An (Out)Burst

Three Sundays ago in Relief Society we had lesson 1 in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. It was the lesson on Heavenly Father. I had  ended up on the front row with my knitting and my baby. The first discussion in the class included listing the traits of God on the board. I sat there wondering if I had something to add while everyone else put up all the phrases  I was already thinking about: all the omni-stuff, loving, merciful, etc. And then,


Male? Really? When “we are sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents” God is still male? Is Heavenly Mother not a god? When I die do I not get to be like God? If maleness is so important to understand of God, then does my femaleness preclude me from being like God? Why isn’t anyone saying anything about how ridiculous that word is up there? Why isn’t someone doing something about it? Doesn’t it feel wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong to everyone else?

My visceral reaction mush have pushed into the physical realm because the person sitting next to me looked at me and asked, “Are you ok?”

“I don’t know. Let me think about it.”

No, I am obviously not ok. What do I do about that? Do I get up and leave? I have to play the piano for closing. My baby is asleep on me. I want to knit. If I leave, will anyone know why? If I leave, will the wrongness that is on the board stay on the board without anyone saying that it’s wrong? Should I sit here in my upset-ness and ignore it? No, I can’t do that. My body is not ok and if I sit here and do nothing, I waste all this adrenaline. I need to do something with it.

I raised my hand. I was called on.

I don’t remember exactly what I said in the middle, but I know I started with, “I want to push back against the notion that God is ‘male,'” and ended saying that whatever issues we have about not talking about Heavenly Mother: “I think that is crap.”

I was now really shaking.

Another commenter made a comment, which pretty much made me feel like my testimony and dedication to the Church was questioned. I chose not to turn around to see who it was. I chose not to try to figure out whose voice it was. I just sat there, trying to ignore the whole room and knit. With shaking hands, I tried to knit.

The teacher, trying to redirect the conversation, turned to Joseph Smith-History to discuss what the First Vision tells us about God (fun fact: nothing about God’s sex).

While trying to knit, I went back over what I had said. I was nervous, I was embarrassed to have had an outburst, embarrassed at my lack of eloquence (Did I really say, “That is crap?” I am no Carol Lynn Pearson). I again wondered if I should just get up and leave. I wondered if I had just ruined any chance of having a non-activities-committee calling ever.

When Relief Society was over, I got a hug from someone. Another person came to talk to me about her own experience with feeling the Feminine Divine. I tried engaging her politely and I think I succeeded, but my brain was still on “I really don’t want to be here”-mode. I spent the night tossing and turning over “What I should have said” instead. But after a day of that, it was out of my system.

The next Sunday I was out of town for a family funeral.

The Sunday after that, I nervously went to church. It was ok. My outburst wasn’t a big deal.

Over the few weeks, some wonderful things happened. A person who hadn’t been there called me up and asked how I was doing and knew I had a hard time at church that past Sunday. I got an email from someone I didn’t expect, thanking me for “recognizing our Mother God.” I got a postcard thanking me for a prayer I gave in Sunday School. One of the older women I really admire came up to me after Relief Society this past Sunday and thanked me for saying something. I tried to apologize for being inarticulate and she just said, “I’m not an activist person, but you are and that’s ok.”

My outburst was embarrassing to me. I felt foolish and bumbling. For all the grace I lacked in that moment, I am grateful for the grace my ward has. I am grateful that my outburst was returned with a burst of love and acceptance.

Embraced by Grace

This past Fast Sunday, I considered sharing my testimony of Heavenly Mother, but I decided against it, fearing more embarrassment. But if I had, I would have said that I love my Heavenly Mother as I do my Heavenly Father. Heavenly Mother is important to me because having a female god gives me hope that in the next life, I’ll have value for being myself and not my husband’s property. She makes my relationships with other women important and meaningful. If it’s not important to have a relationship with the one eternal, powerful woman we know of, then why bother having relationships with the mortal, fallible women that are my daughters, my sister, my mother, my friends, myself? I know She is waiting for us to reach out to Her. I know She is always reaching out to us. I see her in everyone.


TopHat is putting her roots down in the Bay Area with her husband and three children. She loves the earth, yarn, and bicycling.

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26 Responses

  1. Corrina says:

    Top Hat, thank you so much for sharing this…brought tears and Truth to my soul.

    I felt the same way in RS that Sunday–I so wanted to say something, but there just wasn’t the right moment, and I was lacking energy that day to put myself out there. Often, I over think it, b/c I want it to sound right, and then I miss the moment.

