SALT LAKE CITY — A stake president in Kansas withdrew a Utah woman's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this week for "conduct contrary to the law and order of the church."
Natasha Helfer, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist, posted the stake president's decision on Wednesday evening on her professional Facebook page.
Helfer had opposed church leaders, doctrine and policies on issues related to pornography, masturbation and LGBTQ relationships over several years, according to a church spokesman.
Derby Kansas Stake President Stephen Daley presided Sunday at a membership council for Helfer.
"After carefully and prayerfully considering this matter," Daley said in the letter Helfer posted on Facebook, "it was the decision of the council to withdraw your church membership in response to conduct contrary to the law and order of the church."
Helfer has 30 days to appeal the decision to the First Presidency. On her post, she wrote: "I just opened this email. It is done. For now."
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins confirmed the council's decision.
"As the letter shared by Ms. Helfer indicates, the decision of the local leaders was based on her public, repeated opposition to the church, church leaders and the doctrine of the church, including our doctrine on the nature of the family and on moral issues," Hawkins said in a statement. "As indicated by the stake president, neither the council's purpose, discussion nor decision were related to her private practice as a therapist."
Helfer, who had moved to Utah from Kansas 18 months ago, traveled to the meeting but refused to turn off her smartphone and was not admitted. Stake presidents sometimes preside over membership councils after a person has moved out of their stake because of their knowledge of the situation.
"Membership councils are private, sacred settings," Hawkins said. "It is common for participants to be asked to turn off technology (including cellphones) or leave it outside the room, as was the case with this council. All but one of the participants complied with that request and had brought their statements in writing. Those statements were fully reviewed and considered by the ecclesiastical leaders as they proceeded with the membership council."
Helfer had said in posts, videos and interviews that her professional positions as a therapist were the reason Daley convened the membership council, which previously was called a church disciplinary council. Helfer has taught that masturbation is natural and not a sin and that pornography use is not addictive. The church teaches principles of morality to its membership.
Helfer also supports same-sex marriage. While the church has accepted same-sex marriage as the law of the land, it does not offer those marriages in the church.
More than 200 therapists signed a letter to Daley supporting Helfer's professional practices.
Daley said in his letter that the church is blessed by diversity of opinion, including on matters of doctrine and belief. He said the council was convened because Helfer had "demonstrated a pattern of clear and deliberate opposition to the church, its doctrine, its policies and its leaders."
"Natasha, many of the letters I received were supportive of your professional services and expressed gratitude for the help you have given, which I appreciate," Daley said in his letter. "However, this council had nothing to do with your practice as a therapist. Your professional activities played no part in the decision of the council. Rather, as stated in my prior letter to you, the sole purpose of this council was to consider your clear, repeated and public opposition to and condemnation of the church, its doctrine, its policies and its leaders."
Daley said Helfer could be readmitted to the church after at least a year if she ceases "to use disparaging and vulgar language to describe the church and its leaders," begins to attend church regularly, earnestly studies scripture and meets regularly with the bishop of her congregation in Utah.
"There is plenty of room in the church for a diversity of thought on many issues while still being civil and kind," Daley wrote.
The church changed the name of disciplinary councils to membership councils in February 2020, when it also retired the terms "excommunication" and "disfellowship" by updating its General Handbook. The book outlines church policies and provides direction about church organization and procedures.
Those terms were replaced by the terms "withdrawal of membership" or "formal membership restrictions." Those actions are not intended to punish, the Handbook says, but "to help a person repent and experience a change of heart."
While the church still encourages Helfer to attend church meetings, the withdrawal of her membership means Helfer no longer may give a talk, lesson or prayer, take the sacrament, hold a church calling or pay tithing or offerings, according to Daley's letter.
"The three purposes of membership restrictions or withdrawal are as follows," the handbook says. "1. Help protect others, 2. Help a person access the redeeming power of Jesus Christ through repentance, 3. Protect the integrity of the church."
The church's membership council policies and process are publicly available in Chapter 32 of the handbook on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
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