By Janice Allred
To what shall we attribute the silence surrounding the Mother in Heaven? Is it the silence of holiness? Is it the silence of fear? Are we awed by the weight of eternity, or do we take sacred things lightly? Do we listen for revelation, or do we disregard it? Can the silence be addressed? Can we break the silence if we do not address it?
An article published in the spring 2011 issue of BYU Studies questions this silence. While the authors acknowledge that many in the LDS community believe that “discourse about Heavenly Mother is forbidden or inappropriate,” they conclude that “claims . . . that the Church mandates silence or gives only simplistic portrayals of the Mother in Heaven . . . are mostly false.”1 This article, written by BYU professor David L. Paulsen and his student Martin Pulido and entitled “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” bases its conclusion on a survey of statements about Heavenly Mother found in sources “endorsed in some fashion by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1830 to present.”2 Concerning their methodology, the authors state, “We felt a statement could be appropriately included in this survey if it was spoken by a General Authority, recorded in a general conference, included in a Church publication, or published by a Church press.”3 Their methodology thus deals only with authoritative discourse.
Certainly the content of authorized discourse is important, but whatever their research reveals, it cannot address the fears surrounding unauthorized discourse. The perception of the average church member that it is forbidden or inappropriate to speak about the Mother in Heaven cannot be changed by citing discourse endorsed by the Church because the perception is based on the belief that for some reason discourse about the Heavenly Mother must be authorized. Silence is engendered both by the paucity of approved discourse and the reactions of members and local leaders when the topic is broached. Paulsen and Pulido refer to an informal Internet survey as the source for their statement that most Mormons believe that discussion of the Heavenly Mother is forbidden or inappropriate. This survey shows how these beliefs are spread. Doe Daughtrey, the author of the survey, writes:
After posting a list of questions as to the relevance of Heavenly Mother to Mormons today on Belief.net, I was not surprised to be repeatedly warned by faithful Mormons that I had chosen an inappropriate topic and to hear almost verbatim statements regarding her sacrality and the necessity of her protection. Several of them warned me away from discussion about Heavenly Mother after seeking advice from their local leaders.4
The widespread idea that silence about the Heavenly Mother is required to protect her name from slander, though increasingly discredited and rejected, does point to a lack of discourse about the Heavenly Mother. The idea arose not to stop us from talking about her, but to explain why we don’t. Paulsen and Pulido’s survey attempts to change the perception that the Church maintains silence about the Mother in Heaven by showing that there has been a steady stream of discourse about her from the beginning of the Church to the present. They have distributed their citations fairly evenly over time, including thirty-four from 1845–1899, thirty-five from 1900–1949, forty-six from 1950–1999 and four from 2000–2011.5 Although their research challenges the myth of the need for silence, it also shows that discourse about the Heavenly Mother is problematic. In 180 years of Church-approved discourse, there are fewer than six hundred references to her. Why don’t we speak more freely about her?6
Does the publication of this article in a Church-sponsored publication signal permission for the average Church member to speak about the Heavenly Mother? Since the authors “have found no public record of a General Authority advising us to be silent about our Heavenly Mother,”7 does this mean we may speak freely and with impunity?
If we wish to address the doctrine of the Mother God seriously in the Mormon context, we cannot hide the silencing and punishment that some of those who have written about this doctrine have experienced. We cannot dismiss and cover up the fact that many women have been called in, warned, intimidated, released from callings, and had their temple recommends revoked over this issue. The high-profile excommunications of several women who published or spoke publicly about God the Mother, including myself, Margaret Toscano, Lynne Whitesides, and Maxine Hanks, validate the perception that discourse about the Heavenly Mother is forbidden. These excommunications were not the work of overzealous local leaders. Each of us who were excommunicated has documentation that our punishment was directed from the highest levels of the Church hierarchy. Punishment and intimidation define prohibitions more effectively than official pronouncements.
