NSCC v ASA (round 3)

Our church has been having a debate with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about talking about healing (Round 1, Round 2). Here’s the latest:

We sent the following letter to them, explaining again our position

“Thank you for your letter asking us again to comply with the proforma. Our response, however is the same as before for the following reasons:

The ASA may have felt we discouraged people from seeking medical advice but the burden of proof is with you to demonstrate that the implication you infer is both correct and unambiguous. As we have said in every response we have made, we neither implied it (directly or indirectly), nor believe the implication is present in the text or present nor in our following actions or policies. We disagree with this view, we do not and have not implied that and as we have made clear members of our congregation do receive medical treatment, however we also believe that God heals people through prayer. It would seem a very strange decision to present a newsletter introduced by a retired medical doctor if our intention was to discourage people from visiting the surgery where he was formerly a partner for 20 years.

You understood correctly the implications of the invitation: that ‘the conditions were treated as a direct result of prayer’ which in this case is precisely what we meant to say, and in all cases mentioned this is what the individuals believe happened. This belief that God can heal today through prayer is what many orthodox Christians believe happens.

As regards the present status of Dr Matthias, the issue is one of semantics, we think the statement we made is both accurate and truthful regarding his qualifications, experience and place of practice. Dr Matthias was a partner in the practice that covers the area in which the invitations were delivered and the majority of the 2000 homes that received would have been a patient in his practice. However, we are more than willing to describe Dr Matthias as ‘a retired medical doctor with over 35 years experience, more than 20 locally’ in the future.

As I understand it from the proforma, the ASA is saying that as a church we can no longer refer to the personal healing that has happened in people’s lives, nor publicly state the belief that people could be healed through prayer and faith in God. That as a matter of conscience we cannot do.

We believe there should be truthfulness in the public sphere and in advertising, we do not think we have been untruthful or irresponsible in anything we have said.

Yours sincerely

Phil Whittall”

We then received the following and probably final (from the ASA anyway) reply (extract):

“Dear Mr Whittall,

Thank you for your email of 5 September 2008. I appreciate you feel that your circular did not discourage people from visiting their doctors. However, we consider that because it makes direct references to the physical healing of serious medical conditions, members of the public who read it may believe that it is not necessary for them to seek qualified medical advice if they attend the church.

CAP considers that advertisers in this particular sector should only make reference to ‘spiritual healing’. It has never accepted even implied references to the physical healing of serious medical conditions. We do understand that this is a delicate area, but I am sure you can appreciate that we must approach all ‘advertisers’ in the same way in order for the regulation of the entire industry to be consistent and fair.

I am disappointed that you are not willing to sign and return the proforma. We have no option left but to refer this issue to Shrewsbury Trading Standards, who may wish to take their own action.”

So there you go, I assume from this that the next we hear of it will be from Trading Standards which will be interesting. But there are a few other interesting points, one as someone pointed out to me, “according to their world view they don’t mind us abusing people’s spiritual health but we aren’t allowed to speak about physical health.”

One also assumes that if someone were to come to church ill and leave ill then they would still consult their doctor. But only if someone came ill and left healthy then they may not go to a doctor, although we would encourage them to go to verify the change. Anyway the saga continues and I can agree with the believers prayer when they said, ‘Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ (Acts 4:29-30)

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