Re-imagining our discourse on Heavenly Mother

So it’s been several months since the essay about Mother in Heaven was released. Now there has not been a general conference yet, so I reserve the right to be happily surprised that Heavenly Mother is often referred to right alongside Heavenly Father, but today’s BYU devotional with Elder Marcus Nash was the perfect opportunity to talk about Heavenly Mother, as he spoke about eternal marriage, the partnership of attaining godhood for men and women, and the eternal power of the plan of salvation.

So I’m going to show how little it actually takes to include Mother in Heaven. Where I bold is where I make the changes to his talk.

Each of us here is a beloved son or daughter of Heavenly Parents and we lived with them prior to our mortal birth. Motivated by perfect love, and a desire to give each of us Their children, the opportunity to receive all They have, our Parents in Heaven instituted a plan before the foundation of this earth whereby we could obtain eternal life, the greatest of all the gifts of God. Put simply, eternal life is the life God lives.”

This now puts Elder Nash right in line with what Elder Ballard has said that “We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.” Think about just making that change in talking about the plan of salvation, as designed by our Heavenly Parents who sent their Son down to atone for our sins. It would cause us to change some artwork, but that’d be worth it.

Ok, next one:

“We must come to know our Heavenly Parents and Their son, and learn of their character, perfections, and attributes. To know them is to love and trust them completely.”

I believe it is just as necessary for us to know our Heavenly Mother. The essay states the understanding that we have a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief. Let’s take that seriously. Like I’ve said before, it’s time to show the love of our Heavenly Parents.

Again from Elder Nash:

There is societal concern about equality for women and men.  While I do not pretend to know all the answers, I do know that according to the plan of salvation, the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children and that the ultimate expression of priesthood power is in the eternal union of woman and man. While we do not fully know what administrative structure will exist in the next life, we do know that families sealed in the temple will exist in the next life. When we contemplate mortality against the backdrop of eternity, we should remember that the title of our God is not “President” but “Father” and “Mother.” That alone speaks volumes about the organizational structure that most matters in the celestial kingdom and in eternity. So let’s not get too distracted by temporal administrative structure. The ultimate purpose of the plan is that a husband and wife are happy at home and sealed for time and eternity, so that they may receive eternal life for their eternal union is part of the very definition of eternal life. You see, the ultimate equality of woman and man is godhood, something each can only with the other, by together entering into and abiding within the order of the priesthood of the new and everlasting covenant of eternal marriage, importantly the blessings pertaining to eternal life are promised jointly and severally to them, not severally to him or her. In the order, neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord.

Wow, yeah, there’s a lot to unpack with that statement, but importantly, I think it pretty much zeroes in on the need to talk about Heavenly Mother. If we truly believe that “men and women have ultimate equality through godhood in the hereafter,” then the scripture “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man” allows us, nay compels us to understand that neither is Father in Heaven without Mother in Heaven. And our discourse and theological creativity should reflect that. As a sidenote, I noticed that Elder Nash added “son or daughter who will humble himself or herself before God” in summarizing Ether 12:27 as an effort to be inclusive to the male and female students listening. So perhaps it’s a learned habit of only referencing Heavenly Father when we mean Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother that we’re just beginning to change just like leaders have lately enlarged our scriptural quotations to sound more inclusive.

Finally, Elder Nash concluded by saying:

The journey of faith of which I speak is to go forward, to progress and grow and through the Atonement of Christ become like our Heavenly Father, like our Heavenly Parents, as a family, enjoying “all that the Father hath.

Notice that I didn’t need bold anything.

 

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    It seems a weird tic to me that in contemporary Church discourse it’s acceptable to say “Heavenly Parents” (because Proc), but it would take a cattle prod to get anyone to actually say “Heavenly Mother” or “Mother in Heaven.” It reminds of the fetish of saying “same-sex attraction” instead of “gay.”

  2. Yes, you’d think if we’d want to get away from the idea that their are multiple mothers in heaven via eternal polygamy, we’d be extra careful to say mother instead of parents. In fact, I noticed that Elder Nash made a pretty clear statement of just one Father and one Mother: “We know that that the purpose of the plan is to give us the opportunity for eternal life. The life God leads. So Heavenly Father’s life defines eternal life. And one of the things we know about His life is that He is sealed in an eternal marriage of man and woman. So to choose anything less than the eternal marriage of woman and man is to choose something less than the full resplendent purpose of our Father’s plan.”

