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I daresay it has almost become a cliché to begin a discussion about the Mormon belief of a Heavenly Mother with a reference to Eliza Snow’s now ubiquitous lyric—“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.”1 Yet, far from cliché, discussions like this one so oen begin with this lyric because Snow’s poetic avowal of a Heavenly Mother remains the only statement within Mormonism’s textual canon about a mother in heaven. is lyric not only exhausts just the doctrinal statements of Heavenly Mother in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the Latter-day Saint hymnal combined, but it also exhausts all mention of her in these texts. Canonically speaking, she has remained conﬁned to one verse of one song in the hymnal—tying her into other doctrines of Godhead, exaltation, eternal families, and so on, requires us to speculate if we are to stick to Mormon scriptures. Ironically, though, Heavenly Mother remains present in Mormon history and popular memory. For all her absence from oﬃcial or quasi-oﬃcial sources of Mormon revelation and scripture, she is still never repudiated by Mormons themselves, and in many cases, she plays a key role in Mormon imaginings of the aerlife and the eternal family. So why the disparity? How is it that one oblique reference—at least when it was penned—to Heavenly Mother could gain so much traction in the consciousness of Mormons? To complicate matters, many Mormon women report a general apathy toward a Heavenly Mother doctrine,
Eliza R. Snow, “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother,” Times and Seasons 6 (November 15, 1845): 1039; also Eliza R. Snow, Eliza R. Snow: e Complete Poetry, ed. Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson (Provo: Brigham Young University Press; Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009), 313–14.
feeling instead that faith in Jesus suﬃces, though no one in signiﬁcant surveys of Mormon women’s beliefs has reported a rejection of her existence.2 Heavenly Mother remains present within Mormon theism despite overt downplaying of further details by Mormon church leaders. is very well could be due to the tense and complex period when Mormon pioneers practiced polygamy and Heavenly Mother factored into the cosmology as a necessary element. As Snow’s lyric expresses, it follows that if a theology professes the continuation of the earthly family unit in aerlife and that the family is the eternal model for godhood, then there must be an eternal mother alongside an eternal father. When “celestial marriage” became such a contested battleground in the late 1800s as outside antagonism toward Mormon polygamy intensiﬁed, little wonder Heavenly Mother garnered more theological attention while at the same time diminishing in theological deﬁnition.3 e earliest forays into a Heavenly Mother theology went two directions: both forward and nowhere. Mormons were intrigued by the concept but they allowed detail to ﬁzzle out over time, leaving only one constant—an aﬃrmation but no systematic theology of Heavenly Mother. I argue that how the doctrine of Heavenly Mother developed in Mormon history uniquely disposed it to be a blank slate for Mormon women onto which they could project their own perceptions of womanhood. It is precisely the lack of theological deﬁnition that makes this possible. e only real Heavenly Mother theology (as opposed to unsystematic doctrine) to emerge from the Mormon clergy is that there is a Heavenly Mother somewhere out there with some sort of divine
I base this observation primarily on my ﬁndings in researching the oral histories of Mormon women collected and archived by the Claremont Mormon Women Oral History Project, though others have also noted this fact. See Amy Hoyt, “Beyond the Victim/Empowerment Paradigm: e Gendered Cosmology of Mormon Women,” Feminist eology 16, no. 1 (2007): 89–100 and Terryl L. Givens, e Latter-day Saint Experience in America (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2004), 216–17.
Grant Tucker Smith, “I’ve a Mother ere: Identity, Language, and Experience in Mormon Women’s Literature” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1993), 88–121. Smith believes Heavenly Mother theology ﬁrst developed among sister wives as they struggled to eke out a living in harsh circumstances.
is study examined all of the oral histories taken before April. the spiritual birth of the human soul. So Heavenly Mother is decidedly not a negation or a vacuum in Mormon theology. to reﬂect on the idea of a Heavenly Mother.5 When the existence of a Heavenly Mother is aﬃrmed but then le without further deﬁnition in doctrinal. I’m interested here in how this functions like a mirror. but beyond this Mormons are le to themselves to ﬁll in the gaps. 5 ere is one liturgical tradition in Mormonism I should mention. the sealing of families and the spirit of Elijah. oen wishing at the same time to reclaim knowledge about her lost through perceived apostasy and to hold her in a kind of sacred veneration that demands not speaking much about her. “Is ere a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon eology? An Investigation into Discourses of Power. Contained in the Claremont archive of oral histories by Mormon women of the twentieth century are over a hundred interviews with women in which they were asked. “O My Father. Some have called this a battleground of gender dynamics over the suppression of the sacred feminine.” for the Mother’s Day sacrament meeting. the beliefs of pre-existence and the origins of the human family.4 For my part. ritual. and so on.” Sunstone 133 (July 2004): 14–22. a unique ambivalence surfaces within Mormonism. among many other things. the number of interviews containing direct references to Heavenly Mother is bound to increase. 4 Because this project continues to collect oral histories. 6 . To proceed. Mormons want to include Heavenly Mother in their theology.6 e most profound beliefs in Mormonism get tied up at the same moment with the idea of a Heavenly Mother—for instance. I will ﬁrst provide some context about how the idea of Heavenly Mother has developed in Mormonism with the recognition that much has already been oﬀered by other Margaret Toscano believes Heavenly Mother theology developed as a discourse for male power and the further subordination of women: Toscano.3 parental relationship to humankind. but they remain ambivalent about how far and how little to take things. and liturgical canons. 2011. What emerges is a mirror image reﬂecting back what Mormon women think of themselves as women and how they imagine a divine version of womanhood. and that is the tradition of singing Eliza Snow’s hymn. though. which Mormons intend precisely because of the hymn’s reference to a Heavenly Mother. Godhead and godhood.
Appearance and Development of a Heavenly Mother eology in Mormonism Eliza Snow apparently insisted that the Mormon idea of Heavenly Mother originated not with her poem but with a revelation to Joseph Smith.4 scholars on this topic—I oﬀer little (if anything) new here. 1870. 1916 as quoted in Linda P. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. ed. Abraham Cannon recorded in his journal what he heard a quorum president say about what Coltrin had once said about a visionary A letter written by David O. appeared a man and a woman. March 16. fn 11. 1987). But this context is crucial for understanding how the women of the oral histories think about and express their ideas of a Heavenly Mother. Smith invited Coltrin and Oliver Cowdery to go for a walk in the woods. Coltrin said that they saw the blue sky open up and above them. Smith identiﬁed the man and woman to Coltrin and Cowdery as “father Adam and mother Eve. Heavenly Mother. February 5. Church History Library. 7 8 9 As others retold this story.”9 By 1890. Salt Lake City. James Hood.8 Like others of Smith’s visionary experiences. seated upon a throne. letter to Mrs. Wilcox. “e Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven. McKay claims that he asked Snow where the idea of a Heavenly Mother in her poem had originated: McKay. Spanish Fork High Priest’s Quorum. 66. Zebedee Coltrin in Utah Stake Minutes. . though no clear source text from Smith’s documentary history establishes this connection. Utah (hereaer Church History Library). Sidney Rigdon was mentioned as having participated in this experience as well. aer kneeling to pray they reportedly saw heavenly messengers. I will continue with a discussion about how this idea appears in the oral histories and conclude with some observations about the mirroring taking place between Mormon women and their concept of the divine woman. In April 1834. and Jesus. rumors aﬀected this story and changed it from a vision of the gloriﬁed Adam and Eve to a theophany involving Heavenly Father.” in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective.7 e strongest possibility comes from a visionary experience Zebedee Coltrin described.
12 In short. as if early Mormons want to speculate about her but have no authoritative basis from which to work. Recent scholarship by David Paulsen and Martin Pulido has shown that the bulk of statements from within the administrative ranks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originated in the twentieth century and all of these seem to stem from the basic idea that Snow gave. revelation. Church History Library. Eliza Snow. no. 1890.10 Adam and Eve were nowhere in this version. Paulsen and Martin Pulido. letter to the editor. campﬁre tales. David L. See Boyd Kirkland. or scripture. it appears. “‘A Mother ere’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven. Nobody in the Claremont oral histories gave any indication that Eve and Heavenly Mother were the same person. Journal. Mormon emphasis became a counter-countercultural one.5 experience with Smith. Brigham Young. 1981): 4–5. and later theological statements about Heavenly Mother drop any mention of Eve-God theory. By the 1970s. Heavenly Mother. And then their tools become sayings from others that reduce to. and Zebedee Coltrin each equated Eve with Heavenly Mother in the same terms that they aﬃrmed Adam as Heavenly Father. at best.” BYU Studies 50. Sunstone 6.11 A major reason Snow’s poem has served as the main capsule of Heavenly Mother theology is because of its historical provenance—it is the only and earliest source that has any legitimate chance of originating with Joseph Smith. Heavenly Mother appears at the fringes in a folkloric fashion. One key example here is the Eve-God theory that developed in tandem with Adam-God theory. 1 (2011): 71–97. not from any claim to Joseph Smith. Unfortunately. Coltrin’s narrative is indicative of most of the other sources. no. Oﬃcial commentators of Church doctrine and other Mormon writers have generally articulated a doctrine of Heavenly Mother that locates her within godhood but not within the Godhead because of her status as the wife of Heavenly Father. 2 (March-April. responding to popular debates of the time about the equality of women by holding up Heavenly Mother as an eternal 10 11 Abraham Cannon. 12 . August 25. a divine parent that participated in the creation of spirit children and in the craing of a plan of salvation. made her way into Joseph Smith’s visions via speculation and hearsay. the most common image to emerge about a Heavenly Mother involves her as the wife of God the Father and as such.
