Elder Renlund: Heavenly Mother is Not a Weapon

In recent weeks there have been reports of several LDS apostles and auxiliary leaders giving regional trainings and speaking about their concerns of  “doctrinal drift.” They’ve sought to limit what ought to be said and written publicly about Heavenly Mother. Tonight at the women’s session of general conference, Elder Renlund addressed the topic, though in perhaps softer terms than what was shared on social media from previous meetings. 

Elder Dale G. Renlund speaking at the April 2022 Women’s Session

Renlund began by talking about the Young Women’s theme, which starts with the line, “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.” This line was a welcome change introduced by Young Women’s General President Bonnie Cordon and her counselors in 2019 that came after years of women writing and asking for Heavenly Mother to be included (including here, here and here).

Renlund then spoke more broadly about Heavenly Mother. He said that everything we know about Her is in the gospel topics essay, “Mother in Heaven.” He cautioned against speculating about Heavenly Mother, suggesting it will not lead to greater spiritual knowledge and may lead to deception or shift our focus away from what has been revealed. He said that “demanding revelation” is “arrogant and unproductive.” He reiterated the argument that we should not pray to Heavenly Mother.

I want to address some of the concerns raised, and in doing so, I want to be as generous as I can to Elder Renlund. I want to assume good intentions, but I have a well-founded worry that his words will be weaponized by church leaders and members alike to shame, ostracize, and attempt to silence those who love, seek, and share what they believe about Heavenly Mother.

Heavenly Mother is not a weapon. Not against Elder Renlund, and not against those who seek Her. 

I was glad to hear Elder Renlund discuss the “Mother in Heaven” gospel topics essay in general conference. I’m glad more people will read the essay and learn about Her as a result. While I disagree that everything we know about Her is contained in those six short paragraphs— the essay’s references to additional sources and the BYU Studies article “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” would suggest otherwise—I agree that is it an important distillation of the LDS doctrine of Heavenly Mother.

In addition to stating that our belief in a Heavenly Mother is important in understanding “the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women,” the gospel topics essay offers other meaningful lessons. It shows us that even without a written revelation from a male prophet, Eliza R. Snow wrote what she knew through reason and revelation in her classic poem-turned-hymn, “O My Father.” From this, we learn that poetry and creative expression is a valuable and enduring way to share what we know about Her. We also learn that both revelation and our understanding of that revelation about Heavenly Mother has been written by men and women alike, including members of the first presidency and female leaders like Susa Young Gates.

And at the end of the essay, we learn from Elder Oaks that “our theology starts with heavenly parents.” Theology is the study of the nature of God and religion—it is a discipline demanding study, questions, discussion, debate, and analysis. Some theologians undergo extensive academic training, but popular theologians have always existed, engaging this work in writing, speech, and art. LDS theology begins with engaging in questions about the nature of heavenly parents. One does not have to go beyond the gospel topics essay to know that men and women alike, with or without particular offices or titles, can reveal new truths, write and share what they believe, and engage in the holy wrestle of theology.

I can sympathize with Elder Renlund’s concern with speculation and how it can lead to deception or shift our focus away from what has been revealed. I see the damage of this kind of speculation when it shows up in artistic representations of Jesus Christ that exclusively depict Him as white with seemingly European features when we know that is not the case. This kind of speculation reifies whiteness and makes God in the image of white men, contributing to institutional racism. It would worry me if creative representations of Heavenly Mother were to limit Her to one race or human culture or enforce a rigid gender binary or sexual identity based on 20th-century American understandings. Whether in art, writing, or speech, this kind of speculation could shift our focus away from a God in whom all are made in Their image and who invites all to come unto Them.

So while I understand the need for caution in speculating about the nature of God and making God in man’s image as is so often done, I look forward to seeing more creative expressions about Heavenly Mother. We have millennia of creative expression about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ—of poetry, art, music, essay, history, and scripture recording interpretations of human interactions with God. We hang these creative expressions on our walls, fill our shelves with them, and quote particularly poignant examples in general conference, like the words of John Milton and C. S. Lewis. We don’t celebrate these creative expressions because every image or every word is capital “T” Truth, but because they are beautiful and can inspire us to seek more. Creative engagement with theology creates fertile ground for revelation. Seeking out the best books and teaching one another diligently opens our minds and deepens our understanding.

Elder Renlund cautioned against “demanding revelation” as “arrogant and unproductive.” I agree that simply demanding revelation would be unproductive—Oliver Cowdery was told similarly in the Doctrine & Covenants: “You have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind, and then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” Oliver needed to put work in. He was told also that he must “apply unto” his spiritual gift. Like the parable of the talents, we have to use and increase our spiritual gifts or we will lose what we already have.

