Oftentimes a quest for religious knowledge becomes so complicated and frustrating that even the sincere seeker may feel that a topic is beyond understanding and give up. Yet in my experience, truth has the capacity to reveal itself to the most humble of students, say, a child. For me, this has made the honest study of religious truth, guided by the Spirit, a beautiful journey in discovering life’s purpose: our potential.
I love patterns. It’s one of the countless reasons I am drawn to my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). I have seen that once a firm pattern for understanding a truth is established, it is subsequently easier to apply. The continued application of this pattern, in turn, provides us with greater light and a desire to obey the principles by which the new truth gained is governed.
Mormonism places the family unit—mother, father and children—at the center of its theology. The family is considered the very reason for the Creation, Fall, Atonement, and Resurrection. From the Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of scripture in the LDS Church (which includes the Holy Bible), God’s purpose is revealed: “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).
Mormons believe that all mankind, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, will freely receive “immortality”, by the Grace of God (John 3:16). “Eternal life” comes only to those willing to make and keep sacred covenants with God, including baptism, who remain obedient to His commandments.
The worth of a soul is great in the sight of God. However, Mormon doctrine teaches that in order for anyone—male or female—to reach the highest degree of glory where God Himself resides, one must enter into the covenant of eternal marriage. This covenant can only be entered between a man and a woman, and it lasts for time and all eternity. “Nevertheless, neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:11).
Exaltation, or “eternal life” is to live in God’s presence as God Himself lives: as a resurrected and perfect being who dwells eternally in the family structure. Thus the common LDS mantra: families are forever. We believe that just as we had a life prior to coming to this earth—as spirit children of heavenly parents—we will have a life, in a progressed state, after we die. This process is often referred to as “The Plan of Salvation”. As noted, Mormonism considers the family central to our theology. Therefore, we believe that the basic organization of the family—father, mother, children—is ordained by God and is the basic pattern by which I feel we can best teach the core doctrines of the faith. The simplicity of this pattern can make doctrine simultaneously easy to understand, yet profound to the deepest thinker.
The beauty in looking for eternal patterns is that patterns allow the mind to naturally consider the next thing to anticipate before it appears, so that when it appears, it is almost expected. Patterns are revelations waiting to appear, as in the case of the Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Mother. Religious truth, then, can be viewed as God simply revealing His patterns. “Mysteries”, then, become discoveries, revelations that appear as we stay the course and remain true to the laws and principles that govern God’s patterns.
The Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is said to have come about in this manner of seeking patterns to obtain revelation. While we do not know the specific details, we know that the existence of our Heavenly Mother was revealed during the lifetime of Joseph Smith Jr., founding prophet of the LDS Church. LDS historians believe that the concept circulated to those closest to him and may very well have been taught, or confirmed, by him. As a result of this uncertainty and limited revelation—and not because She is a mystery or a taboo topic, as critics often purport—members of the Mormon faith are sensitive to public speculation about Her.
Currently, there are renewed efforts both within and outside of Mormonism, mainly among feminists, to bring the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother out of supposed “obscurity”. Some even claim that the male hierarchy of the Church purposely hides knowledge of Her true identity in order to suppress the stature of women as potential governing leaders. The presumed intent behind this claim appears to be that if a cover-up could be established and publicized, it would force church leaders to give priesthood offices to women, despite continued revelation that such offices are solely for male members.
Mormons teach that the Godhead is made up of three separate and distinct individuals: God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who is a personage of Spirit, and whose identity is not revealed—all members male. In an effort to “rectify” a perceived inequality in the Church, a small group of feminists advocate the idea that the Holy Ghost is Heavenly Mother. However, there is neither doctrine nor an established pattern in the church, at any point in its history, to support this idea; there is only speculation surrounding comments made by Joseph Smith during a handful of early meetings while establishing the women’s organization of the church, Relief Society.
Ironically, excommunicated female members—who continue to advocate for the priesthood ordination of women—are the primary advocates of these doctrinal distortions that a small faction of vocal LDS women have come to embrace. Despite what critics claim, I have never felt restrained from speaking of Heavenly Mother or about my heavenly parents, as the doctrine is understood. Their existence is so natural, so fitting within the family pattern that God has ordained. Similarly, that eternal pattern grants me confidence as a woman and a mother, not the doubt that others purport to feel.
In other words, I do not accept that there is some type of “gag” order been placed on discussions or references to Heavenly Mother in the Church. Rather, I think it more likely that some who have raised the subject in a church setting, speculatively (regardless of intent), may very well have been met with discomfort by members not willing to engage in such a manner.
As a young mother, I was assigned to teach a church class on the doctrine of Heavenly Mother. Not being raised in the church, I found myself quick to embrace the discovery of Her existence with deep reverence. I enjoyed finding the beautiful pattern for eternal families woven in the overall doctrine of my Mormon faith. And in a world fast rejecting the importance of both a father and mother in raising children, I appreciated the pattern even more. Among the thrilling concepts in the lesson material (Home and Family Education, Lesson 4, Mothers in Israel), and among doctrine I have subsequently read, these stunning insights rang true to my feminine heart:
Finally, remember: When we return to our real home, it will be with the “mutual approbation” of those who reign in the “royal courts on high.” There we will find beauty such as mortal “eye hath not seen”; we will hear sounds of surpassing music which mortal “ear hath not heard.” Could such a regal homecoming be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother? (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Women of God,” April, 1978.) I have never questioned why our mother in heaven seems veiled to us, for I believe the Lord has his reasons for revealing as little as he has on that subject. Furthermore, I believe we know much more about our eternal nature than we think we do; and it is our sacred obligation to express our knowledge, to teach it to our young sisters and daughters, and in so doing to strengthen their faith and help them through the counterfeit confusions of these difficult latter days. (Patricia T. Holland, ” ‘One Thing Needful’: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ,” Oct. 1987.)