    Although that’s not the reason I think we should make the change.

  3. More discourse recognizing Heavenly Mother would interfere with proselytizing to people of the Evangelical persuasion. We have enough difficulty with the “a different Jesus” meme.

  4. ^^ Perhaps, but female millennial evangelicals who are leaving their churches might be intrigued!

  5. It always blows my mind how even now, in my 30’s, a few words changed in sentences I’ve heard all my life can totally change my whole paradigm. In this case, the idea that “our parents instituted a plan” is something that in theory I know, but to hear it said aloud changes so much for me. thanks for this piece.

  6. Well, “Heavenly Parents” is more inclusive. It allows for the possibility that God is gay-married.

  7. the other Marie says:

    Elder Nash keeps knocking it out of the ballpark. I also loved his presentation in which he outlined LDS teachings regarding environmentalism.

  8. your food allergy is fake says:

    Imagination is the important word here. Joseph had this god-like quality in spades; today much of our membership by comparison is found wanting. If our light and knowledge is to increase about this and a host of other doctrines, we must first summon some imagination. This is where this and other sites on the bloggernacle do their best work.

  9. I would love to see more revelation, more mention, more references to Mother in Heaven. I think your friendly edits do indeed bring needed insight related to our beliefs. I love changing the pronouns in the Primary song ‘My Heavenly Father Loves Me’. There is no other song I know which captures for me the sentiment of a Heavenly Mother.

    “I’m glad that I live in this beautiful world, [Heavenly Mother] [Heavenly Parents]created for me.”
    “She gave me my eyes that I might see, the color of butterfly wings, she gave me my ears that I might hear, the magical sound of things.”
    “For all their/her creations for which I’m a part, yes I know [Heavenly Mother] [Heavenly Parents] love(s) me.”

    That being said, I would be cautious about exactly where we change “he” to “she”. I believe we have sufficient evidence to replace the pronoun in many circumstances, but without evidence, I hesitate to replace it everywhere. I wish in the distant past, the things “she” did were not thoughtlessly erased to “he”. Changing pronouns has to be done thoughtfully and scriptorally, not ubiquitously. Likewise, there should be places where the correct pronoun is “she”, not “they”.

  10. Clark Goble says:

    I do think we softened our rhetoric somewhat during the period (especially under Pres Hinkley) when we were trying to build on common ground with other Christians. I think this most definitely had its benefits. It’s returned the language of grace to Mormon rhetoric for instance. (Even if I’d argue the ideas were always strongly present) However I’d like to see a return to emphasizing the key doctrines by way of emphasizing more traditional elements of rhetoric. Talking about heavenly parents, heavenly mother and emphasizing our pre-mortal state would be great.

    To my ears this seems like more a matter of degree though. I’ve always heard those sorts of things especially in talks to Stake Conferences or so forth.

  11. I think Paul probably has it right above. I can just imagine the fun to be had when 19-year-old missionaries start fielding questions about Heavenly Parents and Heavenly Mom with investigators who have heard certain things about the LDS.

  12. Paul, Mark N.: Not doing something important because it makes us uncomfortable is not a good reason. We are a peculiar people with unique doctrines and we need to own it.

  13. Peculiar we are, but we still need to be careful about creating God in our own image. I want revelation, not just the reasoning of people, even if they are generally smarter than me.

  14. Natalie B. says:

    Like Kevin, I’m struck by how this post illustrates the regularity in which we say Heavenly Parents while not speaking directly of Heavenly Mother. This post makes incorporating Heavenly Mother into our dialogue seem like a much smaller step. Very innovative post, EmJen!

  15. Hi, EmJen. I don’t disagree with the idea of owning our doctrines, I just don’t think the GAs in Salt Lake City are going to be happy about the idea of our missionary force spending any time educating people on a Mother in Heaven when it’s clear it’s not a doctrine that the leadership is comfortable with. My own investigations into the doctrine seem to tie it rather closely to the Adam-God “theory” and we all know what the General Authorities think of that. If you pick up one end of a stick, you also pick up the other, so that’s a stick that’s just not going to be picked up.

