Guest Post: Heavenly Mother’s Hiding in the Primary Closet

Guest post by Bethany

Bethany is a community activist in Richmond, Virginia, focusing on creating a healthy food culture in public schools.  In her spare time she works to create a healthier gender culture at church.  She’s finding that getting adult Mormons to say “Heavenly Parents” is a lot harder than getting kids to eat kale.  She mothers three young girls, loves to cycle with her husband, and digs cooking spicy vegetarian food to share with neighbors. 


I don’t know anyone who anticipates the unveiling of the General Primary theme for Sharing Time for the year.  I know I certainly never have.  This year, I happened to stumble upon it and was pleasantly surprised.  No, I was more than surprised. Elated–that’s a better description.  Have any of you seen it?  It certainly doesn’t get a lot of coverage.  I mean, who even thinks about the Sharing Time theme until early October when you’re trying to help your child memorize her part for the Primary sacrament meeting?  Well this year, I suggest we start thinking about it earlier, because it contains a gem.

For 2013, Primary children throughout the world will be celebrating the theme I Am a Child of God.  But the theme doesn’t stop with that typical Mormon mantra…it continues on with a phrase from the Proclamation on the Family, ““All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents”.  Did you catch that?  Heavenly Parents in the Primary theme?  Is it just me, or is that pretty remarkable?  I mean women in the Relief Society are studying Lorenzo Snow, but the kiddos in Primary get to focus on Heavenly Parents…I know where I want to hang out on Sundays.  But whether you’re serving in Primary or not, I think this is something all Mormon Feminists should jump on.

To me, the theme gently opens up the door to speak about our Heavenly Parents and/or Heavenly Mother whenever we feel inspired to do so…in sharing time, in Primary lessons, in talks, in fast and testimony meetings. So let’s raise our hands in Sharing Time and declare that Heavenly Mother was certainly involved in creating everything that is lovely in our world.  Let’s ask the Primary chorister if we can use the term Heavenly Parents as we sing some of our songs.  Let’s show the I am a daughter of God Mormon Message video in our classes and discuss specific qualities we have inherited from our Heavenly Mother.  And let’s initiate conversations with our ward and stake Primary presidencies on how to fully take advantage of this inspired theme.  Surely our children need to hear more about our Heavenly Parents…there is no better way for them to understand the importance of marriage and families and the ideal of equal partnership.  If we let this unique theme go by unnoticed, it will be a tragically missed opportunity.

Earlier this month, I bore my testimony in sacrament meeting about the Primary theme and how awesome it is that the restored gospel enables me to teach the 10 and 11 year old Valiant girls in our ward that they have a Heavenly Mother, that they have a divine role model and an example of their infinite potential.  It’s powerful stuff.  And my testimony was even well received by my rather conservative ward.  So go for it!…let’s get Heavenly Mother out of the Primary closet and into our Sabbath conversations and beyond.  If anyone gives you any trouble, just refer them to President Wixom, the General Primary President.

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29 Responses

  1. Naismith says:

    The theme seems entirely consistent with the Primary manuals. This is not new; those manuals were mostly written in the 1990s and sorely in need of updating. But they consistently refer to living with heavenly parents before earth life.

    A few years back, I had a student who argued about this and claimed he had never heard of a Heavenly Mother. I contacted his parent, and she was chagrined but glad to know and followed up with him on it.

    I am not sure this justifies changing words to songs–that is someone’s intellectual property.

    I’ve borne my testimony about Heavenly Mother before in my ward in this regard. I don’t understand why a ward being conservative or not would matter. It’s doctrine.

    And I don’t know why feminists would be excited about this. It doesn’t change the nature of what we know about Heavenly Mother. She is not mentioned much in scripture, and tends to keep a low profile. The exact kind of traditional, supportive female role that is not praised by feminists.

    • Amelia says:

      We don’t know that she “keeps a low profile” any more than we know anything else about Heavenly Mother (other than that she exists). Precisely because to the best of our knowledge our church leaders have never made a priority of receiving further revelation about here. We don’t know what role she filled in the creation. Or what role she fills today. We don’t know that she, as you imply, fills a traditionally female role of supporting and keeping out of sight. For all we know, she has been an equal partner every step of the way, actively creating, guiding, and leading alongside Father. And it is fallen humankind that has such a messed up opinion of women and their capacities that it cannot even conceive of a Goddess or, if it can, can only think of her as a hidden supporting actor, rather than a leading figure.

