RD Extra: The Ties That Bind – Sophie’s Story

Former Mormon, skeptic blogger, writer and sexual rights activist Sophie Hirschfeld discusses her past in the Church of Latter Day Saints, an abusive marriage and how she got out of both.

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  1. NH Baritone says

    Hi, Dave.

    You gave us the time and a few details about the 100th episode, but you forgot to mention what day the live show will air.

  2. Greg says

    It will air from 12 -2 on April first. And no, it’s not a joke. We aren’t that clever.

  3. Strider says

    I hope there’s something novel about this interview since you’re recycling “Reality Check” and “Culture Wars Radio” eps with this topic!
    Love you guys!

  4. Rob says

    not sure my comment with the link worked (maybe it got filtered), so, for the second half of the episode:

    go to public reality radio dot org and search for ‘the ties that bind’

  5. Craig Paxton says

    I’m a huge fan of your podcast, a former active true believing Mormon and currently live in Salt lake City, Utah. When I was involved in the church I held many leadership roles from bishopric to high council…and while I no longer believe in the truth claims of Mormonism…I have to be honest and say that the church that Sophie describes in episode “The Ties that Bind” is unrecognizable to me… more like viewing Mormonism through a fun house room of mirrors…a distortion of reality. Her description and experience would be foreign to most former members.

    So let me point out a of her view distortions:

    While the Mormon church is male dominated…women’ are held in high esteem and their roles while celebrated as very important…and while it is also true that past leaders have tried to limit and define women’s roles to staying in the home, being mothers and raising children …current leaders have backed off these limits…..woman are now free to use birth control and seek careers of their own choosing.

    Ironically…your guest suggests that Mormon’s are uneducated….this could not be further from the truth. Mormon’s value education for both male and females in fact, Mormons are among the most university educated people in the population…it just goes to confirm that even educated people can believe stupid things.

    Domestic violence is in no way shape or form tolerated within the church…in fact any male discovered abusing any family member could face church discipline. The advice of her bishop to just be a better wife…is sexist…would not be the norm.
    It is true that the average marital age of Mormon is quite a bit younger than the national average ( I was married at 22 my wife was 20) but this is cultural. There is nothing that demands this…but because Mormon also are taught not to engage in premarital sex…this in and of itself pushes young Mormon’s to marry younger.

    One thing that she did get pretty accurate was her description of the Temple experience…while it was not how I experienced the temple…I accept that this may have been what she experienced. Although I should add that the sealing room mirror scene…was spot on.

    Again I want to state that I am a non-believer in all Mormon foundational truth claims…but I am still a believer in telling the truth…and many of the descriptions that Sophie described are just not familiar to my 48 year experience as an insider and believer in the church…and trust me when I say that it took a real distortion for me to even want to run to its defense.

  6. says


    First, let me say that while I understand your concern, I feel a bit hurt that you’re accusing me of distorting what happened. It isn’t easy to talk about some parts of my past and to have someone imply that I’m not being honest hurts. That being said, your comments deserve a response, no matter how my emotions are going to react.

    Firstly, I would never assume that my experience was anything that could be generalized from. It wasn’t a normal set of circumstances and it would be silly to assume that any single life within a cultural environment was somehow representative of the whole. The same applies to me. I had no intention of implying that my life was normal Mormon life and if I did, I apologize. I tried to make it clear that this was not what most Mormons experience.

    It is true that women’s roles are held in high esteem and while I didn’t say that the expected role of a woman was held in high esteem, I didn’t feel that was important to express. What others saw as important as an expectation for myself and my peers was still pretty much the opposite of where I felt I wanted to be and that was the message I felt was important and laid some of the groundwork for how I ended up. The expectation was for a housewife and that wasn’t something I could do. Yes, the woman in the home is seen as important by Mormons, but that view of a woman’s life assumes that is a role that women should generally accept and that’s where the problem lies. If this highly regarded position was what all women wanted and accepted, it would be just fine and I have no problem with women wanting that. But what I faced was the problem of not wanting what was expected.

