The prohibition on praying to Heavenly Mother doesn’t make sense

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I’ve been thinking about the female divine recently, although I can’t remember what prompted these thoughts.

In Mormonism, we often refer to the female divine as “Mother in Heaven” or “Heavenly Mother”. We know little about her, but we know that she is apparently equal to God. Well, except in one important way:

We don’t pray to Heavenly Mother.

This prohibition was most recently defended by Gordon B. Hinckley in October 1991—then a member of the First Presidency—in the women’s session of General Conference, quoting an address he gave earlier that year to regional representatives:

However, in light of the instruction we have received from the Lord Himself, I regard it as inappropriate for anyone in the Church to pray to our Mother in Heaven.

While certainly the cultural norm, this proscription makes little sense when one contemplates it. Consider your own family.

If you are a woman, imagine your child never addressing you during their entire life, always going through your husband. If you are a man, imagine your child only ever addressing you, never asking your wife anything, never sharing their concerns and struggles with her, never pleading to her for help.

Imagine having never addressed your own mother while you were growing up, not speaking to her now, and never talking to her for as long as she continues to live. Imagine only ever going through your father.

Doesn’t that seem odd? Yet that is precisely what we do when we prohibit people from praying to Heavenly Mother.

Rudger Clawson, once president of the Quorum of the Twelve, agrees. Well, perhaps not explicitly.

“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. . . . we honor woman when we acknowledge Godhood in her eternal prototype.”  “Our Mother in Heaven,” Millennial Star 72 (September
29, 1910): 619–20.

Hinckley continues on the topic in his address by reference multiple scriptures where Jesus prayed to God, emphasizing the fact that Jesus used the term “Father” in his prayers. These scriptures act, in his mind, as justification for the exclusion of Heavenly Mother from our prayers.

This is a weak connection, however. Erastus Snow, formerly of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, proposed that “God” includes both Father and Mother”

“There can be no God except he is composed of the man and woman united, and there is not in all the eternities that exist, or ever will be a God in any other way. We may never hope to attain unto the eternal power and the Godhead upon any other principle . . . this Godhead composing two parts, male and female.” (Journal of Discourses, 19:269–73, March 3, 1878.)

Related to this is a statement from Harold B. Lee, spoken in the October 1963 General Conference and as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles:

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.

Likewise, Chieko N. Okazaki, formerly of the General Relief Society Presidency, in her book Sanctuary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997, 59), stated “that our heavenly parents are cosufferers with us in our mortal trials ”.

Russell M. Ballard, currently in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught that  “Our Heavenly Parents’ love and concern for us continues to this very moment.” (Our Search for Happiness (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 70)

Jeffrey R. Holland, also in the Twelve Apostles, wrote while president of BYU, “On a particularly difficult day, . . . what would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?” (However Long and Hard the Road (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 47)

If both of our Heavenly Parents influence us, cosuffer with us, love us, are concerned for us, reach for us, and are anxious to hold us close, why should we not acknowledge that through prayer?

11 thoughts on “The prohibition on praying to Heavenly Mother doesn’t make sense

  1. That is a great question. It persuades me to try praying to my Heavenly Mother to see how that goes.

    1. I’ve been doing it for a few months now. I was scared at first (which tells you how ingrained the culture is), but I found my first time to be a very emotional experience. Today, it feels normal.

  2. It is interesting to think about the Proclamation of the Family, which opens with “Heavenly Parents” in the context of both public and personal prayers; I have yet to hear many members invoke those words in a prayer over the pulpit. I personally have received admonitions from leadership for offering prayers addressed to “Heavenly Parents” in small group settings. We are so conditioned to experience the Divine only through the masculine lens, that we do not even realize its continued impact, notably on girls and young women in the Church. Now that LDS women are no longer being excommunicated for writing about Mother in Heaven, it is time to speak up, and spread the BYU Studies essay “A Mother There” far and wide. The so-called sacred silence taboo (that never really was) has been debunked. We must also be willing to call out male privilege–how is it that Mormon men have the final say on who can be addressed in prayer? How do women who care deeply about equality find their place in a patriarchy?

  3. The only way that it would not make sense is if God had instructed us to pray to our Heavenly Mother. However, you quoted President Hinckley, as a member of the First Presidency with the news that the instructions came from the Lord.

