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Caitlin Connolly Mother In Heaven | Heavenly Mother Should Be Joyful, Not Another Cultural Battle | Public Square Magazine | Mormon Heavenly Mother LDS | Heavenly Parents

Heavenly Mother Should Be Joyful, Not Another Cultural Battle

Is it possible to treasure what has been revealed about Heavenly Mother without descending into the kind of acrimonious debate we see online? Of course, it is, say Bethany and McArthur.
This is our second installment of Public Square Conversations, a series of questions we ask someone seeking to do some good in our larger conversation of faith (see our previous conversation with Mauli Bonner, “Celebrating Black Pioneers, Then and Now”)

Painting by Caitlin Connolly, “In Their Image” (2017), displayed at Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah

The doctrine of a Heavenly Mother is not unique to Latter-day Saints, with every world religion pointing in some way to the divine feminine. Even so, this is one element of our teaching that does differentiate us from other Christian faiths. As summarized in an official essay, “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.” 

It’s that essay that has bounded the work of McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, authors of the bestselling series “Girls Who Choose God” (Deseret Book, 2014), and Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families (Deseret Book, 2016). More recently, McArthur and Bethany collaborated on a two-part children’s book, “A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother” and “A Boy’s Guide to Heavenly Mother.”  

Having spent several hours with Bethany and McArthur recently, our editor Jacob was struck by not only their love for the gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ—but also by the tangible peace and joy you feel in their presence. Most of us on the Public Square team admittedly felt reservations about their work initially, based on experiences with others on the topic. This can be a difficult topic to know how to discuss in a faithful way. But we’ve been consistently struck by how intently these two women have been seeking to respect the line that Elder Dale Renlund underscored in his recent address: relishing revealed truth without getting drawn away by other potentially distracting possibilities.   

In short, we’ve sensed Bethany and McArthur represent a welcome departure from some of the anger witnessed in online discourse about this sacred subject, along with some of the recent media treatments about what this doctrine means for Latter-day Saint women. We wanted to know more about their experiences and how they would respond to some of the concerns lingering for people who are witnessing the acrimony online. 

This conversation has been edited for clarity.  

Jacob Hess: What is it that has motivated you to do so much on this topic?  

Bethany Brady Spalding: McArthur and I have both found tremendous joy, meaning, and purpose in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The restored gospel is bursting with truths that empower women, including the knowledge of a Heavenly Mother that reinforces for girls and women a clearer vision of their potential and eternal destiny. McArthur and I are each now raising girls, and we want to share with our daughters—and all daughters of God—these truths that have illuminated our lives.  

From the beginning of our writing career almost a decade ago, McArthur and I have been very deliberate about creating books that are faith-affirming and in alignment with current church teachings and doctrine. And that firm commitment has enabled all of our books to be published by or carried by Deseret Book. We want to be known as women who draw upon the restored gospel to inspire and celebrate women. 

We’ve been focusing our writing on the revealed truths about Heavenly Mother for a few different reasons. When the Young Women’s theme was changed in 2019 to include the phrase, “I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents,” we felt that it was an exciting time to help young women learn more about what prophets, apostles, and female church leaders have taught about Heavenly Mother.  

But we want to be clear that this emphasis in our work on Heavenly Mother is not meant to elevate her or this doctrine above Heavenly Father or any other gospel truth. We are simply striving to shine more light on this “cherished and distinctive belief” that has still been in the shadows for some. When something has been neglected or disregarded, or misunderstood for a period, it is often necessary to pay additional attention to it to restore balance. And that’s the aim of our work, to help others celebrate the partnership of our Heavenly Parents who “work together for the salvation of the human family.”

McArthur Krishna: Isn’t that a particularly joyous idea? It’s joy that honestly got me interested in writing about Heavenly Mother. I’ve learned in my own life how the gospel is a message of joyin all its many aspects. And the knowledge of Heavenly Mother has so much potential to reinforce and accentuate that joy. 