It would be arrogant to demand someone else receive revelation on our behalf, but it is also arrogant to believe oneself to be above asking. I hope for the courage of Jacob, who wrestled an angel until he prevailed in getting the blessing he demanded. For the wisdom of Hagar who gave God a name. For the faith of Emma Smith, who asked Joseph for a blessing shortly before his death and he when he told her to write her own blessing, she did. For the trust of Joseph to believe that we can ask in faith, nothing wavering, and get an answer. And always, for the faith to believe Jesus Christ when he says that every one who asks will be given, who seeks will find, who knocks will have it open unto them. I do not believe we can leave the work of seeking God to other people.

Elder Renlund’s instructions not to pray to Heavenly Mother concern me the most because of the history of this caution bring previously shared at general conference. While the “sacred silence” around Heavenly Mother was never official doctrine, I grew up in what I have come to think of as the “unholy freeze.” I’ve learned from my friend and Heavenly Mother scholar and poet, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, that after President Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1991 talk “Daughters of God” where he said, “I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven,” that it was twenty-four years until “Mother in Heaven” was uttered again in general conference. The freeze was thawed with Elder Holland’s talk 2015 talk “Behold Thy Mother.” So while the “sacred silence” was not doctrine, it was my experience in Primary and Young Women’s to almost never hear about Heavenly Mother. President Hinckley’s counsel not to pray to the Mother had such a ripple effect that an entire generation would pass before members of the Church could look to general conference for Heavenly Mother to even be acknowledged.

If history serves, Elder Renlund’s words, even if well-intentioned, may have a chilling effect on the open acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother in official church settings. Perhaps it will not be as extreme this time—we now have the Young Women’s theme, the gospel topics essay, and a flourishing of incredible, inspired work by poets, writers, and artists over the last decade encouraged by art contests and even at times shared by the Church or added to the shelves of Deseret Book. But I have already seen men on the internet using Elder Renlund’s words from recent trainings to shame women and call them “apostates” for writing about Heavenly Mother.

I was encouraged by Carol Lynn Pearson’s words when she recognized the significance of male leaders even acknowledging that there are people who want to pray to Heavenly Mother. The longings of those who seek the Mother are rarely acknowledged. It’s important to understand that we don’t have a record of all the words that Jesus prayed. Should our incomplete records be used to cut people off from communicating with their Mother? I take heart in Sister Sharon Eubank’s words from 2014: “nothing can separate me from my communication with [my Divine Parents]. There is no intermediary. I have the right, as their daughter, to communicate with them through prayer and revelation and the Holy Ghost. They don’t put anybody in-between.”

Heavenly Mother is not a weapon, and no one can interfere with our communication with our Heavenly Parents.

In Renlund’s cautions against seeking Heavenly Mother and instead focusing on Heavenly Father, I hear echoes of salvific coverture. This term, coined by historian Brooke LeFevre in a recent article in the Journal of Mormon History, has two main parts. “Salvific” means something that leads to salvation, and “coverture” refers to the old common law practice in which the legal existence of a married woman is suspended and consolidated into that of her husband. Thus in LeFevre’s analysis of nineteenth-century public speeches of  Brigham Young and his contemporaries, “salvific coverture” refers to “the tendency within Mormonism to believe that female salvation came through the husband to whom she was sealed, that husbands were salvifically responsible for their wife or wives, and/or that a woman could rely on her husband for salvation.”  

While Brigham Young taught, “Let our wives be the weaker vessels, and the men be men, and show the women by their superior ability that God gives husbands wisdom and ability to lead their wives into his presence,” Eliza R. Snow wasn’t having it. As Eliza traveled the Utah Territory training women in the female auxiliaries, she taught, “Remember, you have to work out your own salvation: neither father, brother, or husband can do it for you. Your eternal existence depends on how you spend your life.” The idea that women’s salvation and identity could be eternally subsumed into the existence of her husband has been preached since at least Nauvoo and has been challenged since at least the 1870s. However, I see the concept still showing up in modern LDS temple practice, and again in Renlund’s suggestion that seeking Heavenly Mother amounts to speculation with an entirely different standard than what leaders encourage in seeking Heavenly Father.

It’s is as though for male LDS leaders, the Father is God, and the Mother is subsumed in His identity and does not retain Her own identity or potential for a direct relationship with Her children. It is unlikely that Elder Renlund is conscious of the term salvific coverture or possibly even the long history of LDS leaders diminishing the eternal nature and destiny of women by subsuming their personhood to that of their husbands. But it is not enough to declare from the pulpit whether something does or does not diminish the Mother or women generally. We have to look further. When ideas of salvific coverture and the erasure of women’s personhood in the eternities is taught in the temple or in general conference, it hurts people now. It hurts marriages where husbands believe they preside rather than actually partner with their wives. It hurts women and gender minorities who see their eternal destiny as one of invisibility and silence.

When leaders caution church members against seeking the Mother, particularly in ways they do not caution them against seeking the Father, they reinforce institutional sexism. When they diminish the holy process of seeking Her as an unproductive demand that distracts members, they mock the invitation that Jesus gave to all people to knock, seek, and ask. When in regional trainings they repeatedly caution leaders against open discussion of the Mother while simultaneously claiming Mother in Heaven as essential to understanding our eternal nature and destiny, they create a system ripe for ecclesiastical abuse. It creates a culture of fear around Heavenly Mother and makes those who love and speak about Her more vulnerable to leadership roulette as local leaders take up the charge to “correct” supposed overreach in seeking God the Mother.

