Healing on the Streets & why I am not ‘a group generally opposed to Christianity’

Last year on a visit to the city Bath I became aware of a group of people who called themselves ‘Healing on the Streets” (HOTS) who were outside the cathedral, offering to help people with various illnesses be healed by god.

It was concerning but I didn’t think much of it at the time as I was distracted. A few weeks later a conversation I was having about healing reminded about the group and I decided to check out their website for more details on what they do and how they operate. 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. 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.

However, as time passed I saw the group at work again, and I also became aware of their Youtube videos in which even more claims were made, and I realised that I didn’t feel comfortable with not expressing my concern to people who might be able to do something about the claims if they agreed something was wrong. That’s when I made the complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority using the ‘Fishbarrel’ plug in. 

You can read the complaint details in the ASA adjudication report published on their website here. I am glad that the ASA could see my points and agreed that the claims could certainly be perceived as a last hope for those with serious illness.

I thought twice about making it known that I was the person who had made the complaint because in the past I have been harassed by those I’ve made complaints against, and with this group being based on Bath they’re very close to home. Yet the reaction from HOTS Bath has made me decide against remaining anonymous simply so that I can answer the accusations raised in a frankly bizarre statement on their website. 

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 as part of their normal Christian life, Christians believe in, pray for and experience God’s healing; our ministry, in common with many churches, has been active in praying for God‘s healing (of Christians and non Christians) 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. Our website simply states our beliefs and describes some of our experiences.
We tried to reach a compromise, recognising some of the ASA’s concerns, but there are certain things that we cannot agree to – including a ban on expressing our beliefs.
It appears that the complaint to the ASA was made by a group generally opposed to Christianity, and it seems strange to us that on the basis of a purely ideological objection to what we say on our website, the ASA has decided it is appropriate to insist that we cannot talk about a common and widely held belief that is an important aspect of conventional Christian faith.
It appears that HOTS Bath have intentionally or unintentionally misunderstood the ruling by the ASA and are making it sound as though this whole ruling has been made on the grounds of what they believe rather than the grounds of the claims they were making. It quite clearly states in the ASA adjudication exactly why the ruling has been made.
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I guess I am the only person who can state why the complaint was made and it was not made by a ‘group generally opposed to Christianity’ as HOTS Bath have alleged, not even an individual generally opposed to Christianity either. I made the complaint because claims were being made about a range of illnesses and medical conditions being healed through prayer on the streets on Bath. Some of these illnesses were severe – MS, depression, crippling disease, paralysis, asthma, and cancer just to name a few…
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I did not feel that the claims being made and the emphasis being put on their success was justifiable and, as the ASA adjudication comments, 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.
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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 proving those who are extremely ill with hope where hope does not exist.
Between the ages of Fourteen and Eighteen I suffered with a life threatening condition in my inner right ear. At the time I was an avid believer in ghosts and an afterlife and people I was friends with who were involved with the paranormal research field claimed they were sending ‘healing’ my way to help me get better. I genuinely thought they could help.
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Luckily I also believed my doctors could help me and I went ahead and had surgery. Had I postponed the surgery for another three months I would not be alive today. 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.
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However they weren’t to know that, just as HOTS Bath aren’t to know who they’re offering their ‘healing prayers’ to.
They do not know if the people they encourage to pray for healing from their god is someone who mistrusts their doctor (which sadly many do) and even though they apparently give out a letter telling people to carry on with their medication or treatment, there is potential for damage to be done.
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I have no issue with people praying for the healing of others in their own personal way, and if you believe your god can cure somebody then I’m truly glad that you have such faith, but I object to that being pushed onto other people as a genuinely potential cure. Especially when they’re vulnerable.

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64 Comments to “Healing on the Streets & why I am not ‘a group generally opposed to Christianity’”

  1. I saw these guys outside the Abbey in Bath on my graduation day last year. My session was for Natural Sciences and Mathematics students. A lot of us just looked on in bemusement. I don’t think HOTS did much business that day.

  2. Steve Andrew // 1 February, 2012 at 2:20 pm // Reply

    Their banner looks very familiar – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them (or a related organisation) camped outside the townhall in Leamington Spa a few times. Not sure if they make claims as extreme as HOTS, but there they are with their floaty blue banners, advertising vaguely-defined “healing” and offering what look like shoulder rubs.

