Not to stress anyone out, but I’m hoping you’re up for a religious discussion today. (Amazing t-shirt here.)
I went to a poetry reading last night to mark the publication of a new book focused on poems about Heavenly Mother, and it got me curious about your thoughts. The book, by the way, is called Dove Song.
A fun fact you may or may not know is that Heavenly Mother, a Goddess, spouse, partner and equal to God/Heavenly Father, is part of Mormon doctrine. In early Mormon history, Heavenly Mother was written about quite a bit, and then, in the 1900s, she mostly stopped being mentioned. By the 1970’s and the arrival of the equal rights movement, many Mormon women were angry that Heavenly Mother, a unique and important part of the doctrine, had been all but erased and forgotten. They started writing poems and essays about Her and attempted to bring Her back into Mormon religious discussions.
Though their efforts were diligent, Heavenly Mother didn’t make it back into Mormon Sunday School manuals or discussions in a big way. And as I grew up in the Mormon Church, I was taught She existed, but not much else. She was rarely if ever brought up.
In the last few years, as women in the Mormon Church have demanded more equality, another resurgence of writings about a female God is happening. And I’m loving it.
As I was listening to the poems last night, I was struck that they didn’t sound particularly Mormon to me — I wasn’t hearing typical Mormon lingo. Instead, they just sounded really feminist to me. And I thought they would appeal to anyone who craves a more feminine deity. Here are a couple of examples:
This one is by Carol Lynn Pearson, she wrote it in 1992 in response to the disappearance of a female God from church writings:
A MOTHERLESS HOUSE
I live in a Motherless house
A broken home.
How it happened I cannot learn.
When I had words enough to ask
“Where is my Mother?”
No one seemed to know
And no one thought it strange
That no one else knew either.
I live in a Motherless house.
They are good to me here
But I find that no kindly
Patriarchal care eases the pain.
I yearn for the day
Someone will look at me and say
“You certainly do look like your Mother.”
I walk the rooms
Search the closets
Look for something that might
Have belonged to her–
A letter, a dress, a chair.
Would she not have left a note?
I close my eyes
And work to bring back her touch, her face.
Surely there must have been
A Motherly embrace
I can call back for comfort.
I live in a Motherless house,
Motherless and without a trace.
Who could have done this?
Who would tear an unweaned infant
From its Mother’s arms
And clear the place of every souvenir?
I live in a Motherless house.
I lie awake and listen always for the word
That never comes, but might.
I bury my face
In something soft as a breast.
I am a child–
Crying for my Mother in the night.
And here’s one by Linda Sillitoe from 1979, celebrating the partnership of two Heavenly Parents:
SONG OF CREATION
Who made the world, my child?
Father made the rain
silver and forever.
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas,
drew riverbeds and hollowed seas
to bring the rain home.
Father bridled winds, my child,
to keep the world new.
fire free from stone
and breathed it strong and dancing,
and breathed it strong and dancing
the color of her hair.
He armed the thunderclouds
rolled out of heaven;
Her fingers flickered
weaving the delicate white snow,
weaving the delicate white snow
a waterfall of flowers.
And if you live long, my child,
you’ll see snow burst
and lightning in the snow;
listen to Mother and Father laughing,
listen to Mother and Father laughing
behind the locked door.
My own concept of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father has changed over the years. These days, I find I think of God as genderless. The Mormon Church loves putting importance on the idea of gender, but it doesn’t appeal to me, and I mostly find it unhelpful. I’ve never seen a definition of male gender qualities or female gender qualities that makes sense to me — they always seem to be based on cultural constructs and don’t hold up to the concept of eternity. I suppose I also find it annoying when people talk about God as if they clearly understand God, or can define or describe God with confidence — giving God a gender and specific gender qualities goes down that annoying-to-me road pretty fast.
Is the concept of a female God important to me? I would say yes, but only if we’re assuming God is male. If God is male, then I definitely need there to be a female Goddess who is his equal. But if I think of God as genderless, then the idea of a Heavenly Couple is much less weighty to me.
What’s your take on the idea of a Female God? Does your religious tradition teach anything like that? Is it appealing to you? Or does it feel like blasphemy? When you picture God, what do you picture?
P.S. — Here is one more poem from the book, written in 2017 by Rachel Hunt Steenblik. Rachel has a whole book of poems searching for Heavenly Mother:
WHAT ROSEMARY TAUGHT ME
It counts how we
He, Him, His.
She, Her, Hers.
They, Them, Theirs.
It counts how we
91 thoughts on “What Are Your Thoughts on a Female God?”
Labeling God with a gender limits God. God is outside gender, time, body…and if we only give God male characteristics, we are missing out on an entire side of God that is motherly, compassionate, and empathetic. There are so many beautiful representations of God’s female traits in scripture (mother hen, nursing mother, a mother, a mother bear), but they are hardly ever spoken of.
“There are so many beautiful representations of God’s female traits in scripture”
I’m sincerely glad you’ve been able to find and enjoy the mother references in the scriptures. I know you’re not alone.
For me, I have a hard time getting over the fact that the scriptures have been edited and translated and reinterpreted so many times over the centuries by men who clearly have no regard for actual human women. It’s hard for me to find inspiration in a book that was created by men who don’t value me. I realize that’s not going to be a popular take, but that’s where I’m at these days.
Muslim here. I also believe that God is genderless. The MOST repeated attributes of God in Islam, “Ar-rahmaan, Ar-raheem” “the most beneficient, the most merciful” linguistically derive from the Arabic root, RAHM, which literally means “womb”. So there. #extremelypatriarchalinerpretationsnotwithstanding
Hah! Your hashtag made me laugh.