      What I *do* know is that women’s work and men’s work, regardless of what that work is, together make life as we know it possible. So I believe that Heavenly Mother’s work is as vital to our existence (both in terms of creating it and in terms of sustaining it) as is the work of women in this world. And as amply demonstrated in this world, that work could take any form from domestic work to leadership on a large scale indeed. It seems to me that you are the one limiting the work of women and Heavenly Mother, not the feminists. As a feminist I honor all work that women do of any variety. What I refuse to honor is the limitation of women’s capacities and opportunities based on some notion of a “traditional” female role.

    • DefyGravity says:

      My mother did not play a “supportive role” to my father when raising me. She and my father were and are both heavily involved in my life. I didn’t have to go through my dad to talk to my mom. She wasn’t hidden from me or silent or a supporter to my father. She is my parent. She didn’t keep a low profile in my life. So why should our relationship with our Heavenly Parents be any different? Why would our Heavenly Mother keep a low profile in the lives of her children? The notion of “traditional supportive” roles doesn’t make sense since motherhood is rarely a “supportive role” as you’ve described it. This is especially true in Mormonism, with its emphasis on the importance of motherhood and the vital role that mothers play.

      Your assumption that we know all we need to know ignores the doctrine of continuing revelation and personal revelation. We believe that God has more knowledge to give us; that can certainly apply to Heavenly Mother. You are also ignoring the need many women feel to have a connection with their Heavenly Mother and the revelation they have had about her. That revelation is something they are entitled to and not something you have the right to criticize or dismiss.

      Finally, how much time have you spent in Primary. Choristers change words all the time. So changing words to make the song more gender inclusive is not a new idea; music leaders change words on a regular basis.

      • amelia says:

        Not to mention that it’s a little laughable to argue against changing words based on “intellectual property” violations when the church in its hymnbook changes words without any real compunction (see #86 and #202 just for two examples).

      • Naismith says:

        I’m not assuming or ignoring or dismissing anything. I am looking at the reality of what actually has been revealed about Her.

        And the reality is that not much has been.

        Is this the fault of church leaders, as was claimed? Has one of Her wayward sons bound and gagged her? Or is it possible that She is content to let the men handle the work of the church, because She is doing other things? I do not claim to know. I just think that as we move forward and accept new revelation about her, that we need to be open to all of that revelation, even if it turns out that She actually chose not to be as prominent in dealings with us on this earth.

  2. Libby says:

    Bethany, I love this!

    Naismith, I don’t believe it’s Heavenly Mother who wants to keep herself hidden. Church culture plays a bigger part in limiting our understanding, especially when we are told to ignore her.

    As for changing wording to songs, the institutional Church does it all the time. Individual ward Primaries should feel free to do what works for them. One of the best singing times I’ve ever attended had the kids make up their own verses to “Follow the Prophet.” I know some 10- and 11-year-old boys who learned a LOT about David to write their verse.

  3. Emily U says:

    This is making me think of ways to include Heavenly Mother more in our FHE and prayers at home. When we talk with our kids about making good choices and where our spirits came from we say “Heavenly Father,” but there is no reason not to say “Heavenly Parents” instead. For me, it’s changing a lifetime of vocabulary, but it’s so worth being conscious of. I’ve been meaning to use the Primary manual more at home, as a lesson plan for FHE. It would be a great way to remind the kids of the Primary theme, and to work on creating a broader vocabulary when talking about God.

    And Naismith – do you seriously think Heavenly Mother chooses a low profile, supportive role for herself, leaving the real involvement in creation to her partner? Seriously?

  4. DefyGravity says:

    I love the hope in this post! So often I get bogged down, feeling like nothing is changing. Posts like this suggest they are, even if it’s not as big or fast as I’d like. Thanks for posting this; I just found out who our new Primary choristor is. I think I’ll pass it on. 🙂

  5. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for this post. I am the mother of three sons and I know how hard it is to reinforce the spiritual importance of women in a church that emphasizes men so exclusively.

    I hope that we continue to hear more about our Heavenly Parents at church. We try to talk about them at home.

  6. Caroline says:

    I am thrilled to hear that the theme includes the term Heavenly Parents. Because it acknowledges female godly existence in the eternities. When HF is exclusively mentioned, I feel disappeared. I feel my daughter and all the women in my life disappeared. So just the mention of that inclusive term, Heavenly Parents, means the world to me. Thank you, Bethany, for your thoughts on this.

