A Mother There? Notes on Paulsen and Pulido

September 14, 2011 | 35 comments
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David Paulsen and Martin Pulido’s survey of statements concerning Heavenly Mother in Mormon thought, recently published in BYU Studies, has earned a good amount of attention. It’s a thorough survey, and I only have two relatively minor criticisms. In addition, the article restricts itself to surveying statements rather than analyzing them, and I see a few possibilities for future analysis. Mostly I want to make a couple observations about the article, primarily that it doesn’t say quite as much as one might think.

1. Although the authors write that there is “considerable evidence” that Joseph Smith taught about a Mother in Heaven (71), the evidence is quite weak, consisting of writings made by others in late 1844 or 1845 (including Eliza Snow’s “O my Father”) months after Joseph Smith’s death, and conversations remembered several decades after the fact (see Derr 98–100). This is not what we usually think of as strong evidence that Joseph Smith taught something.

The lack of strong evidence tying a doctrine of a Mother in Heaven to Joseph Smith isn’t of overriding importance, however. A doctrine’s validity doesn’t depend on its origin with Joseph Smith, as Mormon belief accepts the need for continuing revelation. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother also fits well with and can be seen as an outgrown of other theological innovations of Joseph Smith on the nature of God and marriage.

2. My second criticism is that the authors lump together two different statements about Heavenly Mother, dismissing one and spending considerable effort arguing against the second. The first is the folk doctrinal explanation that God has not revealed anything concerning Heavenly Mother because he would not want her name profaned. This is something I have heard before, and I suspect it’s an active part of Mormon folk discourse. Paulsen and Pulido cite its appearance in print and its mention at a BYU women’s conference (73–75).

As this seems like a fairly well attested and widespread idea, I think it deserves to be treated seriously as a part of Mormon discourse about Heavenly Mother, as it is no less based on speculation and analogy than any of the other statements about her. While it lacks the backing of an apostolic luminary, it’s not clear to me that something published in a Deseret Book publication in the 1990s by the managing director of the church’s Priesthood Department (Paulsen and Pulido 86 n. 8) is less significant today than a statement made by a general auxiliary leader in the 1890s, or how either of them stacks up against the democratic process of doctrine-making represented by folklore.

The authors never engage with the folkloric explanation of the lack of revealed knowledge concerning a Mother in Heaven but instead conflate it with a second and much different statement, namely that any discussion of Heavenly Mother is inappropriate. Paulsen and Pulido spend considerable effort tilting at this belief, which I hadn’t heard before, and their evidence for its popularity is fairly weak: they cite a work of fiction and an informal Internet survey (75). Or, rather, they cite a 2004 article that refers to a 2002 conference paper by Doe Daughtrey that mentions her informal survey of beliefnet.com readers, which gathered about 40 comments (Toscano 15, 22 n. 10). Neither Paulsen and Pulido nor Toscano provide a link to the original survey, and a quick search of beliefnet.com didn’t find it, so it may no longer be extant. (If anyone can find it, a link in the comments would be appreciated.) I don’t think a comment thread from 2002 can be taken as a representative sample of Mormon beliefs in any case. Moreover, does this non-doctrine differ in kind or only in degree from a reluctance to engage in excessive speculation? “Church leaders may well caution an individual to be respectful of and to avoid teaching unorthodox views about Heavenly Mother,” Paulsen and Pulido write in the conclusion (85).

The citation of statements by authorities both past and present about Heavenly Mother does demonstrate that Mormon leaders have not imposed strict injunction to silence, however, which undermines some criticisms of Mormonism to that effect (75).

3. The use of art and fiction to illustrate Mormon discourse on Mother in Heaven isn’t out of place. Paulsen and Pulido provide several examples of Mormon art and Mormon leadership engaged in dialogue with each other, beginning with Eliza Snow and continuing to the present.

The dialogue over “O my Father,” incidentally, includes both Wilford Woodruff calling the hymn a revelation, and Joseph F. Smith insisting that Eliza Snow had brought only poetic inspiration to one of Joseph Smith’s teachings, with each statement taking opposite views of the possibility of women receiving revelation for the church (see Derr 98–99).

4. “Nothing has been authoritatively revealed about Heavenly Mother,” the authors write, summarizing Gordon B. Hinckley (73). The reader needs to keep this firmly in mind when reading the various statements that Paulsen and Pulido have collected, all of which are the result of speculation and reasoning by analogy. To say that one knows something about a Mother in Heaven, including asserting her existence, requires some interrogation of what we mean by knowledge in the context of Mormonism. When Paulsen and Pulido write, “In addition to her participation in creation, Heavenly Mother helped the Father direct the plan of salvation” (80), this has to be understood as a transition between various speculations to the effect of the former and the latter, rather than an assertion of established doctrine.