“For me, I have a hard time getting over the fact that the scriptures have been edited and translated and reinterpreted so many times over the centuries by men who clearly have no regard for actual human women. It’s hard for me to find inspiration in a book that was created by men who don’t value me. ”
This is part of why I found Margaret Barker’s work so compelling. First, she is female. Female translating. Female interpreting. Female lens. She talks about early on, when she first received a copy of the Book of Enoch, she would read it between caring for her children and household duties. This endeared her to me.
Second, to hear her comparing what we know as Torah and the King James Version of the Old Testament with the Dead Sea Scrolls (created 408 BCE, discovered 1946) and Septuagint and other texts recently come to light and seeing the stark differences and changes made by the “reforming scribes” (‘men who do not value me’), “clarifying” difficult points and altering the original meaning is to learn much of the true meaning of the text I grew up reading is devoid of many truths taught in Solomon’s Temple. Most interesting to me, being Mother/ Goddess/ Wisdom. Not yet educated enough myself to read in the original language of these texts, I am enjoying learning from Ms Barker the tricks and subterfuge used to conceal Her. As a result, I too can find her in the text. It is lovely and I pray for greater revelation for men in positions of power to learn and act on these truths.
errr.. much of the
truemeaning of the text
I love this! I am a Mormon-Christian living in Qatar and I’ve thought a lot about this and the references to the womb, physical birth, and creation in the Quran.
I grew up Episcopalian and really struggled with how the feminine is/was represented in religion particularly since the virgin/whore archetypes were most present. I suppose a big reason why I’m a Christmas and Easter church goer these days is because I don’t have much to relate to in church. Women can now hold the same leadership jobs as the men but there isn’t a space that highlights what women bring to the world that is different from men. A Heavenly Mother as you’ve outlined would have captured my interest and helped me feel connected to religion.
I hear you. I keep thinking of the memes I see about the importance of showing minorities and women in the vast variety of jobs and leadership positions — they all have the message: If you can see it, you can be it.
If I can relate to and picture a Heavenly Mother, am I more likely to emulate her?
i find this so interesting. i grew up in a catholic family and mary is huge part of catholicism. but she isn’t god. in fact (maybe this was just my particular upbringing in the catholic church), you’re not actually supposed to pray to mary, you’re supposed to ask her to pray for you, and to call on her intercession (this goes for saints as well). it has taken me a long time to remove from my mind the image god as male, but rather to see god as a genderless and universal being. to see god in all things instead of as one thing. i had a beautiful childrens book that conveyed this idea when i was young. it’s called old turtle and it’s such a great book. anyway, even though i am not a practicing catholic anymore, i still hold mary, and the rosary, close to my heart.
Old Turtle sounds lovely. I’m going to look it up.
My background isn’t Mormon but was rather raised in the home of a conservative Baptist family. While I can no longer subscribe to the specific faith tradition I was raised in, I still identify more broadly as a Christian. The past few years, I have had to work hard at deconstructing my faith to determine what I believed because of tradition and what I actually believe. This last fall, I was on a trip with two good friends and we listened to this podcast in the car. I’m not usually a crier, but I felt so much relief and personal validation through this introduction to God the mother, that I found myself crying in the car as we drove across the desert. Having grown up in a faith community with actual lists of things that women could/couldn’t do in church, I appreciate so much the idea that the way I am is not apart from God or lesser than a male. I don’t think it is wise or helpful to think of God as either/or but both/and and am trying to shift my thoughts and what I teach our kids in that direction.
I got goosebumps reading about your experience learning about the idea of God the Mother. Those kind of transformative spiritual experiences are amazing.
So interesting – must be in the ether. Just last week in conversation I said that I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for there to be significant gender distinctions in eternity (and tbh, I added “significant” for more delicate sensibilities). I agree that gender seems very earthly/cultural construct and a particularity of mortal bodies.
I don’t know that I’ve consciously thought of God as gender-less but in thinking about it, that’s probably a pretty accurate articulation, and I wonder if it’s an extension of reading scriptures, etc that only speak/refer to man/men. We read man/men as genderless so as to be included – I think it follows that that would extend to the reading of God.
“We read man/men as genderless so as to be included – I think it follows that that would extend to the reading of God.”
I like how you put that.
I am asking this respectfully but how do you reconcile the idea of a “Heavenly Mother” with a church that seems rooted in patriarchy? The leadership of the LDS church is all men, right – from the Quorum down to stake level? Are you able to express these ideas in your local congregation?
I am interested in the answer to your question as well.
Hmmm. Good question. I suppose growing up as a Mormon, and being taught from birth that Heavenly Mother not only exists but is God the Father’s equal, is one of the big reasons so many Mormon women are fighting against the current patriarchal system in the church.
As far as church leadership goes, yes, there are way more men than women, but there are also a lot a leadership positions that are held by women. The big difference is that only Mormon men are currently allowed to have the Priesthood. Somewhere in the 1900s the church started associating certain leadership positions with the priesthood (which in my opinion was a big mistake and has caused a whole lot of unnecessary problems). Whenever there’s a leadership position that’s not associated with priesthood, it’s typically filled by a woman.
And yes, I am able to express my thoughts quite freely in my local congregation — in fact, there are people in my congregation that read my blog. But there are certainly other Mormon congregations I’ve lived in where it would be harder to speak freely.
