Teaching Investigators about Heavenly Parents

In November of last year The American Physical Society, a professional organization for physicists and other closely related fields, held a meeting in Salt Lake City close to temple square. Word got out quickly that there were free temple square tours and talk among the scientists of how quickly they were accosted by missionaries. Dr. B, a friend of ours, decided to go across the street and have a look. He wasn’t accosted, but walked around leisurely through the grounds and buildings, and was leaving the christus when he was finally approached. A two-hour discussion with the missionaries ensued. “I think I offended them twice,” he reported.

“How?” my husband asked.

“I told them I like to drink.”

“I don’t think that offended them.”

“One of the sisters asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ And I said I think about it. I think God exists. God could even be a woman. And the sister said, ‘Heavenly Father is a man.’ I could tell I offended them.” B. felt that this missionary was a little taken aback by his suggestion that God was a woman and thus responded curtly. This is sad to me, especially with Mormon theology of Heavenly Mother.  It could have been a great opportunity to introduce Heavenly Mother alongside our Heavenly Father, no? (On a side note, I’ve known a lot of scientists over the years. It’s appears to be a myth scientists are mostly atheists or agnostic.)

Besides B., I have many friends, sisters to me whom I have met in warm estrogen filled circles, motherly wombs that love and support one another, women who aren’t sure what they believe about God. They have grown up flower children in a real sense, granola mommies who paint henna on blooming bellies and gather for blessing ways, and yearn for the divine. They find guarding the home and hearth a reverent place, and often use the word goddess to describe the roles of housekeeper, chef, and nursemaid. But organized religion feels stifling to them, cruel and cold. They don’t understand concepts of heaven and hell, and would, I think, understand degrees of glory much better. This has come up before, and it’s easy to say we don’t really believe in hell, “not like that.”

“That’s good,” they answer, relieved I don’t believe they are doomed to Dante’s fiery Inferno.

I think if I really wanted them to connect to God in a way we as Mormon do, to invite them into our traditions and church houses, it would be to introduce Heavenly Mother.  And I wonder what would have happened if the missionaries told B about Heavenly Mother alongside Heavenly Father. (Note I am not suggesting her as part of the Godhead, or negating God the Father.)

When talking about the gospel with your friends, has the concept of Heavenly Parents, a father and mother, been discussed? Did you talk about it as a missionary with investigators? Or do you sidestep the issue,  like it’s taboo, like the missionary on temple square did?

Comments

  1. We are told not to speculate about things that have not yet been revealed and I guess the hymn “O My Father” does not count as revelation. I hope Heavenly Mother will be presented to us formally very soon. Now is certainly the time for it.

  2. A very smart guy I met on my mission — an informatics major at the local university — had been baptized for about a week when he went to a singles conference and heard the hymn “O My Father.” He asked us about it immediately: “I think it said there’s a Mother in Heaven. Could that be?” and was thrilled to hear the sister missionaries agree with him.

  3. n[r]2, I understand the reasoning behind the statement–don’t want people preaching about voodoo and witch doctors–but it seems like closing the door to learning. If you don’t speculate, how do you go about learning? Any ideas?

    Is the idea of God being female gaining popularity? Maybe thanks to The Shack?

  4. I didn’t teach it as a missionary, since it wasn’t in the lessons I taught word-for-word. I don’t know if it would come up if I was a missionary now, but the requirement now is to teach the concepts in our own words – so I can envision situations in which I would mention it. It’s in Gospel Principles, so there’s a decent chance they’ll hear it at church anyway.

    Otoh, I’ve mentioned HM more than once in discussions with friends. I think it’s a very powerful concept – and I like that I don’t need to speculate much, since there’s next to nothing taught officially about her. (I know that bugs many women, but I’m a man, so I can enjoy the teaching without being burdended by the scarcity of what I view to be good speculation.) However, I don’t believe at all in spirit “birth” (at least, not in eternal, gestational pregnancy – **full body shiver of abhorrence**), so I do mention my own speculation in that regard whenever someone says, “I heard . . .”

  5. Admittedly, I taught Heavenly Mother when I thought it was “faith promoting” on my mission. For many people, it seemed to be. In contrast, I once became irate because my Ward Mission Leader brought up the possibility of Heavenly Mother assisting in the creation of the world in Gospel Essentials. It wasn’t that I disagreed with him, just that I knew it was going to creep out a first-time investigator. I’m essentially out of the church now, but I’ve recently discussed the idea of a Heavenly Mother with friends/coworkers. Most people I associate with (many of them atheists/agnostics) are shocked to find such avant-garde doctrines within what they assume to be such a highly-structured and patriarchal religion.