5. The authors provide some truly eye-opening quotations of expansive statements concerning a Mother in Heaven. These are mostly restricted to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, a time period where we are accustomed to find public speculation among church authorities.

The most expansive statements also met with opposition, which shows where the limits of Mormon discourse on Mother in Heaven lie. George Q. Cannon spoke sharply and emphatically against deifying Heavenly Mother or making her an object of worship (Paulsen and Pulido 78). The most recent direct statement about Mother in Heaven is that of Gordon B. Hinckley from 1991, which arose in reaction to reports of members praying to Heavenly Mother, to which he gave an unequivocal rebuke. “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…I suppose those…who use this expression and who try to further its use are well-meaning, but they are misguided” (Hinckley 100). Liturgical freestylers are not going to find much support in this article.

6. What Paulsen and Pulido are illustrating is less what we know about Heavenly Mother, but rather the functionalizing of Heavenly Mother in Mormon discourse. It seems to me that Heavenly Mother is made to serve just a handful of rhetorical functions. Against feminist critics since the late 19th century, the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother permits Mormons to claim a deification of womanhood found in few other religions (although less uniquely today than a century ago). Heavenly Mother also provides a way to project frequently feminized ideals of nurturing into the celestial plane. In addition, Heavenly Mother gives the ideal of companionate marriage between equal partners a heavenly equivalent and offers a useful rejoinder to critics of marriage as an institution of patriarchal domination. A Heavenly Mother also provides justification for the unique emphasis on family life and marriage as the highest of all sacraments in Mormon belief. In fraught discussions of women’s roles in the church and in Mormon culture, Heavenly Mother functions as a guarantor that current asymmetries are divinely appointed or will be made right in the hereafter. It would be interesting to look at how discussion of a Mother in Heaven reflects debates about gender relations on earth.

7. Paulsen and Pulido don’t give any examples of discourse about Heavenly Mother in the context of polygamy. Why didn’t these two doctrines intersect in the nineteenth century? Was there some kind of tension between them? That might be an interesting question to explore.

8. As Paulsen and Pulido point out, the Heavenly Father/Heavenly Mother binary pair creates an interesting and unresolved tension with Trinitarian formulations of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (79). Further analysis might usefully compare this tension in Mormon thought with high Maryology in Roman Catholicism.

9. In the final analysis, Paulsen and Pulido convincingly demonstrate that belief in the existence of a Mother in Heaven has been widespread among Mormon laity and leadership since the middle of the nineteenth century.

An additional question one might ask about knowledge concerning a Mother in Heaven is to what extent that knowledge is theological, and to what extent it is social. Beyond any theological propositions with which the proposed existence or qualities of a Mother in Heaven agree or conflict, belief is a matter of community. To what degree would one do violence to Mormon community bonds by denying the existence of a Heavenly Mother? Certainly there would be costs, as Heavenly Mother has come to play an important role in Mormon rhetoric concerning marriage and family, and in the beliefs of many Mormons. One hesitates to reject a doctrine that sat well with Gordon B. Hinckley, or one that can be found in the Proclamation on the Family.

Yet a Protestant-minded Mormon could probably reject the doctrine and do less damage to community ties than other kinds of doubts would, such as rejecting nineteenth-century polygamy as a mistake, or reducing the Book of Mormon to inspired fiction; there are members of the Mormon community who do both of these. Heavenly Mother is ultimately a doctrine based on speculation and analogy that lacks a foundation in scripture or in Joseph Smith’s recorded teachings or in revelation to any modern prophet. At the moment, Heavenly Mother appears to have bright prospects for the future, but not all doctrines born of nineteenth-century speculation have had a continued existence into modern Mormonism. If the tension between parental and traditional Trinitarian models of the Godhead became unsustainable, which would win out in the end?

* * *

If I’ve misread Paulsen and Pulido, please point this out in your comments; I’m not grasping for validation here. But I do insist that you treat one another respectfully, and that you save pointless insults for some other occasion.

Sources cited

Derr, Jill Mulvay. “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow.” BYU Studies 36.1 (1996): 84–126.

Hinckley, Gordon B. “Daughters of God.” Ensign Nov. 1991.

Paulsen, David L., and Martin Pulido. “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven.” BYU Studies 50.1 (2011): 70-97.

