If heaven is not egalitarian, I’m not interested.
A few years ago, this statement dropped fully formed into my consciousness and looped over and over in my mind. While doing the dishes. While dropping the kids off at school.
If heaven is not egalitarian, I’m not interested.
While sweating at the gym. While trying to read the scriptures.
If heaven is not egalitarian, I’m not interested.
For the first time, my personal scale of “the good outweighs the bad for me” in the church had leveled, and with each grain of sand that further upset the former balance, my conviction that I needed to step back from the church and my fear of doing so increased in lockstep.
I was paralyzed by the enormous stakes of my decision. What if I was wrong and the church was right? What if I died and discovered that I had forfeited my chance at the celestial kingdom, that my choice to not endure to the end had cost me my family?
So I did what I’ve always done when faced with a seemingly impossible decision: I studied it out in my mind. I spent a lot of time thinking about the temple ceremonies and promises, about my marriage and family relationships, about God, about heaven. Flaming up from the glowing embers of my new mantra was a warm sense of calm that came from a different kind of knowing than what was prized in the church: that of knowing myself. And I knew, as I studied through the little that has been revealed about the celestial kingdom, that I could not be happy there.
In the end, Heavenly Mother was the thread I pulled on that unmade the tapestry of my faith. She, or rather the absence of Her, gave me the permission I needed to walk away from the church without fear of afterlife regret. While the idea of worshiping or becoming like a goddess is beautiful and meaningful to me in theory, I have no desire to be like Heavenly Mother in practice. I could never be okay, let alone have eternal joy, if my children weren’t allowed to talk to me, if my husband shouldered all the responsibility and received all the glory, if I wasn’t involved in any visible or real way with my children’s mortality or the creation or the plan of salvation, if I bolstered patriarchy by granting power to my sons and sidelining my daughters. As much as I respect that the doctrine of Heavenly Mother gives many people comfort, the little I know about Her, knowledge mostly gleaned by inference from the goddess-shaped void in scripture, in the temple, and in doctrine, is enough to give me confirmation that I do not want to become like Her, that the celestial kingdom is not the place for me.
Church policy and doctrine allows women the most latitude and authority in the walls of their homes and in their relationships with their children. While husbands still technically preside, the Church generally encourages a mostly partnership model where families are led by a mom and a dad together, jointly parenting and making decisions, even if some of the roles are gendered. The human family, however, is led by the godhead, a trio of males who function as a bishopric or stake presidency, not as two partnered parents.
Imagine if the church encouraged earthly families to function in the way they claim our heavenly family does: children would be taken from and cautioned against speaking to their mothers, who would be present but invisible, perhaps doing unknown and unacknowledged work in the background. Fathers would partner with other men to raise the children and would get squirmy if their children started talking about their mother “too much.” This parallel may feel absurd, but consider what kind of father allows his sons to keep his children from their mother? What good mother is so off limits that her children can’t even talk about her, let alone to her?
Heavenly Mother does not appear in the temple, our holiest place where we learn about our potential as God’s children, except perhaps She is hinted at in the promise that women will be queens and priestesses to their husbands in the new and everlasting covenant while men are promised to become kings and priests directly to God. It’s obvious that “God” in this instance equals God the Father, and this realization made me mourn the lack of matrilineal bond between Mother God and Her daughters. If women were promised to be queens and priestesses to God the Mother, not to their husbands or even to Father God, would the symmetry help to bring balance? As it stands, Heavenly Mother is our one example of what it means to be a queen and priestess to one’s husband in the new and everlasting covenant. If the fulfillment of that highest promise means a woman will lead a protected life in her husband’s shadow during the mortal probation of her children, does that sound like an eternal reward most women would actually want?
If aspiring to become like Heavenly Father were an option for me, perhaps the Mormon model of exaltation would be more appealing. But to be a Mother in Heaven feels like an even worse version of what it is like to be a woman on earth. At least here, parity is a possibility, despite the church’s and world’s proliferation of patriarchy. At least here, I can parent my children and have a true partnership with my husband. At least here, I can be actively involved in building up the kingdom of God, even if my service in the church will always be auxiliary. But in the celestial kingdom, as far as our doctrine and most holy rites are concerned, women will have none of that.