    Side note: One of my favorite missionary experiences was when a sister in a ward gave the sacrament invocation by addressing “Dear Heavenly Mother.” It was intentional, and the bishopric all looked like they were choking on chili powder during and after the prayer.

  6. Mommie Dearest says:

    Don’t we teach that God is a married couple? In kind of a de facto way that doesn’t put old-fashioned men and women on the spot?

  7. Chris Gordon says:

    Alma 12:9 has always fascinated me in that it makes reference to these “mysteries” that may have been revealed to the righteous with a “mum’s the word” caveat attached to them. I wonder if there aren’t folk out there who know more than is generally known. Elder Packer is said to have said (objection to hearsay overruled for the sake of a good quote) that the Lord does not reveal his mysteries to spiritual blabbermouths.

    Here’s hoping that the portion that the children of men are granted one day expands to include answers to a lot of questions about HM, homosexuals, etc.

  8. Correction on my earlier post (#5). I meant that “I taught ABOUT Heavenly Mother when I thought it was….” I realized after reading over my comment that it read differently than I intended. Also, I didn’t teach much about her since there was little to rely upon. I generally tried to avoid anything outside the discussions (yeah, I’m from the pre- Teach My Gospel era).

  9. “that the Lord does not reveal his mysteries to spiritual blabbermouths. ”

    That kind of negates prophetic revelation and Joseph Smith though, doesn’t it?

  10. Jack Ply, I was going to ask where you served your mission, since teaching HM would have been more than just a little cool.

  11. “On a side note, I’ve known a lot of scientists over the years. It’s appears to be a myth scientists are mostly atheists or agnostic.”

    http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/sci_relig.htm

    BELIEF IN PERSONAL GOD 1914 1933 1998

    Personal belief 27.7 15 7.0
    Personal disbelief 52.7 68 72.2
    Doubt or agnosticism 20.9 17 20.8

    BELIEF IN IMMORTALITY 1914 1933 1998

    Personal belief 35.2 18 7.9
    Personal disbelief 25.4 53 76.7*
    Doubt or agnosticism 43.7 29 23.3

    *Note that in original article, it notes that last column doesn’t add up to 100%. Misprint from source. Article believes this stat is too high.

  12. “I wonder if there aren’t folk out there who know more than is generally known. Elder Packer is said to have said that the Lord does not reveal his mysteries to spiritual blabbermouths.”

    I hear this alot also and it really makes me feel uncomfortable. It is often used in the context of why current GA’s don’t speak about visitations from angels or the Savior anymore. My question is: what changed? The foundation of the gospel throughout the ages has been built on the concept of “I have seen…and have been instructed” Adam, Moses, Paul, Joseph Smith, and countless more have declared such visitations as fundamental to the concept of reveal..ation.

    The idea of secret information that people are not supposed to reveal to the rest of us blithering idiots strikes me of gnosticism revisited. As
    Jesus told his desciples “what I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the hosetops” (Matt 10:27).

  13. “housetops”…talk about blithering idiots who can’t proofread.

  14. #10,
    Interesting numbers. Thanks.

  15. “the Lord does not reveal his mysteries to spiritual blabbermouths.”
    What does that mean for Joseph Smith and prophetic utterance?

  16. Wow. I cringed when I read that missionary exchange. Completely incorrect approach. So many missed opportunities. I definitely would have pursued it. At the very least, ask him more about his belief before launching into yours. Of course, I don’t have the slightest idea what Temple Square missionaries are trained to do, but I don’t imagine it’s that different from the way I was trained.

    That’s beside the point, though. The point is, even if there’s no official revelation on Heavenly Mother, there is certainly room for her, which I think is unique among Christian religions.

  17. I’m currently teaching gospel principles. I do try to avoid speculation…but I don’t think stating there is a Heavenly Mother IS speculation. A brief quote of President Kimball… “Finally, when we sing that doctrinal hymn and anthem of affection, “O My Father,”… do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less if we live so as to return there?”

    It would be speculation to start guessing why we don’t know more…I try to avoid that in gospel principles and stick to “I don’t know” as a faithful standby.

    In the discussion with the missionary and scientist…why not just reflect it back to him and ask what has led him to consider a Godess or Heavenly Mother? Didn’t ammon refer to God as the Great Spirit? It wasn’t speculation as to God’s physical shape is was speaking in a way to understand and build on common beliefs.

