An essay on Heavenly Mother was added on 23 Oct 2015 to the Topical Guide of the LDS.org website. It is found here: Mother in Heaven
The Mother in Heaven doctrinal belief is not generally criticized by knowledgeable critics or former members. Evangelical, or mainstream Christians may take exception to the belief, but it is still a somewhat obscure doctrine that generally escapes scrutiny. Also, unlike some of the other essays by the Church, this essay doesn't share anything new to the average LDS member. Although rarely formally discussed, the doctrine was not "hidden" from the average member like polyandry or the Book of Mormon translation process.
Not only is this essay short, only six paragraphs long, it is relevant to note the complete lack of historical support for the concept of a Heavenly Mother even being doctrine. Additionally, the essay completely neglects to mention anything about how there must be multiple Mothers in Heaven because of the statements made by Church leaders that our Heavenly Father has multiple wives. A MormonThink editor responds to the essay below.
The first paragraph indicates that this understanding is rooted in scripture. However, the scriptures footnoted (even the unique LDS scriptures) say nothing about a female deity. (Genesis 1:26–27; Moses 3:4–7; Romans 8:16–17; Psalm 82:6; Doctrine and Covenants 132:19–20.)
The first two of those scriptures reference the creation of man, which LDS doctrine teaches was carried out only by males, particularly God the Father and Jesus Christ. See the following references:
The essay readily admits there is no historical evidence to support that Joseph Smith ever taught a Heavenly Mother doctrine. The essay relies on a third-hand account to give credence that maybe Joseph Smith mentioned it. In other words, the teaching is based on hearsay. The second paragraph states:
While there is no record of a formal revelation to Joseph Smith on this doctrine, some early Latter-day Saint women recalled that he personally taught them about a Mother in Heaven.
The use of the word "some" seems to stretch things a bit because the footnote references only one woman's one recollection to support this:
Zina Diantha Huntington Young recalled that when her mother died in 1839, Joseph Smith consoled her by telling her that in heaven she would see her own mother again and become acquainted with her eternal Mother.
The statement that "Zina Diantha Huntington Young recalled," is inaccurate based on the footnote source they give: History of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The way the essay's footnote is worded sounds like it is Zina herself providing the information that she "recalled." However, what the source actually says, is:
It [the story about Zina being told about an Eternal Mother] was told by Aunt Zina D. Young to the writer as to many others during her life.
Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911], p. 16.
So what we have is an unspecified author (mostly attributed to Susa Young, but there were multiple contributors to the book) who heard Zina tell her about the incident. At the time the book was written (1911), it had been about ten years since Zina herself had died (1901), so the author is relying on her memory of something that Zina told her at least ten years previously. The event of Joseph Smith supposedly telling Zina was 72 years previous to the publication and had been given second-hand. It sounds like it should at least be taken with a grain of salt.
The earliest published references to the doctrine appeared shortly after Joseph Smith's death in 1844, in documents written by his close associates.
This is why it is important to read the essay footnotes, as using the term "documents" in Church essays generally conjures up the image of a revelation recorded by a scribe, or some draft of the Doctrine & Covenants, or something more substantial rather than just a simple poem or hymn.
The footnote references W. W. Phelps' poem published in the Times and Seasons on January 15, 1845, "Come to Me." This poem was written for the dedication of the new Seventies Hall in Nauvoo and was performed at that dedication in December 1844. The sixth stanza:
Come to me; here's the myst'ry that man hath not seen;
Here's our Father in heaven, and Mother, the Queen;
Here are worlds that have been, and the worlds yet to be;
Here's eternity,—endless; amen: Come to me.
W. W. Phelps, "Come to Me," in "Poetry, for the Times and Seasons," Times and Seasons 6 (Jan. 15, 1845), p. 783.
W W Phelps was a writer, poet and editor. Although he worked closely with Joseph Smith, he was not an apostle or prophet.
Eleven months after W W Phelps introduced his poem to the Saints at the dedication, and ten months after its publication in the Times and Seasons, Eliza Snow's poem appeared in the November Times and Seasons as "My Father In Heaven.".
The essay does not specifically state that Eliza Snow also received this teaching by Joseph Smith, but the essay seems to imply this:
The most notable expression of the idea is found in a poem by Eliza R. Snow, entitled "My Father in Heaven" and now known as the hymn "O My Father."
Although teachings concerning Heavenly Mother can't be traced directly to Joseph Smith, the fact that we have one of his plural wives (Eliza R. Snow) writing a poem that is sung today as a hymn, is enough to imply by the Church that the doctrine may be attributable to the possibility that Eliza received this teaching from her husband? A recollection of one of Joseph's plural wives is a weak basis to use to issue doctrine. For that matter, Joseph may have simply said something consoling to her and not something he received via revelation.