    On a related note, something that I tried to avoid discussing in the interview, but now I see as important is how the church views sexuality. One of the most damaging things I was taught is a part of church doctrine and that is the sacredness of a person’s body. I hate talking about it because it is still very difficult and painful. I can’t be sure if it is a norm for the church to teach this or if this was (again) the fault of individuals, but we were taught that even in the case of a sexual assault, that it was better for a girl to die fighting than to live. This ended up being a major problem for me when I was assaulted and lived. Many of my experiences are unique within the church because of that kind of attitude. I’m all too aware of that fact and I have no intention of painting my picture as some sort of norm for women within the Mormon church.

    Since my experience is an older experience, I can’t say much on the modern attitudes that the church has. I would expect cultural shifting, of course, but what goes on now can’t retroactively change what happened in my own past.

    My comments on education are a combination of what happened in church and what happened in my home. Again, I tried to be clear about this, but I may have failed. My family wasn’t just a typical Mormon family, we were lower class members of society. We were poor. When I talked about education, some of that comes from my socio-economic environment and some of it came from a religious standpoint. It was true that many of the girls I knew and I were not taught to emphasize education. We were taught to do well in school by members of the church, but a secondary education was something that was seen as what you did if you didn’t get married. Very few of the girls that I grew up with graduated from college as a result. Another thing to blame for this was that I lived in a small, industrial town. That being said, approaches to education for girls did seem different than for boys. Boys were expected to be educated and to support their family (at least, the upper class). The interesting thing about this is that it also created unrealistic expectations for men, but I think those expectations are something that our society still fails to see as a potential problem. Men who are disabled or somehow unable to function in a standard work environment face social pressures that are irrational. But, that problem isn’t just isolated to Mormon groups – that’s a broader social problem.

    Again, I never intended for my experience to be something that people generalized from. I was telling my story, the whole of the church’s. I feel bad that it was interpreted otherwise.

    As for attitudes on Domestic Violence in the church, I’m well aware that my experience isn’t unique, but it isn’t unique from a larger social perspective, not as an attitude from the church itself. Though, as I mentioned in the interview, I don’t blame the church for that at all. The blame for that goes directly on the people who acted. The stance that the church has on abuse is very similar to most of the population. They don’t seem to be better at handling it, nor do they seem worse at it. I do think that had I the opportunity to approach different people on the matter, I would have gotten a different response. I would be naive to think my experience on that was, in any way, something that everyone would react to the same. I’ve gotten to see a wide range of reactions to abuse and so I know, for a fact, that my experience when I sought help was something to blame on people, not on the culture. Most people who know of what happened are aware of the seriousness of the problem and most would never have put the blame on me. Again (and I know I’m repeating this over and over), I didn’t intend for that to be something that people blamed the church for. I shared it as a part of what happened to me and I don’t blame the church for that.

    I didn’t portray the younger age of marriage as something that is demanded. It is something that is seemingly expected, though. The young bride idea is (or was?) a strong element of the culture I grew up in. I remember one church meeting where they simulated a marriage in the chapel, halting the processes when the bride-character decided she didn’t want a chapel marriage, but she wanted a temple marriage. Even then, there was some sort of underlying message that what young girls should worry about is getting married. Our roles as women in the church was outlined constantly and a part of that outlined role was all about marriage and what contexts warranted a marriage. I think that some of the tendency for Mormons to marry early is related to their anti-premarital sex stance, but I don’t think that sums up the whole issue. I think some of it is influenced by the messages sent (even if they aren’t official stances) to the youth about a girl’s role in her eternal life. If one’s role is as a mother and nurturer of the home and that is the sum of one’s value, why wouldn’t one get started on that and work hard on it as soon as one could?

