Since Tim is gone, I thought I would back him up by writing a Tim-Style Post. i.e. throw out a controversial LDS doctrine in sort of a challenging way and then open it up for comments.
Few Mormon doctrines are more radically paradigm-shifting than the believe in the existence of a Heavenly Mother.
What equally interesting to me is what this particular doctrine tells about how Mormonism works.
I think Evangelicals often stand with open-mouth when they read that those crazy Mormon’s believe such things because they are nowhere to be found in the Bible. Aside from being a radical shift in understanding of God and Man between Protestants and Mormons, the doctrine also shows a fundamental difference in the way Mormons form their personal theology vs. the way Evangelicals seem to go about it. This is what I want to explore with this post. To try to explain to bible-focused (limited?) Evangelicals why Mormons believe in a Mother in Heaven, even when its not in the bible. For this I am going to have to call on the usual bunch of commentators.
Few people, if any, know the ultimate origin of the idea that we have a Mother in Heaven. Joseph Smith does not seem to have spoken directly about it in his life and there is no reference in the LDS Canon.
The first time we see it in writing comes from a woman, Eliza R. Snow, in a hymn, “O My Father” President Kimball acknowledged that “O My Father” was a “doctrinal hymn” and dozens of prophets and apostles have reiterated this idea.
President Lorenzo Snow explained that Eliza Snow got the doctrine from Joseph shortly before he was murdered.
President Spencer W. Kimball in a general conference address:
“When we sing that doctrinal hymn … ‘O My Father,’ we get a sense of the ultimate in maternal modesty, of the restrained, queenly elegance of our Heavenly Mother, and knowing how profoundly our mortal mothers have shaped us here, do we suppose her influence on us as individuals to be less?” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 6.)
The doctrine of the hymn is pretty straightforward, there is a mother in heaven and we will return to live with Her and the Father, and that they together sent people on their mission to earth:
I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
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.
Let me come and dwell with you.
With your mutual approbation
All you sent me forth to do,
Then, at length, when I’ve completed
When I leave this frail existence,
When I lay this mortal by,
Father, Mother, may I meet you
In your royal courts on high?
So there we have it, a revolutionary new way of looking at God and heaven that turns traditional notions on their ear.
Mormons believe it, but I can see the Evangelicals left scratching their heads:
- The doctrine is not found in scripture, including Mormon Scripture
- The doctrine was not explicitly taught or explained by Joseph Smith (even though it is pretty clear that he was claimed that he originally taught the doctrine)
- It really shifts away from all traditional interpretations of the Bible.
I can see how an Evangelical is probably left dumbfounded: “You can’t win with those Mormons, how can I teach them correct theology whenthey are going to beleive stuff like this with such slim support or understanding?”
Here we have, in my mind, the genius as well as the vulnerability of Mormonism. . . our willingness to believe in things that are not in the Bible. To some Mormons, this doctrine is very uncomfortable. We sometimes downplay it and even reproach those that make “too much” of it due to the little we “know” about it. To others, agreeing with Eliza R. Snow, it makes religion make more sense: i.e. “If man is made in the image of God, why wouldn’t there be family in heaven as well as on earth. ”
I think if we can give a good explanation to our Evangelical friends of why we believe this doctrine, they will be a lot closer to really understanding Mormonism. (and we might have a clearer way of understanding our own view of how “doctrine” is born).
So Mormons, explain to Evangelicals :
1. Do you believe in a Mother in Heaven? and
3. What is the significance of the doctrine to you, to the Church, and to the world?
Evangelicals, we know you don’t believe it, and we know its not in the Bible, if you try to understand why we believe you may learn a lot about Mormonism in general that will enlighten you on how we do religion in other areas.