Wilford Woodruff, a confidant of Joseph Smith, an apostle, and while Prophet of the Church, said:
With regard to our position before we came here, I will say that we dwelt with the Father and with the Son, as expressed in the hymn, "O my Father," that has been sung here. That hymn is a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman—Sister Snow. There are a great many sisters have the spirit of revelation. There is no reason why they should not be inspired as well as men.
"Discourse by President Wilford Woodruff, October 8, 1893," Millennial Star 56 (April 9, 1894), p. 229.
President Woodruff, the prophet, said that the hymn was a revelation, but only acknowledges that we lived with the Father and the Son, not a Mother.
Joseph F. Smith, Woodruff's Second Counselor in the First Presidency, 16 months after Woodruff said the hymn was a revelation, said:
Our Heavenly Father has never yet to my knowledge revealed to this Church any great principle through a woman. Now, sisters, do not cast me off nor deny the faith, because I tell you that god has never revealed any great and essential truth for the guidance of the Latter-day Saints through any woman. "Oh! but," says one, "what about Eliza Snow's beautiful hymn, 'O my Father, Thou that dwellest,' etc? Did not the Lord reveal through her that great and glorious principle that we have a mother as well as a father in heaven? No. God revealed that principle to Joseph Smith; Joseph Smith revealed it to Eliza Snow Smith, his wife; and Eliza Snow was inspired, being a poet, to put it into verse. If we give anybody on earth credit for that, we give it to the Prophet Joseph Smith. But first of all we give it to God, who revealed it to His servant the Prophet. God reveals Himself and His truths through the channels of the Priesthood.
Joseph F. Smith, "Discourse Delivered at the Oneida Stake Conference, Franklin, Idaho, Sunday Afternoon, January 20th, 1895," as reported in The Deseret Evening News (February 9, 1895). Republished in The Deseret Weekly, No. 9, Vol. L. (February 16, 1895), p. 259.
Two men serving in the same presidency couldn't decide where the idea came from. In this case, does the prophet's words trump his counselor's words?
It is most likely that one poet, Eliza Snow, was inspired by a previous poet, W W Phelps. Regardless, if the Church were to base all of it's doctrine on second-hand accounts, the words of a poet, or the wives of prophets, they may need to revise all of their doctrine.
This doesn't appear to be a rock-solid foundation in which to build doctrine. Since Joseph never recorded anything about this doctrine, nor was it written about in the Doctrine & Covenants, it appears that the Mother in Heaven belief basically came into existence by future prophets relying on the ideas of regular members as they tried to reconcile the belief that men & women can become gods but how can that be if we only have a single, male God? The belief in a Heavenly Mother solves that dilemma. If the belief is true that men (and women) can become gods, then it is logical to assume that this process has been going on for some time so God must have some sort of female companion.
Decades after the poem and hymn were written, subsequent prophets more formally announced the Mother in Heaven belief as doctrine although generally preferring to use the term 'Heavenly Parents'. So regardless of the origins of the belief, it has become known as doctrine since at least 1909.
The concept of a Heavenly Mother can be a bit strange for some people to accept, but the idea of Heavenly Mothers (plural) is very unnerving. The prophets and early leaders of the Church have long taught that Heavenly Father does indeed have multiple wives. A few examples:
When our father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. He helped to make and organize this world.
"Self-Government—Mysteries—Recreation and Amusements, not in Themselves Sinful—Tithing—Adam, Our Father and Our God," Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 1, p. 50.
We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives, one or more being in eternity, by whom He begat our spirits as well as the spirit of Jesus His first Born, and another being upon the earth by whom He begat the tabernacle of Jesus (Mary - ed.), as his only begotten in the world. We have also probed most clearly that the Son followed the example of his Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings' daughters and many honorable wives were to be married. We have also proved that both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity as well as in time … If you do not want your morals corrupted, and your delicate ears shocked and your pious modesty put to the blush by the society of polygamists and their wives, do not venture near the New Earth; for polygamists will be honored there, and will be among the chief rulers in that Kingdom.
LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, Vol. 1, No. 11 (November 1853), p. 172.
If none but Gods will be permitted to multiply immortal children, it follows that each God must have one or more wives.
LDS Apostle Orson Pratt, The Seer, Vol. 1, No. 10 (October 1853), p. 158.
Logically, if God has multiple wives (as taught by many early LDS leaders) then although everyone has the same Father-in-Heaven, most people would have different 'Mothers-in-Heaven'. Perhaps that's one reason we're told not to pray to our Mother-in-Heaven as we wouldn't know which one.
Although unsavory speculation about God the Father being polygamously connected to multiple Mother-gods is not specifically refuted, it is also not raised, and is generally inconsistent with the way the idea is presented – note language like “our Mother” or “we have a Mother.” If it said “each of us has a Mother,” it would allow room for multiple Mothers, but “we have a Mother” does not. Similarly, “Just as we have a Father” implies a one-to-one correspondence, not many-to-one.
