Gospel Topics Essay: Mother In Heaven
By Eric Johnson
To see an introduction to the Gospel Topics essays, click here.
The entire essay is printed below, underlined, with my commentary included throughout. Because I will try to be short and to the point as much as possible, a number of sites (many from MRM) to support my disagreement are included. I encourage interested readers to consider these sources.
To hear a 3-part Viewpoint on Mormonism Podcast on this Gospel Topics essay that aired November 16-18, 2015, click the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
Also, check out this Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast that originally aired on March 4, 2020 Saints: The Standard of Truth Part 23: Heavenly Mother
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 is what is called Preexistence/Premortality in Mormonism. A reference manual states, “The teaching of preexistence (also called premortality) says that ‘prior to their birth into mortality, all people were begotten spirit children of God and lived with him’” (LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference, p. 498). In fact, “of all the major Christian churches, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ” (Ensign, February 2006, p. 304).
Seventy Lawrence E. Corbridge explained, “Everything did not begin at birth. You lived before the presence of God as His son or daughter and prepared for this mortal life” (Ensign, May 2014, p. 103). Seventy Adhemar Damiani wrote, “Before this world was organized, we had spirit bodies and lived in a premortal world with Heavenly Father, the father of our spirits. We knew Him personally just as He knows us. He desired that we become as He is—having eternal life and exaltation” (Ensign, March 2004, pp. 8-9).
Everything that is living existed in the preexistence:
A distinctive LDS teaching today regarding preexistence is that all living things—humans, animals, plant life, and even the earth itself—had a preexistence as spirits. The idea that the trillions upon trillions of insects and noxious weeds have spirits that existed for aeons prior to their fleeting and seemingly insignificant existence on earth is a curious thought. Even more astounding is the notion that they will be resurrected to immortal glory at some unspecified time in the future (Charles Harrell, “This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology, p. 212).
In an April 2013 general conference talk titled “Your Wonderful Journey Home,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, taught:
Back in that first estate, you knew with absolute certainty that God existed because you saw and heard Him. You knew Jesus Christ, who would become the Lamb of God. You had faith in Him. And you knew that your destiny was not to stay in the security of your premortal home. As much as you loved that eternal sphere, you knew you wanted and needed to embark on a journey. You would depart from the arms of your Father, pass through a veil of forgetfulness, receive a mortal body, and learn and experience things that hopefully would help you grow to become more like Father in Heaven and return to His presence (Ensign, May 2013, p. 126).
One thing that the essay does not allude to is the idea that there are (plural) mothers in heaven. However, it has been taught that God the Father is polygamous. For instance, President Harold B. Lee allowed for the plurality of God’s wives when he wrote:
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, p. 22).
Notice how he said “a” Heavenly Mother. Mormon Apostle Orson Pratt explained, “If none but Gods will be permitted to multiply immortal children, it follows that each God must have one or more wives” (The Seer, p. 158). Pratt also said,
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, as His Only Begotten in this world. We have also proved 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; and that God the Father has already begotten many thousand millions of sons and daughters and sent them into this world to take tabernacles; and that God the Son has the promise that “of the increase of his government there shall be no end;” it being expressly declared that the children of one of His Queens should be made Princes in all the earth” (Ibid, p. 172).
The many wives of God–or Heavenly Mothers— produced the spirit children of Elohim. This is called eternal increase. The 1976 church manual Achieving a Celestial Marriage provides the meaning of this unique LDS term:
By definition exaltation includes the ability to procreate the family unit throughout eternity. This our Father in heaven has power to do. His marriage partner is our mother in heaven. We are their spirit children, born to them in the bonds of celestial marriage ( p. 129).
The idea is that God populated his spirit world with spirits birthed through his wives. In the same way, faithful Mormons are told they will want to populate their worlds, but “the Continuation of the Seeds Is Dependent on Celestial Marriage and a Celestial Resurrection” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 135).
As a side note, it needs to be pointed out that if the doctrine of preexistence is true, all humanity must have had the same father but a different mother. Thus, while Mormons are taught that everyone born onto this earth is related at the preexistence, the odds are almost 100% that those you know did not come from the same Heavenly Mother!
According to Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, the teaching of polygamy “will commence again after the Second Coming of the Son of Man”(Mormon Doctrine, p. 578). This appears to be necessary if a man (or potential god) wants to populate the new world that he will receive in an exalted life. Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
In order for mankind to obtain salvation and exaltation it is necessary for them to obtain bodies in this world, and pass through the experiences and schooling that are found only in mortality. The Lord has said that his great work and glory is, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Without mortality this great blessing could not be accomplished. Therefore, worlds are created and peopled with the children of God, and they are granted the privilege to pass through the mortal existence, with the great gift of agency in their possession. Through this gift they choose good or choose evil, and thus receive a reward of merit in the eternities to come (Doctrines of Salvation 1:113).
