Mercy Ministries and censorship

This piece first appeared on the Mercy Survivors website.

Since becoming the subject of bad press in 2008, it seems that Mercy Ministries and their supporters have been hard at work to censor expressions of criticism of their organisation.

Mercy Ministries’ censorship of Wikipedia

The most recent and brazen example of this relates to the “Mercy Ministries” article on Wikipedia.

Just hours following the publication of an article penned by Mercy Ministries senior executive Christy Singleton in The Tennessean[1], a large volume of culling was done to the article by a user named DownRightMighty[2]. The bulk of the previous content was quickly replaced by promotional fodder from Mercy Ministries’ own websites with regard to their funding, promotional activities and celebrity endorsements, with a single “controversy” section being relegated to a four line paragraph at the bottom of the page[3].

With a gusto of attitude, this user not only aggressively pursued and defended his/her changes to the article, but also made ongoing accusations of others, claiming that they were covertly manipulating Wikipedia with multiple accounts[4][5][6]. As it turns out, this user was exposed yesterday morning in a spectacular fashion by a Wikipedia administrator on the article’s talk page[4]:

Sadly, it turns out that DownRightMighty is a serial abuser of Wikipedia operating under dozens of names, who, we believe is being paid to edit Wikipedia on behalf of a large number of companies. While some corporate representatives and PR agents act in good faith, this person is not (given the amount of effort they’re taking to remain hidden).

As such, DownRightMighty’s account was suspended by Wikipedia for “sock puppetry”[7] along with his other accounts, including Morning277[8] which has made edits on Mercy Ministries article earlier this year[3].

Now if Mercy Ministries had not been guilty of so many other instances of censorship in the past, including past attempts at censorship of this very Wikipedia article involving two Mercy Ministries-owned IP addresses [9][10]29], it would be unfair to implicate them with any certainty. However, I find it extremely difficult, especially given the remarkable timing of these edits and their recent PR efforts (covered in detail over at My Cult Life), that Mercy Ministries are not behind the recent censoring of Wikipedia.

EDIT: As it turns out, my suspicions were confirmed by Wikipedia administrator Qworty on 26 October 2012, who states:

All of this is correct. Mercy Ministries paid this guy, whose name is Mike, to edit this article.

Information (milieu) control at Mercy Ministries

Information control is no new practice for Mercy Ministries. This particular criterion for cult behaviour (also known as milieu control) had been alive and well at Mercy Ministries since their inception in the early 1980s, when they were better known as “Covenant Ministries”. Whilst there is much to say on this, I will leave you to identify the abundance of examples in the remainder of this piece.

Cult expert Steven Hassan notes the following aspects of information control in his BITE model[11]:

1. Use of deception

a. Deliberately holding back information

b. Distorting information to make it acceptable

c. Outright lying

In addition to their attempted censorship at Wikipedia, Mercy Ministries have turned to number of other measures in their pursuit of damage control…

Mercy Ministries’ censorship of the Australian and US abuse scandals

The media criticism that Mercy Ministries Australia received early in 2008 related to scathing allegations of abusive, unethical and dangerously medically-negligent treatment of the young women in their care as well as “false and misleading advertising” as to the nature of their services.

The initial accusations of three young women were quickly confirmed by other former residents of Mercy Ministries in Australia and abroad, in the way of televised interviews, radio podcasts and YouTube videos, not to mention a number of survivor blogs that sprang up, first-hand comments left on various websites covering the unfolding scandals and further newspaper articles published in the US and UK, evidencing that many of these issues were not unique to the Australian facilities[12].

In the interests of damage control, Mercy Ministries Australia quickly made changes to their website and promotional material, causing it to appear more palatable and adding defence to the claims made by the former residents behind the explosion of media attention[13].

Peter Irvine, a director at the time, made comments dismissing the outspoken former residents as “bitter”, “troubled” and “making things up” [14]. (In the language of abuse recovery, this is a form of denial that is known as “crazy making”[15]).

