SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A sex therapist in Utah who was expelled from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints after publicly challenging her faith’s policies on sexuality has appealed the disciplinary action.
Natasha Helfer made her appeal in a letter to President Russell M. Nelson and members of the governing First Presidency, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Sunday.
Helfer received a letter Wednesday from a regional church official explaining the reasons for her removal from the Salt Lake City-based church. Helfer was disciplined by church leaders in Kansas, where she lived before moving to Utah in 2019.
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 while continuing her professional practice.
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.
“I am sad that the council decided to proceed not only without me being able to personally share my thoughts in my defense” during the disciplinary hearing on April 18, Helfer said in her Thursday appeal, which she shared in a Facebook post.
The Tribune reported that hundreds of therapists support Helfer’s professional work and say it is in line with current mental health practices. They warned that kicking her out of the church could deter people from getting therapy.
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said last week that regional church leaders’ decision was not related to her private practice but rather 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.”
Withdrawal of a person’s membership by church leaders is the harshest punishment available for a member of the faith. The ousters used to be called excommunication.