Three MPs from across England’s main political parties have written to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) demanding it justify its ban on a church-backed ad that claimed “God Can Heal” people of illness.
In March a Christian ministry group called Healing on the Streets Bath was banned from using ad leaflets that said: “NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY!… We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.”
The leaflet made claims that prayer could cure “Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction … Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness” and went on to say: “We’d love to pray for your healing right now! We’re Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness”.
The ASA said the claims were misleading in that it risked discouraging people from seeking essential medical treatment and therefore band the ministry from using the ads.
However, MPs Gary Streeter (Conservative), Gavin Shuker (Labour) and Tim Farron (Lib Dem) have written a letter to the ASA saying they want “indisputable scientific evidence” that faith-based healing doesn’t work. They are also categorizing this as a matter of religious belief and say that the idea of faith healing is steeped in “two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible.”
Below is the full letter as sent to the Advertising Standards Authority and Parliament:
Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chairman, Advertising Standards Agency
21st March 2012
We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.
We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.
On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?
You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.
It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?
We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.
Gary Streeter MP (Con)
Chair, Christians in Parliament
Gavin Shuker MP (Labour)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament
Tim Farron (Lib-Dem)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament
I am not a member of the ASA but there are some immediate problems with the Christians in Parliament stance:
If there is even a chance that an offer of faith healing under the guise of “God can cure” prevents someone seeking medical attention, then it is not just acceptable for the ASA to ban advertisements that may mislead impressionable people, it is imperative that the standards authority does so. Promises of faith healing are demonstrably dangerous. Earlier this year in London several people died because a ministry allegedly said that they could cure believers of HIV and told believers to stop taking their medication. Not all ministries will act irresponsibly but even if just a handful will act in this manner the need for a ban on such claims become obvious.
With regards to the MPs demanding “indisputable scientific evidence” that prayer doesn’t cure, they are mistaken: it is up to religious groups to provide scientific evidence for their extraordinary claim that faith healing does work, not for the ASA to prove it doesn’t.
Also there is an overwhelming logical reason to suppose faith healing doesn’t work. Assuming for a moment God does exist, the deity does not intervene in our daily lives to heal the sick. If it did, and God is all loving and all powerful, there would be no sick people walking around and disease would be but a myth. Simply put, that God only cures some people, as the letter seems to offer (“people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do”), is just not acceptable when the deity is meant to be the paragon of virtue and moral fortitude. One cannot have it both ways.
Further, while I would not doubt the sincerity of the belief offered by MP Streeter that his ailment was cured through prayer, one unsubstantiated claim does not a cure prove.
Where the statement regarding the footballer Fabrice Muamba is concerned, I have not seen the extracts the letter cites and so cannot make a claim as to whether the ASA should intervene, however there clearly is a distinction between saying that people up and down the country are praying for the well-being of a particular person, indeed this could be as simple as an expression of hope that he would recover and need not involve any religious act of prayer at all, and making a claim to fact that prayer will or even may cure someone.
There is also a glaring and basic logical error in the middle of this letter: that because Christian teaching has for thousands of years offered that God can cure people that this means it is necessarily true. This is not so. If one repeats a fallacy it remains a fallacy despite how much mossy belief that rolling stone might pick up.
While this apparently isn’t out of character for the Christians in Parliament group, that they would aggressively seek to make an issue out of this is worrying because it highlights a developing stridency among religious groups in Britain, particularly those with affiliations to US style evangelical practices.