Over time, and as it became apparent that the scandals were not going to go away too easily, Nancy Alcorn and Mercy Ministries of America claimed that the scandals were isolated incidents to the Australian homes and were the sole responsibility of the former directors. Any trace of the existance of the Australian homes disappeared from the Mercy Ministries of America and Mercy Ministries International websites.

Mercy Ministries censorship of the US abuse scandals

After the Australian abuse scandals which were echoed by The Nashville Scene in their scathing article “Jesus RX” followed by further media attention and former US residents coming forward, Mercy Ministries of America decided to try their hand at flooding search engines with positive information about their organisation.

They rallied their supporters and subscribers, requesting that they add Mercy Ministries links to their websites and blogs, and to write about Mercy Minstries using the full text “Mercy Ministries” in order to improve their Google rankings and remove “negative” information from peaking at the top. [16] Mercy Ministries also asked that they go to the website by Googling “Mercy Ministries” and clicking on the website, and to avoid clicking on any “negative” stories so that the Mercy Ministries website stayed at the top.

More recently, in a further act of historical denial following the scandals earlier in 2012 surrounding the Mercy Ministries home in Lincoln, Mercy Ministries of America has claimed that all other homes (including the Australian homes) were and are mere affiliates with independent governance and oversight, and related to Mercy Ministries of America only in name[17]. The website for Mercy Ministries International has disappeared, with the domain name transferring visitors to the Mercy Ministries of America website. And as for the Mercy Ministries of America website, distinction of “affiliates” is now made, citing the existance of Ministry Collaboration Agreements outlining their claims that other homes are, in fact, affiliates [18][19][20].

At the beginning of 2012, Mercy Ministries received criticism for claims made in articles published by the Lincoln News Messenger[21] [22] [23] [24]. These articles detailed the accounts of a former resident and two families, claiming that former residents had emerged from their treatment with false memories of sexual abuse. A flurry of comments ensued in response to each of the four articles. Unfortunately, their commenting system which was powered by Facebook resulted in most of the critical comments “magically” disappearing, leaving an array of incomplete and disjointed conversations dominated by the sentiments of Mercy Ministries and their supporters[25] [26] [27] [28].

Mercy Ministries censorship on YouTube

In October 2008, former residents and other interested members of the general public had videos taken down from YouTube that contained criticism of Mercy Ministries. Some even had their entire YouTube accounts suspended[29].

The reason for this was that false DMCA (copyright infringement) claims were made by a “Mercy Ministries Inc”, citing the usage of their logo and promotional material as fodder to their claim. However, videos that used this material did so under “fair use”, and even videos that did not even use this material were also removed.[29]

What was even more absurd is that within days of this occuring, Mercy Ministries actually rallied their supporters to upload their promotional videos on YouTube, contianing their logo and other apparent “copyrighted” material[30]. So on the one hand, they were penalising instances of fair use with bogus copyright claims, and even instances where their material was not actually being used at all, yet they were giving the public free licence to reproduce their material.

A number of the banished videos soon reappeared under new accounts, each with a loud and clear message to Mercy Ministries, YouTube and anyone else who it may concern, citing “fair use” for their reinstatement. They have managed to stay up, however any critical comments of videos on the Mercy Ministries channel are quickly removed. (This practice continues across other social media which I will discuss in a moment).

Mercy Ministries’ censorship of comments on Facebook, Twitter and Nancy Alcorn’s blog

Following suit from their YouTube account, I could discuss the countless comments left on the Mercy Ministries’ Facebook page (containing any degree of criticism) that have mysteriously and quickly disappeared, with the offenders being blocked from commenting any further. Or, I could share with you the various Tweets directed @NancyAlcorn that have been blocked, with the offender’s account being banished from viewing any of Nancy’s future tweets.

But instead, I challenge you personally to test this theory and attempt posting any form of criticism, however sugarcoated or watered down, on Mercy Ministries’ Facebook page or perhaps a one line tweet in Nancy’s direction.

The situation with Nancy Alcorn’s blog is much the same as other social media. Give it a try and see for yourself, but if you’d rather read about others’ experiences, check out Cynic Sage’s coverage of Nancy’s “i’m not a lesbian” piece[31].

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Is Mercy Ministries a cult?