I need to get this book! I love this whole discussion. I also feel that there are unnecessary and correctable problems caused by women not being in more leadership positions in the LDS church. I also love that things change and historically women in the church have always done things the way that they feel is correct. The doctrine of a heavenly mother is so beautiful and growing up with this knowledge has allowed me to feel able and empowered.
I am LDS. Growing up, my dad would discuss Heavenly Mother. Not all the time and it was usually centered on certain topic such as the Creation, the Godhood, the Priesthood, the Plan of Salvation, he would mention Heavenly Mother. He really loves the hymn O My Father and the earlier church history sources that mention Her, and he used those to teach me.
He also would take extra institute and religion courses, even after he graduated college. When I was in middle school he drove several hours to BYU to attend a religious course. This professor attended a divinity school to earn a degree in theology and read Hebrew and Greek. The professor and my dad would spend hours talk after class ended, and the professor wrote down versus in the Old Testament that used the female form of the noun Elohim and any associated verbs. I also recall him talking about how the Tree of Life was a representation of a female God. My dad was so excited to share that with my sister and I. I wish I still had that paper, because it was so fascinating.
However, my Dad (perhaps as he only had two daughters) was also quite big on making sure we were empowered within the Gospel. I remember one time needing a blessing and he said, “I will be happy to give you a blessing, but I want you to know your mom is praying for you, and the prayers of a mother outweigh any prayer I could offer you.” He would also ask my mom for her thoughts on what to include in the traditional father’s blessing before school.
So, all that to say: I do believe in a Heavenly Mother and imagine that Her role was quite active in the Creation and continues to be quite active now.. However, at this same time, I am not personally fussed that we don’t speak of Her within church at large anymore, but I wish we would for those girls and women who crave that as a part of their spiritual feasting. I’m not sure if any of that makes sense!
I think it would be so great for more LDS girls to have their fathers teach this way. I love that. The reality for me was that my father was not an active member my entire youth. He is now, but just to realize that my mom’s prayers were just as powerful as a father’s blessing is not a concept I have thought that heavily on. Yet, I completely agree with you. We also have many pioneer stories with women that could heal and used significant power. I wonder if our society has really just pushed the patriarchal perspective above all else.
I would like to go back and do some more studying on the earlier teachings about Heavenly Mother. I know there is talk about her, but I want to do more research on my own now. What a wonderful and empowering experience you were raised with!
“I am not personally fussed that we don’t speak of Her within church at large anymore, but I wish we would for those girls and women who crave that as a part of their spiritual feasting”
I like that focus. If it would help people on their spiritual journey, then why not? What would be the harm, right?
I don’t think there would be any harm, but I’m very much a “come as you are, how can we help each other grow, big-tent Mormon”. :)
Whitney, I am reading this months after you commented as part of Gabrielle’s list of “Best Design Mom Discussions”. You might enjoy the writings of Valerie Hudson Cassler at squaretwo.org. (She actually wrote pretty extensively about Gabrielle’s abortion post.) Valerie is a feminist who loves our doctrine of a Mother in Heaven and writes a lot about Eve, the place of women in the plan of salvation, etc.
Two Trees article
So glad you mentioned Rachel’s book of poetry! It’s been a balm for my soul! In Mormon doctrine, we are taught that we were created in the image of God. That lends me to believe that not only do we of course have a Mother in Heaven, but that gender is important in the eternities. I think there are beautiful and amazing qualities in the male and female archetypes. I think where we run into trouble as a Mormon culture is when we assume only gender *roles*. Does that make sense? Heavenly Father (and Christ for that matter) have many stereotypical female qualities. And I assume Mother has many stereotypical male qualities. But oh how I yearn to learn more of her! I think She wants to be known. A commenter above mentioned studying scripture in Greek and Hebrew. I remember reading that better translations of those show that God is actually better translated at Heavenly Parents, or that it is referring to a male and female. Lots and lots to learn here! I bring Her up as much as I can in my lessons to youth at church :)
“I think there are beautiful and amazing qualities in the male and female archetypes.”
I agree. And I wish we could describe people and places and things as feminine or masculine without feeling like the words come with so much baggage.
As far as gender importance in the eternities, do you have any thoughts on people who don’t recognize themselves as either male or female? When I think about it, I feel that focusing on gender isn’t inclusive.
The idea of a female counterpart to God really appeals to me, but I don’t think of God as having a gender. I’m able to authentically talk about God in the same way most Christians do, and I feel fine saying “He,” but in reality, I don’t even think of God as necessarily a “being” in the sense that many people describe Him. I think of God more as some supernatural force/energy/spirit that connects us all and is omnipresent, so I relate most deeply to the Holy Spirit (who seems the most genderless of the trinity).
My mom has always felt a strong connection to Mary, and so I grew up with that influence, but I didn’t really understand Mary and why she is so important until my husband explained the catholic viewpoint.
I was introduced to the Mormon concept of Heavenly Mother by a friend of my mom’s, who told us about it on the way to visit a newly constructed temple in Oklahoma. I found it really compelling, but I was bothered by her explanation of why Heavenly Mother is not spoken of very often now or in the Bible–she said that it’s because God wanted to protect Her. Applying the same male-dominating roles to Mother and Father God was disturbing to me. I guess it just seems like They would be able to transcend that, you know? I’m not sure if this is a common explanation or not, but I just wanted to mention it because it seems interesting. It’s also what I thought of as I read Song of Creation–a really lovely poem, but also further reinforcement of those typical gender roles.