represents a continuation of an 13 Wilcox. rather whether such an absence of more direct theological articulation is justiﬁable given related theologies of theism. and whether there is room in the Godhead for a wife to the Father.6 standard of home and family. 85. the necessity of a Heavenly Mother would not be so apparent unless the cosmic order was centered on spirit children progressing to an eternal state of godhood. Without this key piece in the theology. ese comments summon cosmological depth found in a broader concept of godhood and the nature of reality that the interviewees almost unilaterally take as a given. Mormon theism and understandings of deiﬁcation diﬀer from eastern Christianities that also hold to deiﬁcation by their inclusion of family. Jesus. In fact. Paulsen and Pulido. .13 Put bluntly. and eternal families that enjoy full and robust deﬁnition. and the Holy Ghost. no systematic theology of a Heavenly Mother exists within Mormonism. the common logical move that Mormons make toward aﬃrming an existence of Heavenly Mother could not happen so easily. A divine feminine. forming in the richest sense of the term a kind of God the Family at some point in the eternities. it is these theologies in particular that shape the parameters by which Mormons ponder about and discuss Heavenly Mother. Heavenly Mother was used to buttress the position that the traditional home and family needed to remain traditional despite changing mores in society by an appeal to her eternal nature. is view has remained the dominant one to the present day. exaltation. Consequently. how these women understand God relative to human beings informs their belief in exaltation and the process of becoming exalted. Mormon women of the oral histories oen run a theism through their comments about Heavenly Mother that makes implicit reference to the nature of God. and Mormons know this. for Mormons. e question really isn’t one of what should be included in a theology of Heavenly Mother. Men and women form family units that themselves become deiﬁed. 69–70.
but became a radical departure for worship: Mormons were told that this key provided the adequate means for knowing who and what to worship and thus avoid a kind of misplaced adoration. For Joseph Smith. How they understand Heavenly Mother will hinge upon how they ﬁt together their theism and their theologies of exaltation and eternal families. Mormonism relished a hyper-literalistic reading of scripture that produced a theism distinct from Trinitarianism. but moved the Godhead into this schema as well. the Abrahamic covenant did not capitulate in the fulﬁllment of the Law through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Becoming gods entailed bloodlines running down through the ages and meeting back through covenantal relationships. Staunch Trinitarians balk at this separation of natures to this day. earthliest sense. Mormons not only placed humankind within a progressive timeline. e covenant came to mean the welding together of the entire posterity of Abraham into an exalted godly unit. So this business of emulating Jesus and his Father before him was thoroughly familial in the roughest. forming a great chain of being connected back to the original Father of spirits. section 93. Jesus and the Holy Spirit could stay physically separated from God the Father and still function within the Godhead just the same. . What is more.7 earthly feminine that has become exalted through a cosmic pattern of progression. blood and 14 Doctrine and Covenants. moving from birth to death to aerlife. is theism realigned the members of the Godhead away from substantial oneness to unity in purpose and mission. e whole scriptural thrust from Genesis to the Apocalypse now came to bear on this process of whole peoples becoming raised up to godhood and becoming gods. A revelation of Joseph Smith not only spoke of Jesus moving from grace to grace as an identical process to how God planned for humans to gain salvation.14 is linkage of godhood with humanity did not end with Smith reﬁtting the plan of salvation around a doctrine of deiﬁcation.
e parameters of a discussion like this one for Mormons will deviate signiﬁcantly from. see Armand L. 2003).8 spirit and all. a Yoruba priestess in Africa who brings oﬀerings to the waters of the ocean as a prayer to Mother God. in all its eternal godliness and perfection without a Mother? e thought makes reason stare.15 But how could there exist a family unit in the heavens. Mormons ﬁnd God transcendent because of its resemblance to the self—the dream of becoming the best selves of which humans are capable coupled with being redeemed and led to that status through similar beings who have paved the way is itself the mystery that ﬁres much of Mormon devotion. how could there not be a divine feminine? ese observations that ﬂow out of Mormon theism and concepts of exaltation color the terms of the discussion. 2006). a daughter of another Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father somewhere in the great beyond who has simply attained to her godly status ahead of those in their current mortal state. at least for the likes of Eliza Snow. and authority relative to Heavenly Father. e Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World. All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. An excellent analysis of the scriptural basis for bloodlines and culture in early Mormon theology is Colin Kidd. Running this equation the other direction. 1600–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. While others ﬁnd the transcendent so otherworldly because of its manifest otherness. Mauss. say. But this is not to say that Heavenly Mother is one-to-one human like mortal women are. if women become gods because of covenantal relationships and because of a cosmic. She has all the qualities that makes one a God and these through her covenantal bind to an eternal husband and family. status. e For a full examination of how these theological components relate to each other and how they developed in Joseph Smith’s thought and in early Mormonism. progressive order. To say that one should pray to a Heavenly Mother invites questions surrounding her nature. Where other religions have female deities and divinities in their theisms. the womb of the earth where all life was born. Mormons imagine a sacred feminine in strikingly human terms: she is one of them. 15 .
