I was raised in a devout and conservative Mormon family in Orange County, California. I count among my ancestors Mormon pioneers as well as 20th century converts to the Church in Arizona and California. I loved growing up in a large and vibrant Mormon community and attended Brigham Young University during the early 1990s. There, I witnessed the firing and harassment of progressive and feminist faculty, among them several of my mentors. After the excommunication of several feminists and intellectuals in the 1990s and the Church’s involvement in anti-same sex marriage politics, I stopped attending church for several years. Still, my Mormonism continued as a central and defining force in my life, including my spiritual life.
I am now married (my husband, David, is Jewish) and a mother of two daughters. I belong to and serve in a ward in the San Diego area. I am a professor at San Diego State University and a national voice on Mormon culture and politics at religiondispatches.org. Finding the Mormon Stories community has been a tremendous blessing to me. Mormon Stories is vitally important to me as a place where people who identify as Mormon can openly share our stories and support one another regardless of our place on the orthodoxy spectrum and whether or not we feel comfortable in the institutional LDS Church. Surely, whether we are orthodox or unorthodox, conservative or liberal, gay or straight, there is a place in Mormonism for all of us.
Born and raised along the Wasatch Front, my pioneer roots go back to the early days of settling the Mormon corridor. I absolutely identified as Mormon–attending church and anxiously completing all milestones throughout my youth. In my teens I began to recognize that my extended family’s approach to Mormonism didn’t necessarily mirror the message I heard from the pulpit or lessons. My great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents didn’t use words like “jack,” “cafeteria,” “uncorrelated,” “open” or “progressive,” although that is most definitely what they were. We were simply Mormons and practiced according to our conscience.
While studying history at BYU, I reached a point where I wanted to know if the Church was “True.” I felt no pressure from family to practice one way or the other but I did know that if I were to believe, I wanted to follow all of its precepts. I followed the steps of developing a testimony, felt I found my answer and proceeded to serve a mission, marry in the temple, begin a family and serve in my local wards. The Church meant everything to me and to my immediate family.
My faith transition began when my husband agonizingly approached me with concerns about Joseph Smith. All of the things I’d heard during my progressive upbringing came crashing off “the shelf.” It was during this time that we found Mormon Stories and discovered we were not alone in our journey. I found comfort through listening to the podcasts and daily pursued ways to reconcile my love for the church with the reality of its history and doctrine. Living in California, the politics of Proposition 8 proved the final straw for our activity in the church and we finally made the decision to “take a break” from church attendance. A major aspect to this decision was not wanting our young children exposed to messaging that we saw as damaging. It was a difficult transition but a journey that has strengthened our family and challenged me in new and welcomed ways. I continue lingering the “halls” of Mormon Stories because I feel a responsibility to help where I can. Currently, I’m putting my oral history skills to work over at Mormon Narratives where we collect everyday stories about Mormonism for foundation use, academic research and future generations.
Natasha Helfer Parker
I’ve been married for 16 years and have four children. My parents converted to the church when I was 5 years old when we lived in Valladolid, Spain – a pioneering undertaking for sure. I received my undergraduate at BYU in psychology and my masters in Marriage & Family Therapy from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas where I currently have a private practice working with couples, individuals and families. I specialize in sex therapy and faith transitions within a systems framework. I am currently an active member of the church and consider myself comfortable in both traditional and nontraditional settings within LDS practice and membership. My involvement with Mormon Stories stems from my desire to help members of our church develop healthy relationships with their spirituality, their religious culture, their interpersonal relationships and their individual selves. As in most religious communities, there can be extreme pain and anxiety when things don’t go as traditionally planned – specifically when members find themselves outside of orthodox belief or practice.
As a believer in the gospel of Jesus Christ being, at its most basic yet profound level, love and acceptance; it is tragic to witness situations where themes related to our church cause personal dissonance or drive wedges between spouses, parents and their children, siblings, friends and ultimately communities. I am a believer and supporter of the mission statement of Mormon Stories – that of claiming our Mormon community and identity regardless of personal belief or behavior. For me, this touches at the core of what it means to be a Mormon – what it means to be a Christian – and what it means to be a family.
