The Re-emerging Goddess
Kate Kelly, Mormon feminist and co-founder of the Ordain Women movement, was recently denied her excommunication appeal by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her actions toward gender equality were deemed as apostasy and caused her excommunication. I am hurt by this decision and I feel a personal loss as a fellow Mormon.
Gender equality within religion is not a just a Mormon issue. There are women everywhere searching for their place within their respective religions. We love our faiths and we are an essential part of them. Women of the Wall are standing for equality in Judaism by requesting rights to activities reserved for men. Despite opposition, there are Catholic parents wanting their daughters to have the opportunity to be altar servers. After decades of discussions, a woman has been consecrated as a bishop in the Church of England. Islamic feminists are working toward gender equality within their religion too. Women don’t want to choose between their faith and their conscience, but they want something more than what their religion is offering.
Even within Mormonism there is progress to be made. Women do not have adequate representation in our correlated manuals, scriptures, apostleship, or Godhead. The ordination of women to the priesthood would be a good start. It would offer women more leadership opportunities that have been lost since the origins of the Church, but ordination alone will not offer equality. It goes much deeper than that — to the very deity we worship.
We are looking for the re-emerging Goddess, our Mother. “No matter how many times she is rejected and even killed, the Goddess always re-emerges in one form or another.” (Strangers in a Paradox, 49)
Mormonism is progressive in recognizing the existence of a Heavenly Mother. However, despite Her existence we do not pray to Her, or formally recognize Her as part of the Godhead. In Mormon theology it is not out of the realm of possibility to conclude that without Heavenly Mother, the Spirit Mother of even Jesus, our Godhead would not even exist. “As there can be no spirit children without her, presumably there would be no Son without her and perhaps no Holy Ghost—no Heavenly Mother, perhaps no Trinity.” (Historical Teachings About Mother in Heaven, 79)
Orson F. Whitney (Bishop, 1878-1906) explained that “there was once a time when that Being whom we now worship — that our eternal Father and Mother were once man and woman in mortality.” (Historical Teachings About Mother in Heaven, 77) But despite the beauty of the idea, Mormon women are left without an adequate role model for our aspirations. We rarely speak of Her. If deification is the ultimate goal of Mormonism then an immortal example of the feminine would be of paramount importance. Association of the feminine with God is disregarded, and we are suffering the percolated effects of Her absence. Women not being ordained to the Priesthood is just a symptom, so is Her absence in religious texts and rhetoric.
Imagine scriptures and sermons written in a female superlative, instead of male. For example, here’s what a modified excerpt of the inspired King Follett discourse would say:
"Goddess herself was once as we are now, and is an exalted woman, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! ... I am going to tell you how Goddess came to be Goddess. We have imagined and supposed that Goddess was Goddess from all eternity. I will refute that idea ... It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of Goddess, and to know that we may converse with Her as one woman converses with another, and that She was once a woman like us; yea, that Goddess herself, the Mother of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible." [bold added for emphasis]
Now imagine spending your youth reading women’s narratives in the scriptures in the female superlative. Then couple that with having a prophetess instead of a prophet. I would venture to say that there would be more than a just few men who would be confused as to where they fit into the eternal plan of their Goddess, especially if men were denied ordination to Her Priestesshood and were primarily granted its blessings through the authority of women.
This would most certainly be a problem. But even so, I certainly don’t suggest we move toward a matriarchy filled with text and rhetoric in a female superlative just to ignore the masculine. A balanced approach would be ideal, but the feminine is rarely mentioned.
Some contend that our Mother is too holy to speak of and that is why She is absent in our rhetoric — it’s for her protection. However, it is clear to me that Her sacredness is not an excuse for Her neglect. To worship a male God in no way diminishes His glory and such should be true of our Goddess. Worship is a product of Her glory which is no less than our Father’s.
Despite setbacks and excommunications, we press forward. We don’t sit passively waiting to be acted upon. We seek Her. We thirst for more beyond the biased God depicted through a predominantly masculine lens.
If we are to find balance in the future of our religious institutions we must embrace the re-emerging Goddess. Without Her there is no God. They are inseparable. All we have to do is recognize Her. As Erastus Snow (LDS Apostle, 1849-1888) avowed: "If I believe anything God has ever said about himself … I must believe that deity consist of man and woman.” (Historical Teachings About Mother in Heaven, 79) We must acknowledge the feminine, as well as the masculine, is a part of each of us. In so doing, we will be able to transcend the expectations and limitations of our genders to build up our religions as partners with Gods worthy of our worship.