Saturday, 4 February 2012

ASA bans Christianity

In what it probably thought was a simple case of over-claiming of healing powers, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has bitten off way more than it can chew.

It's been widely reported recently  (Daily Mail, BBC) that a leaflet promoting Healing on the Street published by 'HOTS Bath', a group of street healers from several churches around the city, breaches various of the ASA rules.

The leaflet in question is a pretty standard one, similar to that used by HOTS groups around the country, and probably further afield. It's almost identical, in fact, to one named in a similar complaint last year concerning St Marks, Woodthorpe, Nottingham (BBC). It contains the following text:
Need Healing? God can heal you today. Do you suffer from back pain, arthritis, MS,  addiction, cancer, ulcers, depression, allergies, fibromyalgia, asthma, paralysis, crippling disease, phobias or any other sickness?
We would love to pray for your healing right now!
We're Christians from the churches in Bath, and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness.
Please take a seat.
It won't cost you a thing - just a moment of your time. You have nothing to lose, except your sickness. 

In its adjudication, the ASA finds three breaches of its code.

  1. The claim that the list of conditions mentioned could be healed was misleading and could not be substantiated;
  2. The testimonials on the group's website misleadingly imply that the conditions can be healed
  3. The leaflet and the website are irresponsible in that they discourage sufferers from seeking medical help for their condition and offer 'false hope'.
There are obviously some arguable points here. Neither the leaflet nor the website make any promise of healing - quite correctly, they say that the HOTS group believe in the healing power of prayer, and that anyone suffering from any if the listed conditions, or any other condition, is invited to drop by and give it a try. As anyone involved in healing ministry knows, there are no guarantees... God will break through in His own time according to His will.

HOTS Bath are also careful to distribute a letter to their visitors advising them that if there is evidence of healing they shouldn't discontinue any medical treatment without seeing their doctor. In fact, it encourages them to do this in order to help gather testimonials of the effectiveness of their ministry.

In the summary at the end of the adjudication, ASA says this:
We told HOTS not to make claims which stated or implied that, by receiving prayer from their volunteers, people could be healed of medical conditions.
Now whoa a minute - has the ASA suddenly been appointed adjudicator of religious beliefs? Where will this stop? If I write a quote from John 5:24 on my blog, will I be getting a plain brown envelope in the post?

This has to be beyond the ASA's remit. Would anyone care to join in to tell them so? There's a contact form on their website here.


  1. I was dissapointed to read of this Peter, but not surprised really! The world has gone mad! I have mets the HOTS team in Bath, and have prayed with them outside the Abbey for their ministry they are an aointed group of people and have indeed seen the Lord do marvelous things, as he often does when we pray in the name if Jesus for healing. I pray often fir people to be healed, but always make it very clear that people need to seek advice from their medical practitioner in relation to treatment/medication and that it should not simply be stopped without consultation. It is so important for faith and medicine to dovetail together. Where do we draw the line? What about the claims of Jesus e.g come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest. What if you don't get that rest that he is 'advertising'? Is the ASA going to step in ? Thanks for bringing this up Peter!

  2. Thanks, Cath. I completely agree that anyone in a healing ministry needs to be careful to position what they're doing in the context of medical treatment - that's the responsible thing to do, and if the Bath group weren't doing that I'd be very surprised indeed. The ASA does have a role to play in that area, for sure.

    But I believe the ASA ruling goes way beyond this, in stating that they should not make claims that people *could* be healed.