Is the silencing being lifted? Three other recent articles are important in addressing this question. David Paulsen also authored one of these. In his introduction to Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies, a collection of scholarly essays in dialogic format, he lists the divine feminine as one of the fresh ideas that Mormonism brings to the discussion of Christian theology,8 and he spends several pages in the section on open theology discussing the development and meaning of the Mormon belief in the Mother in Heaven.9 A 2009 article in Time, entitled “The Storm Over the Mormons,” discusses the Church’s support of Proposition 8 in California and the repercussions for the Church in displaying so openly its political cohesion and power. The article explains the unique Mormon beliefs that underlie its opposition to gay marriage. It quotes Marlin Jensen, the official Church historian, saying, the “context for our being so dogged about preserving the family is that Mormons believe that God is their father and that they have a heavenly mother and that eventually their destiny is to become like that.”10 The third piece is a 2008 article in Dialogue by Kevin Barney which uses non-LDS scholarship about the Hebrew Goddess Asherah to show what we can learn from the scriptures about the Mother in Heaven.11
Each of these publications is related in some way to explaining and defending Mormon beliefs to the larger communities in which we participate. Paulsen’s discussion of the LDS beliefs about the Mother in Heaven is a detailed response to questions posed by Clark Pinnock, one of the non-LDS participants in the dialogue. Jensen’s statement is a defense of the LDS opposition to gay marriage. Barney’s article appears to be part of a larger project to defend the LDS doctrine of the Godhead. He writes:
Faithful LDS scholars have a strong motivation to take the recent non-LDS scholarship regarding Asherah as the Hebrew Goddess very seriously. If they have any interest in propping up the contemporary Mormon image of Elohim as a father deity and Jehovah as a separate son-deity (and they do), then they must recognize that Asherah is an integral part of that scholarship.12
The Mormon belief that God is embodied and that the Godhead consists of three distinct persons is the key issue. Pinnock’s question to LDS theologians about God the Mother focuses on embodiment. He writes, “Latter-day Saints seem to believe in a literal male deity. This being the case, I wonder why we hear practically nothing of a female deity. Is she everlasting too? Can she be prayed to?”13 These are critical questions. Christian feminist theologians have responded to the feminist challenge to an exclusively male God by exploring the feminine attributes of God, pointing out feminine metaphors describing God, and seeking to develop a more inclusive language to speak about God. The Mormon doctrine of divine embodiment requires that Mormon theologians go further. Our teaching that God the Father is an embodied male who is the literal father of our spirits requires that a heavenly mother exist, but is she God? I do not see the recent interest in talking about the Heavenly Mother as a response to women’s concerns about the problems of seeing God as exclusively male. On the contrary, its purpose seems to be to defend that belief. Paulsen avoids answering Pinnock’s question, “Is she everlasting?” which clearly means, “Is she God?” by asserting that for Mormons all intelligence is everlasting.14 She is no one special.
Paulsen again faces the question of the Mother in Heaven’s divinity in the BYU Studies article. Here he and Pulido do focus on the core issue. Finding some disagreement in their sources, they state:
Perhaps part of the disagreement among Mormon thinkers is that most have not clearly defined what they mean by “divinity,” and they are consequently uncertain what it signifies to predicate this attribute to Heavenly Mother. No one denies her omnibenevolent character or divine intelligence, so the concern seems to be with her cosmic authority or status for worship. Obviously, defining divinity demands further attention, but we do not suggest any solution.15
“Is Heavenly Mother a member of the Godhead?” is the crucial question. Is she God the Mother or simply our Mother in Heaven? To answer this question it is, indeed, necessary to address the issues of her cosmic authority and status for worship. There are three impediments that prevent Mormon theologians who want to remain mainstream from honestly addressing these issues and developing a theology of God the Mother. These impediments also stand in the way of the spiritual development of Church members as they seek to worship God in spirit and in truth.16
The first is the issue of priesthood. Priesthood is central to Mormon theology. It is the power through which God creates and governs all things. The scriptures teach that receiving priesthood is an ordinance of salvation and a principle of sanctification. Those who follow Christ in service and sacrifice participate in and magnify priesthood.17 Clearly priesthood is essential both for women and God the Mother. Without it, they cannot be full participants in the work of God. The issues of priesthood for women and the divinity of God the Mother are fundamentally intertwined. As long as the LDS Church denies priesthood to women, it cannot receive the revelation of God the Mother. As long as it rejects her ministry and work, it denies its women the fullness of the gospel.
The second impediment is President Hinckley’s 1991 speech, given in the general Relief Society meeting, in which he directs Church members not to pray to the Mother in Heaven. He says:
Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me.
However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.18
Hinckley is referring to the reasoning Eliza R. Snow uses in her hymn “O My Father.”
