God Our Parent

One of the things I think Mormonism does best is cultivate the idea that God is literally our Father in Heaven; he’s our dad. We have several unique doctrines that seem to make such a belief easier for us. First, God has a body of flesh and bone. This immediately makes it easier to picture God. We’re created in His own image, therefore, it isn’t a stretch to get an idea of what He looks like. We might even picture ourselves giving him a hug or standing face to face with him.

Second, we don’t just believe in God the Father, but in Heavenly Parents. Knowing we have a Mother contributes to the literalness of our belief in God as Father. Third, we have an elder brother, Jesus Christ, and we refer to each other as brothers and sisters. Again, this helps our image of God and each other as a family unit.

My favorite part of the doctrine that God is our parent is that it’s something I can relate to. Unlike other things about God (He’s perfect, He’s all-knowing, He’s all-powerful, He’s handsome) I can relate to the part about being a parent. The parallels are there and they aren’t few.

I know what it’s like to get frustrated at my kids and still love them. I know what it’s like to just want what’s best for them and be worried about them. I know I love them no matter what (take that stupid Ensign article that says God loves us conditionally!), and that I’ll always be there for them. The doctrine that God is our parent gives me insight into what God wants for us.

A few weeks ago, we were shopping at Satan’s Outlet (Wal-mart) and my two-year old, Ethan, insists on walking everywhere. Just you try putting him in a stroller or a cart. "E-E walk, E-E walk, E-E walk!" will reverberate for miles (he’s getting better at pronouncing his name, but he still calls himself "E-E", and refers to himself in the third-person, a la Seinfeld). As Ethan and I walked down the aisles, he refused to let me hold his hand, another sign of his independent streak. But as a stranger would walk by, if they got too close, he’d reach up and squeeze my hand for a few seconds, then let go when the person had passed. It was a delightful little moment.

It made me think that this is what God wants for us. He wants us to be independent and do things on our own, but He’ll be there if we need to squeeze His hand. But for some reason, it made me think about another aspect of parenthood and God. I don’t want my kids worshipping me. Far from it. I want them to learn to rely on themselves and their own strength. I don’t want them to give the glory and the credit to me. They deserve a lot of it, as do many other mentors and teachers.

So I wondered, why does God want us to worship Him? Or does He even want us to worship him – perhaps it’s mankind’s invention to worship God? Sure, He wants us to look up to Him and be like Him because He’s perfect, but why worship? Seems a bit insecure of God, if you ask me. If you’re a member of a Protestant religion, why we worship God isn’t an issue. He’s the mysterious fellow in the sky and we need to please Him, so we worship Him. But in Mormonism, it’s a bit trickier. After all, in Mormonism, God isn’t the embodiment of righteousness or love, He’s just a part of it. God, we learn, can cease to exist. He’s not God just for the fun of it; He’s God because He was once like us and has grown to become perfect. Someday we may be His equal.

So why does God want us to worship Him? Or are we misguided in this venture – should we only be worshipping His perfection and attributes, hoping we can become like that? That we should worship God is a major departure from His parent-like attributes I can’t quite figure out.

Comments

  1. Interesting thoughts John. It seems that part of the problem is the definition of worship. It’s difficult to imagine once we’re in His presence that He’d allow us to bow down to him like a servant to a king, worshipping Him. But I think He wants us to love Him so much that we will do everything we can to be and act like Him. When we look at how people worship other people (Axl Rose, Michael Jordan, Tom Cruise, etc) they don’t particularly fall at their feet worshipping them, but rather try to be like them.

  2. Ewok! Ewok! Ewok! hmmm

    Of course, Rusty, when the Savior appeared after his resurrection, both in the Old World and the New, he allowed the people to bow down and worship him and even kiss his feet. Now, that moment appears to have come and passed–I suspect that he may have had enough after a while and asked folks to stop (sort of like I get tired of people that run around spouting “Praise Jesus” or “Thank you Jesus”–but maybe I’m just projecting).

  3. I used to feel the same until I read CS Lewis’ comments on prayer. He says I pray not because of what it does to God, but because of what it does to me. I’m confident it’s the same with worship in general (since prayer is just one form of worship). God doesn’t ask us to do it from any sense of vanity or need on his part, other than the need for us to grow by being the kind of people that subject ourselves in humility to ask Him and thank Him for everything, as if it all depended on Him.

  4. Great post, very moving. I guess having that kind of connection with our Heavenly Father is the ultimate goal. Interesting that Christ, when worshipped, asks us to direct all praise and glory to His Father.

  5. I also appreciate the doctrine of a Heavenly Father or of God the Father.

    I am also aware that this (among other things) is going to be a major doctrinal stumbling block for Muslims to accept (assuming the gospel will go to that part of the world), since the Quran and ahadith repeatedly state that Allah does not beget and that nothing is comparable to him.