And yet, I’ve been struck by the distinct lack of joyboth among Instagram advocates of Heavenly Mother and among some others who have concerns around this teaching. The advocates online are not always joyful because they think they need to fight for Heavenly Mother and sometimes fear judgment for doing so. It is hard to celebrate when you worry about being attacked and feel the need to defend. The concerned side also can worry excessively that any additional focus on this doctrine is going to entice women out of the church … so much so that they may end up missing the joy this truth might add.  

The reality is that a Mother in Heaven is joyous! And yes, both sides seem to risk missing out on that blessing. We hope to uplift hearts with both of these concerns (or wherever else on the spectrum of belief you might be).

We sometimes hear, more often than you might think, something along the lines of “It’s great we have a doctrine of Heavenly Mother; we just don’t need to talk about it.” That’s simply not what the prophets have taught. Heavenly Mother matters. If we want to talk about premortal life, being born to this world, eternal families, divine progression, exaltationthey all need Heavenly Mother. 

For anyone who was taught she was too sacred to talk about and that doing so is somehow disrespectful, again, that is not doctrine (see footnote #2 of the Church’s Gospel Topics Essay and the article it references, A Mother There). All this is good news! Knowing we have a Mother in Heaven is expansive, magnificent, and inspiring. Families are the fullness of our doctrine. And Heavenly Mother represents the divine destiny for women on the covenant path … to me, all of that adds up to a respectful gospel conversation we can be excited about and not fearfully avoid.  

JH: What has the response to your books beenespecially among active members of the Church? Is there anything that stood out to you about that response?   

BBS: We’ve honestly been humbly blown away by the response to our Girl’s and Boy’s Guides to Heavenly Mother. There has been such an outpouring of joy, elation, celebration, awe, and gratitudethanking us for compiling the teachings of prophets, apostles, and female church leaders about Heavenly Mother and sharing them in a faith-affirming and accessible way. Over and over, young women have told us how valuable our book has been for them as they recite the new Young Women theme and desire to know more about being a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents. And many parents have expressed appreciation for giving them another tool to teach their children about this extraordinary Latter-day Saint doctrine. Youth leaders have also commented on how helpful our books have been in lessons, class discussions, camps, and activities. 

MK: Bethany’s rightthe response has been overwhelmingly encouraging. Our books have sold out twice; I think that clearly speaks to the yearning desire there is to know of this doctrine. But, we should be clear, this landscape is not about us or our books. We offer our talents, but the point is this joyous gospel truth (that we don’t always treasure), and the reaction to THAT has been amazing.

In the Gospel Topics Essay, Elder Oaks says, “Our theology begins with Heavenly Parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.” In sharing this with so many women around the world, we’ve watched them light up with joy when they learn more about the Mother they will be likeit is literally awe-inspiring. 

JH: You’ve spoken about women in other countries appreciating this reminder due to some of the intense cultural challenges some of them face. Can you say a little more about that? 

MK: Both Bethany and I have lived and traveled extensively abroad. I lived in India for eight years. And these experiences have reinforced for both of us that there are many intense issues that women face around the world that can be solved, or at least helped, by a deeper appreciation for the revolutionary message that Jesus Christ taught, summarized by Nephi, that “all are alike unto God.”

The reality is that some cultures teach that women are less than men. Some cultures accept domestic violence. Some cultures don’t encourage men and women to be united and work together to support their families. The knowledge outlined in that Gospel Topics Essay about Heavenly Mother can help eradicate harmful cultural perspectives and open hearts even more to the truth that women and men are equally-valued children of God.

BBS:  Yes, I was recently chatting with a dear friend of mine from South Africa, who serves as the Relief Society President in her Cape Town ward, and is the Executor Director of an organization that empowers female survivors of domestic violence.  Witnessing up-close on a daily basis the abuse of women, my friend commented on how much an understanding of Heavenly Mother like we have in the Churcha divine being, working harmoniously side-by-side with Heavenly Fathercould change lives in her community. 

MK: In the process of translating our Girls Guide to Heavenly Mother book into Spanish, however, our translator told us that very few people in her country of Ecuador even knew that we have the doctrine of a Mother in Heaven. Before Elder Renlund’s talk in General Conference, many simply had no idea. For us, this seemed tragic. We have the doctrine … so we don’t want people to go through life without this knowledge. 

