SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A sex therapist in Utah who has publicly challenged her faith’s policies on sexuality has been kicked out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints following a disciplinary hearing.
Natasha Helfer received a letter Wednesday from a regional church official explaining the reasons for her removal from the Salt Lake City-based church, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Helfer was disciplined by church leaders in Kansas, where she lived before moving to Utah in 2019.
“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.”
Helfer shared the letter on Facebook. Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said that, based on the letter, regional church leaders’ decision was not related to her private practice as a therapist.
Hawkins said in a statement:
“As the letter shared by Ms. Helfer indicates, the decision of the local leaders was based on her public, repeated opposition to the church, church leaders and the doctrine of the church, including our doctrine on the nature of the family and on moral issues.”
Helfer has been outspoken on sexual issues and supports same-sex marriage, counsels that masturbation is not a sin and says pornography should not be treated as an addiction.
She had said that she hoped to remain in the church.
The story was originally reported by The Washington Post.
Helfer told the Tribune that she was asked to leave her disciplinary hearing before it began on Sunday because she refused to turn off her phone, which contained her notes.
“It is common for participants to be asked to turn off technology (including cell phones) or leave it outside the room, as was the case with this council,” Hawksins said. “All but one of the participants complied with that request and had brought their statements in writing.”
Church members are taught not to have sex before marriage, engage in passionate kissing, touch another person’s private parts or arouse “emotions in your own body” that are supposed to be reserved for marriage. Homosexual relations also are forbidden even if a person is married or in a relationship.
Helfer did not immediately respond to The Associated Press’ request for comment.
Her ouster means she’ll be leaving a religion she’s been a member of since she was 5 years old.
While not a lifelong ban, the withdrawal of a person’s membership by church leaders amounts to the harshest punishment available for a member of the faith. These ousters used to be called excommunication before the faith changed the terminology last year to “withdrawal of church membership.”
People in this category can’t go inside temples where members are married and other ordinances such as baptisms for dead relatives are performed.
Sam Young, a man who led a campaign criticizing the church’s practice of allowing one-on-one interviews of youth by lay leaders that sometimes included sexual questions, was kicked out of the church in 2018. Kate Kelly, founder of a group pushing for women to be allowed in the religion’s lay clergy, was excommunicated in 2014.
Image: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Preston England, Fetler, CC BY-SA 3.0