  6. With all due respect to John’s good post:

    One of the things I think Mormonism does best is cultivate the idea that God is literally our Mother in Heaven; she’s our mom. We have several unique doctrines that seem to make such a belief easier for us. First, God has a body of flesh and bone. This immediately makes it easier to picture God. We’re created in Her own image, therefore, it isn’t a stretch to get an idea of what She looks like. We might even picture ourselves giving her a hug or standing face to face with her.

    Second, we don’t just believe in God the Mother, but in Heavenly Parents. Knowing we have a Father contributes to the literalness of our belief in God as Mother. Third, we have an elder brother, Jesus Christ, and we refer to each other as brothers and sisters. Again, this helps our image of God and each other as a family unit.

    My favorite part of the doctrine that God is our parent is that it’s something I can relate to. Unlike other things about God (She’s perfect, She’s all-knowing, She’s all-powerful, She’s beautiful) I can relate to the part about being a parent. The parallels are there and they aren’t few.

    She’s not God just for the fun of it; She’s God because She was once like us and has grown to become perfect. Someday we may be Her equal.

    So why don’t we worship Her?

  7. LR:

    I think you’ve got a very valid point. One of the things I left out of my post, is that I can also relate to God as a parent because He’s a father, as am I. I know many women, for whatever reason, don’t seem to struggle with relating to God despite the gender difference. But some do, and I think their complaint is legitimate. Fathers are inherently different than mothers (duh!)

    My son Matthew was born two months premature and spent a month in the newborn ICU at the University of Utah. Emily’s (my wife) needs were very different from my needs. She needed to go up there whenever possible, hold him, spend time with him. I *hated* the ICU. I hated seeing the tubes hooked up to my kid, I hated the alarms always going off. I hated it!!! So I needed to know he was well taken care of, even though I didn’t need to be next to him the way my wife did.

    I think we do shortchange Mormon women by not making Mother in Heaven a greater part of our worship and allowing women to relate to Her in the same marvelous way I can relate to God the Father.

  8. David King Landrith says:

    LR, are you really interested in worshiping an exalted woman that sits enthroned in yonder heavens. Does it pain you that the concept of Jesus being our Elder Brother doesn’t imply an elder sister who worked with him to atone for our sins?

  9. Steve: Interesting that Christ, when worshipped, asks us to direct all praise and glory to His Father.

    For some reason, I was suddenly reminded of the instance in 1 Nephi, chapter 17, where (after Nephi administers a “shock” to his brothers) Laman and Lemuel attempted to worship Nephi: “And they fell down before me, and were about to worship me, but I would not suffer them, saying: I am thy brother, yea, even thy younger brother; wherefore, worship the Lord thy God, and honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee.”

  10. DKL: Does it pain you that the concept of Jesus being our Elder Brother doesn’t imply an elder sister who worked with him to atone for our sins?

    Hmmm. If Jesus really was married to Mary Magdalene (and I have no trouble accepting that as being true, myself), I wonder how much of what he knew he had yet to accomplish while he was still in mortality there was that he shared with her ahead of time. Maybe her suffering in this has been overlooked by us. That’s not to say that she shared in carrying out the atonement, but it makes me wonder where she was during that long night.

  11. Lovely post John. And love the comment LR.

  12. David, it’s easy and not uncommon to have brothers and no sisters. It’s not quite so easy to have fathers and no mothers. Accordingly, the fact that a brother had to sacrifice to atone for our sins is not incongruous as a father with no mother is, so it’s not as odd-sounding to my mind.

    Are you really interested in worshipping an exalted man that sits enthroned in yonder heavens? Are you opposed to worshipping an exalted woman that sits enthroned in yonder heavens? What’s the difference? Is there something less glorious about an exalted woman than there is about an exalted man? If neither can achieve exaltation alone, why reserve the worship for anything less than the whole? Can I express love, respect, admiration, honor and reverence for my Father and ignore my Mother, or vice versa, and still be considered a good child?

    One of the beauties of Mormon doctrine is that it gives humans the opportunity to relate to godhood in a very personal, familiar, parental way. John has very thoughtfully pointed this out.

    We’ve all had parents and we’ve all got some kind of idea what a good parent should be; LDS beliefs acknowledge that God is a perfect parent. All I’ve tried to express is that the image of God doesn’t need to be limited to the paternal, it can, and should, be broadened to include the maternal as well.

    That is one of the beauties of the Gospel: Everyone – male and female – can become like God and women don’t have to give up their inherent feminine traits in order to become perfect any more than men need to give up their inherent masculinity to do the same. We can each look in the mirror and see the face of God-in-embryo. We can each look forward to becoming a perfect parent.

  13. David King Landrith says:

    Wow, JL. That’s a lot of questions. Here’s my answers.

    JL: Are you really interested in worshipping an exalted man that sits enthroned in yonder heavens?

    Yes.

    JL: Are you opposed to worshipping an exalted woman that sits enthroned in yonder heavens?

    Yes, for now.

    JL: What’s the difference?

    We’ve been specifically commanded by prophets and by Jesus to worship the Father and pray to the Father.