So we felt inspired to make a short video to celebrate the doctrine in the Gospel Topics Essay. The Church has shown how powerfully uplifting videos can be. They also can be spread more easily than books, be translated into more languages much more easily than a book, and be watched for free. 

BBS: Another reason we felt compelled to create a video was that we were troubled by the tone of the news coverage and social media after Elder Renlund’s talk. We wanted to shift the conversation from one of gloom and doom to one of joy, as McArthur emphasized earlier.

If you listen to the people who speak in that video, you can see they are faithful Latter-day Saints who love the gospel of Jesus Christ and who have been blessed by this additional understanding of Heavenly Mothermuch like many other gospel doctrines bless our lives when we embrace them more. Simply applying the rich teaching within that essay could do so much good across cultures.

Both McArthur and I have had countless meaningful missionary experiences where people outside of our faith have found the concept of Heavenly Mother within the restored gospel of Christ to be exhilarating and delicious. Many had felt a void in their own lives and faith traditions that the centrality of family and equal partnerships in marriagereflected in the valued place of Heavenly Motherhelped to fill.

JH: I’m understanding this awareness you’re wanting to celebrate as part of the gospel panorama and something you hope will strengthen people on the covenant path rather than providing some kind of alternative enlightenment. I also don’t hear you advocating for any particulars of what this looks like in practice, or even claiming to know. We can trust prophet leaders to continue to lead out on this. Can you say a little more about how exactly you’ve seen an appreciation of this gospel teaching strengthen people’s faithperhaps especially the women?  

MK: President Monson used to encourage us to “look up” when we need encouragementsomething President Nelson has also emphasized, once stating

Trees reach up for the light and grow in the process. So do we as sons and daughters of heavenly parents. Facing upward provides a loftier perspective than facing right or facing left. Looking up in search of holiness builds strength and dignity as disciples of Deity.

When invited to speak at firesides, we only quote from the Gospel Topics Essay. One of my favorite lines says that Heavenly Mother is the “eternal prototype” for women. Especially in our world today, looking up to this model can expand women’s richness of purpose and dignity of spirit.

When women get reminded of the truths our gospel teachesthe bold and beautiful idea that their destiny is Godhood, that they are made in their Mother’s image, that this earth life is time to practice our embryonic divinity, that they are to create and work as partners with men—they have even more reason to rise up in faith and power. I’m consistently surprised at how enlivening these doctrinal discussions are with members. The Spirit is so strong. 

We often get notes of follow-up from people sharing how this doctrine helped them embrace the call from President Nelson to “step forward” and “take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before.”

I’ve also seen how this model of Heavenly Mother reminds women that their souls need investment … that it’s not wrong to want that (something we sometimes forget as mothers). While there is beauty and growth in sacrifice and service, it’s possible to overdo it. One friend of mine said that while her mothering muscles were super strong, it sometimes feels like she has shelved her other god-given talents for the last twenty years. But if we are truly on the developmental trajectory to become like our Mother, then our own souls need investment too. 

And, let’s be clear, while women can certainly grow up to be like our Father in Heaven, I will not be a Father in Heaven. That’s why a clear awareness of Heavenly Mother helps me learn about my eternal destiny and divine development as a woman. 

None of this replaces Jesus, who, as the Savior of the World, is playing a role no one else can. But in our experience, women wrestling with mental health, personal worth, feeling overwhelmed, feeling consumed by their many demanding roles, feeling alienatedall have told us how much this additional truth has helped them receive even more of the purpose and power available in the gospel of Christ. 

JH: This makes sense for women especially. Would you say the same is true for boys and men too? 

BBS: Last year, I was invited by the Branch President of a Spanish-speaking branch to come and speak to the youth about Heavenly Mother. While discussing quotes from the Gospel Topics Essay about how “the divine Mother, [is] side by side with the divine Father,” the young men instantly made the connection that machismoa prevalent sentiment in many of their traditional cultures that encourages men’s dominance over womenis not aligned with the restored gospel and our enlightened understanding of men and women working as equal partners. 

