Heavenly Mother (Mormonism)
In Mormonism, Heavenly Mother or the Mother in Heaven is the mother of human spirits and the wife of God the Father. Those who accept the Mother in Heaven doctrine trace its origins to Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. The doctrine was not widely known, however, until after the movement's succession crisis upon Smith's death in 1844.
The Heavenly Mother doctrine is mainly taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ and branches of Mormon fundamentalism, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The doctrine is not generally recognized by other faiths within the broader Latter Day Saint movement, such as the Community of Christ, where trinitarianism is predominant.
In the LDS Church, she is sung about in one church hymn and briefly discussed in church teaching manuals and sermons.
Origin of the theology
The theological underpinnings of a belief in Heavenly Mother is attributed to Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, who shortly before his death in 1844 outlined a controversial view of God that differed dramatically from traditional Christian consensus. Smith's theology included the belief that God would share his glory with his children and that humans might become exalted beings, or gods and goddesses, in the afterlife.
Although there is no clear record of Joseph Smith teaching of Heavenly Mother publicly, several of Smith's contemporaries attributed the theology to him either directly, or as a consequence of his theological stance. An editorial footnote of History of the Church, 5:254, presumably quotes Joseph Smith as saying: "Come to me; here's the mysteries man hath not seen, Here's our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen." In addition, a secondhand account states that in 1839, Joseph Smith had told Zina Diantha Huntington, after the death of her mother, that "not only would she know her mother again on the other side, but 'more than that, you will meet and become acquainted with your eternal Mother, the wife of your Father in Heaven'.":65
In addition, members of the Anointed Quorum, a highly select leadership group in the early church that was privy to Smith's teachings, also acknowledged the existence of a Heavenly Mother.:65–67 Also, the Times and Seasons published a letter to the editor from a person named "Joseph's Specked Bird" in which the author stated that in the pre-Earth life, the spirit "was a child with his father and mother in heaven".
In 1845, after the murder of Joseph Smith, the poet Eliza Roxcy Snow, published a poem entitled My Father in Heaven, (later titled Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother, now used as the lyrics in the popular Latter-day Saint hymn O My Father), acknowledging the existence of a Heavenly Mother. This hymn contained the following language:
In the heavens are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason: truth eternal
tells me I've a mother there.
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
in your royal courts on high?
Some early Mormons considered Eliza Snow to be a "prophetess". Later, however, Church President Joseph F. Smith (a nephew of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Jr.) explained his own belief that "God revealed that principle that we have a mother as well as a father in heaven to Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith revealed it to Eliza Snow Smith, his wife; and Eliza Snow was inspired, being a poet, to put it into verse.":65
The doctrine is also attributed to several other early church leaders. According to one sermon by Brigham Young, Joseph Smith once said he "would not worship a God who had not a father; and I do not know that he would if he had not a mother; the one would be as absurd as the other."
Worship and prayer to Heavenly Mother
Orson Pratt, an early LDS Apostle, opposed worshiping Heavenly Mother, because, he reasoned, like wives and children in any household, Heavenly Mother was required to "yield the most perfect obedience to" her husband. However, in 1865, a majority of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church officially condemned Pratt's doctrinal declarations contained in The Seer, mostly because of Pratt's vocal opposition to the Adam-God theory; thus, Pratt's views in the periodical are not considered authoritative.
Early leader George Q. Cannon thought that “there is too much of this inclination to deify ‘our mother in heaven,’ arguing that she is not part of the Godhead and that to worship her would diminish from the worship of heavenly father.:78 However, early 20th-century church leader Rudger Clawson disagreed, arguing that “it doesn’t take away from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother… we honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.”:79
Some church leaders have interpreted the term “God” to represent the divinely exalted couple with both a masculine and feminine half. Erastus Snow, an early Mormon Apostle, wrote “’do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of a man and woman?’ Most certainly I do. If I believe anything that God has ever said about himself… I must believe that deity consists of a man and woman.” This notion was reaffirmed by later church leaders Hugh B. Brown, James E. Talmage, Melvin J. Ballard, and Bruce R. McConkie.:79–80
Some feminist Mormons have adopted the practice of praying to the Heavenly Mother. However, deceased LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley opposed this practice, saying that Mormons should not pray to the Heavenly Mother, saying that Christ instructed his disciples to address the Heavenly Father in their prayers. A feminist professor was fired from Brigham Young University, one of the reasons being her public advocacy of praying to Heavenly Mother.
Acknowledgment by the LDS Church
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not formally acknowledge the existence of a Heavenly Mother until 1909, in a statement on evolution by the First Presidency marking the 50th anniversary of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. The Church also later inferred the theology in the 1995 statement The Family: A Proclamation to the World, where the church officially stated that each person is a "spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents". Other references to Heavenly parents can be found in Latter-day Saint speeches and literature.