    I’m sure they fully believe in what they do and a shoulder rub is always nice – I’m just not sure I’d want it outside on a busy street. I’d probably nod off, start snoring and I just know someone would take a picture.

    And I’d probably catch a cold.

  3. You were right to complain. Well done!

    I have personal experience of a group of ‘Happy Clappy Christians’ attempting to cure someone who was going through a mental breakdown by the use of prayer and the laying-on of hands. This resulted in a long delay in getting proper mental health care and my friend ended up in a mental hospital. Unfortunately she never fully recovered.

    And the cause of the mental breakdown …. the very same ‘Happy Clappy Christians’ had accused her of fornication! The widowed lady had been in a 9 year, loving, sexual relationship. Her son, who had become a ‘Born Again Christian’ and unfortunately got his mother involved in the church group, did not approve.

  4. I’ve faced this quandary. There is a group that swings by once a year and does a multi-week workshop on how god can cure your depression. In cases of mild to moderate depression, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal. However for conditions above and beyond, this could encourage people to dump their much needed meds. It also perpetuates the myth that mental illness is somehow a moral/personal failing of the sufferer. As a sufferer of Bipolar 2 Disorder, I know that overcoming the stigma of mental illness is difficult. Thank you for your courage to speak out. I’ve yet to summon up that courage, perhaps you have given me the nudge to do something.

  5. Gavin Deichen // 1 February, 2012 at 2:42 pm // Reply

    Congratulations upon a successful conclusion. I am impressed with the way that the ASA considered the various people involved and the specifics of the complain, rather than writing it off as everyday religion.

    I did say on Twitter that I wouldn’t have made the same complaint, though; personally, I think it’s more important to pick fights with those who are trying to mislead people, rather than those who are honestly peddling something that to many of us seems ridiculous. I can understand your particular concerns in this case because their claims were so specific and implied a level of success that they surely cannot verify. For me, though, at least they appear to have been entirely open that they’re a religious group with religious ideas. They’re not pretending to be doctors or scientists and they’re not handing out magic pills.

    I think that they are correct in saying that the idea of healing through Jesus/God is central to Christianity and that trying to prevent these claims being made would require a challenge against the religion generally. I don’t believe that the law (or advertising standards) will change to make it impossible for the religious to make incredible and unsubstantiated claims – it would be considered an affront to human rights. The best we can hope for is that religious claims remain openly religious – as they have here.

    Scientologists would be an example of a more worthy target, I would suggest, because they pretend that their daft pseudoscience is meaningful. Anyone who says that their unproven pills should be taken *instead* of the ones you get from your GP should be right there on the list. But healing through Christ? At least it’s not trying to pretend to be something that it isn’t.

    • I strongly disagree with your assertion:

      I think that they are correct in saying that the idea of healing through Jesus/God is central to Christianity

      Both you and they are wrong. Only an extremist fringe believes in faith healing.

      trying to prevent these claims being made would require a challenge against the religion generally

      Since your first assumption is unfounded, the second is also erroneous.

    • David Cohen // 1 February, 2012 at 4:35 pm //

      “But healing through Christ? At least it’s not trying to pretend to be something that it isn’t.”

      But it can be harmful!

      Unfortunately in my case [above] “healing through Christ” resulted in years of illness for the person they attempted to ‘cure’ and grief for family and friends.

    • “I think it’s more important to pick fights with those who are trying to mislead people”

      Gaving, not so. People may genuinely believe what they can do and in all honesty be offering help. But if they are effectively worthless and offering to cure, say, cancer then it doesn’t matter how sicnere they are.

      A lovely Reiki woman just outside of Edinburgh was making claims about Reiki treating cancer. She seemed nice, caring and to genuinely believe it. But she was also being misleading in her advertising (even if unintentionally) and the ASA recognised this too.

      In many ways the sincere believers are almost more important to tackle as they are numerous and a lot of people buy into such beliefs.

    • I agree with Ash. It doesn’t matter whether people are sincere or have explicitly fraudulent intentions – the end result is the same, that people can be misled, with potentially serious consequences.

