Heavenly Mother

I’ve never felt very strongly about the idea of a Heavenly Mother – not because I object to the female divine, but because I’ve never been convinced that God is necessarily male. I use words like “Him” and “Father” to describe God, but mostly just because English doesn’t include words that let me refer to a person or being without assigning gender.  [Update 2/17/09: For clarification: I’m not claiming that God isn’t male.  I’m claiming that He is sufficiently complex and my mortal mind is sufficiently limited that I’m not comfortable making absolute statements about His physical form.]
Here’s an interesting perspective that’s worth thinking about, I think:  The following is a rough transcript of an interview with Margaret Merrill Toscano from the (now defunct) Mormon Stories podcast.  She was asked to respond to the common LDS refrain that Heavenly Mother exists, but is not talked about because She is too sacred, and speaking of Her would denigrate Her.
Let me give you an analogy:  We don’t talk about certain things in the temple because we say they’re sacred.  But we have pictures of temples all over the place.  We talk about the importance of the temple.  We talk about going to the temple. … Temple is everywhere in our images our visual images, in our language – it’s there.  We want to silence speech about Heavenly Mother.  But when you silence speech, and I’m not saying that you always can say everything in every forum… but to not be able to say the name of Heavenly Mother, to not acknowledge  that she has something to do with us on an everyday level.  It erases her.  It does not make her sacred, it erases her.

Mormons are very literal. I personally do not know what the spiritual realm is like – what is spiritual and what is literal.  It’s very hard, I think, for us to know what are simply metaphors and what is real about this realm that we have so little evidence of, so I don’t know how much is literal.  But if you use the analogy that Mormons talk about a literal Heavenly Father and a literal Heavenly Mother, and they’re our parents… What would you think of a husband that told his kids that they couldn’t talk about their mother, or even talk to their mother on the phone because she was too sacred?  

They have locked Her up somewhere and given no one access to Her.  …in terms of the name being denigrated… as a mother, …if I had a choice between my ‘kid is going to yell at me because my child is angry at me’, and ‘my kid is never going to talk to me but be over there’, would I choose to interact with them even if it’s angry or not to interact at all?  As a mother, I would want to interact with the kid.  I mean, mothers deal in shit.  If to be a mother is to be thrown up at, that the baby’s diaper leaks all over you… you can’t be a mother without being shit upon… i will say it again, because the idea that motherhood is sacred and so you have to be removed from dealing with any dirty problems… who are we kidding?  …So if there is a real Heavenly Mother, she’s willing to take the shit…  What kind of a Mother wouldn’t be? I mean, that’s a real mother… that’s what a real mother is. So it doesn’t make any sense to me whatsoever.  For me, it is a mechanism of dismissing and erasing the Heavenly Mother, and I think it’s horrible.  And I think it damages – not just the women, but the men – because men need mothers and women need fathers, and we need good relationships with both.
It is probably worth noting that she was excommunicated from the LDS church on November 30, 2000.

8 comments to Heavenly Mother

  • What do you think about the idea that church leaders don't talk about Heavenly Mother because they want the Mormon church to be more accepted by other Christian faiths (i.e. the whole Mormons aren't Christian debate)? It seems like there are similar motivations behind why church leaders don't talk about the idea that man can become like God. During Mitt Romney's canidacy, they had a BYU professor on "Speaking of Faith." When asked about the idea that Mormon men could become like God one day, he was very dismissive of the idea and acted like it wasn't main stream doctrine. This surprised me because I consider it a key component of Mormon doctrine. President Hinckley acted in a similar manner when asked about these ideas in interviews with Mike Wallace.

  • Katie, I think that is exactly why they don't talk about Her. I think there are dozens of topics that the church purposefully chooses not to address because anything they say will upset someone. Topics like BOM historicity, BOM translation methods, Book of Abraham translation, eternal progression, polygamy, and past teachings about race present a lose-lose situation for the institutional church. If the church reaffirms what past prophets have said, traditional Christians are angry and we move further from the mainstream, if they denounce the teachings, many members are left with cognitive dissonance – trying to figure out why modern prophets are saying we don't believe things that past prophets clearly taught.

    From the standpoint of the institutional church, the best option to keep everyone happy is to just say nothing at all.

    Whether or not that is the most ethical or honest strategy is debatable.