It is a common explanation for why Heavenly Mother is not talked about, but I’m pretty sure it has no basis in the LDS church’s doctrine. It’s one of those things that the doctrine doesn’t have an answer for, so culturally people make up explanations that may or may not help people feel better.
Personally I hate this explanation. I don’t believe my Heavenly Mother is some shrinking violet that needs to be protected. I have a lot of questions about why we don’t know more about Her, and I wonder what might have been different for women in societies throughout the ages if God was acknowledged to be a partnership of a heavenly man and woman.
This very topic came up at the poetry reading and M is right — that explanation is a harmful part of Mormon folklore and has nothing to back it up. If and when Mormons spread this thinking, it needs to be shut down and corrected.
Thanks for explaining. I wasn’t sure if it was common or not. I found it to be an unfortunate explanation at the time because an idea that should have felt empowering for me (and especially my mom — because I know she would love the idea of a Mother God), was deflated by that comment.
A related thought–I’ve noticed before that among Christians the idea of being “made in God’s image” is sometimes distorted to become “He is made in ours.” We (and I say this because I’m sure I’m guilty too) give a lot of attributes to God that we have. To hear some people speak He’s an old man in the sky. I’ve heard others paint a picture of someone who just sounds like a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher from the south. I always think of God as the pure embodiment of love and compassion–I’m sure because I’ve seen my father be so incredibly compassionate toward people who by most accounts don’t deserve it.
Point being–I wonder if gender is another manifestation of this idea–giving God human attributes? And perhaps the ones we most relate to?
This conversation is so interesting. I have been thinking a lot about gender recently in general. I am a woman married to a man but have struggled significantly lately with a strong attraction toward women. If I had to describe it, I would say that I am attracted to people in general, not gender. However, this is hard to explain, especially as I work in a religious environment where God is always a “he.” But in my heart, I think God (she/he/it/they)?understands.
Not that you’re looking for an identity label, but I have the idea that “pansexual” is the term for being “attracted to people in general.” Though I don’t actually know if that’s true. I need to look it up.
This is not a Christian concept—that there is someone apart from the Trinity who is God. It’s one of the key reasons I wonder why Mormons want to be called Christian. Your church strays from fundamental and key concepts that Christians have believed for 2000 years.
Sounds like we have different definitions of what it means to be Christian. For me, anyone who wants to take on the name of Christ and follow His teachings is Christian.
As for incorporating God the Mother into the Godhead, I’ve heard lots of different interpretations from people of various Christian sects. The two that stand out most are a) viewing The Holy Spirit as Heavenly Mother, and b) thinking about God the Father and God the Mother as one united Being — this is based on early versions of the word God that are genderless or encompass both genders.
Not sure if you intended it to, but your comment came off as combative to me. Why would you care if a Mormon who wants to follow Christ, and wants to spread Christ’s message of love and forgiveness, calls themselves a Christian? How does that hurt you?
Gabrielle, it’s always hard to judge a person’s intent on the comments and her question didn’t sound combative to me, more like an observation. I’m Mormon, but her observation is correct: our view of the godhead is different and it can seem like we don’t worship the same God. But you are right, we are all on the same page here, trying to spread love and kindness! So many great comments on this post!
Heidi, I can see how it seems like it may not be combative at face value, but even as a non-Mormon I know there is a lot of history (and private pain I’m sure) behind the idea that Mormons aren’t Christians. I have heard a lot of evangelicals say this in a really awful way and in the same sentence as “polygamists” and “cult” and a lot of other negative and ignorant words.
To me its akin to a fundamentalist Christian calling a Catholic a “cannibal” to their face or saying “Jews killed Jesus” to a Jewish person. It comes with a lot of baggage. It also lacks a basic sensitivity to the unique experience religion is for each person. I don’t believe in Heavenly Mother, but I recognize how empowering She would be for some Mormons, and I think that’s wonderful.
Heidi, I just re-read your comment–I had missed that you are Mormon the first couple of times. I hope I didn’t come off as trying to school you in your own religion. :) I’m sure you know all too well all the negative things people say.
My point is still the same, though…that even as a non-Mormon, it is really hard for me to not read Andrea’s comment as combative because I’ve heard that said so many times. Also because I’ve been called “not a Christian” for any number of things (voting democrat, marrying a Catholic, not being devout enough, not believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible, etc.), so this is a trigger for me too. In my experience, who can be called a “Christian” and who can’t be has become a weapon.
I really liked your response to this comment. I don’t know if Andrea meant to be combative or not, but it did feel to me as a slight to someone who wants to follow Christ.
Seems like Andrea believes that only those Christians that have adopted the Trinitarian view or Nicene Creed have a right to call themselves Christians. But she’s just adopted a view of Christianity that was intended to differentiate “others” who’s visions of Christianity were not accepted or acceptable. It’s a way to say you are more pure and worthy of being a followers of Christ (and taking on his name), and others are less so.
It is patently offensive and needs to stop. It’s 2018 and people can define their own identity based on what they authentically believe.
Melissa: I know the depictions of female attributes to God in the Bible and understand that our conception of God is limited when we ascribe human attributes to God. I don’t say God is a man, but I also don’t think that there four “people” in the Trinity: God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus and a Heavenly Mother. Mormon theology is so far removed from what any Christian would understand that it’s not correct for Mormons to insist that they are Christians in the way Christians have defined themselves for thousands of years.
Andrea, I think you may want to read your Bible again. There certainly is a feminine face of God in the Bible. Enjoy finding it!
