Heavenly Mother’s Day: Desire and Sex in Relationship to Heavenly Mother Theology

There is no set doctrine about the Heavenly Mother that is a taught within the church. Because of this, andhera because evidence suggests that the concept of a Heavenly Mother originated with Joseph Smith, Jr., Since the start of the church, Mormon women have sought a divine role model to who they can relate to on a personal level. As complicated as the emotion of desire is, the desire for a Mother in Heaven is real. This desire is one of a very small groups of unifying factors that are shared by Mormon women across political lines: Conservative groups such as Mormon Women Stand discuss and celebrate the Heavenly Mother (seemingly ignorant of the fact that this has cost some women their church membership), as much as many of those who are in kinship with the progressive Ordain Women organization also seek Her. .

 

Based on the posts in this Heavenly Mother’s Day collection, and previous writings at the Exponent and otherwise that reference the Heavenly Mother, it seems to me that the foundation of this seeking is because women (and men) desire a sense of empathy from a God who can understand and relate on a mortal level. Many Mormon women seek a Divine Mother who has felt the joy and frustration of childbirth, infertility, dating, lonliness and divorce. We seek a Mother who can heal us when our breasts swollen with the milk for a stillborn child, as much as we seek Her to heal us from the loss of our breasts and reproductive organs due to cancer or other mortal abnormalities. But most of all, the seeking for our Mother God for both men and women is founded in the theology that teaches of a divine eternal family, that is led by divine parents.

 

The term Elohim has long been understood as plural, though there is confusion as to the plural nature of the term. Most recently, Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that the plural term was in relationship to God the Father and Jesus Christ, which notably absents any divine female influence. This is similar to some other Christian denominations which adapted this terminology to be inclusive of the Godhead, but as Mormon theology was centered around the concept of family, Hales’ interpretation is in conflict with other church leaders, such as President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who spoke of divine Heavenly Parents as nature of the plural.

 

This concept of a deified spiritual family was clearly modeled on the mortal family in a biological sense. A biological, mortal family had to have both male and female participants at some stage in order to “procreate.” As creation theory is centered around fertility, and therefore creation, the spiritual family was understood to need at least one Mother as well as at least one Father. This is why women are necessary participants in sealing ordinances; males who are ordained with priesthood cannot biologically create physical or spiritual children. So although women are not currently ordained, they are still necessary for the creation of spiritual families. It is noted that the first formal instructed of this came via the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, where 2:27 reads:

“And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.”

The inclusion of female in God’s reflection solidified the idea that Elohim, as a plural term, included at least one female. This is when the teaching of the Mormon concept of family was really born; in order for humans to be in God’s image, at least one God had to be female. This was also a theologically foundational concept of the early church. It became the purpose for establishing temples wherein mortals could be “sealed” into a family unit that would reflect the same family unit modeled by God. However,the theological emphasis on family was grounded in a peculiar type of Patriarchy (reflective of the Victorian era) wherein a woman had agency to vote (sustain church members), but was yet required to hearken to her husband.

 

This was not unlike the concept of Greek mythology. The Greek gods were married, relayed emotions, and yet though each were Gods with gold-like potential, were subject and secondary to the primary God, Zeus. Each of the Greek gods had specific areas of dominion, in addition to emotional stimulation that offered the Greeks explanation for wars, storms, sexual passions, and even apathy. In Greek mythology, the temperaments of humans could be explained through the emotions of these gods, making the gods familiar, as well as divine. This is similar to Mormon theology, where God is addressed through the familiar term of Father, and described in emotional terms as one who loves perfectly and unconditionally. The Greek God, Zeus is the rain god: he gifts life-giving water to parched fields, yet he is master of the thunderbolt, which he hurls down in anger and destruction when he is displeased (just as the Hebrew God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah). Having won his position of supreme ruler over his brothers, Zeus became the father of all. He is married to Hera, who is also his sister, which supports a very early ideological concept of families being immortal. According to mythology, Zeus tricked, then raped Hera. She married him to cover the shame of her rape. She is described as the protector of marriage, and looks aside as Zeus engages in many sexual affairs. Though this is but a very brief introductory summary of the Greek supreme parental couple, it reflects the ideological development of supreme beings through the use of human forms, with human desires and human characteristics of sex, gender, creation and destruction. In coquettish terms, the supreme Greek family is one that is divinely formed by a Zeus, who is the head of the family he has with Hera. He is partnered with a Goddess who is also his sister, and they lodge within her domain. In other words, Zeus presides, and his wife, Hera is the guardian of the hearth.(1)

