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?1
Penned in 1845 by Sister Eliza R. Snow (who would later serve as the Relief Society general president from December 18, 1867–December 5, 1887), these lines from our beloved hymn “O My Father” are perhaps the best-known reference in Latter-day Saint literature to a Mother in Heaven. Written and published within months of Joseph Smith’s death, these and other lines give considerable evidence that the Prophet taught of a Mother in Heaven, even if he did so only implicitly2 or restrictively to certain limited audiences.3
Since the 1840s, this cherished doctrine has been an important, although relatively obscure, part of the Latter-day Saint understanding of the premortal origins and divine nature of mankind. This doctrine may well be among those that Joseph Smith anticipated, in which God would someday “reveal many great and important things” (A of F 9). Still, we feel it is appropriate to look carefully at all that has (and has not) been said about Mother in Heaven over the past 165 years, in order to promote clarity in academic discussions in particular and to avert possible confusion, misunderstanding, or contention in general.
Statements by Church Presidents
In 1909, the First Presidency of the Church wrote: “All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.”4 In 1995, the Church officially reaffirmed the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”: “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.”5
Four years earlier, President Gordon B. Hinckley (Counselor in the First Presidency, November 10, 1985–March 3, 1995) addressed at length the topic of a Mother in Heaven during the 1991 general Relief Society meeting. He taught: “Logic and reason would certainly suggest that if we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. That doctrine rests well with me. . . . The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her. . . . None of us can add to or diminish the glory of her of whom we have no revealed knowledge.”6 President Hinckley explained in the same address that, because of the Savior’s instructions and example, one does not pray to Heavenly Mother.7 In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed, “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven” (Matt. 6:9; 3 Ne. 13:9); he himself always prayed to the Father (Matt. 11:25; John 17:1; 3 Ne. 17:15; 19:19); he commanded his people to pray “unto the Father, always in my name” (3 Ne. 18:21; 27:9); and he concluded, “That which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do” (3 Ne. 27:21).
Statements by Some Claiming or Advising Silence
Because the Saints are instructed to pray to the Father, and, as President Hinckley pointed out, nothing has been authoritatively revealed about Heavenly Mother, some Latter-day Saints have thought that any mention of her is discouraged by the Church. Some within Mormon culture who see discussion of our Heavenly Mother as inappropriate believe that respecting her sacredness requires silence, as if to speak of her is to risk offending God. For instance, Hoyt W. Brewster Jr. claims, “The holy name of Deity is blasphemed when used in concert with gutter language and misused in everyday expressions. . . . Is it any wonder that our Father in Heaven has been so protective of the identity of our Mother in Heaven?”8 Similarly, at the 1991 Women’s Conference cosponsored by BYU and the Relief Society, Mormon scholar Kathryn H. Shirts recalled a “Primary class, in which someone asked the teacher, ‘If we have a Mother in Heaven, how come we never hear about her?’ The teacher’s reply was that God was protecting her name from the kinds of slander that human beings direct toward the names of the Father and the Son.”9 Likewise, in Amy Irvine’s 2008 memoir Trespass, a fictional visitor at the Monticello Utah Temple open house asks a guide about the feminine aspect of the divine and is told “that the Heavenly Mother was so special that God had said we must never, ever talk about her—that He held her on a pedestal where she was never to be seen or spoken to, for fear that her purity would be sullied.”10
Accounts like these have resulted in perceptions among the LDS community that Heavenly Mother deserves, or requires, a “sacred” censorship. Indeed, an informal Internet survey found that most Mormons believe that discourse about Heavenly Mother is forbidden or inappropriate.11 This cultural perception has perhaps exacerbated academic claims that Heavenly Mother has always been, and continues to be, surrounded by a holy hush.12 For instance, in his PhD dissertation on Heavenly Mother and Mormon women’s literature, professor Grant Tucker Smith makes the sweeping assumption that during the hundred and fifty years between the lives of Eliza R. Snow and Terry Tempest Williams “the Mother in Heaven was for all intents and purposes ignored, silenced, and forgotten by the male Church leadership.”13
While these scholars and writers admit that Latter-day Saints are not totally silent about Heavenly Mother, they lament that Latter-day Saints usually acknowledge her existence only, without delving further into her character or roles, or portray her as merely a silent, Victorian-type housewife valued only for her ability to reproduce.14 For instance, professor Barbara J. MacHaffie asserts that from the beginning of Mormonism, Heavenly Mother was “pointed to only when the community wished to glorify motherhood.”15
