In the Heavens Are Parents Equal? – a question posed by Janice Allred

In the Heavens Are Parents Equal? – a question posed by Janice Allred

In the Heavens Are Parents Equal?

BYU’s response to the recently released report of the American Association of University Professors, which criticized BYU for academic freedom violations in the firing of English Professor Gail Houston, states that Houston was fired for advocating praying to the Mother in Heaven. BYU administrators claim that in doing so she contradicted a fundamental doctrine of the LDS Church. Have BYU administrators forgotten the well-known Mormon hymn, “O My Father?” This hymn, written by Eliza R. Snow, a plural wife of both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, is actually a prayer to the Father and Mother in Heaven, as is indicated by the words “Father, Mother, may I meet you / In your royal courts on high?” It also contains the lines:

In the heavens are parents single?
No; the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a Mother there.

Thinking about Eliza R. Snow’s prayer to the Father and Mother in Heaven and BYU’s response to the AAUP inspired me to add some new lines.

In the heavens are parents equal?
Just the thought makes th’ Brethren fear;
If they’re equal in the heavens,
Then they should be equal here.

There is something odd and offensive about a church that encourages its members to think of God as their literal, anthropomorphic Father and to regard their relationship to him as a father-child relationship, yet discourages them from thinking about a literal Mother in Heaven and punishes those who speak publicly about her, even though it acknowledges her existence.

BYU’s response cites two public statements by Gail Houston which, it claims, were endorsements of praying to the Mother in Heaven. Gail Houston did not advocate praying to the Mother in Heaven. In the first, an article in the Student Review, she never mentions the Mother in Heaven or advises anyone to pray to her. She talks about “communication with my heavenly parents”. Her point is not to advocate a particular kind of prayer but to share her own experience of finding that her heavenly parents accept her with all her doubts and problems. The second, a 1994 speech given at the Sunstone Symposium, describes her practice of meditation and tells how she visualizes Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. She uses the words “meditations” and “visualize” to describe her experiences. Although she does say in one place that this kind of meditation is prayer for her, it is clearly not prayer as the Church defines prayer and she never suggests that others adopt her practice. Her concept of the Mother in Heaven as she presents it in this speech reflects the orthodox Mormon understanding of the Mother in Heaven. She sees Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother together and herself as their child being embraced by them and then encouraged to become like them.

Clearly it is not Houston’s concept of the Mother in Heaven that is offensive to BYU and the Brethren. They had to fabricate the charge that she advocated praying to the Mother in Heaven in order to present some kind of argument that she had contradicted fundamental church doctrine, which BYU’s Academic Freedom Statement does not allow. Calling the prohibition against praying to the Mother in Heaven a fundamental church doctrine shows an appalling lack of knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the scriptures and reveals the political motivation behind Houston’s firing.

Jesus Christ states very clearly in the Book of Mormon (3 Ne. 11) and the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C 10) what the doctrine of his church is; it is faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, and Christ declares that anyone who adds to or takes away from this doctrine is not of him. Does Gordon B. Hinckley, who as the First Counselor in the First Presidency pronounced the prohibition against praying to the Mother in Heaven in a speech given in 1991, have more authority to proclaim doctrine than Jesus Christ? Do BYU administrators? They call the prohibition against praying to the Mother in Heaven a fundamental church doctrine. A fundamental church doctrine that wasn’t given until 1991? A fundamental church doctrine for which there is only one reference? A fundamental church doctrine given without revelation and as a personal opinion, as President Hinckley clearly stated. A fundamental church doctrine that the members have been given no opportunity to accept or reject?

Clearly there is something going on here besides a serious attempt to understand and protect fundamental church doctrine. The “fundamental church doctine” being protected is the idea that the current church president is infallible (dead ones may have made mistakes) and church authorities must be obeyed without question even if their directives are only based on their opinions and violate one’s own connection to God. And these men accuse Gail Houston of worshiping a false god? Her offense was not contradicting fundamental church doctrine but failing to give unconditional and absolute loyalty to the institutional church. The list of offenses cited in BYU’s response can all be interpreted in this way.

BYU’s response says that the Mother in Heaven is “a God other than the God to whom we are commanded to pray.” This is equivalent to saying that she is not God or she is a false God. To recognize an entity as God is the most fundamental form of worship and prayer. The Church’s Proclamation on the Family says we worship God because he is our Father, but it does not even mention Mother in Heaven explicitly. This same document and church rhetoric assure us that men and women are equal partners, but it seems that somewhere along the path to godhood Father in Heaven became superior to Mother in Heaven. He is God, a being we worship and pray to, but she is not.

After I was excommunicated in 1995 I was told that when the women in my former ward in Michigan read in the Detroit Free Press that I had been disciplined by the Church for writing that Heavenly Mother is equal to Heavenly Father, they were incensed and couldn’t believe it. “But haven’t we always been told that men and women are equal?” they asked. “Isn’t Heavenly Mother equal to Heavenly Father?” What will happen when the women in the Church figure out that their leaders don’t really mean it when they say that men and women are equal?

On the earth are parents equal?
Tell us, Brethren, for we see,
If on earth they’re equal partners,
Why not in eternity?

Janice Allred