  7. X2 Dora says:

    Thank you for this post, Bethany! It’s heartening to know that children are going to be learning about Heavenly Parents. At church, I routinely say “Heavenly Parents,” as opposed to the singular “Heavenly Father.” In the beginning, I felt awkward and tense, wondering if my fellow congregants would think I was a weirdo. However, I’ve had conversations with some of my fellow branch members, and they’ve expressed gratitude, or at least the beginnings of spiritual exploration, in response to my words. Now, it feels natural to talk of my Heavenly Parents. Even more than natural … uplifting.

    In my mind, I tend to think that it’s such a doctrinal conundrum. If women are so different from men, as many of the anti-feminists propose, then it should be absolutely necessary for women to have access to their Heavenly Mother, in order to learn from Her what women may become. However, if women and men are so alike, why is the priesthood given preferentially to men, and not women. The more elaborate the explanation given for the divide, the less sense it makes.

    • Christi says:

      I absolutely agree with this! It is so odd to me that for a religion that INSISTS that there are prescribed gender roles that are eternal and necessary to not give any kind of guidance or road map to one of those genders. It just doesn’t make any sense.

  8. Em says:

    Thanks for this post. It isn’t some huge change. It isn’t new doctrine. But it is an important reminder. I serve with the YW but the first experience I had with them was before I was called. I was asked to be a guest speaker about the glory of womanhood (another story entirely…) and the first speaker introduced the topic by telling the girls they were made in the image of their Heavenly Father. I was flabbergasted. So when it came to be my turn to speak I tried to find a way to contradict her without offending her and bore my testimony of how we are made in the image of our Heavenly Mother and will become like her one day. I think if girls were taught this from a younger age it would be so beneficial. That way by the time they’re teenagers and learning about their divine nature it fits as part of a bigger picture.

    As for the question of a conservative/not conservative ward it certainly does make a difference. Not necessarily the political question of conservative (though that tends to go hand in hand in many cases) but doctrinally conservative. If your ward freaks out if you mention Heavenly Mother (and some people do) then it is hard to say anything in the future.

  9. Mark N. says:

    My own personal opinion about why Heavenly Mother gets the silent treatment in church is because, if you start looking at other things Eliza R. Snow had to say about her, it would appear that she had at least one foot clearly in Adam-God territory (in “Women of Mormondom”, she happily tells us Heavenly Mom’s name: Eve). I think there’s plenty of food for thought in that particular “heresy”, but I’m not going to insist that everyone starts preaching it. There are plenty of things we can talk about and believe that are just “nice-to-knows”; if there are aspects to A-G that turn out to be true, then I say “good on Brigham Young”. If President Young was completely wrong on that, then I guess we’ll all get confirmation of that eventually, too.

  10. spunky says:

    Beathany, this is beautiful! I agree, people seem to be so afraid to mention Heavenly Mother! I do not understand it. I am glad it is the primary focus, I hope people really engage on the balance of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, and don’t just disregard this very important doctrine.

    Wish I could have heard you bear your testimony!

  11. Rachel says:

    Bethany, thank you so much for posting this. I do not serve in the primary, and as of yet do not have children, so would likely not have known it otherwise. I am immensely grateful that primary children the world over will be focusing on their divinity from a loving Father and Mother in Heaven.

    I also really love your suggestion to make primary songs more inclusive. (I try to do this with hymns, but just quietly, so only myself and my husband will hear. And definitely do it with scriptures and quotes from Church Presidents.)

    I have also found that bearing one’s testimony about Heavenly Mother can be a beautiful (and sometimes brave) thing. When I have done it, I have only had good results, and am glad the same was true for you.

  12. MDearest says:

    This was the most uplifting thing I’ve read all day, and I’ve had a good day. Makes me wish I was back in Primary.

    I think it’s meaningful to have this sort of direction coming from Salt Lake at this time in our collective learning curve. It will give people who are nervous or cranky about feminist issues permission to acknowledge our Mother openly, in a gentle way that will soothe their jangled nerves. I can feel Her hand in it.

  13. IDIAT says:

    ““All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents”. Is the implication that we believe heavenly parents equals “God?” Bible dictionary says “God” is the supreme Governor of the universe and the Father of mankind…. When one speaks of God, it is generally the Father who is referred to…” The reference to heavenly parents is referenced clearly in POTF and Handbook 2, so I don’t think there’s a purposeful effort to not mention Heavenly Mother. But I disagree that “our church leaders have never made a priority of receiving further revelation about her (sic)” or that “Church culture plays a bigger part in limiting our understanding, especially when we are told to ignore her.” I find it hard to believe that “church leaders” have, for thousands of years, ignored or affirmatively not prayed for revelation concerning Heavenly Mother.

