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Two young women I recently spoke with in intimate and heart-breaking interviews learned the hard way that celebrity Christian endorsements and pretty pink websites can’t cover up the dark, abusive side of Mercy Ministries. Over the past few weeks, they’ve shared stories with me of Mercy staff’s use of coercive control and domination to attempt to “treat” them of their medical and psychological disorders and how Mercy required mandatory HIV and STD testing, as well as detailed confessions from the girls about their sexual past relations (specifically about any lesbian or bisexual experiences) upon intake.

(Article originally published on RH Reality Check)

Two young women I recently spoke with in intimate and heart-breaking interviews learned the hard way that celebrity Christian endorsements and pretty pink websites can’t cover up the dark, abusive side of Mercy Ministries. Over the past few weeks, they’ve shared stories with me of Mercy staff’s use of coercive control and domination to attempt to “treat” them of their medical and psychological disorders and how Mercy required mandatory HIV and STD testing, as well as detailed confessions from the girls about their sexual past relations (specifically about any lesbian or bisexual experiences) upon intake.

Mercy Ministries is a Nashville, Tennessee based group which was accused of misrepresenting their counseling and recovery services to young women in Australia in 2008. The misrepresentation in Australia was two-fold. First, they claimed their services were free but had the girls sign over their government checks. Second, the ministry claimed to be using licensed therapists and professional counseling methods.  In 2009, Mercy admitted their guilt in misrepresentation on both counts and paid back $120,000 of government aid it had wrongly taken from the girls who attended—in Australia. Although the media attention reached the United States, the founding group (based in Nashville, TN) was never investigated further. Instead Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Ministries took the investigation as a sign from God that the group was under “spiritual attack” and took fundraising efforts into high-gear.

In 2009, founder Nancy Alcorn’s blog stated:

Since [the scandal], we have reorganized the governing structure of Mercy Ministries to bring new levels of oversight and accountability, have increased our funding efforts, and are in the process of opening two new homes—one in California, one in North Carolina—over the next two years. (Emphasis my own)
The most interesting part of the statement is a complete disregard for the admittance of guilt for misrepresenting their services. Instead, Mercy put extra effort in “increasing funding efforts.” Could this be because the scandal brought a large loss of donation support? Plenty of evidence can be found online about sponsors who cut off financial support and stopped their endorsements of the ministry program after the scandal occurred. Hillsong Church in Australia is one such group. In 2009, they issued a statement about their involvement with Mercy Ministries claiming that they cut all ties with the group.  
…[W]e sever any affiliation with Mercy Ministries internationally, and would not be associated with any attempt by Mercy Ministries Inc or Mercy Ministries Ltd, to recommence within Australia, under that or any other name…We would encourage those, that any investigation involves, to cooperate fully.
Religious groups like Mercy are hard to pin down when it comes to accountability—legally and otherwise. Abuses in large-scale ministries can range from financial irresponsibility, misallocation of funds, exorbitant salaries for founders, violation of employment laws to medical malpractice. Abuses like these often get overlooked until a whistleblower within the group speaks up. “These groups often operate under the radar of government oversight,” Marci A. Hamilton, shared with me when I spoke with her last week about possible government oversight of a group like Mercy Ministries. Professor Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, is one of the United States’ leading church/state scholars, specializing in issues involving religious entities that harm others. Hamilton is also an advisor for victims in many clergy abuse cases, including cases involving child abuse.

Upon further investigation, I found Marci’s statement rang true. When I inquired about Mercy Ministries licensing with the state, Grant Lawrence Director of Communications for the Department of Mental Health, confirmed my suspicions that Mercy Ministries is not licensed by the Department, which gives group and residential homes guidelines and best practices. (They are licensed as a child-placing agency by the Department of Child Services which only governs children under age thirteen.) The Department of Mental Health also oversees the young adults within these facilities, providing each young woman with a social worker and licensed medical care. If Mercy isn’t licensed by the Department of Mental Health, how can they claim to be providing proper medical treatment and licensed therapy to young women who are rape and sex trafficking victims, suffer from depression and are suicidal? They can’t.

According to Mercy’s own website, qualifications to work at the program include a bachelor’s degree and maturity in their relationship with God. Although the site claims that their counselors have either a master’s degree in counseling or psychology (or be working toward such a degree) and meet state licensing requirements, there are two issues with this. One, statements from Mercy graduates counter this statement. Many residents claim that their counselor was not certified, trained or experienced to deal with the issues they faced such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. Two, Mercy is not licensed with the Department of Mental Health nor are they a licensed medical treatment facility. They are governed by their own Board of Trustees which doesn’t include medical or counseling personnel. Three, even if their staff is licensed, as they claim, the real issue is the curriculum they teach and what they consider “best practices” as opposed to what secular therapists use as standard practice.

In upcoming articles on Mercy Ministries, I’ll continue to examine the stories of two young women whose lives were negatively impacted on the group, the curriculum and therapy “methods” that were used to treat them and what experts in the field have to say about groups like Mercy.

According to graduates, Mercy Ministries has a dark side that even the bright pink logo can’t hide.

Originally posted to lisakerr on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 08:32 AM PST.

Also republished by Three Star Kossacks, Nashville KosKats, Milk Men And Women, and Angry Gays.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Supporting documentation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mayfly, raincrow

    of your claims would be awesome to put a nail in this coffin.

    Can you report any of your findings to the appropriate authorities?

    We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. -- Jonathan Swift

    by raptavio on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 08:43:30 AM PST

    •  Yes (6+ / 0-)

      Raptivio,
      Yes, I have statements and documentation of much of this, but the real issue is WHO to report this to. I spoke with Marci A. Hamilton regarding that issue and she stated that many times these groups operate under the radar and there are no "authorities" who look into these types of groups. I have contacts with some possible authorities in Tennessee and these allegations will go to them; however, this investigative piece was one of the first places to start in outing this group.

      Before this, they were shut down and investigated in Australia. The groups in the US were not investigated or shut down. We're hoping they will be following some of the work we've done here and behind the scenes.

      Lisa

  •  Excellent piece, here. (7+ / 0-)

    Can't wait to hear more.

    Groups like this have been around forever, operating as they do outside governmental and/or regulatory purview. Exposing them and the abuses they commit is vital in getting REAL help to those trapped in such scams.

    There are two types of Republicans: millionaires and suckers.

    by Phil T Duck on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 09:07:17 AM PST

    •  The refusal to regulate is the root of the problem (4+ / 0-)

      There should be no God exception for any kind of group home, especially for teens. Some of these places do not even run criminal background checks on workers. Nobody makes them so of course they won't pay for it. In several cases, they've hired molesters to live on-site with minors.

      In Alabama, we have finally banned claims of "treatment" unless a program is licensed by the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.  But unlicensed programs are allowed to operate as long as they don't use the forbidden T Word.

      Many people are unaware of this slight of hand. They think that if a program is operating and advertising openly, it must have been approved or inspected.

      I work in substance use research and policy. Don't even get me started on the fact that a lot of these young people don't need "treatment" in the first place.

      Just because you're not a drummer doesn't mean that you don't have to keep time. -- T. Monk

      by susanala on Tue Feb 21, 2012 at 10:37:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Important Points (0+ / 0-)

        Susanala,
        Very important points you've made here. When I spoke with Prof. Hamilton, she shared with me that these groups are very common and commonly overlooked. It's awful indeed!

        This group often treats women who are lesbian/bisexual by asking them to forgive themselves of their sins. How very 1950's of them.
        Lisa

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