More recently, I met a father who had been on a backpacking trip with his college-age sons, and they had been using our Guides to Heavenly Mother to discuss what qualities they hope to find in the women they want to date and eventually marry. My own 80-year-old father, who tragically lost his own mother when he was only six years old, has found deep comfort in the teaching from Harold B. Lee that he has a Heavenly Mother who is “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.” He has hung artwork of Heavenly Mother from our book in his home. I honestly marvel at the profound meaning young men and men in the Church find in this gospel teaching. 

MK: I’ve been struck by how often men express confusion on this point, asking something like, “Why does this doctrine of Heavenly Mother matter to me?” My response is usually to point out that the Gospel Topics Essay teaches that our Heavenly Parents are the “divine pattern”“work[ing] together” and “side-by-side” for the salvation of their children. If we’re not recognizing half the pattern, then how can we build families, faith communities, and even the world?  Applying this principle of divine equality in our relationships is vital. And the doctrine of Heavenly Mother gives men and boys the clear injunction that working together unitedly with women is the model we need to practice. In our sexualized and objectifying world, that’s something boys in every country need, including in the USA.  

JH: Despite these heartening benefits, there remains some honest concern among some about how this might potentially disrupt people’s faith and discipleship. For instance, we hear of concerns about an overdone focus on Heavenly Mother interfering with our faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. What do you think about that? 

MK: I have not met anyone who has become more aware of Heavenly Mother who somehow thinks that she replaces Christ in His role of the Atonement. I have not met anyone who thinks Heavenly Mother negates Heavenly Father. Instead, they seem to appreciate better how united they are in working together for our salvation. As President Nelson has said recently, “My dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ invites us to take the covenant path back home to our Heavenly Parents and be with those we love.”

My experience is that reminding people of our doctrine regarding Heavenly Mother actually reinforces their commitment to why following Christ matters. In the Gospel Topics Essay, Elder Oaks says, “Our theology begins with Heavenly Parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them.” The reason Christ’s Atonement matters is because it is the bridge that gets us back to be like and be with our Heavenly Parents. 

The path to Christ ultimately returns us to the presence of our Parents in one united path. I am not saying that people’s paths look all the same. I am saying that we are all trying to get home. I love these recent words by Elder M. Russell Ballard

I testify there is no greater goal in mortality than to live eternally with our Heavenly Parents and our beloved Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is more than just our goal—it is also Their goal. They have a perfect love for us, more powerful than we can even begin to comprehend. They are totally, completely, [and] eternally aligned with us. We are Their work. Our glory is Their glory. More than anything else, They want us to come home—to return and receive eternal happiness in Their presence.” 

We are Their work and Their gloryisn’t that stunning? They all want us to grow, develop, and become like Them. 

And no, a divine Mother takes nothing away from our Father in Heaven or Jesus Christ. The Gospel Essay quotes Elder Clawson as saying: “We honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.” In that same talk, he says, “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.” 

So, while there is no competition among Deity, what we do see is women anxious to understand better how this unity and inclusion can work. So in that sense, a reminder of this larger divine pattern of working together is a really good thing. 

JH: I lost my mother a few years ago, and like anyone who’s lost their Mom, know how much you feel her absence. Even though I can’t have a direct relationship with her right now, it has felt important to stay aware of her and cherish her memory. That’s kind of what I’m hearing from you both hereencouraging this kind of sweet awareness while respecting lines we’ve been encouraged to respect (e.g., not praying to Heavenly Mother). 

BSS: Absolutely yes. People can be humbly aware and appreciative of the presence of the Father and the Son in their lives and still long for a sense of a Mother too. That’s partly because of what we know in The Family Proclamation about gender as “an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” That means mothers are different from fathers and have unique traits that reach and bless their children in different ways. 

About five years ago, my own mother started experiencing dementia and now is officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’sand is no longer able to connect and communicate with me in meaningful ways.  Although I still have my father and brothers in my life, I have a great sense of loss and a profound longing for a vibrant relationship with my mother.

MK: Even when we feel the love of others around us, we all recognize the love of a mother as unique. Like a beautiful story of a Marine who shared in sacrament meeting about his earthly mother dying when he was youngand always feeling that lack. Learning more about his Heavenly Mother brought him comfort. With all of the other family who loved him, he still felt the need for his mothers. 

