Here Is My Witness

Here is my witness.

On April 11, Natasha asked to gather with several friends at my house in Salt Lake City, have prayer together, and receive a priesthood blessing from my husband, Mike. This was several days after she informed me of the summons to a disciplinary hearing in Wichita, sent to her by her former Stake President.

While we were gathering, I felt a clear prompting, and told Natasha I would be with her for the hearing. If she chose, I would witness her life and the way I had seen her save marriages, relationships, even lives.

Soon, Jana and I were making plans to fly together to Wichita. The cost was not comfortable, but it was possible. Especially when generous women donated to help us and others be able to travel and support Natasha. I witness them, and their amazing generosity and kindness.

We were among a number of people who were helping Natasha appeal this action. We followed every connection to inform any and every church leader or office about the conflict of interest, the denial of process, the failure to follow all the policy and order set in place in the handbook. The only response received was in support of Natasha’s former Stake President. Even when we directly asked for someone to please call Natasha, and tell her why her appeals were denied, maybe offer some kind of ministry and understanding – there was no response.

We have no way of knowing who actually heard the appeals, or why they were denied.

During the following week those of us who were witnesses were asked to provide information demonstrating that we were active, temple recommend holding church members. This needed to be sent to Natasha’s former Stake President. He was requiring this before he would approve the witnesses. We were told we could only have 3 minutes to give a statement.

My husband told me that did not follow policy. We found the section in the handbook the stated there needed to be time for all the relevant information to be presented. There was nothing about the member being restricted to an hour.

We were told we needed to sign an agreement stating we would not record the hearing in any way. Natasha also made it clear that she did not intend, and did not want any of us, to record anything in the hearing. She did communicate to the Stake President that he could record the hearing. She made sure we all received copies of all communications about agreements, and conditions so that there would be nothing that would compromise her or us being able to represent at the hearing.

Even though the final approval from the Stake President was not sent until later in the week, four other women witness and I went ahead and bought airline tickets, canceled family plans, and made arrangements to travel to Wichita.

Much of what happened from the time we arrived on Saturday, until the hearing on Sunday, April 18, involved being with and supporting Natasha as she prepared. It is for her to share what she wishes of that time.

I did share a writing from Maxine Hanks with Natasha and the other women, before we left for the Stake Center. Maxine gives extraordinary lessons about the Holy Days from the various liturgical calendars. Here are parts from the longer quote…

“Today, third Sunday in Easter, is the day of female disciples, the anointers, the “myrrh-bearers” — a holy day devoted to the women disciples who followed and anointed Jesus before & after his crucifixion, who came to his tomb on Sunday morning, first to witness the risen Christ, and first to tell others.

Who were these “certain women” who followed Jesus? …A dozen women disciples are cited as Jesus’ closest female initiates. And “many other women” are mentioned, unnamed.

When male disciples fled, the women remained with Jesus, thro his trial (Magdalane tried to defend him), and at the cross, and at his tomb, bearing myrrh-oils to anoint His body.

These women witnessed the risen Christ, and were the “ones sent” (“apostolos”) to tell the male disciples that He lives. Yet the male disciples didn’t believe them.

The scriptures, cannonized and apocryphal, describe female disciples having an equal role, authority and spiritual power. When will female anointers, ministers, priestesses, healers, witnesses (apostolos) be believed, recognized, authorized in our churches today?

For our female anointers, healers, myrrh-bearers, ministers and witnesses of the divine today, who minister to the birthing, living, suffering, and dying of others, like the “certain women” who travelled with Jesus, Magadalene et al — Today is Your holy day.” – Maxine Hanks

I read this to Natasha, and the women gathered in her home to pray, to presence our heritage, our foremothers, our strength and hope.

There were 6 witnesses approved for the hearing who wanted to speak in support of her. Andy Parker is Natasha’s ex-husband, and 5 of us who are active, temple recommend holding women.

We arrived a bit early for the 7:30 hearing. There were people gathering on the far side of the parking lot under a bowery. This was a vigil planned in support of Natasha. There was also a police car near the entrance to the lot, with at least one officer in there. We went over to the vigil, said hello to a few people. Then the 6 of us gathered outside the west entrance where we had been told to meet. There were no chairs, so we were sitting on the curb, or standing nearby. Soon, Natasha arrived and joined us. 2 of the witnesses had tried to enter the foyer, but it was locked. A man opened the door and said we could not enter. These 2 women asked to enter to use the restroom, but they were denied entrance. This man only came out when John Dehlin approached us, filming Natasha when she joined us. He told John he could not video on the property, and to step away. John did this immediately, and returned to the vigil. The police car left.

Natasha was concerned to hear they had not allowed anyone into the building, not even to use the restroom.

When it was time, the same man opened the door and told Natasha she could enter, but would not allow anyone else to enter, even to use the restroom.

I have been in many meetings with legislative, business, education and church leaders. I can’t remember ever experiencing such a lack of feeling as I did from this man who was guarding the door. Through all the interactions, it seemed as though he did not see us as real people, no matter what we said or asked.

A few minutes after Natasha entered, she was escorted back out. She walked past us and over to the lawn across the parking lot. We saw 2 friends join her. One soon came back to us and told us she had not been allowed in the room because she would not give up her phone. I knew all of her notes were on her phone. Her laptop was broken, and she had not been able to print anything from it. She had signed the agreement to not record. And there had been nothing in all the communication about her needing to give up her phone. They said she could email her notes to them, but she refused because there was confidential information in the notes. So she was told she had to leave. She was not even told this directly, but only through this unfeeling guard, since she was not allowed in the room with the stake leaders.

I was really concerned this had happened. We continued to wait outside the door, which remained closed and locked. After a while, a woman stepped out to leave. We asked if she was the Stake RS president Natasha had requested to be there. She was, and she said she was told she was no longer needed, so she could go home. Jana and I asked if she could please remain for us. We told her we wanted to have another woman in the room when we were in there to witness. She hesitated and seemed unsure.

Then the doorman stood at the door and said we needed to leave the property. The RS president heard us as we asked if the hearing was cancelled, and when were we to offer witness? He would not give a clear answer about the hearing, but just kept saying we needed to leave the property. After asking several times, we were told we would not be allowed to enter, or to witness. He would not answer questions, he just insisted we leave. At one moment, he said he was just conveying a message.

We pled with him to ask to let us do what we came to do. We told him about getting flights, and canceling plans, and feeling led to be there to offer witness. Jana told him about getting a blessing from her Stake President before she came, and her desire to express her love of this church, and to seek ministry care for her sister.

One sister was sobbing, and crying that this action was not what her church was about. I tried to console her, recognizing the trauma she was experiencing of seeing unrighteous action from leadership for the first time. Another witness helped her, took her away.

The door guard stepped back in a few times as we continued to ask him to find out why we were not allowed in, or why the stake president would not come and speak with us. But the guard only came back each time and insisted we leave the property. When he returned at one point, there were two men behind him, listening to what we were asking. They seemed a little more concerned with what was happening. The guard again said we couldn’t come in and we had to leave, this time adding it was because we hadn’t kept our agreement. We insisted we had kept every agreement and met every condition asked of us. He actually asked for proof of that. I looked at him and said, “So what I am hearing is that the Stake President is not keeping his agreement to allow us to witness at this hearing?” I realized this decision to deny Natasha her witness was not based on any agreement, but solely on the bias of the Stake President, and the willingness of these men to enforce it.

The men behind him were listening and showing concern. I asked if we could please, at least give them our printed statements, since they were not allowing us in. The two men behind doorman hurried back in (I assume to check with the SP). The guard insisted we couldn’t and we had to leave. The two men returned and said they would take our printed statements. Only 3 of the 6 of us had printed our statements. The others were using notecards and had nothing to hand over. I quickly gathered the printed statements from the 2 other witnesses that had them. Then I had to reach over the guard to hand the statements to the men behind him. The guard would not move from the doorway, or allow me to come near the entrance.

We stepped back from the door, and saw 3 police cars enter the parking lot.

Another witness began to have an anxiety attack. I held her and went through some restorative breathing with her until she could move into some recovery.

I have rarely experienced anything that so completely minimized the value of membership, or seen such a clear denial of the qualities required for priesthood authority.

Jana and I began calling anyone we could think of to try to give our account to other church leaders. This was so clearly against policy, procedure, and more importantly, everything the gospel is about. We wanted to make sure church leaders were hearing about it. Both Jana and I are trained in and practice mindfulness, and we were doing that to stay calm, intentional, and powerful in the face of such absence of compassion. We realized that whatever account the men in the building were going to give, it would not reflect what we were experiencing.

We were offering a different witness than what we had expected.

We paced near the entrance and around our car as we called and messaged and communicated what was happening to others over the phone. I was not aware of what those at the vigil had heard, but didn’t feel any need to tell them. I was aware of the police speaking to them.

Everyone else gradually left. No one left the building. I saw the guard look through the glass every once in a while to see if we were gone. Jana and I kept calling, conferring, pacing, praying. One of the other witnesses was in the car. Then there were 2 police cars left, and 2 officers approached us and told us we needed to leave.

Jana and I each explained we were members of this church, and we were there to offer witness, and were trying to get answers about being denied that. They were clearly uncomfortable. Probably since we were white women in Sunday dress, they were not going to assume any threat – and we were very aware of what that privilege afforded us.

They approached us every few minutes insisting we leave. They said the owner asked them to have us leave. We told them we were the owners. They then said the person in charge asked us to leave. I was very tempted to say the phrase I had lettered on a shirt years ago – “Do you want to talk to the man in charge, or the woman who knows what’s going on?” But I decided that would not be effective.

We said we heard them, and we intended to leave, and we needed to finish some calls and prayers before we left. We acknowledged this must be uncomfortable for them, and we were going to do what we needed to do until we were done.

Then another officer left, and the last officer stood between Jana and I, watching us. He then said he couldn’t leave until we left. We said we understood, and we would do what we needed to do until we were done. In that moment, I felt no need to put the comfort of this man before our own needs.

As I leaned my head against the car, I asked God for guidance. I thought of how this day is the Holy Day on the liturgical calendar, in honor of the women witnesses, the women who anointed Christ, the women who remained when all had left. I wondered what I was to do. I had not been allowed to do what I came such a long way to do. But I felt there was something I was there to do.

For some reason, I thought of the verses that talk about what needs to happen before Christ can return to the earth. I have long thought that the second coming is not some future event. It is what occurs each time we invite and presence God in the world. The scriptures that describe what will happen before God comes again are mostly about disasters that we have no control over. But there is one task we are given. We are to overcome evil with good.

I realized what I needed to witness. We had just seen a building of our church, one dedicated for gathering and worship of the gospel of Jesus Christ, where all are to feel welcome to meet with others seeking to bring the love of and for God into the world, and to practice following Christ – we had just seen this building become a locked fortress denying existence and compassion in a very un-Christlike way. We had pleaded for some kind of ministry, of pastoral care – and had been turned away. We could do nothing to change that. We could only overcome it with good. We could only overwhelm it with the presence of God. I recalled how, in my darkest moments, I could ask and listen for God. And God is there. Heavenly Parents sat with me, mourned with me, loved me.

I let go of the noise, the heartbreak, the pain of past trauma welling up, the desecration of this faith community building – and turned to the presence of God. They sat with me, wept with me, mourned with me.

There, in the parking lot, where 3 women witnesses still gathered and prayed, I asked for the presence of God to create sacred space again in this place of our faith community. I witness the power of goodness to overcome everything.

Soon after that, we left. Just as we were pulling out, I took a picture looking into the foyer where we were forbidden entrance. I saw that someone was sitting under one of the paintings of Christ’s life. I felt sorrow for him.

My faith community is where I have learned to seek and experience expansive love, and the inexpressible call to create salvation that is only complete in radical inclusion. It is where I first learned of an unconditionally loving God. They are intimately aware and present with us. It was sad to think of those who see this community as one where they have to barricade themselves away, unwilling to hear witness that might challenge their view, and so afraid of the power of women witnesses that they called three police units to remove us before they could leave.

Then we did leave, to share our witness with those who would listen.

Please be a witness for how and where God is.

Please be a witness for what and who calls you to be where you are, to be what and who you are.

Please be a witness to bring God into the world, even in the face of denial.

 

There is a more extensive discussion concerning this on the Latter Day Faith podcast… https://www.latterdayfaith.org/2021/04/090-091-witnessing-even-when-things-hurt-so-badly/

This is the excellent article by Jana Riess… https://religionnews.com/2021/04/22/mormon-excommunication-need-not-be-present-to-win/?fbclid=IwAR1Vn-_f8S93Aar0XWDF6660BD1uef1LA5ZJFAlh14h1MW7-HPHcluf05m8

 

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25 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I’m appalled at the way you, Natasha, and the others were treated. The leaders there showed such fear, such smallness. Thank you for bearing witness to this episode.

  2. Teresa Hart says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I often get so angry I am ready to leave the church. Then in prayer and deep thought I ask myself how will the church every change and become better if myself and others who want change leave? I am so proud to witness the brave actions and smart and kind reporting of these events. Keep up this holy work my sisters in Christ. This hurts my heart yet opens space for hope and healing.

  3. PJ says:

    This is not my church. This is not my God. These are not my people. But, I believe this was supposed to happen this way. The church is changing and the people of Christ are waking up. And it’s OK. I believe this is the way it was designed. It’s all about Love. You are brave Women Warriors.

    • Will says:

      As long as this attitude prevails I fear no good change will come. Until we realize that our church and our people are just as fallible as ourselves and extend unto them mercy and love even as we refuse to allow their errors to stand uncorrected I worry we will only perpetuate one wrong in place of another.

  4. sscrall says:

    Thank you Jody for sharing this witness. Thank you for taking our names with you. Thank you for reminding us we are not powerless or voiceless, just as our foremothers before us were not. Indeed, we are the fruit of all those primary and young women and relief society lessons teaching us, reminding us, that “though [they] speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, [they] become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.” I keep thinking of the mantra — they wanted to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.

  5. Leon Maynard says:

    I’m so glad I dont belong to that corporation any longer.

  6. Anna says:

    It sounds to me like the stake president had his marching orders from Salt Lake and didn’t want to waste his time with a fair hearing, or bother with witnesses. You know, the old joke, “My mind’s made up. Don’t confuse me with facts.”

  7. spunky says:

    Jody, my heart breaks and I feel sick about everything that all of you have been through. This situation is not of God or of Christ or even in line with the United States. I’m ashamed for this Stake President. I am ashamed for this guard.

    Thank you for sharing your heart here, so we can mourn with those who mourn. In this, I am reminded that I mourn for a church that enacts the works of Christ.

  8. It was so good of you to travel all that way to witness. It is so wrong to make people travel across the country to receive punishments. It should not be like this.

  9. Risa says:

    With the way this all went down, to not even letting people use the bathroom and the way the door guard acted, the church should really stop calling them “courts of love.”

    Thank you for being a witness and sharing with us what you saw and felt.

  10. Kay Healey says:

    Thank you for sharing this horrible abuse. It reminds me of lesser abuses I have felt by a stake President counselor. I think you all should sue them for the price of your airfare and breach of “rules”. I hope this horrible incident exposes the abuse of power that can happen in a male priesthood only leadership.
    Natasha has been a real strength to the members of the church. My heart breaks for her and her loyal witnesses.

  11. LL says:

    Where can I find a list of the LDS therapists who signed the letter in support of her?

    • Just Wondering says:

      I’m curious as to your motivation. They can make themselves known if they wish. If that’s the kind of therapist you want, that’s a discussion you can have with any LDS therapist one-on-one without opening them up to the hostility at least one therapist received on public media for showing support. The signed letter was sent to the stake pres so the church can start their own witch hunt if they like. Why do you need it?

    • MDearest says:

      LL, it’s in the most recent post at the Feminist Mormon Housewives blog, as a link in the first comment. The post itself is a letter of detailed support for Natasha as a competent therapist in her field.

      http://www.feministmormonhousewives.org/2021/04/mental-health-professionals-in-support-of-natasha-helfer/

  12. Katie Rich says:

    Thank you for your witness, Jody, both in person with Natasha and here. Thank you for teaching us how to witness for goodness and love in the face of abuse and fear.

  13. Tiffany says:

    Thank you for sharing this. For a church that claims to be the ONLY path to salvation and eternal life, it seems very quick to cut off the membership of certain people. There’s no compassion or love or sincere desire to hear Natasha’s side or allow her to have a voice in her own outcome. It’s infuriating.

  14. Cynthia says:

    Thanks for sharing Jody. I am deeply saddened at how you were all treated. The visual of men guarding a church against women is one I will not soon forget.

  15. MDearest says:

    Thank you, Jody, for shedding light on what happened. It is edifying to receive truthful testimony, though in this case the truth isn’t uplifting. Instead I have a visceral feeling of institutional malice towards Natasha and anyone else who stands up for her, or themselves, against this authority claimed through unrighteous dominion.

    I recognize the abusive violence of it, though it was cloaked in delusional service to that authority by which bureaucracies function. Most casual witnesses to this trial will buy into the same delusion, and the regular guys who participated certainly wouldn’t recognize themselves as perpetrators of abuse. They never do. That photo— that guy sitting on the couch in the foyer, chatting with the bros as they wait for the inevitable acceptance of their authority to execute judgement. He doesn’t recognize the violence of his actions.

    But I’ve seen or experienced enough “mild-mannered” gaslight that is part of the routine, which is always abuse; even though I didn’t always recognize it as such. And your description of events was magnified so far beyond the routine level. It feels like a punch in the gut and I’m not surprised it reduced some witnesses, new to such an experience, to tears and panic to realize what being safe truly is, and is not.

    I admire your stamina to fight the good fight, and I want to support you, and especially Natasha. Recovering from such violent abuse is not easy. Thank you for your endurance.

  16. Dani says:

    My heart aches for you. Thank you for doing this important work of supporting other women, and telling your story. It is so important that the unkind men in suits, and the man blocking the door, do not have the last word.

  17. Lynn in Europe says:

    At no moment in time could this guard, could these men have ever asked themselves, “is this what Jesus would do?” Such fear, such arrogance, such contempt on their parts. Very sad.

  18. Ramona Morris says:

    I have no words. My heart breaks reading this.

  19. Bryn Brody says:

    Thank you for this sacred witness, and for sharing healing and peace with those who reel with the pain of this moment.

  20. Emily says:

    I sense the church’s fear. It is palpable. What on earth to do with powerful women?

  21. Cate says:

    This makes me cry.

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