Book review: ‘The Fog of Faith’

Feb 12, 2018 by

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In early January, Oprah Winfrey gave an astounding speech at The Golden Globe awards, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement and declaring “a new day is on the horizon” for women who have faced sexual harassment and abuse and who have quietly harbored their pain, knowing their stories will not be believed. Winfrey’s speech followed an astonishing cultural shift in which women in media, government, athletics and even the church have come forward to proclaim they were assaulted by powerful men.

"The Fog of Faith"

“The Fog of Faith”

I thought of Leona Stucky when I heard Winfrey’s speech. Stucky’s memoir, The Fog of Faith: Surviving My Impotent God, bears witness to the pain Winfrey addressed at the Golden Globes, a pain carried by women who have, Winfrey said, “endured years of assault and abuse because they had children to feed and bills to pay and dreams to pursue.” The Fog of Faith adds to the cultural narrative unspooling before us of women’s life trajectories having been sent off-course by the evil acts of men.

Stucky begins her story near Moundridge, Kan., in the 1950s, where she was raised Mennonite on a farm with six siblings. When Stucky was a teenager, her mom’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis meant her father assumed the role of caregiver and sole supporter for the family. Stucky admired her father and enjoyed helping him with the farm work, doing chores other families might have reserved for boys.

In 1966, Stucky met Ron, who would become her husband and abuser. Her simple Mennonite farming life was irrevocably changed. Stucky narrates the many occasions when Ron assaulted her, raped her and threatened her family. Believing that marrying Ron might save her family from his wrath, she agreed to become his wife, but this act did little to mitigate his jealousy, his rage and his attempts to control her. Neither did a move from Kansas to Bos­ton, another attempt by Stucky to separate Ron from her family.

The birth of a son, Randy, also imperiled Stucky, who felt trapped in her marriage to a man who was sadistic and mentally ill, without any way to escape, to provide a safer life for her son and herself. Although reading about these horrors is difficult, Stucky is unapologetic in the details she provides, allowing us to see clearly the agony perpetrated by someone who terrorized the person he had vowed to love.

During a visit home without Ron, Stucky finally admitted to her dad that Ron had been abusing her. But she was terrified that if she left him, he might kill her, or kill their son, or “come back to Kansas and kill my whole family.” Still, after hearing on the radio about a domestic abuse hotline, she courageously decided to flee, hoping a social service organization could protect her.

And yet Ron tracked her down, raping and threatening her again. Spending time in a mental health facility did little to stop his obsession with Stucky nor his threat to harm her family. The threat was credible: Ron kidnaps Stucky’s sister from the family farm at gunpoint. When a court orders counseling, he complies by seeing a therapist once.

Such is the fate of women who are abused, Stucky concludes. The system and the culture side with the perpetrators. Time and again, people did not wholly believe the stories of her husband’s abuse.

Although The Fog of Faith focuses primarily on the horrors Stucky experienced at the hands of her husband, it also pays tribute to Stucky’s father, whose sacrificial love for his family is evident. He tried hard to protect his daughter, and his inability to ease her pain caused him significant pain as well.

Stucky raises important questions about how people keep or lose their faith in God when life brings intense suffering. Tragic circumstances cast doubt on deeply held beliefs: a pacifist’s rejection of violence is challenged by the heinous acts of a violent man. As she moved away from her childhood faith, and from simplistic beliefs about God, she found herself questioning God’s existence. If God did exist, “his failure to help people was unforgiveable.” God was impotent.

Stucky struggled with doubt even as she eventually married a seminarian who worked to convince her that Jesus “suffered with me.” Studying at Boston College, meeting Jesuits who loved Jesus too and then encountering Christian feminists who offered her a different understanding of God all contributed to her faith journey away from a powerless God who condoned misogyny. The impotent God began to recede, replaced with an understanding of God as beyond our human construct, who models justice and love.

After her father’s horribly painful death due to severe burns, Stucky accepted the words of a pastor whose eulogy reminded her that those who suffer — like her, like her dad — often face life with unalloyed strength. At the burial, she was able to proclaim that “everyone buried in this cemetery was a remnant of a peaceful community of people who dared to believe that God led us to courageous acts of kindness in the face of danger, to an all-encompassing love for the whole world and anyone in it — no matter the cost, no matter what was lost.”

The Fog of Faith is wrenching and engaging as Stucky unflinchingly expresses the horror of her experience. The book reflects the strength of her character, her ability to reject an impotent God and to embrace a more whole — and wholly loving — understanding of God. In time, she would become a pastor herself, helping others contend with trauma and suffering.

Stucky’s memoir is difficult to read, given its subject, but important. It adds to the chorus of voices saying “me too,” women whose stories demand to be heard and believed.

Melanie Springer Mock is professor of English at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.

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