By Eric Johnson
In a general conference address given at the women’s session on Saturday evening April 2nd, LDS Apostle Dale Renlund discussed the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, one that is rarely ever addressed by the all-male general authority members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that all human beings, male and female, are beloved spirit children of heavenly parents, a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. This understanding is rooted in scriptural and prophetic teachings about the nature of God, our relationship to Deity, and the godly potential of men and women. The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is a cherished and distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.
While scriptural verses are used in several points in one of the shortest essays produced by the church, not a single reference overtly supports the doctrine. Retired BYU professor Charles Harrell is correct when he noted,
The doctrine that God, through a procreative act involving a heavenly mother, is the literal father of our spirits expresses the most fundamental and important relationship between God and humankind in LDS theology. Surprisingly, however, nowhere is this doctrine explicitly taught in any of the standard works, neither is it found in any of Joseph Smith’s recorded teachings (‘This is my Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology, 138).
What Leaders Have Taught About Heavenly Mother
The pedigree for this doctrine only goes back to the turn of the 20th century. According to Apostle Neal A. Maxwell, the teaching did not originate with Joseph Smith but rather Mormonism’s fifth president:
In other dispensations, the truths given to us through modern prophets about a Heavenly Mother were not stressed, so far as surviving records show, but in this dispensation the Lord gave us this doctrinal truth through a prophet, Lorenzo Snow, whose sister, Eliza R. Snow, expressed it in her hymn “O My Father” (Things As They Really Are, 67).
Despite the fact that Heavenly Mother is never mentioned once in the Standard Works, there appears to be an assumption that such a teaching is true. Retired BYU professor Victor L. Ludlow explained,
A Heavenly Mother shares parenthood with the Heavenly Father. This concept leads Latter-day Saints to believe that she is like him in glory, perfection, compassion, wisdom, and holiness (Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel, 145-146).
The idea is assumed by the general authorities as well. For instance, sixth President Joseph F. Smith referenced polygamy when he taught,
We expect to have our wives and husbands in eternity. We expect our children will acknowledge us as their fathers and mothers in eternity. I expect this; I look for nothing else. Without it, I could not be happy. The thought or belief that I should be denied this privilege hereafter would make me miserable from this moment. I never could be happy again without the hope that I shall enjoy the society of my wives and children in eternity . . . —Journal of Discourses, Vol. 25, 1884, pp. 51-60 (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 65).
Notice, Smith “expect(s)” to have marriage continue or else, he claimed, he “could not be happy” and would instead be “miserable.” His logic, it seems, is that if Heavenly Father gets to have his wives and families with him throughout eternity, then he along with other faithful Latter-day Saints are somehow owed the same privilege.
Eleventh President Harold B. Lee asked a question to show how reasonable the doctrine seemed to him:
Now, the fact that you and I are here in mortal bodies is evidence that we were among those who were in that great concourse of organized intelligences; we knew God, our Father. He was our Heavenly Father; we were sired by Him. We had a Heavenly Mother—can you think of having a father without a mother? (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 22).
The next president, Spencer W. Kimball, was happy to make the same assumption:
Men and women in the image of heavenly parents. God made man in his own image and certainly he made woman in the image of his wife partner. You [women] are daughters of God. You are precious. You are made in the image of our heavenly Mother (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 25. Brackets in original).
According to Kimball, women are “certainly” made “in the image of heavenly Mother.” Of course, the Bible says that all people were made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). If women are made “in the image of his wife partner,” couldn’t this comment be taken to say that Heavenly Mother ought to have equal status with the Father–at least among females? Yet LDS leaders demand to suppress any homage given to Heavenly Mother despite having no scriptural justification to quash any adoration.
Renlund’s take on Heavenly Mother
At the end of March 2022, Renlund dealt with Heavenly Mother in a social media video where he said that the disciples were allowed to pray only to Heavenly Father, not to Heavenly Mother. (Fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley taught the same thing at the October 1991 general conference in his talk titled “Daughters of God.”) He explained that it could be “wonderful to sit back and make up all kinds of comforting doctrines, but latter-day prophets are constrained not to do that.”
Renlund borrowed the Young Woman’s theme in his April 2, 2022 talk that says “I am a beloved daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and eternal destiny.” After giving the first of his four points describing “a beloved daughter,” Renlund focused his second point on how everyone has “heavenly parents, a father and a mother.”
He said that “the doctrine of a Heavenly Mother comes by revelation and is a distinctive belief among Latter-day Saints.” (He does not explain which “revelation” he is referencing.) Renlund then stated the obvious, saying how “very little little has been revealed about Mother in Heaven.” pointing to the Gospel Topics Essay on the doctrine as apparently the most complete official information on this teaching. What he said next is quite amazing: “Once you’ve read what’s there, you’ll know everything I know about the subject. I wish I knew more.”
