Guest Post: Is the Godhead Trying to Tell Us Something? Part II

by Annie Berry

Annie Berry is wife and mother to two girls (8yrs and 18 months), raised LDS, and currently serving as nursery leader.

Even though for the most part I enjoy being female, there are some aspects of LDS church culture that make being female really confusing.  For example, while in the Young Women’s program, my divine worth and how much value God places on women were emphasized.  At the same time I learned about my polygamous ancestors.  The principle of polygamy, the reasoning behind it, and the way it was instituted seemed to glaringly devalue women, their desires, their sensibilities and place their feelings and well-being second to the need for pro-creation.  

Priesthood authority as a male-only privilege is one of those things I fully accepted when I was young, even though it didn’t quite jive with how much God supposedly valued women.  I learned to considered my Dad a higher authority than my Mom on all subjects religious and godly, and likewise I considered the words of priesthood-holding Church leaders to be words from God, and trusted their connection with God over my own non-priesthood connection.  When I got married I was hit with the realization of the full extent to which this principle affected me (and other women in the church in the past).  A temple covenant placed my husband as the gatekeeper between God and myself, which left me feeling disconnected and inferior.  And I later realized that some of the principles contained in the covenants I had made in the temple were principles Joseph Smith used to convince women to enter into polygamous marriages with him, even though Emma did not approve, and even justified the secrecy of some of those unions from Emma.  When I realized that, I wondered if my own Dad, or even my husband had secret wives.  At that point it was very obvious to me why I found those principles harmful and ungodly, but I couldn’t understand why it was harder for the men in my life and in the Church to understand why it hurt me.  The need for creation of children, or the simple fact that God commanded it, seemed like rightful reasoning to them.  But I couldn’t imagine God using a wrong to make a right, or to overcome an obstacle.

At that point I sought comfort in the thought of a Heavenly Mother.  Surely she could understand how I felt.  But even current LDS church doctrine didn’t tell me anything about her other than that she existed to produce spirit children, further supporting the reasoning Joseph Smith used to justify deceiving Emma and coercing other women into plural marriages at the expense of many of their well being, in the name of pro-creation. 

For the first few years of my oldest child’s life I was struggling with post-partum depression and social anxiety to the point where I had little to no desire to get dressed or leave my house.  I felt I couldn’t find fulfillment in the thing that I had always been taught gave me full value in God’s eyes, and therefore, I was unfit to do it.  I felt my children deserved a parent to care for them that loved taking care of them, and I wanted to provide that for them, but I hadn’t been prepared for this.  I felt trapped.  I’m now very grateful to be a mother to two children, and I am in a place where I can find fulfillment in my everyday interactions and care of them, but only because I’m on anti-depression medication, give myself ample time for other things in my life, and do part-time work outside my home while someone else tends my baby. 

Is it possible that some women are not fulfilled by the caretaking of children?  Wouldn’t  it be better to teach an awareness of that than to pretend all women love doing the exact same thing, so that women who feel that way can keep that in mind while searching for their future spouse and look for a partner who has a desire to be the home-maker, or who is willing to share the responsibility half and half? Would I have felt as trapped had there been other acceptable roles and divisions of labor presented to me and my husband growing up besides motherhood for women and providing for men?  Likewise, are there some men who would prefer being a stay-at-home dad to being the sole provider?  Is it really necessary to give differing directives and responsibilities to men and women regarding the parenting of their children, or can we let each individual couple sort it out?  Is it really so ungodly for women to be breadwinners while husbands take care of children, or for both mom and dad to take turns making an income and taking care of children?  Or have we let societal gender norms and expectations overshadow the things that really matter?

LDS church leaders give differing directives to women and men in the Proclamation on the Family, Conference talks, and other recently published church materials on the roles they should play as spouses and parents, and how to achieve divinity.  Temple covenants and priesthood traditions position men as the gatekeepers of Godly authority and sanction, placing them as mediators of sorts between women and God.  And while God the Father, and Jesus Christ provide a tangible model of divinity for men to follow, women are left with the mention that a Heavenly Mother exists, but little to nothing more about what role, if any, She plays in the Godhead, and in our mortal lives.  Reasons Church leaders have given for these differing requirements and representations for men and women range from demeaning the nature of women in the earlier days of the LDS church (heavily recorded throughout the Journal of Discourses), to demeaning the nature of men in current teachings, such as when President Hinckley stated that men are spiritually inferior to women and so need the priesthood to make up for it.

Christ, a male, and the second member of The Godhead actually fulfills many of the attributes of Christianity that society (and the LDS church) often relates to femaleness (traditionally male attributes being strength, justice, protection, discipline, etc.. —traditionally female attributes being mercy, charity, comfort, forgiveness, etc.).  Could it be that God is less concerned with societal gender norms, and more concerned with other crucial principles? Could it be that although men and women are in some ways different, that their spiritual needs are the same?  Could it be that a divine Father can provide an adequate example of divinity for women because the spiritual needs and requirements for women to attain salvation do not differ from the spiritual needs and requirements of men?