The following post originally appeared on the Mercy Survivors website.  If you are a former resident of Mercy Ministries in need of support, contact Mercy Survivors at info [at] mercysurvivors [dot] com.

This is often a question on a Mercy Ministries survivor’s mind after her experience at Mercy Ministries.  If you read more widely than Mercy Ministries’ promotional material, it is likely you have come across suggestions and references to Mercy Ministries being a cult or destructive group.  Each woman in our network represents her own thoughts and feelings on the matter, but many have found it helpful to ponder that question and seek out information on what actually constitutes a cult or destructive group.  And in that process, many girls have identified that Mercy Ministries exhibits many traits that are typically operational in cults and coercive groups.

In order to assist you to form your own view, we provide the following information: –

Media attention

During the period of media interest in March 2008, there were some articles published suggesting that Mercy Ministries was a cult.  One article by Ruth Pollard of the Sydney Morning Herald, (the journalist who originally exposed Mercy Ministries in Australia), quoted South Australian Labor MP (Member of Parliament) Ian Hunter as saying that Mercy Ministries was “money-making cult, posing as a Christian-based counselling service”[1].  Ms Pollard published a further article n which Mercy Ministries was condemned as “cult-like” by two Psychiatrists in with regards to its practices and discouragement of autonomy[2].  

Another article drew attention to the comments of Raphael Aron of Cult Counselling Australia expressing concerns about Mercy Ministries[3], which he further elaborated on in a televised interview[4].  Mr Aron has since published a book, part of which discusses Mercy Ministries at length.  (Book title and Amazon link will be inserted shortly).

First hand experiences vs cult criteria

A resource that many of us have found helpful is Steven Hassan’s BITE model of destructive mind control[5].  It lists four main areas of criteria, and if you look at each item on that list and compare it with our experiences or what you may have read in the various media articles, you will quickly see that much of the criteria applies to reported experiences of Mercy Ministries.  Destructive mind control techniques are used within cults or destructive/coercive groups.  One former Mercy Ministries resident compares this list with her personal experience in her own powerful words[6].

Another survivor breaks down her experiences and observations at Mercy Ministries in a series, and what she shares gives insight into the dynamics that are present at Mercy Ministries [7], [8] and [9].  She also draws upon Dr Robert J Lifton’s criteria for thought reform, a highly recognised authority on cult dynamics [10].  Again, you will identify many common themes linking this criteria with the many stories that have surfaced over the last number of years.

Lastly, another survivor speaks of coming to terms with her experience at Mercy Ministries and overcoming the effects of cult dynamics[11].

More information

If you search our blog list or even the internet, you will come across the personal blogs and websites of many young women affected by Mercy Ministries from around the world, manifesting the themes of thought reform and destructive mind control typically found in cults and coercive groups.  You will also come across oodles of comments responding to various media articles and the like where women have shared their own stories. 

It is helpful to get an understanding of what these criteria and the forms in which they may manifest.  To assist you in this regard, we recommend the following websites:

To list all sources that tell of specific criteria would be quite a feat, but rather than duplicate the masses of information already available, we encourage you to consult Google and the like.

Mercy Ministries reopening in UK

Hey guys, I’m really sorry I wasn’t on top of this. According to news reports, Nancy Alcorn has announced that Mercy Ministries will be re-opening in the U.K. Obviously, this is of great concern to me, though at least in the U.K., Mercy will have to face a very alert press and a thoroughly secular society. Please get the word around, and let me know if there’s any British news media outlets that might be interested in hearing another side to the Mercy story. I also got my article published now, so I think I will be seen as a more authortative speaker on this issue than previously. At least that’s what I hope. But if survivors speak up, that’s of course much better.

http://web.archive.org/web/20110811053930/http://againstbiblicalcounseling.blogspot.com/2011/05/mercy-ministries-reopening-in-uk.html

Tennessean writes another fluff piece on Mercy

The ever obliging Tennessean has written yet another fluff piece on Mercy Ministries. According to the article, Mercy Ministries is a warm, caring place that deals with sex trafficking victims. No hint of the scandal in Australia is even mentioned. Why am I not surprised?

http://web.archive.org/web/20110811054445/http://againstbiblicalcounseling.blogspot.com/2010/12/tennessean-writes-another-fluff-piece.html

Hillsong’s Connection with Gloria Jeans

19 August 2010

Hillsong issued this statement, presumably in response to rumours surrounding the legal battle being fought by Gloria Jeans:

19 April 2010

Hillsong Church does not own or operate Gloria Jeans and has no legal or financial ties to the company.