    This is a good reminder to reach out to people in our wards for the little things. Last November or December, one of our RS teachers, when giving a lesson on the Priesthood, actually acknowledged (sincerely) the fact that women don’t have the Priesthood is difficult for some LDS women. I’ve been meaning to write her a thank you note for that important comment in her lesson, and your post is a reminder that we can reach out and affect sisters in small, meaningful ways.

    • TopHat says:

      I’m not very good at sending notes either. I remember when that talk came out that quoted “never suppress a generous thought,” I tried to do things like that more often. I’d really like to get back on that. It would be a good idea for February, I think. Thanks!

  2. Karen says:

    At our recent New Beginnings night for the Young Women our Bishop mentioned Heavenly Mother as he was talking to the girls. I was so surprised and pleased. Though I admit I do not remember exactly what he said I remember it was positive.

  3. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Good for you for keeping Heavenly Mother in the conversation and I’m glad people have reached out to you but I taught that lesson in my ward and the First Vision does not leave room for Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother and Jesus all to have appeared. It says “This is MY beloved Son, hear Him,” not “OUR beloved.” I wish She had been there too but I think it’s too much to assume that Joseph Smith would have left out that of the Personages he was speaking with, one of them was not the expected God the Father but God the Mother.

    • TopHat says:

      Oh, it’s not canon at all, just a fun technicality I like to think about: never in the First Vision is the sex of the first personage given. In one version it says that the two personages look alike, but that still doesn’t mean they have to have the same sex. A close reading of the text does not give us any evidence that God/the first personage is male, and I think that’s a fun little bit and illustrates how our assumptions of a text affect how we read it. Like I said, I know it’s not canon, but hey, Mormonism never shied away from speculation. 😉

      • SilverRain says:

        I’m glad you knit in Church. It’s how I get through it. If you were in my ward, someone would have defended you. If they weren’t the one who spoke up first. Not because you knit, though. That is just a bonus.

        It takes practice to take the emotion out of speaking up, but when you do, it really helps.

      • Em says:

        Until I read this I never thought about it. We assume it was the father because OTHER cultural texts say it was. For example “Joseph Smith’s first prayer” the words are “while appeared two heavenly beings, God the father and the Son” but as I mentally reviewed the first vision as I remember it from my mission it says (something like) “I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description standing above me in the air.” We know one was the Son. The other might well have been the Father, but you’re right the text does not actually say that it was.

      • davis says:

        “The other might well have been the Father, but you’re right the text does not actually say that it was”

        You might want to read the other 3 published accounts of the first vision before you say this. Some of them don’t even mention that there was more than one personage.

      • TopHat says:

        I’ve read all the versions of the First Vision and in the ones where there are 2 personages, the sex of the first is never given.

  4. Davis says:

    I don’t really think listing one of the attributes of God as being Male is out of the question at all. You have to remember, the title of the lesson is “Chapter 1: Our Father in Heaven”.

    If the lesson had been “Chapter 1: Our Heavenly Parents” peoples mindset would have been different when they were listing attributes.

    The only real issue I have with what I will broadly term ‘Mormon Feminists’ is that they frequently do not give the average person the kind of benefit of the doubt and tolerance that they themselves are seeking.

    • spunky says:

      Tolerance does not equal acceptance of degraded position or ignorance.

      You notice that Tophat’s teacher asked *the class* for *their* perspectives on the attributes of God. I believe a good comparison of this situation is if the teacher asked what the colours of the Rainbow are, and the answers came back as “Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue.” Tophat reminded the class that Red is needed in the rainbow, just as God the Mother is needed to manifest true parentage for all of us.

      I think you are mistaking begin assertive with being aggressive.

      • Davis says:

        Were they asked to generate a list of the attributes of “God”? Or were they asked to list the attributes of “God the Father”? Or maybe even “Heavenly Father”? In this case it makes a huge difference what was actually said.

        If any of the actual quotes from Joseph Fielding Smith were read as this question was asked, or if someone had actually read the lesson before hand, ‘male’ would have been an appropriate answer because of President Smith’s frequent use of ‘he’ and ‘him’ when referring to ‘God’.

      • spunky says:

        Read the OP re: what question the group was asked. And, as mentioned in other comments, the gender of the personage beside Christ was not detailed by Smith in any of the accounts.

