A Christian organization in England has been asked to take down claims stating that God can heal certain illnesses after a complaint from an "unofficial adviser to the media."
The Advertising Standards Authority, a media watchdog in London, accused the Bath-based Healing on the Streets (HOTS) group of giving false hope to the sick, preventing those with specific illnesses including cancer, asthma, and other conditions from seeking medical assistance due to their prayer claims.
But the organization asserted that all they were doing was offering prayer for people, giving them the chance to encounter a Heavenly Father who loved them, the group explained to The Christian Post.
"It's up to the individual to decide for themselves if they would like to receive prayer," said Paul Skelton, the founder of HOTS Bath. "We don't force them, we don't make guarantees, we simply offer and that's all."
But Hayley Stevens, the blogger who submitted the complaint to the ASA asking them to investigate the group, believed that there was potential "for damage to be done," especially for people who already mistrusted doctors and conventional medicine.
Stevens, a humanist and co-host of the Righteous Indignation Podcast, initially witnessed the group offering healing to people outside of a cathedral during a visit to Bath last year and began researching for more details on their website.
HOTS typically ministered to people in the square below Bath Abbey every Tuesday, Thursday and second Saturday of the month under a "Healing" banner.
"I was quite concerned at the claims I found there about illnesses and conditions that this group seemed to be promoting as healable through prayer," she penned on her personal blog. "At the same time I became conflicted about what to do next because I knew that no matter what I did, I would be accused by people of being anti-religious."
But as time passed and she became more aware of their activities and claims, she did not feel comfortable ignoring her concerns and made a complaint to the ASA.
"I did not feel that the claims being made and the emphasis being put on their success was justifiable," she added. "I felt the ads were irresponsible, because they provided false hope to those suffering from the named conditions and that is why I made the complaint."
HOTS' website states that their vision was to "promote Christian healing as a daily life style for every believer, through demonstration, training and equipping."
"We are working in unity, from numerous churches outside the four walls of the building, in order to: heal the sick, share God's love, and equip the Church," HOTS also noted.
Additionally, the site has a small section featuring testimonials of people being healed after receiving prayer from the group.
"My stepfather said he came and found you on the streets and you guys prayed for him and he's feeling much better," one person wrote. "I am so pleased he came to see you, he said something just propelled him out of the coffee shop into the Abbey Courtyard...wow....great stuff..."
The ASA adjudication also highlighted a leaflet available for download on the HOTS site, which read, "Need Healing? God can heal today! Do you suffer from back pain, arthritis, MS, addiction...ulcers, depression, allergies, fibromyalgia...or any other sicknesses? We'd love to pray for your healing right now! We're Christians from churches in Bath and we pray in the name of Jesus. We believe that God loves you and can heal you from any sicknesses."
Stevens, who personally experienced a life threatening condition in her ear that required surgery, argued, "I couldn't care less if somebody believes it is God, Allah or the Flying Spaghetti monster that will heal the sick, but I do care when claims are being made that might be [providing] those who are extremely ill with hope where hope does not exist."
If she had postponed or waved off her surgery due to claims of healing being sent her way from friends who were involved with the paranormal research field, she would not be alive today, she shared.
"I don't even like to think what would have happened if I had been someone who didn't trust conventional medicine and, luckily for both me and the people who 'sent healing' I wasn't."
Though she had no issue with people praying for the healing of others in their own personal way, she objected to the organization's claims of healing through prayer, which were allegedly being touted as a potential cure, especially when people were "vulnerable."
The ASA also found that testimonials on the HOTS website and statements made were "insufficient as evidence for claims of healing."
"They did not ask us to provide any evidence and it is not our policy to go chasing after people we have prayed for to get it," Skelton revealed, however. "We are not too concerned about having to prove anything. As Christians we are not called to prove that God exists or to prove that healing takes place, we are simply called to 'heal the sick' (Matthew 10: 8) not to give them an x-ray afterwards."
HOTS also stated that it made no guarantees or promises in the ads that people would be healed. They clarified that letters were given to each person who came to them that made statements like "if you are on medication STAY on it" and "under no circumstances should you stop doing anything a medical professional or counselor has advised."
Each volunteer underwent detailed training before taking part in their prayer activities and all participants were told that HOTS was not medically trained, advising people to take the advice of medical doctors.
The Christian group also felt that their ads were not "irresponsible" or provided false hope to the sick because they genuinely believed that God could and did heal sicknesses, which many people experienced.
All of their claims, including "God can heal you," were statements of their belief, the group commented.
Hoping to work with the ASA and reach a compromise, HOTS offered to: add "we believe" in any reference to healing, include a prominent reference to medical treatment on their website, and remove the leaflet.
But although the ASA took note of all of HOTS' precautions and proposed amendments, they still ruled that the ads "breached the Code" and could discourage people from seeking medical advice or treatment.
"The ads must not appear again in their current form," ASA declared. "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."
In an official response on their website, HOTS stated, "We are disappointed with the ASA's decision, and will appeal against it because it seems very odd to us that the ASA wants to prevent us from stating on our website the basic Christian belief that God can heal illness.
"The ASA has even demanded that we sign a document agreeing not to say this, which is unacceptable to us – as it no doubt would be for anyone ordered not to make certain statements about their conventional religious or philosophical beliefs."
All over the world, Christians they stressed, believed in, prayed for, and experienced God's healing.
"Our ministry, in common with many churches, has been active in praying for God's healing for many years ... Over that time the response to what we do has been overwhelmingly positive and we find it difficult to understand the ASA's attempt to restrict communication about this."
HOTS told The Christian Post that at their next trust meeting they will discuss what to do next, going where God leads them.
As for what's next for the ministry, they plan to continue praying for people to be healed "as Jesus asked us to."
Healing on the Streets is a registered Christian trust working on the streets of Bath working with approximately 20 churches. To learn more about the ministry, visit their website here.