While only men hold the priesthood as ecclesiastical oﬃcers within the Mormon church. not with Jesus Christ. is sets up a reluctance to locate Heavenly Mother with any of the oﬃcial duties of the Godhead. Summer Seminar on the development of Mormon theology. going so far as to speak of their engagement with “the mysteries” as the linchpin of true I rely on Oyeronke Olajubu. there is no female savior ﬁgure. Yet nothing in Mormon theology explicitly ascribes priesthood authority of the same kind identiﬁed with God the Father to God the Mother.9 Yoruba priestess will be thinking of something entirely diﬀerent from the Mormon wondering whether or not to approach Heavenly Mother with devotion. resurrected woman. e earliest Mormons embraced a radical openness to redeﬁne belief and reinterpret scripture. which extends into a reluctance to identify with Heavenly Mother in worship. women participate as ordinance workers in the temple and invoke priesthood blessings. 2003) to make this comparison. 17 . 16 I thank fellow seminar participants that helped ﬂesh out this tradition in earliest Mormonism. and much of the Mormon doctrine of the “fullness of the priesthood” combines with endowment and sealing covenants. ere is the anticipation that women will exercise the same powers considered priesthood in mortality aer themselves becoming goddesses through exaltation. Brigham Young University. Women in the Yoruba Religious Sphere (Albany: State University of New York Press. e tradition of decontextualized literalism when interpreting scripture17 forces out possibilities of worship or a systematic theology of Heavenly Mother.16 e parameters within the greater Mormon theological system delimit and circumscribe any speculative doctrine regarding Heavenly Mother. She has a parity with God the Father. ere remains an ambiguity regarding her role in priesthood. She is seen as an embodied. Mormon Scholars Foundation. 2010. She carries the title of mother because she gave birth to human spirits the same way God the Father is the father of human spirits—a very natural explanation for the origins of human spirits in preexistence that demands a female as much as a male.
Whittaker. “e Character of Joseph Smith. Within this society.” BYU Studies 42. Heavenly Mother must be held back from human view not because of a need to suppress her. One was loyal to family above all.19 is view. See Paulsen and Pulido. ineﬀable reverence. e most predominant approach places the idea of a Heavenly Mother within the realm of intense. Richard Lyman Bushman. Only a couple of approaches have surfaced in an apparent move to reconcile the lack of detail despite the full range of possibilities that would further Mormon understandings of a Mother in Heaven. At the heart of these approaches lies an implicit recognition that Mormons have held back on this “mystery” doctrine which would not square with their proclivity for diving right into the mysterious doctrines head ﬁrst.18 It is strange. no.20 Loyalty and insult occupied high rungs on the values pyramid—and both in equal parts. . Dan Jones. how stunted the development of Heavenly Mother theology has been. Parley Pratt.” Journal of Mormon History 4 (1977): 35–49. once again. Stemming from backcountry Yankee culture. but because of her degree of holiness. and it was because of this loyalty that insults could not go unchallenged. and other missionary writers would debate in the press with critics over what constituted the “true religion” and each at one point built a case around Mormons’ willingness to entertain what other Christians regarded as mysterious philosophy le only to God or the aerlife.10 religion. “Early Mormon Pamphleteering. therefore. 2 (2003): 27. as though God and Jesus have been profaned by human speech and behavior in ways that God the Father would never dare allow to his wife. mirrors nineteenth. For various reasons. Benjamin Winchester. 73–75. Americans at the turn of the century inculcated what scholars have called a culture of honor. the woman’s honor needed defending by a 18 19 20 David J. Duels occurred over the honor of the head of a household and one of the gravest aﬀronts to this man’s honor would be to insult his wife. For instance.and twentieth-century American culture.
Toscano. 2007). e blank slate I have insisted the doctrine of Heavenly Mother has le to Mormon women in some sense is not entirely blank. What Hath God Wrought: e Transformation of America. . e sacred censorship motif emerges from the ongoing reconciliation of the discourse and is itself recursive—the ambivalence the motif strives to answer perpetuates ambivalence on purpose so as to curb any insult to Heavenly Mother’s character and honor. rather more like an empty canvas with a limited palette of tools and colors with which to ﬁll the portrait. 21 22 23 Wilcox. Women are split between feeling awed by the lengths God the Father would go to protect his wife and feeling oﬀended at the idea that she needs protecting in such blatant. masculinist ways. Yet many Mormons have tried to make sense of the absence of articulation about Heavenly Mother in honor-culture terms. 1815–1848 (New York: Oxford University Press.11 man. Aﬀairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press. See also Bertram Wyatt-Brown. 67. 2001). 1982) and Joanne B.23 ese dynamics are seen in the oral histories more than any other topic of discussion aside from the fact of Heavenly Mother’s existence and whether she is worth worrying about.22 is approach of reverencing the name of Heavenly Mother into silence has constituted for some Mormon women a censorship that amounts to erasure.21 Contemporary sensitivities in the wake of suﬀrage and feminist movements to misogynism and sexism ﬁnd these earlier sensibilities insulting in their own right to the dignity and agency of women. Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (New York: Oxford University Press. 247. feeling that the only apparent reason knowledge of her would be kept from humans is because God the Father is the one defending her honor—as though taking the name of his Only Begotten Son is somehow less oﬀensive to him than profaning the name of his wife. 16. e historical development of (or a lack of) Heavenly Mother theology predisposes Mormon women to react within a certain framework when Daniel Walker Howe. Freeman.