Overview of Research Regarding Statements by Church Leaders
These claims and expressions have persuaded us to research what Church leaders and others in Church-approved venues have actually taught about Heavenly Mother. Our investigation has led us to conclude that such claims—that the Church mandates silence or gives only simplistic portrayals of Mother in Heaven—are mostly false. In this paper, we will share important historical accounts that cast serious doubt on the specific claims that, first, a sacred silence has always surrounded this treasured Mormon doctrine and that, second, Heavenly Mother’s ascribed roles have been marginalized or trivialized. With respect to the second claim, we will share historical portrayals of Heavenly Mother as procreator and parent, as a divine person, as co-creator of worlds, as coframer of the plan of salvation with the Father, and as a concerned and loving parent involved in our mortal probation. Finally, we will sketch portrayals of her role in the eschaton.
In this paper, we will only report historical portrayals of Heavenly Mother’s roles. It is not our province to appraise this material. As a further disclaimer, we note that there has been much more discourse and reflection about our Heavenly Mother than we can include in this article. We have compiled over six hundred sources of all types referencing a
Heavenly Mother in Mormon and academic discourse since 1844.16 While this research has been extensive, it is far from exhaustive, and we expect further investigations to uncover more information. So far, we have gathered an illuminating collection of thoughts about Mother in Heaven, her roles, her significance, and her character as given by prophets, Apostles, Church authorities, and other leaders since the restoration of the gospel. And although we do not have authoritative revelation on the specific roles and nature of Heavenly Mother, Church leaders have extrapolated much about her from our understanding of the plan of salvation, the nature of godhood, and the qualities of motherhood.
We have attempted to identify each distinct reference to Heavenly Mother as found within content endorsed in some fashion by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1830 to present. We felt a statement could be appropriately included in this survey if it was spoken by a General Authority, recorded in a general conference, included in a Church publication, or published by a Church press. Our research has yielded an enormous amount of material, and we are unable to report all the discoveries. When we have omitted material, we have not done so out of disapproval or dislike, but out of the necessities forced upon us by a print journal’s limited space. We have made every effort to act simply as surveyors of the available historical data. We leave the appraisal of this data to others more suited to the task.
In an effort to provide as much information as possible, we have developed a few specific conventions within this paper relative to General Authorities. First, we refer to all General Authorities by the title of the highest priesthood office they held in their lives, out of respect for their office and service, even if they were not in that office at the time of the statement. Thus, if an individual served in the First Presidency or as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, we refer to him as “President.” If an individual served in another general priesthood office, we refer to him as “Elder.” We also follow the convention of referring to individuals holding leadership positions within the Relief Society as “Sister.” Second, when we first quote a General Authority, we include, in parentheses, the office the individual held at the time the statement was made as well as the dates during which the individual held that office. Subsequent quotes from the same General Authority include parenthetical information only if that person’s office is different from what was reported in the immediately preceding statement of the individual’s office.
In performing our research, we have consulted a wide variety of sources, including Church periodicals from 1832 to present, Church Conference Reports from 1897 to present, over three hundred volumes of works from Church leaders, over five hundred volumes of works from LDS scholars, and official Church documents, such as official proclamations, hymnals, and so on. For a list of these and other sources consulted, see note 16.
Heavenly Wife and Parent
Perhaps the most accepted and easily understood role of Heavenly Mother is her role as procreator and parent. Church leaders have frequently affirmed this point. The First Presidency under President Joseph F. Smith (Church President, October 17, 1901–November 19, 1918) published a declaration titled “The Father and the Son,” in which they assert that our heavenly parents passed through “several stages or estates by which [they] have attained exaltation” and together “propagate[d] that higher order of beings called spirits.”17 Apparently, neither of them alone could beget our spirit bodies.
