A controversial church billboard in the town of Napier, New Zealand reading ''Jesus Heals Cancer'' has been replaced by a new message after advertising authorities ordered the original be taken down amid complaints that it made false promises.
Equippers Church in Napier put up the advertisement, which was meant to promote church attendance. The billboard reads in full ''Jesus heals cancer – church but not as you know it." A mother with a son fighting cancer complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, who in March told the Equippers that it cannot continue advertising with such a message.
''In the days of Jesus, leprosy was the word of fear, that everybody sort of walked around, and Jesus in his day healed leprosy. In today's day cancer is probably the modern day leprosy and people just want to tread carefully around it," said the church's pastor, Lyle Penisula.
The new billboard now quotes directly from Scripture, and some might argue, positions the same message: ''Jesus Heals every Sickness & Every Disease - Matthew 4:23.''
Pastor Penisula says the message is not meant simply to cause controversy – he insists that he believes faith can indeed cure illnesses, and claimed that six people in his congregation have testified that their faith in Jesus has healed them of cancer.
Some parents with sick children remain unimpressed with the suggestion that faith can be enough to cure serious conditions, such as Jody Condin, a resident whose three-year-old son has been fighting leukemia for more than 18 months, The Dominion Post reported.
''It shows no compassion and understanding to those in our community that have journeyed through cancer and lost loved ones,'' the woman complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.
The billboard "brings back sad memories of those I have lost in my life due to cancer. It is false advertising,'' she expressed, and added that the ad was "dangerous and deceptive" for offering false hope to vulnerable people.
''I would be more than happy if this billboard was to read 'Jesus Heals' and that way it could be interpreted to mean he heals spiritually/emotionally which I believe is more along the lines of what the church is trying to say,'' Condin clarified.
Although the Equippers Church argues that they have the right to freedom of speech, the Advertising Standards Authority informed them that the billboard reads more as a ''strong absolute statement of fact'' rather than an expression of opinion, which might confuse or conflict people.
In a similar case in the U.K. in February, Britain's Advertising Standards Authority told Healing on the Streets (HOTS,) a Christian organization, to take down claims stating that God can heal certain illnesses.
HOTS ministers to people on the streets, giving them hope in their treatment from illnesses such as cancer and asthma, but the media watchdog in London accused them of deterring people from seeking medical assistance.
"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."