commands that pomegranates be sewn onto the hem of the high priest's robe. (Exodus 39:24-26 says that Moses made the image.)
And Moses did look upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the LORD had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them. (Exodus 39:43).
Furthermore, we have not even mentioned all the images that were used during the construction of Solomon's Temple, such as the oxen holding up the brass sea (see 1 Kings 7:25) or the lions, oxen, and cherubim on the base (see 1 Kings 7:29).
Those people who reject all images of things on earth or in heaven have an interpretation of Exodus 20:3-4 that doesn't agree with God's interpretation of those verses or with Moses' interpretation of those verses.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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).
- Heavenly Mother being muzzled by a sexist, patriarchal prophet.
- 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. 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. For example, the Savior taught His disciples, “Always pray unto the Father in my name.” 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.
- "Asherah," Bible Study Tools, accessed June 23, 2022, https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/asherah/.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, "Daughters of God," Ensign (November 1991), 97.
- Elaine Anderson Cannon, "Mother in Heaven," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:961.
- See Gospel Topics, “Heavenly Parents.” Another resource providing information on this subject is the Gospel Topics essay “Mother in Heaven” (topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
- 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).
- 3 Nephi 18:19.
- See, for example, Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2009, 47.
- Dale G. Renlund, "Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny," Liahona 45, no. 5 (May 2022).