We often hear of people with complicated relationships with a childhood father finding healing in finally appreciating the reality of a Father who loves them. For people who have complicated relationships with their earthly mothers or even their own mothering, Heavenly Mother can be a way to still celebrate the glory of motherhood without angst. And no, that doesn’t have to cross any lines we’ve been encouraged to respect.

JH: Thank you. Just to be clear, it sounds like you don’t have major concerns that discussions about Heavenly Mother have the potential to distract and pull people away from the plain and simple gospel truths that build faith day-to-day? 

BBS: What could be more plain and simple than a Mother’s love?! Young Women are taught in lesson after lesson that earthly mothers are essential for their children’s spiritual and physical well-being. Can we use the Gospel Topics Essay to illuminate the truth that Heavenly Mother is essential for her children too? She’s not a distraction!

I also find it a bit ironic that all during my growing up years (and still today), I’ve been admonished by church leaders to not adopt the ways of the world … to not set my hearts on the fleeting glimmer of worldly glory… to set our sights higher than the latest magazine model, pop singer, or movie star.  But now that we’re appreciating more our Heavenly Mother as an eternal prototype for women, that’s dangerous too?

It’s valuable to remind people of Sister Patricia Holland’s charge:

I have heard it said by some that the reason women in the Church struggle to know themselves is because they don’t have a divine female role model. But we do. We believe we have a mother in heaven. … Furthermore, I believe we know much more about our eternal nature than we think we do; and it is our sacred obligation to express our knowledge, to teach it to our young sisters and daughters.

If Sister Holland feels that we have a sacred obligation to discuss what we know about our Heavenly Mother, then I don’t think we should automatically put those conversations in the camp of dangerous distractions.

All that being said, through conversations with some impressive women in the Public Square community, I am beginning to understand their worry that too much focus on Heavenly Mother can create imbalance or bitterness. I can see that. And my response is, let’s focus on balance (embracing Heavenly Parents together) and gratitude for the truths that have already been revealed about Heavenly Mother. Those two approaches––balance and gratitudereally ground me in my faith and discipleship as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

MK: We do understand the concern people have for how this is being talked about online. That concern has prompted us to just launch a new Instagram page called “cherished doctrine” (referencing a line from the Gospel Topics Essay that calls Heavenly Mother a cherished doctrine). Originally just a place to keep people updated about our books, we looked around and saw the need for a welcoming online space on this topic that is aligned with the Church. 

We hope this page can cross boundaries of concern and help us all grow in knowledge. We know there are people who want to learn more after the Young Women Theme changed to include Heavenly Mother or after Elder Renlund’s General Conference talk but who are worried about doing it respectfully. And we really don’t want to draw lines between Heavenly Mother and the Church. Like our other efforts, we hope this can become a church-focused landing place for those who want to appreciate this aspect of the beautiful restored gospel and how it connects to the full picture of God’s plan for us.  

JH: That’s great that you’re modeling another kind of conversation online. I think some of this social media drama may be what leads to the kind of fatigue you hear from some faithful members when they come across encouragement to pay more attention to this topic. It’s like, “this again? You really think we need to talk about this more…like right now?”

When you’re used to seeing so much hostility online and watching loved ones step away, this may be an understandable weariness and wariness. But from what you’ve said, it strikes me that maybe it’s precisely because of how difficult things have become around us that this discussion you’re encouraging (done the right way, with the right spirit) could be a timely blessing for heavy hearts out there, and another tender mercy to help bolster spirits. 

MK: Oh yes, I am not weary-ing of talking of my “divine destiny” as a woman. To me, that is not heavy, but lifting!

It’s honestly the opposite concern I have compared with many people. My concern is that without celebrating the doctrine we have about Heavenly Mother, we will miss out on this gospel truth that could strengthen and bless women while also missing out on the fullest understanding of what it means to build towards the eternities with one another.

Our goals are healthy women, thriving couples, and strong families. And ultimately, I think the best way to judge something is by its fruits. The fact is that many women are reporting that the fruits of their experience of becoming more aware and appreciative of the doctrine of Heavenly Mother are rich and good. They are more invested in their families and feel more joy, energy, and hope for their own future.  