  16. Clark Goble says:

    Mark, while there definitely are ties to Adam/God even going back to Nauvoo, I’m not sure it’s fair to say they can’t be separated. After all we have no problem with the theology that Adam as head patriarch receives and accounting of stewardships at Adam-ondi-Ahman. Arguably by “splitting the Adams,” as some apologists put it, the problematic parts of Brigham Young’s theology disappear from a modern perspective. This isn’t that unique since arguably we’ve done the same thing to discussions of Jehovah noting that sometimes it’s the Father and sometimes the Son but that as a modern rhetorical practice we use it to refer to the Son. In the same way if Adam is a title you can do the same thing. I’d go so far as to argue Brigham just got confused on that issue.

    If the theology can be dealt with in that way I just don’t think there’s any problem separating out discussions of Mother in Heaven. I think the reason the brethren have a problem with the discussion is less the topic or even rhetoric than so little has been revealed. A common tendency the past decades is to pull away from more speculative theology without firm ground in revelations. I think combined with that is the tendency they see (whether correct or not) for groups to attempt to appropriate the rhetoric for particular political ends. That’s probably why the rhetoric of heavenly parents dominates over explicit mention of heavenly mother. I’d like to see that change but as a practical matter the bigger issue are the political overtones of the discussion.

    I should also add that I don’t buy for a minute the idea that discussion of heavenly mother can’t be separated out from 19th century discussion of polygamy or more modern questioning over the issue of polyandry. There was already a theological question about whether we are all literally just the children of a single father in heaven or whether creation is the children of all exalted beings from the previous creation. This is wrapped up with the question of just what exaltation means. Whether we as individual couple create our own universe or whether it’s a more joint endeavor. That’s clearly unknowable but I don’t think that question means we can’t talk about Heavenly Father the way we always have. So by extension it applies to Heavenly Mother as well.

  17. Hm, I don’t love the last part. There’s a (potential) difference between enjoying and fully receiving “all that the Father hath”. Does Heavenly Mother have all that the Father has? If so, why do we not pray to/worship and adore Her? Why is She not involved in our lives? Can I as a daughter receive what my Father has? And if so, how can I claim/practice that now?

  18. amen oleablossom.

  19. I don’t like this. (And up go the shields, or swords.) I recognize but probably underestimate or undervalue the Mother in Heaven talk for women, and feminists more broadly. It sets up a role model and validates women. It fills a void for women longing for a place in the scheme of things. However, Elder Nash’s talk in the first place, and even more with the addition of “Parents” and “their Son” and “Father and Mother”, perpetuates the grandfather—and now grandmother—with a white beard—and now white hair—in the sky, image of deity. It reinforces gender stereotypes and gender essentialism. It sets up a model of one-man-one-woman-sealed-for-eternity as the only legitimate or successful mode of being.
    I object first because I think the god in our image, anthropomorphic, gender specific, well-defined relationship description of deity is not true. That is, my understanding and through-the-glass-darkly picture of deity is not grandpa and grandma in the sky. My understanding is bigger and more mysterious and more inclusive, encompassing all of creation. (But my truth may not be your truth. So move on.) I object second because the god in our image description of deity is limiting and problematic as a metaphor or doctrine. Any ‘our image’ that you choose or imagine is specific and exclusive—skin color, age, gender, sexuality, marital status, politics, health, emotions. Inevitably like me or not like me. Inevitably like you or not like you. And that’s just wrong. Or trouble. Or leads to logical inconsistency. Or cuts some people out.
    God (him, her, them, Mormon, Christian, Jewish, Muslim) is bigger than all that.
    (And yes, I recognize that in the face of the Proclamation on the Family and talks like Elder Nash’s, I may have just defined myself right out of 21st century Mormonism.)

  20. Princess charlie says:

    @Mortimer: Have you ever heard Bobby McFerrin’s 23rd Psalm? It’s a really pretty choral arrangement, and particularly notable because all of the “he” statements are replaced by “she.” So “She” makes, leads, restores, etc. I really want it used more in the Church.