I should be clear that I no longer believe in the Mormon concept of heaven. But if it turns out I’m wrong, the terrestrial kingdom sounds like a much better fit for me than Heavenly Motherhood. According to the church’s gospel topics essays:
“Those who inherit terrestrial glory will “receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father.”…Generally speaking, individuals in the terrestrial kingdom will be honorable people “who were blinded by the craftiness of men” (D&C 76:75). This group will include members of the Church who were “not valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79).”
In other words, it’s a place where good people who had issues with Mormonism can live without the strictures of gender roles or patriarchy and worship Jesus. It’s also a place where Heavenly Father apparently can’t (won’t?) go. And that’s just fine with me.
If heaven is not egalitarian, I’m not interested.
This post is part of a series, Contemplating Heavenly Mother. Find more from this series here.
Thank you so much for this post. You put it so beautifully, especially in a religious context where so many legitimate criticisms of systemic injustice are unfortunately met with “it’ll all be sorted out in the afterlife” or one of its variations.
For many years I have struggled with the concept of living forever inside the Celestial Kingdom, as a woman, wife and mother. There are so many factors that do not add up. So many, I too, could not imagine myself living there.
The big happy plan of salvation seems to be filled with holes. I understand we can’t possibly know everything upfront, but what we have now is truly disturbing to me. Leaning on my Mother in Heaven has given my heart peace, comfort and hope for whatever comes next. Thank you for your thoughtful post.
This totally makes sense, ElleK. The celestial kingdom reads like a fantasy designed by men who think of women as possessions, so it’s not surprising that it’s not a heaven for women. FWIW, as a man, I’m with you that if the Mormon afterlife turned out to be true, I’d go for the terrestrial kingdom too if given the option. (I’m clearly not celestial material!)
I love your use of “knowledge mostly gleaned by inference from the goddess-shaped void in scripture”. I feel like the Mormon church has a beautiful doctrine that is missing in other religions regarding Heavenly parents, but they are afraid of straying too far from mainstream Christianity, or perhaps they are worried about giving women another inch of power. Either way, they miss the mark when they ask us to become gods, but don’t let us learn about, talk about, or talk to our Heavenly Mother.
Will the writer of the mother in heaven essay please stand up? As the Paulsen and Pulido essay drew upon a corpus of over 600 references to female divinity I suspect a much more comprehensive draft was culled, cut and edited down.
I just re-read this recently. Heavenly Mother DID participate in the creation and plan of salvation. We CAN talk about her. I love Terryl Givens’ recent work on Universalism (we aren’t stuck to one kingdom in the afterlife and exaltation is never forclosed on) and “God” as plural (we already know this from the Jewish word Elohim, which mean “gods”), all of which reminds me that there are “more things in heaven and earth… than are dreamt of in [our sexist] philosophies.”
It really becomes untenable when the heaven you envision and that reflects your worth and potential is so opposite to what goes on in the church today. I also came to your conclusion. To women who question women’s place in the church and the eternities, the church says have faith. What are these women supposed to have faith in? Have faith that heaven is totally different than how the church is? This only begs the question, why isn’t the church run in a more celestial way then? Or have faith that you will magically not care about your worth and potential as a woman after you die? Neither of these positions make sense. The simplest conclusion is that all is not well in Zion. These are vital soul-wrenching questions that affect half the membership and more (if men care about women). Yet, the church can’t seem to be bothered about these things.
Thanks for articulating this. For me, “Have faith” was a twisted way of saying “take heart and trust that we’re wrong about this”.
Having left the church recently I feel the a similar sentiment. This was something I couldn’t see until I finally took time to question my beliefs rather than doubting my doubts. Thank you for putting it so beautifully.
I read stuff like this, and all I can think is- NONE of it is true. None of it. If there even is a HM, none of this religion stuff makes sense.