      It’s exasperating to see yet another christian group whining about being victimised. Why can’t they realise that there are laws to protect the public for very good reason, and that they are simply being asked to obey the law like anyone else?

      Good for you Hayley, for making the complaint and getting this stopped.

    • Gavin Deichen // 2 February, 2012 at 10:20 am //

      There’s a grey area when it comes to faith healing; the bible is packed full of examples. Here’s a Christian site with a fairly substantial run-down: http://www.bible-knowledge.com/healing-verses-of-the-bible/

      Now, whether this reasonably translates to making specific claims about how religion can be used to heal is a matter of how the religion is practiced. All Christian churches, as far as I am aware, make a large number of entirely unsubstantiated claims that could easily give “false hope”, as discussed in the complaint to the ASA. The idea of heaven, for instance, is surely such an example. To various different levels, the idea of physical healing of the body is preached through Jesus; in some cases it is less explicit, saying that he healed people during his physical life, that this was something he was capable of if you “followed” him and that this is still happening now as he is still here with us in some form. This is central, everyday Christian stuff. To me, it’s nonsense – fairy tales – but it’s a basic element of Christianity. That’s why there are always Christians hanging around, with various degrees of officialdom, in hospitals.

      I suppose I just think that we could only head a very short way down this road before we reached some kind of religious human right buffer. We’re used to the C of E being very vague and gentle and failing to effectively promote their dull version of Christianity – but I’ll bet there are plenty of churches around where these claims are made on a regular basis every day (new evangelical churches, for instance).

      Is the only issue here that these people were handing out leaflets? Because I think that if the same kind of complaint was made about the preachings within churches some kind of ruling would quickly be made to explicitly allow fantastical claims if they have a religious basis. This just seems like a war that we cannot win at the moment.

    • Gavin Deichen // 2 February, 2012 at 1:05 pm //

      I’ve spoken to some fairly “mainstream” Christians; they agree with you that “central” is incorrect – I see what they mean. I should have said “a key element”, perhaps. It is in there, anyway and surely a matter of interpretation how the belief is “applied” and how literally it is taken.

      Somebody mentioned Lourdes – that’s a Catholic-sanctioned faith healing, isn’t it?

    • What most of the commenters here, including the person who made the complaint seem to be missing is that the people who are healed by these prayers are not complaining at all. Not a single one of the people who have ‘complained’ here, do so on the basis of being ‘hurt’ or ‘damaged’ (as some are alleging), by being prayed for! A little suspect isn’t it? In summary then, what we have here are people who object to the idea of people being prayed for and for people who have no hope, of being being given not only hope, but healing! It smacks of prejudice and resentment of people sharing their faith, rather than any non substantiated ‘damage’ that is supposed to be ‘being done’. At the end of the day, I stronly suspect that if the people here honestly examined themselves, they would probably admit (if only to themselves) that the reason they object to this is not because ‘someone else may be hurt or damaged by this’, but rather, that they feel threatened by the faith of Christ coming anywhere near them.

    • Hayley // 8 May, 2012 at 3:24 pm //

      No, you want to see it as me and others having a ‘problem’ with people being prayed for, and you want to see it as prejudice and an attack on your beliefs when it isn’t. There is no conspiracy here.

      I made the complaint because of the health claims being made. Not to mention it is illegal for anyone to make such claims about cancer. It had nothing to do with me trying to persecute the people making the claims. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say that. However, people will see a conspiracy where ever they want to see one and I’m not going to waste my breath trying to convince you otherwise.

      I don’t feel threatened by Christianity at all, by the way. However, many Christians seem to be frightened at the prospect that some people don’t want the religious practices, customs and beliefs of others forced upon them. Funny that.

  6. I love Fishbarrel.

  7. Paul Hargrove // 1 February, 2012 at 4:44 pm // Reply

    Hi,

    We also have the street healers from the local parish church out every weekend with their banners and leaflets.
    http://www.sac-hw.org.uk/healing-on-the-streets
    I’ve thought about creating an ASA complaint before but I have a family connection which could get tricky. I’ll look into using FishBarrel.