Toscano, Margaret Merrill. “Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology?: An Investigation into Discourses of Power.” Sunstone 133 (2004): 14-22.

35 Responses to A Mother There? Notes on Paulsen and Pulido

  1. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    Extremely well thought out and expressed.

  2. Chris on September 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Although the idea of a Mother in Heaven is very appealing, I have not seen enough doctrinal support of this concept to verify it. One hymn cannot be the basis of such an idea. Nothing about a Mother in Heaven is suggested in the Book of Mormon, which is supposed to be the keystone of our religion.

  3. Jonathan Green on September 14, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Thank you, AG.

    Chris, possibly so. But if you get enough prophets and apostles making approving noises towards the idea, do you still only have one hymn in support of it? And if one likes an idea enough, is it possible to find support in the Book of Mormon for it? Or a better way to express the question might be: What kinds of interpretive moves are required to find support for a Mother in Heaven in the Book of Mormon, and how willingly do we make them?

  4. Martin on September 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Nice post. “Heavenly Mother” is a folk doctrine which satisfies a logical gap in the generally accepted view of the doctrine of deification and of eternal families. The problem is that modelling those doctrines too literally on what we see on earth creates too many logical gaps to fill, so we eventually just back off. We should probably do the same with Heavenly Mother.

  5. ji on September 14, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    “Heavenly Mother is ultimately a doctrine based on speculation and analogy that lacks a foundation in scripture or in Joseph Smith’s recorded teachings or in revelation to any modern prophet.” That’s how I see it, too. I tend to see all our knowledge (?) concerning a mother in heaven to be social, rather than theological.

    Clearly, you put some real study into this matter. Thanks!

  6. clark on September 14, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    I tend to think that people attributing something to Joseph only a few months after he died is reasonable evidence although not overwhelming. Especially when, as you note, it fits into his scheme rather well. The main question that folks like Blake Ostler raise is whether there is an infinite regress of Gods which is how I think most read the King Follet Discourse and Sermon in the Grove or whether God the Father is unique and there is no one before him.

    I do agree that the “respect for MiH” model should be treated better. I think we just reject it out of hand because it’s not in keeping with our social mores. To be fair only slightly more is said about the Father and arguably a lot of that probably could be seen referring to Jesus. So the real question is why so little is said about Heavenly parents. I don’t buy the whole respect model myself, but I think the idea of “reverence” via silence is too easily discounted simply because it’s not something we’re culturally that used to. I’m not convinced any other justification for silence would be any more compelling simply because culturally we tend to reject silence in toto.

    I think it’s fair to say that MiH in discussions does serve practical roles, such as apologetic justification of the place of women in the Church. That said though it’s because it is a pretty key doctrine regardless of whether there is a mother in heaven – that of the deification of all those saved.

    One problem with Paulsen is that they divorce explicit discussion of mother in heaven from discussion of other female divine beings. In the 19th century that’s a bit unfair given the views of many of who Eve was. Beyond even that most discussion of the exaltion of women was typically taken as a discussion of mother in heaven. So the corpus is actually much larger when contextualized. Given that much of this was carried over into the 20th century minus certain elements of Brigham Young’s A/G theory I think the actual view of mother in heaven is a bit broader and deeper than it can appear by looking only at the explicit comments.

    As for distinguishing between social and theological, does such a distinction really even make sense? The real debate is the question how little our social structures pass to the next life. But there’s really no way of knowing so a lot quasi-doctrine is just extrapolating our way of living here to the next life. Which becomes problematic when there are social changes in how we conduct ourselves.

  7. Kevin Barney on September 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    For one reading of a BoM pericope that plays on MiH, see this:

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223

  8. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) on September 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Jonathan asks: “What kinds of interpretive moves are required to find support for a Mother in Heaven in the Book of Mormon, and how willingly do we make them?”

    Some may have seen Daniel Peterson’s “Nephi and his Asherah” : http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223 (a longer version is available in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World). This is an excellent example of interpreting the Book of Mormon to support the idea of Mother in Heaven.

  9. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) on September 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Darn! Kevin beat me to it!

  10. Bob on September 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    IMO, there is more support for a Black Skin curse that there is for a Mother in Heaven. I see this Mother God folklore growing by the minute within the Church and see a danger in it. If Mormonism wants to be seen as a ‘cult’, then beginning to worship a Mother God is a good start.

  11. BHodges on September 14, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    Regarding MiH, the last thing that concerns me about it is being seen as a “cult” based on it.

  12. Bob on September 14, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    BHodges:
    Just throwing out some hot words to raise a red flag on what IMO is a dangerous folklore.
    I also remember Romney’s last run when “Brother in Heaven” (Satan), became a big issue.

