The Truth About Mercy Ministries of America

Mercy Ministries bills itself as a Christian-based rehabilitation home for “young women who are seeking freedom from life-controlling problems.” It was founded by Nancy Alcorn in 1983.

There is a riveting untold story about the ministry in the Nashville Scene, focusing on Jennifer Wynne, one of the girls admitted into the house.

How bad was the place?

Entrusting their recovery to untrained counselors barely out of Bible college, the Mercy girls said that exorcisms and speaking in tongues took the place of treatment, that expulsion was the punishment for peeing without permission, and that DVDs featuring the testimony of former gays were peddled as a cure for lesbianism.

Instead of the psychiatric treatment that was needed, Mercy offered prayer.

The girls suffered as a result.

In 2000, Oklahoma native Jodi Ferris entered Mercy’s Nashville home. She’d spent most of her college life battling bulimia, binge-eating at night and exercising six hours the next day to burn it off. A Mercy graduate suggested that Christian counseling might benefit Ferris more than the secular treatment she’d tried in the past.

Upon entering, Ferris was forced to give up her doctor’s prescribed nutritional guidelines. Stripped of the tools she’d previously relied on, Ferris struggled to restrain herself during her first week when Mercy hosted an all-you-can-eat buffet for the Super Bowl. In place of her dietary how-to, Ferris’ counselor—a woman she’d later find out had no experience with eating disorders—suggested an alternative to the scientific care that helped control her urges.

“She told me to let the Lord determine my meal plan,” she says. “Which was hard the night we only had jalapeno poppers for dinner.”

For treatment, Mercy gave Ferris a binder called Restoring the Foundations (RTF), a scripture-based doctrine associated with charismatic Pentecostalism. Her first assignment was to write down the sins of any relatives or ancestors. According to RTF, a lapse in conduct, such as premarital sex, could invite in an evil spirit that might curse a bloodline for generations.

The final step was to cast out the demons, a process that sometimes involved the bedrock of charismatic Pentecostalism: speaking in tongues.

For Mercy, there is no nuance between bulimia, depression, self-mutilation, and unplanned pregnancies. It is all just symptomatic of the Devil’s work.

And don’t even think about being gay:

Alcorn admonished girls for wearing their hair short, despite keeping her owns locks in a shoulder-length bob. If girls got too close they were forced to sign a separation contract that prevented them from being alone together. Mercy didn’t advertise itself as a gay-repair ministry, but some girls enrolled to be cured of their “disease.”

It’s really an incredible, shocking story. How this place is still allowed to exist is baffling to me when they abuse women on a regular basis in the name of Christianity.

Oh.

By the way.

Alcorn is a lesbian.

(She denies it, of course.)

Wynne has a blog of her own where she is trying to expose Mercy for what it is and show real support for the women in the program.

The Scene gives an update on what she did after she left Mercy:

One more thing we’d be loathe to leave out re: Mercy. The main thrust of “Jesus Rx” comes from Jennifer (now India) Wynne. Wynne graduated from the original Mercy home in Louisiana, worked in Nashville, and lived for a time with Mercy founder Nancy Alcorn in a Brentwood condo. She was eventually fired after admitting to kissing a girl in the home.

For years afterwards, Wynne was counseled to sue Mercy. What they’d done was illegal, she was told. She should be compensated. But Wynne says she never took legal action because she still believed Mercy could help some girls.

Still, many other horror stories are out there.

Check out the original story.

I’ll try to get an interview with Wynne so you can ask her your questions directly.

(Thanks to Sean for the link!)

  • mikespeir

    I’ll admit stories like this put me into a desperate quandary. I really, really believe in freedom of religion, but….

  • Milena

    Taking some of society’s most vulnerable and browbeating your religious beliefs onto them – lovely. Stories like this make me sick.

  • http://mrskalal.multiply.com Lauren

    That’s horrible. I have experience with RTF. More than useless.

  • http://josephbales.com Joey

    I notice that Wynne has some businesses listed on her site that support Mercy. One of them is Nelson Mazda. I once dated a girl who worked for this company. She said they were supposed to be a Christian company, but they did all the typical car dealership stuff like fudging loan documents and ripping off little old ladies. She ended up getting fired for not being a Christian.

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  • Larry Huffman

    The real key, I think, is the mainstream media’s unwillingness to report such matters frankly.

    Look…if there was a bunch of crackpot psychologists who set up shop here in So Cal…and began doing these kinds of things without the religious context…the evening news would be filming scathing expose’s about them and pretty much making sure they could not do any kind of substantial business again. But…add that it is a religious based group and everyone shuts up about it.

    If we reported this kind of stupidity and incompetence accross the board, rather than giving religion a free pass…well, maybe more people would wake up to the delusion. At the very least, maybe more church people would still value real professional treatment over this crack-pottery.

    Places like this…and other abuses in the name of religion…will occur until society as a whole can stop giving religion a free pass. When we hold religion to the same standards as we do anything else, it will crumple under it’s own dogmatic weight.

  • geru

    Reading this, I just came up with the shortest possible description for the phenomenon known as religion:

    “Unnecessary suffering”

  • Cathy

    This reminds me of the stories I have heard about lgbt and non christian homeless children being abused at the catholic run Covenant House shelters (which do recieve government funding).

  • http://www.nautblog.blogspot.com Sean the Blogonaut

    The big problem is of course the lack of government oversight. Alcorn set the program up precisely so that she would have no interference from government. While this means no funding it also means they could do whatever the hell she wanted.

  • http://cynicsage.blogspot.com/ The Cynic Sage

    Wynne has a blog of her own where she is trying to expose Mercy for what it is and show real support for the women in the program.

    Actually that blog doesn’t belong to Wynne, it belongs to another American Mercy Survivor.

  • Kozbob

    There are a few Mercy Ministries houses here in Australia too. One of them closed down recently after a heap of negative press about treating girls the Wynne recounts.
    The sad thing is that many of these girls are desperate for help for their troubles, and desperate for spiritual love and acceptance. And they get stiffed on both fronts, then tossed out like trash.

  • http://notreallyalice.wordpress.com Alice

    My little sister’s latest relapse (she’s bipolar) was thanks to her Christian Bible study leader and boyfriend (that’s two people) telling her she doesn’t need medicine or counseling; she needs to pray harder and have faith. And it’s not them who have to deal with her when she’s coming down off her medication and trying to convince her to take them again. And its not them that they’ll get the call to identify the body if she ever really loses it, either.

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  • cameron noble

    I attended Mercy Ministries in 2002. I disagree with what many of you all are saying. Women that apply to attend Mercy do so while realizing that will commit their lives to Christ. When I arrived at the Monroe home in May 02′ I was told that the Mercy believed in speaking in tongues (something that I was unfamiliar with), but this belief would not be pushed on me, and it was not. The girls received counseling once and week and were encouraged to stay on medication prescribed by our doctors while we there until we recovered enough to not be on it. I was taken to the doctor very often due to my asthma and EXTREME humidity. Girls were asked to leave if they demonstrated little effort in focusing on their improvement. I chose to leave early due to exteme home sickness. I wish I had stayed at Mercy. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I remain in contact with many of the girls and all of them are leading healthy lives.

  • Live_passionately

    I am Jennifer Wynne. I don’t have a blog dedicated to attacking Nancy or her ministry. The article in the Nashville Scene involved about 5 different girls. I did NOT pursue the article and when approached I only agreed when promised the focus of the article was NOT to attack Nancy but tell the truth of the abuse that was happening. I considered Nancy my mom. She called me her daughter. It is not my fault if telling the truth about her paints her in a bad light.


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