  5. EFH says:

    Do not feel bad for your outburst. And please do not apologize at all about it. Emotions are the root of our thinking process. Americans and northern Europeans are very formal when it comes to showing emotions in public and organized settings but it is very important for the women in your RS class to see the indignation certain comments can cause on others. Not everyone feels the same about a topic. And if RS is not a safe settings to show emotions, where else can we?

  6. spunky says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Tophat. I recall the lesson in December about the priesthood– I didn’t say a word (I didn’t think the teacher presented in a way that I could “contribute” without looking like I was picking a fight.) She came over to me after the lesson because I was so silent. I let loose– teared up, and called bullish*— yes, even in the chapel where we have the RS lessons. She was stunned and tried to lay the “nurture” line on me (which I pushed back against as direction in the scriptures directed at males- Ephesians 6:4.)

    In the end, she came over to my house a few weeks later (maybe in part because I had stopped going to RS? I don’t think so- I think she wanted to learn, and had not noticed I had not been attending.) and we talked about a few things, and discussed Heavenly Mother. She added Heavenly Mother to the lesson on Heavenly Father- which I attended mainly to see if she had been brave enough to include Heavenly Mother to the discussion.

    Even though by all accounts this was a great outcome from a very disturbing lesson, I have not been able to bring myself back to Relief Society but for that one lesson. I expect to be treated like a second class citizen in sacrament meeting and Sunday school, so I don’t take the dismissal of the Divine Feminine and of women in general, as personally as I might so can more easily ignore or participate as I have courage and motivation to do so. But in Relief Society, I take it personally when the women in company join against women in labeling us as uniquely un-divine due to gender, fertility, race, class or intellect. We are women. And my hearts says that we, of all people, should be better than this. And when the lessons are intolerant and excuse the demeaning of women, I am triggered to run. In this, I find your response and your ability to return very brave. I also think the support from your ward shows you are in like company, and you may have said things that others did not have the bravery to voice. Well done.

  7. Josh says:

    Although it may have been inarticulate, I am moved by this experience you shared. One of my favorite lines from literature is from Goethe’s Faust: “Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan”, “The Eternal Feminine draws us upward”

    • Rachel says:

      Spencer W. Kimball quoted that passage from Goethe in a 1987 conference talk, “The True Way of Life and Salvation”: “It was Goethe who said, ‘The Eternal Feminine draws us on.’ Finally, when we sing that doctrinal hymn and anthem of affection, ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and 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 there?”

  8. Rachel says:

    I knew a bit about the first part of this story, and was both happy and grateful to learn the second part. I am glad that your raw, honest words were met with love and kindness by many, as they should always be.

    I have found over and over that talking about Heavenly Mother (however imperfectly) opens the floodgates for other interested persons to express their feelings and their faith.

  9. Sally says:

    I am teaching RS next month on the moral force of women and want to include HM in the discussion. I love the concept of god being both male and female, but am wondering if there are any authoritative statements regarding this or if it just an interpretation.

    • TopHat says:

      The BYU Studies Article, A Mother There has many general authority quotes about Heavenly Mother acting as co-creator, parent, and god. It is here. You might have to pay for it; I’ve seen a free version around, but I can’t find it now.

      Fellow blogger, Rachel, was one of the TAs for that paper and wrote about what she learned here.

      I hope that helps!

  10. Ziff says:

    I love that you did this, TopHat! And even more that some people reached out to you in response. I always wonder how many people who share non-mainstream beliefs (although heaven knows, Heavenly Mother should be totally mainstream!) are silent only because they suspect nobody else thinks like they do. Way to smash the ice!

  11. Caroline says:

    This post made my heart sing. Thank you for your courage. I know how hard it is to speak up in situations like this, and how I admire you for doing it. And I love that so many of your ward members have literally and figuratively embraced you after this. This just proves to me once again that being vulnerable and opening ourselves up often encourages people to be vulnerable and reach out in their turn.

  12. I had similar internal dialogue/rage during our discussion of that lesson, although instead of saying something I wrote vehemently in the margins of my book. And texted some of my like-minded friends. I wish I had said something.


  13. Jenne says:

    I had an outburst like that in Relief Society the first Sunday I returned to church after my baby was born. I chalked it up to postpartum hormones but like you, I experienced some positive interactions after the fact. I’m glad that you spoke up, and not just because I know I’m not alone in doing so, but because we need women to speak up for Her and to remind our brothers and sisters that She loves us and is half of the God whom we love so.

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