Neither womanhood qua nurturing nor motherhood qua nurturing are explicitly present in the LDS canon. This is unsurprising because women are just not frequently mentioned in the scriptures and when they are they are rarely the protagonists. Where women more than a bit-part in a particular narrative they almost never demonstrate the qualities of nurturing. In terms of developing a scripturally informed view of gender (which, in fairness, we may not want to do), this absence problematizes the association between womanhood, motherhood and nurturing.
On the basis of this absence, it might be possible to argue that nurturing is not an important virtue for women to possess. This is misguided because nurturing is valued in the LDS canon but it draws its value through the divine Father (God). By using a number of different scriptural texts to illustrate this point I am going to be intentionally a little sloppy. I do so because I think this reflects the current hermeneutic of the LDS Sunday School and I want to read these texts with a similar method in order to draw out a theological point which I believe stands to scrutiny, even under a more textually nuanced approach. Here I will just outline a few passages dealing with both Christ and YHWH as Father/Nurturer.
In both the NT (Luke 13.34; see also Matt 23.37) and the Book of Mormon (3 Ne 10.4-6) Jesus describes himself as a hen who protects and nourishes her chicks. Below are the NT texts:
“O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”
Obviously there are textual problems to consider in reading these NT text passages – such as the priority of Matthew or Luke and their dependence on another text (possibly Q) – and those in the BoM; but it is clear that in both the NT and the BoM, Jesus serves as a divine father and also a nurturer.
Similarly, three OT texts assert that the qualities of nurturer should be applied to a male-God.
In Hosea 11.1-9, YHWH speaks as a parent (‘When Israel was a child’) whose reminiscience of Israel’s youth softens his anger toward the backsliding nation. For example, the LORD remembers how he ‘loved’ his son and ‘called’ after him, He remembers how ‘it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms’. This is a tender text and one that should have some resonance for parents who feel that: ‘the more [the parents] call [after their children], the further they went from [the parents].
Similarly, in Jeremiah 31.20, the LORD declares: “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him.” This declaration follows a passage where the LORD recounts the lament of the children of Israel at being sorely disciplined and here we see God referring affectionately to Ephraim as His child.
Finally, I want to draw out Isaiah 49.14-15. In this text, the LORD makes a comparison between Himself and a mother who nurtures and breastfeeds her child. YHWH is reminding Israel of his steadfast love by affirming that part of that caring commitment is rooted in a relationship involving nurture. Certainly, as the text implies, this steadfast love is not reducible to nurturing alone but it is one feature of it. Once again, in a fashion similar to the passage where Jesus identifies Himself as a hen, here God describes Himself as being involved in an act of nurture almost solely associated with being a woman.
The OT view of God asserts that He is both father and mother, provider and nurturer. Jesus also is willing to position himself as a care-giver and a nurturer. These texts reinforce the virtue of nurturing as a divine attribute while complicating the association between motherhood and nurturing. The scriptures are not the only source for an LDS theology of womanhood, motherhood and nurturing but if our theology is to be informed by LDS scripture then we should at least take these texts seriously. At the very least, Latter-day Saint scripture does not provide material that would allow us to define womanhood or motherhood in terms of nurturing.
1. Here ‘her’ refers to the gender of the hen but this ambiguity highlights the way in which gender, God, and the capacity to nurture are presented in complex ways in our scripture.