    JL: Is there something less glorious about an exalted woman than there is about an exalted man?

    I haven’t the faintest idea. Just the same, I doubt it.

    JL: If neither can achieve exaltation alone, why reserve the worship for anything less than the whole?

    Because we’ve been instructed to do so by the prophets and by Jesus.

    JL: Can I express love, respect, admiration, honor and reverence for my Father and ignore my Mother… and still be considered a good child?

    Evidently. Neither God nor his prophets will command, councel, or instruct us to do things that will interfere with our salvation.

    JL: One of the beauties of Mormon doctrine is that it gives humans the opportunity to relate to godhood in a very personal, familiar, parental way.

    That’s more than I know. John’s post doesn’t make any sense to me except as a poignant metaphore.

  14. I equate worship with acknowledgement and respect. A synonym in the dictionary is to revere.

    How worship is expressed varies and, having spent a couple years at a charismatic church before joining the LDS one, I understand their mindset though I don’t fully support it. I got into a big argument on a religion board once about this because I asked someone how their mom and dad would feel if they were always calling them up and saying what great parents they are, how much you love them, how awesome they are, ad nauseum. I simply asked, would they like to be told that all the time or maybe just now and then and really to show your love for them by being the adult they raised you to be and go out and succeed?

  15. If I may:

    “JL [sic]: Is there something less glorious about an exalted woman than there is about an exalted man?”

    Not that I am aware of. However, I do see somethings that are glaringly different between God and the rest of us (both men and women): 1) He is and always has been divine. 2) He had the capacity and the volition to participate in an atonement

  16. “We’ve been specifically commanded by prophets and by Jesus to worship the Father and pray to the Father.”

    But DKL, don’t you see it as even a little problematic that men are dictating how women should worship? We can relate to God because of our gender; it’s not even an issue we’d even stop to think about twice. For some women, they can’t relate as well, and it seems the high point of irony that a bunch of men tell women they’re wrong and to essentially “get with the program.”

    Prophets, for all their inspiration and guidance, can’t step out of their own skin and relate to another gender – they can’t stop being who they are. Therefore, if we see part of Joseph Smith infused into the Book of Mormon, and into early Church revelations, and if we see human fallibility infused into the Church’s early attitudes towards blacks, is it so unreasonable to assume that current attitudes towards women and worshipping a Mother in Heaven stem from cultural influences, and not revelation?

  17. “But DKL, don’t you see it as even a little problematic that men are dictating how women should worship? We can relate to God because of our gender; it’s not even an issue we’d even stop to think about twice. For some women, they can’t relate as well, and it seems the high point of irony that a bunch of men tell women they’re wrong and to essentially “get with the program.””

    Why is it weirder that they should say it rather than a woman should say it? I guess I don’t quite fathom the important of sex in all this. We could just as easily say that it is problematic that Americans are telling Europeans how to worship or any other divide.

    Certainly, as you say, no one can step out of their skin. But that implies that the “skin” is causing a problem here. Put an other way, why should we assume the problem is with the brethren and not the women who wish to worship a mother in heaven? Why do you assume it is the brethren who are trapped in the artifice of cultural and gender attitudes and not the critics?

  18. Clark,

    Because I prefer to take the word of those who are experiencing the disconnect. It seems no different than a straight person telling a gay person that they don’t have to be gay and it’s all a choice. Or it’s just a struggle that they need to overcome. It’s like a white person telling a black person that they really haven’t experienced racism or bigotry, they’re just paranoid and it’s all in their head. Or that they just need to “deal with it.”

    I believe it when some women say they’d like to know more about Mother in Heaven so they can relate to the divine in a more personal way. And it hardly seems like it’s *anyone’s* place to tell them they can’t do it – be it John Hatch or Gordon B. Hinckley.

    We can just as easily turn the question around: Why do we always err on the side of Church leaders? Why do we seem to assume that they’ve prayed about this issue and have received direct inspiration? They’ve never claimed any. And perhaps that’s why I tend to assume they are dragging their cultural baggage into it. It might be a different story if there was a teeny bit of sympathy. If we heard a statement like, “We understand and sympathize that some women feel unable to relate to a Father in Heaven, and desire instead to relate to a Mother in Heaven. We have therefore have prayed and taken this issue to the Lord, who has instructed us that, for the time being, men and women are to worship God the Father.”

    Far fetched? Sure. But it’s something I could understand a lot more than just authoritative statements from a group of men who have never hinted that they’ve examined the issue beyond their own personal discomfort because “it’s just not the way we do things ’round here.”

  19. Seems like this thread needs to link to the others that have embraced the same quesions.

    e.g.

    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2004/11/ahh_margaret_to.html

    Give it a moment of thought from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have any ego caught up in the moment.

    I’m not sure what this means.

    A long time ago I did a myth cycle, with one of the characters a hero who refused to become a god or accept worship.

    I thought a lot about that (and yes, I’m aware that the flaws in our worship this our fault rather than God’s.).

    Why would someone want worship? If you don’t have the ego need for it?

