I haven't had much time at the computer and so when I finally got a chance to sit down yesterday afternoon I was so excited to see that this article "A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven" by David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido has finally been published in the BYU Studies Journal! About a year ago one of my professors from BYU shared a preliminary draft with me and told me that this paper was in the works. I was very moved the first time I read it and have been thinking a lot about this paper in the year since. I am so glad that it is finally available for others to read.
I think that in her review of the paper Valerie Hudson Cassler does a much better job explaining what this paper is all about. She says,
The article’s primary contribution is an inventory of every saying by Church leaders from the founding to the present concerning our Heavenly Mother. That the Latter-day Saint Church alone among all the Christianities asserts that just as we have a Father in Heaven, so we also have a Mother in Heaven, is well known. Latter-day Saints do not believe that God is an old bachelor—we believe that all divinity is both male and female, such that our Heavenly Father could not be a god unless there was an equally yoked Heavenly Mother by his side who was also a god. However, it is also true that you will not find Latter-day Saints saying much about their Heavenly Mother besides acknowledging her existence. Indeed, in LDS culture, you will sense that Latter-day Saints feel they are expected not to speak of her.
...Paulsen and Pulido persuasively argue that the conventional LDS cultural notion that we are not to speak of Heavenly Mother is, in fact, wrong. They are quick to add that speaking of Heavenly Mother should not be taken to include acts such as praying to Heavenly Mother. Nevertheless, Paulsen and Pulido have “restored the paths to walk in”—that is, by the very act of publishing this article in BYU Studies, they have opened a door for the membership of the Church to speak openly of their belief in a Heavenly Mother, and to assert that silence about Heavenly Mother is not “sacred,” but a cultural artifact which is not supported by the General Authorities of the Church.
... Before delving into the arguments made by Paulsen and Pulido, we must mention at the outset of this review that an important reason this article is path-breaking is because of the venue in which it was published. BYU Studies, for those who are not acquainted with that journal, is an official publication of Brigham Young University, and its board includes general authorities of the Church. In other words, it is in a league of its own, certainly no Sunstone or Dialogue, being scrupulously orthodox and formally affiliated with a Church institution, but also a different creature than the Ensign, being a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.
Personally I have never felt or been taught that it was wrong to talk about our Mother in Heaven, but maybe that was because of how I was raised. I remember being really astonished the first time that someone "called me out" for speaking too freely about her. I was even more surprised to discover that some of my faithful LDS friends had feeling of sadness or anger because they felt that she was "off limits" or "absent" from church teachings or from individual worship. I am so grateful for this article, sanctioned by General Authorities, that dispels that myth. It breaks my heart to think that there are women who have been feeling pain over a culturally constructed "silence" about their Mother in Heaven.
Our Mother in Heaven is not off limits, she is an important part of Later-day Saint doctrine and worship and it is proper and fitting that we should talk about her. I think that if there is any "danger" in talking about our Mother in Heaven it is temptation to speculate about her things that have not been revealed. We have been counseled not to pray to Her because we must follow the guidelines that God has laid out, and which Christ modeled, for proper worship. Nowhere in the scriptures does Christ, or anyone else, pray to our Mother in Heaven and so neither do we. In fact, the scriptures are abundantly abundant of examples of individuals and societies that have fallen into wickedness and destruction through the practice of idolatry-- which almost always included advanced forms of goddess worship.So while we are not separated or forbidden from knowing our Mother in Heaven we do need to make sure we are worshiping in the proper way that God has specified. Personally I wish that we knew more about her (and I am sure one day we will) but in the mean time we should not speculate on things that have not been revealed.
The wonderful thing about this paper is that the authors compile a beautiful list of everything that we do know about her. Happily, it was much more than I thought! They said,
In this paper we have briefly shown that historically there has been substantial discussion and elaboration on the roles and divinity of our Heavenly Mother, challenging academics’ claims that general authorities and other church leaders have limited Heavenly Mother’s role to reproduction. It also refutes the suspicion that they have advocated a position of sacred silence about her. We have found no record of a general authority advising us to be silent about our Heavenly Mother; indeed, as we have amply demonstrated, many general authorities have openly taught about her.Additionally, while some have claimed that historically Heavenly Mother’s role has been marginalized or trivialized, we feel that honest consideration of the actual historical data provides a much more elevated view of Heavenly Mother. The Heavenly Mother portrayed in the teachings we examined is indeed a procreator and parent, as well as a divine person, a co-creator, a co-director of the Plan of Salvation, and a guide in both this life and the next. Certainly, consideration of these points reinforces several important doctrines that we unquestioningly embrace, including divine embodiment, eternal families, divine relations, the deification of women, the eternal nature and value of gender, and the shared lineage of Gods and humans. Far from degrading either the Heavenly Feminine or the earthly feminine, we feel that these teachings exalt both.
“It doesn’t take from our worship of the Eternal Father, to adore our Eternal Mother, any more than it diminishes the love we bear our earthly fathers, to include our earthly mothers in our affections.” Rather, “we honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.”
So today as you honor and celebrate your earthly mothers don't forget to honor and celebrate your Divine Mother. She loves us, as much as our Father in Heaven does, and all mothers-- all women-- have been created in her image. That knowledge is incredible and is definitely something worth celebrating on Mother's Day!