A sex therapist who publicly challenged her church's teachings on sexuality has been expelled as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to a letter she received Wednesday.
Natasha Helfer, 49, who has been a national face for mental health advocacy among Mormons and attracted an audience especially among more progressive Mormons and ex-Mormons for her frankness around sex, came under fire from her church's leadership in recent months.
Helfer believes that the church has targeted the mental health profession, while the LDS Church maintains that she was expelled because of her public opposition to the church.
"It was so ridiculous. I was treated like I was at a club with a bouncer in it," Helfer said. "I did not plead or beg."
A disciplinary hearing was held Sunday at a chapel in Derby, Kan., over what a March 21 letter called Helfer's "repeated, clear, and public opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, and its leaders."
Stephen Daley, LDS stake (regional) president in Derby, wrote in a letter on Wednesday that while members may hold diverse opinions on a number of topics, Helfer "cannot be a member in good standing when you have demonstrated a pattern of clear and deliberate opposition to the Church, its doctrine, its policies, and its leaders."
"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."
Ahead of Sunday's meeting, Helfer said there was a conflict of interest in the process. She said that the stake president, Daley, who is an executive at Koch Industries, is also her husband's former boss. Daley did not respond to a request for comment.
An LDS Church spokesman said that membership councils are private matters and declined to answer specific questions about the case.
"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," Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the LDS Church, said in a statement. "As indicated by the stake president, neither the council's purpose, discussion nor decision were related to her private practice as a therapist."
In a letter on Nov. 9, 2020, Daley expressed concern over Helfer's public views on topics such as masturbation (she counsels that it is not a sin), pornography (she says it should not be treated as an addiction) and same-sex marriage (which she supports).
In his letter, Daley also wrote that Helfer was disparaging to LDS leaders, asking her, "Why is the overwhelming tone of your posts negative towards the church and it's leaders?"
Experts on Mormon history say Helfer's case comes as a surprise because many believe that she has promoted beliefs about sex that are in line with the positions of other licensed mental health professionals.
Hundreds of Mormon mental health professionals signed a letter of support last week. Many said that if Helfer were expelled, it could create a chilling effect on other Mormon mental health professionals who feel an ethical obligation to provide patients with evidence-based psychological recommendations, even if it means contradicting some LDS Church teachings or cultural expectations.
Helfer can appeal the decision by writing to the LDS Church's governing body, called the First Presidency, within 30 days, which she said she plans to do.