I currently live with my family in Maryland, north of Washington D.C. We have 6 children, some of which are adults. My current career is in accounting. Before that, I served on active duty in the US Army for a few years.
My experience in Mormonism has been an interesting paradox. I was born and raised in the LDS Church, the oldest child in a devout family. I hit all the major milestones as a youth: attended church, graduated from seminary, attended BYU for 1 year, served a mission in Germany, and then was married in the temple and started a big family. But I never quite fit in culturally, always feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
I was a pretty “wild” teenager, played in a goth/punk band in high school, looked wrong and asked the wrong questions in class. I have always been interested in the broader exploration of religion, art, history and philosophy. To me, religion should be a practical and playful thing, more like an art form than a legal code. If it doesn’t challenge me with ambitious ideas and push the limits of the transcendent, then it doesn’t have the power to inspire me towards enlightenment. I find that satisfaction in Mormonism. I am not a literal believer, but I think the meaning found in religious narrative and practice is vital to a fully human experience. It points towards truth, whatever that is. I don’t know the answers. I fell in love with the questions.
I have gone through periods of being active and inactive throughout my adult life. Currently, I am semi-active. I enjoy attending church and giving service even though I am not orthodox in my views or practices. I am fairly open about this, and still feel welcomed by my fellow ward members and local leaders. The rest of my family no longer attends.
I run StayLDS.com, a site focused on exploring alternative ways to stay connected to the Mormon faith. A couple years ago, I took over expanding, updating and maintaining the popular article “How to Stay in the LDS Church after a Major Challenge to Your Faith.” I have participated in and produced Mormon-themed podcasts for Mormon Stories, Mormon Matters and Mormon Expression. I participate on a wide variety of online Mormon-themed discussion groups, and also in our local in-person Mormon Stories regional support community.
I grew up in a very loving, traditional LDS home in the Washington, D.C., area. Earning my Eagle Scout award my freshman year of high school, graduating from four years of early-morning seminary, and attending Brigham Young University in Provo, I had as idyllic a Mormon upbringing as there could be.
I completed a full-time LDS mission in Arizona, where I taught the principles of Mormonism to English and Spanish speaking seekers. My mission gave me the opportunity to serve in a range of leadership capacities, and anchored me more deeply in both the pragmatic and the mystic aspects of a consecrated life.
My devotional life became complicated by the inescapable realities of my identity as a gay man. I pursued seven years of counseling and interventional approaches, calculated to change my orientation from gay to straight. My experiences in “reparative” therapy (also known as gay-conversion therapy) included participation in organizations, conferences, and retreats that spanned secular and religious approaches, including the BYU Counseling Center, Exodus International, Evergreen International, North Star LDS, Journey Into Manhood, People Can Change, LDS Social Services, LDS priesthood counseling, and various 12-step programs. I also served as a temple ordinance worker, and continued serving in quorum presidencies, and various stake and regional leadership capacities.
After seven years in this metaphorical wilderness, I realized that I was no longer complying with the temple mandate that is given to Latter-day Saints to “fulfill the measure of their creation.” Instead, my life had become consumed by trying to fight the measure of my creation, and the fruits of the efforts were not good.
With the co-realization that my Mormon faith is better characterized by the mythic and the symbolic content of doctrine and belief, rather than their historical and literal qualities, I took my spiritual journey in a broader Christian direction, and no longer affiliate officially with the LDS Church. I value the revelations of divinity through Jesus Christ, and the various traditions that have emerged to worship and understand him. I also value the inner light that has been expressed outside of Christianity, and consider myself an earnest seeker of light and truth, come whence it may. Perhaps somewhat ironically, this spiritual posture has reconnected me with the most expansive souls from the LDS tradition, and–in my opinion–encapsulates the principles of Mormonism at its best.
I am currently a PhD student at the University of Utah, where I am completing my graduate studies in neural physiology, and conducting basic and applied research on human brain systems.