The Sydney branch of a controversial Christian counselling program closed over the weekend.
Mercy Ministries had been accused of offering ‘ex-gay’ style programs and performing so-called exorcisms during counselling sessions.
Mercy Ministries presented itself as an in-patient therapeutic counselling program with a Christian ethos, however, few staff had any mainstream accreditation.
Former residents complained their lives were controlled while in the program and that at-risk girls were expelled for minor infractions.
The organisation received financial support from the Gloria Jeans coffee chain and Hillsong Church as well as asking women who attended to hand over welfare payments.
Both organisations have since pulled their support and distanced themselves from the group. Hillsong pastor Brian Houston told media an inquiry into the group’s dealings by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission led him to cut ties with their Australian and overseas operations.
“To ensure that this does not happen again it is important that we take immediate action to protect the reputation of our church moving forward,” Houston said.
Houston encouraged anyone who had been involved with Mercy Ministries to cooperate with authorities.
A number of Hillsong members served on the board of Mercy Ministries.
Freedom 2 b[e]  convenor and A Life of Unlearning author Anthony Venn-Brown said, having met women who’d attended Mercy Ministries without issue, he initially found the allegations hard to believe.
“I defended the program when a boycott was planned on Gloria Jeans because it was believed [it was] providing ex-gay therapy. When I asked questions, I was told this was not the case,” Venn-Brown said.

“I apologise for that now — I was misled. We now know that a number of girls went into Mercy Ministries specifically to change their same-sex orientation.”
“After campaigning against Mercy Ministries for many years, and boycotting Gloria Jeans because of their funding of Mercy Ministries, I can only applaud the decision to close,” MCC Crave pastor Karl Hand told Sydney Star Observer.
“When a person involves themselves to such an invasive degree in the lives of another human being, it is their responsibility to be well informed so they do no harm.
“I wish the decision represented an ideological shift from those organisations but I suspect they were just covering themselves against bad press.”
The Tennessee-based organisation runs similar centres in the UK, the US and New Zealand, and is building others in Canada and South Africa.
The fate of another centre run by the group on the Sunshine Coast is unknown.

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