  18. wreddyornot says:

    Couple of weeks ago, HPG’s lesson was on Elaine Dalton’s conference talk “Love Her Mother.” Go figure. Anyway, at the outset, some vapid fool asked where God stood in this love her mother sense. It didn’t seem to him that HF was doing what seemed admonished very well. Reaction was pretty much like n[r]2’s, ” We are told not to speculate about things that have not yet been revealed . . .” When Mr. Vapid then observed that the scriptures advise us to ask to find, to knock to be answered, etc., all you-know-what broke forth in HPG, including a recently released councilor in the bishopric going on about viviparous spiritual birth, etc.

    Made me wonder, as a vapid person, what role I have in asking and knocking and whether knocking and asking have to be/should be done only in private in this case. If we’re going to talk about HM to investigators, shouldn’t we be more curious about them as a Church?

  19. wreddyornot,
    You seem to feel that talk was an odd choice for HPG. I looked at the talk and am trying to figure out why you feel it’s odd. Could you explain?

  20. wondering says:

    If you search lds.org for the phrase “heavenly mother,” you get a few hits from the 1970s and 1980s, but nothing since 1987. FWIW.

    http://www.lds.org/search?lang=eng&query=%22heavenly+mother%22

    Seems the church leaders are much more comfortable with the phrase “heavenly parents,” for some reason:

    http://www.lds.org/search?query=%22heavenly+parents%22&lang=eng

  21. Chris Gordon says:

    @mmiles, I have no idea (re: blabbermouths and prophets). I’ve always assumed that part of the prophetic stewardship is to have insight into “the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men.”

    @larryco_, I don’t particularly love the notion either. Having never received a visitation or a revelation I felt compelled to keep to myself (of the ilk we’re discussing here, anyway), I don’t like the implication that I might never so receive.

    That said, the plan seems to be taught incrementally to God’s children, for better or worse. My comfort level aside, I acknowledge that there is understanding and insight into these issues that I don’t yet have, and I don’t doubt that there may be those to whom God has revealed that understanding.

  22. Raymond Takashi Swenson says:

    Lorenzo Snow stated that he received the personal revelation about “As Man is, God once was” and was counseled to not preach it, which he did until he heard the same teaching from Joseph Smith.

    By the way, Snow recounted a vision of the Savior telling him to organize the First Presidency, Wilford Woodruff recounted being visited by the spirits of dead Founding Fathers, and Joseph F. Smith had his vision of the spirit world now in the D&C Section 138.

  23. wreddyornot says:

    I only found it an odd choice in the sense that my experience tells me historically such fare wouldn’t find its way there — to my chagrin. No, I think the message of loving my wife as an example to my family is fine, in fact, more than fine. And hearing the message from a sister is primo. My problem was and is that I don’t keep my wife locked in a closet and suggest that that is desireable or holy. And just that was variously asserted in the ensuing discussion.

  24. What strikes me about this conversation is the possible need for a revelation. This makes me think about a poor Israelite who died the day before Moses returned to Egypt. Here is someone who may have waited her or his entire life to leave Egypt’s bondage. Could it be that we experience some sort of bondage by not having the revelation about the nature of Heavenly Mother? Such a revelation could give us a better sense of the eternal nature of gender, the creation, and the sort of marriage that is essential for exaltation. Such a revelation could also clarify the issues raised in the recent Dialogue article about same sex sealings. Could it be that we are being asked to wait patiently on the Lord?

    But, like Moses’ arrival, will such a revelation come with a dramatic change in how we live and worship? Think of the possible backlash as well as outpouring of blessings that might come! Would it cause an even stronger rupture with other Christians? How could it not. Would it hasten the great division that Nephi seems to see in 2 Nephi 30:10? With the revelation, light, and freedom, what deserts might we be asked to cross? What manna would we need? (And maybe could someone bring a map?) Perhaps it is God’s merciful patience that is holding back the revelation?

  25. n[r]2–President Woodruff specifically affirmed that “O My Father” was “a revelation”, and President Kimball acknowledged that it was doctrinal.

    just for the record

  26. I agree with #19, while references to HM may be rare, references to “heavenly parents” are pretty common and in authoritative sources. They are included in all the Valiant Primary manuals, the Aug 2008 Visiting Teaching message, and several general conference talks.

