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God He, God She, and God They: Options For Naming the Divine

by Caroline


When I was younger, it was automatic for me to talk about, think about, and pray to Heavenly Father. In the past few years, however, I’ve grown much more uncomfortable with these things. My problem, primarily, is one of language.


When I speak of Heavenly Father, I feel uncomfortable, anxious, and sad about the way I’m not including Heavenly Mother. When I hear Father in Heaven referred to continually throughout the three hour Church block or in our sacred texts, I feel sad that there’s no acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother, a deity who stands as a model for my eternal future. Because of her absence in our words and prayers, I am left wondering about my eternal potential. And do I really even want to reach it, if my future is one of nothingness.


So no more. I’m the one who is ultimately in charge of my spiritual progression, and if I’m hindered by androcentric language, I’m changing it to something more inclusive. Of course, in my ideal world, not only would I be able to openly pray to Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, I’d also be able to mention her continually in lessons, talks, and discussions. But my faith community would make me an outcast if I did so, so I’ve got to make some public compromises. And here they are:


a) I pray to God, not Heavenly Father. And my God is not a God He or a God She. It’s a God They. A divine unit of male and female. I’m reaching out to both my Parents.

b) I speak about God (They), not Heavenly Father, in non-Church settings.

c) In Church settings, I replace Heavenly Father with Heavenly Parents as often as I possibly can (thank you Proclamation for that!), and then I switch to God when people start raising their eyebrows.


So far, this is working for me. And sometimes it even rubs off on those around me. A couple of years ago I gave a talk in which I mentioned Heavenly Parents at least five or six times. And then the counselor got up and closed the meeting mentioning the love of our Heavenly Parents. Yay!


How do you deal with the absence of the feminine divine in Mormon speech and texts? Do you amend language? What are some other good options for inclusive God language?





Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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  1. gladtobeamom says:

    I had an incredible Sunday school teacher as a child who was fluent in Hebrew and often taught us about the scriptures using his knowledge of Hebrew. Understanding the words as they were meant when they were written and not as we take them to mean now was a real eye opener. He once taught us that Elohim is a plural word meaning more then one god both male and female. I thought this was cool so maybe at one time when they worshiped etc it was with the understanding of it being a set of parents and not just a Heavenly Father.

    (This of course is doctrine according to me. But it sounds pretty reasonable when you consider the importance of the family unit and how we are to work together one with the other.)

  2. Violet says:

    I think about this topic often. I usually insert “… and Heavenly Mother” in my mind whenever anyone at church says Heavenly Father including myself. I use Heavenly Parents whenever possible too. I do have to remind myself not to get upset over what I view as the excessive use of Heavenly Father. I wish it was more acceptable to use both outloud, I pray to both my parents. They both hear me.

    The part I think I struggle with the most is what to teach my children. Right now my 4 year old prays to Heavenly Father, I have talked to her about Heavenly Mother, but I am hesitent to have her pray like me because of what she might say at church. I am concerned about what some well-meaning adult might say to her about how we don’t do that and its wrong when we do so. I do like your idea of God (They) maybe I could use that.

  3. Bro. Jones says:

    I think you’ve hit on a great compromise in terms of using “God” in public prayers. I often pray to God rather than Heavenly Father, not just to be more inclusive, but also to break up the all-too-frequent use of Heavenly Father’s name in Primary (where I teach). As important as it is to emphasize our Father’s parental relationship to us, it’s also important to note that 1) He is God, with a capital G, not just a friendly father-figure and 2) we belong to Him as part of the Divine Family, not just as asexual sons or daughters.

  4. G says:

    I think your ‘compromises’ sound wonderful, and hopefully will not raise to many eyebrows or cause too much stir (Using “God” while praying might, but I hope not too much.)

    personally, I found it difficult to change my public language, it sounded provoking even to my ears (specifically where prayer was involved) and I was concerned it would invite unwanted attention/criticism.

    privately, however, I have had significant spiritual feelings when using more inclusive language.

  5. Douglas Hunter says:

    Thanks for the post. I don’t have a direct or complete response to your questions, but as a convert I was thrilled to learn that Mormon theology has a feminine divine, something other other forms of Christianity lack. So for me the first step is to hold on to that and to celebrate it. But I admit I have never tried using language that would be inclusive of the feminine divine in Church. I’ll have to start working with your suggestions.

  6. Zenaida says:

    I love hearing that Elohim is actually plural, including the feminine. Where is the doctrine of the structure of prayers? When and why was it decided that we should address all prayers to Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ?

  7. Jessawhy says:

    I think part of the focus on Heavenly Father comes from the NT.
    Doesn’t Jesus repeatedly refer to his Father? I would guess that’s origin of the direction to pray to the Father in the name of the Son.
    Honestly, my faith in a Heavenly Mother isn’t very strong. I have doubts that she exists at all (at least in the way I would want to think of her). So, I haven’t ever prayed to her as a separate deity.
    I do, however, pray to God, in the hopes that there is a male/female partnership there. It does sound a little weird, considering we heard, “Dear Heavenly Father. . .” so often.
    Thanks for the post, Caroline. It’s given me some good ideas to think about.

