For five generations, the Mormon Church has been at the center of Sonia Johnson's family. Now that has changed.
"I guess we are beginning a new generation in my family of non-Mormons," she said yesterday.
Two days ago, her last slender hope of getting her excommunication from the church reversed was dashed by the church's highest authority. Spencer W. Kimball, first president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Her long dispute with church authorities, stemming from her public opposition to church leaders' work against the Equal Rights Amendment, had reached dead end. The excommunication ordered by her local bishop last December was upheld. She is out.
Now that the last link is severed, now that there are no more appeals to plan and hope for, she is bitter.
"I don't want to be bitter, and I hope that it will pass," she said yesterday as her anger at the all-male leadership of the church spilled out.
"They have been dishonorable from the lowest part [the church] to the top," she exclaimed. "It just gets sleazier and sleazier."
Johnson was summoned Saturday night to the honor of Earl Roueche, stake president, or regional official of the church, to learn the results of her appeal to Kimball, which Roueche had just received from Salt Lake City.
When she and her lawyer arrived, expecting to be handed a copy of the decision, "only a couple of paragraphs of the letter could be read to me," Johnson said.
Johnson's inability to get documents in her case has plagued her from the start. Denied permission to make notes or tape-record her original trial in November, she later was refused access to the bishop's records of the proceedings to prepare her appeal. She was barred from the hearing of her case at the stake level, her first level of appeal, and again denied access to the transcript. She had to prepare her appeal to Kimball without the records of what went on at lower church courts.
"I made several written requests to see those documents," she said. "I don't know what went on in the [stake level] trial. In fact, I didn't even know it was happening. And that's against the scriptures of the church" to try a person without giving her opportunity to respond, she said.
A spokesman for the church in Salt Lake City said church policy was followed in the Johnson case. "The policy is that the first presidency notifies the stake president and he informs the individual," said Don LeFevre of the church's communications office.
He also said Roueche followed church policy in not admitting Johnson to the review of her case at the stake level, although he said the stake president "has the option" to call in an accused person. "But generally speaking, the individual is not involved in appeal hearings," he said.
Johnson's support of the ERA, which she maintains is what got her in trouble with her church, has never wavered. With the question up before half a dozen state legislators this past spring, she has been on the road about a quarter of the time, she estimates.
Her marriage of 20 years came apart in the midst of all her troubles with the church, though not for the same reasons. Her ex-husband, Richard, was completely supportive of her pro-ERA stance, she said. But two weeks ago she signed the final papers for, as she puts it, a "very decent" divorce.
She retained the couple's $175,000 Sterling, Va. house, as well as custody of their four children, ages 6 to 17.
Johnson had been able to capitalize on her status as a feminist heroine. She occasionally picks off speaking dates at universities for $1,000 a shot, and can get $250 plus expenses from women's groups.
Johnson still sometimes attends the congregation whose bishop stripped her of her church membership and, according to Mormon theology, her hope of heaven.
She goes not to worship -- the atmosphere is too tense for that, she says. "I turn up as a reminder . . . that I want to be there, that I never wanted not to be there . . . and they shouldn't get off so easily by forgetting what was done to me."
"They are my people," she said, "my family and friends. I love them a lot."