Patriarch Eldred G. Smith explained,
And so through the power of the priesthood the man has the opportunity of obtaining that degree of perfection by which he may create worlds and populate them with his own offspring (BYU Speeches of the Year, March 10, 1964, p. 7).
LDS apologist David Ridges puts it into layman’s terms by writing,
Those who live worthy to become gods (D&C 132:20) will live as husbands and wives eternally and will have the blessing of “eternal increase,”in other words, of having unlimited number of spirit children. Spirit children will be born to them as offspring (Acts 17:28-29), just as we were to our heavenly parents (Hebrews 12:9). This is also referred to as “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19). As gods, they will create worlds for their spirit children and send them through the same “great plan of happiness” (Alma 42:8) that the Father has in place for us (Mormon Beliefs and Doctrines Made Easier, p. 88).
This teaching has been advocated in general conference talks, including this one by Henry B. Eyring in 2002 when he quoted twelfth President Spencer W. Kimball:
Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things “so we may one day create worlds [and] people and govern them (Henry B. Eyring, “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, October 2002, p. 21).
Church manuals also advocate the teaching that new worlds will be created by those inhabiting celestial glory, including this one published in 2013 that is as official as it comes:
THEY SHALL ORGANIZE WORLDS AND RULE OVER THEM. “Only a short time before his death, President Snow visited the Brigham Young University [then Brigham Young Academy], at Provo. President Brimhall escorted the party through one of the buildings; he wanted to reach the assembly room as soon as possible, as the students had already gathered. They were going through one of the kindergarten rooms; President Brimhall had reached the door and was about to open it and go on when President Snow said: “Wait a moment, President Brimhall, I want to see these children at work; what are they doing?” Brother Brimhall replied that they were making clay spheres. “That is very interesting,” the President said. “I want to watch them.” He quietly watched the children for several minutes and then lifted a little girl, perhaps six years of age, and stood her on a table. He then took the clay sphere from her hand, and, turning to Brother Brimhall, said: “President Brimhall, these children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods” (Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, 658–59) (Presidents of the Church Student Manual: Religion 345, 2013, pp. 90-91).
Sometimes Mormons like to use Paul’s words given to the Athenians in the book of Acts as support for the idea that humans are the literal “offspring” of God from a previous existence. In Acts 17:16-34, Paul addresses the philosophers and leaders of Greek gods and goddesses at Mars Hill in Athens. Instead of worshiping the “unknown God,” he explains in verse 23, his desire is to share the Lord of heaven and earth. In order to make his point, he uses no support from scriptural passages, only pagan writers. This makes sense because, in this context, these religious folks had no desire to look up Old Testament passages because these would not have been authoritative to them.
Verse 29 reads, “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by human design and skill.” Is this possibly a reference to the preexistence of human beings? The answer is “no” for several reasons.
First of all, Paul is not explaining that all humans came from a previous spirit world, but rather all have been created for a purpose. Verses 26 and 27 say,
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
Second, we must remember the context. Paul is doing his best to describe the simple gospel truth to men who were pagan at heart. He certainly is not wanting them to read into his words, and he provides no description of a premortal existence. Instead, his focus is on this “unknown God” and how it’s possible to have a relationship with Him.
Third, there is no biblical proof (outside of selected proof texts like this) to support the notion that people existed as spirits in a previous life and that their birth was predicated on their behavior in this state. This also was not the standard teaching of the early Christian church or of Christians throughout the centuries. This sounds more like an Eastern idea involving karma and reincarnation than a Christian belief.
A passages used in the footnotes is Romans 8:16-17. It reads,
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Right before the quoted passage above, the Bible refers to these “children” as being “adopted,” and thus they are not by nature children (read by Mormonism as “spirits”) from a previous realm who were born into this world. According to Ephesians 1:5, “he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” Sinners who have trusted Christ for their salvation can receive forgiveness of their sins.
The Bible teaches that humans were not children of “Heavenly Parents” in a preexistent state. Rather, people become children of God through faith. For instance:
John 1:12: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to “them that believe on his name.”
Galatians 3:26: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”
1 John 3:1-2: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
Also see Gal. 4:5-6 and Ephesians 1:5.
Second, we reject that “heirs of God” and “co-heirs of Christ” refers to exaltation. One Christian book refers to this as “an inheritance of all spiritual blessings in this life (Eph. 1:3), and all the riches of God’s glorious kingdom in the next life (1 Cor. 3:21-23)” (When Cultists Ask, 218). This is referred to by Christians as “glorification.” If people could become gods of their own right, then it would seem that the Bible would have much more to say about this topic and be clearer. However, much has to be read into this passage to make it say something the original author never intended.
