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It is Gospel Doctrine 101 that we are the children of God. Our spirits are the children of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother in the most literal sense possible. We have within us the genes of Godhood, the potential to develop and grow into the glorious, exalted beings they are. We lived with them before coming to earth to gain physical bodies in their likeness, male and female.

God’s whole work is to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life, bringing us back into God’s presence, redeemed and sanctified through our obedience and discipline. The laws and covenants that mark our progress on that journey home comprise the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The framework for that journey, and much-needed support, is provided by the Church.

When Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Twelve spoke some years ago in General Conference about the heavenly home-coming that the obedient can look forward to, he noted that our Mother in Heaven would surely have a role[i]. Yet, for most of us, singing the hymn O My Father is usually the only time the existence of a Heavenly Mother is verbalized. Given the fact that she is the mother of our spirits, why then do we talk so little about Heavenly Mother?

The reasons for this silence seem to fall into three categories. When they are examined in light of the scriptures and the teachings of church leaders, all of them can be shown as “cultural assumptions.” None stand up to scrutiny.

Myth 1: Church leaders do not speak of her, so we should not.

Myth 2: She exists, but we know nothing else about her.

Myth 3: Our silence protects her against being blasphemed and slandered as the Father and the Son are.

Let’s examine each of these particular “Mormon Myths” against the facts.

Myth 1: Church leaders do not speak of her, so we should not.

Last year, 2011, BYU Studies published a landmark article by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido entitled, “A Mother There: Historical Teachings and Sacred Silence.” I strongly commend it to you[ii]. For those unfamiliar with it, BYU Studies is an official, scholarly, peer-reviewed publication of the church-operated Brigham Young University and one whose editorial board includes general authorities. The article documents over 600 cases where general authorities have spoken about Heavenly Mother, stretching from the days of the prophet Joseph Smith down to 2010.

Several truths emerge from this fact alone:

  •        The subject of Heavenly Mother has been regularly addressed (how could it not?) by church leaders throughout the entire history of the church. It is not, as some think, a subject spoken about in the early days of this dispensation, but not now.
  •      All the statements affirm our unshakeable belief in Heavenly Mother. That we have a Mother in the pre-mortal realms is as basic as the fact that we have a Father there also.
  •      Significantly, the authors found no occasion where church leaders have ever asked us to not speak of Heavenly Mother, or to maintain some kind of “sacred silence” about her.
  •      From all this we can conclude that talking openly about our belief in Heavenly Mother should not be seen as unorthodox or controversial.

Myth 2: She exists, but we know nothing else about her.

At first glance this may seem to be true. One obvious reason is that there are very few references to her in scripture, as we currently have them. They are there, primarily in the Old Testament, but in their present form they are cloaked in allusion and allegory. To some extent that is also true of the Book of Mormon’s Old World account, as Daniel Peterson of BYU, building on the ground-breaking research of Margaret Barker[iii], has recently explored. Brother Peterson concludes that some of Nephi’s statements are best understood by his awareness of the divine Goddess, the consort (ie. wife) of El [ohim][iv]. My feeling is that when we receive the fullness of the scriptures that Heavenly Mother’s role will surely be much more evident and powerful.

Meantime, however, God continues to also speak to us out of the literal dust – archaeological discoveries. In recent years numerous discoveries have been made in the Holy Land that are intriguing, to say the least. Both physical remains and texts are shedding new light on what the ancient Israelites believed and worshipped[v]. These finds hint at how much has been lost to the modern reader of these writings. I continue to stand in awe of how much is coming forth in our day that directly confirms the truths of the Gospel.

Latter-day Saints have an additional, vitally important, source: the inspired statements made by the leaders of the church. If one reads the 600-plus statements made about Heavenly Mother, quite a complete picture emerges of her. She is clearly much, much more than the divine, stay-at-home “womb” generating billions of spirit children some have assumed.

For a long time a particular favorite quote of mine was Elder Erastus Snow of the Twelve in 1878:

What,” says one, “do you mean we should understand that Deity consists of 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 man and woman . . . there can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way.”[vi]

Heavenly Mother possesses all the attributes of Godhood. She and Heavenly Father reared and taught us in the pre-earth life. She helped create this earth and formulate the Plan of Salvation. Both President Harold B. Lee and President Spencer W. Kimball indicated that she can guide us here in mortality. In other words, she stands beside the Father, as an equal partner and companion, not behind him. She and Heavenly Father together are the great role model for every couple who hope for an eternity together.

Our failure to pay closer attention to the teachings of our leaders on this subject has diminished not only our understanding of God but our concepts of what marriage could be, our roles within it and our understanding of the Priesthood. Some misunderstandings on these matters have become almost as rooted as doctrine among us. They have created expectations about the future that are neither doctrinal nor logical. They have caused us to misunderstand the essential, eternal, equivalence of manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood.

Myth 3: Our silence protects her against being blasphemed and slandered as the Father and the Son are.

The evidence cited in the BYU Studies article makes it clear: there is no authorized mandate of silence concerning Heavenly Mother.


  And simple logic refutes the well-intentioned idea that we protect her by hiding her. Surely it makes no sense that children should be denied knowing anything of their mother, talking about her, loving her and honoring her, during the most crucial period of their eternal journey. Doing so with an earthly mother would be unthinkable; how much more so with our Mother in Heaven?

When President Hinckley cautioned us in 1991 against praying to Heavenly Mother he did not instruct us never to talk about her[vii]. We are free to acknowledge her, talk about her and to give her the honor due to her. As members of the church we can affirm her existence rather than apologize. There is no need to speculate or teach beyond the body of material given by the leaders of the church for the past 180 years. She is there in the heavenly realms with the Father, watching over us in our mortal probation.

One day the faithful will stand again in their presence.

Notes

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[i] Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” April 1978 General Conference, available online at

More recently, in a 2010 devotional address at BYU Provo Elder Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy spoke of the celestial homecoming in similar terms: “when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high and you look into Her eyes and behold Her countenance, every 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.” (“The Divine Nature and Destiny of Women,” March 9, 2010). Available online

[ii] BYU Studies vol. 50 no. 1, 2011, 70-126. The article can be downloaded for $2.00

[iii] Margaret Barker’s forthcoming book The Mother of the Lord (Vol 1: The Lady in the Temple) due for release late September 2012 will show how the veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus, has roots in the earlier belief among the Israelites in a female deity.

[iv] Daniel C. Peterson, “Nephi and His Asherah: A Note on 1 Nephi 11: 8-23″ in Mormons, Scripture, and the Ancient World: Studies in Honor of John L. Sorenson, Davis Bitton, ed. (Provo: FARMS, 1998), 191-243; condensed in the article “Nephi and His Asherah,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9/2 (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2000), 16-25. This is available online

[v] Other non-LDS scholars, notably Jewish scholar Raphael Patai in his The Hebrew Goddess (3rd ed.) (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990) and William G. Dever, “A Temple Built for Two: Did Yahweh Share a Throne with His Consort Asherah?” in Biblical Archaeology Review 34/02 (Mar-Apr 2008), 55-62 establish that a female deity was an integral part of worship in ancient Israel until the “reforms” introduced by Josiah around 621 BC, Lehi and Nephi’s time.

[vi] Journal of Discourses, 19: 26970, March 3, 1878.