4 (1984): 396–411. we see even more breadth of ideas to the point that no signiﬁcant baseline emerges. Lindsey.” Journal for the Scientiﬁc Study of Religion 23. e most prevalent reason oﬀered for why little is said of Heavenly Mother was that Heavenly Father kept her hidden from human beings to protect her from being profaned. And few expressed certainty regarding their views of her. Surprisingly. and Marylee Mason. A large number reported that belief and worship in Jesus was suﬃcient for their personal devotion and salvation. only one woman expressed what has been considered a common notion among Mormons (due to John Heeren. she herself has yet to make an appearance in the vivid ways Mormons aﬃrm Heavenly Father and Jesus have. Sadly. e commandment to not take the name of God in vain was almost always brought up in reference to this kind of censorship.12 reﬂecting on a Mother in Heaven. Donald B. “e Mormon Concept of Mother in Heaven: A Sociological Account of Its Origins and Development. Mormon Women Reﬂect on a Mother in Heaven: Oral Histories Mormon women are le with plenty of room to apply or not the idea of Heavenly Mother in subjective ways. e most dominant theme in the oral histories by a signiﬁcant margin was apathy. 24 . Most Mormon women expressed that they really did not care about Heavenly Mother. no. Mormon women today are all over the map in their views on Heavenly Mother. is framework corresponds to other sociological trends in American culture regarding the role of women in religious communities and churches and trends in Mormon culture regarding how women straddle issues of feminism. e only shared idea that cuts across all of the histories where Heavenly Mother is mentioned is that she is not rejected outright—no one claimed that they did not believe in her existence. and adherence to a priesthood hierarchy. In the oral histories. agency.24 Heavenly Mother theology ebbs and ﬂows along the contours of negotiations Mormon women make in their contemporary discourse of women’s issues.
All others that made reference to a polygamous godhood expressed a rejection. Since the project is still undergoing digitization. others cited her emotional capacity as reason for why she deserves increased attention. women made this observation rather commonsensically without feeling the need to square it with scripture or other theological beliefs. e range of speculative ideas covered several opposite poles. exaltation. e earthly parity between husband and wife meant for some women that a divine couple is to be expected.13 their identiﬁcation with polygamous marriage practices) that Heavenly Mother is le out of scripture and authoritative discourse because Heavenly Father practices polygamy and there are simply a lot of heavenly mothers out there. in these cases.25 e women that delved into a theological discussion about Heavenly Mother either speculated or attempted a synthesis of Heavenly Mother doctrine with other theological points. and #076. a few currents emerge from the oral histories. in other words. All of the oral histories used here were recorded between 2008 and 2011 of women living in the United States. I cannot provide page numbers. My citations will simply name the corresponding index number from which the quotation is derived. Some believed she played a Oral histories #063. Some women displayed attitudes toward men when reﬂecting on Heavenly Mother. Beyond the fact of the existence of a Heavenly Mother and the dominant attitude of apathy. Sometimes the suﬃciency of Jesus’ atonement factored into their rationale for why a Mother in Heaven serves mortal human beings in less concrete or important ways. e more systematic approaches appealed to the logical order of concepts that ﬂow out of doctrines of the family. of the idea. and the Godhead. e oral histories archived in the Claremont project are kept anonymous and are organized by an index number. Mormon women need her presence in their lives to better balance their feminine connection to the divine. Some women surmised that Mother in Heaven needs no attention because she is more emotionally capable than Heavenly Father. #072. General attitudes toward Heavenly Mother align with expressed interest or an explicit downplaying of her importance. and documents are expected to change in typographical format. attributing to her feminine deference to male authority because only men need their egos padded. 25 . sometimes even a repudiation.
Heavenly Mother remained in these statements little more than a contested topic le to other people to sort out.26 e pro comments remained rather stale. ese women maintained a limited space and did not draw creatively from multiple sources. but oﬀered little else. Very few women expressed any notion of engaging in personal worship of Heavenly Mother. . ranging between frustration with and defense of current policies. When women took occasion to state an attitude toward the doctrine. others preferred the idea of Heavenly Mother deferring judgment to Heavenly Father.” one woman expressed. Oral history #023. stating that Heavenly Mother exists and that the doctrine is true. e apathetic comments remained generally short. that Heavenly Mother deserves the titles of Judge and Counselor just the same. comprising half of her total response to the question. About a third of the oral histories expressed a political view toward how Church policy has treated the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. One woman responded to the question in a way indicative of other apathetic responses: “Does it matter?” she asked. Attitudes toward Heavenly Mother doctrine reﬂect responses either apathetically or pro or contra.14 dominant role in the shaping of the plan of salvation. as though this question formed the substance of the doctrine. but took a position against Mormons that would make something of the doctrine where the scriptures or Church authorities were silent. “I think we should let it go and stop trying to ﬁgure it out because you won’t know. relative to their reﬂections on God the Father and Jesus.27 26 27 Oral history #011. Some aﬃrmed that the Father is not the sole judge in aerlife. and even these couched their devotional practices in responses to current norms. others liked to think of her as keeping a low proﬁle and primarily being there in pre-existence to nurture spirit children. they generally le the rest of their comments about Heavenly Mother at that. e contra comments were not against Heavenly Mother per se.