Statements by church leaders
Various LDS Church leaders throughout the history of the church have spoken openly about the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother.
Brigham Young, who taught Adam is Heavenly Father, taught that his wife Eve is Heavenly Mother: "I tell you more, Adam is the father of our spirits ... our spirits and the spirits of all the heavenly family were begotten by Adam, and born of Eve. ... I tell you, when you see your Father in the Heavens, you will see Adam; when you see your Mother that bore your spirit, you will see Mother Eve."
Susan Young Gates, a daughter of Brigham Young and women's rights activist, stated that “[the] great Heavenly Mother was the great molder” in Abraham’s personality. “Gates speculated that Heavenly Mother has played a significant role in all our lives, looking over us with ‘watchful care’ and providing ‘careful training.’”:75 Brigham Young preached that resurrected “eternal mothers” would “be prepared to frame earths like unto ours.” :80
Early 20th-century church leader B.H. Roberts pointed out that the Heavenly Mother doctrine presents a “conception of the nobility of women and of motherhood and of wife-hood--placing her side by side with the Divine Father.”:77 John Widtsoe, a colleague of B.H. Roberts who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, wrote that the afterlife “is given radiant warmth by the thought that…[we have] a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”:78 In 1894, Juvenile Instructor, an official publication of the LDS Church, published a hymn entitled "Our Mother in Heaven."
There has also been some more recent discussion of Heavenly Mother by LDS Church leaders. In a speech given at BYU in 2010, Glenn L. Pace, a member of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy, said, “Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air, because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.”
Controversy around Sacred Silence
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According to historian Linda Wilcox, Heavenly Mother "is a shadowy and elusive belief floating around the edges of Mormon consciousness".:64 Though the belief is held by most Mormons, the doctrine is not actively advertised by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though Heavenly Mother is sometimes mentioned in talks or sermons in Sacrament meetings and in Sunday School classes. The topic is most often consistent with the theology discussed above.
The lack of focused teaching and more information about her has caused speculation among Mormons that lack of information may have a divine purpose, to avoid drawing attention to her and to preserve the sacredness of her existence. In 1960 an LDS seminary teacher (which is not a church authority) published in an LDS encyclopedia that “the name of our Mother in Heaven has been withheld” because of the way God the Father’s and Jesus Christ’s names have been profaned. Whether he is the source of the idea or is reflecting a prevalent belief is hard to say.[editorializing][original research?]
“While no General Authority has made an official statement denying belief in a Heavenly Mother nor stating that her existence is too sacred to discuss, several factors may influence the current trend that sees even a mention of Heavenly Mother as treading on forbidden ground. Members take their cues about what is acceptable doctrine from talks of General Authorities and official church manuals and magazines”. These materials rarely mention Heavenly Mother directly. The publicly discussed church discipline of feminists like Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, Maxine Hanks, Janice Allred, and Margaret Toscano, all of whom were disciplined in part for statements related to the Heavenly Mother, adds to the general sense that discourse about her is strictly forbidden. However, Brigham Young University professor David L. Paulsen has argued that such a belief finds no official backing in statements by church leaders, and that the concept that the Heavenly Mother is consigned to a "sacred silence" is largely the result of a relatively recent cultural perception.:75
Though church president Gordon B. Hinckley said the prohibition on praying to Heavenly Mother in no way “belittles or denigrates her,” some[who?] feel that it makes her seem less important to our eternal lives than Heavenly Father. Others assume that both heavenly parents are equally important and expect that more will be revealed when we are ready.[editorializing] This question ties into a larger set of questions among many Latter Day Saints about power in relationships between men and women. When asked why God said that Adam would rule over Eve, Hinckley said, "I do not know... My own interpretation of that sentence is that the husband shall have a governing responsibility to provide for, to protect, to strengthen and shield the wife. Any man who belittles or abuses or terrorizes, or who rules in unrighteousness, will deserve and, I believe, receive the reprimand of a just God who is the Eternal Father of both His sons and daughters."
Vision of Heavenly Mother
Heavenly Mother is absent in the visionary experiences of Book of Mormon and Old and New Testament Prophets. The only recorded visionary experience is related by Zebedee Coltrin and recorded in the journal of Abraham H. Cannon.
"One day the Prophet Joseph asked him [Coltrin] and Sidney Rigdon to accompany him into the woods to pray. When they had reached a secluded spot Joseph laid down on his back and stretched out his arms. He told the brethren to lie one on each arm, and then shut their eyes. After they had prayed he told them to open their eyes. They did so and saw a brilliant light surrounding a pedestal which seemed to rest on the earth. They closed their eyes and again prayed. They then saw, on opening them, the Father seated upon a throne; they prayed again and on looking saw the Mother also; after praying and looking the fourth time they saw the Savior added to the group."