I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.19
Although he acknowledges Snow’s contribution, he fails to acknowledge the revelation which supports it, which she refers to as “the key of knowledge.” He says, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her . . . None of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.”20 He also fails to acknowledge the long-standing Mormon belief in the Mother in Heaven. What he gives is clearly his opinion. It is an administrative directive based on what he deems appropriate. He neither claims revelation nor encourages it.
President Hinckley’s remarks about praying to the Mother in Heaven were originally made in an address to the regional representatives in which he spoke of the need to keep the doctrine of the Church pure. He warned them to beware of “small beginnings of apostasy” and cited praying to the Mother in Heaven as an example.21 Prayer to the Mother in Heaven is not only inappropriate but a sign of apostasy. Although he does not make this explicit in the address given in the general Relief Society meeting, he does make it clear that he is speaking from a position of authority and telling Church members that they may not pray to the Mother in Heaven. His directive is a response to the “greatly exercised” and “misguided” women “who advocate the offering of prayers to our Mother in Heaven” and “are seeking to lead others in the paths which they are following.”22 Hinckley’s speech put an abrupt end to the growing discourse about the Mother in Heaven. In the 1980s, a new group of Mormon feminists had begun focusing on theological issues. They were encouraged to explore the ramifications of a belief in a Mother in Heaven by the Mormon doctrine of the embodiment of God and the enthusiastic writings of early Mormon thinkers about her. In his speech to the regional representatives, Hinckley made it clear that Church discipline was to be used in this matter. He told them to “counsel priesthood leaders to be on the alert for the use of this expression and to make correction where necessary. Such correction can be handled in a discreet and inoffensive way. But it should be firm and without equivocation.”23 Some members, mostly women, were “called in” and reprimanded, released from callings, and even excommunicated for talking about their belief in Mother in Heaven. These disciplinary measures generated not only fear and silence but also a belief that it must be wrong and even sinful to talk about Heavenly Mother.
My own experiences delineate sharply the change caused by President Hinckley’s statement. In May 1991, just a few months before President Hinckley’s speech, I was asked to give a talk in my ward on Mother’s Day. In this talk I spoke about our belief in a Heavenly Mother. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The woman who gave the closing prayer expressed gratitude for our Heavenly Mother. The Relief Society president asked me for a copy of the talk so that the Relief Society could give one to each woman in the ward. They typed up my hand-written words and distributed them. For months afterward, women thanked me for the talk. A year later, after President Hinckley’s speech, I was teaching a class in Relief Society about the Second Coming and wanted to mention the blessings as well as the tribulations that will come. I quoted from Doctrine and Covenants 121:28 about the revelations reserved for the last days: “A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.” I remarked that I regarded this as a promise for revelation about God the Mother. Although no one said anything to me about this, I learned later from one of the members of the ward Relief Society presidency that they had been upset by this remark and discussed it with the bishop who had taken the concern to the stake president. I was released from my calling as a Relief Society teacher soon afterwards. About this time, I gave my speech “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother” at the Sunstone Symposium, which led to my excommunication. I concluded this talk with the same words that I had used in the conclusion of my Mother’s Day talk.
Prayer to the Mother in Heaven has been the focus of the silencing and fear surrounding speaking about the Mother in Heaven because prayer, asking of God, clearly identifies the one prayed to as God. The articles by Paulsen, Barney, and Paulsen and Pulido show the continuing influence of President Hinckley’s 1991 directive. They all reference it and make it clear that they support it. In his response to Pinnock’s question regarding prayer to the Mother in Heaven, Paulsen explains the official Mormon pattern: addressing the Father, giving thanks, asking for blessings, and then closing in the name of Jesus Christ. He then quotes President Hinckley’s 1991 directive stating that prayer to the Mother in Heaven is “inappropriate.”24 In their survey of references to the Mother in Heaven, Paulsen and Pulido make two references to President Hinckley’s directive. The first is given at the beginning of the article and establishes the context for the entire study.25 The second is given toward the end of the article, reminding us that everything said about the Mother in Heaven must be interpreted in the context of the prohibition against praying to her. They write, “Notwithstanding this teaching that Heavenly Mother is an exemplar in our mortality, we must keep in mind the counsel given by President Gordon B. Hinckley: ‘I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.’”26 Barney also makes it clear that he follows President Hinckley’s counsel. “I personally have never prayed to Her under any circumstances and I do not feel the need to do so.”27
Barney, however, sees worship as distinct from prayer. He titles his article, “How to Worship Our Heavenly Mother (Without Getting Excommunicated).” When I read the title I wondered if Barney would offer some insights about how to seriously address the issue of the Heavenly Mother in LDS theology without offending the Church hierarchy. As one who was excommunicated for publishing an essay attempting to develop a theology that includes the Heavenly Mother in the Godhead, I wondered if he would show me where my approach went wrong. I was disappointed. Barney actually follows the same basic approach I followed, which is to search the scriptures for knowledge of the Mother using scholarly tools and insights about the nature of God developed from Mormon theology. Margaret Toscano, whose writings on God the Mother also figured in her excommunication, used this same basic approach. Although Barney is aware that a few people were excommunicated for discussing the Mother in Heaven, he gives no indication that he is familiar with our work. He sees the controversy surrounding speaking about the Heavenly Mother as a kind of misunderstanding between traditionalists, who accept the existence of the Mother in Heaven but believe we know nothing about her, and liberals who are sympathetic to feminist thought and engage “in New Age syncretism in a desire to fill the lacuna.”28 He does not address the role of the Church hierarchy in the fear and silence surrounding speaking about the Mother in Heaven.