  13. Russ Frandsen on September 15, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Jonathan,

    This discussion omits an analysis of the temple marriage ceremony and other parts of the endowment. I suppose the temple ceremony contributes most to the fundamental place in Mormon thinking of a Mother in Heaven.

  14. Chris on September 15, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Russ, you are assuming that the temple ceremony is inspired. Reading the history of it, including its troubling Masonic plagarism, makes one wonder if its doctrine is true.

  15. Kaimi Wenger on September 15, 2011 at 2:32 am

    As Russ knows, Mormon studies scholars have recently uncovered yet another startling link between Mormons and Masons. In fact, Russ just e-mailed me about this very topic.

  16. chris on September 15, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Earliest scripture I can see of Adam & Eve’s mother is found early in genesis 2:24:

    Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

    Of course, Adam could be looking forward to kids having children and leaving him and Eve, and so on; and it certainly applies that way. But in coming to this earth and subsequently falling, Adam certainly did “leave his Father” and he left his mother in that case to. Especially when you consider the future fall… and how they were literally gone from the presence of the God and only had each other to cleave to after being separated from their heavenly parents.

  17. Jonathan Green on September 15, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Clark, I think “reasonable evidence” is a good formulation.

    Chris and Kevin, thanks for the link.

    Bob, if there were no Mother in Heaven, people could probably find a few more reasons to consider us a cult, so that might not be the overriding concern. BHodges, what’s the first thing that concerns you about it?

    Russ, we’ll have to make do without an analysis of the temple marriage ceremony. Sorry. But, Chris, for this thread, we’ll assume the temple liturgy is inspired.

  18. chris on September 15, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Just thought I’d add a little more to the last comment. It says “therefore” at the start of the verse which means for this reason or for this cause. What cause is Adam and Eve leaving Father and Mother? For the cause of bring souls into the plan of salvation… the same cause that we leave our own Fathers and Mothers. For this cause (bringing souls to earth to receive bodies and start on the progress of exaltation) we leave our mother and father and become one with our spouse.

  19. chris on September 15, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Oh I’m not the same Chris above saying the temple is not inspired. Its the place to know many things concerning the eternal destiny of man and women but it is not plainly given in the ceremonies but has the be revealed directly from heaven.

  20. clark on September 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Bob (10) I confess I don’t see how it is dangerous. Honestly if you accept the regress view of the King Follet Discourse then it’s almost a necessary doctrine. The issue really becomes whether the idea of deification within Mormonism maintains a gap between God and Man (as in traditional Christianity) or whether it doesn’t (as in most traditional interpretations within Mormonism).

    I recognize that there are people who recently have tried to push the gap view (Stephen Robinson, Blake Ostler etc.) But it really is problematic to merely call this a folk doctrine with little support. It might not be right, but there’s really almost nothing against it and a huge amount of theological support for it. So to call it a folk doctrine seems a bit dubious (IMO).

    Chris (16) Interesting reading I’ve never considered. Seems a bit vague though although probably a reasonable one if we read Genesis 2 in terms of a more Canaanite cultural background. (The move to strict monotheism within Judaism is almost certainly post-exilic and probably doesn’t really solidify until the Hellenistic era)

  21. Bob on September 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    Clark: You may be right. But I am old enough (66) to recall the hatred the Mormon Church had for the Catholics for their Mother God (Mary).
    IMO, “Mother in Heaven” is not “doctrine” until the Church says it is. Most of the “Mother in Heaven” talk I hear is from the ground up__this makes it folklore.
    I see the Church adding a fourth member to the Godhead as “dangerous” without more support.

  22. clark on September 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    The question, Bob, is what it would mean for the Church to say it. Heaven knows there have been plenty of Presidents of the Church who’ve spoken on it. It’s been in the Ensign a lot. (Go to LDS.org and do a search) Pres. Hinkley even gave a talk talking about it being inappropriate to pray to our Mother in Heaven but if you read the talk he clearly takes it as a doctrine of the Church that we have a mother in heaven. You have Pres. Kimball teaching in Conference,

    “When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?”

    I recognize that just because something is taught by a GA (even the President) in conference it isn’t necessarily formal doctrine of the Church. However it seems to me this idea is taught so much and there’s no place we have any pronouncement of neutrality (as say with the evolution controversy). Given all that I think it’s hard to say this is a folk doctrine. Now once again it may be a belief of the church that gets rejected (although I think if anything we’ll go the other way and get more information about her eventually). We’re a church of continuing revelation and we recognize our ideas are fallible. There’s nothing like inerrancy in the Church. Still, while I’m completely open to people like Blake looking at the origins of belief and critiquing the nature of the origins I think we have to be careful with the “folk doctrine” tag.

