Two new articles about Mercy Ministries were published in The Tennessean and circulated by Gannett-owned USA Today. Written by freelance writer Maura Ammenheuser, the articles cite Mercy Ministries counselor Holly Fitzhenry as a credible source for eating disorders:
Unfortunately, Mercy Ministries is a radical evangelical group that is well-documented for treating eating disorders with exorcism and prayers instead of providing their residents with doctors or proper medical treatment. Mercy Ministries is also documented as being anti-gay (and teaching young women that their sexual desires for the same sex are sinful and demonic), supported financially by Chick-Fil-A, and they boast of using end-time “prophets” instead of doctors to treat illnesses. They are neither credible or licensed to treat eating disorders.
In 2011, an article surfaced titled Suicide Bows its knee! Apostle Jane Hamon at Mercy Ministries. According to the article, Hamon visited the Monroe, Louisiana home of Mercy Ministries to prophecy over the residents-some of whom wanted to leave the program.
The article explains:
“Today is the first day that I’m excited about my future,” said a young woman in Monroe, Louisiana last week.
Her excitement comes from her powerful transformation as God spoke prophetically to her through Apostle Jane Hamon.
One of dozens of girls being restored by Mercy Ministries of America, this young lady’s story is both incredible and a testimony of God’s life-giving prophetic word, according to Apostle Jane.
“Their lives are changed because God gives them a perspective,” said Apostle Jane. “God gives them hope that they can be whole for the future.”
The Monroe young woman had attempted suicide multiple times in her life, according to Apostle Jane.
“She said ‘All my life, every day, I’ve wanted to die,’” said Apostle Jane. But the prophetic word, which talked about a long life and her grandchildren, among other things, changed all that.
This message of life is common with many girls in Mercy Ministry homes. Apostle Jane, along with her daughter Crystal, ministered to about 50 Mercy girls in both Monroe, LA and St. Louis, MO last week, February 21-24th.
“Another young lady, from the St. Louis home, went to her counselors on Monday,” said Apostle Jane. “She told the counselors ‘I’m giving up. I’m going to go home, I’m going to overdose, and this time… I’m going to kill myself.’”
Since girls at Mercy are admitted on an at-will basis, they are free to leave whenever they want, according to Apostle Jane. But this St. Louis young lady’s counselors had some advice before she left.
“They told her, ‘Wait until Friday, until after Jane comes and ministers to you,’” said Apostle Jane. “Of course, [the counselors] never tell me anything about these girls.”
Through the prophetic word, God spoke to the St. Louis young lady about breaking her covenant with death, and that’s just what she did.
“She testified on Thursday and said ‘I’m so glad I stayed, and I’m so glad that I’m going to live,’” said Apostle Jane.
Such transformation is what draws Apostle Jane to continue ministering, at least once a year, at each of the US based Mercy Ministries homes, in spite of the challenges.
“It’s the hardest ministry I do during the year,” said Apostle Jane, who started visiting Mercy homes ten years ago. “If you don’t connect the girls’ hearts to God’s heart during the prophetic word, then they’ll go away more hopeless than before.”
“[Ministering at Mercy] is also the most exciting, most transforming, and most life-giving time,” said Apostle Jane, “because God is faithful to transform lives.”
Mercy Ministries, founded by Nancy Alcorn in 1983, helps transform the lives of women who have suffered abuse, addiction, eating disorders, self-harm and attempted suicide, among other things.
[Emphasis my own.]
The writer of The Tennessean articles (mentioned above and later circulated to USA Today) is Maura Ammenheuser, a wellness coach, personal trainer and fitness instructor from the Nashville, TN area whose largest publication prior to The Tennessean is Examiner.com (the equivalent of publishing on Craigslist for a writer) according to her LinkedIn account. Not exactly a well-qualified reporter, and certainly not one who has been with the paper for very long. Her articles first appear in The Tennessean this month.