  27. Rechabite says:

    As a missionary, I taught an investigator about Heavenly Mother at least once that I recall. The man we were teaching brought it up; my companion and I showed him “O My Father” and I told him how my patriarchal blessing talks about my Heavenly Parents. It was a pretty good discussion.

  28. Rechabite,
    What did he think? Did it appeal to him or dissuade him more?

  29. I view “Oh My Father” as not only teaching of HM but serving as a prayer to Her(and HF). Hymns are prayers (DC 25:12).

  30. I think that one of the GA’s is going to read Judith Butler and realize that our concept of gender Heavenly Parents is a 19th century concept.

    Not really.

    I am not waiting for a revelation about Heavenly Mother. I am waiting for a revelation that tells us that there are really no such thing as Heavenly genitals.

    No, I am not really waiting for that. That is just what I think and I am not looking for approval. Heck, does anyone actually expect anything interesting to be revealed at conference? Ever?

  31. The internet really is one eternal round. Everything eventually returns to a discussion of TK Smoothies.

  32. Kristine, thank you! I thought revelation for the whole church had to come through the Prophet. It is nice to know that Eliza Snow could receive such an important revelation and have it affirmed as true. I hope that doesn’t come across as snarky; it isn’t meant that way. I just need to get back to work.

  33. Doesn’t sound snarky at all. The “proper channels” of revelation took a while to carve themselves into the Church’s landscape. (And I’m inclined to believe that God is capable of sending floods that overflow their banks sometimes, but that may be only a personal heresy ;)).

  34. Dave K–ERS’s original title was “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother,” so you’re spot-on, I think.

  35. Mommie Dearest says:

    #30 needs a nomination for BCOW

  36. Sharee Hughes says:

    We are taught that those who achieve exaltation will have eternal increase. Since we wouldn’t have mortal children in the next life, it seems logical to me that exalted beings will produce spirit children. And I believe they will be produced sexually–what other way would there be? Since, if we become gods and create worlds and begat spirit children to people them–that’s a lot of eternal inrease. I can understand our Heavenly Father (and others who have been exalted as Gods) fathering all the billions upon billions of spirits needed for all the worlds that have been and will be created, but I have a bit of trouble accepting that one Heavenly Mother gave birth to them all, even if the gestton peiod for spirit children is somewhat less than it is for mortal children. So I believe that the reason we aren’t taught much about our Heavenly Mother is because we may not all have the same one. I know that if I am exalted and my god-husband decides it’s time to start making spirit babies to people the worlds he plans to create, I’d want some help. I mentioned this to my Bishop and he told me to read Orson Pratt. Apparently Pratt, a noted mathematician, said it was mathematically impossible for one woman to have been the mother of all of the spirits that have come to earth, let alone those that have peopled our Heavenly Father’s other worlds. Just a thought.

  37. It seems appropriate to link to David Paulsen and Martin Pulido’s BYU Studies article, A Mother There. It gives a surprisingly robust list of references to Heavenly Mother and heavenly parents, from church publications, general conferences, etc. Good reading, and kind of blows away the whole concept of “We don’t talk about that.”

  38. kevinf,
    Thanks for linking.

  39. Sharee,
    Thanks for your thoughts. You’re not alone in believing spirit children are reproduced and born like mortals are–however that is only one theory that has been tossed around; and many, many rational people would disagree with.

  40. Mommie Dearest says:

    I have a great interest in peoples’ speculations about the logistics of heavenly parentage, and even their personal revelation, and I have plenty of my own. (Speculation. I don’t claim to be a revelator.) For instance, Orson Pratt’s wisdom notwithstanding, I can imagine an efficient goddess having her spirit children say, 200,000 at a time. Without sacrificing her figure. But the point is, it’s all speculatory, except the fact of her existence. Perhaps missionaries and others sidestep and evade this issue because there is so little about HM that’s authoritative, that we actually teach and promote. I see a need for some real revelation from an authoritative source, but maybe I’m only one of a few who care.
    I would love to post more on this thread, but I have a couple of deadlines today. When I have more time, I’d like to read kevinf’s link in 36 more thoroughly.

  41. Mommie Dearest,
    While I agree it would be problematic for missionaries to start speculating and share the latest trending Heavenly Mother theology, do you think it would be problematic in the instance in the post to simply say, “Oh, well we believe God is our Father, and we also have a Heavenly Mother,” ?

  42. Mommie Dearest says:

    Not a problem, but there is nothing to say beyond speaking of her existence that isn’t tainted with speculation. And if you state her existence to someone who’s not programmed with “we don’t talk about that,” the desire to know more about her is a given.

