As a charismatic Christian, I believe that God can and does heal today. I believe this because I have seen it in others, and experienced it in small ways in my own life. I have also read convincing testimonies, from trustworthy sources, of major miraculous healings. Some of these are accompanied by medical testimony, that the improvement in health cannot be accounted for by any normal medical processes – but of course it is not for doctors to say what did cause the healing. So it is not blind faith but rational conviction for me to state that God heals today.
But my right even to write this now seems to be under threat. As the BBC and several bloggers, including Adrian Warnock and Gillan Scott, have already reported, the Advertising Standards Authority here in the UK has banned the Bath section of the Christian group Healing on the Streets from advertising that “God can heal today!” This was in response to a complaint made by a certain Hayley. You can read the ASA adjudication and the response from HOTS Bath.
This is by no means the first time this issue has come up. In 2008 I commented on a similar ruling by the ASA about advertising by a church in Shrewsbury. But on this latest occasion there has been far more publicity, including on a Daily Telegraph blog.
Now I accept that it is right that there are controls on people making unverifiable claims for healing remedies or powers, especially for financial gain. Christian groups presumably don’t charge for healing, but may be perceived as in it for gain it they take offerings or encourage those healed to join their church. Perhaps it was unwise for HOTS Bath to name specific illnesses which could be healed. But the ASA doesn’t seem to have been willing to reach any compromise.
On that basis these rulings raise serious issues of freedom of religious expression. There is room for negotiation on the exact wording. But if the ASA is trying to stop any expression of the belief that God can heal today, then it is overreaching itself and infringing internationally agreed basic human rights.
I don’t usually read political blogs, especially those supporting the Conservative Party. But I was alerted to the following by a tweet retweeted by Gillan Scott. It comes from a post at Conservative Home, Andrew Lilico: Should Christians be able to claim that “God heals”?:
God is not a magic stone to be rubbed with healing flowing. He is a person who does what He wills. The function of prayer is to align our will with God’s and to offer our supplications to him, not to force His will to ours. So when God heals miraculously (as, with mainstream Anglicans, I believe he does still today) he does so on His terms and for His purposes.
One implication of this is that God’s healing is intrinsically non-replicable. The claim is not that performing such-and-such a ritual in such-and-such a way raises the probability of recovering from this ailment by that percentage. God’s miraculous healing is not induced by any act of ours, and thus is intrinsically not something to be subject to scientific standards of controlled replicability (indeed, the very attempt to test it for replicability is literally and specifically blasphemous). So it can never qualify as a medical claim under normal advertising rules – and I avow that non-replicability as a theological claim, not an empirical one.
So if my understanding (which, as far as I am aware, is entirely orthodox) is correct, then if Christianity is true, no Christian claim that “God heals” or “God can heal diseases” could ever have an evidential basis to satisfy the ASA. Note: that’s if Christianity is true! So the ASA ruling says, in effect, “If Christianity is true, no Christian church can ever be permitted to claim that God heals.” How could that be other than an attack on Christian liberty?
Indeed. And this brings the matter back to broader issues. In the past, on this blog and elsewhere, I have been involved in wide ranging and sometimes acrimonious debates about the lack of evidence for healings claimed by for example Todd Bentley and Benny Hinn. But, as Andrew Lilico clearly understands, one can never expect evidence of God’s work in the world which meets “scientific standards of controlled replicability”. The ASA, as well as certain bloggers, ought to recognise this and stop trying to apply these standards to religious claims.