I attend a Unitarian Universalist church and my girls hear stories from multiple world religions in their Spirit Play (Sunday School) class. My 4 yo heard me use the male pronoun once referring to God and was taken aback “Mommy I thought God was a girl.” I have not assigned a gender to her idea of God but rather encourage her sense of mystery and curiosity.
Recently, she has come to think of God as a boy. And honestly I’m a bit sad that her understanding has changed somehow. Not once in my spiritual journey through the 80s/90s and beyond did I consider a female influence in the church. How might I have seen the world differently?
“Not once in my spiritual journey through the 80s/90s and beyond did I consider a female influence in the church. How might I have seen the world differently?”
Totally. That’s such a key question.
LDS views on the subject are here.
I actually welcome the role differences. I like praying to a loving Heavenly Father. When I want, I can connect with my Heavenly Mother in my own way. I don’t expect these Heavenly Parents to be matchy-matchy any more than I ever wanted my physical parents to play identical roles. For me, while my mom and dad were both equal in importance and impact, their very differences enriched me.
Very nice comments from everyone.
“For me, while my mom and dad were both equal in importance and impact, their very differences enriched me.”
I agree with this. Same experience for me.
I suppose for me, I don’t find value in thinking of God the Father and God the Mother in parenting roles at all. Any concept I have of parenting is totally earth-bound and heavily weighted by the culture I live in. I’ve never liked picturing Gods in a “mom” or “dad” role — though I understand many people find that concept really comforting or appealing.
I love your comment. I agree, I look to connect with my parents in different ways. I think there is a lot of mystery and lack of discussion in Mormon culture on how or why or if it’s appropriate to connect with Heavenly Mother separately from Heavenly Father, but I think it would be meaningful for me if this type of dialogue was a more regular part of LDS discussion. Let’s hope it’s something that come up across the pulpit more!
Oops. Sorry to repost your link, DM.
Also Mormon here, and I’ve thought a lot about this recently. As I’ve read more about our Heavenly parents, I agree with another comment made that I think our Heavenly Mother is sad that she seems to have been forgotten or deemphasized in the church. LDS Living recently had an article about our Heavenly Mother that was based off a paper written by some LDS scholars that was so interesting and clarified so much of what I have learned about her.
As I read the scriptures and go to the temple, I’ve searched for mentions and references to her (keeping in mind like others have said that often times God refers to Gods in the plural sense, meaning both Heavenly parents). My own patriarchal blessing explicitly mentions my Heavenly Mother and Father and has been such a fountain of knowledge for me. In all this, I’ve found that learning more about her has significantly helped me understand myself and my divine nature. It’s harder for me to see myself in Heavenly Father, but so natural to see myself in our Heavenly Mother. For example, considering the atonement of Christ from her perspective gives me a much richer understanding of the sacrifice that was made by both of our Heavenly parents.
As the hymn says, “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 words to this hymn are just spine tingling. One of my favorites for sure!)
“It’s harder for me to see myself in Heavenly Father, but so natural to see myself in our Heavenly Mother.”
That seem very understandable to me.
As an LDS woman I’ve always been very apathetic to the Heavenly Mother discussion. I’m not sure why, maybe because my own mother was not warm or nurturing in any way. When people (female and male) want me to get all worked up about feminist issues in the church, I can’t help feeling that they become far more preachy than those they rail against. This is just in general– I haven’t read this particular book of poetry, but I did read my mother’s Carol Lynn Pearson books when I was younger and they depress the hell out of me. Sorry :)
Okay, so we have a Mother in Heaven– how does this change our lives, exactly? Does it change the scriptures we read? Does it change who we pray to? Does it change anything at all in our lives? To me, it’s yet another intellectual construct to breed anger for no good reason. All this trend will lead to is more excommunications, just like the “women in the priesthood” movement & a thousand other movements before it. How is this a step forward?
I will try to find this book of poetry and see if it generates any interest on the subject. For beautiful, intellectually rigorous writings on Mormon thought, I would recommend finding a copy of Eugene England’s essays. Yes, he is a male. Thanks for this post Garbrielle — I love your wide-ranging topics of interest!
I very much appreciate Eugene England’s writings — and even had the pleasure of taking a class from him in college.
I think acknowledging, learning about, and worshipping a Heavenly Mother would change people’s lives significantly. It would change the way we pray in a wonderful way. It would change the harmful ways we view women. It would change the harmful ways we treat women. It would change the harmful ways women are taught to view themselves.
Actively worshipping God the Mother could go a long way in helping to dismantle patriarchy — something I’m very keen to do.
What if we reverse the question: How does learning about Heavenly Mother hurt you? How would women holding the priesthood hurt you?
I am an Episcopalian and it frustrates me that, while the current most prevalent theology of the denomination would say that god is genderless, the liturgy still uses He most often, and that is, of course, what the majority of the people hear. I know a new prayer book is in the works, and I look forward to seeing how the language is changed. The idea that God is male has bothered me for as long as I can remember, and I make a practice of using gender neutral terminology when reciting the Nicene Creed, etc. But then there are all of the hymns, many of which I do love, that also make God a he. Sigh. I mentor a four year seminar called Education for Ministry that encourages adults to learn to think theologically…what do you believe, why do you believe it, what is your ministry?…and it has formed my theology so much more than years of church have. I have a new model for “doing church” in my head, and I’d love to sit down with the Presiding Bishop and talk to him about it!