Several Church leaders have testified how we as their offspring have learned and inherited several divine, moral, and intellectual attributes from them.18 President Boyd K. Packer (Acting President of Quorum of the Twelve, June 5, 1994–January 27, 2008) has taught that after this primordial birth each of us “lived in a premortal existence as an individual spirit child of heavenly parents,”19 where we were reared and nurtured. In the development of our characters, our Heavenly Mother was perhaps particularly nurturing.20 Brigham Young’s daughter, Sister Susa Young Gates (member of the YLMIA21 general board and famous women’s rights activist) insisted that in the formation of Father Abraham’s individuality, “our great heavenly Mother was the greater molder”22—greater than his genetics, his prenatal impressions, his cultural or natural environment, or even his earthly mother’s nurturing. Gates speculated that Heavenly Mother has played a significant role in all our lives, looking over us with “watchful care” and providing “careful training.”23 The 1995 “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” affirms that in the eternal realms above we were reared to premortal maturity through the tutelage of our heavenly parents.24
Obviously, these references to our heavenly parents show that Mormon leaders considered Heavenly Mother to be the wife of our Heavenly Father, an idea clearly explained by President George Q. Cannon (First Presidency, October 10, 1880–July 25, 1887) when he said, “God is a married being, has a wife. . . . We are the offspring of Him and His wife.”25 President Spencer W. Kimball (Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve, January 23, 1970–July 2, 1972) taught that God “made women in the image of his wife-partner.”26 Others have taught that Heavenly Mother’s relationship with Heavenly Father exemplifies and ennobles the office of wife. In 1938, the Church published A Short History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that taught, “The theological conception of a Mother in heaven as well as a Father lends dignity to motherhood and wifehood.”27 Elder
B. H. Roberts (First Council of the Seventy, October 7, 1888–September 27, 1933) challenged the rest of Christianity to offer a doctrine that presents a “conception of the nobility of woman and of motherhood and of wifehood—placing her side by side with the Divine Father” as does our doctrine of Heavenly Mother.28 We are to emulate the family structure exemplified by our Father and Mother, because, as Sister Susa Young Gates taught, “the home is patterned after the heavenly dwelling of our Divine parents.”29 President Joseph F. Smith taught that “it is marriage, sanctified and God-sanctioned, upon which a glorified home is founded—that blesses, happifies, exalts, and leads at length to companionship with our Heavenly parents, and to eternal, united life, and increase.”30
A Divine Person
Some statements by Church authorities have led to the understanding that before Heavenly Mother became exalted and helped beget us, she was once mortal and dwelt on an earth. Elder Orson F. Whitney (bishop, July 14, 1878–April 1906) explained that “there was a time when that being whom we now worship—that our eternal Father and Mother were once man and woman in mortality.”31 The soul-making trials of her earthly experience, coupled with continuing growth after a celestial resurrection, helped her hone the qualities of divinity to move her from “womanhood to Godhood.”32
Several Church leaders have affirmed that Heavenly Mother is a fully divine person and have used reverential titles such as “Mother God,” “God Mother,” “God the Mother,” “God their Eternal Mother,” and “Eternal Mother” in referring to her.33 Elder John A. Widtsoe (Quorum of the Twelve, March 17, 1921–November 29, 1952) wrote: “The glorious vision of life hereafter . . . is given radiant warmth by the thought that . . . [we have] a mother who possesses the attributes of Godhood.”34 This is echoed by Elder James E. Talmage (Quorum of the Twelve, December 8, 1911–July 27, 1933): “We . . . [are] literally the sons and daughters of divine parents, the spiritual progeny of God our Eternal Father, and of our God Mother.”35 Furthermore, President Brigham Young (President of the Church, December 27, 1947–August 29, 1877) taught that “we were created . . . in the image of our father and our mother, the image of our God,” indicating that calling Heavenly Mother “God” is consistent with the biblical account of the creation of both “male and female” being in “the image of God” (Gen. 1:26–27).36 Sister Susa Young Gates urged that “the divine Mother, side by side with the divine Father, [has] the equal sharing of equal rights, privileges and responsibilities.”37
However, at least one Mormon leader may have taken the opposite stance on these positions. President George Q. Cannon cautioned that
there is too much of this inclination to deify “our mother in heaven.” . . .
