For year now, Natasha Helfer has been a licensed marriage and family therapist. She’s been especially dedicated to offering comprehensive (and accurate) sex education for practicing Mormons and their leaders. Her podcast Mormon Sex Info is her way of combatting the faith-based misinformation she often witnesses.
And now the Mormon Church is on the verge of kicking her out.
Next week, on April 18, she will have to attend a “membership council” meeting — which is like when the Mormon Church sends you to the principal’s office because you did a very bad thing. It’s often the first step toward excommunicating someone.
So what did she do that upset the Mormon Church? They recently sent her a letter detailing their concerns. While Helfer hasn’t publicly shared it because it includes personal details, she said it boils down to these five things:
1) She supports marriage equality. (But so do many Mormons, and the Church has repeatedly said supporting LGBTQ rights isn’t a dealbreaker. They usually reserve their ire for people who act on their homosexuality and aren’t ashamed of it.)
2) She says masturbation is normal and healthy and not a sin. (Good luck finding Mormon leaders who agree.)
3) She doesn’t oppose sexually explicit materials. (Helfer believes watching or reading adult content doesn’t automatically mean there’s something wrong with you. Her views are in line with the best practices of her profession.)
4) She’s been critical of Church leaders. (Join. The. Club. Helfer isn’t randomly criticizing them, though; she’s been calling on them to become better educated when it comes to sex without asking them to violate their religious beliefs. She’s also called on them to be more compassionate toward LGBTQ people, because the Church is most definitely not.)
5) She’s urging people to leave the Mormon Church. (She denies this. Hell, she wants to remain in the Church.)
The short version of their concerns is that she’s following the best practices of her profession instead of parroting religious dogma that’s caused so much harm. Helfer, who remains a practicing Mormon, doesn’t believe there has to be a disconnect between what science teaches — and what she knows to be true from her own professional experiences — and what the Mormon Church requires of its members.
On Tuesday, she posted a video explaining her predicament and responding to the Church’s claims.
This part where she justifies her stance really stood out to me:
… Inappropriate sexual shame harms people. When churches and religious communities reject sexual health principles supported by decades of research and science, the community suffers, and this has tragic and violent ramifications.
Violence is either turned inward — self-loathing, substance abuse, mental disorder symptoms, and suicide as just some examples — or turned outward — discrimination, harassment, sex crimes, and hate crimes.
I do not believe that educating and speaking publicly about how our communities are being harmed, or could be helped, is critical. I actually see it as my ethical responsibility.
She also spoke with John Dehlin of the Mormon Stories Podcast. This conversation is several hours long, but it goes deep into the situation.
Helfer makes clear that she doesn’t want to be kicked out of the Church, but she’s also not going down without a fight — by which she means she’s not going to pretend there’s any problem with what she teaches about sex education and mental health.
It would be easy for a lot of atheists to just dismiss the concerns here because why would anyone want to remain in the Church anyway? But when someone wants to remain a member, and believes what the LDS Church preaches, and genuinely doesn’t want to be kicked out, being in this position is deeply painful. This isn’t something Helfer wanted or welcomes; she genuinely believes her professional wisdom doesn’t contradict her religious beliefs, but she’s basically being forced to choose.
It’s hardly the first time a Mormon who’s been critical of the Mormon Church has faced a spiritual reckoning over it. And every time it happens, more and more people decide to leave on their own, because they finally realize they belong to an organization that wants to control their entire lives.
While Church members are encouraged to write to certain leaders, this isn’t really about putting pressure on the Church. It’s about what Church leaders want to do. Have they learned anything from the backlash over previous attempts to boot out people who don’t parrot the party line? I’m not optimistic. But if this helps more people decide to walk away from the Mormon Church for good, then we’re all better off because of it.
(Thanks to Nelson for the link)