- "Pre-Mortal Existence", Mormonism, BBC, 2009-10-02
- Role of women in the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ (On menu on right of website, click on "Core Beliefs" and then click on "The Role of Women")][dead link]
- "The Role of Women in the Church". Restoration Church of Jesus Christ. Archived from the original on 2008-06-17. Retrieved 2006-07-17.[unreliable source?]
- "O My Father" (LDS hymn #292) refers to a mother in heaven. "Oh, What Songs of the Heart" (LDS hymn #286) refers to "heavenly parents", and "We Meet Again As Sisters" (LDS hymn #311) to "heav'nly parents". "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" mentions "heavenly parents". Various LDS Church curriculum materials refer to a Heavenly Mother. E.g.: "Lesson 9: Chastity and Modesty", The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A (2000); "Chapter 2: Our Heavenly Family", Gospel Principles, 8–12 (2009); Spencer W. Kimball, "The True Way of Life and Salvation", Ensign, May 1978, p. 4.
- See: King Follett Discourse, Smith 1844. Also:
- Wilcox 1987
- Orson Pratt 1876, p. 292; Wilford Woodruff 1875, pp. 31-32.
- Joseph's Specked Bird 1845, p. 892.
- Snow 1845. See also: Derr 1996–97; Pearson 1992.
- "Abstract of Poems, religious, historical, and political". Harold B. Lee Library/Online Collections at BYU. Retrieved 2008-06-13.
- Journal of Discourses, vol.9, p. 286
- Pratt, Orson (October 1853), "Celestial Marriage", The Seer 1 (10), p. 159
- Deseret News, Aug. 12, 1865, 373; see also B. H. Roberts, Defense of the Faith and the Saints, 2: 294 (1912).
- Paulsen & Pulido 2011
- Hinckley 1991, pp. 97–100
- Academic Freedom and Tenure: Brigham Young University. American Association of University Professors. September–October 1997. Retrieved 2006-07-20.
- Smith et al. 1909.
- E.g.: Hinckley 1991, encouraging Latter-day Saint women not to pray to the Heavenly Mother; or M. Russell Ballard stating "we are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us" in his book When Thou Art Converted.
- "Manuscript Addresses of Brigham Young, Oct. 8, 1854".
- Juvenile Instructor, vol. 29, no. 8 (April 15, 1894): 263.
- Glenn L. Pace (March 9, 2010). "The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women". Speeches. Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2012-08-07.
- Melvin R. Brooks, LDS Reference Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), p. 309-310.
- Margaret Merrill Toscano, Is There a Place For Heavenly Mother In Mormon Theology; Sunstone; July 2004.
- Hinckley 1991
- Bickmore, Barry R., "Mormonism in the Early Jewish Christian Milieu", (1999).
- Derr, Jill Mulvay (1996–97), "The Significance of 'O My Father' in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow", BYU Studies 36 (1): 84–126, retrieved 2012-08-07 .
- Hinckley, Gordon B. (November 1991), "Daughters of God", Ensign: 97–100, retrieved 2012-08-07.
- Joseph's Specked Bird, Letter to the Editor, Times and Seasons 6: 892 (May 1, 1845).
- Jorgensen, Danny L., "The Mormon Gender-Inclusive Image of God", Journal of Mormon History, 27, No. 1 (Spring 2001): 95-126.
- Origen, Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John: Book II, ¶6. Included in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885–1896) 10:329-330.
- Litchfield, Allen W. (1987), Behind the Veil: The Heavenly Mother Concept Among Members of Women's Support Groups in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU Master's thesis.
- Paulsen, David L.; Pulido, Martin (2011), "'A Mother There': A Survey of Historical Teachings About Mother in Heaven", BYU Studies 50 (1): 70–97.
- Pearson, Carol Lynn (October 1992), Mother Wove the Morning: a one-woman play, ISBN 1-56236-307-7 (depicting, according to the video's description, Eliza R. Snow as one of "sixteen women [who] throughout history search for God the Mother and invite her back into the human family").
- Pratt, Orson, Journal of Discourses 18:292 (Nov. 12, 1876).
- Smith Jr., Joseph, King Follett Discourse, April 7, 1844, published in Times and Seasons 5 (August 15, 1844): 612-17, and reprinted in the History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B. H. Roberts, 2d ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, (1976–1980), 6:302-17; see also "The Christian Godhead--Plurality of Gods", History of the Church, 6: 473-79.
- Smith, Joseph F. et al., "The Origin of Man", Improvement Era (November 1909): 80.
- Wilcox, Linda P. (1987), "The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven", in Maureen Ursenbach Beecher; Lavina Fielding Anderson, Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, pp. 64–77.
- Woodruff, Wilford, Journal of Discourses 18:31-32 (June 27, 1875).