    The third alternative, to be noncommittal and claim ignorance in many cases is probably the most truthful answer. But it will cause many to question Hinckley's claim to be a prophet, and his intentions are undermined when the current Joseph Smith manual explicitly teaches what he just tried to downplay. I was also very disturbed by that interview.

  • Anonymous

    Toscano's writings reflect those of someone who has been excommunicated. Anyone who would put forth the idea of a Heavenly mother while using the word "shit" in the same sentence is irreverent, to say the least.

    Reuben, your own writings are more than alarming. While it is ok to express doubts, some things should be kept private. Your doubts about the gender of God is one indication, to me, that you are on the wrong side of the line.

  • Anonymous,

    Irreverent? No doubt. But what of the merits of what she said?

    "your own writings are more than alarming" – Feel free to contact me via private email if you'd like to discuss any particular posts in more detail.

    "While it is ok to express doubts, some things should be kept private." – Agreed. I choose what I say very carefully on this blog. Nothing is posted here that I don't want people to read.

    "Your doubts about the gender of God is one indication, to me, that you are on the wrong side of the line." – The only line I know is the requirement to have faith in Christ and accept Him as my Savior. I hope I'm on the right side of that line, but God will be the judge. Again, feel free to contact me via private email if you'd like to discuss it more.

  • Interesting thoughts, Reuben, that obviously have elicited "interesting" comments from an anonymous reader. I do believe that God is a man and that there is a Heavenly Father. It only makes sense to me that God would have a companion, just as we are commanded to do on this earth. If God was once like us, and we can become a God someday, it naturally follows.

    Although, it is intriguing to note how little has been mentioned about a Heavenly Mother. Perhaps we'll never receive a firm answer to these questions until after we die.

  • Sarah, yes, it also makes sense to me that if God is male, there would have to be a female counterpart. It seems foolish to believe in a specifically male God if there is no female counterpart. Either there is both – or God is neither male nor female.

    So Sarah & Katie, why do YOU think we don't really talk or hear about HM?

  • Hmmm….I don't really know. I have thought a lot about this over the years and haven't come up with a satisfactory answer. One thing I have thought about is that every thing we know about Heavenly Father is probably true about Heavenly Mother too (1-She has a body of flesh and blood, 2-She loves us, 3-She is the mother of our spirits 4-She sacrificed her Son for us. etc). Maybe learning uniquely about Heavenly Mother as opposed ot Heavenly Father wouldn't really teach us anything new.

    I don't find the fact that we don't talk about Heavenly Mother as troubling as the fact that we don't talk to her. With all the emphasis on how important it is for each child to have the influence of a mother and father, with the emphasis on giving God gratitute for what he has done for us, with the emphasis on eternal gender yet with only male role models of eternal beings, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Why are church members actively discouraged (even excommunicated) for talking too much about her or for talking to her? This also doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

  • I found the post and the responses fascinating; hope it's okay if I add to the conversation.

    I completely agreed with Toscano's logic about a mother wanting to play an active role in raising her children. I nodded, and grinned at her "irreverent" language. My personal guess is that our heavenly parents are much more mutually participative than we know.

    I see 3 main weaknesses in her reasoning:

    1) She bases her logic on the idea that her cultural paradigm (of what is a mother's role) is sufficient for explaining how God is or should be. I don't think her view of this role is as universal as she makes it sound. Of course I expect to feel the same way as her about my own children…I share the same cultural paradigm…and thank goodness I live in a time AND a society in which I can be pretty much as involved as I desire in the lives of my children…but I also view my own understanding of the human experience vs the divine as finite, limited, biased. (Isa 55:9)

    2) Her reasoning is logical. It makes sense! But as Reuben pointed out in a recent post, revelation is key. That is the way to eternal truth. Furthermore, just because we can't find enough in written/canonized scripture to satisfy our desire to know, doesn't mean God can't or won't reveal more to us…line upon line…even if only personally?

    3)The lack of communication [made public] on the subject of Heavenly Mother does not erase her existence. Man, there are TONS of things we know very little about…Heavenly Mother is just one…and to me that doesn't mean we haven't spent enough time proving she or these other things exist. Perhaps it just means they are less crucial to our salvation.

    All I know is, the closer I become to my Heavenly Father and my Savior – both male figures – the more exalted, ennobled, and empowered I feel as a woman. The more sure of my divine role. So I'm thinking they must know something about becoming a goddess that human social models can't explain.

    Whoa, sorry for the novel!