Interview with Girls Who Choose God Author Bethany Brady Spalding

Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the BibleA little over a year ago Deseret Book released Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Courageous Women from the Bible.  I reviewed it here.  Now, authors McArthur Krishna and Bethany Spalding have published a second book, Girls Who Choose God: Stories of Strong Women from the Book of Mormon.  I asked Bethany to tell us about the process of writing these books.


Tell us about where the idea for a book about women in scripture came from.

GIRLS WHO CHOOSE GOD: STORIES OF STRONG WOMEN FROM THE BOOK OF MORMONWhen my oldest daughter, Simone, was almost three years old, we were reading through a book of scripture stories together. At the end of the book, she looked up at me with puzzled eyes and said, “Mom, where are all of the stories about the girls?” Her question struck me.  I don’t think my mom had ever asked that question.  I didn’t think to ask that question until I was in my thirties.  But here, my daughter who was not yet three was already asking the gender question.  At such a young age she could already see that she wasn’t reflected in those stories.  She could already recognize the discrepancy.  It was then that I knew that Simone’s generation was different and that they would demand and deserve a new approach to teaching the gospel.  It couldn’t be boy-centric anymore.

Now I am not a writer, and I am not a scriptorian. But I am a mom, and I am a believer in change.  So when I couldn’t find an adequate book about women in the scriptures, I decided to write one.


How much time passed between that initial spark and publication?

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Book Review: Evolving Faith by Steven L. Peck

EvolvingfaithR3-200x300Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist is a collection of essays by Steven L. Peck, published by the Maxwell Institute.  Evolving Faith is an apt title, and this becomes apparent after reading all of the essays.  They are a reconciliation between Darwinism and faith, but much more than that.  Peck also looks at materialism, consciousness, subjectivity, creation, and stewardship of the environment, and challenges LDS theology to engage with these things in serious ways.  I see this book as a call for LDS theology to evolve by adapting to the landscape of modern science and philosophy.

In the first essay, “Embracing Science, Resisting Literalism, and Shifting Paradigms,” Peck tells a story that I think is at the heart of the book.  Plenty Coups was a Crow chief whose “life straddled the division between the traditional Crow way of life and the takeover of all Indian affairs by the United States government.”  After joining forces with the US government to fight the Sioux, the Crow found that everything had changed: the buffalo and beaver were all but gone, and other tribes had been divided and destroyed. Though the Crow nation continued to exist in the form of related people living together in a shared space, Plenty Coups said that after the US government took control, “nothing happened.”  Nothing could happen because “the ground for meaning itself had been destroyed.”  However, unlike other chiefs who continued to hope that Europeans could be defeated through an Indian messiah or other spiritual helps, Plenty Coups saw that the buffalo and beaver were indeed gone and taught his people to farm, promoted education, and represented Native rights in Washington D.C.  He knew that facing reality is the best way. Peck writes,

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The Church of the Nuclear Family of Latter-day Saints?

Lately I’ve felt like I’m hearing too much about “the family” at church, so I was pleased to see the topic of Sabbath observance during the 3rd hour at the ward I attended on August 9.  Something basic about living the gospel and focusing on spiritual development was just what I wanted to hear.  The lesson was part video from Salt Lake City, and part discussion facilitated by the ward’s bishop.  In the video a few apostles made brief remarks, followed by a slide with a question, which the bishop encouraged the class to discuss.

I liked that the material presented was about principles and not about specifics on what to do and not to do on the Sabbath – they seem to trust church members to use the spirit to guide their Sabbath observance.  Elder Ballard remarked that the reason for a lesson on this topic was to make the Sabbath a time when people can have spiritual experiences to strengthen their faith.  Yes!  I am on board with that.

However, Elder Bednar took the discussion in a direction I did not expect.  He said the whole point of the gospel is for a man and woman to be sealed and happy at home, using a quote from Elder Packer to support this.  He presented the following graphic:

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To say what is truth?