 

Similarly, Mormons describe God the Father in terms that are familiar to mortal existence. Thought it is uncomfortable for many to think of a supreme being as one who rapes, is jealous or angry, or has any personality whatsoever, Mormons yet assign emotional characteristics to God as a matter of course. In Mormon theology, there is clear emphasis on a pious worshiper to have the desire to do as commanded, in addition to recognizing the obligation to do as commanded. Therefore, the personality of one who desires to do good is more righteous than one who simply does as commanded. Both are lauded, but to desire as God is to be more righteous. As well, we believe that God is jealous (Exodus 20:5) and angry (Deuteronomy 6:15), in addition to being sexual. The sexual ideology is more layered that the concept of reproduction alone, especially for women. Whereas both men and women are taught that they will have children in the ‘eternities,’ only male sexual gratification is described as a part of heaven. This is specified in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63 and is similar to the teaching of the Qur’an (specifically in 44:54), where multiple women are also used as rewards for men. Discussion of afterlife reward, other than childbirth, is absent for women. This can imply that women have no choice be to be the sexual rewards for righteous men, and invites the concept of rape into the afterlife, as it seems that the women may have no choice in who they are partnered with for eternity.(2)

 

Eliza R. Snow, who canonized Heavenly Mother in her poem, Invocation,  was well familiar with the concept of assigned marriage, having married more than one husband, and whose husbands each had multiple wives. In her lifetime, it can be argued that church leaders first taught of Heavenly Mother as a means of subjecting women to plural marriage by assigning multiple wives to God. Though the concept of God having multiple wives was not canonized, it provided a mortal explanation in the age of eugenics as to why there were various races: God was married women of different races, who bore spirit children that reflected the image of their various Mother Gods. (3) This concept was solidified as an antithesis to secularism of evolution theory (i.e. humans exist because of sex, not because of Darwinism). (4)

 

For a woman who never had children, and as a devout Mormon, this concept might not have bothered Eliza R Snow. As distasteful as it is to most women today, her desire to have a family, and more likely, her desire to have a body that  could give birth, might have caused her to seek revelation in regard to her own sexual and reproductive afterlife, even if it meant that she was to become one of many virgins rewarded to a man. In doing this, and providing her religious posterity with the Invocation poem, Snow invited mortal common sense to the theology that a Mother God existed: where the Greeks used the Gods to explain the emotions and desires of humans, Mormons used the concept of human reproduction to explain the emotional as well as the sexual and reproductive desires of Gods:

 The fact that there is no reference to a mother in heaven either in the Bible, Book of Mormon, or Doctrine and Covenants, is not sufficient proof  that no such thing as a mother did exist there. If we had a Father….then does not good common sense tell us that we must have had a mother there also? …If we are the [Father’s] offspring, then how did we become such if we had no mother to give us spirit birth?…How can we be the offspring of God, how can he be the father of our spirits, unless we had a mother and were born? – Joseph Fielding Smith, 1960 (5)

Unable to separate heaven and sex as means of creation, Fielding Smith at least recognized, perhaps incidentally, that his belief was in a single Mother God. This parenthetically elevated the position of Mother God as a plausible equal to a Father God, rather than a single Father God who had a harem of lesser female gods reserved for producing spirit children. As Fielding Smith was a general authority at the time of his statement, and would become prophet a decade later, the conceptual move away from a polygynous God was important for both Mormon women and Heavenly Mother theology. However, just a little more than 20 years after this, as Mormon women became more vocal in their desire to know the mother God, the church began ecclesiastically disciplining women who dared to voice their desires aloud.

 

Just twenty years ago, the church reintroduced the family ideology in its The Family: A Proclamation to the World (Family Proclamation). In this, it is stated that “family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children,”  meaning that the doctrinal definition of family was the fundamental purpose of pure religion in a Mormon context. The phrase “heavenly parents” is used in the Family Proclamation, but God is described only as an “Eternal Father” and the Mormon plan of redemption as “His” plan. Though a heavenly mother is implied in terms modeled in the description of mortal parenthood as “mother” and “wife,” She is regarded only as this; the plan of redemption His, not Her’s. It is also here that the divine family is specified in heterosexual terms; these heterosexual terms are based in the mortal concept of reproduction, which is again to say sex. Because the Mormon understanding of sex as the only means of reproduction (“procreation”), homosexuality is not accepted as a creative function that would be practiced in heaven.Further, the use of the term “Creator” was used to describe the God in singular, rather than in plural form. In this, the church disengaged from the theology of the divine mother in order to focus on the divine family as a unit under the direction of God the Father.