Oh. I’ve never heard the term “think theologically,” but I love the way you describe it. I think many Mormons I know who have gone through faith transitions have had to answer those questions for themselves. I think it would be wonderful if all people took time to wrestle with those questions.
Yes, I wish all people of faith, and even those who are just interested academically, would have the time to wrestle with the questions. You really learn a lot about yourself, and it can profoundly affect how you think about and treat others and all of creation.
I’m Mormon and my personal belief is that god= 2 heavenly parents who work perfectly together, each contributing their personal strengths (though if they’re both perfect, is everything a strength? Don’t know exactly :). It doesn’t seem really radical to me, but I think it does get tricky when we try to break things down too specifically because there’s so much we don’t know and people tend to divide roles/perceived attributes along what i would consider gender stereotypes.
It doesn’t sound radical to me either, but I know that definitions of the Godhead can certainly get people riled up.
Judaism has something like this as well — the Shekhinah, the feminine in-dwelling of God. It’s a really beautiful set of associations with the divine.
Thanks for the link — I haven’t heard of Shekhinah before.
What a wonderful discussion and post! I am LDS and have always wondered why women aren’t more prominent in the Bible and Book of Mormon, in the discussion of God, the creation of the earth, etc. As a woman I know without a doubt I am important and contribute something unique to the world. Because I’m a woman I have had different life experiences than men and I’ve felt that God knew or intended it to be that way, so in that respect I believe gender plays a very important role.
Regardless of whether God is gender less, a partnership with a Heavenly Mother, or all one with the trinity, all I know is that for me, growing up without many female religious role models was detrimental to my view of how God sees me. And certainly if there had been discussions or views expressed that God was both female and male or a partnership with both I don’t think I would have questioned my worth the way I have. And I wonder how many other women have had the same experience. I don’t want that to be the case for my daughters, especially because it isn’t true.
I’m not familiar with all religions but one thing is sure for me, we need to do better in the Mormon church. I have my own ideas of how we could do better and I hope one day I will have the opportunity to be part of the change.
But overall I want to express how important I feel discussions like these are and how grateful I am for voices like yours, Gabrielle, that make us all think.
“Regardless of whether God is gender less, a partnership with a Heavenly Mother, or all one with the trinity, all I know is that for me, growing up without many female religious role models was detrimental to my view of how God sees me. And certainly if there had been discussions or views expressed that God was both female and male or a partnership with both I don’t think I would have questioned my worth the way I have. ”
I love how you stated that so much.
Being brought up in the Hindu faith, I have always been exposed to male and female Gods and Goddesses, and even some who do not have a gender! So this question intrigued me, because believing in female God has always been a part of my life. Our Gods and Goddesses are considered equal and that is one facet of Hinduism that I absolutely adore (I do not want to get started here about things I don’t :))
I was hoping someone of the Hindu faith would comment because I remember being delighted when I learned about the Hindu Goddesses. I’d love to know more about the genderless Hindu Gods. I’ll have to go look them up.
Wiki has a great post about the genderless and the bigender Hindu Gods.
Thanks for this thought provoking post! I love reading such things. on Design Mom
For reference, I’m a member of the United Methodist Church.
I will occasionally hear a minister , discuss the female aspect of god, or use female pronouns when just talking about God (and usually these are female ministers, but not always). Likewise, it was discussed somewhat in our Sunday school too. The main point that I see brought up a lot on this topic-and one I’m surprised hasn’t come up here- is that the Bible has been translated. Many times by many different people, and over the thousands of years, either by mistake or deliberate choice, sometimes things get mistranslated or obscured. A lot of the original Hebrew or Greek, when referring to God, seem to use both male and female pronouns, or use language that seems to specify a female aspect (usually by mentioning the womb, depicting creation as birth, or referring to nursing mothers).
I found it really fascinating, but mostly academic (probably because, like you, I don’t really think of God as having a gender). But this post has me really thinking about how acknowledging, and discussing actively, that female aspect of God could be important in women’s identity and journey with their faith, as well as change some power structures in faith institutions.
Yes. Totally. The words we use matter, and they have real effects on real lives. And that goes for translations of the Bible as well. If the feminine translations and aspects had been emphasized instead of downplayed (or erased) over the last 2000 years, how would our society be different now?
I am formerly Mormon, and now if I think of god at all it’s definitely not even a person anymore, but more of just the life force that connects us all.
I get that.
I struggle with this. Sometimes a genderless god makes sense to me. Sometimes sexed partners make sense to me. Sometimes something -ANYTHING- that doesn’t make any sense at all makes the most sense to me. (A God I can conceive must not be a God that conceived me kind of thing.) I’ve got lots of thoughts on this. I won’t bore anyone with them. But I have to say that in practical terms….if we do not embrace a Heavenly Mother, if we subscribe to a genderless God? In our current climate, I think the losers will be those that identify as women and those that don’t identify as a specific gender. It shouldn’t be this way, but in a patriarchal society the default is male. This is true all the way back to the ancient Greeks. (Woman was considered an aberration of man.) So, at least right now, I think a “genderless” God would by default read male, enforce male authority, be used as an excuse to not promote the Other (women, non-binary). Of course it should do the opposite, but there it is. I don’t think we’ve moved past a time where we NEED a specifically female God. Whether this reflects the truths of eternity or the truths of our time is a totally confusing mixed bag for me. So right now, to my kids, I emphasize the partnership of a God the Father and God the Mother but don’t spend any time ascribing specific roles to either of them. I’ve also found myself concentrating more and more on God’s love and Christ’s love and less and less on anything like predetermined, eternal roles. I can begin to understand Christ’s love. I can seek to do good works assisted by the light of Christ’s love. I can throw myself and my burdens at the feet of Christ’s love. The rest? It’s going to have to shake out later for me, I think.