  8. Caroline says:

    Thanks for your comments everyone. It seems as if my God They idea resonates with some of you because of Elohim. Cool.

    Violet, when kids are in the picture, it becomes complex, that’s for sure. I’m going to teach E to pray to God, Mike will teach him to pray to HF. And of course, like you, I’ll tell E all about HM. It’s not ideal, but I guess it will do for now.

    Bro Jones, thanks for the comment. You’re right, it is nice to break up the incessant “HF” all the time.

    G, I’m so glad to know that you’ve had spiritual experiences from shaking up your language. Very cool.

    Douglas, you’re a convert? Wow, I hope all this prop 8 stuff isn’t making you have regrets. We need people like you! I’m glad you found these ideas thought provoking.

    z, like Jess said, I bet that structure comes from NT. But I wager that if we look through the Bible, including other parts of the NT, we’d find several different ways to address God. ‘Lord, Kind of Heaven, Creator,’ etc.

    Some liberal Judeo-Christian traditions have beautiful ways to address God. “Source of Life”, “Bringer of Peace”, “Friend” “Eternal One” “Creator”. Notice how gender inclusive these all are.

    By the way, if any of you are parents of young kids, Sandy Sasso’s book ‘What is God’s Name?’ is WONDERFUL. So lovely and inclusive.

  9. Kiri Close says:

    Great post. Been thinking about it.

    I normally love praying to heavenly ‘father’: 1) out of habit, and 2)perhaps because I loved my earthly father dearly. My earthly mom & I don’t get along all that well, and I wonder if that is what causes a certain, palpable aversion ton said femininized, maternal prayer address.

    I have to work this out.

  10. CatherineWO says:

    What wonderful suggestions! Thank you!

  11. J. Curtis says:

    A few years ago I took a yoga and meditation class. The teacher began the meditation prayer this way and I have kept it in my private prayers since: Father, Mother, Brother, Friend, I come before Thee that my spirit might commune with Thee. Help me to know that I am thy loving child and to remember always that Thou and I are one.

  12. Caroline says:

    J.Curtis, that’s lovely. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Roger says:

    I just wanted to thank you Caroline for your post. I have thought about this for some time. I was thrilled to read Gladtobeamom’s post on the Hebrew meaning of Elohim. You know my daughters are learning that!

    “I feel sad that there’s no acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother, a deity who stands as a model for my eternal future. Because of her absence in our words and prayers, I am left wondering about my eternal potential. And do I really even want to reach it, if my future is one of nothingness.”

    Our acknowledgment of Heavenly Mother (or lack) doesn’t add or take away one bit from Her eternal stature. Look around at the women you know created in Her image; think of their strengths. When I hear the names “Creator”, “Bringer of Peace”, or “Sourse of life”, I immediately think Heavenly Mother. We need to include Her more in all our public speaking. Ask any man how influential the women are in their lives — you already know. Better yet, ask Heavenly Father how influential HM is in His. You may be surprised, but you shouldn’t be.

    Your eternal future isn’t nothingness… it is nothing short of infinate!!

  14. Megan Harris says:

    OH thankyou! AHHHHHH! I have been having this very same dilemma. I think it is very unnatural not to acknowledge both deities and I have always found that the nature of “God” would, by nature, include the duality-does not the church itself express the idea that one cannot reach exaltation without the other, and therefore any exalted being would include Heavenly Mother. I am currently a BYU student, which is a distressingly difficult position to be a feminist in. I have shed more than a few tears and been called apostate and radical for suggesting that there is a female power, authority and deity in the world that I wish we would acknowledge more. I have been throwing out “Heavenly Parents” as often as possible in church meetings too. I had never tried out the blogosphere before today, but I am beginning to find my sanity returning. Whew.
    The only thing I can think of is to keep using the language. I am trying to avoid the feeling of hopelessness in a world where my western society is sexist in it’s language and insecurities seem overwhelming. This is especially difficult as I train to work in education and will come up against sexist behavior among the children and parents I work with. Just keep on doing what you know is right, is all I can say. God is on our side and with that,how can we lose?

  15. Caroline says:

    Megan, thanks for your comment. You’ll find many like-minded feminists here at Exponent. Good luck with your education degree – I wrote my M.Ed thesis on gender equity in the English classroom – so I’m confident there will be ways for you to promote gender equity and inclusivity in your classroom.

    Roger, thanks for the kind words. I don’t know if I’m as optimistic as you are, but it’s nice to know there are people out there embracing the idea of divine potential for all humans.

  16. Violet says:


    I am a teacher, although right now I am taking some time off to stay at home with my two daughters. As a teacher you will have opportuninities to promote equality in your classroom and for me it is much easier to do there than at church. I know I did and it was very rewarding. Exponent is one of my life lines.

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