As usual. is woman attempted to reconcile what she perceived to be a useful model for women with how Church leaders had decidedly downplayed the doctrine.30 Here. Oral history #012. .”29 One exception emerged from the trend of pro. Mother in Heaven has provided a very useful model. one that can be created in a desired image by every woman. despite the fact that Mormon prayer tradition has adopted various other modes not present in the Lord’s Prayer or the Intercessory Prayer. to think about and to pray to. and apathetic attitudes toward Heavenly Mother doctrine. the pattern of prayer set by Jesus in the New Testament serves as the reasons for Church leaders to discourage praying to Heavenly Mother.15 Another put it even more bluntly. Oral history #009. Some oral histories attributed the lack of Heavenly Mother theology to the will of God. is woman recognizes the utility of having a female divine model but feels the need to position her comments relative to the scriptural precedent for praying to Heavenly Father. ere’s nothing in the scriptures about her. contra.”28 One woman expressed a determination to “not defy the Brethren on this issue” when “she hasn’t revealed her face to us. Comments along these lines expressed an apathy toward fretting about the revelations of God—they appear to come down at irregular moments anyway. I regret that authority has to come down hard on people who are feeling a need for some feminine leadership and comfort.… Leaders tell us that it is not suitable for a woman to pray to her mother in heaven because Jesus is only recorded as having prayed to his father. If God the Father willed it. but they don’t ever write anything about her. so why expect a mystery revelation to come in the near future? Some 28 29 30 Oral history #024. devoting only two sentences to answering the question about a Mother in Heaven: “I think there is one. then the Church would have more doctrine.
though some women gravitated to their own sense of womanhood when reﬂecting on a divine mother ﬁgure. Neither do I.”33 A self-described “daddy’s girl” had little to say about a Heavenly Mother because of her “own feelings of self worth. He would have given us a lot more information. .… I just think there’s a woman involved in that. Oral history #093.” said one woman. Oral history #094. “I think that the women in the Church are obviously the nurturers and the decorators and the ones who make things beautiful and gentle. One woman put it succinctly: “My concept of a mother in heaven is a gloriﬁed woman that is doing a lot up there. I have this window that I look out of when I sit in my oﬃce … and it’s so beautiful and serene. I don’t know what.… Well. It’s just so beautiful. She is there. “I ﬁgure if Heavenly Father wanted me to think about her a lot. according to another woman who felt that these apparent roles did not need further expression in a feminine role model.16 women delay their concerns until the aerlife or millennium.31 Another put it this way: “Yes.” Her sense of inadequacy made it diﬃcult for her to relate to “another woman who might take on that role of even someone as grand as a Heavenly Mother. at is our role in life. Oral history #103. I totally believe in a concept of a Mother in Heaven. the beauty inherent in the feminine made the idea of a Heavenly Mother palatable.34 For another woman.” so connecting with a divine father came more easily and logically.”35 Women enjoy a more clear-cut sense of duties and responsibilities in the church and in the world. Oral history #082. Do I need to know more than that? Heavenly Father and Jesus don’t seem to think so. She implies that men have a obtuse set of responsibilities 31 32 33 34 35 Oral history #063.”32 Attitudes toward women in general had less coverage in the oral histories.
”38 Only one woman suggested that she prays to Heavenly Mother. “e reason that we don’t know more about her is because basically for the most part we know what our duties and responsibilities are as women in the church and in the world [as] mothers. and women period.17 that necessitates a masculine role model in God the Father. I use the term God in church because in my mind I’m deﬁning God as both of them—God the Mother and God the Father. Oral history #061. I feel a connection. wives. I don’t pray to Heavenly Father because I just don’t feel right not including my Mother. . sisters. Because praying to her has been expressly banned from general Church practice. If I’m in a church context and it’s appropriate I try to talk about Heavenly Parents as much as possible. One mentioned. So whenever possible I pray to God. Oral history #056. “I’ve that that in times of birth that there was a strong connection with a Mother who understood the power I was going through. I felt assured by that.39 36 37 38 39 Oral history #042. Oral history #047. and I think she’s aware of me. this woman has found ways of ﬁtting in a worship of Heavenly Mother into regular life: Any human that is opening themselves up to the divine in some way—how could this ever be a bad thing? So I think about [Heavenly Mother] and I want to include her in my language.”37 is kind of a connection resonated with another woman in the moments of giving birth. I don’t really use the term Heavenly Father. I want her presence acknowledged. “Sometimes as women we want to know if there’s a model to follow and we think of a mother in heaven.”36 Only a couple of women expressed any form of personal devotion or worship toward a Heavenly Mother. and that I got a little glimpse of something eternal.
“I have to believe that some of the Savior’s attributes were from his Heavenly Mother. I’m emulating her. In the same way that Jesus appeared as the express image of his Father. so when I emulate him. . he displays characteristics and traits and actions that are appropriate for anyone regardless of their sex. As such. One comment is typical of others than run along these conceptual lines: “Whether you’re male or female.”40 Another woman found more of a middle ground to both aﬃrm the suﬃciency of Jesus but also the need for a Heavenly Mother role model.” To hold up Jesus as the universal exemplar required a willingness “to acknowledge that men can be like women and women can be like men.” Where other Christians have looked to Mary as the source for feminine perfections Jesus inherited. On the systematic end. as well.” She introduces a radical departure from the traditional Christian doctrine—that Jesus’ mission involved manifesting the divinity of the Father to humankind—by seeing the transmission of feminine divinity in the person of Jesus. “We can’t imagine that all of the Savior’s attributes came solely from his Heavenly Father. women grappled with various theological points to reconcile Heavenly Mother with what sometimes appeared to them to be competing doctrines. e most common belief that women responded to involved the salviﬁc role of Jesus and whether he serves and appropriate intercessor and role model.41 40 41 Oral history. this woman identiﬁes Jesus as manifesting the express image of his Heavenly Mother. or took a political position toward the Church or how the concept has developed within Mormonism. Some of them had to have come from his Heavenly Mother. More women aﬃrmed the suﬃciency of Jesus than those that speculated about how Mother in Heaven is soteriologically involved in the plan of salvation. oﬀered speculative statements about Heavenly Mother. you can be like Christ.18 e bulk of responses in the oral histories set up either a more systematic view of the doctrine. Oral history #022. not Mary. this woman ﬁnds in Heavenly Mother. #026.