But more important than who this shoddy reporter is, is who is Holly Fitzhenry and who is Mercy Ministries? As many of you know, I’ve done research on Mercy Ministries for the past year. They are infamous for using exorcism and high-pressure manipulation and tactics to treat eating disorders, depression, suicide, and sex trafficking. I’ve reported on them here and blogged about them here. You can also see more detailed accounts from former residents at the website Mercy Survivors.com.
Mercy Ministries is notorious for using unqualified counselors, who are neither licensed therapists or have degrees in psychology. In fact, most of Mercy Ministries counselors are women who have degrees in Bible studies and whose main qualifications are their “relationship in Christ” (according to Mercy Ministries website). Their website does not list a single staff member’s name or credential, and statements from former alumni back this allegation up. The girls weren’t ever given standard therapy–all of their therapy sessions were based on oppression, sin, and spiritual issues.
To further this point, Mercy Ministries own website clues the critical eye in on what’s really going on. Their counseling process “explores issues of faith, forgiveness, family, overcoming abuse and past hurts, and general life principals” are all code for ridding the girls of “generational curses” and “unforgiveness which leads to sin.”
[Image source: http://www.mercyministries.org/need_our_help/faqs.html]
The Christian-based counseling program called “Choices That Bring Change” is nearly identical to their exorcism manual “Restoring the Foundations.” According to former Mercy Ministries residents, the modules are the same, the prayers are the same and the processes are the same. Mercy Ministries has done what they do best–changed their press statements to erase the past and silence former residents who have been fighting a losing battle against Mercy for nearly a decade. But Mercy Survivors, a group of concerned former residents, won’t let Nancy Alcorn and her new image escape the long, dark history she has been trying to hide. Rightly so, since dozens more former residents join the Mercy Survivors group on a regular basis–seeking support from the other residents who feel deeply disturbed from their time at Mercy Ministries.
Mercy Survivors provided me with a copy of Choices that bring change. Click on the link to view the PDF. The counseling manual that Mercy Ministries uses is entirely made up of Bible verses. Not a single mention of therapy or medical standards for treating illness. As Mercy Survivors have indicated over and over, all illnesses and conditions are treated the same at Mercy Ministries. Eating disorders and mental illness are given the same prayers and neither are given medical attention. In fact, reports from former residents say that their anti-psychotic medications were actually taken from them upon entry into the program or they were weaned off of them; in some cases, causing the girls to attempt suicide.
But, of course, Restoring the Foundations most interesting portion of the manual is the section about demonic oppression:
Demonic Oppression (DO)
Demonic oppression is almost always done last because the legal
ground given to the enemy is what results in demonic oppression.
Many Christians do not believe in demons, or that they can be saved
and yet oppressed by demons at the same time. However, the
concept is similar to sinning. A Christian can certainly sin and be a
Christian at the same time. If the legal ground is still there even as a
Christian, why can’t demons be there? Derek Prince once said
“Christians can have anything they want to.”, implying we can either
receive God’s blessings or be under oppression from demons. [Emphasis my own.]
According to reports by Brunero:
Mercy Ministries, which is bankrolled by the Pentecostal Hillsong Church, has previously denied performing exorcisms on residents.
The documents, obtained clandestinely by a girl who “escaped” the group’s clutches, shows counsellors how to rid ‘demons’ from girls struggling with anorexia, depression and drug addiction.
Mercy Ministries’ activities hit the headlines in March this year when former residents claimed they were subjected to exorcisms, were cut off from friends and family and had to sign over their Centrelink payments to the group.
Some of the young women say they had little or no access to the promised psychologists and other mental health professionals but were instead counselled by bible studies students whose solution to all problems was prayer…
The emergence of the exorcism handbook lends weight to other claims made by girls who went through the Mercy Ministries program.
Megan Smith (not her real name), who spoke to LIVENEWS.com.au earlier this year, said her panic attacks only got worse.