  43. And I guess that’s the uncomfortable part, right? So imagine the missionary saying that, and then the person, or the women I know, wanting to know more. The discussion could get awkward,”Oh, we don’t talk about her.”

  44. Chris Gordon says:

    Is there a non-awkward way to just concede that not much is known and that that is the reason why “we don’t talk about here”?

    Leaving the tone of the discussion with “We don’t talk about her,” smacks of secret knowledge (e.g., “We don’t talk about the temple outside the temple”), where really the answer can be turned to something more positive for an investigator.

    “We believe God is our Father, and we also believe that we have a Heavenly Mother. We don’t talk much about her because we don’t have much to go on. We do believe that there’s a lot going on in the world and the universe that God, for whatever reason, hasn’t made clear to us yet. Believing in prophetic guidance means believing that the portal is there if and when God decides to make some more things clear.” Or something like that.

  45. I think Chris Gordon’s last paragraph is perfect. I think I’ll try to repeat that verbatim with my kids tonight, and I’ll be ready if anyone ever asks or I ever want to bring it up.

  46. Mommie Dearest says:

    I think saying “we don’t talk about her” to anyone other than a fellow member would be more like a default response, suggesting awkwardness and lack of preparation. If you think it through from an outsider’s perspective, that response does appear secretive and cultish. What I am looking for is more teaching about HM from our leadership, which would serve to better prepare us to talk about it intelligently. Not to mention settling a lot of anxious wondering that we ourselves might be experiencing.
    Absent any forthcoming clarification from on high, #43 would make useful missionary training talking points.

  47. StillConfused says:

    If God is in humanoid form, as Mormons believe; and if there is eternal progression, families, etc in heaven, as Mormons believe, then there must be a female counterpart to the male God. Otherwise the whole set up falls apart,

  48. Meldrum the Less says:

    I am confused.

    I start in Genesis where God created male and female in HIS image. Not in “their” image. But together. This implies either multiple Gods of at least two gender varieties that both fall under the rubric of “His” or else a hermaphrodite single God. Both unthinkable heresies to traditional Christian views of God. infallible scripture my ass, I can’t get out of the first chapter before confusion chokes me.

    Then in the next chapter; it is not good for man to be alone. (Where did the woman or women go, created in Genesis1?) So a deep sleep falls upon the man and a woman is made from a rib. Not together. Woman now dependent upon man for her existence. I take this as a second creation of woman or else a creation of a second woman. After the first one ran off or did he kill her or something? one is forced to decide what they think first and then impose it upon the scripture to avoid drowning in confusion.

    Then we add to this confusion the Mormon idea of a Heavenly Mother and then we further add to it the threat that if you say too much about it you will get your ass in a sling one way (cheek?) or another. And if that is not enough we have plural marriage and all the smoke and mirrors surrounding our practice and denial of that. We have a very paternalist decidedly masculine God for this age, but our ancestors worshipped female deities. Our religious ethnocentrism allows us to immediately dismiss the beliefs of our ancestors. But maybe they knew things we do not?

    i can not get far away from the fundamental reproductive difference between man and woman. Man reproduces in a 5 second thrilling act. Woman reproduces in a 9 month life threatening ordeal. The helpless infant is physically nourished by the woman not the man unless culture and/or technology interfere. The woman is faced with the daunting challenge of enticing the man to help her in this multiple decade long life-consuming endeavor. Religions and the institute of marriage and the law of chastity are all useful mostly for achieving this enticement. But for man and woman, happiness is found in no other way.

    As long as speculation is happening, why not interpret the problem in Genesis to imply the existence of a third gender; the first two are the co-equal male and female of Genesis 1 and the third being the woman taken from a rib of man. The first and third now walk the earth? Or rather a third gender is yet to be encountered, superior to both male and female but enough similar to female to be best lumped together with female? Or are there two fundamental different genders of woman, independent-coequal woman and subservient rib woman? How can you tell the difference? Well, actually that last one didn’t turn out to be much of a practical problem for me after a few short decades of marriage.

    Most of what I hear at church on this topic is so very confusing or even illogical upon careful examination. Two more rounds of it in the PGP doesn’t help. Temple rites don’t clarify. The Nag Hammadi or any number of other such sources only add to the confusion. Harry Potter and the Twilight series and the Lion King hardly increases the tumult even if taken literally.

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