”44 One woman hypothesized that a polygamy of racially diverse mothers in heaven was responsible 42 43 44 Oral history #036. Most statements that took pains to defend the existence of a Heavenly Mother went this route of logical reasoning. then the model would include a Mother in Heaven. A few exceptions to this dominant form of systematic proofs for the existence of a Mother in Heaven included establishing a parity between the conﬁguration of people and families in the aerlife and the present mortal conﬁguration. and only one seemed accepting of the idea: “I think the reason that Heavenly Father doesn’t talk about Heavenly Mother is because there are too many of them. then there must be a Mother God. is category above all the others received the broadest range of creativity and possibilities. I identify here speculative comments based on their proximity to established concepts. Oral history #109. for example. Because so few articulations qualify as “established.42 e temple served for one woman as the basis for belief in a Heavenly Mother—“If the temple promises to both men and women today are true. ese comments took two forms. One comment suggested that since there is a helpmeet in mortality. Only a few comments referenced the possibility of polygamous mothers in heaven.” many comments fall into what I deem the speculative realm.19 All other systematic approaches to Heavenly Mother doctrine centered on how the individual knows a Mother in Heaven exists. . Oral history #051. and if that idea is true and if He was once as we are. and if exaltation means becoming a god. if there are mothers here in mortality.”43 Most statements that went beyond aﬃrming the existence of a Heavenly Mother or establishing some measure of a systematic outlook on the doctrine oﬀered speculations. He obviously has numerous wives. then we have the potential to become ‘as God is’ with out husband. there must be a helpmeet in eternity. e most dominant form made a simple statement in logic along if-then statements.
“I am sure in … the celestial world we will not have jealousy or animosity.47 And one woman considered many revelations to have originated with Heavenly Mother because of their nurturing prose. Oral history #025. and others suggested a kind of motherly sadness she would feel as a motherly God that perhaps a fatherly God would not fully comprehend.20 for racial diversity among mortal human beings.”48 e women that conveyed a political stance regarding the doctrine fell into mainly three camps: whether they agreed with the censorship by the Father to prevent the taking of Heavenly Mother’s name in vain. “Maybe diﬀerent races come from diﬀerent wives.”45 Most speculative responses remained relatively close to other perceived theological norms.46 Two women thought of Heavenly Mother as a righteous judge alongside the Father at the ﬁnal judgment. the issue of polygamous mothers in heaven. Oral history #055. Exceptions to these included one woman who took a position against praying to Heavenly Mother.…” She squared the possibility of polygamous eternal marriage with her own reticence to the practice by assuming that perfect harmony in human relationships characterizes all celestial marriages. Oral histories #053 and #072. others considered her the maternal source of spirit children. and the role of feminism surrounding the doctrine. Some women identiﬁed mother nature with Heavenly Mother. “She probably takes a lot of the responsibility for the lesson material that appears in the scriptures about teaching the children and caring for them. A few assigned three key roles traditionally associated with male ﬁgures to Heavenly Mother.49 another who felt disturbed by the doctrine despite feeling that the 45 46 47 48 49 Oral history #104. One woman thought of the Holy Ghost as really Heavenly Mother. Oral history #025. .
Oral history #019. One response is indicative of most comments supporting the idea of a sacred censorship: “e reason we don’t read about her is that our Father in Heaven loves her so dearly that he will go to any lengths to protect her.”54 More oen.50 and another who thought the suppression of Heavenly Mother theology was a power play by a male-dominated clergy deserving of resistance. half mortal race. She is so treasured by him. at just doesn’t make sense to me. Oral history #107. one woman expressed her dissatisfaction with the idea in colorful terms. Oral history #055. Oral history #072.51 e issue of sacred censorship was split fairly evenly between women who liked or supported the idea of God the Father protecting the honor of his wife and those who found the idea distasteful or oﬀensive. surely she can take care of herself and whip some butt if she needs to.”52 A woman who particularly resonated with sacred censorship put it this way: “e idea that her name is not brought up oen because it is so sacred … when you really think about it that is awe-inspiring. .”56 But most were decidedly upset at the 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 Oral history #074. opponents of sacred silencing of Heavenly Mother express their views like this woman: “I don’t really buy that line that Heavenly Father is protecting her.”53 On the other end. She’s a God. “I don’t believe that we don’t know about her because Heavenly Father is trying to protect her. I hope that it’s to only one Heavenly Mother.… Heavenly Father is married. Oral history #058. One admitted to ambivalence—“Maybe Heavenly Father was here on this planet and brought one of the heavenly mothers here who started this half divine. Oral history #046.”55 Most oral histories that invoked polygamy express a rejection of it as the heavenly order.21 theological basis is justiﬁed.
