Advertising Standards Authority rules that God cannot heal the sick

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.

Categories: Advertising, Healing, Prayer

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16 replies

  1. Eh…this doesn’t really surprise/concern me. It’s my understanding that their issue is with the leaflets, right? Ultimately, I think that if the group clarified their leaflets a bit, they’d be okay. On top of that, when you have a government like the UK (one that is largely involved with the affairs of its citizens) you should really expect stuff like this. You can’t expect them to take care of the poor, but not involve themselves with other issues. And to be honest, I *do* think that the leaflet is a little misleading, and might give some people the idea that all they have to do is pray and that everything will be hunky dorry. I *do* believe that God still can, and still *does* heal, BUT…I don’t know that He always does it in some very miraculous way. I think that while the leaflet might imply that you can expect that from God if you just pray. If that were the case in the world, we probably wouldn’t need physicians, would we?

  2. Hopefully lessons can be learnt from this. Maybe a freedom of information request could be made to trading standards to see how much research they put in before making the judgment.

  3. It’s also very important from a Christian point of view that HOTS groups do not guarantee healing. Truth and honesty are very important and must not be compromised. As a Christian I honestly cannot fathom why God doesn’t heal everyone who asks for healing, but I would be lying if I said or implyed that He does.

    Faith must be subject to truth. Always.

  4. I haven’t seen much that the HOTS group had put out that went beyond claiming that God ‘can’, ‘may’ or ‘could’ heal. Certainly nothing that my own church wouldn’t claim or operate under. Is it really the job of the ASA to police the internet?

    Interesting also that this action was brought by a self avowed atheist and that the National Secular Society will be following this judgement up with a complaint to the Charity Commission. Open warfare methinks.

  5. The HOTS flyer is misleading and presents a God who is a dispenser of miracles and cures.
    God can heal,and I am sure all Christians would agree with that.But we should also be aware that people who have advanced inoperable cancer die. I’m sorry but thats a fact and it would be more helpful for them and for their families if our prayer and support comforted and encouraged them to the end rather than give them a false sense of hope.
    I am sure there are many HOTS teams who have met such people and have not tried to convince them of a surefire cure,but have counselled them and shown them the love of Christ through their ministry.
    Another unfortunate thing I find with HOTS is their emphasis on the ‘leg miracle’ which seems to dominate the training days and is regularly posted as healing testimonies on their various websites.
    The ‘one leg shorter than the other’ trick is and old one and I would hope that they would dispense with it period.
    I agree with Adrian’s wisdom on how the teams should present healing prayer and how they should word their leaflets.

    • Adrian has made some sensible suggestions, all of which I agree with. After the ASA case in Nottingham, Healing on the Streets in Coleraine gave guidelines as to alternative texts for the flyers that addressed most of the points Adrian has made. Unfortunately HOTS – Bath were using flyers with the old wording. It is a reminder to Christian groups of the need to be careful in how we present ourselves to the world.

      I agree it is important to offer comfort and support to those who are terminally ill, but if you look at the gospels, that didn’t stop Jesus healing people. In fact even death wasn’t an obstacle to Him. Healing on the Streets works on the principle that God can intervene in any situation, so there is no reason to offer prayer for healing even if someone is on death’s door. That requires a huge amount of faith, but if we lack belief then how is God going to use us?

      • Yes, Jesus did raise Lazarus from the dead, but he died again…didn’t he? Eventually we will all die.

      • Agreed.

        The big difference between Jesus’ healing ministry and our own is that Jesus was God in every real sense, He knew the heart of The Father in a way that we can’t imagine, so when He spoke healing over someone He did it with full knowledge that the healing was in accordance with God’s will. We can rarely claim to know God’s will in a particular situation, so all we can do is faithfully ask God for the healing. Sometimes His answer is no.

  6. Taking Keith’s thought a step further reminds me that straining for the end goal, to know Christ completely means we have crucified self putting Christ central. In that position amazing things can and will happen. The onus is on us keeping Him central in our lives; at that point we become useful vessels to him; good and trusted stewards serving the living Christ.

  7. Its much more important that the H.O.T.S teams continue to do their work. Its probably wise to ammend any flyers along the lines that Richard suggests. Anybody who is healed will bear witness with their own testimony. Is there a web site that solely records healing testimonies because it would be a useful resourse to point people to. A personal account often has more of an inpact than a ”random” claim. Lets pray for these teams and the courage they show by working in the public space by revealing Gods power. Now thats something even the A.S.A cant stop

  8. 1Pe 2:24 He took our sins on himself, giving his body to be nailed on the tree, so that we, being dead to sin, might have a new life in righteousness, and by his wounds we have been made well.

    Mar 16:18 They will take up snakes, and if there is poison in their drink, it will do them no evil; they will put their hands on those who are ill, and they will get well.

    Mat_10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.

    Mat_10:8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.

    If you don’t believe it are you a believer?


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