on the cover:
Waiting for the Goddess. Like philosopher Eric Hoffer, whose years as a longshoreman informed his keen observations of life and society, Janice Allred interprets Mormon theology from her perspective as a housewife and mother of nine. But for her efforts to expound the traditional Latter-day Saint belief in a Mother in Heaven, she was excommunicated just after Mother’s Day 1995, her writings catapulted suddenly into the public spotlight. “Jesus taught us to pray to the Father,” Allred writes, “not to set up barriers between us and God, but to remove them. [God is also] our Mother, a Mother who knows our needs before we can express them, a Mother who is here before we called out to her.” Although LDS church leaders forbid speculation about or praying to the Goddess, they have stopped short of repudiating her outright and left open the possibility of accepting her in the future. Whether or not one agrees with Allred’s views, one has to acknowledge her skill in stimulating thought-provoking possibilities that empower women—which is what she intended.
The Front Cover Flap:
KAETHE KOLLWITZ (GERMAN, 1867-1945)
TOWER OF MOTHERS, 1938; BRONZ; 10 1/2
THE BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART:
GIVEN IN MEMORY OF JOSEPH KATZ BY HIS CHILDREN
about the author: Janice Allred has published in the Mormon Women’s Forum: An LDS Feminist Quarterly; Sunstone magazine; and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, which has twice granted her its annual Theology and Scripture Award. She is co-editor with Lavina Fielding Anderson of Case Reports of the Mormon Alliance, which documents instances of alleged “spiritual abuse” in the LDS church. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University and is currently president of the Mormon Women’s Forum.
God the Mother:
and Other Theological Essays
Signature Books, Salt Lake City
“If Thy Brother Sin Against Thee” appeared in Sunstone, Sept.-Oct. 1978; “Toward a Mormon Concept of Original Sin” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1980; “Pride or Self-esteem: Toward a Mormon Concept of the Self” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1984; “Justification and Sanctification” was presented at a scripture lecture series sponsured by the Sunstone Foundation, 8 Aug. 1989; “Jesus Our Mother: The Quest for Feminine Identity” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1989; “Do You Preach the Orthodox Religion? A Place for Theology in Mormon Community” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1990; “Anger, Sex, and Pain: The Body in Service of the Spirit” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1991; “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1992; “Freedom and Grace: Rethinking Theocracy” was presented at the Sunstone Sumposium, Aug. 1993; “Him Shall Ye Hear: Prophets and People in the Church of Jesus Christ” was presente at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1994; “Equality and Diversity” was presented at the Sunstone Symposium, Aug. 1995; and “Faith and Doubt” was presented at the Mormon Women’s Forum Counterpoint Conference, May 1996.
God the Mother was printed on acid-free paper and was composed, printed and bound in the United States.
© 1997 by Signature Books, Inc. Signature Books is a registered trademark of Signature Books Inc.
2001 2000 99 98 97 6 5 4 3 2 1
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Allred, Janice Merrill
God the mother : and other theological essays / by Janice Merrill Allred.
Includes bibliographical references (p. ).
1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—Doctrines.
2. Mormon Church—Doctrines. I. Title
ISBN 1-56085-086-8 (pbk.)
Introduction [see below]
01 – Do You Preach the Orthodox Religion?: A Place for Theology in Mormon Community
02 – Jesus Our Mother: The Quest for Feminine Identity
03 – Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother
04 – Anger, Sex, and Pain: The Body in Service of the Spirit
05 – Faith and Doubt
06 – Pride or Self-Esteem: Toward a Mormon Concept of the Self
07 – Toward a Mormon Concept of Original Sin
08 – Justification and Sanctification
09 – If Thy Brother Sin Against Thee
10 – Freedom and Grace: Rethinking Theocracy
11 – Him Shall He Hear: Prophets and People in the Church of Jesus Christ
12 – Equality and Diversity
Several years ago I overheard a conversation between my two sons, Nephi and Joel, ages four and two. They were sitting on the couch with their arms around each other looking at an illustrated Book of Mormon for children which I had been reading to them. Joel, pointing to a picture supposed to represent the prophet Ether said, “Look, Nephi, there’s Eser.” Nephi replied, “No, Joel it’s Efer,” to which Joel responded, “Yes, it’s Eser.” They then calmly turned the page. This little exchange represents to me a paradigm for a theological discussion grounded in revelation and the scriptures. Each person interprets these according to his abilities and experience, an effort is made to harmonize views, but differences do not lead to a break in fellowship.
The starting point of Mormon theology is a story, the story of the boy Joseph Smith who wanted to know his standing with God. Neither the Bible nor the creeds of the churches nor the professors of religion were able to answer his question, so he sought his answer directly from God. The Lord appeared to him in a vision and answered his questions. Revelation is an event. It is an experience in which God or a heavenly messenger or the Spirit of God comes into contact with a person and gives him or her something; the gift may be words imparting knowledge or commandments, a vision of the future or of heaven, or the sense of God’s love and care and involvement.