    I mean what couldn’t be considered folk doctrine if we define it too broadly?

  23. Erin on September 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    A bit conspicuous that no women are joining in this discussion. It is a little overwhelming and underwhelming all at the same time to see – once again – a bunch of men deciding if there is a female deity. In the interest of Romney and the “cult” word being thrown around, I will just say that the heavens seem rather dismal and empty without a mother. The next life is supposed to surpass all of the greatest desires of our hearts, and I, like every other woman I know in this church and others, don’t think such beauty would exist without such a divine figure.

    It’s clear that a) we’ve got lots of prophets – from at least early BY all the way through Pres. Hinckley explicitly endorsing what they call the doctrine of Heavenly Mother; b) Mormonism is far more consistent with itself as a whole (both doctrinally and pragmatically) with this doctrine; and c) as the OP notes, there is now and always has been significant popular support of the doctrine, both a yearning for and edification from our Heavenly Mother. Consequently, I can’t help but wonder – why on earth do so many want to cast doubt on it? I think it’s fine for Jonathan to as analytically as he can put forth what he sees as the state of things. I can also understand how uncomfortable certain aspects of early Mormonism make folks uncomfortable – particular those we’ve now abandoned (polygamy, racism, etc.). But what on earth is there about the beautiful doctrine of our Heavenly Mother that make the Bobs of the world cringe?

    And specifically, why do we feel hesitant to support it given the “tension” it creates vis-a-vis the Trinity? This is perhaps the most shocking thing I’ve seen come up in this discussion. As if Mormonism – under any plausible interpretation – doesn’t already have major tension with the Trinity! Why on earth isn’t the lack of the feminine within the Trinity far more uncomfortable?

  24. Kevin Christensen on September 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    For one more women’s perspective on the issue, see:

    http://www.margaretbarker.com/Papers/WhereshallWisdombefound.pdf

  25. Martin on September 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Erin, one can easily be skeptical of a Mother in Heaven without diminishing the value of womanhood or femininity (whatever those words happen to mean). Femininity and masculinity could just be two aspects of God. Just because Christ took a masculine form (and there are all sorts of good reasons for that given the time frame and culture) doesn’t limit Him to being masculine in totality (even if our pronouns do).

  26. James Olsen on September 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Jonathan: really appreciated your taking the time to give a well-thought out response to this article. In response to some of your points:
    #2: I don’t think this was your intent, but you make it sound as if what we get from P&P are statements from a general auxiliary leader in the 1890s [note the anachronism - they weren't general auxiliaries then], which are no better than more contemporary DB publications. This comes across rather misleadingly. I appreciate the way you disentangle injunctions toward silence from folk doctrines concerning a protecting Heavenly Mother from being profaned. P&Ps explicit point, however, seems merely to point out that in their extensive research they’ve never seen either idea officially sanctioned or even iterated by church authorities. As you note, this doesn’t refute the fact that the latter claim has enjoyed a signifiant popular support – it’s clearly been a part of Mormonism.
    #4: I think your claim that all of the garnered quotes are the result of “speculation and reason” is likewise misleading. Some of them are explicitly that. Of these, some are not the speculation-and-reasoning of the authors, but rather the author’s attempt to help the reader to accept what the author already accepts, in the familiar “Come now, let us reason together” fashion – a strategy used by prophets and God Him(/Her?)self. Others are declarations that this is Mormon doctrine. And others are borne testimonies of the doctrine.
    #5: The most recent (and certainly one of the most moving) statements is actually Elder Glenn L. Pace from 2010. And it’s one of those that falls under the “testimony” and not the “speculation and reason” category.
    #5: You state: “Liturgical freestylers are not going to find much support in this article.” This is an odd statement, given that the article is, as you note, a survey of statements by church authorities. I can’t think of (or really even imagine) any such survey where “liturgical freestylers” are going to find support. Isn’t the very idea a contradictory notion, that church authorities – those who set out the official positions of the church – would give support to liturgical freestyling? If, for example, next month Pres. Monson stood up and said, “I want to officially support and encourage liturgical freestyling,” then those who went forth with their fancy footwork would no longer be “liturgically freestylers” but in fact orthodox members following the prophet.
    #6: Great list of rhetorical functions Heavenly Mother plays. And I certainly agree that a fascinating study would be looking at how our discourse on Heavenly Mother reflects our debates concerning gender roles. But your point here seems to claim (or at least intimate) that since she fulfills these rhetorical functions, she is merely a part of Mormon discourse. We can clearly point out the rhetorical function of all of our doctrinal points – like our belief in Heavenly Father as separate from Jesus. I certainly hope we don’t think that this belief is merely rhetorical, as opposed to true.
    #8: Quick clarification: the tension that high Maryology created with the Trinity was an intra-religious tension. As Erin (#23) points out, since Mormonism clearly rejects the Trinity, any tension Heavenly Mother creates with the Trinity is inter- and not intra-religious.
    #9: Interesting point. All of this discussion again points to the vague and slippery notion of Mormon “doctrine” as well as the clearly orthopraxic nature of Mormonism. Just as Protestant-minded Mormons can probably comfortably reject Heavenly Mother, and naturalist-minded Mormons can reject BofM hsitoricity, so too Jewish (or non-Christian) minded members can comfortably reject our very Christian (and sometimes downright evangelical and fundamentalist) discourse on Jesus. It gets harder to do some of these things the more one feels inclined toward an overall consistency and doctrinal-temporal coherency.

