A few years ago I had a conversation with a TBM* who referred to the Holy Ghost as “he.”
“In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for spirit is feminine, and in New Testament Greek it’s gender-neutral,” I said.
He saw my Bible and raised me a Book of Mormon. “Maybe, but in 1 Nephi there’s a part where the Holy Ghost appears to Nephi as a man.”
“Fair enough,” I acknowledged. “But in other parts of scripture, the Holy Ghost appears as tongues of fire, or as a dove. We think those manifestations were just symbolic, so why do we take literally the notion that just because the Holy Ghost appeared one time in the form of a man, that it was a man?”
Having thrown my heretical cards on the table, I plowed heedlessly ahead. “Besides, I’ve always wondered if the Holy Spirit and Heavenly Mother might be connected. What if the Holy Ghost is actually Heavenly Mother?”
“That is not doctrine!” he sputtered. I think he was about to say something derogatory about my wild and crazy feminism, but he didn’t. That was kind of the end of the conversation.
So since we’re well outside the carefully manicured lawn of accepted Mormon doctrine and venturing into the untamed meadows of pure speculation, here’s a thought: Having Heavenly Mother and the Holy Ghost be one and the same isn’t some left-wing feminist program to empower women. It’s actually a reactionary strategy to disempower them while appearing to empower them. The TBM guy just couldn’t see that this theological shift would actually allow him to hold on to several other ideals he holds near and dear.
It would be genius. Here a five semi-serious reasons why.
1. The Holy Ghost is that still, small voice you know it’s good to listen to but you can also choose to ignore.
Conservative values teach us that women are created to work behind the scenes, influencing people’s hearts. They don’t crave powerful positions or outward authority. They flee from the first hint of conflict or dissension, and they never, ever hang out in bars. They give us comfort and TLC when we ask for it. They speak quietly to our inner souls. This is exactly like the Holy Ghost. If you think about it from the perspective of traditional gender roles, that “still, small voice” could only belong to a woman.
2. The Holy Ghost does not have a body!
This would resolve some of the deep discomfort that conservative Mormons feel about women’s bodies. We need never worry whether Heavenly Mother’s shoulders are appropriately covered, or if her flowing robes reach discreetly past her knees. What could be better than making her problematic female body simply disappear?
3. The Holy Ghost worships the males in the family.
Since an important role of the Holy Ghost is to testify of the Father and the Son, it’s a job tailor-made for Heavenly Mother. She doesn’t need or want any glory of her own, and would simply redirect any praise to the men in her family. This is what good women do.
4. The Holy Ghost is a cleaning lady and a teacher.
Remember that in Mormon theology, another important role of the Holy Ghost is to clean and sanctify people so they’ll be well-scrubbed to meet their father in heaven when the time comes. It’s a never-ending job, helping kids stay clean and wiping their boots before they can enter the house. Best leave that to Mom. Also, we know the Holy Ghost is a teacher (“All who will be saved must be tutored by the Holy Ghost,” the Church teaches us). Three-quarters of teachers are female. It’s perfect.
5. Dissing the Holy Ghost can get you into major trouble.
Remember: blaspheming the Holy Ghost is the only sin the scriptures say is unpardonable. And sure, we could spend all day trying to figure out what it actually means to blaspheme the Holy Ghost . . . or we could just play it safe by assuming it’s better not to talk about the Holy Ghost at all. Ever. Just like with Heavenly Mother. See what we did there? Having Heavenly Mother be the Holy Ghost gives us a pretty darn good reason to avoid so much as speaking her name.
And best of all: we can appear to be giving more visibility to female leadership without changing anything at all about the way things are currently done.
Well played, conservative Mormons. Well played.
* Updated 2/27/15. A reader just emailed me to ask what a TBM is. I’m sorry — it’s a colloquial term for a “true blue Mormon,” or very conservative member of the LDS Church. I should not assume that readers are going to be familiar with this slang!