To show a number of quotes where LDS leaders have taught that verses like Romans 8:16-17 support the idea of becoming gods and having worlds upon which to populate, see here. Another article found on the UTLM website can be located here.
For a podcast on this topic, listen to a Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast on December 26, 2013 featuring special guest Rob Bowman here.
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.
Bruce R. McConkie said the idea of a Heavenly Mother is an “unspoken truth” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 578). This is because the doctrine is not taught in LDS scripture, as admitted by BYU professor Charles Harrell:
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, p. 138).
However, Mormon leaders teach that doctrine should only come through the Standard Works. According to the church manual Gospel Principles,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts four books as scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These books are called the standard works of the Church. The inspired words of our living prophets are also accepted as scripture (p. 45).
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith minimizes this absence of a single mention in any scripture when he explained,
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).
Still, there are plenty of references explaining how Mormons have a Heavenly Father. This cannot be debated. But if the LDS scripture are silent—as LDS leaders have been for many years now until this essay was published—then how can the Mormon know for sure there is even such a person known as Heavenly Mother?
Before going any further, it is important to point out how the Bible teaches how worshipping any other god than the one true God is nothing less than idolatry (even if there are no stone or gold idols involved). Referring to the pagan nations surrounding Israel, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary states,
The pagan nations made statues or images to represent the powers they worshiped. Most of these idols were in the form of animals or human beings. But sometimes the idols represented celestial powers, like the sun, moon, and stars; forces of nature, like the sea and the rain; or life forces, like death and truth. . . . According to the Old Testament, God is a jealous God who permits no rivals (p. 508).
While there were a variety of gods depending on the time period and nations that were involved with Israel, some of the most often-mentioned gods are Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chr. 15:16; Judges 3:7). The very existence of these gods is denied by the Bible. In fact, the only true God existing in this universe is Yahweh. Consider Isaiah 43:10:
Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.
Isaiah 44:6, 8 says:
Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. . . . Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
And Isaiah 45:5 explains,
I am the Lord, and there is none else
A Mormon might say that these verses only prohibits worshipping other gods. Since Heavenly Mother is not worshiped, this would, there is no prohibition in believing in her. While it’s true that no other god should be worshiped, these verses explain that there are no other gods in existence. Whether she’s called a “Heavenly Parent,” a “goddess,” or ????, it doesn’t matter. There is no other god, period. Deuteronomy 6:4 is called the Shemah, which is repeated regularly in Jewish congregations all over the world. It says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.” Jesus cited this verse in Mark 12:29. Monotheism teaches that not only is the one God supposed to be worshiped, but also that there is only one God in existence. Acknowledging any other “god” is prohibited.
By promoting God having a partner, the LDS Church does no better than the Canaanites did by pairing Asherah with Baal. The very concept is paganism at its core.
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 earliest published references to the doctrine appeared shortly after Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, in documents written by his close associates. 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.” This text declares: “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 footnote states:
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. (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], 15–16.)
This is what is called “hearsay.” Since when does doctrine come from a private teaching of a leader to those who don’t even have priesthood authority? The doctrine of a Mother in Heaven is not a minor teaching. If anyone should have been aware of this teaching enough to have it included in LDS scripture, Joseph Smith would certainly seem to be the man. The hymn referenced in the essay, “O My Father,” didn’t come out until 1845, a year after Smith was dead. Besides these supposed personal teachings, we have no evidence to support the case that Smith believed in Heavenly Mother. Actually, we have more evidence in the “Adam God” teaching by Brigham Young as having more authority than the doctrine of the Heavenly Mother. Read more about the Adam God doctrine.
Subsequent Church leaders have affirmed the existence of a Mother in Heaven. In 1909, the First Presidency taught that “all men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity.” Susa Young Gates, a prominent leader in the Church, wrote in 1920 that Joseph Smith’s visions and teachings revealed the truth that “the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father.”
This statement contradicts what was said in the previous paragraph:
While there is no record of a formal revelation to Joseph Smith on this doctrine,
So if there is no formal revelation of God giving this teaching to Joseph Smith–as attested by that sentence–is the Latter-day Saint really supposed to accept that this was a true teaching of Smith? What evidence is there? Which D&C passage shows this is true? Besides Smith supposedly telling some women that this was a true teaching, there is nothing official that can be pointed out to show this was a teaching by Smith. Again, what we have here is hearsay.