I hope Elder Renlund’s words won’t inspire more people to use Heavenly Mother as a weapon and enforce another generation of unholy freeze. I have to trust that he meant it when he said that Heavenly Mother is a cherished doctrine of our Church. I hope Elder Renlund and all church leaders will take more time to learn from the reason *paired* with the revelation that is moving among those who seek Her. I hope they will have the humility to learn what they do not already know. Perhaps not every essay, painting, poem, or Instagram post will endure as a beloved, eternal truth. But reaching for God and landing upon a beautiful and comforting stepping stone in the process is far better than staying in the dark.

Heavenly Mother is not a weapon. And She wants to be known.

***

This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.

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60 Responses

  1. Chiaroscuro says:

    Thank you for this beautiful response Katie!

  2. Caroline says:

    Love this response, Katie. Thank you so much. A perfect balance of generosity (to Elder Renlund) and clarity about why seeking Heavenly Mother is important. If She is women’s eternal destiny, exemplar, and model — if She is deity, an equal partner with the Father — how could it be wrong to reach for Her?

  3. nicolesbitani says:

    This is a wonderful addition to the discourse around Elder Renlund’s talk and Heavenly Mother in general; it is both incisive and kind. Thank you for these words.

  4. spunky says:

    Well said, Katie. Thank you.

  5. Chad Nielsen says:

    Thank you for this.

  6. Natasha says:

    Beautifully written. Thank you, Katie. My favorite paragraph and a paragraph that needs to be shared again and again:
    “It is as though for male LDS leaders, the Father is God, and the Mother is subsumed in His identity and does not retain Her own identity or potential for a direct relationship with Her children. It is unlikely that Elder Renlund is conscious of the term salvific coverture or possibly even the long history of LDS leaders diminishing the eternal nature and destiny of women by subsuming their personhood to that of their husbands. But it is not enough to declare from the pulpit whether something does or does not diminish the Mother or women generally. We have to look further. When ideas of salvific coverture and the erasure of women’s personhood in the eternities is taught in the temple or in general conference, it hurts people now. It hurts marriages where husbands believe they preside rather than actually partner with their wives. It hurts women and gender minorities who see their eternal destiny as one of invisibility and silence.“

    • Libby says:

      Phenomenal, Katie. I’d like to add one small bit of information: when the original version of the YW theme was written, it included the words “heavenly parents.” They were scrapped almost immediately, but that’s the way I learned it back in 1984.

      • Katie Rich says:

        Fascinating, Libby! If I had heard that before I didn’t remember. If only those words had remained!

  7. Elisa says:

    Heavenly Mother is not a weapon … and so-called “priesthood advisors” (whatever that means?) shouldn’t be weaponized against the women they are supposed to be serving.

    Oaks’ preamble was so weird. Is it that the female leadership didn’t want this topic in the meeting so he was making it clear they didn’t control it???

    • Kayla says:

      His opening was so weird! When the session was over I went back & listened to Oaks’ talk again, trying to figure out what he was talking about, and yes, it seems to me like he was asserting the men’s authority to decide when and what about the women get to discuss.

  8. Tina says:

    “It hurts people now.” Yes, it does very much hurt people now. As the mother of daughters, it is exhausting and disheartening to see confusion, bewilderment, and hurt on my daughters’ faces as they ask me – What about us? Do we matter?

    Thank you for this well written post along with all of the links.

  9. Wendy Christian says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and well-researched response, Katie. Your essay makes a sound and moving argument. I could hear the anguish in your writing voice and wish I could give you a hug, even though we’ve never met.

    The good news is that no matter how much control church leaders try to exert over the hearts and minds of members, it is simply impossible to freeze-out, minimize, or erase the Feminine Divine from those of us who feel connected to Her/Them.

    Yes, church leaders can attempt to exert undue influence over members’ ability to think and believe for themselves by shaming (calling them
    arrogant) or fear-mongering (by excommunicating those who speak up). And it’s true that leaders are often successful at using coercive control to dictate how members behave at church (and church universities).

    But no one needs permission to pray to or relate to God in the way that speaks to them. And no one can control us unless we let them. And that is empowering.

  10. As is my wont, I have a “yes…and…” reaction to this article. Yes, it was very well-researched, respectful, and had many thoughtful insights. And…I find it disheartening that the very first article appearing in Exponent II within minutes – seconds? – of the close of the Women’s session was a critique (criticism?) of one section (out of at least four sections) of Elder Renlund’s comments. The remainder of Elder Renlund’s remarks were not even addressed. The first powerhouse talk given by President Porter was completely overlooked, as were those given by Sister Craven and President Bingham. Perhaps Elder Holland’s talk wasn’t listened to Saturday afternoon, when he described people sitting before a magnificent feast, and complaining about the broccoli….If any young woman – or old woman, for that matter – is questioning her station in life or in the church, absorbing these powerful women’s messages Saturday night, and observing their stature, should help dispel those questions. I’m old enough to almost have been a subscriber to the original Exponent :), and was an early subscriber to Exponent II when it appeared in the 70s. I hope “doctrinal drift” doesn’t occur within Exponent II, where it becomes a place to primarily focus on what we don’t like….