To be honest when this first occurred to me I was not sure how I felt about not needing a woman in the Godhead to represent me, but then realized the only reason I’m not okay with a lack of female representation in the Godhead is because LDS Church leaders claim to know things about divine womanhood that I don’t and keep telling me that I’m doing it wrong.  If that were eliminated, if Church leaders stopped placing different requirements on me than the ones they place on men, and telling me how much I’m valued while at the same time they belittle me, I’m pretty sure I would have no problem with a male heavenly Father representing me, a woman.  In fact, if LDS Church leaders were suddenly able to procure more information on a Heavenly Mother and fit Her perfectly into the diagram of eternal life, within the terms of divine womanhood they’ve already drawn up, I think I’d feel just as uncomfortable with the Church’s current stance on women’s role in eternity as I do without a more detailed example to follow.  I think the lie of “separate but equal treatment” would only further cement my hopelessness.

Is a female deity really also implied wherever God is mentioned?   Is it possible that Church leaders are unable to produce a more detailed picture of Her because the picture of female deity they have so far presented is inaccurate?  Or is it because the entire picture of celestial families they have so far promoted is inaccurate?  Is a divine Father really so different from a divine Mother?  Or is He simply represented that way because of tradition?  Re-examining the way God created Adam in His image, and then took a piece from that image to create Eve, points to the possibility of there being a bit of femaleness inherent in a male God’s image.  Otherwise how could he have extracted a female from something made in His image?  Maybe no matter what our physical gender is, there’s a bit of male and female in all of us, and no matter what our physical differences are, the spiritual requirements for our attainment of salvation are the same.   A lack of representation of a divine female in the Godhead tells me that I and other women require no separate representation or standards of divinity.

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13 Responses

  1. mountaingirl says:

    Thank you. Being female can be very confusing, certainly as a religious female. I have just begun to realize that I have spent much of my adult life “coming to terms” with the role that I am expected to play in the church while simultaneously fighting it; the result is not making much progress in any direction. I have been married 11 years with no children. I have never had that “baby hungry” feeling that so many friends talk about. I’m not sure I ever want children, and if I do I think I want to adopt. But I’ve never settled into and been fulfilled in my career either. Maybe partly because it has always been seen as “temporary” to my family, church, and even husband until we have a family? I just don’t crave either the powerful career woman or all-in mother role. I don’t think I’ve truly explored what it is that I do want, because I want to be a “good” person and “righteous” and so I fear that if I really look, I will find I will never fit the mold – and then what? It is something I am constantly confused about, and if I’m honest, I want the freedom to pursue my own separate path but also feel selfish and self-absorbed for doing so. I have been told so many times that my not having children is selfish and worldly. Is it? Am I selfish and sinful for feeling like I have something different to offer than being a mother? Sometimes when I am with my dear friend and her adorable little family (he is in the Elders Quorum presidency and has a good job, she is a SAHM in the Relief Society presidency, and they have a beautiful son who loves trains and wants an engineer and a beautiful daughter who loves to dance and be a princess) who are SO HAPPY I feel envious of that happiness and contentment. It works for them, and I love that it does. But even as I envy their happiness and wonder if it is a direct result of them doing *exactly as our leaders currently teach, I don’t know if it would make me happy. And I don’t know if it matters.

    • Annie B. says:

      I can totally relate. I’m still trying to re-program my brain to not automatically induce guilt if I have a day where I wish I had been raised and prepared to work outside the home in addition to being prepared to be a SAHM. I actually believe that being single and childless, or even being married and childless has it’s own blessings and advantages. I really believe now (though I didn’t always) that if I had not married or had children I still could have found happiness and contentment. I think it’s natural to look at what others have and wonder “what if” though. I don’t think you are selfish or sinful for offering something different. I believe any life path that is productive and engages in good works is valuable, and that if you do eventually have children you will be a better mother if you don’t feel that you were coerced into motherhood out of obligation or to ensure your salvation. That’s not to say that all mothers choose motherhood for those reasons, some don’t consciously choose it at all, sometimes it’s just how things turn out.

      • mountaingirl says:

        Isn’t it interesting how deeply ingrained our scripts are about what life should be? Thanks Annie.

  2. Whitney says:

    I love this post so much. Brilliant, from start to finish.

  3. Lala says:

    I agree with Whitney. This post really speaks to me in a way that other post haven’t in a long time. You covered pretty much everything that upsets me about the church, especially polygamy, in a very articulate way.

    I have similar feelings about Heavenly Mother. I don’t like the stereotypically female, subservient image I have of her and, like you, am fine with having a Heavenly Father with all else being equal. I think you’re right in a lot of ways. We probably wouldn’t yearn so much for a Divine Goddess if we weren’t so hungry for a model to look up to, if we weren’t so dissatisfied with the model of femininity here on earth.