Faith is a hope in things we don’t know. This life is so short, we only don’t know the things of eternity for a short time. You are assuming so much about why we don’t know eternal things. We are meant to be tested, and yes, it’s hard, but it is supposed to be hard. It sounds like you’re letting doubts deprive you of eternal joy just because you’re assuming you know more than has been revealed.
I can imagine all sorts of reasons of why we don’t know more, but we do have the knowledge we need to be able to choose. If we had more knowledge, and still chose poorly, that additional knowledge would stand as a testimony against us. So living by faith is a test, but it’s also a blessing so that we aren’t judged too harshly when we make mistakes.
I’m not talking about God judging us- the truth condemns those who have it and choose against it. God just lives by the eternal laws of truth, justice and mercy. We condemn ourselves whenever we choose contrary to what we know, which is why we need a Savior.
In other words, you assume that marriage in the eternities will be like it is at its theoretical most glorious peak in this life. But that’s a big assumption proven false by any number of scriptures and General Conference talks about the nature of joy in the Celestial Kingdom. If they say it’s glorious and more amazing than anything we can imagine, then why would you assume that it will be something you won’t like and be able to enjoy? That’s honestly totally backwards and Satan is having some fun with you. Kick him to the curb and replace your fears with faith. Serve others and look for joy and don’t worry so much about what you don’t know.
All said by a man whose path is perfectly clearly laid out and organized for him on this earth. All said by a man who hasn’t needed one moment of the faith he is preaching because his lived experience lines up beautifully with the doctrines of afterlife he espouses. Please mansplain more of religion and faith to women.
“Serve others. . . “???? Why is that always a man’s response to an unhappy woman? Like we aren’t already overwhelmed from taking care of others.
Your comments, Daniel, ring of textbook patriarchy to me. My feelings are you didn’t hear a word that Ellek wrote but instead wanted to share your male experiences to enlighten us. Thank you anyway, but it’s a pass for me.
We are told all the time that the temple is a glimpse of what the eternities are like. I was told by a General Officer a few weeks ago that if I want to understand the “eternal feminine” I should look to the patterns in the temple. Can so see why women who are deeply troubled by the representations of gender in the temple would experience deep existential dread at these teachings?
Daniel, I’m so glad you’re here. I hope you stick around.
Your comment is a pretty accurate distillation of the advice/lectures I’ve gotten my entire life when I’ve tried to explain to other members why it’s hard for me to be a woman in this church. There was a time those comments “worked,” in the sense that they made me feel ashamed and crazy and I stopped voicing them. But now, I can read your comment and recognize that you haven’t been where I am and you aren’t in a place where you can feel empathy for my lived experience. (Which I have empathy for because I have been (and sometimes still am) in that place, too.)
Even if you disagree with the conclusions that brought me peace (which is fine–I don’t want or expect that what’s right for me will be right for anyone else), I’d like to invite you to explore the ways that faith, as described in your comment, looks different for men than it does for women. Men can have faith that they will become like Heavenly Father, a being that we know quite a lot about. We know His role in the creation, in forming the plan of salvation, in parenting and guiding His children on earth. Men’s faith is based in a known reality. Women, on the other hand, have to have faith that they will become like Heavenly Mother, a being never mentioned in scripture and rarely mentioned at all. What we know about Her is that she isn’t part of the godhead, She can’t speak to Her children, and She’s in a marriage that uses gender roles to determine responsibilities. You could be right that women’s exalted lives are glorious and amazing, but can you see how faith in a happy afterlife for you, as a man, is different than the faith that women must have? Can you understand how it could be scary and painful for women who don’t like patriarchy here and loathe the idea of patriarchy in eternity, however misinformed you believe them to be? If your daughter or your wife tearfully confided in you that she had struggles similar to mine, can you imagine how devastating it would be to her if you said “That’s honestly totally backwards and Satan is having some fun with you”?
I’m not expecting you to agree with me on any of the points in my essay. But I’m willing to bet you have been or will be in leadership positions over women like me. All of my bishops have been like you: good men who could not hold space for issues they didn’t try to understand. What a difference it would have made, when I was in the thick of my agony, to have a priesthood leader who would have listened, would have cried with me, would have validated that my pain was real and these issues are hard.