    • Sean McKee says:

      “God’s love is perfect, our ability to sense that love is not.” Elder Renllund gave himself an out.

      Fortunately, spiritual progression gives us the capacity to perfect the ability to sense God’s love. Be that the love of Heavenly Father and/or Heavenly Mother.

      I’ll pray to Heavenly Mother tonight that She help Elder Renllund to sense Her love.

      Great essay Katie.

    • Katie Rich says:

      Hi Robin! Between publicly shared information on social media regarding general authorities talking about Heavenly Mother at regional trainings and that an apostle would be addressing the issue at women’s session, I anticipated this talk for weeks. My post is not a report of women’s session or Saturday conference, it is a response to Elder Renlund’s comments related to Heavenly Mother. It mattered a lot to me that I be able to respond and not just react with the initial frustrations, sadness, and hurt I felt at the early reports. I wanted to respond with generosity as much as I could. Even with weeks of thinking on the issue and praying for an open heart, I’m sure my response was imperfect.

      I know that you have shared a guest post here before and we would be happy to consider a post about what was meaningful to you in other talks.

    • Rachel Husberg says:

      Given that Exponent II is a Mormon feminist space “that amplifies marginalized voices and advocates for equality” (from their mission statement) I think the focus on this talk is appropriate. A talk was dedicated to ensuring there continues to be inequality among gender representation in the recorded doctrines and discussions of the church. I think it’s the exact thing that Exponent II would be sure to call out, comment on, and correct within the best of its ability. We can also take a “yes…and” approach by saying yes there were good parts of this conference and there is something that needs correction. It doesn’t always have to mean you “only focus on the positive.”

    • James Berlin says:

      Thank you Robin for your response!

    • Bryn Brody says:

      I’m wondering why you’re upset that a women’s blog post has focused on how the divine feminine is being represented in General Conference.

      When our leaders require us to ignore or support harmful rhetoric, it should be called out. If you want a magazine that never speaks for harmed communities, the Liahona is right there.

    • Elisa says:

      Renlund’s words were almost verbatim what he’s been recorded giving in regional meetings. I am glad Katie was prepared with a response that was a balm to many women wounded by his words.

  11. James says:

    I believe a more careful consideration of Eliza R. Snow’s poem suggests that Eliza did not receive the concept of our Mother in Heaven from personal “reason and revelation.” As she stated in her poem,

    “I had learned to call thee Father,
    Thru thy Spirit from on high,
    But, until the key of knowledge
    Was restored, I knew not why.
    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.”

    The deeper truth and “key of knowledge” regarding both her Father and Mother in Heaven was “restored” to her through Joseph, her beloved “male prophet.” Once that truth was restored to her, she could rightly state, as can we,

    “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.”

    It seems that “reason,” at least in this case, came after prophetic revelation and as a confirmation of this restored doctrine.

    Though we have only limited documentation of Eliza’s discussions with Joseph on this matter, what we do have supports this position.

    From the “churchhistorianspress.org,” in “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society,” in 1.14 “Eliza R. Snow ‘My Father in Heaven, October 1845,” we learn that

    “[t]he extant writings and discourses of Joseph Smith include no mention of a Mother in Heaven, but later accounts indicate that he taught this doctrine to Snow and others in private.”

    (See the footnotes there for more on this discussion.)

    Eliza also stated that

    “For a wise and glorious purpose
    Thou hast placed me here on earth
    And withheld the recollection
    Of my former friends and birth.”

    The prophets, seers, and revelators will continue to reveal the “wise and glorious purpose[s]” or “key[s] of knowledge” to our many questions, including our Mother in Heaven, which will, like with Eliza, inspire us and cause us to more fully “know the reason[s] why.” Will we, like Eliza, be willing to listen and learn from them, and at times be constrained (a function of the Spirit) by them, and by so doing be blessed to produce the kind of creativity that she produced?

    • Katie Rich says:

      James, I did not say Eliza used “personal” revelation. I said revelation, and that she wrote her poem without a written revelation from a male prophet. She paired revelation with reason.

    • Lynn in Europe says:

      You claim that “the prophets, seers, and revelators will continue to reveal…” — “continue to reveal”? Really? Where are those revelations? I served a mission and one of the messages I was most moved to share was that of continuing revelation, of our leaders having a direct hotline to God from whom revelations about important matters would flow. But the reality is that there have been precious few revelations of any real import in my lifetime, and worse yet, plenty of examples of prophetic failure just over the past few years alone.

