Hillsong, the largest pentecostal church in Australia is in the centre of a breaking controversy regarding one of it’s partnered ministries.
The Sydney Morning Herald has been doing an series on Mercy Ministries,Â a freeÂ faith based treatment centre from the USÂ for addiction, eating disorders, unplanned pregnancy, self-harm and depression, catering to women from 16 to 28.
Former AustralianÂ clients are stepping forward with stories of extreme religious abuse,Â unqualified staff and medical neglect, cult experts are stepping forward, Gloria Jeans Coffee (which contributed 170 million) is stepping back, use of government money is being looked it, Australia’sÂ Minister for Human Services, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission and the Queensland Office of Fair Trading will investigate if victims step forward.
Tanya Levin, Former Hillsong member and author of People in Glass Houses:
Hillsong has always been proud of the origins and progress of the Australian incarnation of Mercy Ministries. According to Hillsong folklore, a female congregant, unable to find help in Australia for an eating disorder, travelled to the United States for treatment at Mercy Ministries. Mercy Ministries was created by an American, Nancy Alcorn, who says she was frustrated in her role as a juvenile justice officer because of the injustices of the system. She determined to open a place for young women that would be independent of government funding and intervention, and free, so women would feel sincerely cared for.
While the Australian congregant was at Mercy Ministries, she was visited by a Hillsong pastor. The pastor was so impressed with the work being done she decided to bring the program to Australia.
Mercy Ministries was a godsend for Hillsong. Desperate young women who are violated by the world draw a sympathetic audience. It seemed a simple concept for Hillsong to mimic locally and it was presented as a utopia of female health. Hillsong is an organisation based on recruitment and fund-raising. Mercy Ministries was an opportunity to do both on a new and larger scale.
The founders of Mercy Ministries are fundamentalist Christians who are primarily obsessed with womenâ€™s bodies and what they choose to do with them. The Bible is used to justify the supposed inferiority and intrinsic sinfulness of women and homosexuals. Hillsong teaches that a womanâ€™s purpose, as an afterthought of God, is as a helper and a companion at best, and with Eve as their ultimate matriarch, the cause of the fall of all mankind.
Hillsong Church is Australia’s largest mega-church with 25 branches around the world. It is best known for it’s music, releasing 40 CD’sÂ since 1992. Â Hillsong is a word/faith prosperityÂ church started byÂ husband and wife team Brian and Bobbie Houston. About 18 thousand people attend services on it’s main 21 acre ‘campus’ in Sydney. As of 2004 it had assets of over 50 million dollars.
The unfolding investigative series by The Sydney Morning Herald can be found at Anton Hein’s Religion News Blog. Mercy Ministry, which has homes in Sydney and the Sunshine CoastÂ has been operating in the country sinceÂ 2000.
The Canadian branch says it plans to build in BC and expand across the country. The website saysÂ run by John & Helen Burns. There is no word on the website of their qualifications to run a residential program, they worked in Nashville and the Sydney location. The Canadian website currently links back to the US.
Mercy Ministries Australia responded to the abuse claims a few days ago with denial and blaming and a pr.
There is one psychologist listed for Australia, the UK centre was supposed to have opened in West Yorkshire in 2006. A home which Â just opened in Auckland, New Zealand says it can take 15 women.Â Australia claims 96 women have ‘graduated’ from their program.
Mercy, justice, liberty and compassion are concepts that evangelicals view as their own. They believe their God is the author of these values, and that with a monopoly on truth they have an imperative to administer them globally.
It is no surprise that the girls and young women who attended Mercy Ministries did not receive the psychiatric help they were seeking. Fundamentalist Christians are suspicious of psychiatry and psychology, unless prefixed with the word Christian. Psychotic symptoms such as voices are evidence of demons that medication cannot expel. I recall one Hillsong pastor proudly describing his own daughterâ€™s employment at Mercy Ministries. He said she could counsel by birthright, aided by her bible college wisdom.
Having worked in a womenâ€™s refuge for five years, I know there are few social services out there. And such little love. Itâ€™s hard for young women who are tired, frightened and hungry to distinguish love from opportunism. Something has to be done to advocate for the needy when fundamentalists can smell their blood.
Update: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will investigate