    It reminds me of a discussion I had today with another attorney I respect. There are attorneys who make it big and then retire to other things. Others who keep it up well into the hundreds of millions of dollars — money is a way of keeping score, not a means to another end.

    Again, ask yourself if the quality of our worship is something anyone would be denied by not getting? Assuming that our heavenly parents do not have ego needs for worship, what else is there to it that benefits the person on the other end? Surely, when my child cries out in the middle of the night and I get up to comfort them, that is one thing.

    But, when my kid is asking me to buy them candy in the grocery store (which I use as an example because she doesn’t) does it make me happy to be the one to tell her “no” again?

    As far as I can tell, our worship is a burden on God, when Christ speaks of the greatest being the servant of all, he is making a critical point. When he washes the apostles feet, he makes it again.

    Please explain to me why there would be any competition to be the one washing our feet in this life, remembering that there is plenty of diaper changing and foot washing to go around in the “pre-existance” (to quote a fable) and in the next life.

    If there is a division of labor, if the Holy Ghost does something different than God does, which is something different from Christ, etc., why is this world and the worship in *this* world so critical vis a vis the eternities?

    Think like a god who doesn’t draw power or influence from worship, but who serves through love. Are they going to be insisting on credit and attention at every level of reality and every stage of progression from every soul? When in this world not even a majority of the living sentients have even the name of God? How important is it to God to be recognized in this life by men and women?

    I need to take some time to write a real essay, the kind Nate Oman always complains about not seeing in LDS theology.

    But after all of the writing on the topic, when was the last (or even the first) time anyone approached it from “what does God get out of worship?” or “what does our worship really entail?”

    The answer is that God is watching the children while someone else is out at a day job ;) (ok, but you get the point).

    How many of you have any competition to be the person your children run to when they want something? When they are annoying? When they feel like whining? Come on, how many of you are really anxious to be the one who responds? I make a point of doing that because I am concerned that my children not be spoiled or neglected and because of the things my sixteen year-old went through, that make me terribly concerned for her and her needs. But if I knew someone else would take the job of super Nanny whenever the four (going on five this month) year old was being a pain … would I let them? If her mom’s doing that wouldn’t be unfair (dumping the kids on one parent seems awfully unfair to me)?

    It is late. I’m tired and still not recovered completely from the flu.

    Given more time I could express this better, though I thought the poem I once wrote caught it all (and the summary captures the whole thing). Do we make God in our own image, and if so, what does that say about us.

    Are we fit for the eternities (of course not, none of us, me least of all, as John notes, we don’t even know what that looks like)?

    Anyway, think about it. And think what our perspectives on the argument say about us.

    Ethesis – Your post about whether or not a MIH needs our worship was very thought-provoking. However, you approach the question by asking how MIH would be benefitted by our worship. Perhaps I’m being selfish, but shouldn’t the question be whether or not we would benefit from worshipping Her? Perhaps in a world with a Husband and Wife deity, women would not have been treated as property and mistreated for so long throughout history.

    I think Juliann’s suggestion about not requiring priesthood for duties anyone could fill is a good one. The Sunday School presidency doesn’t exercise priesthood keys; those callings could go to sisters if necessary. I don’t think callings like ward clerk need priesthood keys either, but I could be wrong.

    Posted by: Janey | December 6, 2004 03:29 PM

    Janey

    Unfortunately, having lots of female gods did not seem to make India more feminist — it took British long rifles to do that. I can think, sadly, of many other examples. Many, many, many. I wish it were not so.

    There is a lot of attention to the need to engage Women in the Church in leadership, at least when I was involved in the fringes of the LDS Women’s conference, the woman in charge of it mentioned that the President of the Church and others saw that as a pressing need and had brought the issue up with her and others as a topic.

    Frankly, I’ve been expecting “something” (I’m not sure what) to arise from that. But, for all I know, President Hinkley is having the twelve to pray with him on the topic much like President Kimball had them praying on the priesthood.

    I do know that until we soften our hearts and are ready, God will withhold from us the further blessings that he has for us. What that means, aside from surprises, I don’t know. (If I did, like when I had a clear message about Blacks and the Priesthood while confirming a Black investigator who had just been baptized in the mid-70s, I wouldn’t be posting, heeding Alma’s comments, but I don’t, so I feel free to speculate. And, knowing God’s commands, feel strongly that those who claim to know, probably don’t).

    I’m glad to get Juliann/Pistas3’s comments — I value them greatly. I’d like to get Toscano’s, because I’m curious. Maybe someone with Sunstone ties can print this entire thread up and present it to her, for her comments.

    I’d like to see more engagement.

    Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | December 7, 2004 10:50 PM

    Just to add, most of the fertility cults of the mideast had female deities. Indeed many apologists believe that knowledge of mother in heaven was lost because God had to deal harshly with Ashtoreth worship and other such practices that generally involved orgies and human sacrifice. (Recently popularized in the near mother in heaven view of The DaVinci Code which has a remnant of such fertility rites persisting through a secret society regarding Mary Magdalene)

    Posted by: Clark Goble | December 8, 2004 12:04 AM

    I thought I would try to skip Ishtar and the rest (not to mention everything out of Egypt), but Clark Goble hits things on the head, as well as the inference that Wisdom in the Old Testament is often seen as a stand-in for the Female Essence (rather than a precursor to the Word of God).

    Interesting stuff there. Ties in very well with the Song of Solomon being uninspired and influenced in form and content by local sacred marriage texts (for the union of king and goddess). Though similar Germanic comments on Ba’l and various Psalms, etc. missed the point, since playing off of does not necessarily mean stolen from or inspired by.

    Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | December 8, 2004 01:32 AM

  20. BTW, I owed Janey a fuller response. Let me quote (from a Sunstone source, what the heck)

    For example, right after the turn of the century one noticeable thread which ran through several comments about the Mother in Heaven was an association of that doctrine with the movement for women’s rights, a major issue in the last years of the nineteenth century, especially in Utah. James E. Talmage in discussing the status and mission of women spoke of the early granting of the franchise to women in Utah and the Mormon church’s claim that woman is man’s equal. In this context he then went on to say,

    The Church is bold enough to go so far as to declare that man has an Eternal Mother in the Heavens as well as an Eternal Father, and in the same sense “we look upon woman as a being, essential in every particular to the carrying out of God’s purposes in respect to mankind.”19

    An article in the Deseret News noted that the truthfulness of the doctrine of a Mother in Heaven would eventually be accepted by the world-that “it is a truth from which, when fully realized, the perfect ‘emancipation’ and ennobling of woman will result.”20 To many, the concept of a Mother in Heaven was a fitting expression of a larger movement which aimed at raising the status of women and expanding their rights and opportunities.

    and

    In the 1920s and 1930s there seemed to be an emphasis on the idea of “eternal” motherhood or “everlasting” motherhood, with several sermons or articles having titles of this sort or dealing with this theme. Somehow it seemed important to emphasize that motherhood was as ongoing and eternal as was godhood. Joseph A. Widtsoe, for example, found a “radiant warmth” in the

    thought that among the exalted beings in the world to come we shall find a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.

    So, Janey has a lot of positive things going for her viewpoint.

    If Toscano were couching her approach more in terms of returning to basics and fulfilling the promise of Talmage’s scholarship, she would have a completely different impact, I think.

    And yes, I’m cribbing from Linda Wilcox

    Even from her footnotes.

    Milton R. Hunter in 1945 claimed that the doctrine of a Mother in Heaven originated with Joseph Smith, ascribing to him revelations by which “a more complete understanding of man-especially regarding his personal relationship to Deity-was received than could be found in all of the holy scriptures combined.” Among such new understandings was the “stupendous truth of the existence of a Heavenly Mother” and the “complete realization that we are the offspring of Heavenly Parents.” Hunter said that these ideas became “established facts in Mormon theology” and an “integral part of Mormon philosophy.” [ Milton R. Hunter, The Gospel Through the Ages (Salt Lake City. Stevens and Wallis, Inc., 1945), pp. 98-99. ]

    http://www.sunstoneonline.com/magazine/searchable/Issue23.asp in case you would like to read the entire essay, which is well done.

    Posted by: Stephen M (Ethesis) | December 12, 2004 12:30 PM

    Janey said: Perhaps I’m being selfish, but shouldn’t the question be whether or not we would benefit from worshipping Her?

    Good question. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of an instance where bringing in female gods did anything but produce cultic worship morecompetitive than a unified. Well, according to the OT anyway..whose redactors tended to edit anything that looked too independent. I can easily this setup as giving us someone else to go to if we don’t like what one parent says…who *hasn’t* played their parents?

    I just don’t see anywhere to go with this when we have no body of information. A revelation is not likely to amount to what we find in scripture about Jesus and HF.

    However, just acknowleging that we do have a HM can go a long way and I think that this is something that we should be making more public. This is something very unique that Mormonism can offer.

    Posted by: Juliann | December 14, 2004 03:13 AM

  21. David King Landrith says:

    There seems to be a feeling that a male diety somehow enfranchises men and disenfranchises women. I agree with Clark that this seems weird. My feeling is that the Godhead is what it is, and our feelings about the matter don’t change this.

    John H: But DKL, don’t you see it as even a little problematic that men are dictating how women should worship?

    I have a big problem with men dictating how anyone should worship (e.g., as is done Muslum nations). But if you’re not being forced to worship, than nobody is dictating how you worship.

    I don’t begrudge anyone the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, letting them worship how, where, or what they may. But Mormonism has a male God and a male mediator to that God, and this doctrine can be traced back to Jesus. Presumably, Jesus was perfect, and I take this to rule out any racial or sex based prejudices. The introduction of a Heavenly Mother into the Godhead is neither a Mormon doctrine nor a doctrine that originates with Jesus.