 

This meant that for Mormons, sex was as spiritual as it was mortal, because the obtaining of a family was the highest order of religion, and reproduction that resulted in children was achieved through sex. Additionally, the Family Proclamation assigned desires as the epitome of spiritual emotion. Desires such as repentance, forgiveness, love, and compassion were detailed, thus framing the dogma of sex and desire in Mormon theology. Contrary to other religions with dogma that was focused in terms of salvation and damnation, Mormonism (while inclusive of theology of salvation and damnation) further distinguished itself from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam by declaring that “the family is ordained of God.” Not only was the family unit the subject of deity for Mormon, it was ordained as a spiritual unit that epitomized sex and desire as God’s commands.  Further, rather than recognizing the emotional longing of women who sought to commune with the divine mother, the Family Proclamation assigned church members to desire specific emotions that were deemed pious. These assigned emotions to desire heterosexuality, in addition to being one who desires repentance, forgiveness, love, and compassion. To be clear, these were not assigned as mere emotions; these were assigned as God-like emotions that church members were to strive at achieve. In the act of assigning emotions as indicators of religious devotion, deity is given ownership of these emotions. In other words, the Family Proclamation is all about sex and desire.

 

In conclusion, the history of the longing for the Mother clearly expresses that there is a lengthy appeal to seek Her. In a church that is increasingly divided, especially when it comes to the complicated layers of desire and sex, the doctrine of the Heavenly Mother seems to be the only choice for unification and divine clarity. For both conservative and progressive Mormon women who are seeking communion with God, a broader range of emotions can only be shared, understood and defined by a Divine Mother. In this, it is clear how deeply problematic the ideology of family is when we absent The Mother God, especially when only heterosexual men are allowed the status to define the state of desire and sex in religiosity. To seek the Heavenly Mother appears to be the answer that would resolve all of these issues. But it remains to be seen if the church, given its new conservative Heavenly Mother seekers, will join in the longing for The Mother God.

 

 

 

 

 

(1) Carl Kerényi , Archetypal Images in Greek Religion:  ‘Zeus and Hera: Archetypal Image of Father, Husband, and Wife,’ Princeton University Press, 2015. (Amazon) (Jstor)

(2) (rape) The use of virginal women as rewards for men is close enough to rape to paint the sins of Zeus as a part of Mormon ideology (Doctrine and Covenants 132: 63: “for they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth.” {my emphasis added})

(3) quoted in John Heeren, et al, in “The Mormon Concept of Mother in Heaven: A Sociological Account of Its Origins and Development,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1984, 23(4) 396-411.

(4)  (antithesis to Dawinism) Sex was used as a divine counter-argument for Dawinism, and brought Heavenly Mother into focus in the first quarter of the 20th Century. See Sherlock, Richard, “A turbulent spectrum: Mormon reactions to the Darwinist legacy.” Journal of Mormon History, 1978, 5:33-59

(5) quoted in John Heeren, et al, in “The Mormon Concept of Mother in Heaven: A Sociological Account of Its Origins and Development,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1984, 23(4) 403.

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

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11 Responses

  1. It seems to me that you are looking for contradictions if you think that Elder Hales and President Uchtodrf are contradicting each other regarding the divine plural. Both can be correct because Elohim can refer to God the Father, Heavenly Mother, and Jesus Christ as a family unit.

    • spunky says:

      I agree that there is an argument there about the term reflecting a family unit, in the interest of space I did not explore that concept. It is a brilliant and loving concept, if only because that would be inclusive of homosexual, transgendered, etc. individuals.

      Perhaps you would like to submit an essay to us that discusses this point in detail?

  2. Nan says:

    “Contrary to other religions with dogma that was focused in terms of salvation and damnation, Mormonism (while inclusive of theology of salvation and damnation) further distinguished itself from Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam by declaring that “the family is ordained of God.” Not only was the family unit the subject of deity for Mormon, it was ordained as a spiritual unit that epitomized sex and desire as God’s commands.”