Theology is the discipline which studies God and humanity and their relationship. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the German Protestant theologian considered to be the father of modern theology, maintained that any given theology represents and refers to the doctrines of a particular Christian body at a particular time; in other words, there can be no general theology because theology must be based on experience. It begins in religious experience because that is what provides our contact with the divine and thus gives fundamental importance to whatever contact humanity has with the divine. It seems to me that every theology must recognize and interpret revelation, must give some significance to it, but for Mormon theology revelation must be fundamental. Joseph Smith said that you can learn more about God by gazing into heaven for five minutes than by reading all the books that have ever been written about him. Mormonism began with Joseph’s first encounter with Jesus; it was founded on the belief that every human being can receive revelation from God, and the church was established to help bring this about. In his preface ro the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord declared that one of the purposes of the Mormon restoration was “that every man [and woman] might speak in the name of God, the Lord, even the Savior of the world” (D&C 1:20). The concept of continuing revelation and an open canon is fundamental to Mormonism.
Yet revelation and theology are fundamentally different; revelation is experiential while theology is a form of knowledge. Thus theology must be essentially interpretive. The theologian deals primarily with texts; the primary text is the scriptures, which contain some of the revelations of God, but the scriptures themselves are not revelation itself, but a compilation of accounts of revelations, interpretations of revelations, inspired sermons, history interpreted as God’s dealings with men and women, parables, myths, and even theology. The interpretations of theologians as well as the writings of prophets are influenced by their own philosophical assumptions about the nature of truth and reality, their cultural background, their language, their own experience, their writing ability, the questions they choose to ask, etc. Given all these variables it is apparent that the task of theology is infinite.
Mormon theology has been dominated historically by three approaches: the orthodox, the scholarly, and the philosophical. I see these as being fundamentally different in purpose and I will compare them from this point of view. The orthodox approach assumes that there is a body of doctrine which is found in the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets, ancient and modern. The task of the theologian, as the orthodox see it, is to extract this doctrine and present it in propositional form. Those who take this approach make a rigid distinction between doctrine and speculation. For them doctrine is the fundamental truths about the Godhead, salvation, priesthood, authority, and gospel principles which are clearly taught by the scriptures and the prophets, and speculation is thinking about questions of interest but not of vital importance about which there is some information but for which the authoritative answer has not yet been given. Orthodox Mormons believe in continuing revelation, but they believe it simply adds details, not new fundamental truths. They do not believe that it could significantly change what they regard as doctrine.
The scholarly approach to Mormon theology recognizes a range of views on theological questions both in the scriptures and among writers and thinkers. Its principal concern is to discover, document, categorize, compare and contrast, and evaluate these views. Scholarly studies are usually presented from a historical or sociological point of view.
The philosophical approach begins with philosophy. Mormons who take this approach explore a philosophical or theological question using Mormon ideas on the nature of God, humankind, free agency, reality, law, or some other theological concept to suggest a solution to or a new way of thinking about the question. The methodology of this approach is philosophical, although the thinker may assume his Mormon insights are true without attempting to support them philosophically.
In the essays that follow I take a new approach to theology, which I call constructive theology. I do not mean to imply that no one before has taken this approach. I believe theology has been done this way from the beginning; indeed, it is the beginning of theology. Theology is simply thinking about religious questions. It begins with the desire to make sense of what we have read in the scriptures or heard at church or experienced in our own spiritual struggles. It is reflecting on our own quest to know God, to overcome sin and seek righteousness, and to understand how God expects us to relate to our fellow human beings. I believe that as a church Mormons need to reclaim this kind of theology. Some of us, I think, are starting to do this. I also do not wish to imply that the three other approaches are of no value or should be done away with, rather that they are incomplete. Their discoveries and methods can be useful, and constructive theology can be a resource for both scholarly and philosophical approaches. However, orthodox theology is most likely to find constructive theology heretical
To characterize constructive theology, I will compare and contrast it to orthodox, scholarly, and philosophical theology. Like orthodox theology Mormon constructive theology holds revelation to be fundamental Both orthodox and constructive theologians are believers; they believe in God and that God communicates with human beings. Their theology is motivated by the desire to understand and communicate religious truth. Although orthodox and constructive theologians both see revelation as fundamental, they understand it in different ways. For orthodox theology revelation is authoritative for constructive theology it is a resource for exploration. In calling constructive theology a new approach that goes back to the beginning, I was alluding to the Lord’s use of “new” in the Doctrine and Covenants when he talks about the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel. This covenant bestows the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the power to create all things anew in the moment of experience, in new contexts, and in answer to new questions. I try to develop this understanding of revelation in several essays (see especially “Justification and Sanctification,” “Do You Preach the Orthodox Religion?” and “Him Shall Ye Hear”). Constructive theology has a dynamic conception of revelation, while orthodox theology thinks of revelation as absolute truth revealed to prophets by God. Unlike orthodox theologians, constructive theologians recognize the gap between revelation and theology and understand the interpretive nature of theology. Although, like orthodox theologians, they distinguish between fundamental and secondary doctrines, they do not hesitate to reexamine fundamental doctrines, because they reject an absolute conception of truth in favor of a contextual view of truth. Fundamental doctrines, if they are to be vital truths rather than idols, must continually be put into new contexts, re-interpreted from different points of view, and confronted with experience and different interpretations and new revelations.