Gloria Jeans is a privately owned business.

The owners of Gloria Jeans have publically acknowledged that they attend Hillsong Church.

Hillsong Church is not associated or implicated with any pending legal proceedings before the NSW Supreme Court.  Any suggestion otherwise would be highly defamatory.

As far as I can determine they are right, though I do find the wording in sentence three a little curious.  This distancing themselves from Gloria Jeans is really par for the course with Hillsong.  They are only to happy to be in the picture even if its by a loose association, when the going is good, but when the shit hits the fan it’s “we have no legal or financial ties”.

We are talking on an entity the has grown and I suspect continues to work on the bonds of strong christian fellowship(not legal or financial just to be clear), friendship or connection.

So let’s explore that connection.

Lets look at this sentence:

The owners of Gloria Jeans have publically acknowledged that they attend Hillsong Church.

True, Peter Irvine has I think only ever been identified as a Hillsong attendee, perhaps a high profile one owing to his membership on the boards of Gloria Jeans and Mercy Minitries.  Both I might add who have at least had strong working relationships( by which I mean catering in the case of Gloria Jeans and donation  to and promotion of the Mercy Program) with Hillsong.

With Mr Saleh though, I think the sentence above might be stretching the definition of attendee.  Nabi Saleh is an Elder in the church.  Not just an older and respected churchgoer but a member of an advisory council of sorts.  On Hillsong’s SENIOR PASTORS & ELDERSHIP page we have the following listing

The Hillsong Eldership

Brian Houston is Founder and Senior Pastor of Hillsong Church.

George Aghajanian is the General Manager of Hillsong Church. He possesses a wealth of senior management experience in both Australian and international organisations, and brings a strong balance of faith and practical business application to his role.

Nabi Saleh is the Chairman of Gloria Jean’s Coffees Australia and New Zealand. His strong business acumen and Godly wisdom have also enabled him to sit on several boards of directors for many large, non-profit organisations.

Robert Fergusson is a Senior Associate Pastor at Hillsong Church. He is passionate about imparting practical life principles from the Bible, and his primary gifting and function within the church is that of preaching and teaching.

Dr. Gordon Lee is a highly respected General Practitioner, and operates successful medical practices in Sydney. He also pastors the Hillsong Chinese Extension Services.

Leigh Howard-Smith is the Managing Director of several companies in the logistics/transport and plastic manufacturing industries.

Don Cooper-Williams is a Senior Marketing Executive within the IT Industry. With both Godly wisdom and management skills, he is a gifted communicator within the church and the corporate community.

Joel A’Bell, with his wife Julia, have been on staff at Hillsong Church for over 10 years. Recently, he has come alongside Brian & Bobbie to outwork the Hillsong vision across the Hills, City, South West & Brisbane campuses. Joel is a devoted husband, and father to Harmony and Eli.

So to say that Mr Saleh attends Hillsong is a gross understatement don’t you think? But this Eldership is kind of nebulous is it not.  I mean it doesn’t say that Mr Saleh fulfils any role really.

Until of course you look on the corporate governance page where Mr Saleh is listed as a member of both the Audit and Remuneration Committees.

What does it all mean?

There is no financial or legal connection between Hillsong and Gloria Jeans.  The Chairperson of company that hasn’t paid its debts just happens to be on the Hillsong Elders council and is a member of two committees involving finance.  Ultimately it’s Hillsong’s concern – I think it may speak to Mr Saleh’s business acumen and character but I am sure that that could be forgiven/forgotten considering how easily sexual misconduct can be plastered over( referring here to Frank Houston).

http://web.archive.org/web/20110209022314/http://seantheblogonaut.com/2010/08/hillsongs-connection-with-gloria-jeans/