In a church where over half the membership of the Church is female, I hope we could see more talk of our divine destiny not as a distraction but as a motivation. Let’s not forget that The Proclamation on the Family states, “Each [person] is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.” 

Once again, the doctrine of Heavenly Mother reinforces for women a more expansive vision of who they can be in the eternities. As then Elder Nelson once said, “As begotten children of heavenly parents, we are endowed with the potential to become like them, just as mortal children may become like their mortal parents.”

If we are to become like Them, we must learn of both of themwhile appreciating how our Savior makes all of this possible.  Jesus is The Way … our Parents are the goal.

All this helps explain why I believe a deeper appreciation of this doctrine of Heavenly Mother can actually help nurture and expand faith in the Church … because it highlights such an expansive, magnificent place for women.  

BBS: That’s the kind of positive spiritual momentum we hope to encourage. I so desperately want my girls to hear in church that as they follow Christ on a journey home towards heaven that there is a Mother there side by side with the Father to welcome and embrace them. That my girls can see themselves in God—a perfected man and woman sealed together. 

That’s why I don’t feel like we should fear members of the Church coming to understand more about Heavenly Mother. I’m also drawn to the scripture in the New Testament that states, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” Our Heavenly Parents embody perfect love. Knowing about them should cast out fear, not create fear.  

JH: Thanks for these answers. I know we’re really digging into this, but it’s helpful because of the legitimate reasons for concern. We’re all familiar with the Book of Mormon warning against “looking beyond the mark”which Elder Quentin Cook explained is “when we elevate any one principle, no matter how worthwhile it may be, to a prominence that lessens our commitment to other equally important principles or when we take a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Brethren.” In that same discussion, Elder Cook cautioned against focusing on “certain gospel principles” or pursuit of “’gospel hobbies’ with excess zeal”adding “Almost any virtue taken to excess can become a vice.”  

I know you’re working hard to shape a conversation that avoids these extremes, and precisely for that reason, I’d like to ask you to speak and elaborate on how we can bring meaningful attention to Heavenly Mother without falling into these other traps.  

MK: You bet, Jacob, we can go too far on anything—food storage, word of wisdom, the last days’ signs from the book of Revelation. That’s something we all need to be personally and individually watchful of. At the same time, we might also examine the situation more closely. Are there any unmet needs in the women who are being “swept away” by a seeming hyper-focus on Heavenly Mother? Instead of being quick to assume an emphasis on this doctrine is largely to blame, I wish we could look more deeply at these many needs. 

I don’t believe the doctrine around our Mother in Heaven is to blame for people leaving the Church. Is there any fear in me of people going off the rails? Not even close to the amount of fear I have of members of the Church not gaining the blessings that are possible.

So, while we can talk about the dangers of going too far … I think we also need to acknowledge a very real danger of not even being aware of our doctrine at all, much less applying it! 

BBS: I certainly see the wisdom in Elder Cook’s counsel not to approach gospel principles with excess zeal. I have witnessed up close the detrimental outcomes of doing so in lots of different areas.  So overzealousness is real. And it’s fair to say there’s been some overzealousness on both sides of the Heavenly Mother conversation. Some people may have gone too far in their explorations of Heavenly Mother, and at the same time, some bishops and stake presidents have been overzealous by telling members of their wards and stakes that they aren’t allowed to even talk about a Heavenly Mother. One ward I know of here in Virginia decided that their members were allowed to speak of Heavenly Mother only at home and not at church. And that kind of overzealousness can also be dangerous.

We feel that the best way to address overzealousness (on both sides of the spectrum) is to create more balance. And that is what Elder Renlund did with his April 2022 General Conference. He affirmed that the balance can be found by sticking to the doctrine taught about Heavenly Mother in the Gospel Topics Essay

Not everyone has enjoyed that same balance in the pastand not even today. That’s why it’s been wonderful to see more references to Heavenly Parents in General Conference and why more discussion about Heavenly Mother could bless us too. To be clear, we’re not demanding more doctrine (like Elder Renlund warned against); we’re hoping for more discussion and application of the truths found in the Gospel Topics Essay, so we can find that beautiful balance! 