It should come as no surprise that women in the Church want to know more about Heavenly Mother and many were very disappointed in this six paragraph essay. Some excerpts from comments we've received are listed below:
—Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them. So what is a heavenly mother like? Cannot the prophet ask for us?
—It's a fine essay…if you're a man!
—100 years ago the definition of a heavenly mother would have been short and not at all complicated. Today they certainly take the easy way out by saying, 'We don't know right now, but trust us, it's great!'
—What if you're a woman? What, exactly, are you working toward? You are told in the LDS church that you need to prepare yourself here for exaltation in the world to come. And, to show women what that means, you have... nothing but men. The men will tell you what to do. You don't need to know about the Mother in Heaven, to know how to become like her. You just need to listen to the men.
—As a woman, I like the idea of a Mother in Heaven. I think she should be talked about more often. I think only a female deity can really understand the issues in my life. However, I feel somewhat betrayed that I cannot pray to her and the Brethren have not provided a really good reason why I can't do so.
—Over a long period of time I have come to expect much less than what I at one time hoped to receive. That is true. At least in the sense that I expect some kind of earth shattering answer to every question/concern I have. But I don't expect "nothing". I expect something. And that 'something' comes line upon line, here a little and there a little. And there have been times where it's been more than just a little...but not very often. So, yes, I suppose that expectations do play a part in how we perceive/understand what the success or failure rate is in regards to our "knocking" for answers and receiving. I would guess that church leaders at all levels struggle with this reality also. Just how much and how often and what should we expect when we "knock" with the hope that all things will be made known to us? Is it all at once? Is it a bit here and a bit there? Clearly this essay provided me with no more knowledge than I had before, except perhaps the lack of historical support that this is really doctrine.
—So did JS just not have time to record any knowledge about Heavenly Mother, co-creator of all humans that live and have ever lived on earth? JS wrote about many mundane things like telling people to avoid 'hot drinks', eat meat sparingly and developing code names for church members for the United Order (D&C 104). So why couldn't he take a few minutes to enlighten the members about the other half of our Heavenly Parents?
—President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.”12 However, there is nothing listed to back up this unsupported remark. The fact that she is never discussed, is not worshipped, and is not prayed to automatically infers that she is not as important as her male counterpart. There is the claim which members are taught their whole lives that Heavenly Mother is “too sacred” to be talked about or prayed to. But then why do members not even learn about her and worship her in the sacred temples even after all the pre-screening and conditions one meets to be able to get in there? Wouldn't that be the perfect place? And if we are allowed to pray to male-God, does that mean that God himself is not sacred? He commands us to worship him, so if it is important to him to be worshipped for some reason, why would he not wish this for his lovely female partner?
—How does our heavenly mother feel about being cut off? Does she even have a choice? Does this mean to women that we get bossed around and told what we can and can’t do even in heaven?
—Orson Pratt taught that God and Jesus inherit multiple wives. It doesn’t sound like wives have much choice. It’s SO degrading as a female to feel like you will be thrown into a group of women to be “inherited” by a man as another number in their harem. This doesn't make it sound like they will be equal partners in a heavenly parents arrangement in the next life.
The last paragraph of the essay states what has clearly been the theme of all of the Church essays:
As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited.
"Present Knowledge"? Are they implying that the Church leaders will gain knowledge on this subject in the future? This seems to be another "you'll find out when you die" kind of answer.
The prophets and apostles are reportedly able to receive revelation from an omniscient being. Yet there is no evidence that they are. In fact, the statement in question openly admits that on a very critical doctrinal question, they cannot tell us why they don't know more. It is the same thing we find in all of the Church essays. A prophet who cannot even tell us why he does not know something is indistinguishable from any other person with an opinion about that same issue or question. See MormonThink's section Prophets after Joseph as well as our piece "As if they were speaking for God."
In the past, LDS leaders have chided the Catholic Church for not really knowing the nature of God. Yet, the LDS leaders cannot really say anything about this unique belief of a Heavenly Mother other than it apparently came from an inspired hymn based on what one of Joseph's polygamous wives said Joseph told her.
We just think it's remarkably odd that a church claiming to be lead by prophets, seers, and revelators don't know much about their own unique beliefs. From our perspective, an LDS Church without prophets, seers, and revelators would be indistinguishable from the LDS Church with prophets, seers, and revelators.
This essay appears to be written by a historian and not by the prophet or apostles so the expectations of anything of any real substance and new enlightenment coming from this essay again falls short of many members' desires. The members who have written to MormonThink would like several things answered about this doctrine that the essay did not provide. Many expressed to know why Joseph did not record this in the D&C or why was no formal revelation recorded by Joseph's scribes? The true nature of God is perhaps the single most important thing a religion can answer, yet 99% of the basis for the Heavenly Mother belief comes from a hymn written after Joseph's death? To quote from this same hymn, "the thought makes reason stare!"