    I think the problem that you see with that aspect of my story isn’t rooted, necessarily, in some kind of miscommunication. I think it is a result of the partial segregated aspects of a Mormon childhood. I admit, it is tough to explain this without it sounding sexist, but the reality is, the Mormon childhood has been organized in a sexist way and as a result, it is tough for the two sexes within the church to identify with each other’s childhoods. I think that plays a role in how you and I see marital trends differently. I admit, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am and I’ve tried to apply at least some understanding of sociological mechanisms to what I experienced, but that is the problem with experience. There is no one experience which can be used to generalize about things.

    Anecdotes are terrible ways of getting information on most things, especially cultural norms.

    Again, I am mostly responding because I feel hurt that what I shared has been seen as anything but what it was. It is my story. I’m not entirely sure how to deal with your accusations outside of just clarifying where I can. I’m an honest person, as well, and I guess there’s nothing more I can say.

  7. says

    Oops. Correction:

    “I was telling my story, the whole of the church’s.”

    Was supposed to say:

    “I was telling my story, not the whole of the church’s.”

  8. Craig Paxton says

    Dear Sophie,

    I apologize if my comments hurt you in any way…it was not my intent to discount your experience within Mormonism, only to clarify that your experience was foreign to my experience in Mormonism. I believe that your experience would be considered unique rather than the norm….but that is only my opinion.

    The Mormon Church provides a template of boundaries with which to live one’s life. It sets the standards and expects its members to stay within those boundaries. It uses guilt and social pressure to manipulate and encourage its membership to conform to its so-called standards. Those who do not conform or who do not summit to its male dominated authority pay the price of its subtle cultural judgments. Absolute obedience to the commandments of its manmade god are prized above all other standards. Those who fail to live up to these standards often feel the brunt of a holier than thou scrutiny. They speak of valuing Free Agency…but then stack the cards so that only their brand of free agency is applauded.

    Conformity is celebrated…individuality is scorned. Guilt and cultural peer presser are the sticks used to reach their desired goal….the promise of eternal life is the carrot used to attain their goal of conformity. Mormonism is a real life “Wack-A-Mole”

    I felt bad that your bishop was such a misogynistic bastard. Any male who would advise an abused wife that marital problems were the result of her not being a good wife is despicable. Unfortunately this can be the result with a church that uses an all-male dominated, amateur lay clergy. Marriage is to be salvaged at all costs. However I do believe that your experience is not the norm but the exception…within Mormonism there are many good and wonderful, well-meaning Bishops who dedicate their time to the service of their congregation’s families….but because they are amateurs…they often make well-meaning but damaging decisions that end up causing more harm than good.

    Mormonism as a religion has many positives….and IF it were what it claimed to be…it could be argued that its many sacrifices were worth it. But like every religion it is just another man made institution that manipulates its members, makes promises it will never have to keep and in so doing deprives its adherents of the greatest blessings of human life… the journey of self-discovery and being who you really are…in other words individuality. They sell a cure all snake oil disguised as the secrets to Eternal life…but the truth is they will never have to keep their promises….

  9. Nickolas says

    An extremely compelling story. I can’t wait to hear the second part, something I haven’t got around to yet. You’re description of your ex seems fairly typical in my experience, at least with LDS people.

  10. says

    You forget to write down the date of your departure.I like all kinds of fruit.Move out of my way!True and False have opposite meanings.I have no idea.Once you begin,you must continue.Once you begin,you must continue.Time is up.Don’t keep me waiting long.It’s supposed to start at 6:30 sharp, but I doubt it will.

  11. says

    I didn’t realize how much this meant to youI found him seated on the bench.You did right.It’s nothing to be surprised about.Are you going to have a party? You forget to write down the date of your departure.You forget to write down the date of your departure.I like all kinds of fruit.Move out of my way!True and False have opposite meanings.

  12. My Name Was Already Taken says

    I just now listened to part 1 of Sophie’s story and want to hear part 2. Unfortunately, I cannot find it. Public Reality Radio no long has Reality Check in their program listings, so I can’t find podcast. Any help would be appreciated.

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