Is writing "God can heal today" on this website now illegal in the UK?

This week, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint against a Christian group who’s leaflet claimed God can heal today. To be fair, their adjudications do not represent a legal judgement as such, and nobody is going to be sent to prison. But they apparently do have the power not only to stop people advertising in the printed press, but to command someone to take down a website advert.  I suppose potentially, even, they could criticize this post.  If they do, my defense would be that I am not advertising any service or event in it.

It is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to something like this as a Christian.  It can all seem like just another attempt to suppress freedom of religion in what is increasingly starting to feel like an atheocracy. I mean, are we moving towards a society where to quote the following list of Bible verses would not be allowed?

  •     Bless the LORD, O my soul,and forget not all his benefits,
    who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
    (Psalm 103:2-3)

  •     “‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me;
    I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
    (Deuteronomy 32:39)

  •     “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”
    (John 14:12-14)

  •     “Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. 
    (Acts 5:12-16)

  •     “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
    (James 5:14-16)

It does seem outrageously very possible that somewhere down the line someone will try and use a legal remedy to force publishers of the Bible to take an editor’s scissors to bits like this that they do not like! There are of course many other portions of the Bible that could very well be in the secular gestapo’s gaze.

But I do think it is important that we actually try to understand to an extent the position of the ASA.  Lets look at the details of the latest case, and think it through together.

In the full text of their adjudication, the ASA quote the leaflet they condemned as follows:

“”NEED HEALING? GOD CAN HEAL TODAY! Do you suffer from Back Pain, Arthritis, MS, Addiction … Ulcers, Depression, Allergies, Fibromyalgia, Asthma, Paralysis, Crippling Disease, Phobias, Sleeping disorders or any other sickness? We’d love to pray for your healing right now! We’re Christian from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sickness”.

The ASA concluded

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 did note that the group involved had “offered to amend their ads to state “We believe God can heal” and “See God heal the sick” or “Pray for the sick”, to include the words “We believe” in any references to healing, to include a prominent reference to medical treatment on their website, and to remove the leaflet from their website,” but concluded “their suggested amendments were not sufficient for the ads to comply with the CAP Code.”

So what does the relevant code actually say?

The  sections cited in the adjudication are as follows:

1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.

12.1 Objective claims must be backed by evidence, if relevant consisting of trials conducted on people. If relevant, the rules in this section apply to claims for products for animals. Substantiation will be assessed on the basis of the available scientific knowledge.

Medicinal or medical claims and indications may be made for a medicinal product that is licensed by the MHRA or EMEA, or for a CE-marked medical device. A medicinal claim is a claim that a product or its constituent(s) can be used with a view to making a medical diagnosis or can treat or prevent disease, including an injury, ailment or adverse condition, whether of body or mind, in human beings.

Secondary medicinal claims made for cosmetic products as defined in the appropriate European legislation must be backed by evidence. These are limited to any preventative action of the product and may not include claims to treat disease.

12.2 Marketers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought. For example, they must not offer specific advice on, diagnosis of or treatment for such conditions unless that advice, diagnosis or treatment is conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. Accurate and responsible general information about such conditions may, however, be offered. (See rule 12.11.)

12.6 Marketers should not falsely claim that a product is able to cure illness, dysfunction or malformations.

3.1  Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.

3.47 Claims that are likely to be interpreted as factual and appear in a testimonial must not mislead or be likely to mislead the consumer.

3.6 Subjective claims must not mislead the consumer; marketing communications must not imply that expressions of opinion are objective claims.

3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.

To help us put ourselves in the shoes of the ASA, lets consider another couple of cases where our perspectives and beliefs are less likely to influence our opinion of the decision.

We would, no doubt, agree with the decision to censure the following wording found in a leaflet:

A circular, for Mr Morro, stated “African Spiritual Healer Mr Morro Can Help with your Problems Maintain family ties and Relationships Keep loved ones, gives you and your family wellbeing Sustain love and enliven love, get rid of bad luck, Black Magic Or get rid of Evil Spirits from the affect [sic] one. Become Healthy from Sickness of all kinds He is also capable of solving all Psychological, Financials [sic], Socials [sic] and Academic problems …”.