Barney reserves the last section of his article for his suggestions of ways we “might actually worship, or at least honor Her in ways that should not be considered offensive or heterodox by traditionalists.”29 He begins it by declaring, “First, no idolatry.”30 There seems to be a fear that worshipping or praying to God the Mother might involve idolatry. But this would be true only if she were a false god. What is idolatry and what is true worship? Is true worship simply following correct rituals? Barney’s suggestions all involve symbolic or ritualistic actions. Hinckley puts prayer in the realm of ritual and protocol by asserting that prayer to the Mother in Heaven is inappropriate. In his explanation of Jesus’ teachings about prayer, he focuses on correct form and fails to see their deeper import.
Jesus taught that the most important form of worship is the way we live our lives. The object of our worship is the object of our deepest commitment. “Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).The will of God is not the same as the will of an individual person. God is the creator and sustainer of all that is and is connected to all that is through the spirit. God loves and desires the good of all beings. Doing the will of God means desiring good for each person and working to bless the lives of others. Jesus taught the Samaritan woman that true worship is not ritualistic but comes from the heart. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, N.E.B). We worship in spirit and truth when our own spirit (the locus of our agency) desires good and truth and receives the spirit of God, which enables us to receive the knowledge we need to actually bless the lives of others.
In my 1992 essay, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” which led to my excommunication, I didn’t advocate praying to the Mother in Heaven or admit to so praying myself. However, I did offer an analysis of worship and prayer which sees such prayer as important and meaningful. I wrote:
Prayer, unlike ritual, does not require a form given by God to be efficacious. In its most fundamental sense, prayer is a reaching out for God. The deepest longings of our hearts, our strivings for goodness, our hearts broken by our sins and failures, the pains of our humanity, our hope for love, and finally our deepest desires to know God are all prayers to him and her.31
Worship, prayer, and believing in God are inextricably connected. When the Woman of Holiness has been revealed to us and we understand that she is God, then we also, in the most fundamental way, worship her. We desire to be like her, to serve her, and to do her work. True worship cannot be compelled or forbidden. It comes from the heart.
Jesus taught us to pray to God as our Father to remind us that God loves us and desires to give us good gifts. The most important gift is the gift of the Holy Spirit. As I was preparing my Mother’s Day talk in 1991, I was thinking about our Heavenly Mother and pondering the possibility of praying to her. The words of Jesus came into my mind, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 12:13). I had already come to believe that the Mother is the Holy Spirit, and I realized that Jesus’ teaching was meant to remove barriers between us and God, who loves us. God our Mother loves us. Of course, we can pray to her! I quickly wrote down the words that formulated in my mind. I used these words to conclude my Mother’s Day talk and my Sunstone speech, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother.”
Which of you mothers, if your child cries out in the night, will not hear her cries and go to her and put your arms around her and comfort her? If you, then, being weak, know how to comfort your children, how much more does our Mother in Heaven comfort us when we stand in need of comfort?
Or which of you mothers, if your child is confused or has a problem, will not give him counsel? If you, then, lacking knowledge of the future, know how to counsel your children, how much more does our Heavenly Mother guide us when we ask to know what we should do?
