This article by Ruth Pollard originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.
Former residents say separation contracts, a ban on physical contact and teachings by an ’ex-gay’ are part of Mercy Ministry’s attempts to stamp out lesbianism in its flock, reports Ruth Pollard.
When Mercy Ministries says it helps young women with “life-controlling issues”, it means in part that it aims to teach them not to be lesbians.
In line with the Hillsong Church’s strict doctrines teaching that homosexuality is an affliction that can be cured, Mercy Ministries is keen to ensure there is no lesbianism under its roof. It issues “separation contracts” to young women who make friends with each other and prevents any form of physical contact between residents.
“While I was there, we received much teaching on the evils of gay and lesbian lifestyles,” said Naomi Johnson, who spent nine months in the ministry’s Sydney house.
As someone with no issues about her sexuality, she was perplexed by the ministry’s continuing focus on the issue.
“In particular, there was an ongoing teaching video series by Sy Rogers an ’ex-gay’ – now reformed – married Christian,” she said.
Rogers – an American who conducts speaking tours on Christianity and sexuality- spoke at Hillsong Church’s Sense and Sexuality Workshop in Sydney last September and is due to address its Colour Your World Conference next year.
“Sy will bless you with his insights into identity and the heart,” the Hillsong website says.
“Happily, homosexuality can be turned around,” Mr Rogers says in a clip of his show, Turnaround, on youtube.com. “Homosexuality is out of tune with religion; it is not what God planned for human sexuality.”
On its application form, Mercy Ministries used to ask young women if they had been involved in lesbianism, next to the question on whether they had been involved in prostitution. They changed that in 2006 to ask “have you ever been involved in any form of same-sex relationships?”.
Another former resident, who did not wish to be identified, said: “Girls were asked on the application form, as well as in a telephone interview, if they have ever had lesbian or bisexual relationships. They asked if I had been involved in drug abuse, witchcraft, or lesbianism. They bunched them in together like that.”
In the house, residents were prevented from having any form of physical contact – no comforting hugs, no shoulder to cry on – and even though there were three young women to each bedroom, they were not allowed to change clothes if another person was in the room, she said.
Mercy Ministries denies it runs an “ex-gay” program, and Hillsong has stopped running its “ex-gay” program, called Living Waters, although both organisations remain staunchly conservative – anti-abortion and anti-gay.
The Herald asked Hillsong to explain its teachings on homosexuality. No response had been received last night.
One former member of Hillsong, who held several “leadership positions” in the church, revealed that he was shunned when he disclosed his homosexuality.
“The ostracising that occurred by fellow worshippers was severe,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “As soon as I came out my entire social network decided the best way to deal with the situation was to stop all communication with me.
“The only hope I had was my family and friends who were extremely supportive as they were not Hillsong members.”
Hillsong Church taught that the devil inspired people to act on homosexual desires, he said.
“Hillsong believes that homosexuality is not normal and not a part of God’s design for mankind – their belief is that it should be fixed and it’s something that can be removed from someone’s life.”
One option presented to the man was to force himself into a heterosexual relationship. In the meantime, he was removed from his leadership role in the church and isolated.