Using a similar basis for the decision, Mr Morrow was told he should not say that in future advertising.

Again, the ASA critiqued a healer who was charging for his services in the following advertorial:

“Chris Howe has helped many people over the last 20 years. Try Healing for £10.00 per session until the end of February 2009. Many have suffered from illness such as Cancer, ME, Depression, Sports Injuries, Arthritis and many more . . . Chris feels that he can convince you of the Healing which runs through him and has done since he was a small boy”

Similarly, the ASA censured the following wording of an advert:

“THE LITTLE JAR OF MIRACLES ADVANCED FORMULA SKIN THERAPY GEL THE RED CARPET REMEDY FOR SCARRING, SOOTHING AND SMOOTHING . . .It always seems our delicate skin is under attack and there’s no denying that razor burn, bruises and often the unsightly appearance of raised scars ruins the look of your favourite outfits. Thankfully there’s now a miracle worker which can help have you back to your normal self in no time at all by aiding the skins [sic] natural healing process and helping to reduce the appearance of scars for all skin types.”

There are a number of other decisions that have been made over the years involving Christian and other groups. Reading them shows that some are clearly over the top, and involve attempts to exploit people out of money.

How can the ASA prevent genuine abuses while allowing a simple offer of prayer for sickness?

That is the nub of the problem for them. They feel that there is so much tendency for abuse, that any claim of  healing of any medical condition that is not caused by a registered medication should not be made in any form of advertising.  It is hard to think of a way that they could frame their code so that those who are blatantly preying on the vulnerable would be prohibited, but those simply offering Christian prayer would be approved.

How then shall we respond to all this?
  • My initial knee-jerk reaction (which was rather immature I fear!) was to suggest a mass campaign of civil disobedience on this issue.  Imagine what would happen if every church in the country produced leaflets that simply said “God can heal today…find out more at a church near you.”  The ASA would presumably be inundated with complaints from the secular humanists,  but would the resultant public argument really be beneficial to the Christian cause?
  • In a more sensible way, perhaps those of us with blogs, Facebook, or Twitter could usefully declare that we DO believe that God can heal today in our own social media.  This is not advertising, does not fall within the scope of the code, and would bring testimony to our faith in a more sensible way than my first idea!
  • Speaking of bringing testimony, one of the things that probably annoyed many of you as you read about this was the idea that there is no proof that God heals today.  Perhaps we need to be better at sharing good accounts of the many times that people are healed.  The trouble is that there are always cynics, and often more “rational” explanations that people will give.  For those of us that believe it is the same God who heals through medicine as through miracles there is no real conflict with that, however.  The world does need to hear of our belief that God heals.
  • When considering advertising of this nature we will do well to consider carefully if there is a way to phrase things such that we do not fall foul of the ASA.  The following are options to consider (though I should say that at this point I do not have any comment from the ASA on any of this as to whether they would find it acceptable)
    • Consider offering “Prayer for the sick” rather than prayer for healing
    • Perhaps pose a question in publicity, rather than making a claim so for example, “Can God heal today? See for yourself!”
    • Avoid mentioning specific medical conditions in publicity literature
    • Ensure that at no point you in any way imply that people should stop taking medication or should stop seeing their doctor.
    • Encourage any who believe themselves to be healed to visit their doctors to discuss this  (similar to Jesus sending lepers to the priests for confirmation)
    • Be aware that short testimonies in printed literature such as “Fred Smith was healed of back ache” are going to raise heckles at the ASA and are probably in any case counter-productive to a secular, cynical audience.
    • If you really want to report a healing, consider language like “After prayer, doctors confirmed that the symptoms had surprisingly improved” rather than a direct claim in the efficacy of a certain person’s prayers.
    • Avoid ANYTHING that suggests or hints that an individual has the power to heal.  Phrases like “healing evangelist”  are probably unhelpful, when in any case we believe that it is actually God who heals.
    • Ensure that you never imply that everyone who receives prayer will be healed.

I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on all this, and also receiving testimonies of Jesus’ healing power today.

UPDATES
I plan on sharing links to helpful posts here. Own a blog? Write about this and let me know and I will put a link here.

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and part of the leadership team of Jubilee Church, London for more than ten years, serving alongside Tope Koleoso. Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway. Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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