Truth is Reason, Truth Eternal
Guest post by Lindsay Ragan (she/her). Lindsay spends her days raising three strong capable women. She enjoys listening to podcasts, jamming out to music with heavy beats and weird noises, and learning about Quickbooks. She lives in the midwest with husband, three daughters, and Scout, the dog she swore she’d never get but who is healing her cold hardened heart.
I had heard rumors that someone was going to address the topic of Heavenly Mother in the 2022 Women’s General Session and to my surprise they were right! Elder Dale G. Renlund gave his talk “Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny”.
He didn’t say much about Heavenly Mother, however the bulk of my thoughts are going to focus on a quote that has been pounding in my head since I originally heard it, then played back, wrote down and played back again. The context of this influential quote comes from discussing the LIMITED information the Church has received about Heavenly Mother through the Prophets AND how others (the women he was addressing) may have more questions and want more answers. He said he did, too.
“Seeking greater understanding is an important part of our spiritual development, but please be cautious. Reason cannot replace revelation. Speculation won’t lead to greater spiritual knowledge, but it can lead us to deception or divert us and divert our focus from what has been revealed.”
Now I am sure some may see this quote and think, “He is an appointed, benevolent apostle and is trying to guide us like a trail guide warning us of pitfalls.” For me, the red flags start to fly. His warning feels like a shut down. He is patting our collective heads saying, “Don’t worry your pretty little heads with reason. Just follow the Prophet, HE knows the way.”
The quote continues to be bothersome because of the warning against speculation. Speculate is defined as “the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.” I am immediately reminded of Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” To have or develop faith in something (especially unseen or without firm evidence) you have to form a theory or hope, in a word, speculate. I am being WARNED against developing faith in an unseen Heavenly Mother because it “can lead [me] to deception…and divert [my] focus from what has been revealed.” This makes no sense to me.
What is the concerning deception we face seeking Her out on our own? What are they, the leaders of the church, asking us to be cautious of? What are they afraid of?
The Church says they value women, that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father should level the playing field but it does not. This is illustrated in Elder Renlund’s talk. He quotes the first line of the YW Theme, “I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents” he then shares, in the same breath, “HE loves you…. HIS love has always been there.” To Elder Renlund, God is Male. Only God the Father loves us. That is why we are commanded to only pray to HIM. This statement of his creates an image for me. It is like he is on a global stage showcasing Mother and Father and then steps in front of Her, and points his body and his focus on Him. We can still see Her, even while he is trying to divert our focus!
So again, what is the caution for? I think the reason for the caution isn’t really women (or anyone) seeking out Heavenly Mother. I think the issue Elder Renlund and other leaders of the church are concerned with is people thinking for themselves. Why else are they trying to control our worship? Why would anyone, prophet or not, have the AUTHORITY to tell someone else how to PRAY to God? They think they do. We are told through conferences and correlated lessons, “We’ll tell you how to believe/pray/worship and if you don’t believe/pray/worship like we said to, YOU are deceived and YOU must repent and get back on the covenant path (and NEVER leave it) and FOLLOW THE PROPHET! If you don’t, you are lost and give up your eternal destiny.” THIS. IS. MANIPULATION.
This indoctrination of “the Prophet knows the way” starts in Primary and continues on every single Sunday. Just this last conference members were told repeatedly that Russell M. Nelson is God’s Mouthpiece. That we must follow the leaders of the church because eternal blessings are at stake. Because following them is the “only real way to follow Christ,” no matter if what they say and do is unChristlike.
In my own journey I dealt with the struggle of knowing if I was deceived. My first personal experience with Heavenly Mother came unexpectedly. I had just read the BYU Symposium article “A Mother There” a few weeks before. The article had scoured historical Church texts and documented statements from Prophets and historical female members. I had thought of Her in theory my whole life, being told She is our precious Mother protected by Father and Son to shield Her from Her blasphemous children. I hadn’t really considered who She really was until referencing the article. That She is a God; She can handle a couple bazillion snotty teenager spirit children. Since my mind had been open to a more expansive and powerful view of Her, I was able to sense Her on my own level and in my own understanding. It was a beautiful and peaceful experience. Yet, fear crept in unprovoked. I had read the Gospel Topic essay Mother in Heaven. I had listened to President Hinckley stating how he regards “it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.” So when I did, I felt like I was breaking a cardinal rule. I would then struggle to reconcile my personal experience and the teachings of the men of the church. I had heard about women being excommunicated for teaching about Heavenly Mother. Was I risking my beloved membership by cherishing and sharing this foundational experience? Was I really being deceived?
How can one know if they are being deceived? If someone is trying to tell you what and how to believe and that if you don’t you are deceived… that is a pretty good sign they are trying to manipulate or scare you into compliance. However, if you listen to that still small voice inside you, that is the part of you that is a part of God, you will be prompted. Like one who is prompted to not turn down x road, later to find a cliff, they recognize that as God guiding them. I believe we can be alerted spiritually, too. When we hear or learn something that sparks the spiritual alert system, for example, “You are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents. HE loves you,” it is the doubt and the red flags that ARE the answers. When something doesn’t FEEL right in our heart or make actual sense in our mind, don’t put it on the shelf. THAT is God communicating with us. THAT is PERSONAL REVELATION. No one, including prophets, seers, revelators, can take that from you. For me like Eliza R. Snow wrote, “Truth IS reason, truth eternal tells me I’ve a Mother there.” And NO ONE will take Her from me.
Finally a note. I don’t need my experience with God to be yours. There are some who don’t connect with the strictly gendered God. I am cool if your experience is nonbinary or more ambiguous. God is there for us to connect with. God will tell you in YOUR heart (your spirit) and in YOUR mind (your reason) what is right and true for you.
This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.