    • Emily U says:

      I’m not sure how you affirmatively not pray for something. It’s not at all hard to believe that church leaders have for many, many years not sought revelation concerning Heavenly Mother. Do we have any evidence to the contrary? It’s always hard to prove a negative, but I think the deafening silence around Her clearly indicates a lack of seeking.

      • IDIAT says:

        By affirmatively not prayed I mean purposfully not prayed to know anything about Heavenly Mother. Kind of a put your fingers in your ears kind of mentality. Your argument seems to be “We would know all about Heavely Mother if church leaders would just get off their duff and pray sincerely for that revelation to come forth.” You might want to read the “Simple Answers to Complex Questions” post by Hawkgirl over at Wheat and Tares. Perhaps you’ve completely misinterpreted deafening silence. It seems as if many sisters purport to have all sorts of revelatory insight into Heavenly Mother and Her attibutes, purposes, and so forth. Maybe they could get together and let the FP and Q12 know what they’ve been missing all these years.

      • Rachel says:

        It isn’t that hard for me to believe that church leaders have for many, many years not sought revelation concerning Heavenly Mother, either.

        The recent events with women asking to be able to pray in General Conference, and the strong likelihood that it will happen confirms this for me even more. I think it mostly Was a matter of people not noticing it or thinking about it. When it was brought to leaders attention, it was easy to see that it can and should be changed, without going against either doctrine or policy. I think the same thing will happen with doctrine concerning Heavenly Mother. Many people simply don’t think about it (including leaders), while many other think about it both deeply and often. If the first Were to start thinking about it, they could pray about it, and changes could quickly and easily happen.

    • Rachel says:

      Doctrine and Covenants section 132 strongly implies that there never at anytime has been a God that was not male and female, together. An early apostle, Erastus Snow, seconded this:

      Now, it is not said in so many words in the Scriptures, that we have a Mother in heaven as well as a Father. It is left for us to infer this from what we see and know of all living things in the earth including man. The male and female principle is united and both necessary to the accomplishment of the object of their being, and if this be not the case with our Father in heaven after whose image we are created, then it is an anomaly in nature. But to our minds the idea of a Father suggests that of a Mother…. Hence when it is said that God created our first parents in His likeness … it is intimated in language sufficiently plain to my understanding that the male and female principle was present with the Gods as it is with man. (Journal of Discourses, 26:214.)

      Many modern prophets have also interpreted the scripture in Genesis stating that male and female are created in the image of God (plural-Elohim) as meaning women are specifically created in the image of their Heavenly Mother. If prophets interpret the word “God” in scriptures as meaning both, it gives us great precedent to do the same.

  14. Suzette Smith says:

    Great post!

    I was recently called to do Sharing Time in Primary – and it’s been a lot of fun. I set a goal for myself to ONLY use female figures for my stories – from scriptures and from Latter-day examples and from history. (Thanks for the idea to use Sister Wixom and her life as another example.) It’s not that I think Nephi and Moses are bad examples, but they get a lot of play, so I want to give air time to others.

    I often refer to HF and HM together – and the kids take it in stride.

    This post is a great reminder of the small things we can do – that make a big impact for women’s voices.


  15. EmilyCC says:

    Good news, indeed! Thanks for sharing, Bethany!

  16. Jenne says:

    It made my year when I saw the new Primary theme hanging on the wall in my children’s primary room. I was so excited to think that she will be there staring them all in the face all year. My son (6) has been bringing her up wherever he can and it was her obvious absence in primary lessons that prompted him to finally have his “come to heavenly mother” moment where he openly acknowleges her as often as possible when we are at home, and tries to work her into church meetings.. My daughter (3 1/2) understood that more than a year ago and I was just waiting for my older son to come around too. You are absolutely right about the difficulty adults have with acknowledging her. Its so natural and obvious to our children but the harmful patterns adults carry with them make it hard to accept what is so evident.

  17. Alisa Mercer says:

    This is wonderful, Bethany! I have sent the link to our ward Primary President and will definitely be speaking with my kids about it.

  18. Heather says:

    Thanks for your insights and optimism. I believe we can grow and evolve in this Church and having kids regularly hear about female divinity is a wonderful step. I’m going to be sure to discuss this with my own kids.

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