  27. James Olsen on September 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm

    Martin: true. The Proclamation on the Family, however, poses a problem for your gender inclusive could’ve-been-male-or-female Jesus.

  28. Martin on September 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    James, true. But if you accept the Proclamation as revelatory, rather than derivative, then that changes the whole discussion on Heavenly Mother in the first place, since it specifically refers to heavenly parents.

    The Proclamation firms up previously flexible doctrines without claiming any additional light or knowledge. It’s the type of thing I could easily see canonized, superceded, or de-emphasized into oblivion, and it’s hard to predict which.

  29. Raymond Takashi Swenson on September 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    It seems to me that the understanding that the “God” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob includes a Father and a Son, as well as a Holy Spirit, was a matter that was only gradually revealed. Margaret Barker’s writings suggest (as I read them) that the pre-Exile, First Temple people of Israel believed in a distinct being, the Son of God, and that this belief in a second divine being survived sufficiently into the time of Christ that there was already a conceptual place for Jesus on the right hand of God the Father in the minds of many First Century Jews. The Book of Mormon asserts that this understanding was explicit among some Israelites back in 600 BC. As the Peterson article on “Asherah” and other sources on early Israelite religious practices suggest, a female deity for Israel also seems to have been part of the religious story back then.

    The concept or assumption of a Mother in Heaven may appear to have existed in early Christianity, even without an explicit doctrine on the issue. For example, in the early Christian Hymn of the Pearl, the protagonist who comes to earth to find and save his soul receives a letter from his father and mother, as well as his older brother, reminding him of his mission to “return with honor” to his place of honor and royal glory among them.

    The most basic concepts of Mormonism about the purpose and program of God (Moses 1:39, 2 Nephi 2, etc.) are reflected in the poetic exaltation of Adam and then Eve about the importance of the step they took to open the gate for God’s children to inhabit the earth, because it brought them the capacity to have “joy”. The question asked by Eliza R. Snow in her hymn–In the heaven are parents single?–sounds simple, but it has profound implications. The scriptures of the Restoration promise that men and women who are sealed together can become “gods” and become parents to many spirit children. Where did the “DNA” for the role and powers of women in both time and eternity come from? Are men a necessary form of spirit children for God, but women wholly contingent? Or are both male and female roles ones that have existed eternally, and which we inherit from similar parents? The principle of eternal life that Joseph taught seems to assert that eternal life in the future of the Saints is a reflection and continuation of the eternal life we began with our “heavenly parents”, who modeled for us the eternal nature of our respective gender roles. It seems to me that the teachings of Joseph Smith about the eternal nature of man, and the mission of God, leaves a big whole that is in the shape of a Mother in Heaven. Accepting this concept gives Joseph’s teachings about the eternal nature of men and women and their nature as male and female from ancient premortality a symmetry and completeness and balance, an eternal consistency, and an eternal value for women just as much as for men. Since our physical bodies are meant to be immortal and eternal, the gender of our bodies also has an eternal nature, both backwards and forwards in time. If we inherit our basic body plan, our emotional character and our intelligence from our Father, our gender must come from heavenly parent(s) as well. If female gender did not come from a female progenitor, it had to have been created, ex nihilo, by the Father. But that would make gender a temporal and temporary aspect of ourselves, rather than an eternal one. Since the women we are married to can be exalted as “gods”, we cannot rule out the possibility of such a godly woman being the model and necessary contributor of and definder of female gender in the premortal lives of those same women.