“if we do not embrace a Heavenly Mother, if we subscribe to a genderless God? In our current climate, I think the losers will be those that identify as women and those that don’t identify as a specific gender. It shouldn’t be this way, but in a patriarchal society the default is male. ”
Oh my. That is giving me lots of think about. Even if my own current concept of God is genderless, maybe it’s more beneficial for humans in general to bring attention to the concept of God the Mother.
I love that you are willing to ask the difficult questions and put yourself out there, and I find that even the most controversial topics are approached so respectfully and thoughtfully on this blog that it truly makes the world a better place! Thank you for that.
I’m a dad with three daughters and once I remember driving home from work thinking about the future of my daughters, and the thought popped into my head “I hope my daughters leave the church when they are older.” I immediately reprimanded myself for even having such a thought! I was an temple-recommend holding Mormon after all. But still, if I pictured the life and experiences I wanted my girls to have, and the life and experiences of the vast majority of Mormon women I knew, they didn’t match up in my mind and I thought that was sad. This was during a time when women in the church were actively pushing for greater roles, and it shocked me the negative response they were getting. Especially considering the church’s history with racial roles where black men and women couldn’t attend temples or have the priesthood.
I recently came across this eye-opening feminist blog post, called “Letter to a Mormon Man.” It’s incredible! At first reading it, it seemed silly, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks and actually moved me to tears thinking about the male privilege I had taken for granted.
Like you, I now have more nuanced views of God to the point where I’m not sure if God is genderless, human, or “just” a force of the universe. But I actually feel more at peace not “knowing” exactly what God’s nature is. Just respecting that there is a some kind of greater force out there that I don’t have to assign words or form to is a relief in so many ways.
Thank you for the kind words, Phil. I remember the first time I read that Letter to a Mormon Man. It’s really good. And I know lots of men read it and can’t make it past the first few paragraphs, feeling like it’s too gimicky. But if they stick with it — and feel the weight of the full 40 years — it’s really powerful.
I am Catholic. Growing up, I certainly believed God was male. I can’t say that that bothered me, though it might if I believed that now.
As a teen and adult person in my faith I was taught that God is Love. I prefer that lens. God is Love, genderless and colorless.
All human beings have equal value in the eyes of God, and we should strive to see our fellow humans in the way that God does.
“All human beings have equal value in the eyes of God, and we should strive to see our fellow humans in the way that God does.”
I’m Protestant, and I believe God transcends gender. The Bible says He made both man and woman in His own image. Christ also taught the disciples that “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Basically, God is much bigger and more complex than we are, and therefore completely outside a gender designation.
The sad reality is that even in my church where I know the pastors genuinely want to teach the Bible as accurately as possible, patriarchy and attitudes of male superiority sneak in. Since God is referred to as “he,” and leadership roles are reserved for men, I think many people subconsciously think men are more god-like than women are. In a perfect world, these attitudes of pride and superiority wouldn’t creep in. In the real world, I think it’s an unconscious assumption of many Christians.
“Since God is referred to as “he,” and leadership roles are reserved for men, I think many people subconsciously think men are more god-like than women are.”
Yes. I think that happens a lot. I wasn’t aware of it until my oldest daughter expressed this point of view when she was maybe 6 or 7 years old.
What a great question, Gabby! Thanks for having us talk about this.
I was raised in both the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches, but I was baptized Catholic when 7 and have been a practicing Catholic all my life. I tend to think of God as male, more because of the language of the Catholic Church: God the Father, He, etc. But like Kristin, I try to use “God” as much as I can instead of “He” because I think God is not male but both or more. I suppose I try to actually not think in terms of gender anyway because I consider God to be a mystery that we cannot really fathom and which cannot fit in our human boxes.
I recently learned about Chinese worldview that is symbolized in the yin-yang. In the West we think of things as black or white, either-or, one or the other. But in China, it’s both. You have both, you need both, and they are always in play with each other. For some reason this has deeply affected my way of seeing things around me, including politics and thorny issues affecting my community and country. And I see it at play here, too: God can be the both.
I will also add that I have always struggled with the Catholic Church’s take of women as priests. When I was in college, I asked a priest why women couldn’t be priests, and he replied that the priest represented Jesus as the bridegroom of the Church – or something to that matter. And that ticked me off. Like others have pointed out, isn’t God bigger than that? And are people so unimaginative that we have to see a man up at the altar so that we know the priest represents Jesus? Oy vey.
To finish my thoughts (rant?), I think the Catholic Church needs Mary as a key figure in its theology because of that need for a female presence in our faith. At times I feel uncomfortable praying for her intercessions because it can easily slide into praying to her. But I also think she is a powerful image of a woman of faith, especially when we recognize the strength and courage of her actions rather than seeing her as a meek maiden.
“But I also think she is a powerful image of a woman of faith, especially when we recognize the strength and courage of her actions rather than seeing her as a meek maiden.”
I love this.
In the Mormon Church, Mary isn’t emphasized much, but Mother Eve gets a starring role. Or, at least, when she comes up, she is typically talked of as the strong one in the relationship — willing to make the hard choice that needed to be made. It was nice to grow up thinking of Eve as strong and courageous instead of weak and sinful.