Ordinarily we speak freely of our Father in Heaven, but have little to say about our Mother in Heaven. There is, of course, no such thing as a father without a mother, or of children without parents and we do have some official and authoritative statements about this doctrine.… Speaking of pre-existence and the origin of man, the First Presidency in that day said plainly that “man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father,” that man is the “off-spring of celestial parentage,” and that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us of our heavenly parents and shows us the way to “create for ourselves eternal family units which are patterned after [our Eternal Father’s] family” (Joseph Fielding Smith, “Mothers in Israel,” p. 884).
In 1995, during a worldwide broadcast for the women of the church, then LDS Church President, Gordon B. Hinckley, presented The Family: A Proclamation to the World. In the April 2013 General Conference of the Church, Elder L. Tom Perry, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in referring to the Proclamation, specifically spoke of its content as doctrine, a subject debated by a minority of LDS members who advocate outside of orthodox teachings. In reiterating that the pattern of eternal families continues to be at the foundation of LDS teachings and that the Family Proclamation is currently used as the main resource to uphold this doctrine, it is of substantial note to extract the teaching of heavenly parents included in the proclamation, for the benefit of this discussion:
“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. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
I submit: there is no mystery, nothing obscure whatsoever, about the fact that Mormons teach and believe the doctrine that if there is a Heavenly Father, there is a Heavenly Mother. In the simplest yet most profound of patterns, as I am a mother on earth, so will I remain a mother in heaven. For those who have had their marriages made eternal in holy temples—and remained true to covenants made with God—we believe that at some point in eternity, we will live as our heavenly parents. Such is the purpose of this life.
Members of the LDS faith do not claim to have all understanding on these matters, nor are we encouraged to publicly speculate about things that have not been revealed. However, those whom we believe to be prophets of God have confirmed that, indeed, our Heavenly Father has a divine counterpart, a Heavenly Mother. It is the most glorious of doctrines!
In an age when women are tempted to compete with men and seek to surpass them in glory, LDS women, in general, have an eternal understanding that their purpose and role in this earthly sojourn is to nurture God’s children, while striving to maintain balance and order in using their divine nature given by God.
The vast majority of Mormon women embrace the general counsel of LDS Church leaders who encourage mothers, where possible, to be in the home when their children are present. This is not to say that LDS women working outside of the home is considered a negative, not if it is necessary or if it can be worked out within one’s personal family circumstances, where children are not neglected.
The glory of God is His children’s exaltation, as He brings them safely back into His presence. Mothers are God’s number one allies in this work, and without us completely focused, His work becomes more difficult. LDS leaders continually counsel parents to prioritize their lives in order to place their children first. The Family Proclamation further states:
HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
Families, whether Mormon families or any other, are no different to God; each include His children. Therefore His interest in their welfare is equal and His counsel to men and women, mothers and fathers, the same. The Proclamation is given to the world, and it should be of particular interest to those who deeply value traditional marriage and family. There is a sweet song that Mormon children often sing, titled: “A Child’s Prayer”. It begins, “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer ev’ry child’s prayer?”
As the mother of five grown children, and 12 grandchildren… using the eternal family pattern, revealed as I understand it, I can answer this question:
Heavenly Mother, Are you really there?
My maternal instincts, embedded in my eternal, divine nature, tell me without a shadow of a doubt, YES! To be a wife and mother is the most important aspect of my life. My children, through all my weakness, are bound to me because of the many experiences we share here in mortality, and they will continue to hold my heart throughout all eternity. How could they not? For they have been my greatest teachers through the joys, sorrows and challenges that we have been through together, thus far, as an eternal family. Their worth to me is beyond measure—each one of them.
I adore the words that Eliza R. Snow penned, now set to the cherished LDS hymn, “O My Father”. The third and fourth verses teach the beautiful, doctrinal pattern of Eternal Family: our Heavenly Parents, Mother and Father. I feel certain, that Eliza loved patterns, too.
O My Father
I had learned to call thee Father, Thru thy Spirit from on high, But, until the key of knowledge Was restored, I knew not why. In the heav’ns are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare! Truth is reason; truth eternal Tells me I’ve a mother there. When I leave this frail existence, When I lay this mortal by, Father, Mother, may I meet you In your royal courts on high? Then, at length, when I’ve completed All you sent me forth to do, With your mutual approbation Let me come and dwell with you.
Text: Eliza R. Snow, 1804–1887 Music: James McGranahan, 1840–1907
Learn how this hymn came to be: History of Hymns, Oh, My Father, Mormon Channel, Episode 28.
For additional resources on Heavenly Mother, see:
New Gospel Topics Essay: Mother in Heaven
Nathan Richardson: Heavenly Mother: Please click here
Mormon Woman. Photo Source: LDS.org
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