    Like the real fatherhood of God, and the Father’s embodiment, the understanding that there is a mother God who contributes the template for God’s daughters is one of those concepts contributed by the Restoration that seems straightforward and logical, but also startling in its audacity. It is a powerful concept because it completes and reinforces so many other concepts taught about God and God’s children. And it teaches, more than mere words could, that the holiest and most perfect and complete state of human beings is in our union as husband and wife. It is a puzzle piece that completes many of the most important and original doctrines of the Restoration.

  30. Jeremy Orbe-Smith on September 16, 2011 at 12:26 am

    I echo Erin and Swenson. I converted to the Church in my 20′s, and one major reason why was the idea that men and women are *both* modeled after divine parents.

    Indeed, I speculate even further.

    From the Gospel of the Birth of Mary:

    5:14 For Isaiah saith, there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall spring out of its root, and the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding, the Spirit of Counsel and Might, the Spirit of Knowledge and Piety, and the Spirit of the fear of the Lord shall fill him. Then, according to this prophecy, he appointed, that all the men of the house and family of David, who were marriageable, and not married, should bring their several rods to the altar, and out of whatsoever person’s rod after it was brought, a flower should bud forth, and on the top of it the Spirit of the Lord should sit in the appearance of a dove, he should be the man to whom the Virgin should be given and be betrothed.

    In this passage, the Spirit of Wisdom (personified as female everywhere in the Bible) is the Dove, is the rod/Tree, is the signifier of the mortal girl who will receive the divine child from the male and female Gods implied in Genesis.

    In John’s overview of the Plan of Salvation in Revelation, he notes that the Queen of Heaven, having been given wings (just like Ma’at, the Egyptian version of Lady Wisdom), comes down to earth (personifying it as female, as in the Book of Moses and countless other religions with an “earth goddess” – see Hinduism for beautiful examples) in order to guide Her children back to Heaven.

    Wisdom, who existed before the foundation of the world, is “a Tree of Life” to those who grasp her, according to Proverbs. The Tree of Life purged from the Temple (modeled after the lampstand in the Tabernacle) was in all likelihood the Asherah (meaning “She who treads on the sea”, reminding one of the Spirit who “brooded” over the waters during the Creation). Far too often, people make the mistake of assuming Jeremiah is condemning the Queen of Heaven herself, rather than the human sacrifices which have perverted her worship – yet it is a retroactive scribal *assertion* that it was the Asherah herself who was a foreign pagan blasphemy.

    The Queen of Heaven is Lady Wisdom, is the Tree of Life, is the Mother, is the Dove, is the Holy Spirit of Promise. This means that Joseph Smith (receiving a Vision in a Sacred Grove) Restored the Sacred Marriage from which springs the Divine Family – a physically real Father, Mother, and Child who act in concert on behalf of a numberless Divine Council of Gods (see the Book of Abraham) and yet retain their individuality, which utterly does away with Trinitarian nonsense and restores religion (“binding”) to the proper place: the highest level of *humanism* in which we are not separated from Godliness by a vast ontological gulf.

    This also means that the Book of Mormon contains by far the most information on the Heavenly Mother out of any of our scriptures. The *entire book* is a treatise on why we must not lose Her as did the Israelites after Josiah’s purge, leaving the Temple a Great and Spacious Building bereft of the Living Tree of Life.

    (I wrote a big post about this subject as a warm-up for a massive paper I’m trying to finish as soon as possible: http://www.mormondialogue.org/topic/55611-the-holy-ghost-is-a-calling/page__view__findpost__p__1209044345 )

  31. aquinas on September 16, 2011 at 8:51 am

    Thank you for the review. A few thoughts.

    1. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the attempt to situate Mother in Heaven concepts in Joseph Smith’s thought. While it is true Mormon thought is not limited to Joseph Smith, the effort to locate Mother in Heaven in Joseph Smith essentially drives several questions in terms of legitimacy, revelation, and restoration. It is clear that proponents of Mother in Heaven ideas will argue that doctrine need not originate with Joseph Smith, but this argument itself serves an interesting function within, what is being called Mother in Heaven discourse. It tends to find tension with concepts of Restoration and the role of foundational prophets. I think this question is a fruitful area of inquiry.