“I was self-harming,” she said.
“I was cutting my arm with anything I could get my hands on – scratching with anything from my nails to paper clips.
“I never really had a problem with self-harm beforehand. When you tell them about self-harming they said I was trying to get attention and I was taking their valuable time away from girls with real problems.”
Finally, she was subjected to an exorcism.
“The counsellor gave me a list of different demons – demon of anger, demon of unforgiveness, demon of pride, there were lots of them and I was told to go away and circle the demons I had in me or around me,” said Smith.
“I was really scared… they cast demons out of me, one by one, and they became quite excited and animated during the process, and spoke in tongues.
“It was the counsellors and myself and they put their hands on me and started praying one by one for each of the demons that were on the list to be cast out of me.
“After each demon was cast out I had to say ‘I confirm the demon of X has been cast out of me in the name of Jesus and is unwelcome to return.’
“The whole time I was there, all I heard was that I’m demonic.
“Even after the exorcism, when I had the next anxiety attack, I was told that they had already cast the demons out, so therefore I was obviously either faking it, or I had chosen to let the demons come back, in which case I was not serious about getting better.
“They kept telling us that the world can’t help us, professionals with all their ‘worldly qualifications’ can’t help us, only Mercy could because only they have God’s power.
“So when I was kicked out for being ‘demonic, unable to be helped, not worth a place at Mercy’ and because I had taken too long to pray to become a Christian… it left me worse than I had ever been before in my life.
“They told me I would never get better now because I had blown my chance. I started cutting my arms and wrists more than ever, with their voices echoing in my mind as I did it.”
Suicidal and self-harming after being removed from the program, which she now thought was her only hope, she went to see a “proper psychologist to prepare me to go back to Mercy to help me fit in better.”
“The psychologist had never heard of them but told me to stay away from them… that person helped me more in the 40 minute session – really listening to me and understanding me.”
[Emphasis my own.]
Sadly, after speaking with Mercy Survivors for a year, this story from 2008 could be the same as a girl who left the ministry in 2012. Nothing has changed, although Mercy Ministries would like to have the public think otherwise. Take for example, these new articles published by The Tennessean. The Tennessean was able to publish Ammenheuser’s articles in the USA Today because they are both owned by the Gannett Company, which means some shoddy articles quoting Mercy Ministries as a reputable source for facts about eating disorders are now all over the internet.
But Mercy Ministries’ Nancy Alcorn and Christy Singleton have been on a very expensive PR campaign to clean up their soiled image in an effort to do damage control since the new stories that hit early in 2012 claiming Mercy was still not providing girls with adequate medical or mental health care even after their Australia home was shut down by the Aussie government in 2008 for misrepresentation. The Mercy Survivors wrote extensively about it here and was able to get a screen shot of the since vanished, very recent, op-ed piece Mercy Ministries had published in The Tennessean:
Following the publication of this article, Mercy Survivors contacted the newspaper to inquire as to why The Tennessean had published an op-ed piece by the executive director of Mercy. The Mercy Survivors weren’t given a direct answer. The Editorial Editor, Ted Rayburn, instead insisted that Mercy Survivors furnish the name of the individual running the group in order to receive an answer as to why this article was published and why it was later removed along with dozens of other articles about Mercy Ministries. Why was Ted Rayburn intimidating a group of young women, instead of providing a direct answer? And why was Rayburn and The Tennessean covering up for Mercy Ministries and denying the public this information? Rayburn never provided an answer to Mercy Survivors. I also emailed The Tennessean and got no response. [Rayburn can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Around this same time, Mercy Survivors discovered that Mercy Ministries paid an editor to remove any traces of scandal from their Wikipedia page. If you know anything about Wikipedia, they have a moderator for each page and those moderators operate with strict guidelines and ethics. The Wikipedia moderator, Qworty, confirmed that Mercy had in fact paid the editor to remove all mention of any scandal.