Or which of you mothers, if your child asks you a question, will send him away? If you, then, being ignorant of many things, know how to enlighten your children, how much more does our Mother in Heaven give truth to those who seek it?
Or which of you mothers does not know that your children need you to be with them? If you, then, being selfish, will sacrifice to be with your children, how much more is our Mother, not in heaven, but here with us?32
The third impediment to developing a theology of God the Mother is the Church’s 1995 Proclamation on the Family. I see this document as an attempt by the Church leadership to publish an authoritative text which establishes a patriarchal cosmos with rigid, eternal gender roles. The ideas in the document have evolved from Joseph Smith’s teaching that God the Father is an embodied male and we are his literal offspring. This, of course, as Eliza R. Snow proclaims, means that we have a Mother in Heaven. Paulsen and Pulido’s survey shows how exciting this teaching was for the early Mormons. The exalted titles they cite for her such as “Eternal Mother” and “God Mother” come mostly from the Church’s first century. Although the three articles I’ve discussed point to the Proclamation as an authoritative source declaring that the belief in a Heavenly Mother is a Mormon doctrine,33 the Proclamation does not actually name her. Her existence must be inferred from the statement, “Each [human being] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents.”34 Although the BYU Studies survey gives a few references that see the Heavenly Mother as a divine person, a co-creator with God the Father, and the co-author of the plan of salvation, the Proclamation clearly does not. It states, “In the pre-mortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life.”35 This document tells us nothing about her. It is his plan, and we are his children. We can only infer that her work is to fulfill the role prescribed for earthly mothers.
The influence of Hinckley’s statement and the Proclamation can be seen in the statements Paulsen and Pulido cite following 1991. Two of them address the question of why we can’t discuss the Heavenly Mother. The rest all subsume her in the term “heavenly parents.” Only the final quote, after subsuming her in “heavenly parents” refers to “Her eyes” and “Her Countenance.”36
The dilemma for Mormon women is that the doctrines of divine embodiment and literal heavenly parents, which revealed the existence of our Mother in Heaven, have finally put us in the rigid confines of the Proclamation’s patriarchal cosmos. In its view of God and humanity, the Proclamation defines an authoritarian, patriarchal cosmos, a fixed system with rigid roles. It declares that the family is the fundamental unit of society. The Time article states that “the return to God [or salvation] is accomplished by heterosexually founded families, not individuals.”37 This is in agreement with the Proclamation, but in sharp contrast to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is addressed to the individual person. The gospel affirms human equality and invites each person to participate in the eternal life of God through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance of sins, following Christ, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Although we will live in communities with others, although eternal life is a shared life, we will remain individual persons.
The equality of persons does not mean sameness. It means that each person has intrinsic worth and infinite potential. Equality is promoted by honoring agency, by reversing roles, by valuing diverse gifts, and by creating systems and structures that safeguard human rights. If the family, not the individual, is the fundamental unit of society, then the individual does not have intrinsic worth but has only utilitarian value in fulfilling his or her role within the family. The person becomes the role. Since roles are inherently unequal, the cosmic view defined by the Proclamation is fundamentally different than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Reducing the person to a role is more damaging for women than for men because the roles prescribed for men—presiding (making decisions), providing (controlling resources), and protecting (defending boundaries)—define personhood, while, nurturing, the role prescribed for women, is a sacrificial role. Such a role must be freely chosen by a person; otherwise it is servitude, not service. The roles prescribed for men are also necessary roles for women, and the role prescribed for women is necessary for men if they choose to follow Christ. Service is, indeed, the essence of priesthood.
