A little more on the news that Towy Community Church is once again planning to open a hostel with Mercy Ministries in Carmarthen.
Following the scandals which rocked Mercy Ministries, especially in Australia, the organisation has become much more media and PR savvy. Whenever accusations about its practices are made, Mercy issues either flat denials or says that this or that aspect of its programmes has been changed.
From time to time stories have emerged of young women who have left the programme claiming that it used exorcism or "recovered memory" therapy. Some parents of girls who have undergone Mercy Ministries programmes have been accused of physical and sexual abuse as a result of the "therapies" and lost all contact with their daughters. Mercy dismisses these accusations and says that it is inevitable that a minority will complain.
There are also persistent suggestions that the organisation regards lesbianism as a demonic condition which can be treated with therapy. Mercy Ministries makes no bones about its fundamentalist beliefs, but steers away from this particular subject by saying only that it loves everyone, and its website talks only about "inappropriate sexual behaviour".
In other words, we have a swirl of claims and counter-claims, accusations and denials which are well nigh impossible to prove either way. But there are some aspects of the Mercy Ministries story where there is less room for doubt.
The biggest scandal to have hit Mercy Ministries since it was founded was in Australia. The affair was extensively reported in the Australian mainstream media, including the Sydney Morning Herald and ABC (see here and here).
Last year a US women's organisation called Reproductive Healthcare Reality Check published an expose (here) detailing the experiences of two girls who had been through the programme in the US. This elicited a long denial from someone called E Williams, the Executive Director of Marketing at Mercy Ministries of America (MMOA), who wrote that Mercy Ministries Australia (MMAU) was nothing whatever to do with Mercy Ministries:
Although it shared the “Mercy” name, it was not founded by MMOA’s
Founder & President, Nancy Alcorn. Simply put, MMAU was an
independent charity with no oversight from MMOA and was solely
responsible for its operations and actions.
This appears to be at odds with what happened because Nancy Alcorn, the founder of the Mercy Ministries group, intervened in events down under in April 2009 to appoint Margaret Stunt to head up Mercy Ministries there:
God clearly showed me who was to be our new Executive Director of Mercy
Ministries Australia. The Word says that everything should be confirmed
out of the mouth of two or more witnesses, and there was unanimous
consent from our Mercy Ministries Australia Board and our Mercy
Ministries International Board, as well as apostolic and pastoral
leadership that I am submitted to.
You can find a lot more in the same vein on Return of the Blogonaut, a blog devoted to chronicling the whacky world of sects and cults.
Oh, and Margaret Stunt also served on the board of Mercy Ministries UK.
Another claim, this time from Mercy Ministries itself (Program FAQs):
All counselors at Mercy Ministries are required to hold a bachelor's
degree from an accredited university in social work, psychology,
counseling or a related field, and more than 80% have master’s degrees.
When challenged as to why Mercy Ministries is not licensed by state authorities in the US which oversee residential homes and mental health practitioners, Mercy responds that it is not operating medical facilities (RH Reality Check again). Nevertheless, it treats young women with a wide range of conditions, including eating disorders.
Mercy Ministries is also adamant that it does not charge for its programmes, although it had to repay a large amount of money taken from girls in Australia. This is what the MM website has to say (note the "but"):
Our program is free of charge, but we do make sure that the girl
applying to the program is fully committed to change in order to ensure
that we are good stewards of the investments made by our contributors.
Another central tenet of Mercy Ministries is that it does not accept state funding because that would interfere with its freedom to practise. Its partner in Carmarthen, Towy Community Church, clearly has no such inhibitions.
It will be very interesting to see where the money comes from to pay for the proposed hostel in Carmarthen, in that case. Will Carmarthenshire County Council oblige as usual? Will MM therapies be a part of the chief executive's plan to provide "services in a different way"?
As has been pointed out on this blog and by Caebrwyn previously, the architect's plans for the new bowling alley, cafe, debt counselling, furniture recycling and "auditorium" also include a suite of therapy rooms.* Could come in handy, that!
Anyone wishing to find out more about Mercy's programme and the manuals used can find them here.
* The designs for the building were previously available on a website belonging to Pembroke Design Limited in Pembroke Dock. This website is no longer available.