It should be apparent that the scholarly approach is integral to constructive theology. Understanding the range of views and interpretations of others is vital to those who take the constructive approach. However, they go further than scholars because they are committed to creating a new understanding. At the same time, they realize that a new understanding is not a final understanding. In this they are, perhaps, more like artists than traditional theologians, treating the same themes in different ways rather than trying to write the definitive work on Mormon doctrine.
Because theology and philosophy share, to a certain extent, the same subject matter, their relationship is complex. Both disciplines are concerned with the nature of truth, reality, meaning, and ethics. Philosophers, of course, do not have to discuss God, while theologians must. As I have said, for Mormon theologians revelation is fundamental, but philosophers choose their own fundamentals. Theology can learn much from philosophy-how to reason, the limitations of reason, what questions to ask, etc.–but it must be aware of the danger of becoming philosophy if it fails to maintain revelation as fundamental. Another danger that I see is that people will come to feel that theology demands philosophical methods or that a philosophical approach to theology is somehow better than other approaches. Theology can be enriched by other disciplines. Literature, anthropology, psychology, linguistics, physics, and even, or maybe especially, daily life and disciplehood itself have much to offer. Indeed, without drawing from some other area of learning or life, theology has nothing to say, no medium of interpretation. What I am implying is that every Mormon should be a constructive theologian; I could argue that each of us must construct his or her own theology as we try to understand our scriptures and religious concepts, as we try to make sense of our individual and communal experience from a religious perspective, and as we seek righteousness.
However, most Mormons do not consciously accept the constructive approach. For orthodox thinkers constructive theology is unacceptable for at least two reasons. First, its conception of truth as relative is threatening and upsetting and simply wrong to those who believe in absolute truth. Second, doctrine revealed to the prophets which all church members should believe in and not question. My essay “Do You Preach the Orthodox Religion? A Place for Theology in Mormon Community” attempts to show that orthodoxy is inherently divisive, oppressive, and opposed to revelation. Constructive theology considers revelation to be fundamental, but rather than equating it with authority as orthodox theology does, it emphasizes its experiential nature and its availability to everyone. Joseph Smith said, “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations,” and the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” J. F. Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [Salt Lake City, 1968], 328, 119). Orthodox thinkers assume that all members should believe the same, while constructive thinkers believe that it is neither possible nor desirable for all members to have uniform beliefs. Orthodox theologians think that members are commanded to believe all prophetic utterances, but Joseph Smith said, “Did I ever exercise any compulsion over any man? Did I not give him the liberty of disbelieving any doctrine I have preached, if they saw fit?” (ibid., 341) While orthodox thinkers believe in personal revelation, they see it mainly as a resource for solving personal problems or problems relating to church callings, or they see it as a way of confirming the truth of the words of church leaders. Yet Joseph Smith said, “I advise all to go on to perfection, and search deeper and deeper into the mysteries of Godliness” (ibid., 364). He saw the process of perfection as involving a personal search for further knowledge about God. In citing Joseph to refute the authoritarian point of view, I do not mean to use his words authoritatively as the final word on this issue. I mean to use them to undercut the authoritarian point of view. If Joseph has an unorthodox view of theology, it should cause orthodox Mormon thinkers to reassess [xi] their views. I believe that the most effective method of refuting an authoritarian argument is to show disagreement among the authorities.