      How many generations have passed since Eliza penned her verses? How long must women end up waiting for answers to extremely basic, fundamental questions about the nature of god and in particular, about women’s place in the eternities?How many contemporary women and girls have left the church in sorrow and frustration because of leaders’ apparent inability to perceive how deeply wrenching this issue is both spiritually and emotionally?

      My mother converted to the church when her protestant pastor couldn’t answer her very basic questions about the godhead. How sadly ironic that I have found myself at the door for the very same reason — only the door I’m at is marked “exit.”

      Perhaps you don’t understand how condescending you sound as you cite a bit of church history to couch your underlying message of “there, there, don’t worry your pretty little heads, sooner or later we’ll know something if and when the leaders decide it’s important enough to bother the Father about it.” Unfortunately, this isn’t Brazil in the late 1970s with a whole lot of local priesthood leaders finding out that they have mixed-race ancestry as they prepare for a temple dedication. So no real urgency to get an answer here, right?

    • Tina says:

      James, as a friend of your daughter’s, I am delighted to see that months after she published a guest post that you are still here reading and engaging. I believe you are sincere in efforts to understand a perspective other than your own. Your comment would have somewhat satisfied me during college twenty-five years ago. Now, after wrestling with questions for more than two decades, I don’t see any prophets revealing answers to questions other than administrative questions. I don’t think they are constrained by anything other than their own blind spots; blind spots that mean they are not asking the questions I am asking God. In my adult life I have noticed that male leaders tend to only be aware of and address the things that directly affect them.

      Back to Eliza – the key of knowledge that was restored was that we are children of God. She applied reason to her new knowledge that as a child of God it made sense to have a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. As Katie said, she paired revelation with reason.

      • James Berlin says:

        Thank you Tina for your response to my comment, but even more thank you for your friendship with my Cher Marie (Kajsa’s middle name is Maria and this is one of my pet names for her).

        I am also curious that you are delighted that I am still reading and engaging in dialogue with Exponent II after Kajsa published her guest post. Where else would I be but with her, sharing in her wrestle and her pain?

        Please remember that I was Kajsa’s friend and father long before any of her current friends befriended her, and I will always be her father, and her friend, pain and all.

        “How can I go up to my [F]ather [and Mother] except the la[ss] be with me?” (Gen. 44:34)

        I pray that one day we will all go up to the Father and Mother, together, and receive “Their mutual approbation.”

  12. Thank you, Katie. This helps me process it all.

  13. Heather says:

    I needed these words, thank you!

  14. Ben says:

    Thank you for this insightful and generous essay. In addition to the important theological principles developed, I think this is such an example of what it means to sustain our fellow saints, including leaders. We take the teachings seriously, think critically, and seek to share our conclusions and revelations with our community.

  15. Sarah says:

    Thank you for sharing and being a voice for so many women.

  16. Tamyln B Heaton says:

    beautifully written. Thank you. We must remember “to know her is to her” .

  17. Melody says:

    Thank you for the time and energy you brought to this brilliant response. Your closing paragraphs were especially powerful. Wowza! So glad you’re here and willing to write. Bless you. Thank you again.

  18. Beth Young says:

    I’ve never heard of Heavenly Mother being “beloved” or “cherished” by church leaders. She is dismissed, ignored, and subsumed as if she exists only in Heavenly Father’s shadow. And the women “leaders” who go along with those men’s lame understanding are to be ignored. They make themselves irrelevant to the spiritual growth of women and men.

  19. Tamlyn Heaton says:

    let me correct my statement: to know her is to love her

  20. Lanabean says:

    I highly doubt these are truly Renlund’s words. I’ve noticed that the more junior (or reasonable) apostles are marched out to deliver the most unsavory messages. It doesn’t change how awful the message was; I just want to put the blame where it actually lies. Those local trainings were assignments, as was this talk.

    • Cate says:

      That’s a good point, Lanabean. Certainly Elder Renlund’s talk was gentler than I’d been expecting.

      And it’s interesting, isn’t it, that for years and years we’ve been hearing that it’s respect that we don’t talk about Heavenly Mother, that she’s too sacred, that it could lead to her being profaned. But THAT, as we know, isn’t doctrine; THAT was speculation by a 20th century seminary teacher. So, yes, I get that speculation can take you down the wrong path – but why has nobody ever put a kibosh on THAT theory? Why not use the time at the pulpit to correct the misapprehension?

      • Natalie says:

        Cate, can you share where you learned about the idea of not talking about Heavenly Mother to prevent her name being profaned coming from a seminary teacher? Thanks!

        • Cate says:

          Hi, Natalie.

          Sure. Last year I attended a stake women’s conference where the topic was Heavenly Mother, and the guest speakers were Carol Lynn Pearson and Rachel Hunt Steenblik. During the conference Rachel attributed that theory to a seminary teacher, which was the first time I’d ever heard it traced. I was curious and I did a little follow-up digging on my own.

