This month’s revelations concerning the Mercy Ministries program for vulnerable women should be a wake up call for the monitoring of counselling services provided by religious charities.

Most do a good job and are able to separate their religious views from the services they provide, and those working in areas with high GLBT populations usually ensure staff are equipped to deal with our needs – which is why governments have been increasingly ready to farm out their responsibilities to church run NGOs and is precisely what makes this fundamentalist few so worrying.

This trust built up by mainstream denominations is being abused by a fringe with an extreme fundamentalist bent, but who still market themselves as non-denominational and accepting of non-believers and members of other religions.

A close look at Mercy Ministries’ rules shows how easily abuses could occur – no out-patient services are provided and residents must live on site for a minimum of six months – you are not allowed to date during your stay in the program, you are not permitted to go to the post office, you [will] open all of your mail in the presence of a staff member-¦ inappropriate correspondence will be denied, all money will be locked [away] and secured-¦ if you need to take out more than $30 you will have to write a list of your needs and have it approved- this for grown women aged 16 to 28.

Only Christian and classical music is allowed and attendees that fail to participate in daily prayers and attend church services may be expelled – it sounds more like a recruitment drive than a therapeutic service.

Mercy claim all participants are free to leave but they know very well that those they deal with are some of the most vulnerable in our society and have often exhausted all other options.

Most disturbing of all are allegations that participants were exposed to videos by American Ex-Gay proponent Sy Rogers – a former gay man with no therapeutic training who was so confused about his sexuality he nearly had a sex change operation and claims homosexuality is the result of child abuse or a failure to bond with a parent and equates same-sex attraction to drug abuse and paedophilia.

As usual when such programs are exposed, Mercy has been condemned by Australia’s medical and psychological authorities- but unlike others, Mercy Ministry, with it’s powerful backers will not simply fade away.

If there’s a lesson for politicians here it’s this – charity begins where government fails.

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