Why “Heavenly Parents” Isn’t Enough
Ever since I was a little girl, I lived in my grandparent’s home. My parents both lived there as well until they divorced when I was 15, and my dad moved out. It was not an in-law apartment kind of situation where I might see them for dinner here or there. They were fully involved in the lives of me and my siblings. My memories are infused with the joy they individually and collectively brought to my life.
I can picture my grandpa sitting at the table each morning with his slice of bread and butter (a staple at each and every meal!) always greeting me with, “Hello Tirza my dear!” I knew if I needed to go into his room at night I could find him quietly writing in his journal after he had washed a mountain of dishes. He fixed my bike tires too many times to count, and he was the one who taught me to check the oil in my car.
My grandma was no slouch when it came to projects and physical labor. Both of my grandparents loved building and worked together on countless projects, including roofing together when they were in their 80s.
But there were also so many things my grandma loved to do that didn’t involve my grandpa. She was the one who taught me how to bake bread, do my taxes, quilt, and play the piano. My grandpa wasn’t much for singing, but my grandma would always fill in the harmony. We would often gather around the piano to sing Broadway favorites or drive up to LA to catch a play.
Even now that my grandpa has passed away, it is hard to imagine them apart. Theirs was a seemingly magical marriage and on those occasions where I’d be up late and my grandpa wasn’t home yet, my grandma would be up waiting for him every time and excitedly go to the door when she’d hear his car pull in.
My grandparents were inseparable but separate. They each had their own interests and passions and I had a really good relationship with each of them. They were also of the generation where it was very common for mail to arrive addressed to Mrs. Sheldon L. Dickinson. As much as I love my grandpa, I can’t picture going through life and only speaking of him. “Oh how grateful I am he taught me how to bake bread!” Or, “Oh what lovely harmony he sings!”
I remember being very excited when I first heard General Authorities of the Church start using the term Heavenly Parents. It felt like they were finally acknowledging a Mother in Heaven. It felt like a step in the right direction. And now it doesn’t feel like enough. It feels incomplete to hear God almost exclusively referred to with male pronouns and only the occasional Heavenly Parents reference thrown in. It would feel really odd to sit around with my siblings reflecting on our childhood, exclusively talking about my grandpa with a few unpredictable grandparent references.
As Heavenly Mother has increasingly become a more important part of my life, it is more and more painful to see her erasure in the church. I did not watch General Conference this time, but I went through and did a search for mentions of Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, and Heavenly Parents. Out of 39 talks there were 72 references to Heavenly Father and zero references to Heavenly Mother or Heavenly Parents. The more general term God, used over 300 times, was almost always in conjunction with male pronouns. The April 2021 general conference numbers are similar, with three total references to Heavenly Parents out of 35 talks and zero references to Heavenly Mother.
I know for many people, General Conference is uplifting and inspiring and there was a time in my life when it was for me as well. But now it feels like walking through a desert to not hear my Mother spoken of.
When a friend reached out and asked how I had enjoyed conference, I penned this poem:
“Follow Me” they said.
We will guide you through this barren land.
Do you see those mountains in the distance?
Stick to this path – do not stray!
Your future exaltation is green and lush.
But I cannot take another step.
I am dying now.
Words of my Father do not quench my thirst.
I no longer follow these rulers.
I trust my instincts
And search for wisdom.
I once believed we did not talk
Because we did not know.
But how can this be true?
God, Sophia, Asherah, Divine, Infinite, Unnameable,
All encompassing and everywhere.
I step off the desert path.
Sometimes a trickle. Sometimes a downpour.
My thirst quenched.
An oasis now.
One reason Heavenly Parents doesn’t feel right to me anymore, is because of the manner in which it ties male and female together, resulting in experiencing Heavenly Mother only through Heavenly Father. It might feel different if we ever spoke of her on her own, but since that’s typically not the case, she becomes a support person only, not a Goddess in her own right.
I also wonder what it is like for those on the margins to hear of God always male, married to a hidden wife. For me, a cis-het, married woman, I can only speak of the pain I feel to have Heavenly Mother erased in this way. I cannot speak for single members or those of the LGBTQ+ population, but I wonder, is talk of only Heavenly Parents enough? Does it bring hope that all will be figured out by a loving Mother and Father, or is it just one more way the church reinforces their heteronormative ideals?
In her poem Heavenly Mothers, Blaire Ostler, expands the notion of who God is.
I am a child of Gods.
I have a queer Mother,
and a straight Mother.
I have a bi Mother
and intersex Mother too.
I have two gay Fathers,
along with a trans Heavenly Father
and a trans Heavenly Mother.
I have non-binary Parents as well,
because we all have a place in the heavens.
If children grow up to be like their Parents,
I am no exception.
I love the idea of God encompassing all identities. I hope that one day when we hear of God spoken of at church and in our communities, we’ll hear pronouns and discussion that move us beyond a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Parents. I hope that our language and theology will reflect the beautiful diversity I believe is in heaven as it is on earth.