Firstly, I must make the personal statement that prohibition usually comes second to a reasonable, rational debate between experts and authorities representing the parties involved. In saying this I do realise that it is the ASA’s task to keep corporations and their marketers in check when it comes to the claims they make in their advertising. For me, this task involves analysing the advert in question and requiring the advertiser to back up their claims with concrete supporting evidence, in the same way as substantiation has been required in our law courts for generations.
Job done and a tick in the “win” column for those of us who prefer reason to wish thinking.
Or so I thought…
The recent appearance of a letter of complaint from an all-party group calling itself Christians in Parliament to the ASA caused me to raise more than a sceptical eyebrow and I shuddered a little as I heard the word “bullshit” fall so easily from my lips.
Christians in Parliament is a support group of and for MPs and other Westminster officials and is supported by the Evangelical Alliance.
Fortunately, the letter written by this group is available for the whole world to see and scrutinise.
So let’s scrutinise the hell out of it, shall we?
Before I begin, the words in italics are mine. I find dissecting correspondence in this way both easier to write and also easier to read.
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.
Christianity’s time as an indisputable force in the world came to an end many years ago. Since then their apologists and supporters have scrambled for something with which to align themselves, like a splint on a broken leg. One of the most common crutches used is that of tradition; an apparently unquestionable umbrella under which many actions that would otherwise be disagreeable to society can shelter, safe from scrutiny.
Traditions are often seen as something that must not be lost from our society, as though their absence would create a vacuum into which all manner of cold, high-tech modernity would spill. What is often overlooked is the way in which the term “tradition” can be used to mean anything from the style of your wedding dress or the wassailing of cider trees to foot binding or mutilating the genitalia of those either too young or too afraid to object.
If my knowledge serves me correctly, the ASA is not in place to observe Christian tradition or the teachings of The Bible (clear or otherwise). If this were indeed the case then I imagine advertising in general would be banned for encouraging covetousness and greed.
On what scientific research or empirical evidence have you based this decision?
Extraordinay claims require extraordinary evidence. It is usually the case that those making the claims should provide the evidence. If S. C. Johnson & Son claimed that Mr Muscle wipes the soul clean of the stain of sin, they would probably need to back that claim up with cold hard fact.
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.
“Actually, Gary I am very interested in this miracle cure! Did you have ganglion and hit it with a bible? Was it a nasty paper cut that you wished out of existence? I simply must know! Yours faithfully, Rt Hon Lord Smith of Finsbury” – was probably the desired response to this question.
Had Mr Streeter noticed that he himself admits that prayer works sometimes but not others he probably would have saved himself the time spent writing the letter in the first place.
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?
Unfortunately, the media extracts mentioned were not linked to the transcribed version of the letter seen here. Even if they were I don’t really think that they would be admissible as evidence in support of the case nor would the ASA be able to intervene, for obvious reasons.
I personally did not prey for Fabrice Muamba. Those who play sport for a living do explore the limits of their own bodies and Muamba has only to thank those who reacted so swiftly at the match, the medical staff who cared for him in hospital, and his own strength and fitness that he is still alive. Many probably did pray for his recovery but if Mr Streeter et al are taking this as evidence of the power of prayer then surely if enough of us pray for rain we may avoid a hosepipe ban this summer.
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.
Good luck with that.
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