Dear guppy of doom,
What is your favorite secondary (so, not the Atonement or repentance or the existence of God) doctrine, and why?
Dear rainbow connection,
Sorry, I've held this over a really long time. That just means you're even more excited to finally be reading the answer, right?
My favorite secondary doctrine is one that should be primary but is often treated as secondary—Heavenly Mother. My roommate gave the most incredible talk about Her on Mother's Day and I sat there the whole time, tears streaming down my face. We really need to talk about Heavenly Mother more. I wish we had a gender neutral pronoun to describe God, as that word itself used to be gender neutral, and it shows the oneness of God the Father and God the Mother without drawing primarily on one gender (which has so many problems, which you'll read about). The reason I held this over so long is because I was wondering what more I could say about Heavenly Mother than what my roommate has said already. There's nothing. So I'm going to copy and paste parts of her talk here, and if you want the whole thing please email me at email@example.com. Again, I can't take credit for anything below, but I'm certain my roommate would still love you sharing it:
People in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt worshipped a pantheon of gods, which always included a father god, a mother god, and a son god. Some texts from that area use the name Elat for the mother god, which is the female version of God the Father’s name El. In Hebrew, an -im suffix denotes a plural, so when we speak of Elohim, we are speaking of both our Father and our Mother. Our Germanic word God was originally a neuter noun. It did not have a gender assigned to it. The gender of the word God shifted to masculine after the coming of Christianity. ...
From this scripture in Genesis [God made man in his own image], we also learn that all people are created in the image of God. Of course, if men are created in the image of the Eternal Father, women are created in the image of the Eternal Mother. We have heard this repeated countless times since the Church was restored through Joseph Smith. Brigham Young taught, “We were created . . . in the image of our father and our mother, the image of our God,” indicating that when we speak of God—just as when we speak of Elohim—we are speaking of both the Father and the Mother. In 1909, the First Presidency stated, “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” Almost 90 years later, the Proclamation on the Family came out, saying, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
Genesis also tells us that our Heavenly Mother was an active participant in the creation and in framing the plan of salvation. President Harold B. Lee taught, “Could there have been a Father in Heaven without a Mother? ... If you consider carefully those in whose image and likeness male and female were created, I wonder if you will not also discover the organizers of intelligences in the world of spirits.” Sister Susa Young Gates, a general board member of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, stated that “the divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, [has] the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges, and responsibilities.” Their work and Their glory is the same: the immortality and eternal life of all of us, and They share equal responsibility with that work. ...
So we know that our Mother God was involved at the beginning stages of the plan of salvation. The Family Proclamation says that in the premortal life, we were raised to premortal maturity by our heavenly parents. But She is also incredibly involved in our mortal lives now. President Harold B. Lee taught that “sometimes we think the whole job is up to us, forgetful that there are loved ones beyond our sight who are thinking about us and our children. We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.” Sister Susa Young Gates said that our Heavenly Mother looks over us with “watchful care” and provides “careful training.” Sister Chieko Okazaki wrote that our heavenly parents suffer with us through our earthly trials. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “On a particularly difficult day, ... what would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?” ...
So much more has been said of our Eternal Mother, so why do we tend not to speak of Her? Some members of the Church believe that it is forbidden or at least inappropriate to talk about our Heavenly Mother; however, no general authority or Church leader has ever said anything of the sort. In fact, dozens of general authorities have commented on Her, the roles She plays, and Her status as a god.
Many more people believe that we surround her with silence out of respect, that somehow Heavenly Father is protecting Her by not revealing much about Her and not letting us speak of Her often. Frankly, this reasoning has never made any sense to me. If our Mother is indeed a God who is equal in perfection with our Father, as we have been taught by our prophets, then She does not need Him to protect Her. Furthermore, the idea that any heavenly being needs to be shielded in some way from human mortals is simply not logical, as we know God to be all-powerful. President Hinckley even says that “none of us can add to or diminish the glory of her.”
A BYU Studies article titled “A Mother There” states that no prophet, apostle, or any other general authority has ever said we should refrain from speaking of Heavenly Mother. As long as we speak of Her reverently, like with any sacred topic, it is completely all right to speak of Her. And we need to. We need to speak of Her because what will happen to our women in the Church if we don’t?
In the Young Women’s program, they recite a theme every week that starts with “we are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him.” Where is She? Where is the One who loves Her daughters just as much as their Father does, who helped to create them and mold them and is continually guiding them? Where is our love for Her?
