God can heal, but not to meet advertising standards

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.

Healing on the Streets outside Bath AbbeyBut 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.

21 thoughts on “God can heal, but not to meet advertising standards

  1. Thanks for linking through to the Andrew Lilico article – I think it’s excellent. It just highlights the absurdity of the ASA’s ruling.

    I hope that HOTS fight and win against this, even if the wording may need to be modified slightly!

  2. Peter, I had also picked this one up and like you I am concerned about its implications.

    I would have thought that the ppain simple meaning of the words is that God is able to heal, not that Healways will do so in a way which gives us the answer we want. We do need to be measured and realistic in the claims we make. But as with Dawkins side of bus advert , it left options open. And Dawkins ad was accepted.

    The awkward squad part of me asks what is the legal and enforceable standing of the ASA. What are the conesequences of ingnoring it, perhaps removing the references to specific illnesses which I admit I was less happy about. If it is legally enforceable then there must be a route of appeal.

    We have had a similar HOTS activity here. I have not personally been involved in it – my vicar was, in its first year or so. I will ask hin what our local take is.

  3. Thanks for your excellent work and contribution to this matter. Perhaps it’s a well-timed issue for bringing this important aspect of Christianity into public focus. It needs serious well-considered discussion and should provoke believers to not only proclaim but also prove the reality of their faith. My contribution will be soon.

  4. Thanks for the comments.

    Colin, I don’t think we should take the Dawkins bus advert as a model and add words like “probably”, which quite frankly made that whole campaign ridiculous. I would suggest that a clear line needs to be drawn between faith statements, whether “God can heal today” or “there is no God”, and advertising claims. The ASA seems to me to be trying to step across that line, into restricting freedom of speech as well as freedom of religion.

  5. Dear Peter, I respect your training and experience, particularly your work with Wycliffe whose work I greatly admire. You wrote in your blog on healing of which I fully concur, having filmed and seen many miracles myself ‘’I don’t usually read political blogs, especially those supporting the Conservative Party’
    I am curious as to why you make this comment. I can only assume that you do not subscribe to their policies. I trust that you are not a supporter of the Liberal party with its strong leaning to homosexual issues. I have occasionally come across Christians who believe that you can’t be a Christian without being a Labour supporter! The current leadership of the Conservatives is a great disappointment to me and many other Christians but many of the Back Benchers are still of the old school.
    It is thus that I question why you single out Conservative blogs to be avoided.

  6. Further developments today as Founder of Healing on the Streets, Mark Marx, releases statement saying that the ASA has told the Evangelical Alliance that they will not accept any claims made by Christians that God can physically heal. I’ve posted the full statement on the God and Politics in the UK blog.

  7. Peter, I find your article interesting.
    As a Pentecostal believer, I share your faith that God does still heal sick bodies today.
    What your government is doing seems to be consistent with what is going on in various places all around the world. There is an attack against Christianity, and the attackers are not selectlive. Any group that claims the Name of Christ is targeted.
    Over here, right now, the Obama administration is attempting to force Catholic hospitals to provide birth control insurance to all their employees, even though Catholic dogma forbids birth control. The government talks about compromise, even though any one of faith knows that compromise is forbidden to them.
    I am not a Catholic, and see nothing wrong with birth control, but if government can force Catholics to accept it, then there is no article of faith of any denomination safe from government meddling.
    Freedom of religion was one of the most important precepts in the founding of the USA.
    I pray for your success in resisting this unlawful intrusion into your affairs, as I pray for our own victory over the Obama administration here.

  8. According to Gillan’s latest post, quoting Mark Marx of Healing on the Streets, the ASA has now stated that they will not allow any claim that God heals physically:

    Religious organisations may make claims about healing only if it is clear that they are referring to spiritual, not physical, healing.

    This statement is an overt and direct attempt to impose a particular viewpoint on a theological issue. It is thus very clearly outside the competence of the ASA. But, Marx writes,

    It is also important to note that the ASA has limited legal authority. The ASA is a self-regulatory body and its Code does not have the force of law.

    This means that churches and other Christian groups can safely ignore ASA rulings that are seen as restricting freedom of religious expression and practice.

    The ASA depends for its effectiveness on general public acceptance. Sadly it is putting that acceptance at risk by meddling in theology.

  9. Mr Integrity, I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, and a former local election candidate, as you will find by searching the archives of this blog. I do not agree with a number of policies of the Conservative Party including its promotion of gay marriage. I also disagree with the majority of Liberal Democrats on some issues.

    Gillan, thanks for your comment, which I hadn’t seen when I posted my last one.

    Galveston, thank you for your support. Yes, governments the world over need to keep their fingers out of theological issues. But I don’t think it is right for employers to dictate to their employees which medical procedures are available to them.

  10. Interesting that over there conservatives promote gay marriage but over here we oppose it. I am opposed to virtually all liberal ideas here, but apparently, liberal does not mean the same thing in USA and UK.

  11. Galveston, I think the point here is that things have gone so far with gay marriage that not only liberals but even some Conservatives, including the Prime Minister, support it, and so it is likely to become government policy. There was some deliberate irony in my response to Mr Integrity, that even his preferred Conservatives don’t take the line which he obviously does.

    Richard, thanks for the link. I will read your post now.

  12. Pingback: Muhammed knows more than the ASA! | Richard's Watch

  13. Richard, thank you for that amazing testimony from your wife. Interesting that she has documentary proof that official government doctors had assessed her as permanently disabled. If the ASA cannot accept that kind of evidence, they are following an ideology rather than anything reasonable.

  14. Andrew Scopes has created an e-petition at the official UK government site with the title I believe that God can heal. I don’t know Andrew, but I complete agree with his central aim:

    we call on the Government to ensure that publishing statements of faith is not banned.

    Please join me in signing this petition. It doesn’t seem to be restricted to UK citizens, although foreigners are counted separately and their signatures are probably given less weight.

  15. Thank you to Richard, for the amazing testimonies you have published. I have added my name to the petition. I have not yet had a moment to ask my own vicar whether/how our own Healing on the Streets ministry is handling the ASA ruling – or whether it will ignore it.

    I like the point about NHS claims!

    Having this and the Bideford prayers ruling so close to each other does bring the creeping persistence of aggresive and intolerant evangelical secularism into sharp focus.

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  17. Pingback: God Heals Today through Prayer - Scientific Paper - Gentle Wisdom

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