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)

April Young Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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11 Responses

  1. Risa says:

    As a mental health professional I’m so personally offended that a therapist would be punished for best practices, using evidence based modalities. It’s so very Mormon that a man with a modicum of power, who probably has no training in the mental health field, has decided that an expert in her field is doing something wrong.

    I’m so glad I resigned my membership so that these small, petty men never have any power over me ever again. When I worked at LDSFS I was also chastised for best practices with my clients. Luckily I was told by professors to always protect my licenses because not all employers would.

    What this Stake President is doing is ridiculous and will backfire for the church.

  2. JC says:

    The fact that a stake president can call someone who lives outside the stake boundaries he “presides over” (more like exercises unrighteous dominion over in this case) to a formal disciplinary council is wrong on too many levels to list.

    If Natasha Helfer’s current stake president over the jurisdiction SHE ACTUALLY LIVES IN sees nothing wrong with how she DOES HER JOB, then neither should anyone else.

  3. Katie Rich says:

    Thank you, April. I just emailed my letter.

  4. Em says:

    Two years is too long for that policy. I understand the thinking behind it. But once you’ve moved to a new area that new leader ship has had a chance to get to know you after a couple of months. I think this specific case it’s a dangerous precedent anyway but I’m also very troubled about the right to withhold records in definitely. Because that also means she can’t really get a calling or be assigned a ministering sisters or participate in other meaningful ways in her new church community if she wants to

  5. Connie Strong says:

    I have never left a reply or commented on anything here but as a retired psychiatric nurse practitioner and a member of good standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I couldn’t decide whether to scream or cry when I listened to Natasha. I agree with her on every point. The church’s involvement on this level is so wrong in my opinion. It has a negative impact on my testimony and as Natasha pointed out, it has a negative impact on so many of our brothers and sisters who are just trying to find the way along this rocky journey called life. I hope I can get the complete information to send an email and sign a letter.. I am anxious to do so ..and have no need to do so anonymously. Connie

  6. Elisa says:

    Insanity, on every level. If the Church disciplines her for this, BYU should lose its MSW accreditation.

  7. MERI says:

    for those of us who are uninformed, what exactly does LCMFT stand for?

  8. Dani says:

    I just emailed my letter. I have sincerely appreciated Natasha’s work and believe that she plays a very important and unique role in our community. The church would be better off if they listened to, rather than punished, her.

  1. April 16, 2021

    […] set, instead of encouraging them to open their mouths,” Bennett said in the letter posted on the Exponent II website, “makes it less likely that lay leaders and policymakers of the church will hear diverse insights […]

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