I have a mother in heaven. By that I mean my earthly mother, who died a few years ago, and now resides in the spirit world, awaiting my father and the resurrection. As I write this on Mother’s day, I think of her, how much I love and appreciate her, and how much she influenced my life.
But I’ll bet you clicked on this link or found this essay because you were interested in reading about Heavenly Mother, a controversial Mormon doctrine, and not in learning about my mother, although I think her life, conversion and falling away from the church is extremely interesting.
I won’t disappoint you. Do you recognize this beautiful image from the cover of Sunstone Magazine a few years back? This is not the issue that contained the essay from Margaret Toscano on Heavenly Mother that got her excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November of 2000.
This is from an early issue in the history of Sunstone Magazine that contains several other enlightening essays on the subject. I bring up Margaret Toscano because her name comes to mind more than anyone else when I think of Heavenly Mother. What? You say you’ve never heard of Margaret Toscano? Well, you have missed out. Go watch her interviews on YouTube (Thank you John Dehlin).
Sources for information on Heavenly Mother
You may be thinking, “I don’t want to have anything to do with that Sunstone crowd. I hear they’re nothing but trouble. In fact, I might get in trouble just for reading Sunstone articles.” Well, I have news for you. You won’t learn much about Heavenly Mother unless you do. It just isn’t something that is talked about in the official channels and sources of the church. Oh, there is another source: Feminist Mormon Housewives, a very popular blog for Mormon women.
About the only thing most members of the church know about Heavenly Mother comes from the hymnbook. I just sang the song today. It’s not called, “O My Mother.” It is a beautiful hymn entitled, “O My Father,” written by Eliza R. Snow. It is a favorite in the church and for good reason. It is a beautiful melody and one of the only hymns where a Mother in Heaven is mentioned. The other one is “Oh, What Songs of the Heart” (#286).
I take that back. There is a Newsroom response to a Newsweek article back in 2001 that reads, “‘The Mother’ is not a term that is used among Church members, in Church meetings, classes or lesson manuals. While the official Proclamation on the Family affirms that each human being is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents, there are no teachings about a Heavenly Mother in Latter-day Saint scripture.”
Why is this controversial?
While there may be no scriptural references to a Mother in Heaven, it simply seems to be common knowledge among long-time members of the church or those with a pioneer heritage. This knowledge has been passed down within these well-established pioneer families. The problem is that the doctrine is not officially set down in writing anywhere that you can read it in a format that helps you to understand it. Thus, there are several misunderstandings.
For example, it is not clear if there is one Heavenly Mother or many. It stands to reason that if polygamy is still an officially accepted doctrine of the church (and it is), then why wouldn’t God have more than one wife? I know, this is shocking to some to contemplate. In my experience with some new converts, the whole idea of a Mother in Heaven is shocking. I personally believe that the family of man does come though many different spiritual mothers.
I think that’s why the Church is not more forthcoming about the doctrine and setting it in some sort of official format that can be relied upon as authoritative. Either they just don’t know enough about it because it hasn’t been revealed or it is considered something that is too difficult for most members of the church to understand. Maybe early church leaders like Brigham Young understood it better because they heard it directly from Joseph. Who knows?
We pray to Heavenly Father
Some members of the church who have misunderstood the concept of Heavenly Mother began to suggest that we could pray to her, whereupon the church denounced the practice in General Conference. A BYU professor who had advocated the practice lost her teaching position because of it. I have never understood or considered the idea of praying to a Heavenly Mother but then maybe that’s because I am a man. I have read writings of many women who feel otherwise.
A companion controversy to the idea of Mother in Heaven is the concept of shared priesthood. You can find a lot of material published by members of the church about the subject but not as much from official sources. Just how much of a right does an endowed and sealed sister in the church have to exercise the priesthood with her husband, if any? We read stories in the early days of the church it was common for women to assist their husbands in priesthood blessings.
We know that women officiate in the priesthood in the temple. It would be very inappropriate to have it otherwise if you know anything about washings and anointings that are performed there. If women officiate in the priesthood there, why not in the home? Why not in the church? The Brethren have directed that it is not to be done. We do not confer the priesthood upon women and do not ordain them to offices within that priesthood, so how could they preside?
Summary and Conclusion
I have been trying to write the posts on my blog in such a way that an individual who is not a member of our church wanting to know more could understand the material I present. I also have several friends who are recent converts who read my blog and I keep them in mind as I write. Unfortunately, this subject is not one that is easy to explain or understand because it is so vague in the minds of most members of the church, who do not think or talk about it very often.
Do the leaders know more than they share? I don’t know. Do they perhaps simply not know much about Mother in Heaven? I wonder. Does it matter to my eternal salvation? No. I am only concerned about living in accordance to the knowledge that has been revealed. In other words, if God wanted me to know more about Heavenly Mother, then he would reveal it to me, through the authorized priesthood channels. Any other source is speculative and questionable.
I know, that bugs some people who feel that they are entitled to their own revelation on the subject. Maybe so, but keep it sacred within your own bosom. I do not have a problem with not knowing much about Mother in Heaven. When I get to heaven I’ll learn more. For now, I’m content to remember my own mother who is now in heaven and look forward to seeing her again. I know I also have a Heavenly Mother and will someday be with her again as well.