Not only the Mother but Jesus Christ is absent in the cosmos of the Proclamation. His teachings are referred to as a useful foundation for achieving happiness in family life, but our Redeemer, the Creator of all that is, the way, the truth, and the life, is absent. The Proclamation replaces the gospel of Jesus Christ with what it calls the plan of the Heavenly Father. In the Proclamation, eternal life is our divine destiny, not the gift which God bestows on all who follow Christ in love and truth
If I reject the theology implicit in the Proclamation, do I also give up the Mormon notion of God which necessitates a Mother in Heaven? Not necessarily. Embodiment, not a literal father deity, is the crucial issue. If God is unembodied, then it might seem that God is also ungendered. But attributes themselves are gendered. Although feminine attributes may be ascribed to a monotheistic God, he is usually gendered as male. Sovereignty, divine power, transcendence, lawgiving, and judgment are masculine attributes that give a masculine character to deity and take precedence over any feminine qualities, such as mercy and nurturing, that also might be ascribed to God. A pantheistic God might be seen as feminine, but certainly not as a woman. Monotheism, which emphasizes God’s transcendence, also tends to take away God’s personhood. Is God a person? Is embodiment required for personhood? Embodiment and personhood are necessary for seeing God both as a Woman and as a Man. It is not coincidental that both the Mother and the Son are missing in the Proclamation. The body of the Mother and the body of the Son are both crucial. The solution to the dilemma for Mormon women posed by the Proclamation lies in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I began studying the Book of Mormon seriously almost forty years ago, and from it I learned that the Father and the Son are not two separate persons. The same being who created the heavens and the earth and mankind redeems his creation and is the source of life, light, truth, and sanctification. I accepted this teaching and have based all of my theological reflection and work on it. I didn’t start thinking about feminist concerns until more than ten years later. I asked myself how a feminine deity might fit into my understanding of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. His gospel mandates equality. He addresses himself to the individual person and makes himself equal to each of us. The importance of his body, which signifies that he is a personal being, convinces me that a Woman of Holiness shares the Godhead with him. I began searching the scriptures for knowledge of her, and I have found and continue to find an abundance of revelation.
In my 1992 paper, I proposed that the Eternal God is both a Man and a Woman—the Eternal Father and the Eternal Mother. They are both fully God and they work together to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life. To do this, the Father sacrifices his eternal body to become the Son to redeem us from our sins, and the Mother sacrifices her eternal body to become the Holy Spirit to comfort, enlighten, and sanctify us.38 In the years since this paper, I have come to appreciate more and more the importance of understanding that as God is one, the work of God is one. Creation, redemption, revelation, and sanctification are all aspects of salvation and eternal life. Traditionally, the three persons of the Godhead are each identified with one of these roles. But rigid role identification leads to inequality even in the Godhead. If the Mother is identified with her role as Holy Spirit, her personhood is lost. She is the light by which we see, but we cannot see her. Being a mother requires sacrifice, but a mother must first be a person for her own sake as well as her child’s. In my 2009 Sunstone paper, “Is Heavenly Mother a Member of the Godhead?” I argue that the scriptures show that both Jesus Christ and the Eternal Mother fulfill all these roles. This poem expresses my longing to know God the Mother more fully.
To Our Mother in Exile
Before I was born
You were the One
In whom I lived
And had my being.
When I took my first breath
You were there
And put me to your breast
And filled me up.
When I awoke alone,
Engulfed by darkness,
And cried out,
It must have been your arms
That picked me up
And held me close.
It must have been your finger
On the page of my first book,
Pointing to the pictures,
Your chin upon my head,
And your voice
Teaching me the names.
But somewhere, Mother,
In my going forth into the world,
In my growing
And making a place for myself in the world,
I didn’t need you
And you disappeared.
I took care of myself,
Earned my own way,
Bought and sold,
Obeyed the law,
And worshipped the Lawgiver.
But now I am a mother myself.
My body is used,
Alone with my child,
I am engulfed with wonder
And I awake to the arrogance of my march.
The mystery in my baby’s eyes
And the gentle tug at my breast
Draws me to you.
I want to know you, Mother;
I want to see your face.39
I want to make it clear that I welcome and appreciate the work done by Paulsen, Pulido, and Barney in writing about the Heavenly Mother. I think they have made important contributions to the discussion, and I hope their work will encourage others to speak and write about God the Mother. The criticisms I have made have been directed toward the frame in which they operate, not to the work they have done.
“‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about the Mother in Heaven” reveals an important problem with discussion about God the Mother: a lack of names. The article uses “Heavenly Mother” sixty-two times, “Mother in Heaven” sixteen times, “Mother” fourteen times and “heavenly parents” twenty-seven times.40 The few other titles it uses all refer to her roles of wife and mother. We have many names for God, but having only one way to refer to God the Mother makes it difficult to imagine her in any other way than as a mother. And our prejudices color that term.
In conclusion, I would like to offer the names for her that I have gleaned in studying and pondering the scriptures. I have arranged them in chiastic form with her role as Redeemer at the center. Thus I began with names of the Mother-Creator, move to Holy Spirit-Revelator names, go to the names of her mortal mission, and then return to the names of the Spirit and the Mother.