Our Father in heaven should be the object of our worship. He will not have any divided worship. . . .
In the revelation of God the Eternal Father to the Prophet Joseph Smith there was no revelation of the feminine element as part of the Godhead, and no idea was conveyed that any such element “was equal in power and glory with the masculine.”
Therefore, we are warranted in pronouncing all tendencies to glorify the feminine element and to exalt it as part of the Godhead as wrong and untrue, not only because of the revelation of the Lord in our day but because it has no warrant in scripture, and any attempt to put such a construction on the word of God is false and erroneous.38
President Cannon refers to a lack of scriptural evidence and contemporary revelation as reasons for denying Heavenly Mother’s inclusion in the Godhead and for doubting (but not going so far as to deny) that her divinity is on par “with the masculine,” and he condemns referencing scripture to provide implied evidence for Heavenly Mother’s divinity. But Mormon leaders—including Cannon in other articles—used scriptures referring to the children of God, the female image of God, spiritual parenthood, and queens in heaven as testifying of a Heavenly Mother.39 In reference to scriptures affirming that male and female are created in the image of God, Elder Orson F. Whitney (Quorum of the Twelve, April 9, 1906–May 16, 1931) asked, “What is this but a virtual recognition of the feminine principle as well as the masculine principle of Deity?”40 Furthermore, President Rudger Clawson (Quorum of the Twelve, October 10, 1989–June 21, 1943) disagreed that deifying our Heavenly Mother risked divided worship. He urged, “It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections.”41 Rather, “we honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.”42
The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother appears to be in tension with Mormonism’s trinitarian heritage.43 Overemphasizing the Trinity, or the Godhead, while underemphasizing a Heavenly Mother raises questions concerning the equality of deified males and females and the nature and importance of marriage. On the other hand, overemphasizing Heavenly Mother breaks with traditional Christian, and even Mormon, understandings of the Trinity, but highlights the Church’s own proclamation that the most important social unit in eternity is the family. It is no simple feat to understand how these two social relationships—the Trinity and the eternal family—can best be understood together. For one, given traditional Mormon premises, a Heavenly Mother interacts with the Trinity in a certain and irresolvable sense. As there can be no spirit children without her, presumably there would be no Son44 without her and perhaps no Holy Ghost45—no Heavenly Mother, perhaps no Trinity. It should be no surprise, then, that most Mormon leaders could not understand how Father or Mother could be divine alone. For either to be fully God, each must have a partner with whom to share the power of endless lives. As Elder Erastus Snow (Quorum of the Twelve, February 12, 1849–May 27, 1888) avowed:
“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.46
We may never hope to attain unto the eternal power and the Godhead upon any other principle . . . this Godhead composing two parts, male and female.47
These sentiments were later reaffirmed by President Hugh B. Brown (Quorum of the Twelve, April 10, 1958–December 2, 1975), by Elders James E. Talmage, Melvin J. Ballard (Quorum of the Twelve, January 7, 1919–July 30, 1939), and by Bruce R. McConkie (First Council of the Seventy, October 6, 1946–October 12, 1972).48 Given the popular contemporary LDS view that the highest form of worship is to emulate character, worship of the Father is also, indirectly, worship of the Mother, as each has equally perfect moral character. Perhaps part of the disagreement among Mormon thinkers is that most have not clearly explained what they mean by “divinity,” and they are consequently uncertain what it signifies to predicate this attribute to Heavenly Mother.49 No one denies her omnibenevolent character or divine intelligence, so the concern seems to be with her cosmic authority or status for worship. Obviously, defining divinity demands further attention, but we do not suggest any solution, for such is not our province nor is it within the scope of this paper.
