Tuesday, May 3, 2016

God the Mother

A few years ago, the LDS church released a video titled “Earthly Father, Heavenly Father.” The video, which was released in honor of Father’s Day, compares a father’s feelings for his children to our Heavenly Father’s feelings about all of humankind. It’s a good video with a nice message.

I wish the church would release something similar in honor of Mother’s Day, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Although Mormonism envisions the existence of a Heavenly Mother — a recently released essay on the church’s website confirms this — little theology has been developed about Her, and there is virtually no role for Her in any of the church’s current teachings or practices.

On the one hand, I’m grateful that my religion includes a representation of the feminine in its conception of the divine. However, Mormonism’s current teachings about Heavenly Mother raise a number of difficult questions for me.

For example, the church teaches that we should not pray to Heavenly Mother. Although my family follows this counsel out of respect for church leaders, it’s difficult for me to explain this to my daughters. Prayer is one of the most fundamental ways that people draw close to the Divine. Mormons are taught that our Heavenly Father “loves us and … wants us to communicate with Him through prayer.” Doesn’t Heavenly Mother love us too? Doesn’t She want us to communicate with Her as well?

I also struggle to explain the paucity of references to Heavenly Mother in Mormon teachings. Although I am grateful for a recent article in BYU Studies about Heavenly Mother, there’s nothing about Her in the scriptures, and only rarely is She mentioned in General Conference talks (references to “heavenly parents” are only slightly more common). Heavenly Mother plays absolutely no role in the temple experience. And notwithstanding the fact that I’ve attended thousands of church meetings over the course of my life, I could probably count on one hand the number of times that I’ve heard a specific reference to Heavenly Mother in a church meeting.

Joseph Smith once said, “If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.” If that is true, then how can women comprehend themselves unless they comprehend the character of God the Mother? And how can they comprehend Her character if She is never (or only rarely) mentioned in our prayers, scriptures, and church meetings?

Elder Holland has bemoaned the fact that “among some in the contemporary world there is … a tendency to feel distant from the Father, even estranged from Him, if they believe in Him at all.” Are we similarly concerned about whether people feel distant or estranged from (or even believe in) God the Mother?

In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the church says that every human being “is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.” But what is the “divine … destiny” of women? To have spirit children and then be cut off from any interaction with those children? Quite frankly, that sounds more like hell than heaven.

The church acknowledges that “our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited.” That’s obviously correct, but I wonder why this is so. To what extent have we sought after Her?

The poem “Motherless House,” by Carol Lynn Pearson, rings true to me. It begins:

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 take comfort in the thought that Mormonism believes in continuous, ongoing revelation. The Ninth Article of Faith says “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” will be revealed in the future. As President Uchtdorf has taught, “the Restoration is an ongoing process.” And, as Philip Barlow has brilliantly argued, Mormonism’s work of “restoration” is not limited to “the restoration of things as they were on the earth in days of yore,” but may also include “the coming forth of things from outside history,” or in other words “things as they should be.”

So even though I don’t understand why God the Mother isn’t featured more prominently in Mormonism’s current teachings, I have faith that “many great and important things” will yet be revealed about Her. I believe that many of the ideas that currently inhabit the shadows of Mormon teachings — for example, that God the Mother is an “equal partner” of God the Father, and that They together are co-creators of worlds and co-framers of the Plan of Salvation — will be developed more fully. I also believe that we will come to understand things about Heavenly Mother that go far beyond anything our current theology has envisioned — ideas and concepts that correspond more closely to “things as they should be” rather than “things as they were on the earth in days of yore.” I believe we will come to understand things about our Heavenly Mother that are more spectacularly beautiful, powerful, and ennobling than any human mind has heretofore conceived.

(And, no, I do not believe in eternal polygamy, so I absolutely do not believe that Heavenly Father is married to multiple Heavenly Mothers. I have faith that we will come to understand more about that deeply troubling aspect of Mormon history, and that one day we will put polygamy behind us once and for all.)

I am also convinced that Heavenly Mother’s influence is being felt on humankind, even if we don’t (yet) have any formal revelations about Her. For example, in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker argues that violence has been diminishing for millennia, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence. If this is true (and Pinker’s arguments are compelling), it seems reasonable to attribute this decline in violence to character traits that have traditionally been considered feminine, such as empathy, sensitivity, caring, compassion, tolerance, nurturance, etc. To me, this strongly suggests that God the Mother is playing a significant role in the development and betterment of humankind. Perhaps this is another way in which “truth eternal tells me I’ve a [M]other there.”

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