Scholars and philosophers may object to my view of constructive theology because of my insistence that revelation be fundamental. Because orthodox theology has tied revelation to authoritarianism and used this interpretation to stop inquiry and devalue scholarly and philosophical methods, such a response is understandable. I hope I have shown that constructive theology demands questioning and values and uses the knowledge and methods of other disciplines. However, there may be another reason
that emphasizing revelation might cause scholars and philosophers to reject my view. Revelation must be fundamental to theology in two ways. First, the accounts of direct contact with God and the records of his words spoken to prophets must be considered as the primary source for our knowledge about God and our relationship to him. Second, as seekers of truth who have the testimony of Jesus and the Holy Ghost, we must receive revelation. No one can understand the things of God without the spirit of God. This requirement may trouble scholars if they feel that their disciplines require an objective point of view. I have no objection to subjecting religious ideas to a scholarly or philosophical or anthropological or any other point of view, but we need to be clear that we are thus doing history or philosophy or anthropology or whatever, not Mormon theology. Such studies are valuable and may even constitute part of the theological task, but the theology which is a vital part of the religious life of an individual and his or her church community must be done from the point of view of a believer. Constructive theology is simply the personal quest for religious knowledge pursued in the context of a community of believers. Ideally, such a community regards the ideas and experiences of all members as valuable and encourages a free and open exchange of ideas. I do not mean to imply that those who pursue scholarly studies are not believers; very often they are. I also do not mean to suggest that there is only one kind of belief acceptable in the church community. I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ allows a wide range of views on most questions.
My view of constructive theology as an integral part of individual and community religious life demands that we not only study revelations but that we also seek them. However, I do need to make a couple of points clear. While the faith and faithfulness of a person do influence his theological thinking, it is not right for us to question his testimony or character when we examine his ideas or to reject or accept them on the basis of our estimation of such things. As Christians we have no right to judge another person’s standing with God. We should assume that whatever is offered is offered in good faith and judge the ideas on their merit alone. Also, we should not try to use revelation as a way of compelling belief. Even if we feel that an idea is inspired, we should support it with reasons of some kind. However, I do feel that our personal experiences have theological importance, but if we offer them for others’ consideration we should realize that they have the right to interpret them for themselves and that they may not accept our interpretations.
The essays collected in this book were written over a period of about sixteen years. Although each can stand independently, they have been arranged to enhance the development of the interrelated ideas and themes. I have left some of the essays almost exactly in their original versions; others I have changed substantially. The changes I made were either to elucidate ideas which I thought were unclear, to modify notions to better fit my current beliefs, or to add material to concepts which I thought needed more development. In some cases changes were made to avoid repetition of ideas. Although I might treat some topics differently if I were to write on them now, these essays still represent my beliefs and thinking about Mormon theology. Each essay was written to explore and answer questions that have engaged and troubled me. Although I usually take an abstract, analytical approach, the questions I deal with have been very important in my own life. My reason for writing them was to explore and give form to my own understanding and to offer my insights to others in the hope that someone might find them helpful. I have been greatly benefitted in my own quest for truth by reading the writings of others and I feel an obligation to give something in return.
Since I claim that constructive theologians are believers, I think it is important for me to disclose my basic religious beliefs. I believe in God the Eternal Father and Mother who created the earth and sent us here to give us the opportunity to become like them. I believe that the Father and Mother are equally and actively involved in bringing to pass our immortality and eternal life, the Father as the Son and the Mother as the Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our savior and that through his atoning sacrifice we can be saved from sins and death. I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost. I believe that the scriptures contain the word of God as well as the interpretations, philosophies, and experiences of human beings. I believe that the Book of Mormon is the record of an ancient people that contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the testimony of Jesus Christ recorded by ancient prophets, which was translated by the prophet Joseph Smith by the gift and power of God. I believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet who received the revelations given in the Doctrine and Covenants and who was given the power by Jesus Christ to establish his church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that he was given priesthood powers and keys by angels sent from God. Although I myself have been called to be a member of the LDS Church, I believe that God loves all his children equally and imparts his love and power to all who seek it. I believe that there is good (and evil) in all religions and churches (including the Mormon church) and that we have much to teach and learn from each other.
While preparing these essays for publication, I was excommunicated from the LDS church for apostasy. Two of the essays included in this book, “Toward a Mormon Theology of God the Mother” and “Him Shall Ye Hear: Prophets and People in the Church of Jesus Christ,” were declared by my bishop and stake president to contain false doctrine and I was excommunicated for insisting on my right as a faithful member of the church to write and publish them. The process of being disciplined for my writing, which occurred over a two-and-a-half-year period, called into question the enterprise of constructive theology as I have defined it here. It seems that the orthodox conception of theology is not only dominant in the church, but that church leaders are able and, in some cases, determined to enforce it with power. The last three essays, “Freedom and Grace: Rethinking Theocracy,” “Him Shall ye Hear: Prophets and People in the Church of Jesus Christ,” and Equality and Diversity,” were written as I thought about the issues involved in my being disciplined by the church. I realize that the ideas expressed in some of my essays are not generally accepted in the church, but I believe that they are genuinely Mormon since they are based on fundamental teachings of the Mormon scriptures and represent what I consider to be best in Mormonism. In authoritarian systems established power always wins, but I believe that the power of truth is ultimately greater, and I offer what I have found to be true for the consideration of others who love truth. “If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No, I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way” (Smith, Teachings, 313).