Love this topic and I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments. I’ve struggled with how to incorporate Her into my life but at the same time, I know she’s there. I learned that she was too sacred to discuss (growing up) and now, I’m like, wait a second. Tell me more about Her!
I loved the painting A Peaceful Heart by Michael Malm. It was in a church magazine at some point and I’ve had the picture taped to my wall for the past few years. I don’t know why. It brings me peace and makes me think of Her. She must be peaceful and patient, waiting for us to recognize her existence.
I hear that. I think we all crave different things from a Mother in Heaven. For me, I need her to be feminine and strong, powerful and outspoken, endlessly capable, with a loud voice, full of love, and someone who won’t put up with anyone’s crap. The best visual representation of her in my mind is probably Beyoncé.
I love that you said this!
When I saw this photo of Beyonce
I immediately thought of:
Book of Revelation 12:1–3: “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. The Queen of Heaven. Asherah.
Beyonce seems to emulate Her well!
A few years ago one of my close friends lost her 4-month old baby to a known heart defect. At his funeral she tearfully told how, for maybe the first time in her life, she felt the presence of her Heavenly Mother.
She is Mormon, i am an a-typical Mormon. And because we don’t talk much about her (in fact there is the belief that “we don’t talk about her in an effort to keep her name holy.”).
So naturally my ears perked up when she said this over the pulpit. She went on to say, “wouldn’t a mother come to comfort us when we are grieving such a loss? As mothers, could we stand by as our child suffered and not come close to draw them into us?”
That idea has never left me. Because she is never spoken of and because we, as Mormons, are always striving to be like Christ, i never thought about how my instinct to hug my wounded child or pull them close to me or empathize with their feelings might actually exist because of her.
I wish she were talked about and explained and acknowledged. I didn’t realize how never talking about her created a deep acceptance of not having my own equal purpose in the Mormon faith.
What a beautiful comment. Thank you.
Margaret Barker’s book The Mother of the Lord was fascinating. Many of my ideas about a female Goddess coalesce when, after learning what symbols and language were used for Her, I was surprised to find Her everywhere in scripture and hymn. I used to wonder why we didn’t talk of Her, now I wonder at how often we do without realizing it! God/Elohim/Family/Love is genderless for me and wholly inclusive. Elyon/Father/male, Elshaddi/Mother/female, Yahweh/Lord/child. The limiting nature of language and the male pronouns supporting the perpetuation of patriarchy is a severely limiting problem. One I hope we can overcome sooner rather than later.
“The limiting nature of language and the male pronouns supporting the perpetuation of patriarchy is a severely limiting problem.”
Yes! I’m sure we don’t really fathom how much the language we’ve used for centuries has damaged us.
Wonderful post and the comments are so thoughtful! Thank you everyone! Over the past couple of years, I’ve really been working on the god of my understanding. One day, she just popped into my heart! “Louise” connects all of us and is in the light. This might not be a very evolved concept but for me, reconnecting to God comfortably required me to label God a her. I’ve noticed, that as my relationship has developed, I find my subconscious dropping the gender pronouns. It’s just wonderful to connect to a higher power no matter how one sees it. Why would we take that away from someone based on he/she?!?!?
Raised Catholic and currently Jewish. Growing up, God was an old white guy with a furrowed brow and always angry.
Last year I read “The Shack”. In the book it is explained that God is everyone and we are all God. That resonated with me. I honestly don’t believe it’s one person in Heaven calling all the shots, like a Heavenly Wizard behind the green curtain. I also no longer believe in praying for Divine Intervention or trying to understand “why God allows this tragedy and that illness”.
I briefly scanned the comments and didn’t see any mention of Steenblick’s poetry book, Mother’s Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother. https://www.amazon.com/Mothers-Milk-Rachel-Hunt-Steenblik/dp/0998605220
I’ve had it on my to-read list for a while, but haven’t read it yet. I wonder how it equates to Dove Song. Either seems like it’d be a cool Mothers’ Day gift among LDS women.
I am late to this post (was on vacation!) so I don’t know if you’ll see this, Gabrielle, but I wondered what Mormon teachings on the Church as a female figure, the “Bride of Christ”, are. I was raised, and continue, in the evangelical Protestant community, with a lot of complementarianism taught. In churches and seminaries I’ve been a part of, God is always referred to as male, and the references in the New Testament to the church being the Bride of Christ, the one that God pursues and wins back, were very emphasized. Is there anything like that in Mormonism at all? I realize that it’s very hard for me to think of God as genderless for this reason; it’s ingrained in me to think of Him as male.
At the risk of seeming simple, I will ask: For Mormons, doesn’t the First Vision pretty much clear this up? God is male. Christ is male. We also believe we have a Heavenly Mother who is very much divine. That’s it. My simple understanding.
I’ve been thinking about this post a bit lately, and been meaning to come back and comment on it, and then you linked to it in your post yesterday! I don’t believe God is genderless, but neither do I believe that God is male or female. I believe that God is beyond gender. I know some might say that means genderless, but I think there’s a difference. Because we were created in God’s image, I think God’s nature includes both male and female characteristics, but God himself (and yes, I use the male pronoun because it’s classic, not because I think God is male) is beyond gender.
I have been reading the book “The Mother Heart of God” and HIGHLY recommend it. I also read “The Forgotten Feminine” and it also is a good book about God and gender.
The first time someone told me I was made in God’s image I KNEW that god was a woman. I think I was 4 or 5 at the time I am 73 now and have never changed my mind.