    John H: We can relate to God because of our gender; it’s not even an issue we’d even stop to think about twice. For some women, they can’t relate as well, and it seems the high point of irony that a bunch of men tell women they’re wrong and to essentially “get with the program.”

    I detect a certain amount of elitism in this special sensitivity to exclusion. Truth be told, everybody has some issue with some doctrine of the church (at any rate, everybody I know does). Likewise, anybody can come up with some way in which their case is special and some reason why General Authorities just “don’t get it.”

    Nor do I see it as any less ironic that a bunch of women are trying to tell men that they’re wrong and to essentially, “get with the program.”

    John H: Prophets, for all their inspiration and guidance, can’t step out of their own skin and relate to another gender—they can’t stop being who they are. Therefore… if we see human fallibility infused into the Church’s early attitudes towards blacks, is it so unreasonable to assume that current attitudes towards women and worshipping a Mother in Heaven stem from cultural influences, and not revelation?

    I don’t begrudge the Prophet his fallibility or his humanity. I believe that God chooses prophets not just because they are obedient, but because he can rely on their judgment. It’s been roughly a century since a prophet has seen fit to try to alter the dominant conception of the Godhead. Viewed this way, the introduction of a Heavenly Mother into the Godhead remains a theoretical possibility, but would require substantial external cultural shifts at least as powerful as the civil rights movement or Utah statehood and the Edmunds-Tucker act. In the meantime, it won’t do to proclaim the presence of a woman in the Mormon Godhead.

  22. John: And it hardly seems like it’s *anyone’s* place to tell them they can’t do it – be it John Hatch or Gordon B. Hinckley.

    We can just as easily turn the question around: Why do we always err on the side of Church leaders? Why do we seem to assume that they’ve prayed about this issue and have received direct inspiration?

    There are two issues here. One is feeling like one wants more. Nothing wrong with that. I’d love to know more about cosmology and metaphysics. The difference is that I don’t let it bother me.

    As for the comments about General Authorities, it seems the issue of “error” is beside the point. The point is that they have the authority and God gave them the authority. If there is anyone who has the authority to make a statement on this, it is them. If that isn’t true, then you are basically just saying that there is no such thing as authority.

    Now certainly people exercising authority can err. I suspect most of us have been in leadership positions before and screwed up. So we’re all familiar with this. But the fact is that as soon as you go about saying that you ought worship mother in heaven and see statements by the brethren as errors limiting you, then there is something fundamentally wrong.

    Put it an other way, if we buy your comments then we end up with theological anarchy.

  23. I’m not an LDS’er, so I hope it’s okay that I’m posting, but I did go to an LDS church one summer and asked similiar questions to the friends I made there.

    They said to look at how the names of Father God and Jesus are used in vain, invoked in unrighteous causes and used to express anger and sin. (Christ! I stubbed my toe!) Blasphemy is the flip-side of worship; anyone who is as highly venerated as God will also be highly denigrated. The idea was that God our Father didn’t want his wife to be treated so corsely, and he knew that being worshiped would also involved being blasphemed, so he took that burden on himself. My friends thought that, in heaven, God our Mother would be worshiped equally with God our Father, because the people involved in the worship would not be inclined to blaspheme her.

    This idea isn’t considerably less hierarchical than the idea that God the Father should be exclusively worshiped because a female member of the Godhead would not be worthy of worship, but it does interject some good motives.

    I don’t know that this idea is supported by your srciptures (I’ve only read parts of the Book of Mormon and the D&C), but it sounded like a good story.

  24. Julie, you’re more than qualified to post here. I like your interpretations, and I admit I’ve heard similar explanations myself. It does go a long way to ascribing good motives.

  25. Then again, it also partakes of some fairly obnoxious ideas about women not being able to take care of themselves.

    (The theory, btw, is not scriptural; it was first posited (in print, anyway) by an Institute teacher in a Church News opinion piece in 1964(ish?).)

  26. Agreed, Kristine — it isn’t a satisfying rationale, nor is it a scriptural one. If we subscribe to the concept of the ‘tinkerer’ God, we could say that mankind is His hobby and our Mother just doesn’t want to get involved (much like Sumer and blogging). Again, not satisfying or scriptural.

  27. Actually, Steve, the parallel with you and Sumer may be more instructive than you think–the truly wise one is silent ;)

  28. Sadly, that’s all too true.

  29. I think I put my finger on why the whole feminist “give me an explicit useful mother-in-heaven” rhetoric bothers me. It’s not because I’m bothered by the theology of a mother in heaven. Far from it, I find it one of the more powerful aspects of our theology and key to making sense of the plan of salvation and marriage. It isn’t that I’m bothered by the fact people psychologically do better when there is an image “like them” they can model their lives after. Rather it is that what is focused in on are superficialities.

    Consider this scenario, which I ought to point out is a true story. Consider an African American who, for various social reasons, has a very hard time feeling sympathy or connection to “white culture.” Further they note that most portrayals of God or Jesus, especially in Mormonism, portray them as more caucasion. Now consider rival African-American sects of Christianity which latch onto the description of Christ in the Book of Revelation and thereby teach that Jesus was African American. This is psychologically very helpful for our African American and other African Americans in coming to God.