          The essay, “I’ve a Mother there” says: “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?'” According to Mormon Wiki, “Hoyt W. Brewster, Jr. was a Seminary and Institute teacher, and later a professor at Pepperdine University, Chapman College, and Brigham Young University. Brewster received his B.A. from the University of Utah, his M.A. from BYU, and his Ph.D. from the University of Southern California. He also served for a time as a member of the Correlation Committee for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was managing director of the Priesthood Department and chaired several general Church committees.” The Brewster quote cited in “I’ve a Mother There” comes from a book published in 1994, which I’m guessing was after Hoyt Brewster had moved on from the CES program, so I guess I’m not sure what he was doing professionally when he first voiced that theory. But anyway, it was at a women’s conference that I first heard about its antecedents.

          If anybody else can add to that, feel free to chime in!

          • Cate says:

            Whoops, I left out a couple of things. “I’ve a Mother There” also led me to seekingheavenlymother.com, where I found this: “Scholars David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido examined over 600 public statements about Heavenly Mother by Church authorities from 1844 to 2011 and 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.” They also found that the first record of this myth being taught was by a well-meaning seminary teacher named Melvin R. Brooks.” The Brooks reference comes from a 1960 edition of the LDS Reference Encyclopedia.

            I hope that helps! Again, feel free to chime in!

  21. Anon says:

    Elder Rasband: “Opponents of religious freedom seek to impose restrictions on expressions of heartfelt convictions[…] Such an attitude marginalizes people, devaluing personal principles, fairness, respect, spirituality, & peace of conscience.”

  22. tennesea says:

    Thank you Katie for this wonderful and thoughtful response to a very troublesome and problematic talk.

  23. lpf43 says:

    Totally off subject, can you please use a darker print font. Hard to read.

  24. Nertz says:

    I admire the grace you extend to Elder Renlund in your response and your careful counterpoints to some of his arguments. This is a valuable contribution to the conversation and one that has helped me personally.

  25. Kimberly says:

    Katie, thank you for this thoughtful response to the talk. You articulated so well my longings for more inclusion of Heavenly Mother in our doctrine and my fears wrapped up in the hushing of those longings. This talk feels like one step forward and two steps back, but I still hold onto hope that we will progress away from the sexism and patriarchy woven into the foundational fibers of the church. Thank you again for the comfort and solidarity this response brought.

  26. Greg says:

    Thank you so much for this essay. One thing that bothers me about this proscription against praying to Heavenly Mother is that for my whole life, I have been taught (and have taught myself) that we should pray to Heavenly Father because He is our loving parent; and because of this relationship, we should communicate with Him, open our hearts to Him, and converse Him as naturally and intimately as if He were in the room with us—because He is a perfect, loving parent, and we are His children.

    And yet, when it comes to Heavenly Mother, then we get told that everything we’d said about prayer being a natural expression our parent-child relationship becomes suddenly, inexplicably irrelevant. Suddenly, we are told that yes, we have Mother, but no, we cannot communicate with Her, She cannot communicate to us, Father has commanded us not to, and She is OK with this. Truly, “the thought makes reason stare.”

    Church leaders’ reasoning is that Jesus taught that we should pray to the Father; He never said we could pray to the Mother; therefore, we shouldn’t pray to Her. If this is the logic they’re using, then they might as well concede whenever a traditional/creedal Christian objects to her existence by that same logic: Jesus taught about His Father; He never said there was a Mother; therefore, She does not exist. The same rationale that would deny our ability to pray to her would deny her existence, if consistently applied. This cannot then be the basis for our teaching about Her.

    Jesus taught that we should pray to the Father. And I do. I just sometimes imagine that I’m on a kind of heavenly speaker phone with both. Sometimes I’ll speak with one, sometimes with the other, and often to both. It bewilders me that some would teach me that I have two loving, heavenly parents, but I can only communicate with one of them.

    • “Church leaders’ reasoning is that Jesus taught that we should pray to the Father; He never said we could pray to the Mother; therefore, we shouldn’t pray to Her.”

      I thought that very thing when he made that statement. The number of things Christ told us not to do are mostly avoiding sin: don’t be nasty, don’t judge, don’t be hateful, etc. There is so much missing. What we wouldn’t give for more stories from His life.

  27. Christy says:

    I absolutely needed this. My heart has been aching and I needed this. You are grace and goodness all in one. Thank you.

  28. David says:

    I appreciate the comments here…. I get concerned at the confusion that can come to our youth when we emphasize the family proclamation – where by “divine design” it is the mother’s primary role to nurture children (as equal partners) on this earth – and then they get the message that somehow, for our Heavenly Parents – only the father nurtures?

  29. Mark says:

    I hope Elder Renlund and all church leaders will take more time to learn from the reason *paired* with the revelation that is moving among those who seek Her. I hope they will have the humility to learn what they do not already know.

    I hope… I hope?? What kind of a statement is that about an apostle of the Lord? Are you hoping he would not be lying or purposefully leading us astray by his words in general conference?