If some people have arrived at a place of estrangement or frustration with this doctrine, we recognize how that can be influenced by the kinds of hostility that arises online. But let’s also recognize that some may sincerely feel discouraged that we have such a cherished and distinctive doctrine of Heavenly Mother but don’t often perhaps apply that doctrine as fully as we could. And that disconnect can be disheartening—including to me.  

JH: Since meeting you both and learning more of your work and writing, I confess that I find myself almost inadvertently inclined to edit out direct references in our communications together to “Him”our Lord Jesusor to “Father,” as in Heavenly Father. I don’t like that. And I don’t think that’s the kind of thing you’re hoping for, righta hesitancy to ever refer to the Father and Son alone, or the generalizing of our language to Heavenly Parents exclusively? 

BBS: We certainly do not want to eliminate or discourage the use of the titles Father and Christor our profound appreciation for their distinct roles.  We simply want to encourage more space for the title of Mother to be appreciated in our sacred language. 

To me, spiritual growth comes as we change our thoughts, words, and actions to more fully align with gospel truths.  If the restored gospel teaches us that God is not just Heavenly Father but also a Heavenly Mother, then I feel that it is important to shift my language to reflect that knowledge.  Martin Pulido, one of the scholars that wrote the BYU Studies article, A Mother There (a text the Gospel Topics Essay cites), encouraged Latter-day Saints to develop a “mother tongue”… the ability to speak of Heavenly Mother comfortably and naturally wherever and whenever it is doctrinally accurate. 

As I have studied and learned about the “divine pattern” set by our Heavenly Parents and how Heavenly Father works together in perfect partnership with Heavenly Mother for the salvation of the human family, my admiration and appreciation for Heavenly Father has deepened in important ways. And as a mother myself—who would do absolutely anything to protect and care for my children—I have a new and heightened awareness of the sacrifice Heavenly Mother made as well to give the gift of her Son to the world. This adds to my understanding of how vital Jesus Christ’s life, mission, and example was and is to the human family. So I would say that my faith in Heavenly Father and in the Savior has been strengthened through my study of Heavenly Mother.

MK: No need to police your language in talking with us, Jacob! Our concern is more that our thinking and language can expand where it makes sense. Jesus’ divine mission to overcome sin and death so that the entire human family has the opportunity to become at one with God again is even richer to me, knowing that reuniting and reunion includes a Heavenly Mother.  It reminds me of a quote we have in our book by Elder Glenn L. Pace: 

Sisters, I testify that when you stand in front of your heavenly parents in those royal courts on high, and you look into her eyes and behold her countenance, any question you ever had about the role of women in the kingdom will evaporate into the rich celestial air because at that moment you will see standing directly in front of you, your divine nature and destiny.

It is very clear to me that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother draws me closer to Christ and the gospel. When I have a vision for who I can become, then I feel like rejoicing! I can GLORY in the gospel plan—because it includes me. 

Now, I know people will say I was included before coming to such awareness. In a sense, they’re right. But let me give a tangible example of what we sometimes miss. When I searched the term Godhood on the Church’s website, this is what came up: “Godhood See Eternal Life; Exaltation; Man, Men—Man, potential to become like Heavenly Father.” 

As you can see, women are not explicitly included in that reference to a very basicbut absolutely vitaltheological question. Yes, I can become like Heavenly Father, but I will not become a father in the heavens. If I reach my highest potential, I will become a mother in the heavens. It is important to be reminded of this “divine destiny.”

None of this, to be clear, means we are demanding to go beyond what has been revealed. People often say we don’t know enough to teach or that very little has been revealed. But we have already received in prophetic teaching incredibly rich doctrines that canand should!inspire and guide our life choices. Elder Holland has said, “I want you to … know who you truly are. You are literally a spirit daughter of heavenly parents with a divine nature and eternal destiny. That surpassing truth should be fixed deep in your soul and be fundamental to every decision you make as you grow into mature womanhood.” This knowledge makes me rejoice in my membership in the Church. 