So, The Tennessean’s attempt to pump up Mercy Ministries reputation as credible in the eating disorder “treatment” center category has failed. While the circulation in USA Today may seem to help Mercy Ministries now, the Gannett Company is in a for a rude awakening when Mercy Ministries is further outed for who they are and for their support of an exorcism-based “treatment” center.
Sadly, it’s the residents of Mercy Ministries who lose in all of this. Eating disorders are not only very serious conditions, but they can be deadly.
The Lincoln News Messenger wrote a 4 part investigation on Mercy Ministries in March, 2012 and the news editor followed up with this assessment of why Mercy Ministries lack of treatment for eating disorders could be deadly. She writes:
While it would be so much easier to take the 29-year-old organization at its word, we have to listen to what the fathers are saying. Because eating disorders are deadly. They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. A National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders study found that five to 10 percent of those with anorexia die within 10 years after the disease’s onset; 18 to 20 percent die after 20 years. Only 30 to 40 percent fully recover. That doesn’t include mortality statistics for those with bulimia or those who binge eat. “It’s a mental disorder but it affects the physical systems,” said Susie Roman, the National Eating Disorders Association’s program director. “It increases the rate of heart attacks, heart failure; the suicide rate is elevated for those who suffer. All your organ systems are affected.” Someone with an eating disorder might die without the appropriate medical treatment. Eight to 10 million girls and women and one million boys and men struggle today with this disease in the United States, according to Jennifer Lombardi, MFT, Summit Eating Disorders and Outreach Program’s chief admissions officer. Headquartered in Sacramento, Summit treats those with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders in a medically supervised program. Summit is recognized by the national Joint Commission on Health Care Accreditation. The commission’s mission is “to continuously improve health care for the public … by evaluating health care organizations and inspiring them to excel in providing safe and effective care of the highest quality and value.” Mercy Ministries is not accredited with the commission. Christy Singleton, the Mercy Ministries executive director in Nashville, Tenn., told The News Messenger that her organization’s treatment does not involve doctors. The Lincoln facility has a registered nurse on site, according to Singleton. Mercy Ministries “includes biblically-based counseling and teaching, life skills training and transitional care services,” according to its website. It provides a “Christian residential program for young women who want help.” Its mission is “to provide opportunities for young women to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and life-transforming power.” For individuals with eating disorders, though, the Bible as doctor is not a viable treatment option. Medical hands-on treatment is imperative. “Treatment guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association recommend a medical component (a physician monitors the patient’s vital signs very closely because clients are high risk), a nutritional component (seeing a dietician at least once or twice weekly) and a therapeutic component (individual, couple and group therapy),” Lombardi said. Even health-related professionals don’t always know about the disease’s potentially fatal consequences. “We get referrals from professionals who don’t understand the risks involved because of the high mortality rate,” Lombardi said. “There are both short- and long-term consequences with cardiac issues, osteoporosis, tears in their esophagus. Professionals across the board don’t necessarily receive extensive training on eating disorders. For example, in my graduate program, the training on eating disorders was a 10-minute discussion. Just like any other area of specialization, it’s critical to obtain special training and continuing education.” Lombardi was referring to doctors and therapists. In Lincoln, Mercy Ministries employs a registered nurse, according to Singleton. However, the community relations manager in Lincoln refused to tell The News Messenger Tuesday if a nurse is on staff. Mercy Ministries has been in controversy before. In October 2009, Mercy Ministries Australia closed after ministry officials agreed to pay damages to residents. The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia ran an article Oct. 28, 2009 that said Mercy Ministries “prevented the residents gaining access to psychiatric care, choosing to focus on prayer, Christian counseling and exorcisms to “expel demons” from the young women, many of whom had serious psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety and anorexia.” Sounds like déjà vu, just in Lincoln. For the sake of the residents, I hope Mercy Ministries’ leaders will incorporate medical treatment in their care. The residents’ lives depend on it.