As I sit and type these words out, there is a woman who I have never met getting ready to sit in front of a panel of men in suits who will decide whether or not she is still worthy to be a full, good standing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Natasha Helfer is a therapist. She has written books on subjects she’s counseled over the years and is highly regarded by her colleagues. But shortly, she will be in a tribunal of male priesthood holders of her church. These men will decide if her science-based practice goes against her ability to remain in faithful standing as a member of her church.
There are way better articles and podcasts that you can dive into to see what kinds of terrible things (spoiler: I don’t think they’re terrible) this woman has done to be put in a situation where the membership of her church status could be revoked. The post-it TLDR involves her professional advice and counseling about…(checks around shoulder to see if kids are in the room)...(*whispers to readers)...sex stuff.
I know! Scandalous and pearl clutching to be sure. But I don’t want to write about that here. I already know there is a line of people somewhere just waiting to defend the reason she’s having this disciplinary counsel. Ready to defend the panel of men judging her worthiness to remain a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ready to defend whatever decision is handed down.
They will reference a handbook, they will cite studies from other conservative pockets of the internet, they will solemnly nod their head to the prophet, the men in the counsel. They will say that if her local leaders have called the counsel, she must have done something terrible. (Spoiler: she didn’t.)
These words aren’t for those people. I know every argument and every justification you could include against Natasha Helfer. And I don’t want to debate or argue any of those points. You can leave them here, but I won’t engage.
What I do want to talk about is this panel of men, who will sit in front of this woman, and deliver their proclamation about her worthiness in front of the Lord.
Natasha Helfer has already written a beautiful statement around her own heart and mindset going into this. Her work is important and I know there are many of her colleagues who support the kind of professional therapist and clinician she has been for decades. I don’t think my mini piece of the internet will find her, but if for some reason it does, I want to give her a virtual hug or high five, or whatever gesture of love and appreciation is appropriate these days. I see you and I see your work, Sister Helfer. The world is better for it.
With that said, I do want to write my own thoughts surrounding this idea that a panel of accountants, tax lawyers, landscapers (all Mormon clergy are volunteer, so this panel all have other jobs) have the ability to determine someone else’s worthiness.
Here’s the thing: they can’t.
No one, and I mean no one, has the power to tell you that you are not worthy to take part in rites or rituals that make you feel closer and more connected to God.
I know the temples that are built and frequented by members of the LDS church are sacred and beautiful. I know because I have been inside. I have sat in these beautiful rooms and talked with God. The opulent chandelier hanging overhead, while I sat on the plush couch with carefully placed flowers on ornate end tables, all provided a serene setting for my prayers and petitions. I sincerely loved the alone time I was afforded in these rooms.
I remember one experience in particular where I felt the presence of God physically with me, filling my heart and mind with love and giving me real guidance and direction that I will never forget and will always be grateful for. I felt close to God. I thought this feeling was something I could only replicate in this special and sacred room.
Until one Tuesday, a warm summer morning at 7:00am in the basement of a Baptist Church that smelled like burnt coffee and stale cigarettes, I felt that feeling again. It was in my first ever AA meeting with a dear friend.
As I sat and listened to the stories and words that were being shared, that same warm and comfortable feeling of immense love and guidance filled up my entire being. God was there too. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was a little surprised. My entire life I was told that to feel that close and connected to God, I needed to go to a special building with a special pass that someone else administered because this third person deemed me worthy to enter this house of God. Someone else was my gatekeeper to that close love. For years.
But this early morning meeting of Alcoholic Anonymous proved otherwise. In fact, I was witness to such sincerity and pleading for God, it was more intense and heartfelt than any sermon or church service I had ever been to and sustained my faith and belief in a higher power.
No one needed a special pass to be in this room. I was even nervous to just show up. Did I need to be in recovery to come? I asked my friend. Do I need to tell people why I’m here? They laughed and said I could come here anytime I wanted.
I understand there will be some who struggle to see my connection between a basement AA meeting and a holy, erected temple of God. But I also have a feeling there will be more who will have no problem calling a basement meeting of recovering addicts a holy and consecrated place. Because this was only one small experience in a series of many that opened my eyes to my very real truth, that no man can dictate your relationship with deity. How many people have found God hiking through a forest? Or at the edge of the surf on a sunny beach? I have talked to God in hospital chapels and at the tops of mountains. The front seat of my car has been a makeshift alter of supplication many times. God is not only in the walls and buildings of man made structures that have a tax exempt status. And no man can tell you what you can and cannot do to feel close, connected and in tune with your personal relationship with God.
I understand that the rites and structure regarding worship are important and necessary for many. I am not here to tell you my way is better than yours. I am not interested in throwing stones at a church that is still very much a part of me. (It’s complicated.) But what I know for sure is that no matter what someone else tells you about your worthiness, the only thing that matters is your personal relationship with the Divine.
You are worthy. You have access to God simply because you are you. You are a beautiful and precious light. This I know for sure.