Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother: Why I Stand By Her by Caroline Kline
Unlike the amorphous God of other Judeo-Christian faith traditions, Mormonism’s Heavenly Father is literally, anatomically male. He is the god Mormons pray to, worship, and reference. However, within the Mormon tradition are teachings about Heavenly Mother, an embodied, perfect goddess, the wife of Heavenly Father and mother to all the spirits who are eventually born into bodies here on earth.
Mormon feminists such as myself embrace the existence of Heavenly Mother. We do our best to keep her alive and present in Mormon discourse and memory, despite the fact that our Church leaders and fellow members rarely mention her and despite the fact that some Mormon feminists in the 1990′s and 2000′s were excommunicated at least in part because of their refusal to stop writing and talking about Heavenly Mother. Mormon feminists like me recognize that equality for women within the Mormon tradition can never be achieved until our Mother receives recognition on par with the Father. Mary Daly once famously said, “If God is male, then male is God.” Amen to that. Raising up Heavenly Mother in the consciousness of Mormons is a significant way to dismantle that association between maleness and godhood.
There are plenty of ideas within Mormonism to which feminists might object: male only priesthood, male ecclesiastical hierarchy, male headship within marriage, heteronormativity, etc. However, for me, the Heavenly Mother concept is not one of them. I believe this as a liberating idea which has been nearly buried in Mormon consciousness, and I see it as important feminist work to help bring her into the light.
Imagine my befuddlement, then, the day we discussed the Mormon Heavenly Mother in one of my classes at CGU. Many of the feminist non-Mormon students were turned off by the idea of her. They found the idea of a Heavenly Mother constraining and limited because of the emphasis on her as Mother, rather than Goddess. For them, it seemed, tying this deity’s identity so closely with motherhood was just another example of the way patriarchal culture boxes women into stereotypical and limited roles. It seemed as if some of them were saying that Mormonism, from a feminist perspective, would be better off without ideas of Heavenly Mother.
It was hard for me to wrap my head around this desire to dismiss Heavenly Mother, who for me symbolizes the potential for equality between men and women in my tradition. My fellow Mormons in the class were likewise baffled by this distaste for the Heavenly Mother idea. It seemed as if a chasm had opened up between the two groups of students in the class, until our professor put his finger on the reason for this disconnect. The Mormon God is primarily a father, he said. Not an omnipotent creator. Mormonism’s family based theology, which in some ways stands opposed to Western liberal ideals about the autonomous self, is the category within which Mormon feminist theologians work. Thus if God the Father is embodied, gendered and, above all, a dad, then it makes perfect sense for Mormon feminists to lift up and glorify God the Mother as an equal female counterpart.
I won’t deny that there are not major problems with the way Mormon Church leaders talk about (or don’t talk about) Heavenly Mother, with the way she is absent and silenced. However, as one feminist Mormon blogger states, “To believe in a Heavenly Mother that is truly equal to Heavenly Father, I think, is an act of radical hope.” For me, Heavenly Mother is the theological lynchpin on which everything hinges for Mormon women. Any hope we Mormon women have that we are not eternally destined to be secondary beings rests on her status as Goddess equal to God. And for that, I raise her up into the light.
A Mormon feminist, Caroline is completing her coursework for her Ph.D. in religion with a focus on women’s studies in religion. Her areas of interest revolve around the intersections of Mormon and feminist theology and the study of contemporary Mormon feminist communities. She is the co-founder of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent.