LDS sex therapist was asked to leave her church disciplinary hearing before it started. Here’s why.

Natasha Helfer, who has publicly opposed the faith’s policies on masturbation, pornography and same-sex marriage, refused to turn off her cellphone. So the meeting took place without her.

(Salt Lake Tribune archive) Natasha Helfer

A Latter-day Saint sex therapist facing possible expulsion from her church said she was asked to leave a Sunday disciplinary hearing — before it even began — because she wouldn’t turn off her cellphone.

So the hearing took place without her.

Natasha Helfer said she refused the request by lay leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kansas because the notes she had prepared were on her personal device.

“There was an agreement that I would not record [the proceedings], and I agreed to that and I sincerely meant it,” she said in a YouTube video. “But I came prepared with notes ... because I didn’t even know what they were going to ask me, so I had come up with some answers to potential questions.”

The request to switch off her phone seemed absurd, said Helfer, “in the age of smartphones.”

“If you can bring only written notes,” Helfer wondered, “why don’t you put that into your consent form?”

Cellphones have been used in the past to record such disciplinary hearings.

“Membership councils are private, sacred settings. 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,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins stated in an email Monday. “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 been summoned to the “membership council” in Derby, Kan. — where she lived before moving to Utah in 2019 — for publicly and repeatedly opposing church doctrines, policies and leaders. She supports same-sex marriage, counsels that masturbation is not a sin and insists that pornography should not be treated as an addiction.

A council could choose to take no action, restrict her membership or withdraw it (the latter penalty used to be termed excommunication).

Lay leaders also said she has encouraged members to leave the church; Helfer denies that.

Before the hearing, Helfer said she wanted to retain her membership and planned to attend and speak. Several Latter-day Saints in good standing also agreed to travel to Kansas and serve as witnesses on her behalf.

Helfer said after she refused to turn off her phone, a church leader told her she could email her notes to the leaders. She again refused.

”I said, ‘No, I’m not going to send them to you,” she said, “because it would include information that is not meant for you.”

Helfer acknowledged that “I did raise my voice” at this point, “because I wanted them [the other people in the room] to hear me. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to agree to anything I haven’t been told about.’”

Helfer said she then was “invited to leave” by a church official.

Jody England Hansen said Monday that she and two other female witnesses — who were prepared to speak on Helfer’s behalf — then left their written statements with church officials.

Later, Hansen said, police were called to the church and officers told the women — who had gathered in the parking lot — they had to leave the premises.

Hansen was disappointed in the treatment of all involved. “It is a direct contradiction to the goodness of the LDS Church,” she said. “It does not reflect what this church is about.”

Nearly a decade ago, Helfer wrote a blog post that said masturbation is not a sin but rather a part of normal sexual development.

“I understand that like any normal human tendency, masturbation can become an unhealthy behavior,” she wrote at Patheos.com. “This is also true for eating — yet we don’t couch our physical desire to nourish ourselves with food as sinful.”

Hawkins, the church spokesman, stated earlier, that masturbation is considered immoral.

Helfer’s frankness on sexual issues — often taboo in Latter-day Saint culture — has garnered her a wide audience among some current and former members.

Hundreds of members of the therapeutic community also have lined up in support of Helfer’s professional work, saying it is in line with current licensed mental health practices and warning that withdrawing her church membership could “create a culture of stigma and shame” and prevent clients from seeking therapy. It also could have a chilling effect on “other therapists providing culturally competent, clinically sound, and evidence-based care.”