  8. Helen Turner // 1 February, 2012 at 7:13 pm // Reply

    Good on you! As an ex healing evanglist, I know the crippling effect, of these words on reluctant ill people to visit their doctor. Great you’ve got the link to the advertising standard authority! Will use this in the future. thanks for not being complacent.

    • Christopher Heward // 6 February, 2012 at 10:12 pm //

      Out of interest Helen, presumably if you were a healing evangelist then you saw healings that convinced you this not only existed but that it was your ministry. What changed your mind so dramatically?

  9. Well done for complaining to the ASA and well done for writing about the misinformation in the HOTS response to the judgement.

    The group might be well-meaning, but I don’t think that should be a defence. They made unsubstantiated claims about healing named medical conditions – in my opinion that warrants a complaint to the ASA regardless of intention.

  10. Maybe whenever they hold one of their miracle healing sessions they should display a banner similar to the one “mediums” have stating ” “for entertainment purposes only”. At least until they can produce one shread of evidence that their claim to healing is actually true.

    • I myself made a complaint to the ASA about a ‘medium’ website. Even with the “for entertainment purposes only” clause, their claims are still against the advertising code. The code states that the small print cannot contradict the claims made. It is completely contradictory to claim that you can do something and then in the small print say you can’t. Would you read the small print if someone told you they could cure you of cancer?

  11. A “ban on expressing our beliefs” is one way of phrasing it which makes it sound terribly oppressive and smothering and authoritarian, but when those beliefs include “we can cure cancer better than your doctor can” I start to lose sympathy for the free speech argument.

    I suppose I can understand why they might feel like their religion is being trodden on; most of what they’re saying is just that prayer to God can make a positive difference, which isn’t that wacky a fringe belief. But the way they’re selling it clearly implies that their prayers belong somehow in the world of medical treatments, making it sound like a complementary or alternative approach to actual medicine. At which point any such claims start veering toward fraud.

    So, yes. Nicely done, Hayley.

  12. Abandon Ship! // 2 February, 2012 at 12:23 pm // Reply

    I am a biomedical scientist with around 100 papers in peer reviewed journals, and am also a Christian. I think of myself as rational.

    I have looked at the HOTD website and am a bit confused as to the reason for the complaints. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of cancer etc. and the website doesn’t seem to imply that physical healing will follow the prayer, just that it may occur. I am sure HOTS would never tell anyone to stop medication or not see a doctor – in fact I imagine that this approach is emphasised in their training.

    In the Christian context, healing is a biblical theme as demonstrated by Jesus. It can also involve healing of the mind and spirit, not just the body.

    I really don’t think that HOTS gives people false hope. Instead I detect the whiff of Dawkinesque rhetoric from the complainant (reference to the spaghetti monster gives that away).

    • The claims aren’t there because they had to remove them. I have included an image of the leaflet on which the claims were made.
      There is nothing ‘Dawkinesque’ about this, but I knew people would make these accusations so I’m not at all surprised at your comment.

    • Gavin Deichen // 2 February, 2012 at 1:34 pm //

      Mr(s) Ship,

      I think the Spaghetti Monster reference was just one of the many things in which the writer does not believe; the point is that this isn’t an anti-christian complaint, rather the claims being made in the leaflet were seen as potentially damaging and taken at face-value.

      As a Christian and a medic, would you consider the explicit list of ailments that they claim to be able to cure as a problem? For me it just about crosses the line as it implies specific treatments for conditions rather than a “spiritual” healing or something a bit more vague – perhaps desperate people could be deceived? Having seen the leaflet in question, would you stand by your position on this?

    • Abandon Ship! // 2 February, 2012 at 1:53 pm //

      OK I’m sorry I didn’t see the image. It’s not the style I would use on such a leaflet, but it says that God can heal, not that he will heal.

      I think HOTS have been operating in Bath for some time and I can’t remember there being many complaints about them from the populace.
      Indeed I think many people enjoy the chat and friendship they provide as well. I really don’t think that they push their ideas onto people, just as I’m sure you don’t push yours onto others.