Co-creator with the Father
Regardless of the exact nature of her divinity, some authorities have described Heavenly Mother was an active participant in the process of creation. In his 1876 semiannual general conference address, Brigham Young included “eternal mothers” and “eternal daughters” as beings after the resurrection who will “be prepared to frame earth’s [sic] like unto ours and to people them in the same manner as we have been brought forth by our [heavenly] parents.”50 The Women of Mormondom, written by critic and playwright Edward Tullidge and edited by Sister Eliza R. Snow, affirms that the “eternal Mother [is] the partner with the Father in the creation of worlds.”51 An article in the Deseret News, presumably written by President Charles W. Penrose (editor of the Deseret News, later ordained an Apostle on July 7, 1904) argued that there is a Mother in Heaven and cited the feminine gender of the divine Spirit in the morning of creation that moved upon the face of the waters as evidence.52 Elder Milton R. Hunter (First Council of the Seventy, April 6, 1945–June 27, 1975) taught that the exaltation and endless lives that celestial women and men share include “the power to create or organize mortal worlds.”53 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (First Quorum of the Seventy, April 1, 1989–June 23, 1994) and his wife, Patricia, have taught that our Mother and our Father are involved in the ongoing process of creating everything around us, and “are doing so lovingly and carefully and masterfully.”54
Coframer of the Plan of Salvation
In addition to her participation in creation, Heavenly Mother helped the Father direct the plan of salvation. Elder M. Russell Ballard (Quorum of the Twelve, October 6, 1985–present) taught that “we are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us.”55 The Church’s 1978 Gospel Principles manual adds:
Our heavenly parents provided us with a celestial home more glorious and beautiful than any place on earth. We were happy there. Yet they knew we could not progress beyond a certain point unless we left them for a time. They wanted us to develop the godlike qualities that they have. To do this, we needed to leave our celestial home to be tested and to gain experience.56
While serving as the first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, Sister Chieko Okazaki (March 31, 1990–April 5, 1997) noted that “at the end of this process, our Heavenly Parents will have sons and daughters who are their peers, their friends, and their colleagues.”57 According to Elder Theodore M. Burton (First Quorum of the Seventy, October 1, 1976–September 30, 1989), this is “their goal, their work, and their glory.”58
Elder Milton R. Hunter explained the way by which both our heavenly parents learned to design a plan for our progression:
Wherever there have been intelligences, . . . fundamental principles . . . have existed. They constitute . . . the laws of eternal truth. Our Heavenly Parents have through aeons of time . . . applied in Their lives an untold number of these everlasting laws. As They learned these verities and how to operate them, these laws thereby became subject unto Elohim.59
The 1978 Gospel Principles manual goes on to state that as the beloved Son, Christ “was chosen to be our Savior when we all attended the great council with our heavenly parents.”60 This would have been a moment of mixed emotion for the divine couple, when, as Sister Chieko Okazaki noted, “with . . . increased love, mingled with pride and grief, [they] accepted the willing offer of Jesus Christ.”61 According to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (Quorum of the Twelve, June 23, 1994–present), each of us also chose to endure the hardships that would be present in mortality because we “wanted the chance to become like our heavenly parents.”62 Lula L. Greene Richards (Primary Association General Board) wrote that Heavenly Mother smiled on her righteous children as they voted to uphold the will of the Council in Heaven and chose to come to earth.63 Elder Mark E. Petersen (Quorum of the Twelve, April 20, 1944–January 11, 1984) explained that once the council was completed and the Savior chosen, our heavenly parents “sent [us to earth] to receive further instruction under different circumstances”64 than those of our premortal state. President Thomas S. Monson (Counselor in the First Presidency, March 12, 1995–January 27, 2008) affirmed that this instruction “could come only through separation from our heavenly parents.”65
Heavenly Mother’s role in this process has been dramatized and embellished by some Mormon authors. The fourth stanza in Sister Eliza R. Snow’s “O My Father” speaks of Heavenly Mother acting in the role of sending us forth to undergo the trials of mortality.66 Ruth May Fox composed a short dialogue entitled “The Parable of Ten Talents,”67 which converts Christ’s parable into a thinly veiled story of daughters leaving the presence of their Heavenly Mother to experience mortality.68 Before their separation, the Mother gathers them together and grants each of them a divine character trait69 to prepare them “for the battle of life.”70 She also advises that upon their return she will require a reporting of their accomplishments.71