    Of course you have your own agency to choose whether you will heed the prophets’ advice or not. And I do not know whether it is a sin or not.

    It would be a mistake, though, to let specious reasoning be a substitute for guidance from the Holy Ghost.


      1. Kim, As I noted, you are free to take the advice of President Hinckley or reject it. I also said that I do not know if it is a sin. I do not know if Heavenly Mother can answer prayers. I do not know if she wants me to pray to Her. I do not know anything about Her. She is nowhere described in the scriptures or even acknowledged. Her existence can only be inferred. Yet, the phrase from “Oh My Father” still rings true.

        I grew up with a father that did not communicate very well. He was a good man who had been raised rough and with a lot of criticism. I looked to my mother for my communications. When I was stationed at Norfolk I would get home on the weekends and we would often sit up talking until two or three o’clock in the morning. After all of these years, I still miss her. But I still communicate with her, with my thoughts, when I meditate, etc.

        I do not see why that would not also work with Heavenly Mother. I just do not know. We have no guidance from Heavenly Father on the subject. Why? But I believe that Heavenly Mother and heavenly Father are in complete harmony. So maybe we need to check in with Him first.


  4. Jesus showed us the way. I don’t think a prayer to our Heavenly Mother is regarded as a terrible thing by diety, but it is surely recognized as misguided with an little bit of pride. (My way, not thine be done)

    Jesus showed us the way to the Father . No man knows the Father except by and through the Son. To know the Father is to receive eternal life. Once you’ve come to know the Father I can state with personal testimony that our Heavenly Mother can be revealed to you.

    You can’t gain the further light and knowledge you seek if you short circuit the flow of Revelation from Son to Father to revelation of exalted Heavenly Parents.

    Anyone who has received revelation of HM would know better not to direct their prayers to her. Not because she isn’t there or capable of listening but because that’s not the way ordained for us to grow from grace to grace in this life.

    I presume your intentions are good in posting this. But it’s clear from personal experience that if you want to get closer to God and have a knowledge of the mysteries of godliness, there place for that is the temple with a willingness to submit to the order that God has established.

    It’s not a point to be argued or debated. I hope you can come around to that understanding.

    1. “No man knows the Father except by and through the Son.”

      But this post wasn’t about knowing the father.

      “Anyone who has received revelation of HM would know better not to direct their prayers to her.”

      This is nothing but an unfounded assumption. I know plenty of people who have received revelation of Heavenly Mother and who also are more than comfortable praying to her.

      “But it’s clear from personal experience that if you want to get closer to God and have a knowledge of the mysteries of godliness, there place for that is the temple”

      In 25 years of attending the temple, I have never received knowledge of the mysteries of godliness. I have received knowledge of the nuances of the ordinances and the covenants made, but certainly nothing that complex. So, while your personal experience might make that clear to you, my personal experience does not make it clear to me.

      “It’s not a point to be argued or debated. I hope you can come around to that understanding.”

      I have no intention of “coming around” to an understanding expressed condescendingly.

  5. I do not advocate praying to the female divine. Personally, this is not something I spend much time worrying about. I am quite happy to put it on the shelf of things we don’t understand and hope one day all will be made clear.

    I understand how people get hot under the collar when ideas they hold sacred, or cherished doctrines or prophetic direction seems to be ignored or disregarded.

    However, as I read the initial blog post I see someone asking a question. In the comments there may have been some promotion of praying to Heavenly Mother…. but the initial post was essentially a question posed by the author.

    In the spirit of kindness we should not be lions in the grass pouncing on people with honest questions. I can see how someone would ask these questions. Asking honest questions has been approved of in recent General Conferences.

    Surely in the celestial realm there is no place for the sexism so evident here on the earth. In heaven we want our mothers and daughters to have every opportunity and maximum fulfillment. If heaven were a place where women were oppressed as they have been in this world, eternity would not be enticing at all.

    I am sure the next life will be a more equal place between the sexes… I am just not sure how this will be accomplished.

    In Jesus I see a son whose every thought turned to His Father in Heaven. It was that relationship that enabled Jesus to overcome the world. I also see in Jesus’ life a man who at every turn defended, lifted, protected and cherished women.

    I think we can do better at listening to the voices of women in the church. If we did a better job giving women a voice then the author’s question would be less compelling.

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