This is an incredibly kind and well-articulated response. Thank you for replying to Daniel like this as I think it appeals to the compassion and humanity of people. Hoping it reaches him and it will help me better phrase my responses when I have people say the same things to me when I talk about this same topic. I agree wholeheartedly. Heaven is not the heaven the LDS church currently teaches because I don’t believe in the subjugation of any groups of people in Heaven (i.e. patriarchal structures, polygamy as the church has practiced and practices it still today, and the exclusion of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters).
Amen from me, too! Priesthood leaders keep threatening us that we’ll lose out on an eternal existence that is completely unappealing if we don’t follow their rules. It feels almost laughable at this point – why would we even want what you’re threatening to withhold from us?
If heaven is not egalitarian, then I’m not interested, either. But, I honestly believe it is. We know so little about it, likely because our minds can’t even begin to comprehend the wonder and majesty of it. Or what it is like compared to our experience in the fallen and unfair world we live in. We look at everything through that lens because that is what we know. I think of how difficult it would be to go back to, say, 1776 and try to explain what the world is like in 2022. They wouldn’t even have the vocabulary that would help them understand it. I would think that trying to comprehend heaven would be an even bigger stretch. Paul’s words apply here: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
I believe it is, too. But I also no longer believe in Mormon heaven. After a certain point, the encouragement to “have faith it will be wonderful!” from men who don’t have to have that same faith about the afterlife, who don’t have to reckon with eternal polygamy, the subordinate side of patriarchy, or becoming silent and invisible, rang hollow. They can have their heaven. It wouldn’t be heaven for me.
I gave up on the Celestial kingdom years ago, after my husband left the church. I just don’t want to be the nth wife of J-Random Righteous Dude.
I believe in the project of Zion, and I believe that the gospel teaches truths that we all need, both individually and for creating a just, equitable, and peaceful society. But if my reward for embracing those truths is something so dehumanising, I’m not interested!
I have, and continue to, struggled with the the “what if they’re right and I’m wrong for stepping away. But the Celestial Kingdom as they describe it and demonstrate it is just not appealing — and even more so to someone who is not and has never wanted to be a mother on this earth, let alone eternally. This is a wonderful post with some great comments. I am thankful for the questions being asked and the thoughts being articulated. To be able to hink, to reason, to feel, to read, to learn, to grow are wonderful gifts and abilities. Thank you for this post! ( And I hope thus comment reads OK–I can only see a partial line at a time as I type it!)
Keep questioning everything, you are on the right track!
Oh. I feel this.
Thank you for this wonderful post. I too have often felt that the celestial kingdom does not sound appealing. But one thing I do believe is that the celestial kingdom is not a place (like a giant gated community), but rather it’s a state of being. And if it is a state of being, then we are free to create the surroundings we want and are free to dispense with the patriarchal order that has been created and promoted by men. As a man, I have to say I don’t want to be like Heavenly Father any more than I would want my wife to be like Heavenly Mother, at least not like the Heavenly Parents that we have been taught about. Reason, logic, and the spirit tell me it’s NOT going to be the way it’s portrayed. It’s interesting to me that the church and scripture teach that husband and wife are to become one, but then the church creates a patriarchal order and doctrines, teachings, and policies that hinder that goal.
It’s great, keep questioning everything!
Thank you for sharing! As a man, I’ve never thought about how exaltation for a woman could be scary and undesirable. Sometimes I wonder if in the premortal life we were raised primarily by Heavenly Mother and in the next life we get to commune with both?
Too many people here are far too short sighted. Can you see and talk to your mother when you are away on a camping trip with your father? This life is just a weekend camping trip with data. Nothing in this life teaches us what it will be like in the next. Will women be in charge then? Who knows. Is it a common teaching in the Gospel that the first will be last and the last will be first? You should maybe think about that some before you throw everything away because you are being a spoiled petulant child that wants everything and wants to know everything right now.
That should say “…a weekend camping trip with dad…”