BBS: Well said, McArthur. As I have witnessed how empowering the doctrine of Heavenly Mother is for girls and women—members of the Church and beyond—I am increasingly grateful for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ that has given us this profound, life-changing knowledge that is not known to so, so many. And it makes me want to shout for joy!

JH: As a final question, if you could say one thing to the women who have been frustrated about this conversation —or who want more understanding about Heavenly Mother—what would that be?  

MK: First of all, while not policing you or anyone else, I would remind us that sticking strictly with the Gospel Topics Essay offers us plenty of information to teach about Heavenly Mother: We know She loves us. She is concerned about us. She and Heavenly Father designed the plan for our lives. We know Heavenly Mother “works together” with Heavenly Father for the salvation of Their family. We know Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother would not be exalted beings without each other. And that’s just a few tidbitsthere’s more! 

Beyond that, someone told me recently that the most common word in the scriptures is “ask.” I don’t know if that is true … but we certainly have the model of Joseph Smith asking. So, I would tell them to “ask.” If a person is feeling frustrated about this in any way and wants to better understand the truth of this doctrine or why it matters, or how to apply it, I would ask Godthe ultimate source of all truth and wisdom.

 And I would also say my personal philosophy is to work. Jesus taught a lot of analogies about working in the vineyard. In a faith community, everything takes work. If we believe in the gospel doctrine of having a Heavenly Mother, then we work to enact that truth in our faith community. If you are frustrated about this topic (or any other), find a way to bless others’ lives in that arena.

BBS: I would say what I said to the Salt Lake Tribune:

Even if we focused only on what is taught in the Gospel Topics Essay on Heavenly Mother, it would be revolutionary for girls and women.  The essay affirms these truths: our understanding of Heavenly Mother is rooted in scripture; She stands side by side with Heavenly Father; She helped design the Plan of Salvation and works together with Heavenly Father for the salvation of the human family; Heavenly Mother is concerned about her children, can influence us, and is constantly trying to help us. Those are big, beautiful, bold truths that can transform the way women see themselves now and in the eternities.

Help us usher in the ongoing restoration … good things are sure to come. In a recent interview with Latter-day Saint scholars, Harvard professor of law and religion Noah Feldman said that the reality of a Heavenly Mother is one of the greatest gems Latter-day Saints can give to the wider world.  I want to be a part of that!

JH: I’ve appreciated how responsive you’ve both been to the questions and concerns our community and team have raised. I’ve personally found this exchange with you edifying and encouraging. Is there anything else you’d like to share?  

BBS: Girls, Young Women, and Women need to know that their eternal progression leads to a designing, creating, loving, involved, influencing co-equal partner God!  This is all doctrine from the Gospel Topics Essay. Heavenly Mother is not an invisible, secondary sidekick. This knowledge, this vision is essential, and it is beautiful.

I also just have to say how much we’ve both learned from our ongoing dialogue with the Public Square community over the past few months.  We’ve gained more empathy for some of the concerns people have and created some mutual respect and bonds of affection.   

MK: Agreed! We have learned a lot and have been able to incorporate those learnings into future work. It feels like a lot of the concerns are about going “too far.” And, I guess that makes sense in our agitated American society prone to polarizing. However, I would also like to offer a re-framing of the situation. 

This doctrine is JOYOUS! In addition to a Father and a Brother—we have a Mother! 

If you don’t feel that yet, pause … get still. Tune in. How do you feel? Doesn’t that reality just make your heart dance? Ok, I’m a dancer, so maybe that’s just me. But doesn’t the truth of Heavenly Mother make your heart sing or glory or at least swell!?!

I want to be sure that in all the concerns, we don’t take away the sheer joy of a Mother in Heaven.

About the authors

Bethany Brady Spalding

Bethany has a Master of Public Health from the University of London and has worked for international organizations and local non-profits to advance children’s health in South Africa, India, and the USA. She calls Richmond, Virginia, home, where she runs school gardens, writes books, and raises three girls with her husband, Andy.

McArthur Krishna

McArthur co-owned a marketing firm for a decade until she retired, got married, and moved to the Magic Land of India. With church a plane ride away, she started spending home-church time researching and writing children’s books. Over eight years, she’s published 17 books, six with Deseret Book.
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