    Now, the question is, can’t we make exactly the same claims towards God, only switching the issue of femaleness to blackness? If no, then doesn’t that say something about what is or isn’t important? i.e. if Jesus isn’t a sufficient image for God for us to model our lives on, isn’t the model we desire including things that are inappropriate? If we say yes, then aren’t we really saying that history doesn’t matter? Or moving towards a more disembodied God who can be all things to all people? i.e. deny the very historicity of such matters that I think is one of the great strengths in Mormonism?

    As I said, I don’t deny the psychological role of images as an aid. In a way I suspect that is partially why Catholics as a practical matter end up treating Mary as a near God. (Yes, I know that’s not theologically true, but it is sure true in terms of behavior) It offers them a useful mother figure. But, in what sense is that useful?

    While I certainly reject the theology of Brigham’s Adam/God theory, I half wonder if allowing us to treat Adam and Eve as these models isn’t fairly useful, if only as a psychological prop. If so, then doesn’t the temple provide this for us already?

  30. Interesting comments, Clark — I’ll need to think about them, but in general I agree that we tend to remake God in our own image a little much.

  31. Clark — My experience may be different from yours but I find those looking for knowledge and understanding about their Mother in Heaven to be generally sincere (although sometimes militant) seekers not individuals spouting rhetoric (which my dictionary defines as language designed to persuade or impress often with implication of insincerity or exaggeration.)

    I have had this conversation with my husband many times — do I think that the character of God is different from his eternal companion? Aren’t the attributes of the Saviour genderless? Aren’t faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindliness (ummm), godliness, charity, humility and diligence the same for everyone?

    The only problem is that my church leaders keep telling me that I am different. There are lots of mission statements floating around the church — perhaps women, in particular, might like to know what Heavenly Mother’s mission is. In general terms, what awaits them in the celestial kingdom, if they make it? I don’t see her in the Creation in the scriptures or the temple, church leaders have affirmed that she is not the Holy Ghost and we don’t pray to her.

    If motherhood is the highest, holiest calling, why do we know nothing of her? If mothers are to nurture their children, why can’t she nurture us? Carol Lynn Pearson has said, “We live in a Motherless house. In our worship we are Motherless. In our hymns, our prayers, our scriptures, our temples, our religious discourse, we are Motherless.” To me, this seems weird in a Mormon world where mothers are so important. In fact, it kind of makes reason stare.

    Many months ago before my questioning of this issue started, my three year old daughter climbed into our bed one morning and asked, “Does Heavenly Father have a wife?” “Yes”, my husband replied. “Well, WHERE is she? my little girl demanded. Neither of us could answer her.

  32. While I certainly reject the theology of Brigham’s Adam/God theory, I half wonder if allowing us to treat Adam and Eve as these models isn’t fairly useful, if only as a psychological prop. If so, then doesn’t the temple provide this for us already?

    Could I ask what this means? I know who Brigham was, and Adam and Eve, and the temple, but I’m not tying it together sensibly. Did Brigham think that Adam was God the Father?

  33. David King Landrith says:

    Julie: Did Brigham think that Adam was God the Father?

    Yes. This is a sticky topic. In a nutshell, here’s the rough history: Brigham seems to have started teaching this in 1852. He claimed that Joseph taught it, and he incorporated it into the lecture at the veil (a part of the temple ceremony dropped by Grant) that was used at the St. George Temple (the only working temple at the time of Brigham’s death). Following Brigham’s death, the church stopped officially advocating it though remnants of Adams-God remained. Things came to a head around the turn of the 20th century, when members began pressing for clarification on the nature of the Godhead. At first, the church insisted that such details weren’t terribly important. Joseph Fielding Smith eventually decided on the current formulation that Jehovah is Jesus, God is Elohim, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. At this point they also started codifying an official theology around this, of which Talmage’s Jesus the Christ was an important part. The notion that Michael assisted in creation remains.

    This is a favorite hobby horse of fundamentalists, who believe that departure from the Adam-God theory is additional evidence of apostasy of the LDS church.

    The definitive account (in my opinion) of the history of the Adam-God Theory is D. J. Buerger’s eponymous article on page 14 of the Spring 1982 Dialogue.

  34. “”Well, WHERE is she? my little girl demanded. Neither of us could answer her.”

    Do you know where God the Father is? Beyond some nebulous comment about near Kolob. I’ll wager a bet she’s in the same vicinity.

    “If motherhood is the highest, holiest calling, why do we know nothing of her?”

    Outside of comments like “listen to my son” what do you know of the Father that you don’t know of the mother?

  35. Very nice summary, DKL. Though didn’t Talmage first promulgate the current teachings about God, Jesus, and Holy Ghost in Articles of Faith? I know it was Franklin D. Richards and George Q. Cannon who first advocated that Jehovah was Christ in the 1880s and Talmage would have probably been influenced by that, but I’m not sure. And it’s been so long since I’ve read Articles of Faith, I don’t remember its specific comments.