    You should stick to describing Mormonism, because you misrepresent a large portion of Christianity with what you wrote above.

    • spunky says:

      That statement is sourced from the included link. Check the resource and challenge that author, if you like.

  3. Caroline says:

    Wow, Spunky! So much to think about with your post here. I will just comment on one small thing — it is interesting that both conservative and feminist women like the idea of God the Mother. It makes me wonder if God the Mother might be a place where conservative and feminist Mormons could meet and establish common ground. I imagine that each group would emphasize different things. Perhaps the conservatives like the idea of HM because it makes sacred eternal gender roles and female identity, while perhaps feminists are more likely to emphasize HM’s power and status as a God co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. But regardless, I like the idea of Heavenly Mother as a site of common ground.

    • Spunky says:

      I agree, Caroline– it is very interesting. I think I need to do more research and thinking on this topic, but it does create a common ground for Mormon women in general.

  4. Rachel says:

    I like a lot of what you say in this article, but you make a totally unfounded leap questioning consent in the afterlife that deeply undermines your overall message. The fact that female gratification is not explicitly discussed in the scriptures in no way suggests it does not (will not) exist in the afterlife. Rather, God repeatedly expresses respect toward women – in Jesus’ actions in the New Testament, his words regarding the worth of children, and in his harsh words towards abusers in the Book of Mormon. Women and women’s issues are frequently omitted in the scriptures where they could provide light – but God’s words come to us through men limited by their culture and understanding, including Joseph Smith.

    You use an omission to imply grave consequences and entirely ignore more direct scriptural evidence that contradicts your point. At the very least a more thorough discussion is warranted, rather than glossing over the point at the end of one paragraph. Without treating this topic with more respect and decorum, omitting it entirely would be preferable to the article as it stands.

    Forgive this comment if I have misunderstood you.

    • Spunky says:

      Rachel,

      I really appreciate this comment!

      I positioned the concept of rape because of the lack of will that I see is implied with the assigning of righteous (female) virgins to men in the afterlife with that of Hera– Hera was the core example, and she married Zeus because she was raped. Much of the idea of feminism drives me because I do not believe that I (or any woman) will be gifted by God to men, and *because* I agree with you about Heaven being a place void of rape. In the interest of space, I did not address the issues you brought up, but rather addressed the problem of considering women in the afterlife when such a thing as non-consensual marital assignment exists in general church rhetoric in reference to the afterlife. Heaven cannot be heaven if it is absent of agency.

      Can I interest you in submitting a guest post that addresses your points?

      • Rachel says:

        Thank you so much for your reply. I think I see what you mean now – I missed the full context of the Hera example. Thank you for your explanation and the guest post offer (if I can write something coherent on the subject, I will be in touch.)

  5. Liz says:

    This is brilliant, Spunky, and addresses a lot of my thoughts/concerns about this. Sometimes I feel like the church is willing to trot out Heavenly Mother only to uphold a a hetero-normative paradigm of man + woman (or women…), but then shoves her out of the way any time women use her to claim spiritual power. I just don’t think you get to have it both ways, which is why there’s so much friction around this topic, generally (although I love your assertion that she appeals to progressive & traditional women equally).

    I wonder if there’s a way for Heavenly Mother to exist as an equal partner to a Heavenly Father, or as a Goddess, that’s also inclusive of those who are LGBTQIA+. Must God be gendered? I don’t know that spirit birth would require the same physical mechanics as physical birth – could there be something higher? These are mostly just my musings, but I admit feeling a bit ambivalent about my Divine Mother lately because of these questions. I have felt Her and heard Her before, so I know there is something female or intimately relateable to me about Her, but I don’t know what/how it all fits.

    • spunky says:

      You and me too, Liz. I am not sure of my belief is God or sex in the afterlife– it seems like procreation might involve developing ecosystems and new plants (or maybe I think a little too much about making purple trees in the eternities…) The whole -eternal sex as the primary rewards for Mormons- just doesn’t sit well with me. I’d like heaven to have sex, or at least an intensity of sharing between people, but I am not convinced that the model most often used for the eternities isn’t one that seems more grounded in the Adam-God theory, rather than what creation and family might really be in the hereafter.

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