27I have not been able to stop thinking about an essay I read a few months ago: “Oh Say What is Truth? Understanding Mormonism Through a Black Feminist Epistemology”  The author argues that in Mormonism truth is acquired through feeling, citing D&C 9:8, as well as through lived experience; these are the ways we “find out for ourselves.”  These methods of determining truth are part of a black feminist epistemology set forth by Patricia Hill Collins, and the essay argues that her ideas are very close to Mormon methods of determining truth.

Taking feelings and lived experience a step further, Collins argues that a collective dialogue is essential to furthering and developing the truth that each person has acquired, and that each person has a moral obligation to share her truth.  Collins wrote, “The fundamental requirement of [a collective dialogue] is the active participation of all individuals. For ideas to be tested and validated, everyone in the group must participate. To refuse to join in, especially if one really disagrees with what has been said, is seen as ‘cheating.’” The essayist concludes, “Because we all have a truth to speak, to fail to speak our truth especially when it is needed most – when it is being contradicted – is to fail the community’s efforts to build collective, experienced-based truth as a whole body.”

I try to live as though participating in collective dialogue is a moral obligation.  For years I’ve felt that speaking my truth regarding gender equality in Mormonism is one of the important purposes of my life.  For example, Mormonism is patriarchal, but I believe patriarchy is a Judeo-Christian heritage not inspired by God, passed down through many years of unchecked sexism, and now entangled so that it touches nearly every aspect of Church culture and much of Church doctrine.  How do I live as part of a religious community with strongly held traditional beliefs and while hoping for radical change?

I do it by talking.  I use inclusive language, I comment often in Sunday School and Relief Society, I get up in fast and testimony meeting a few times every year, I give carefully crafted talks that are both diplomatic and radical, and I write for a Mormon feminist blog and paper.  I speak my truth wherever I can.  This can be scary because it opens me up for criticism and judgement, but it can also create unexpected connections with people who resonate with what I’ve said.  In the context of contemporary American life it may seem tame to speak truth in one’s own small community – others have spoken up at much greater cost than I have, and to greater effect.  But to do this consistently, to remain attached to a community that has expanded my spirit but also makes me weep, this takes courage and staying power.

So, my ideas matter, even if, or especially when, they are contrary to the status quo.  And if a collective dialogue is needed to develop and advance knowledge, then I need to keep showing up for that dialogue.  I also believe that organizations need insiders working for change for that change to become possible.

But here’s the problem.  What if I’m a lone reed?  In my experience there needs to be a critical mass of people in a Sunday School discussion to get an idea afloat.  It’s great when that happens, and the discussion becomes enlightening and enlivening.  But what if comments or questions fall flat and the teacher marches on with the lesson as planned?  What if people hold your truth in contempt, or possibly worse, just ignore it?  A dialogue in which everyone participates sounds great, but in does that ever happen in real life?  What if, as happened to me earlier this month, a First Presidency letter, the bishopric’s selection of the theme for sacrament meeting, and the material in the talks and discussions form a unified block of content that I don’t resonate with?  Are comments against such a backdrop useful, or contentious even if contention is not my intent?

I’m lonely and tired, friends.  So please, give me your stories.  When you speak up, how does it go?  What do you learn?  Does it create a spark for generating sincere discussion?  Or does your spark fall to the ground, extingushed?  If it’s the latter, what does that mean?

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On Blessings

In Gilead, a favorite novel of mine, a Congregational minister named John Ames recalls his life in a letter to his young son.  Part autobiography and part meditation on ultimate questions, the book contains some interesting thought on blessings.  As a minister, Ames has bestowed countless blessings, but his first experiencing of blessing was with kittens.

“I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand.  Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing.  It stays the mind”  He and his lifelong friend Boughton had wetted the kittens brows with water to baptize them.  He wondered what they had done to them, musing, “It still seems to me to be a real question.”[1]

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