Well it looks like it’s been awhile since I posted here! Many things have changed since my last post, though that will be addressed in subsequent posts.
A friend of mine recently asked me about my thoughts on the LDS belief in Heavenly Mother. She then found an article by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido, entitled “A Mother in There”-A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven. I just finished reading the article, and below are my overall thoughts about this seldom-discussed topic.
The Latter-day Saint belief in Heavenly Mother is certainly unique within the broad spectrum of Christian beliefs. To me, it seems to be a very logical and natural extension of various other unique LDS beliefs, such as God the Father being an exalted man, humanity being created in the literal, physical image of God, eternal marriage, and the future exaltation of God’s children. Traditional Christians generally reject all of those premises. Instead, they believe that God the Father is not actually male/gendered, since He transcends time and space, and existed prior to creation (and therefore prior to matter, which He created. in contrast, LDS believe that matter is co-eternal with God). While they do believe that God the Son is male, this is only due to His Incarnation and Bodily Resurrection to Heaven. While traditional Christians do not accept a belief in a divine Mother in Heaven, after reading Paulsen’s article, I couldn’t help but think about the Catholic and Orthodox beliefs and practices surrounding the Virgin Mary (who is frequently referred to as Mother, the Virgin Mother, Blessed Mother, and various other titles).
So how do Latter-day Saints view Heavenly Mother today? Quite frankly, she is rarely, if ever, mentioned. In my 2 years as a member of the Church, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard her (Her?) mentioned in a Church setting (i.e. Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, Elders Quorum, firesides, etc), except for one passing reference I remember, when the missionaries were talking about how they ran into someone in a park that was interested in Mormonism because of the belief in Heavenly Mother, and that he also believed in a Heavenly Mother. She certainly wasn’t mentioned when I took the missionary discussions. Why is that? I think that much of it stems from a mistaken notion that LDS should never talk about Heavenly Mother, because she is too sacred to talk about, and God wants to protect her name from being desecrated, so we just should not mention her at all (an idea that Paulsen discredits in his article, showing that various Church authorities have talked about her throughout the history of the Church).
I also think that much of it stems from the simple fact that not much has been revealed about her, save for the fact that she exists, is eternally married to Heavenly Father and that she, along with Heavenly Father, is a Heavenly Parent. Now, Paulsen may disagree with that statement, as he divides his article into a few areas that describe the roles of Heavenly Mother (Heavenly Wife and Parent, A Divine Person, Co-creator with the Father, Coframer of the Plan of Salvation, Involved Parent in Our Mortality, Mother in Heaven in the Hereafter). However, it is clear that she is not mentioned in any of the Standard Works (the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price), and only vague references are made to her in official statements, such as The Family: A Proclamation to the World, which refers to “heavenly parents” (which is generally how she is referenced in more recent times), or the 1909 First Presidency statement, “The Origin of Man“, which refers to “heavenly parents” and “universal Father and Mother”. While Paulsen may cite various statements by Church authorities at various times, these are not regarded in the same sense as official statements or doctrines contained in the Standard Works.
It is clear that while Latter-day Saints may accept that Heavenly Mother exists, is our spiritual Mother, and is the Divine spouse of the Father (and therefore, a Deity, a God(dess)), we are not to pray to her. Prayers are only to be directed to the Father, in the name of the Son. I find this interesting to compare to the Catholic/Orthodox practices on Mary, where, while she is certainly not accepted as Divine, at least in the sense that she is not God, though she may partake of the divine nature, and is outside of time and space due to their belief that Heaven and God are beyond time and space, prayers are directed to/through her, asking for her intercession in various matters, and she is reverenced in many ways. Catholics/Orthodox tend to view her role as a Queen Mother, as she is the mother of Christ the King.
It was interesting to read about President Harold B. Lee referencing a story by William Dudley Pelley, who said that he took out a pack of cigarettes, was about to light one, then he “heard a voice as gently as any worried mother might caution a careless son, ‘Oh Bill, give up your cigarettes!'”. I think that it is certainly acceptable to believe that Heavenly Mother plays a role in our lives today, although such stories really are in the realm of personal revelation, and certainly don’t have to be extrapolated to or accepted by all Latter-day Saints.
I also found interesting the idea that Heavenly Mother played a role in the Creation, and that Elder Holland has taught that “our Mother and our Father are involved in the ongoing process of creating everything around us…”. Paulsen also says that “some authorities have described Heavenly Mother was an active participant in the process of creation.”. Again, I’m not sure how much we can accept such statements, since we do have accounts of the creation given in the Bible, the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and the temple endowment. One statement however was given by Brigham Young in an 1876 General Conference address, where he said that “eternal mothers” and “eternal daughters are “beings after the resurrection who will ‘be prepared to frame earth[s] like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our [heavenly] parents”. Since LDS view General Conference addresses as inspired messages, where the prophets and apostles, and other authorities give the words of God in our days, I think that that statement would have to be held up higher than others given in non-official settings.
Finally, I think that it is important in LDS theology to view Heavenly Mother (and Heavenly Father) as an example. LDS believe in exaltation, or that through the Gospel, we can become like God. President Lorenzo Snow is often quoted as saying that “As man is, God once was. As God is, man may be”. Various LDS apostles and prophets have taught the principle of eternal progression, and that this applies to God (and Heavenly Mother). Admittedly, I do have difficulty with the notion that the Father was once a man on an earth somewhere else, and that He progressed to Godhood (in contrast to traditional Christianity’s belief that God has always been God), and is now an exalted man (a belief that seems to have began with Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse). On the other hand, such a belief does provide an example for humanity to follow, and to realize that through the Gospel, we can become like our heavenly parents, just like they did.
So where does that leave us? Well, I think it’s safe to say that throughout the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there has been an accepted belief in a divine Mother in Heaven, the wife of God the Father, and that they together created us as spirit children, then created us in their image on this earth. Outside of that, nothing has really been officially revealed on her nature and role. On the other hand, various authorities have stated experiences that they have had in their lives, feeling her influence, and making statements (perhaps inspired, at least for their own personal edification) about her role in our lives in the pre-mortal existence, and what it would be like to return to her presence (and that of the Father) in the next life, as well as her knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, and her desire for her children to progress, to ultimately become like her and her spouse, Heavenly Father. Motherhood therefore becomes a divine role, originating before Creation, along with fatherhood.