“Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose”, so states 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.” Many feminists want to talk about her. The funny thing about this, however, is we have been told that we should not talk about Heavenly Mother.
At a recent Sunstone presentation, however, Marina N. Capella and Christian Anderson questioned whether God is really gendered at all. In their abstract, they wrote
The Mormon theology of a Heavenly Mother has been widely discussed as a transcendent and empowering doctrine, especially among Mormon feminists. While we recognize that this can be a valuable paradigm for many, this panel will discuss some of its implications. For example, what does a heterosexual god-couple imply for same-gender couples? Would feminizing some attributes through a goddess figure impair the development of those traits in men? Does eternal gender (and associated eternal attributes) abrogate hopes for egalitarian institutions?
They think that God transcends gender. Here are my notes from their presentation. They start with 5 main points, and then expand on these points.
- All essential attributes of a God are already present in the traditional godhead.
- There are many attributes important to mortal identity that are NOT important to God’s identity, including sex and gender.
- The doctrine of a Divine Feminine can have negative implications
- The concept of a post-sexual God has several positive implications.
- This argument is part of a wider cultural shift in the meaning of sex and gender.
They started off by saying that God doesn’t need to be feminine or masculine. God transcends gender. They noted that some people need a non-white God, but others are shocked by it. If God is male, women need female example. If we insist on god with parts and passions, we privilege certain a characteristics (sex) over other characteristics such as race/disability. They think some people need a multi=gendered god, a disabled god, a god with blue eyes, a god who struggles with weight. This is creating God in our own image, and they suggest a post-sexual god that can represent a full spectrum. This is better than a million gods in our own image. Many social groups shape identity. Gender is the most fundamental. There are social disadvantages of not belonging to group.
They note that there is nothing women experience that God did not. God understands the pain of birth, cramps, rape, abortion, and referenced a quote by Chieko Okazaka regarding this point. Of course there is a difference between male and female. Many people long for divine feminine, but to do so is to commit to women to be different immortal souls. This seems dangerous because we have already dismissed the concept of “separate but equal.” This shouldn’t be acceptable in heaven. Complementary roles don’t apply to God. Why does god needs woman? Vice versa? In post-family proclamation church, God can be different.
The emphasis on heavenly mother is a construct of nuclear families. There is a hyper-focus on one type of family, which is possessed by less than 50% of members, and just 2% outside of the United States. The nuclear family creates hierarchy, and pro-family messages are made at expense of other resources. We focus too much on genetic relationships, rather than all of mankind. The marginalized majority are inferior forevermore.
They reject idea that women can’t be like God the Father because of sex. We have gender baggage. One of the benefits of a post-sexual god – it makes possible of homosexual families that can adopt multiple genders. They also noted that 1% of babies born are sexually ambiguous., and in the animal kingdom, a certain species had 13 different sexes. This challenges the belief of a singular heavenly mother. In the future, humans may be able to reproduce in more than one way. It is plausible that humans may outgrow traditional reproduction. While marriage is the highest degree of exaltation, we don’t have unequal sex roles in heaven. They also noted that fertility is not requirement for temple sealing. Marriage is living a life of love.
They then gave a history of feminism. In First Wave Feminism, occuring in the 19th-20th century, feminists sought for an increase in legal protections and the right to vote. In the 1960s Second Wave Feminism lasted through 1990s and sought to remove sexual oppression. They sought for female only spaces in order to flourish. Third Wave Feminists in the 1990s to present reject categories of gender. While 2nd wave made it ok for females to enter the workforce with males, 3rd wave feminism rejects the feminine/masculine because of the extreme privileging.
They say we no longer need to think of ourselves as masculine and feminine. The Anglican Church refers to God as he or she alternatively. A gendered god is alien that none of the rest of Christianity believes. If god is male, male is god. This is a fallacy of prejudiced humans. Because of this, it is important for some to picture God as female. Because we live in gendered world, we want a female god. Some have had visions of heavenly mother. They don’t long for them but encourage exploration and encourage us to all thing of a Heavenly Other. They reject that sex is a characteristic of gods, and feel like this is a product of 1950s humans. There could be heavenly parents, but we shouldn’t worry about their sex.
Janice Allred was the respondent, and is the author of God the Mother and Other Theological Essays. She said Christian and Marina had raised important issues and concerns, but noted 3 important points. Jesus Christ is revelation of God to humanity, a living being, not a construct. She noted that humans do create images of God to understand God and it is good to explore conceptions of God. We need to remember that God reveals himself to us. He loves us. He dwells with us to redeem us in making us equal to each other. Jesus is in a male body, and was a resurrected male. This is not only a sign of victory over death, but an essential part of mission. It is possible to come again to participate in life of this world. Jesus represents all persons, male and female. Scriptures emphasize male and female. There is an established female partner.
Embodiment is essential. Many reject embodied God because they think it makes God limited. In order to create universe, God renounced omnipotence to create. Roles shouldn’t be fixed by gender. We need to make sure all have opportunities. Equality can only be achieved by honoring agency. God the Father and Mother fulfill all roles of Deity. Both participate in all roles of God. Gender is a complex issue. Difference feminism argued for equal rights, concerned that traditional feminist characteristics were devalued.
Janice does believe in a Heavenly Mother. Do we need god the mother? We need to open our heart to receive the gifts of the Spirit of God. If we believe she ought not to be, how can she reveal herself to us?
What are your reactions to these talks?
“Many feminists want to talk about her. The funny thing about this, however, is we have been told that we should not talk about Heavenly Mother.”
But are we really told not to talk about Her? Paulsen and Pulido would disagree (see: https://byustudies.byu.edu/showtitle.aspx?title=8669 ).
Niklas, While I am familiar with the article you cited, I’d like to ask you to do an experiment and report back the results.
(1) start your prayer at church addressing “Heavenly Mother”
(2) plan lesson at Priesthood, Relief Society, or Sunday School where you talk about Heavenly Mother for the entire hour.
(3) Make a comment in one of the classes stating “I heard Asherah is the Hebrew name for Heavenly Mother”
Then come back here and tell me what happened.
(1) That is more than just talk about Heavenly Mother.
(2) I actually think that this would go well in my ward.
(3) To associate Asherah with Heavenly Mother is not that trouble-free.
Number one is blasphemy because we have been told by God and his prophets to worship Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ by the power the Holy Ghost. To talk about something is to discuss and doesn’t mean worship. As for the other two, try talking about anything deeper than Sunday School lessons in church. It is easier to talk about Heavenly Mother than it is polygamy.
Regarding #1, is Heavenly Mother equal, or subordinate to Heavenly Father? There was a poll at W&T a while back asking about this. See http://www.wheatandtares.org/18559/heavenly-mother-weekend-poll/
If she is equal, then why can’t we pray to her? (I need a reason other than “Pres Hinckley said so.” What is the reason this is blasphemy?)
If she is subordinate, why do you think so?
Regarding #2 and 3, I’d love to hear your lesson regarding Daniel Peterson’s article, Nephi and his Asherah. There is also a few interesting references to Asherah. See
Niklas, I’d really like to visit your ward and hear your lesson, as well as reactions to it–specifically if you showed the Youtube clip. What time and where do you meet?
Here is an interesting talk from William Dever to a bunch of Mormons.