Both Elder Orson F. Whitney and President Harold B. Lee (Quorum of the Twelve, April 10, 1941–January 23, 1970) taught that our farewell from our Heavenly Mother and Father was a bittersweet occasion.72 President Lee wrote:
There came a day, then, when Mother and Father said, “Now, my son, my daughter, it is now your time to go. This is the greatest time in the history of the world. This is the fulness of times, and now because of your faithfulness you are permitted to go down in this fulness of time upon the earth.” I suppose as Father and Mother bade us good-bye, there may have been some sadness there because they knew Satan was here and one-third of all the hosts were here [with him]. We walked, as it were, through an open door. The door was closed behind us.73
Elder John Longden (Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, October 6, 1951–August 30, 1969) added, “It must be quite an occasion in heaven when our Heavenly Mother bids us a loving farewell for the time being! Perhaps, like earthly mothers, she thinks, ‘They are so young, and they might forget [the rules and regulations].’”74 Longden imagined that before we parted we promised them we would remember. President George F. Richards (Quorum of the Twelve, April 9, 1906–August 8, 1950) taught that our heavenly parents are “counting on [us] to honor them, to love them, and obey them. ‘Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother.’”75 This commandment applies to both earthly and heavenly parents.
Involved Parent in Our Mortality
Mormon leaders have affirmed that Heavenly Mother’s involvement did not completely end with premortality, but continues throughout our second estate. Sister Eliza R. Snow believed in Heavenly Mother’s continuing influence, and told a friend that the Saints would with “pray’r and supplication / plead for [her] before the throne / Of the great eternal mother.”76 Others have emphasized that Heavenly Mother—along with the Father—watches over us from heaven and strives to help us in our trials. In 1963, President Harold B. Lee taught:
Sometimes we think the whole job is up to us, forgetful that there are loved ones beyond our sight who are thinking about us and our children. We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.77
After noting our Heavenly Mother’s concern for us, President Lee cited the story of William Dudley Pelley, who recalled one day in his office taking “a package of cigarettes from [his] desk. About to apply a light to one of them, [he] heard a voice as gently as any worried mother might caution a careless son, ‘Oh, Bill, give up your cigarettes!’”78 Pelley quickly complied by throwing the cigarettes into the trash.
Sister Okazaki has written that our heavenly parents are cosufferers with us in our mortal trials.79 Elder M. Russell Ballard (Quorum of the Twelve, October 6, 1985–present) has also taught that “Our Heavenly Parents’ love and concern for us continues to this very moment,” and the First Presidency under President Spencer W. Kimball (President of the Church, December 30, 1973–November 5, 1985) affirmed that this love and concern never ends.80 Similarly, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (President of BYU, May 1980 to April 1, 1989) has written how important his own children are to him and his wife. And yet he asks that if they, as parents, “can love so much and try so hard, what does that say of a more Godly love that differs from our own as the stars differ from the sun? On a particularly difficult day, . . . what would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?”81 Sister Okazaki explained that “when our rising love and joyful gratitude meet the shower of mercy and love from the Savior and from our heavenly parents, in that contact is the pure radiance and the brilliant light of glory.”82
Others state that although we are away from our Parents’ celestial home, we are not completely severed from them. Elder John A. Widtsoe told members of the Church that the promises made to us in the temple “will help us understand the nearness of our heavenly parents.”83 Righteous living draws us toward them and their guiding influences, but as Milton R. Hunter has written, sin and ignorance draw us farther away.84
Throughout this mortal journey, both of our heavenly parents are examples of the divine nature. In a recent address to Harvard Law School on the “fundamental premises of our faith,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks (Quorum of the Twelve, April 7, 1984–present) affirmed that our theology “teaches that our highest aspiration is to become like our Heavenly Parents.”85 Men and women alike are to seek after and develop the divine traits exemplified by both Father and Mother. Notwithstanding this teaching that Heavenly Mother is an exemplar in our mortality, we must keep in mind the counsel given by President Gordon B. Hinckley: “I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.”86
