‘It is done’ — Latter-day Saint sex therapist Natasha Helfer is ousted from the church

Leader cites “conduct contrary to the law and order” of the Utah-based faith, but the move is expected to ripple throughout the mental health community.

Natasha Helfer

A therapist who publicly and repeatedly opposed her faith’s doctrines, policies and leaders on sexuality issues has lost her membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Natasha Helfer received a letter Wednesday from her former stake (regional) president in Kansas, where she lived before moving to Utah in 2019, explaining the reasons for her removal from the Salt Lake City-based church.

“After carefully and prayerfully considering this matter,” the letter states, “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.” (Leaders used to term this penalty excommunication.)

Helfer posted the letter from Stephen Daley, the lay leader in Derby, Kan., on her Facebook page, saying, “I just opened this email. It is done. For now.”

She made no further remarks on Facebook and did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Helfer will likely not make a public statement about the letter or her church removal for at least a few more days, supporter Jody England Hansen said Wednesday night.

But Hansen bemoaned the church’s action as unnecessary. 

“I’ve felt for decades that excommunication or removal of members was unnecessary except in criminal or abusive situations,” she said. “Anything that is done because of differences is spiritual violence.”

Membership removal, Hansen added, “goes against what the gospel of Christ is — and against what the church I love is about.”

On Sunday, Helfer was asked to leave a church disciplinary hearing — before it even began — because she wouldn’t turn off her cellphone. Helfer said she had her prepared notes on the personal device.

The “membership council” took place without her.

Helfer’s frankness on sexual issues — along with her pointed criticisms of some church practices and leaders — has garnered her a wide audience among some current and former members.

She supports same-sex marriage, counsels that masturbation is not a sin and insists pornography should not be treated as an addiction.

Hundreds of members of the therapeutic community had lined up in support of Helfer’s professional work, saying it is in line with current 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.”

Daley’s letter, however, said the membership council had nothing to do with Helfer’s practice as a therapist.

“Your professional activities played no part in the decision of the council,” he wrote. “Rather, as stated in my prior letter to you, the sole purpose of this council was to consider your repeated, clear and public opposition to and condemnation of the church, its doctrines, its policies and its leaders.”

Even so, her ouster from the faith is sure to reverberate throughout the Latter-day Saint mental health community.

On The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast earlier Wednesday, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a Latter-day Saint therapist in Chicago who had signed a letter supporting Helfer, expressed her hope that her friend would be allowed to retain her membership.

“I would love to see the church show its strength and keep Natasha in, because we’re strong enough to tolerate dissent,” Finlayson-Fife said. “...It doesn’t mean Natasha’s right and the church is wrong. It means we need to think about what we do about our LGBTQ members and how do we love them better.”

Helfer, too, said before the hearing she wanted to stay in the fold.

That didn’t happen.

She can appeal the decision by writing to the faith’s governing First Presidency within 30 days of her hearing.

“Your letter,” Daley explained, “should specify the alleged errors or unfairness in the procedure or decision.”