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Just who are we to look down on Tim Farron believing in the power of prayer?

The twittersphere is up in arms. Tim Farron – who was formally the darling of all Lib Dems everywhere – believes openly in the power of prayer. Well good for him. However apparently that isn’t good and him signing a letter asking for clarification for why a spiritual group cannot say that ‘God can heal’ any more after a ruling from the Advertising Standards Agency is very very bad indeed.

Here is the letter is full for you to peruse:

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

Now let me stress here that I am in no way religious. I was brought up within the church and spent two years at a faith school and my mother is a retired Methodist superintendent but I don’t believe a word of it. I just don’t. However I fully believe that those who believe in the power of prayer can believe that. I know first hand of many Christians who believe that the power of prayer works. I believe that things just happen but who am I to stop them believing and who are they to say that I’m wrong?

Many people think this letter is promoting people ignore medical advice and put their faith in God but I know of no Christians who have ever said this. When my then still preaching superintendent mother got breast cancer did any of her parishioners tell her not to go into hospital and sit at home and the power of prayer would get her through? Hell no (well not to my knowledge anyway and I suspect I’d have heard if any of them did) instead my mum was in hospital within the week and the whole Christian community of the Isle of Wight had her in her prayers hoping that God would help her get through the cancer.

Did they think that God himself would swoop in and accelerate the destruction of the cancer? I don’t know but I know of no Christians personally who put the power of prayer over medical treatment. We all know some of these fundamentalists are out there but I don’t exactly see Tim Farron MP as one of them.

He believes in the power of prayer? So what? I can’t say that the power of prayer doesn’t work and nor can anyone say that the power of prayer does work. We all have our beliefs and who are any of us to tell anyone what to believe?

As far as I read this letter all it asked for was clarification (and scientific evidence – which was a dumb line as no-one can prove either way this subject) for why the ASA made their decision. Can the power of prayer heal? Yes of course it can. Does it? I have no idea and nor does anyone else.

If people want to believe in God and the power of prayer then great but I don’t think these people really tell people that prayer alone will heal. If Tim really believed this then why was he voting against the NHS changes? If the power of prayer can heal all then he’d just tell everyone to pray and we’d all be 100%.

I’m just stunned that people are so unhappy that he believes in the power of prayer. I really am. If we are entitled to our opinion then why isn’t he (and other Christians?)

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  1. Christopher Heward Christopher Heward

    Neil is right here both in his interpretation and application. All the leaflet said was that God can heal you and that they are available to pray for you. They aren’t selling anything, nor trying to get people into the buildings to pay tithes, and they explicitly told people to carry on taking medication unless told otherwise buy a doctor. (The funny thing is once people do get healed they often don’t go back to their doctor, which in a sense is frustrating a it makes it difficult to verify!)

    It’s not about a special exemption, it’s about saying this is a freedom of expression issue, as all they are doing is publicising a belief and publicising the fact they are available to pray. Medicines are sold, drinks are sold, but prayer isn’t, so it isn’t a service being sold, just availability being publicised.

    Are we saying that if someone continues to hand out leaflets that says God can heal and they are available to pray that they should be sent to prison? What a frightening society that would be to live in. This legislation is clearly for companies that would make up claims about products and services they SELL, where they have a vested interest in fooling the public. This group has no vested interest and isn’t making money, so common sense says it shouldn’t apply.

    Thanks for your balanced article Neil.

  2. “Many people think this letter is promoting people ignore medical advice and put their faith in God but I know of no Christians who have ever said this”

    Neil, you need to read the original advert. It WAS saying that prayer could replace medicine, and Tim’s letter supports that. Liberalism involves freedom, it’s true, but you can’t have freedom if you’re ill-informed, and allowing people to spread downright lies is not, in my eyes, liberal.

  3. I have to agree with Paulo here.

    I work for a company that sell face and beauty products and I know that we have to provide research to back up claims that we make in our advertising or the adverts get pulled.

    Tim is asking that Christian groups get a special exemption from having to apply the same standards as everybody else.

    What’s worse is the way this special pleading is dressed up in the all-too-common “we’re so being persecuted” language that privileged Christian groups use to try and get more special rights for themselves.

    A serious fail for a Liberal.

  4. Paulo Paulo

    The ASA was right in this case and I’m very worried that three of our MPs actually think like this. A simple test is to replace the word ‘GOD’ in the advert for another product. Imagine a soft-drinks company launched the following campaign:

    “NEED HEALING? OUR-COLA CAN HEAL TODAY!… We believe that Our-Cola can heal you from any sickness.”

    To make such unsubstantiated claims would fall foul of the ASA and I see no reason why the ASA should ignore their working principles because the product is a religion.

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