Mother in Heaven in the Hereafter
Many believe that after the end of our mortal probation, each of us will return to our heavenly parents’ presence. This homecoming has been a rich topic of thought for many Mormons.87 The fourth stanza of Joseph L. Townsend’s “O, What Songs of the Heart” describes the joyous reunion that awaits: “Oh, what songs we’ll employ! / Oh, what welcome we’ll hear! / While our transports of love are complete, / As the heart swells with joy / In embraces most dear / When our heavenly parents we meet!”88 Elder Neal A. Maxwell (First Quorum of the Seventy, October 1, 1976–July 23, 1981) mused that “such a regal homecoming [could not] be possible without the anticipatory arrangements of a Heavenly Mother.”89 For Elder Orson Pratt (Quorum of the Twelve, April 26, 1835–Aug 20, 1842 and January 20, 1843–October 3, 1881) and President George Q. Cannon, this reunion would include vividly recalling our former life with them.90 Other leaders have stressed that only the pure in heart who obey the gospel will return to permanently reside in their presence.91 As Ruth May Fox imagined in her narrative, Heavenly Mother will ask for a report of our accomplishments. Matilda E. Teasdale wrote, “You . . . [will] go home to Father and Mother to ‘give an account of your labors.’”92
This accounting includes our parenting. In the April 1909 general conference, Elder James G. Duffin (who previously served as president of the Southwestern and Central States Missions, 1900–1904 and 1904–1906 respectively) declared, “We, as parents, give an account to our Father and Mother in heaven of the manner in which we have conducted ourselves toward the precious souls entrusted to us.”93 Charles Lowell Walker recorded how Elders Heber J. Grant (Quorum of the Twelve, October 16, 1882–November 23, 1918) and Anthony W. Ivins (who later served in the First Presidency, March 10, 1921–September 23, 1934) taught that parents are obligated to teach their children the first principles of the gospel before they reach the age of accountability; otherwise, they will stand in “condemnation before our Heavenly Parents.”94
Some say that for the righteous Saints, the heavenly reunion will mark a new stage in their association with their Parents. Elder Orson F. Whitney believed that the knowledge of “return[ing] to them, and resum[ing] the relations of the previous life” conquered the sting of death.95 President Spencer W. Kimball supposed that our renewed relationship with our Heavenly Mother would be immensely influential. He reasoned, “Knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less if we live so as to return [to heaven]?”96 Accordingly, the loving support and example of both Father and Mother will guide us in the eternities.
In this paper we have briefly shown that, historically, there has been substantial discussion and elaboration on the roles and divinity of our Heavenly Mother. Our investigation marshals evidence against some claims that General Authorities and other Church leaders have limited Heavenly Mother’s role to reproduction. It also refutes the suspicion that General Authorities have advocated a position of total sacred silence about her. As Latter-day Saints should be deeply reverent when speaking about any sacred subject, Church leaders may well caution an individual to be respectful of and to avoid teaching unorthodox views about Heavenly Mother. At the same time, we have found no public record of a General Authority advising us to be silent about our Heavenly Mother; indeed, as we have amply demonstrated, many General Authorities have openly taught about her.
While some have claimed that Heavenly Mother’s role has been marginalized or trivialized, we feel that the historical data provides a highly elevated view of Heavenly Mother. The Heavenly Mother portrayed in the teachings we have examined is a procreator and parent, a divine person, a co-creator, a coframer of the plan of salvation, and is involved in this life and the next. Certainly, consideration of these points reinforces several unquestionably important LDS doctrines: divine embodiment, eternal families, divine relationality, the deification of women, the eternal nature and value of gender, and the shared lineage of Gods and humans. Far from degrading either the Heavenly Feminine or the earthly feminine, we feel that these teachings exalt both.
In acknowledgment of this, we can think of no more fitting conclusion than the words uttered by Elder Glenn L. Pace (First Quorum of the Seventy, October 3, 1992–October 2, 2010) at a 2010 BYU devotional: “Sisters, I testify that 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, any 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.”97