And in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” issued in 1995, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared, “Each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
Prophets have taught that our heavenly parents work together for the salvation of the human family. “We are part of a divine plan designed by Heavenly Parents who love us,” taught Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Harold B. Lee stated, “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned, probably, than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”
Ballard is an apostle, not a prophet. (It reads “prophets have taught….”) Lee was prophet decades ago. It’s interesting that the Heavenly Mother teaching is rarely mentioned today by any leader or in church manuals. To prove this point, consider the introductory manual Gospel Principles, which was published in 2009. The entire first chapter is all about “Our Heavenly Father.” It explains on page 5 how God the Father is “the Great Parent of the universe.” Quoting Joseph Smith, the manual states how He “looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard” (pp. 5-6). The reader is also told that it is possible to “know God if we will believe that He exists. . . “ Nowhere in the entire chapter is even one mention made of “Heavenly Mother” or even “parents.”
The next chapter (2) covers “Our Heavenly Family.” If Heavenly Mother didn’t get a single mention in chapter 1, certainly it would make sense that this is the perfect place. The chapter starts out:
God is not only our Ruler and Creator; He is also our Heavenly Father. All men and women are literally the sons and daughters of God. (p. 9)
The next quote provides a quote from Joseph F. Smith who referred to “heavenly parents,” a term used two other times in this chapter. However, the proper name for “Heavenly Mother” is nowhere to be found, even though this chapter uses the phrases “Heavenly Father” and “Father in Heaven” a dozen times. Of course, there is no doubt that the concept of Heavenly Mother is inferred with “heavenly parents,” but if Heavenly Mother’s name isn’t even mentioned in rudimentary chapters on God and the preexistent family, then how can novice believers be expected to know her name? It sounds theologically sexist.
If you go to the index of Gospel Principles and look under “Heavenly Father,” you will find a dozen reference points, including his attributes, body, people made in His image, ruler of all things, and work and glory. “Heavenly Mother” is not even listed in the index!
Page 11 of Gospel Principles of chapter 2 mentions how “our Heavenly Father called a Grand Council to present His plan for our progression. We learned that if we followed His plan, we would become like Him.” But is it really true that all faithful LDS believers can “become like Him”? About half of all Latter-day Saints are female. How could they ever become like Heavenly Father? Certainly she could become “a god,” just as her husband, but is she able to attain the exalted state of her husband where she not only serves as a parent god but is worshipped as being God? Provided she does everything required of her, the very best a female can receive is heavenly motherhood. She is destined in her future godhood realm never to garner even one reference in any standard work. While she will be known as a “heavenly parent,” rarely will she be called “mother.” Prayers from her spirit children will never be directed to her. In essence, she is not allowed to have any personal contact with these former spirits-turned-human. Her children will not be encouraged by their church leadership to ever ponder Heavenly Mother once leaving the spirit world. Can you imagine a mother who is abandoned by her children in such a way? It would be a lonely existence.
Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother.
Since “Heavenly Mother” has been all but ignored for decades, why would any Latter-day Saint even be tempted to direct worship or prayer to Heavenly Mother? But why shouldn’t she be worshipped? If she did her part and “our heavenly parents work together for the salvation of the human family,” shouldn’t she receive some of the credit? Do Mormons not worship or pray to her because she’s not worthy? Or because LDS scripture doesn’t say they should? This begs the question: Where in the Book of Mormon or the D&C does it say not to pray to Heavenly Mother?
In this, they follow the pattern set by Jesus Christ, who taught His disciples to “always pray unto the Father in my name.”
Out of all people, Jesus must have known there was a “Heavenly Mother.” Why is she never mentioned by Jesus? And while Jesus did teach that we should pray to the Father, where did He preclude praying to the other parent as well? The assumption goes both ways.
Latter-day Saints are taught to pray to Heavenly Father, but as President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” Indeed, as Elder Rudger Clawson wrote, “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal Prototype.”
Again, the question is “why not pray to her”? No good reason is given in this essay.
As with many other truths of the gospel, our present knowledge about a Mother in Heaven is limited.
For good reason: The concept of a Mother in Heaven is never mentioned in the Standard Works, even the Bible. (Yes, this is a major point.) Imagine if a child never called her mother “Mom” but just called her “Parent.” In the Gospel Principles manual, there is not a single mention to “Heavenly Mother”—shouldn’t that be considered a slap in Heavenly Mother’s face? If there really is a Mother in Heaven and the general membership’s knowledge is limited, shouldn’t the LDS leadership—with its ability to gather modern-day revelation—provide more details about this mysterious lady? A short essay that few Latter-day Saints will ever look up is just not sufficient if there really is a Mother in Heaven.
Nevertheless, we have been given sufficient knowledge to appreciate the sacredness of this doctrine and to comprehend the divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents. Latter-day Saints believe that this pattern is reflected in Paul’s statement that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” Men and women cannot be exalted without each other. Just as we have a Father in Heaven, we have a Mother in Heaven. As Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.”
If LDS theology “begins with heavenly parents,” then it seems more emphasis ought to be given to half of the couple (Heavenly Mother). Church leaders don’t give any reasons why this is the case.