Brought up in a religious home, Sophia believes the only way to have a forever family is by following church leaders and obediently choosing the right. She goes to the right school, marries the right man in the right place, and does the right thing by staying home to raise her children. But when she starts asking questions about grace, love, and the nature of God, she realizes her spiritual struggles could rip her family apart.
Sophia and I exchanged a few questions and answers about her book and her current struggle. Here's a few that resonated with me.
MS: Your book cover and video are so beautiful. What does the ornament on the cover stand for?
SS: As a child I was taught that the only way I could experience true joy was by living the Gospel of Jesus Christ as found in Mormonism. The ornament is symbolic of that joy. Or, more particularly, what I feared I’d lose if I ever stopped believing in The Church.
MS: Why did you hide your faith struggles from those closest to you?
SS: I was afraid my faithful Mormon family and friends would think me either prideful or influenced by Satan if I admitted to doubting The Church. There’s a common phrase faithful Latter-day Saints use to explain away uncomfortable issues: “The Church is true. The people are not.” Those who leave the church are often labeled as angry, easily offended, prideful, lazy, or deceived. There’s no good reason to doubt, no good reason to question, no good reason to stop believing. Faith yields loyalty and obedience.
MS: This is so hard for me to even fathon. How is your family coping with this? Do they support you?
SS: Well, it depends on what part of my family you’re talking about. My kids have been great, but they’re pretty young. I’m continually amazed by the open mindedness and trust of small children. I really think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said that unless we become as little children we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
My husband, on the other hand, is having a really hard time. We’ve had to do some negotiating about the kid’s religious education. He wants them to believe in Mormonism and is very much attached to the outcome. The thought of his kids choosing to leave the LDS church is absolutely devastating to him.
There are certain things that (for him) are non-negotiable. The kids WILL get baptized at age eight whether I want that for them or not. The kids will continue to go to the Mormon church each Sunday until they turn twelve. (He’d said eighteen originally, but has since softened). 10% of his income will continue to go to The Church whether or not I agree with that particular donation. We’re a single income family so that’s a pretty big deal, but he’s frightened, truly frightened that if he stops paying a full tithe, he’ll lose his job.
Although, in fairness, he says it has nothing to do with fear. Rather, he has faith in the principle of tithing. God will bless him for his financial sacrifice.
As for the rest of the family, my mother is struggling, the brother just younger than me acts as if he doesn’t know, my older brother has been accepting, and my sister is unpredictable. I’m not even sure how to characterize that relationship at this point. So overall it’s been a mixed bag where tolerance is concerned. As for support—no, I do not have family support. Nor is it something I can reasonably expect.
MS: How has your change in beliefs affected your marriage and children?
SS: I think it has benefited my children in a number of ways. First, by showing them that goodness isn’t based on legalistic rules, they are more accepting of themselves and others. Second, by helping them see that there isn’t one right way to be a decent human being, they are able to think the best of people. Third, by opening up to other ideas and spiritual philosophies, they are more open as well.
As for my marriage, my change in beliefs has brought to light problems I’d been ignoring for years. Things having to do with power dynamics, issues with inflexibility, and some fundamental disagreements in parenting styles between my husband and me. My marriage has suffered and I worry about it often. But I also know that without the insights I have now, the relationship would continue to grow more unbalanced and necessary change would never occur.
I’m crossing my fingers and holding out hope in the marriage department.
MS: How has writing about your struggles helped you? I know it helped me while I was writing my memoir.
SS: There’s a saying that writing is cheaper than therapy, and I can attest to that. There’s no time limit on how long I can type away on my keyboard when I’m having a bad day. I don’t have to worry about the paper judging me. Plus, it’s helped me to put things in perspective.
MS: I can certainly relate to that. A keyboard is a great place to rant. So, one last question. Who should read your book?
SS: Anyone who wants to better understand how religions indoctrinate children, how they can unite and separate families, how they can bring peace and turmoil at the same time. Anyone who wants a more personal understanding of how it feels to grow up in a legalistic religion that values trust and obedience more highly than free thought, or anyone who wants to understand Mormonism.
Please don’t misread that to mean my book is factually perfect. It’s not. It is based on my experience, and everyone’s reality is different. But I stand by my claim that people who leave Mormonism are often in an isolating place. It’s hard for an orthodox believer to understand why anyone would leave. It’s hard for those who’ve never been in a fundamentalist religion to understand why leaving one is such a big deal. To both these groups, I’d say, “please read this!” Understanding is vital.
MS: Thanks so much, Sophia. Now on to my review.
Soul Searching with Grace
Author Sophia Stone has created a powerful piece. Written with elegance and grace, I found Stone’s story compelling and very informative for this reader. I am a complete novice about anything Mormon.
I think the heart of this book is the author’s struggle with her identity as a woman. She writes that she has been itchy about being a Mormon most of her life – never understanding the plausibility of the priests’ teachings and why she or other girls cannot be Deacons in the church like the boys. She wanted to share the honor with her brothers who became Deacons at age twelve. Later on she resents her husband’s role as a priest. He is charged with power in the church. He can lay his hands on her and other’s heads to heal them while she and the other women in the church are only meant to take care of their own homes and families.
Stone shares how tired she is of the way the church leaders justify their treatment of women. They say it’s because they love women so much they don’t want them to be burdened with other work.
Now four young children later, Stone feels more ill at ease with her Mormonism and her role within the church than ever. And she has so much to lose in writing down these very personal thoughts and feelings (her husband, her children, her friends, her family, her church, and her entire way of life).
And what I want to know is how all this turmoil going on in her life and heart will turn out. Will author Stone stay in her marriage, will she join another church, will she continue to be a role model for her children? I also wonder how different Stone’s experience in being a Mormon woman is from that of women Muslims and Orthodox Jews who also must be obedient to the will of their religious male masters and husbands.
I recommend this book for anyone who has struggled with his or her religious upbringing or for anyone just wanting to know about the Mormon Church. Stone has written a brave book that will inspire you to look within yourself as well.—Madeline Sharples, author of Leaving the Hall Light On
A Couple Other Reviews
“Sophia Stone has a fine eye and a searching heart. Her story of growing up in and reaching through her Mormonism for a deeper, more authentic spirituality reflects all the ways that religion can both keep us satisfied easy answers and push us to more difficult and complicated realizations. We need a hundred more books like this one . . . “ –Joanna Brooks, author of The Book of Mormon Girl
“Sophia Stone captured my attention from the beginning. This collection of personal essays, about questioning the legitimacy of Mormonism after having faith in the religion for the first 30-something years of her life, is not just a controversial quake to a reader’s heart and soul. Stone’s voice is brave, bold and intriguing. And surprisingly relatable to someone who is not religious.”—Jessica Bell, author of String Bridge
About Author Sophia Stone
Seeker. Learner. Reader. Nature Lover. If you're on twitter, you can ask me any question about Mormonism. I give straight answers. I don't spin. My twitter address is @ask_a_mormon
Please also view the haunting and heartfelt Mormon Diaries book video. You'll definitely be encouraged to read the book afterward.