    • Katie Rich says:

      Hope is not derogatory. I consider it a spiritual practice alongside faith and charity. For things I disregard as lost, I have no hope. For things/people/institutions that can grow and improve, I have hope. Would you prefer I have no hope in Elder Renlund and the brethren?

  30. David says:

    I found this information interesting, inspiring and hopeful: The Lord’s prayer begins with “Our Father,” a translation of the word, “abba.” But the actual Aramaic transliteration is “Abwoon” which is a blending of “abba (father)” and “woon” (womb), Jesus’s recognition of the masculine and feminine source of creation.

  31. M says:

    Great essay, thanks for sharing. Quick question: do we know that Eliza R. Snow wrote O My Father without ever hearing about the idea of a Heavenly Mother from Joseph Smith? The timeline here seems to be important to one of your key points. T&S has a quote tracing back to 1839, 6 years before O My Father was written, of Joseph sharing the idea of a Heavenly Mother. This would seem to conflict with the point of Eliza having received the idea through inspiration/revelation as she composed the poem (or received prior to composition and incorporated into her poetry).

    • Katie Rich says:

      What I wrote is this: “even without a written revelation from a male prophet, Eliza R. Snow wrote what she knew through reason and revelation in her classic poem-turned-hymn, ‘O My Father.'” I also linked to a BYU Studies article by Jill Derr that gives extensive context about the poem/hymn. I don’t claim Eliza used personal revelation, but that she paired revelation and reason in her writing and did so without a written revelation from a male prophet (Joseph). Even if she got the revelation from Joseph initially, she wrote about HM after he died and without Joseph writing about Her. I think that creative expression (writing and art) that pair what we know through revelation with reason and beauty are good ways to seek more revelation.

  32. Rebecca says:

    David, as much as I wish that were true, according to ancient historian Dan McClellan, “abwoon” doesn’t mean “father” and “womb.” He did a TikTok about this a few days ago.

  33. Sean McKee says:

    A friend has sent out links to Exponent II articles to a group that usually meets online. I used to think about clicking those links but didn’t. A couple of weekends ago some of us from our online group met in person. The next Monday my friend posted another link to an Exponent II article. This time I clicked the link. I enjoyed the article. I read other articles posted in Exponent II and enjoyed them as well. Exponent II is more than I expected, pleasantly more.

    I think it was renewing my in-person connection with my friend a couple of weekends back that inspired me to finally click on the latest Exponent II link she sent.

    With General Conference coming up I figured that there might be some comments in Exponent II about what came up at GC. Sure enough.

    As I continue to get notices in my email about more comments being posted in Exponent II regarding Katie Rich’s article written in response to Elder Renlund’s talk it brings up a broader issue. Specifically, the role of a small group of men in Salt Lake City trying to control the narrative in the church.

    As I understand this church, I have access to Divine Revelation. The person sitting in the pew next to me has access to Divine Revelation. And someone sitting in a church office in Salt Lake City has access to the same Divine Revelation. No greater, no lesser, the same Divine Revelation.

    When I first joined the church, I encountered the church through the ward that met in the church house just a few blocks from where I lived. Unfortunately, only a few months after joining the church, I had to leave the small town in Idaho where I was stationed in the military. Sadly, I left behind my church community.

    However, while attending this ward in small town Idaho, I heard a fair bit of talk about “General Authorities in Salt Lake City.” I wondered what all the fuss was about. I was content with the authority of my neighbors in the ward

    After years of spiritual wandering I am back. One of the things that drew me back was the Divine Feminine. Shortly after joining the church, I reflected on what the church was teaching. It didn’t take much to realize, if Mormon theology is what it said it is, that Heavenly Father has a wife. There is a Heavenly Mother. I had always thought it absurd that Christianity called itself monotheistic but assigned a masculine gender to God. I had unknowingly joined a church that has Heavenly Mother. What a pleasant surprise.

    Before returning, I explored the lack of attention given to Heavenly Mother. It seems that the “General Authorities in Salt Lake City” had a lot to do with this.

    I am glad for my ward. I am also glad that technology has advanced in the time since I first joined the church and now that I am back, virtual wards are being created. However, while I enjoy virtual wards, meeting in person is most important. My virtual ward came together to meet in person two weekends ago and the next Sunday, as I sat in my local ward, I felt even more connected to the church.

    Sadly, as I heard from one Sister in my local ward, a new member of the church requested no more contact with the church following what she heard President Oaks say in this latest General Conference.

    My involvement with this General Conference was listening to Elder Renlund’s talk after I read Katie’s essay and also watching a short pre-recorded message where Elder Soares urges us to understand that other people may talk differently than us, dress differently than us, and have other customs than us but we need understand those differences and understand that they too are children of God. Amen Elder.

    The rest of General Conference I left to hearing about on Monday from my virtual ward. I now have a list of what talks to go back and listen to. President Oaks was not on that list of recommended talks.

