Upon first hearing, these ideas sounded unique and ground-breaking to me. A larger, more prominent role for women? To be considered divine and worshiped playing a role (as opposed to the passive Virgin Mary role) in human salvation? It seemed a positive and reassuring step in the right direction for gender equality in faith. The patriarchal system in Christianity is undeniably exclusive to females. Although some facets do allow for women to be ordained and serve in higher roles, typically faiths that believe in consubstantiation do not allow for female priests as the priest becomes Christ momentarily during the transformation of the bread to the body of Christ. Furthermore, many biblical passages undermine the role of women and encourage subordination. For example, 1 Timothy 2:12 reads, "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet". Titus 2:5 describes that women should "be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God". This is of course excluding the many passages that discuss women as property or commodities to exchange. This hierarchy of the male over the female has been reinforced or at least continued through faith (and also science, see Ferngren's Science and Religion), so I thought that this group might be an interesting foil to traditional interpretations.
I agreed to attend weekly meetings with a missionary on campus and learn more about the faith. Fascinated, I took many notes on our meetings. I quickly found, though, that this church was not as different in their treatment as I initially thought. Learning about the "God the Mother" figure reinforced for me that this was merely a different manifestation of the already sexist female role in Christianity. Similar to the role of the Virgin Mary, as I briefly described above, the Heavenly Mother emerges as a vessel, place holder, and masculine foil, with no power, characteristics, or importance herself. Instead, the Heavenly Mother incorporates the traditional gender roles of femininity (i.e., bride, spouse, mother) into a divine form. Though it may seem encouraging to have a female face among the divine, her role as a foil to Christ removes any autonomy and importance in her narrative role. To maintain narrative fidelity (as proposed by Fisher's narrative paradigm), the patriarch must still be in place and the hero of the story must remain the male protagonist. The Heavenly Mother does not challenge this role, become a hero or protagonist herself, but merely complements the masculine figure.
The Heavenly Mother, and consequentially, all women, are also only laded, valued, or given importance when they fulfill their gender roles. The Heavenly Mother does not have a name, like Christ, or a purpose, other than to serve Christ and be the mother of all humans. The Heavenly Mother thus becomes nothing more than the Virgin Mary: a divine vagina. Her sexual organs are the only meaning she provides for the narrative, as a sexual object for Christ as bride and a vessel for human life as mother. The woman I met with emphasized the importance of the family structure, the "nuclear" mother, father, children unit that is the backbone of society. This structure is a metaphor for the larger Father, Mother, and humankind as children. After prompting by me, my faith partner also admitted that the LGBTQ community does not fit this holy female-male binary (transfemales not in possession of the normative sexual organs) so should be banned from marriage.
My hopes for a more inclusive, engaging, and female-friendly version of Christianity were definitely dashed. I see no benefit to having a divine female figure if her only contribution to the faith is her vagina and its function. I continued to meet with the conversation partner for a few weeks, learning about why her faith was the "true" faith and the literal word of the Bible and its importance. Not only does this faith believe in the second coming, but they believe it will happen in our lifetime. During that apocalypse, we will be welcomed by both Christ and his bride, to be reunited as a heteronormative, nuclear family.