Names of God the Mother
Womb of Creation
Watcher of the Watchers
Tree of Life
The Holy Spirit
God With us
The One Who Never Left Us But Is Lost
Seed of the One
Ensign to the Nations
Blade of Freedom
The One Called from Everlasting to Recall Us to Eternity
Sword of Justice
An Army with Banners
The One Who Never Left Us and Is Found
God Among Us
Lady of Peace
The Light of Truth
Bride of Christ
Mother of All Living
Root, Branch, and Leaf of the Tree
God the Mother
Keeper of the Times
The Great High Priestess
The Everlasting Mother
Our God Throughout All Times and in Eternity
1. David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” BYU Studies 50, no. 1 (2011), 75.
2. Ibid., 74.
3. Ibid., 74.
4. Quoted in Margaret Merrill Toscano, “Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology? An Investigation into Discourses of Power,” Sunstone, 133 (July 2004); 15.
5. I used the citations in the footnotes as well as the citations in the text to obtain these numbers.
6. The number is probably much lower. In their sidebar on methodology (74), Paulsen and Pulido state that they “attempted to identify each distinct reference to Heavenly Mother as found in content endorsed in some fashion by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1830 to present,” but they do not give the number of distinct references that they found. They imply that the citations included in the article represent only a small portion of a much larger body of material, but they are unclear about the sources for this material. They state, “We have compiled over six hundred sources of all types referencing a Heavenly Mother in Mormon and academic discourse since 1844 (76).” The footnote to this statement (16) lists many sources (such as Sunstone and Dialogue) that are not endorsed by the Church, so this number clearly does not refer to the main focus of the study: Church-approved discourse. This footnote on sources also lists some academic journals that have no connection to Mormonism. Were the authors looking for references to a Mormon belief in a Mother God in these journals or for any reference to feminine deity? It isn’t clear. We can only conclude that the number of distinct references to Heavenly Mother in Church-approved publications is much less than six hundred.
7. Paulsen and Pulido, “A Mother There,” 85.
8. David Paulsen, “A Dialogue on Openness Theology,” in Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies, edited by Donald W. Musser and David L. Paulsen, (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2007), 13.
9. Ibid., 532–538.
10. David Van Biema, “The Storm over the Mormons,” Time, 22 June 2009, 51.
11. Kevin L. Barney, “How to Worship Our Mother in Heaven (Without Getting Excommunicated),” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 41, no. 4 (Winter 2008), 121–146.
12. Ibid., 125.
13. Clark H. Pinnock, “A Dialogue on Openness Theology” in Mormonism in Dialogue with Contemporary Christian Theologies, edited by Donald W. Musser and David L. Paulsen, (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2007), 506.
14. Paulsen,” A Dialogue on Openness Theology,” 535.
15. Paulsen and Pulido, “A Mother There,” 80.
16. See John 4:19–24
17. See Section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants and Alma 13.
18. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, November 1991, 100.
19. Eliza R. Snow, “O My Father,” in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 292.
20. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” 100.
21. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Cornerstones of Responsibility,” address at Regional Representative Seminar, Salt Lake City, 5 April 1991, 2–3, copy in my possession.
22. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” 100.
23. Hinckley, Cornerstones of Responsibility,” 4.
24. Paulsen, “A Dialogue on Openness Theology,” 535–536.
25. Paulsen and Pulido, “A Mother There,” 73.
26. Ibid., 84.
27. Barney, “How To Worship Our Mother in Heaven,” 137.
28. Ibid., 122.
29. Ibid., 122.
30. Ibid., 132.
31. Janice Allred, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27, no. 2 (Summer 1994), 38–39. This article is included in Janice Allred, God the Mother and Other Theological Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 42–68.
32. Ibid., 39.
33. Paulsen and Pulido, “A Mother There,” 73; Paulsen, “A Dialogue on Openness Theology,” 534; Barney, “How To Worship Our Mother in Heaven,” 121.
34. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 102.
35. Ibid., 102.
36. Paulsen and Pulido, “A Mother There,” 85.
37. Biema, “The Storm Over the Mormons,” 51.
38. Allred, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother,” 15–39.
39. Janice Allred, “To Our Mother in Exile,” 1998, copy in my possession.
40. These numbers are taken from just the text of the article.