    My husband has long had a theory that, because LDS doctrine teaches of other worlds, women run some worlds and men run others. He thinks there could be some worlds yearning for a male model as much as we yearn for a female model. I’m not sure he’s on the right track, but it has opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the issue. And, supposing that were the case, I would have no problem with a male God at all.

  4. April says:

    Would I have felt as trapped had there been other acceptable roles and divisions of labor presented to me and my husband growing up besides motherhood for women and providing for men?

    Some church leaders really cling to these 1950’s stereotypes about who should do what in a family relationship and it seems completely unnecessary to me. This is just one strategy for ensuring that children are appropriately cared for. As you accurately pointed out, there are several other strategies that work just as well. It would make more sense to emphasize the principle–do whatever it takes to make sure that your children are appropriately cared for–rather than to emphasize one specific strategy that works better in some families than in others.

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I think these questions are so important: Is a divine Father really so different from a divine Mother? Or is He simply represented that way because of tradition?

    It seems to me that if we took the traditional gender roles out of our descriptions of our Heavenly Parents, we might be able to make some progress to understanding what becoming godlike might really mean.

    Fascinating post again, Annie B!

  6. spunky says:

    This is beautiful, Annie. I have come to different conclusions based on some of the same areas of conflict that you discuss, but in the end of all of it, I fully believe that God (Heavenly Father and/or heavenly Mother) would not make heaven a hell… so for me, heaven cannot be a place where I am second to a male partner, or I am one of many wives, or I lack authority. Because of this concept– that heaven is actually heavenly, and a place of happiness– I cannot for the life of me understand why we would be restricted happiness-wise on earth. So for me, the most problematic things about the church and doctrine I find must have a degree of “worldliness” and falsehood to them -no matter how well intentioned. I mean, consider eugenics- a pseudo-scientific and religious argument that is clearly worldy. But at the time of its heyday, both religion and science backed it up. I think the same of the role of women- somehow science has progressed beyond the limited role of women, yet religion is dragging tis feet. It seems clear to me that it is a worldly definition of gender roles.

    Thanks for your amazing post.

    • Annie B. says:

      Yeah…it’s kind of funny to me and sad at the same time how people assume religion and science clash. To me they compliment each other. Laws of physics and biology..equal and opposite reactions, male and female vs. yin and yang, mercy balanced with justice, ect…They fit together for me, and where they don’t fit together is an indication that we’ve assumed too much or gotten something wrong.

  7. Caroline says:

    These are important questions, Annie.

    My take on it is this: God = male and female divinity working in concert together. So in my mind she really is in the Godhead — as equal partner to God the Father. So whenever I pray to God, mention God, read about God in scriptures, I include her in my thoughts.

    Heavenly Mother is the theological lynchpin on which everything rests for me. Any hope I have that women are not eternally secondary beings rests on her status as God the Mother equal to God the Father. For that reason, I don’t want to let the idea of her go, despite the problems (and there are many) about the way she is talked about or not talked about.

    • Annie B. says:

      My thoughts are still pretty open-ended at this point, and I think it’s totally possible that a Heavenly Mother is implied wherever God is mentioned. I even kind of hope that She is. If that is the case, the lack of representation of Her, whether it’s because of faulty patriarchal traditions and men’s perceptions of God (literally men’s, not in the way that includes both men and women as in ‘mankind’) or because of other unknown reasons, still tells me that women require no separate directives or standards of divinity.
      Right now, I can’t picture a Heavenly Mother that would bother casting Her pearls before the patriarchal status quo, or maybe current LDS church leadership just can’t comprehend Her yet. I think it’s really cool that you include a Heavenly Mother in your worship of God.

  8. courtney says:

    I am so glad you are asking these questions and talking about it. It’s rather unbalanced the pressure and importance that is placed on womanhood and motherhood without any divine example or instruction.

    One question I thought of recently was why Heavenly Mother was not present at the First Vision. It feels that if she were equally important, she would have been there. Initially, I wondered if that would have been too radical– line upon line type of thing, didn’t want to overload Joseph with too much new material. But then, the entire gospel is exploding with new information that plenty of people can find fault with, what would be the big deal with adding a present and equal female deity?

    • Annie B. says:

      I agree, and have wondered the same thing. I haven’t ruled out the truthfulness of the first vision, but at this point I am a bit doubtful that it happened, or at least happened the way it is recorded in the introduction of the BoM. When I started having questions about the whole polygamy, one of the most prevalent ideas that came to my mind while praying was to search out any available information and take it for what it’s worth. It made sense to me because God isn’t about handing out answers without any effort on our part, especially when there’s so much information already here for us to search out, so since I’d grown up with the glossed over LDS version of things I decided to search out any other recorded history of the time period I could find. Along with realizing that what I’d been told about polygamy was only a tenth of the entire picture, I also found that there are several earlier accounts of the first vision that eventually evolved into what is now recorded in the BoM, so I’m still a bit skeptical about that account but open to whatever is true. JS definitely had some radical ideas for his time, not just about religion but about society in general.

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