  36. David King Landrith says:

    I reread the Articles of Faith recently (the Signiture books reprint of the original—I suppose I should call this the anti-Mormon edition?), and I think you’re correct. Now that you mention it, the Richards and Cannon thing sounds familiar also. But, if I recall correctly, general authorities were still restating the standard “don’t worry about the exact configuration of the Godhead” as late as 1908.

  37. **Do you know where God the Father is? Beyond some nebulous comment about near Kolob. I’ll wager a bet she’s in the same vicinity

    My reason for telling the story was not to debate the actual location of God or his wife. It was more to point out that there is a chasm between our theology and our practice that even a three year old can see.

    **Outside of comments like “listen to my son” what do you know of the Father that you don’t know of the mother?

    A few things I have been taught by the Church about God that I am uncertain about applying to Heavenly Mother: (These are just a few highlights taken from the Institue Manual “Doctrines of the Gospel in the interest of time)

    God gives truth to his children through revelation — Does H.M. communicate with her children? Are they supposed to communicate with her? President McKay said, “… [Man} has something that comes only from his Father in heaven, and he is entitled, is susceptible to whisperings, susceptible to influences from his Divine Parent, through the Holy Ghost, the medium between us and God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ”. (note Parent is singular here).

    God is the supreme being in the universe — Joseph Smith said, “God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell …” Can we have more than one “only” Supreme being?

    The Father presides over the Godhead. — I don’t think that we can insert Heavenly Mother here.

    We make covenants with God when we are baptized and in the temple.– nope, not here either.

    I guess I don’t feel these are superficialities.
    And I am sincerely not trying to counsel the Brethren. In my efforts to live the gospel and teach my children, I sincerely wonder as a woman and daughter of Heavenly Parents, perhaps in a simplistic way, “Where did I come from, Why am I here and Where am I going?”

  38. Those are all good questions, Kris — and there is a disconnect in our teachings regarding Heavenly Mother. It would be important to me, though, that whatever we learn about Her come from the top-down. By that I mean that our own personal revelations are critical, but I would want an overall Church-wide revelation on the topic before I could really feel comfortable.

    That may be a long time in coming. In the meantime, I like the parental aspects of God such as what John has brought up.

  39. “My reason for telling the story was not to debate the actual location of God or his wife. It was more to point out that there is a chasm between our theology and our practice that even a three year old can see.”

    I confess I don’t see it. Could you be clear about what the chasm is? So far as I know, there is no theology regarding the function of mother in heaven in the plan of salvation. Even the function of the father is fairly nebulous. Most focus is on Jesus Christ.

    “God gives truth to his children through revelation — Does H.M. communicate with her children?”

    But typically God communicates to man through surrogates. Typically the Holy Ghost, occasionally angels or other divine beings, often through prophets. The number of people who have directly talked to the Father are very small. Further, in almost all cases the role of the Father in such matters is to introduce the son.

    “Can we have more than one “only” Supreme being?”

    That would seem to be the implication of the King Follet Discourse. What is important is stewardship and who has stewardship over us.

    “The Father presides over the Godhead. — I don’t think that we can insert Heavenly Mother here.”

    I don’t think we can really say one way or the other. For instance we don’t know the relationship between heavenly parents. Perhaps “Father” in this setting implies the team. Perhaps it doesn’t. Further, what exactly does it mean that the Father presides, in terms of actual function. (i.e. beyond echoing words whose meaning we can’t describe in this particular role)

    “We make covenants with God when we are baptized and in the temple.– nope, not here either.”

    What is the meaning of God in this context? Do we make them with God or with the Father? That is an important difference if God is a divine collective of divine beings.

  40. Clark, you seem to think that we don’t need to know anything about Heavenly Mother, or at least that our doctrine presents no such need. I don’t entirely agree with you, but I also don’t want to turn this into a debate about the issue. To me, the concept of Heavenly Mother is a piece of doctrine that requires further light and knowledge. We have been given teasers as to Her, but not much else. There’s a chasm for those who have found the current revelations interesting and want to know more. For those who are satisfied with things as they are, there appears little need to explore the issue.

  41. I think that is true. At this point in our development we don’t need to know much more than we do know at the moment. That’s not to say I don’t have plenty of questions. But as I mentioned there are plenty of theological questions I’d love to see answered. I just don’t see these questions as being more important than various others. (i.e. the nature of God’s foreknowledge, for instance)

    My point is that those who fixate on this particular doctrinal question clearly have a reason for it. If it is because they feel they need further information about mother in heaven to relate to God religiously, then my previous example about African Americans holds.

    Put more simply, why are further questions about the nature of God so important? And why these questions?

  42. David King Landrith says:

    If Heavenly Mother really wanted to be worshiped, then wouldn’t she just appear to the prophet and say so?

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