Mercy Multiplied: Did it exorcise vulnerable women?
A Nashville-based ministry providing counselling therapy for troubled women has denied claims it treated them with exorcism and prayer and withheld medication from them.
An article for Slate claims to have identified a pattern of inappropriate and coercive treatment at Mercy Multiplied (formerly Mercy Ministries). In an in-depth examination of the organisation it instances residents such as 'Hayley', who was denied her anti-depressants and told prayer was a better way of managing her panic attacks.
The article draws on testimonies from 14 former residents and five families, who said Mercy's programme manipulates residents into following a prescriptive counselling programme and that staff lack formal clinical training. Parents allege their daughters have falsely accused them of abuse under the guidance of Mercy counsellors who told them God had revealed past abusive events.
While it refused to discuss individual cases or respond directly to the article, Mercy did deny the women's accounts of their treatment there.
Mercy has high-profile support from sports stars, entertainers and evangelist Joyce Meyer, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cause.
The article also profiles Mercy Multiplied's founder Nancy Alcorn and claims to identify inconsistencies in how she talks about demons and spiritual warfare. The organisation's website says it "does not perform or endorse exorcisms" but Slate found a speech from 2008 in which Alcorn said Mercy dealt with "areas of demonic oppression".
She said: "If there's demonic activity, like if somebody has opened themselves up to the spirit of lust or pornography or lots of promiscuous sexual activity, then we've opened the door for demonic powers. And secular psychiatrists want to medicate things like that, but Jesus did not say to medicate a demon. He said to cast them out. And that's supposed to be a part of normal Christianity."
The article claims that "Mercy illustrates what happens when a hard-line, religiously oriented organisation inserts itself into a gaping hole in the United States' mental heath system".
Blogger Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology and a past-president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, said of Slate's claims: "If the reports are true, then Mercy Multiplied should be shut down." He suggested some of its practices appeared to be similar to "demon trials" practised at Mark Driscoll's Mars Hill Church, in which mental illness was seen as a sign of demonic oppression.
Throckmorton questioned Mercy Multiplied about Slate's allegations. While its spokeswoman Jackie Quinn said it would not respond to the article, she confirmed that all residents went through its 'seven-step model' of therapy. However, she denied counsellors ever used "restored memory therapy" or anything similar. She also said that while a resident might find they no longer needed medication as they progressed through their therapies, "this is something she would handle with the outside physician she sees and not determined by Mercy staff".
Mercy's CEO, Christy Singleton, told Throckmorton that Alcorn's comments about demons reflected her charismatic Christian background. Of the sermon quoted by Slate, she said: "Certainly, in a charismatic church, you would expect to hear the term 'demon' or 'demons' to reference the evil Christians are to reject. In this video, Nancy was addressing a charismatic congregation and speaking about spiritual issues. That being said, Nancy's statements are not incompatible with our stance regarding medication, nor has Nancy ever been against medication when medication is warranted."
So is Mercy Ministries a flawed organisation that does more harm than good, as the Slate enquiry implies, or is it the victim of a clash of cultures between a particular type of Christian counselling and a secular worldview? Either way, its credibility has taken a severe hit during the last week. How it responds will be crucial to its future.