    To be fair, I think that over time the General Authorities have tried to mitigate the effects that critics of the church have had on the well being of members living in communities where there has been a high level of hostility to the church.

    I grew up in Oklahoma, surrounded by Evangelical Christians. Plenty of God fearing neighbors, but I wasn’t attracted to their sense of religion. I got an ear full about the need for my salvation. However, the fruit on that Evangelical tree didn’t seem like what my sense of what Christianity was.

    Let’s stop trying to appease the critics. Let us celebrate God as revealed in the Restoration. And that is a continuing revelation. A Restoration that expands Christian practice to the Divine Feminine.

    I live in Seattle. Homelessness abounds in my city. Heroin and opioid addiction abound as well. The age old problem of alcoholism is ever present too. And from my travels in the inter-mountain west, small town Idaho and Utah have these issues. I just have the benefit of living in a concentrated population center where the problems are also concentrated.

    A spiritual life that attends to the inner life would go far in addressing these problems. How so the Divine Feminine addresses the inner life. The inner world is a dark place. We need to discard the notion of evil being dark. The Taoists and the Buddhists recognize both the essential elements of dark and light. It is high time that we should too.

    I will give the General Authorities credit on good points. One point was the encouragement to follow promptings. One Sunday the Sunday School teacher walked out of his way to ask me to say the closing prayer. I was deliberately on the far side of the room setting up chairs in order to avoid being called on for one of the prayers.

    As I sat in class seeking insight for the closing prayer, something came over me to include Heavenly Mother in the prayer. My conscious mind through up a warning. But this was a promoting. It came from somewhere deeper. I then remembered the words of one of the General Authorities urging members to follow the promptings and how he regretted not doing so in the past.

    So it was. Heaven Mother was in my prayer opening (and her husband too). Although my head was bowed, I sensed a tension in the room. Here is where Sister Pearson’s “embracing coincidence” comes in.

    We meet in the stake center. The stake center had just upgraded the public address system. Someone had inadvertently set the PA to address all rooms. The other ward started their meeting in the chapel. At the precise end of my prayer, the voice of the opening speaker from the other ward came on the PA. He quickly realized the problem and switched off the rooms outside of the chapel.

    The momentary interruption of the PA perfectly broke the tension in our Sunday School class room. My friend Dave turned to me and said, “you should say the closing prayer more often.”

    Amen.

  34. jandmranch says:

    Without demanding revelation, I wonder if the church would still be barring black people from the priesthood? Continuous revelation is the rule in this church, not the exception. Madeline L’Engle said it best when she expressed this sentiment: “I wish that we worried more about asking the right questions instead of being so hung up on finding answers.”

    I can’t wait for the day when instead of triyng to give women “the answers” men would simply ask the right questions of God.

    Doctrinal drift? How about the doctrinal drift that occurs when men believe wholeheartedly that they can wield the priesthood while addicted to porn and soliciting prositutes and sexting strangers or abusing their families? How about the doctrinal drift of men believing that they will be sealed to their wife forever even as they are beating the crap out of them and raping them? What about the doctirinal drift that local leadership in many places use to justify covering up for child molesters and abusers to “protect the church”?

    Why aren’t we concerned with THAT doctrinal drift.

    I guarantee you if men would stop that “doctrinal drift”, women wouldn’t be going to the “extreme” of wanting to pray to Heavenly Mother. For the record, I don’t need or want to formally pray to Heavenly Mother, so I’m not “drifting.” She is a part of my life just as much Heavenly Father is, though.

  35. Millie says:

    Your statement, “While I disagree that everything we know about Her is contained in those six short paragraphs” turns me off from the outset as you are blatantly saying that an Apostle of the Lord is outright lying. I had trouble putting much stock in anything else you said after reading that. I wish you all the best in your search for truth, but it dampens every one of your other statements in my opinion when one of your first statements is set to cause contention and doubt about words spoken from the pulpit in General Conference.

    • Katie Rich says:

      Coming to a different conclusion as someone else is not the same thing as accusing them of lying. Someone can be wrong without lying (implying the intention to deceive).

  36. David says:

    Rebecca – thanks for your comments on the Lord’s Prayer and “abwoon” – a good clarification that translations are not all perfectly agreed upon by all scholars. – the source I referenced is: Neil Douglas-Klotz, Ph.D. :

    In Aramaic there can be various translations. This is one possible Aramaic translation of the Lord’s prayer according to Dr. Klotz:

    Abwoon d’bwashmaya
    O Birther! Father-Mother of the Cosmos/ you create all that moves in light.

    I did watch Dan’s short video… Just as with many translation topics, I suppose this definition could be debated by people with far more expertise than me.

  37. Ziff says:

    Great post, Katie. Thanks for writing it!

  38. Kimberlee Staking says:

    I can only add “Bravo”, Katie. Unconditionally and with grateful appreciation.

  39. marileecr says:

    This article resonates with so many of my thoughts. How can we change the narrative? Do we right to our stake leaders? Speak out in our wards? Write to Renlund?

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