How to Miss the Point Completely

Some Christians believe that prayer can cure all ailments. Their belief is so strong that they’ll advocate prayer instead of, rather than in addition to, medical treatment. The Advertising Standards Authority told a group of such Christians in Bath (with the slightly risqué acronym H.O.T.S.) that they couldn’t make the positive claim in their promotional literature that prayer heals. They weren’t saying that payer doesn’t work, just that there’s no credible evidence that it does. All there is, is personal anecdotes.

Now, three MPs, one from each of the main parties, plus a Liberal Democrat, have written a letter to the ASA, complete with a threat, albeit an empty one. There’s also a rather stupid attempt at “proof” in the mention of Fabrice Muamba who, it is true, was prayed for by a lot of people but who, it is demonstrably true, also received quite intensive, and prompt, medical attention.

So, the burden of proof remains with the Christians, who are making the claim that prayer works, and not with the ASA, who are merely saying “show us some evidence”.

Here is the letter, copied from the Liberal Conspiracy blog, well worth a read in its own right:

Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chairman, Advertising Standards Agency

21st March 2012

We are writing on behalf of the all-party Christians in Parliament group in Westminster and your ruling that the Healing On The Streets ministry in Bath are no longer able to claim, in their advertising, that God can heal people from medical conditions.

We write to express our concern at this decision and to enquire about the basis on which it has been made. It appears to cut across two thousand years of Christian tradition and the very clear teaching in the Bible. Many of us have seen and experienced physical healing ourselves in our own families and churches and wonder why you have decided that this is not possible.

On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?

You might be interested to know that I (Gary Streeter) received divine healing myself at a church meeting in 1983 on my right hand, which was in pain for many years. After prayer at that meeting, my hand was immediately free from pain and has been ever since. What does the ASA say about that? I would be the first to accept that prayed for people do not always get healed, but sometimes they do. That is all this sincere group of Christians in Bath are claiming.

It is interesting to note that since the traumatic collapse of the footballer Fabrice Muamba the whole nation appears to be praying for a physical healing for him. I enclose some media extracts. Are they wrong also and will you seek to intervene?

We invite your detailed response to this letter and unless you can persuade us that you have reached your ruling on the basis of indisputable scientific evidence, we intend to raise this matter in Parliament.

Yours sincerely,

Gary Streeter MP (Con)
Chair, Christians in Parliament

Gavin Shuker MP (Labour)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament

Tim Farron (Lib-Dem)
Vice Chair, Christians in Parliament


EDIT TO ADD: Click here for another excellent post from Liberal Conspiracy.


2 responses to “How to Miss the Point Completely

  1. My first attempt to comment appears to have been lost, so I’ll try again:

    Like the title, this post appears to miss the point completely. Here’s how.

    You describe the beliefs of Healing in the Streets Bath as “Their belief is so strong that they’ll advocate prayer instead of, rather than in addition to, medical treatment.” This is simply untrue. Their literature includes references to medical treatment. They offered to beef this language up and add the qualifier “we believe” to any language talking about healing. The ASA found this unacceptable.

    And the ASA are not saying “show us some evidence”. In this case, as with other similar cases, they have not asked for any evidence about the specific claims made in the leaflets. Their position is that faith-based groups cannot refer to physical healing in any way, shape, or form. Even if they make it unmistakably clear that they are talking about beliefs, rather than facts, and regardless of the truth or otherwise of the specific claims being made.


    • The ASA are, effectively, saying “show us the evidence”. Perhaps I should have added the word “effectively” in the original post. In practice, Christians have had plenty of time to provide that evidence, but have signally failed in that endeavour.
      As for the idea that HOTSBath promotes prayer alongside orthodox medical treatment which you seem to be alluding to, though you don’t openly state that, if it is the case they’ve hidden it well. The only reference to medical science on their website is in links to studies, which don’t even support their claims! I suspect that they are relying on people not to follow the links, but to just assume the underlying science is valid because the links are there!

      The fact is, encouraging people to rely on prayer rather than medicine will cost lives. There have been cases in the USA where this has happened. Parents have withheld medical treatment from their children in favour of prayer. Their “god” has forsaken them. The ASA is right to take such a hard line.
      As I’m an atheist, it could be said that I’m biased. I try not to be, but it’s possible nevertheless. For that reason, when this story first broke, I discussed it with some Christians, and showed them the original news articles, just to see what they thought. They were as horrified as I was. They
      see nothing wrong with prayer per se, but they wouldn’t waste time on it until the medical side was arranged.


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