Natasha Helfer, LCMFT, is called to a church disciplinary council for her professional opinions
I am sorry to report that another Latter-day Saint woman has been called to defend herself before a male disciplinary council as a punishment for expressing her opinions. Natasha Helfer, a marriage and family therapist who specializes in sexual health, has been called to a church disciplinary council by one of her former Stake Presidents for professional opinions consistent with the literature within her field of expertise.
The Council will be held on April 18, 2021 at 7:30 PM Central Time. Helfer has posted the following video explaining the situation and how supporters can help. More details, including contact information for those wishing to send letters or attend the council, is available on Helfer’s facebook page.
I am sharing the letter I sent to Helfer’s former Stake President here:
Dear President ___,
I am a gospel doctrine teacher in the ___ Ward. This Sunday, I will be teaching the Come Follow Me lesson for Doctrine and Covenants 37-40: “If Ye Are Not One Ye Are Not Mine.”
As I studied to teach this lesson, I was impressed with how being “one” does not mean being the same. The lesson emphasizes how different people with a variety of skill sets and viewpoints are necessary to build the church. The curriculum for this week’s lesson includes a video of Elder Ulisses Soares offering the following counsel: “I believe diversity is very important. Every person has their own way of thinking and we should respect that…We should learn from the different ways people are, the different ways people think, and live with that and try to learn and improve ourselves.” It also included a video of Sister Christina B. Franco, comparing the church to a watch that needs parts that are different from each other to function. (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/come-follow-me-for-sunday-school-doctrine-and-covenants-2021/16?lang=eng)
The scriptures for this section say “teach one another according to the office wherewith I have appointed you” (D&C 38:23) and “look to the poor and the needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer” (D&C 38:35). Sister Helfer is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and teaches according to that office, administering to those who need her services to relieve their suffering. Casting out members of the church with her kind of professional expertise forces people in need to look outside the rolls of the church for this kind of help.
Sister Helfer also blesses our faith community by using her professional expertise to make suggestions about how we can make our church a stronger, safer and more nourishing entity to support people like her clients, in accordance with the scriptural counsel, “You shall ever open your mouth in my cause.” (D&C 30:11) Silencing people with her unique skill set instead of encouraging them to open their mouths makes it less likely that lay leaders and policymakers of the church will hear diverse insights with potential to benefit the work of the church.
Please do not punish and cast out members of the church for expressing their professional opinions.
April Young Bennett
Note that Helfer moved out of this stake president’s jurisdiction in 2019, but Church Handbook policy 33.6.18 allows local male priesthood holders to retain power over people who have moved out of their boundaries for unlimited periods of time if they have a “serious concern” about that member. No one but the male priesthood leader who chose to retain power over the person who moved away may end this long distance oversight arrangement. The member who moved has no say in the matter.
Within current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) policy, women are disciplined by councils staffed by 4 men (not women). The female Relief Society president may also attend, but her inclusion is optional and she has no formal role in the proceedings. The stake president who called the council has unilateral authority to choose punishments including “withdrawal of membership.” (Church Handbook 32) “Withdrawal of Membership” is a new term that has recently replaced the term “excommunication” in the LDS Church Handbook but has the same implications, including rendering baptism and other ordinances void that are believed to be necessary to attain eternal salvation according to LDS theology. (KUTV News Feb. 19, 2020)