    4. The role of reasoning by analogy in the creation of new religious traditions. Given Mormonism’s heavy emphasize of revealed knowledge, especially in published revelations and foundational texts that were the result of the Restoration, Mother in Heaven discourse faces serious challenges. I don’t say this as a critic of such discourse but more as an observation of the meta-discourse. Reasoning by analogy has an important function within theological development. Yet, again, in a faith where authority and sure knowledge are paramount, how well can reasoning by analogy form a surrogate source of knowledge. Again, Mother in Heaven discourse forms a good case study to explore this question.

    6. This is a critical point. I would like to see more discussion in terms of the function of theology, and what direction does the function flow? In terms of theology creation, does the proposed function for a doctrine grant it more legitimacy? Are we being descriptive of how a doctrine actually operates within a religious community or is this more advocating than description? Can we separate description and advocacy when writing on this topic?

    7. Also a crucial insight. It would appear the image of a monogamous Father and Mother in Heaven is assumed. Yet, given the early Church worldview of plural marriage that extended in the heavens, the idea of Heavenly Mothers in the plural needs to be taken seriously. Obviously, to consider the concept of Heavenly Mothers clashes with current sensibilities and views of marriage. Yet, early leaders like Brigham Young, for example, would have assumed no less. What about early leaders literal views of heavenly procreation, including celestial females with actual gestation periods? If one is to look at the historical record, and include folklore and analogy, shouldn’t these issues receive mention? There is a story of doctrinal development in terms of keeping spirit birth concepts but shedding the literal understandings and implications for celestial females held by early Mormon thinkers, even while retaining the literal language. How does a theological traditional successfully pull that off? I find the dynamics of this development to be inherently interesting.

    Again, thank you for the insightful review.

  32. Manuel on September 18, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    I find point number 7 to be the most problematic for Paulsen and Pulido. While I am not surprised the issue of polygamy was not given emphasis, I find it a very problematic oversight.

    The two doctrines (polygamy and Heavenly Mother) did intersect in a very significant way. But they intersected through the Adam-God doctrine and thus the complexity of the is magnified significantly and it can create the need of a tangent nobody publishing through BYU would most likely be interested in analyzing in the appropriate depths and scholarship.

    I believe the doctrine of Mother in Heaven needs to be treated like other aspects of LDS doctrine, from an evolutionary standpoint. This is IMO what is missing here.

    The assumptions seems to be that the concept of Mother in Heaven has been somewhat consistent within the context of LDS teaching. I believe the Church has had at least two significantly different feminine deities they have called a “Mother in Heaven.” Eve, the wife of Adam “our Father and our God” as taught by Brigham Young, and more recently (and as a result of the abandonment of the Adam God doctrine), the wife of Elohim, who is probably the one considered Heavenly Mother today.

  33. Bob on September 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    Manuel:
    None of that matters. Those who want there to be a Mother in Heaven, don’t care ‘who’ she is, only ‘what’ she is. Is she someone who loves her babies or a God? Does she treat every human as her special child, or is she indifferent to them. Is she ‘Mom’, or the God ‘Shiva’?

  34. Manuel on September 18, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Bob,

    Yeah, my comment was not really involved with whether the belief in a Mother in Heaven is folk religion, or whether the concept is right or wrong, or whether it affects LDS marketability in a political frame, or whether it meets the expectations of an LDS audience.

    My point is that if work is being done regarding statements of a Heavenly Mother, a more careful study of the context of such statements needs to be addressed to better understand what the statements are really trying to convey and what they actually meant to the people stating them.

    I was more interested in the actual academic value of the article than the theological correctness.

  35. Robert on September 18, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Once again I find myself alarmed at the speculation or doubt of many over something I take for granted. This isn’t to be critical or harsh of any one person, but, at a certain point, I find it ironic that many become preoccupied with “official statements,” biblical, canonical, prophetic, or otherwise, but rely so heavily on the other hand with intellectual and academic thought. I take it as a matter of simple faith that women are priestesses, queens, and G/gods. Going back to Eliza, the expression that there might not be an eternal MOTHER (note, this thread has hardly discussed the actual term) does make reason stare. I actually find it offensive, in some measure, that men in this church so often assume priestly responsibilities, only to question the role of women in the grand scheme if things — ere they are left. I take the statement in D&C 121 regarding the powers of heaven inseparable from the priesthood to be a shadow and type of men and women, also inseparable. In other words, the creative powers of procreation and the priesthood are the most sacred duties of a unified corpus (if you will) of man AND wife, and if the restoration pushes any frontier, our belief in a heavenly mother is precisely such a bold, enduring vision. (D&C 132 is also such a categorical statement.) Again, not to sound rude, but I find the lack of faith on this idea, well, alarming. I submit that men (and women) who do not believe such things do not really understand the temple or the marriage covenant.

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