But sometimes when I think of Mother in Heaven I get conﬂicted. waiting on men to talk about Heavenly Mother would just prevent the theology from developing since men have a fear of women “rocking the boat. A woman who had initially felt disturbed at the idea of a Heavenly Mother came to appreciate the doctrine as she studied feminist theology. and whether women can do that with authority.… I think that all too oen we gloss over the idea of growing to be like our Father in Heaven. “I think that fear drives the idea that she is too sacred to talk about or talk to. I wonder sometimes if she’s more than one.”57 Feminism factored into some women’s reﬂections on a Mother in Heaven. Oral history #072.22 thought that much is le out because there simply are too many heavenly mothers to speak of: “I have to admit that sometimes I wonder if it’s a singular Mother in Heaven or if it’s a polygamous thing.” Emphasizing Heavenly Father at the expense of Heavenly Mother amounts to a kind of subversion of women. if that’s really a rule of heaven. Snow and what that means to women in the church being able to introduce theological concepts and doctrine. Because of her “intimate relationship with God. I’m not real comfortable with polygamy. People have told me that it’s not true and you don’t have to be polygamous to reach even the highest degree in the Celestial Kingdom.… Fear on the part of men losing control—of everything. Oral history #074. .”58 For one woman. at sometimes upsets me.” she felt less worry over “the feminine versus masculine aspect” of the Godhead. when in fact more of us are growing to be like our Mother in Heaven. “I am more fascinated by the idea that that doctrine has been attributed to Eliza R. how those doctrines are accepted.”59 57 58 59 Oral history #056.
the seventh.61 Lynne Kanavel Whitesides. some degree of an institutional presence in their statements and beliefs. Danny L.60 One would expect to see some recognition on the part of twentieth-century American Mormon women. was excommunicated seven years later.” Sunstone 128 (July 2003): 13–19.” AMERICAN@ 1. 2 (2003): 7. Margaret Toscano. no. Margaret Toscano. and Practices. some more than the others. Maxine Hanks. no. Rees. Maxine Hanks. All four had previously spoken about Heavenly Mother and her place within Mormon theology. though her initial disciplinary council convened the same month as the other six. Doctrine. and Lynne Kanavel Whitesides. Robert A.” Sunstone 15 (April 1991): 49–50. “Gender-Inclusive Images of God: A Sociological Interpretation of Early Shakerism and Mormonism. Lavina Fielding Anderson. Michael Quinn. is suggests that the climate of individual Heavenly Mother belief is not so contested as prior observers have assumed. seven Mormons were summoned to disciplinary councils in what became popularly known as the “September Six. all of the respondents had something personal to oﬀer. and Lavina Fielding Anderson. Carrie A.) Four of those summoned were women—Lavina Fielding Anderson. 61 .” Sunstone 20 (July 1997): 16.” Novo Religio 4. D. “e Genesis of Gender. ese fairly public institutional reactions against feminism and.23 Summary oughts In September 1993. Jorgensen. strong institutional action to consolidate worship practices away from Heavenly Mother doctrine. if the sample of interviewed women is any indication of the larger currents in Mormon society.” Sunstone (December 2003): 13–31. 1 (2000): 72–75. “Our Mother in Heaven. 60 Aaltje Baumgart. advocacy for Heavenly Mother worship began a period of retrenchment favoring the traditional views of priesthood authority and theism. “e Church and Its Scholars: Ten Years Aer. “Mormon and Feminist? Feminist Reactions to LDS Scripture. no direct mention of the September Six. or antagonism toward Mormon feminists surfaces in the oral histories. Paul Toscano. Interestingly. in some cases. Miles. or Why Mother in Heaven Can’t Save You. When randomly asked to reﬂect on a Mother in Heaven.” (Six of the seven were either disfellowshipped or excommunicated. “Spiritual Paths Aer September 1993.
too. tension. little wonder some Mormon women have found Heavenly Mother again in the Old Testament. in fact many take pains to avoid speaking where the scriptures are silent. Not all consider their ascriptions of divine mother scriptural. Whether responding pro or contra. aﬃrmation. captured in one woman’s use of Isaiah—“I think of her very much in the terms that I think of Father in Heaven. communion. e Heavenly Mother of these women reaches a parity with the salviﬁc mission Mormons have characteristically reserved only for Jesus. You look at Isaiah and you read ‘Wonderful! Counselor! e Mighty God-Goddess! e Everlasting Mother! e Author of Peace!’”62 In an age where the status of women has been increasingly questioned and advocated. feminine creativity and spirituality. Mormon women summon for whatever reason images of worry. and what is not useful is not worth worrying about. and motherly love. is is a resourceful. . not really a philosophical. woman focused on what works and what is grounded in experience. and so on. So. is the portrait of womanhood refracted through concepts of connecting with children. A disparate constellation of expressions about a Mother in Heaven has emerged out of the negotiation of profound meaning Mormon women ﬁnd in beliefs of family and God with the historical fact of a Heavenly Mother theology kept at the periphery.24 e woman that most oen emerges from these mirror images of Heavenly Mother theology is one concerned with usefulness—utility is prioritized in a pragmatic way. 62 Oral history #072. But present in these oral histories is a sense of women wanting themselves to redeem nature and humanity through their unique feminine voice and feminine inﬂuence. We must wonder to what degree they all will locate her in themselves.
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