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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Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women: What’s in the new essay?

Emma!The 12th essay in the Gospel Topics series was released yesterday by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Titled Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women, the essay describes Smith’s expansive views of female participation within the priesthood, as well as very recent teachings by Mormon leaders who have sought to clarify the role of women in the priesthood since Ordain Women launched in 2013.

Instead of teaching that priesthood is inherently male, the essay authors emphasize that both “Latter-day Saint women and men go forward with priesthood power and authority.” Although Mormon women are not ordained to offices of the priesthood, the authors point out that Mormon women perform “service and leadership [that] would require ordination in many other religious traditions” such as giving sermons, proselytizing, and officiating in temple ordinances. It is refreshing to see another official church resource explicitly state that “women exercise priesthood authority even though they are not ordained to priesthood office.”

The authors call out two common areas of confusion about the priesthood:

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A Classic Midrash of “Our women . . . were strong . . . like unto the men.”

Guest post by Bradley J. Kramer

Bradley Kramer is a scholar of interfaith studies, particularly the relationship between Mormonism and Judaism. His book Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon is available here. Brad’s work in Mormon midrash inspired the Exponent II short story contest. This post is an example of one kind of midrash: a classic dialogic midrash. There are, however, many other kinds, including straight narrative. The point of midrash is to pay attention to subtle clues within the scriptural text and uncover the stories left “between the lines,” as it were.  We hope this post will inspire you to think about the scriptures in a new way and, perhaps, submit your own midrash.

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Rabbi Abigail asked: Why does the Book of Mormon say that the Lehite women “were strong, yea, even like unto the men” (1 Nephi 17:2)? Is this supposed to be a compliment? Many of the Lehite men murmured continually during their journey to the Promised Land. Some even rebelled against their leaders. This does not seem very complimentary, or respectful.

Rabbi Eliezer said: “Like unto” here means “better than” or “greater than,” as in the brightness of God is “like unto the brightness of a flaming fire” (1 Nephi 15:30) or God’s voice is “like unto the voice of thunder” (1 Nephi 17:45). In these examples, the first element in the comparison is clearly superior to the second element. Therefore this passage is saying that the Lehite women were superior to many of the Lehite men, in that “they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings” (1 Nephi 17:2).

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To Hold In Their Hands

Last fall, I sat in a room on Yale University’s campus, and listened to Terry Tempest William read aloud from her book, When Women Were Birds. There were so many beautiful, meaningful thoughts, but the one that made my heart beat most wildly was this: “Mormon women write. This is what we do, we write for posterity, noting the daily happening of our lives. Keeping a journal is keeping a record.” I knew instinctively, that she was right, because of myself, and those who came before me.

My mind was flooded with their names: Eliza R. Snow, Louisa Green Richards, Emmaline B. Wells, and other early leaders who wrote in both their private journals and their published journal, The Woman’s Exponent; Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Judith Dushku, and other Boston area women who found their words in Harvard’s Widener Library, and carried their torch by starting the Exponent II; a myriad of other Mormon women writers and bloggers here and elsewhere.

The February before that, I sat in a room on Claremont Graduate University’s campus, and listened to Joanna Brooks affirm that Mormon women need a book. There were so many beautiful, meaningful thoughts, but the one that made my heart beat most wildly, was this:

The public conversations swirl onward and online as sometimes sort of directionless with nothing like the great orienteering tool of a book, for there is nothing like a book to hold in one’s hand and locate oneself in a tradition… Mormon women coming of age need to hold in their hands the wealth of perspective and knowledge of these last four decades of Mormon feminism… This work has value, and something about a book conveys value, so, I’m setting to work compiling a volume of essential Mormon feminist writings from 1970 to the present.

There was no way I could have known it then, but Joanna would later ask Hannah Wheelwright and I to help her co-edit the volume. It was a massive undertaking of love, and work, and patience, and community. (We ourselves asked for lots, and lots of help from our sisters, and received it.) The book is here now, and Mormon feminists are holding it in their hands. It is among the happiest, most beautiful sights.

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From the Backlist: General Conference October 2015

April and her mom and daughter at General Conference

April and her mom and daughter at General Conference

We had a good discussion about General Conference on our backlist. Many of us found inspiration for our own life journeys and were reassured by affirming messages from Church leaders about issues dear to our hearts, such as the status of women in the Church. We had questions about the continued lack of diversity among the Quorum of the Twelve; continued low representation of women among Conference speakers; and the return of the English-only format, ending a short-lived effort at language diversity.

April Young Bennett: President Uchtdorf said all three apostle vacancies will be filled today. I am hoping that the new people will reflect the ethnic, racial and geographic diversity of the Church and I am hoping that the new people will be empathetic to the concerns of women who would like greater inclusion in the Church. After seeing a female friend and mentor become a Community of Christ apostle just a few weeks ago, I also feel sad that I can’t even hope for a woman to be included among our own apostles.

President Uchtdorf reprised the theme that women should simplify their efforts, instead of overdoing unimportant things like handouts. Simplification is always good advice, but I can’t help but wonder if women overdo handouts because we aren’t given more meaningful projects within the Church. Couldn’t we channel that energy into more important efforts if we were better included in the governance of the Church?

I liked that Elder Ballard pointed out that church leaders are neither perfect nor infallible, but they are perfectly dedicated. I believe that is true. I hope this kind of dedication and humility makes it possible for them to consider suggestions from rank-and-file members of the Church. Lately, I have been told by multiple sources that the brethren are so inspired they don’t need women’s input. I hope the brethren themselves don’t feel that way.

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Announcement: Exponent II Mormon Feminist Midrash Short Story Contest

Deborah under the palm tree “Deborah Under the Palm Tree” by Adriene Cruz.

Exponent II is excited to announce a short story contest of Mormon feminist midrash. Midrash is a Jewish tradition of spinning out a new story based on scripture, filling in narrative gaps or retelling the scripture from a new point of view. Stories can help resolve tension or evoke questions as they ask the reader to consider possible meanings, even as the fictionalized accounts are not meant to be taken literally.

For our short story contest, we are inviting writers to tell us the missing stories of women from the scriptures. Give us the perspective of Deborah, Huldah, Dinah, Miriam, the woman at the well, Mary Magdalene, Sariah, Laman’s wife, or Emma Smith. We want to hear their voices. We want to know how they came to hear the voice of God and how they made choices in their lives. What were their childhoods like? How were they personally influenced by the great and terrible things that happened to them in the scripture stories? What did they think about in private moments? Let your imagination reveal new interpretations and meanings of scriptural stories and help us to hear the women of the scriptures.

Many of the stories we receive will be printed in our Winter 2015 issue of Exponent II and the winner of the contest will receive $150. Submissions should be between 800-3000 words and the deadline is November 2. Please send them to We look forward to reading your stories.

“I want midrash to give a voice to women in the Bible who have had nearly none. To be an advocate for biblical figures over whom the ages have kicked considerable dust, and to imagine their lives.”
– Rosen, Norma. Biblical Women Unbound: Counter-Tales. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996.

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