The Young Women’s theme was the first thing that started to wake me up to the fact that Heavenly Mother is not very prevalent in our gospel lessons, classes, sermons, or discussions. When I became fully conscious of this, I felt like I didn’t belong in those settings. I didn’t have a say in the conversation. I didn’t have a place at the table. Because if She didn’t have a place, why would I? But more than that, I just felt lost. My Mother was not there. She didn’t seem present because we never allowed Her to be. In a church where we stress the importance of families and eternal gender roles, we have our Father who presides, provides, and protects, but where is our Mother, our Nurturer, the One who gave us life? Without speaking of Her, it can feel like we come from a single-parent family. While I love my Heavenly Father beyond belief and I believe He is always there and constantly watching out for me, sometimes a child just wants their Mother. I resonate very strongly with Carol Lynn Pearson’s poem “A Motherless House.”
I live in a Motherless house
A broken home.
How it happened I cannot learn.
When I had words enough to ask
Where is my Mother?”
No one seemed to know
And no one thought it strange
That no one else knew either.
I live in a Motherless house.
They are good to me here
But I find that no kindly
Patriarchal care eases the pain.
I yearn for the day
Someone will look at me and say
“You certainly do look like your Mother.”
I walk the rooms
Search the closets
Look for something that might
Have belonged to her--
A letter, a dress, a chair.
Would she not have left a note?
Who could have done this?
Who would tear an unweaned infant
From its Mother’s arms
And clear the place of every souvenir?
I am a child--
Crying for my Mother in the night.
I am sure that if any of the women in this room have not felt this desperate yearning to know Her, you will. You were created in Her image. You are destined to be like Her. She is your Mother. As the Israelites knew, She is the tree of life. At some point in your life, you will feel the need to go back to your roots. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the men feel this need too, but it’s probably not quite the same.
There are consequences in our culture when we refuse or simply neglect to discuss our Mother in Heaven. By saying that God is male, it gives men on the earth a god-like quality. But what about the women? We claim a very beautiful and radical belief that all people, men and women, can become gods. Men have an example to look towards, but without speaking more frequently and fully about our Heavenly Mother, women do not have the same kind of example. You can’t be what you can’t see, and a lot of times, She is hidden from us.
The BYU Studies article “A Mother There” states that “while ... scholars and writers admit that Latter-day Saints are not totally silent about Heavenly Mother, they lament that Latter-day Saints usually acknowledge her existence only, without delving further into her character or roles, or portray her as merely a silent, Victorian-type housewife valued only for her ability to reproduce. For instance, professor Barbara J. MacHaffie asserts that from the beginning of Mormonism, Heavenly Mother was ‘pointed to only when the community wished to glorify motherhood.’” While this last statement is not entirely true, as we can see from quotations about Her role as creator, it is painfully sad to me that most of the time, it does seem like She is “valued only for her ability to reproduce.” When we only speak of Her in that way, how does it affect how women see their role in the Church and in the world? How does it affect the women and girls who so desperately need to know more about themselves through knowing Her? ...
Joseph Smith taught that “if men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves.” I would expand this to say that if women do not comprehend the character of our God Mother, they do not comprehend themselves. To comprehend the character of both our Eternal Parents, we must build relationships with Them, and we do that by studying the life and ministry of our Savior Jesus Christ. Surely, if Christ emulates the Father, He also emulates the Mother. After all, the Father and Mother are so united that they are considered one God. Mormon scholars have even noted that our heavenly parents must be more united than the Godhead as a whole. From scriptural accounts, we know Christ was humble, patient, forgiving, compassionate, and incredibly loving. He was also bold, radical, and knew when and how to assume His authority. Our Mother is all of these things too.
While our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are one God, They are still distinct beings. When I look for Her in the scriptures, I see Her through Her Son, especially in some particular stories: acknowledging the woman with the issue of blood, helping the woman taken in adultery, raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead, weeping with His friends over Lazarus’s death, healing the soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane, appearing to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection.
The ninth Article of Faith tells us that more knowledge will be revealed to us. Throughout the Doctrine and Covenants, we are urged to do all we can to learn of every religious and secular topic. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you; For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
A modern Mormon poet, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, recently published a collection of poems in search of Heavenly Mother. One of them says,
The truth is, I can’t stop
searching for my Mother.
The truth is, I don’t know if
She wants to be found. But
something big and tiny in
my heart tells me that She
does—that She too, like
Her children, wants
to be seen.
-guppy of doom