You may have already read about the Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling on February 1st against Healing on the Streets (HOTS) - Bath. HOTS – Bath is a three-year old registered charity run by over 20 churches in Bath and the surrounding area who train volunteers to pray for people particularly in the area of physical healing. Two to three times a week a small group of volunteers set up chairs outside Bath Abbey and offer to pray for passers by. The group hands out leaflets explaining what they do and will pray for people if they are asked to.
Their leaflets and website caught the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) last summer after a complaint was made by a single member of the public. The complaint centred around the claim that God could heal the named conditions as a result of the prayer offered and also that the claims were irresponsible and could lead to false hope to those suffering from those conditions.
The ASA published its adjudication on February 1st and upheld the complaint primarily for this reason:
‘We acknowledged that HOTS volunteers believed that prayer could treat illness and medical conditions, and that therefore the ads did not promote false hope. However, we noted we had not seen evidence that people had been healed through the prayer of HOTS volunteers, and concluded that the ads could encourage false hope in those suffering from the named conditions and therefore were irresponsible.’
The ASA concluded by ruling:
‘The ads must not appear again in their current form. 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. We also told them not to refer in their ads to medical conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.’
The ASA is effectively saying that Christian groups cannot claim that God heals through prayer.
Sadly this is not the first time the ASA has done this. In a very similar case last year a Healing on the Streets group in Nottingham was told to change the wording on their flyer after the National Secular Society complained about the healing through prayer claims.
Healing on the Streets was started in 2005 by Causeway Coast Vineyard in Coleraine Northern Ireland. Their model has been copied by many churches and HOTS groups now offer prayer for healing in a large number of towns and cities around the country. I have personally talked to members of the team in Bath as well as those running HOTS in other places. All of them have been quick to point out that God does not heal everyone they pray for, but at the same time they all have stories of how people have been physically and emotionally healed through their prayers. I sincerely doubt that those I have spoken to have made these stories up. They wouldn’t be giving up their free time and standing in the streets sometimes in the cold and rain unless they believed in what they are doing.
The simple matter is that the Bible clearly states that God can do the impossible, including physical healing. If Christians are to take the Bible and their faith seriously, then they should not have any doubts that God can do miracles. HOTS groups must be very careful with how they word their flyers to make it clear that they cannot guarantee healing, but the ASA has no right to tell Christians what they do or don’t believe and no right to stop them telling others about their beliefs. Healing on the Streets groups never ask for anything in return including money and they will never pray for anyone unless they are asked to. It is a dangerous state of affairs when a public organisation dictates what beliefs faith groups can present in public.
I wonder just how much research the ASA did looking into claims that people have been healed. If they had done this thoroughly then I suspect they would have ruled in HOTS – Bath’s favour.