Wednesday, 8 February 2012

More reaction to ASA ruling

I  blogged recently about the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK over-stepping its remit by banning a street healing group from using language in their publicity material that reflects their beliefs.

Since then, there's been some more reaction - Brendan O'Neill of Spiked magazine wrote this blog post for the Daily Telegraph. O'Neill's view seems pretty similar to mine - medical matters aside, the ASA has no right to prevent any group espousing their beliefs provided they don't break the law. (ASA guidelines are not the law).

As usual with any controversial post on a national newspaper website, there's been plenty of reaction in the comments. Some of it is, as you'd expect, from the sceptical / atheist / humanist camp, making the often-repeated point that a claim from a religious group has no special standing over one made by anyone else, likening the situation to a company pushing miracle-cure pills.

I have some sympathy with this position - I agree that there shouldn't be special cases for religious groups - but this shouldn't outlaw a statement of belief. The HOTS Bath group has been forbidden to claim that their prayers could heal.

Another group of commenters make the point that street healing is dangerous because it encourages people to stop taking their medication or otherwise act against medical advice. This is plain nonsense - prayers for healing  must always be seen as complementary to medical treatment. Healing prayers are answered in many ways - the iconic 'throw away your crutches and walk' is a rarity; just as often we ask God in prayer to guide the doctors and carers looking after the person we're praying for, and for efficacy in their medicine.

What I find sad, though, are the comments inferring (or just plain stating) that the healers must be after money. Anyone who has any experience at all of this or any similar group of street healers knows that their first and only objective is to serve the community and offer those in need an opportunity to receive prayer for whatever ails them. I've never seen money asked for or accepted. Groups will offer to take someone's contact details for later followup, of course, because they're interested in hearing if prayers are answered. And some people will keep in contact with the church as a result. But money - never.

I'm told that HOTS Bath is making a detailed appeal to the ASA over their ruling. And whatever the outcome, they'll be back on the streets soon, delivering their healing ministry with renewed vigour.

Join me in praying for them.

Update: More publicity, on BBC Radio 2 this time - Jeremy Vine show, 8th February. Skip to 1:36:00. A fairly straight-down-the-middle discussion, unfortunately nobody on the Christian side of the fence got to answer the challenge that God only heals ailments that medicine already can heal.

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