You’ll know everything I know? I wish I knew more? Since the essay really offers very little about the doctrine, it appears the apostle–one of the top leaders in Mormonism–understands next to nothing about a topic that certainly seems to be important for many of his followers.
Jesus said in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Commenting on this verse, Joseph Smith explained,
If any man does not know God, and inquires what kind of a being he is,–if he will search diligently his own heart–if the declaration of Jesus and the apostles be true, he will realize that he has not eternal life, for there can be eternal life on no other principle (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 388).
In his 1844 King Follett discourse—claimed by some to be the most important sermon Smith ever gave–the church founder said, “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see” (ibid., 390).
If knowing God and Jesus is eternal life, as John 17:3 says, and if Smith came to take away the veil so people could better understand God, it would seem the Father would want His children to know more about their Mother–if she really exists. Yet Jesus never once references a Mother God or even infers such a thing. And, again, neither did Joseph Smith.
Observing that his listeners “may still have questions and want to find more answers,” Renlund encouraged Mormons to seek “greater understanding” before warning,
Reason cannot replace revelation. Speculation won’t lead to greater spiritual knowledge, but it can lead us to deception or divert us and divert our focus from what has been revealed. For example, the Savior taught His disciples: “always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:19). We follow this pattern and direct our worship to our Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother.
How many feminist Mormons all over the word who revere Heavenly Mother placed their palms on their foreheads when this was said? After all, I’m sure they would argue, if worship is offered to the Father, why can’t adoration be offered to Heavenly Mother? Since the Book of Mormon cited by Renlund never references Heavenly Mother, how could this verse be used to prove that Heavenly Mother does not desire prayer? While Jesus taught His followers to pray to the Father, this does not mean praying to the Mother ought to be excluded.
Yet the LDS leaders who have been called (supposedly) to be a direct line to God Himself have very little to tell us about Heavenly Mother while admitting it’s not really a doctrine with any scriptural backing with any support from the first four church presidents! I have to laugh when I read what tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
The fact that there is no reference to a mother in heaven either in the Bible, Book of Mormon or D&C, is not sufficient proof that no such thing as a mother did exist there. If we had a Father, which we did, for all of these records speak of him, then does not good common sense tell us that we must have had a mother there also? (Answers to Gospel Questions 3:142).
He also said,
In Genesis we read: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26-27.) Is it not feasible to believe that female spirits were created in the image of a “Mother in Heaven”? (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions 3:144).
Doesn’t what Smith said seem to involve more “reason” rather than “revelation”? Declaring something as “common sense” and “feasible” cannot be synonymous with prophetic revelation, can it? This is a church that claims to have all authority but acts if it has no authority at all.
Then, using the story of Balaam, Renlund explain how the LDS leaders “don’t fabricate doctrines made up of their own mind or teach what hasn’t been revealed.” In words meant to critique those Latter-day Saints who have (in his mind) put Heavenly Mother on a pedestal she doesn’t belong on, he declared that “demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and unproductive. Instead, we wait on the Lord and His timetable to reveal His truths by the means that He has established.”
Truly, these words are nothing less than a cop out. If Renlund had nothing to add to what little is already known about Heavenly Mother, I wonder why he even brought up the topic in the first place. Mormonism appears to be stuck with this teaching; while leaders like Renlund probably wish it would go away, it won’t. The leaders really owe it to their followers to give better reasons why this goddess is practically ignored despite the fact that, in Mormonism, she is DNA “God” as much as the Father. Does she approve of being ignored by her children?
Later in the talk, Renlund encouraged members to be part of the “Lord’s team” in what could be taken as patronizing:
All members of the Church are needed as witnesses of God. Imagine a soccer match in which only the goalie protects the goal. Without the help of the other team players, the goalie will not be able to adequately defend the goal and the team will always lose. So, too, everyone is needed on the Lord’s team.
Renlund’s talk was obviously aimed at those who have taken the Heavenly Mother doctrine further than he would like. If he meant to reach out an olive branch for those who treat Heavenly Mother with more reverence and awe than they ought, his approach falls short.
As it has been stated, Renlund’s comments ought to be taken as a smack down to some members of the church. Could this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for some who are on the fence and may end up leaving Mormonism? It is very sad because those who leave will probably end up in atheism or New Age thought.
If Heavenly Mother is a real being, why can’t the LDS leadership provide more description about her? Instead, she remains an “unspoken truth” who apparently is a persona non grata in the heavenly parentage unit. It almost seems as if God the Father is keeping Heavenly Mother and His other wives as the best-kept member of the parental team. And until it can be better explained why this teaching is even a part of Mormonism, it is a problem the leaders will continue to have.
For MRM’s Sharon Lindbloom’s excellent perspective from 2021, visit Heavenly Mother: “A Cherished and Distinctive Belief Among Latter-day Saints.”