    • David Cohen // 2 February, 2012 at 2:44 pm //

      @Abandon Ship – You state “In the Christian context, healing is a biblical theme as demonstrated by Jesus. It can also involve healing of the mind and spirit, not just the body.”

      I don’t think a group of street evangelists should be offering to heal mental illness or depression either.

      Jesus, supposedly, also raised the several day-old dead. So do you think HOTS should offer a service at the local mortuary?

    • Hey Abandon Ship: Be alert–Lazarus is dead as a doornail. JC never “saved” or “cured” anyone.

    • Again the commentators here are just representing the unbeliever’s/atheist agenda. They have the right to express their opinion and if they want to do good to their fellow man in the street, then they are entitled to do so. That is the function of democracy. At heart here is not the issue presented of false hopes or damage, but atheist or unbelievers objecting to the gospel of Christ. You have the right to voice your opinion or refuse to be prayed for, just as Christians have the right to express and practice their faith, including praying for others and healing them.

      Christ did heal the sick and raise the dead. No opinion on this today will have any effect on this history. It was these miracles that caused people to come in their thousands to hear him. From the NT, 5000 people was nothing unusual, but such numbers of people are not attracted unless there is something very special going on! They came from all over Syria, not just Israel. Similar healings also take place today and many people testify to them. Not beleiving it, does not mean they don’t happen.

    • Hayley // 8 May, 2012 at 3:38 pm //

      Testimony does not equate evidence. Just because you accept testimony doesn’t mean everyone else will or has to. Sorry to burst your bubble.

  13. Abandon Ship! // 2 February, 2012 at 2:15 pm // Reply

    The use of the term Spaghetti Monster is simply designed to bracket the idea of a Christian God along with the tooth fairy, Santa Claus etc. It is a well used strategy by atheists such as Dawkins who usually fail to engage with the real issues.

    I suggest that the complaint is, at heart, an anti-Christian complaint.

    I would not use the format shown on the leaflet. However, I would appreciate evidence being produced that God is not able to heal.

    • The complaint is not anti-christian. I have made complaints about people who claim to heal others in the past, and I’m not interested in their belief systems.

    • David Cohen // 2 February, 2012 at 7:25 pm //

      I can’t produce evidence that Unicorns do not exist. However, if I had a Unicorn then I would use it to prove they do.

      I can’t “PROVE” that a particular god is not able to heal; I think the onus is on believers to prove that their deity has such powers … over and above the placebo effect.

    • The group implied that it could summon a supernatural being to cure people suffering specific illnesses. It did so without providing evidence that (a) such a being exists, (b) such a being could cure illnesses and (c) such a being would respond to the requests of humans.

      The ASA recognised that each of these implied claims lack any supporting evidence and that the claims may prove to have a negative effect on people desperate for a solution to their health problems. As a scientist. Why couldn’t you recognise the same?

    • Richard Cornford // 2 February, 2012 at 10:11 pm //

      The “with around 100 papers in peer reviewed journals” sounds very impressive, as if you would like to be treated as an authority in a relevant field (else why mention that at all). But isn’t appealing to your own authority an odd thing to be doing anonymously?

    • Gavin Deichen // 3 February, 2012 at 9:37 am //

      Mr(s) Ship,

      The whole point of the FSM is that it’s a (clearly satirical and jokey) way of pointing out that, once you’ve got to the position that someone’s only real argument is that “I believe god says this”, you’ve reached an entirely impossible impasse. If you firmly believe something and I firmly don’t, unless we put those beliefs to one side and work on a common interest, we’ll get nowhere. Now, you clearly understand that, hence your irritation that some people don’t engage with the “real issues” – but an awful lot of Christians don’t get it. The reference to Santa, etc, is along the same lines: for you to see things from an atheist point of view, all you have to do is imagine if someone demanded special rights or treatment based purely upon their belief in Santa. Your first line of attack would be “but Santa doesn’t exist..!” would it not? Now, clearly, Christianity is a much more complex, nuanced belief system and this kind of talk is likely to annoy people – but how else can we describe what it’s like to genuinely just not believe in something?

      This isn’t an attack on Christianity; the point is that the complainant is about the content of the leaflet and the claims being made. The complainant would have made the same complaint whomever had made those claims.

      “I would appreciate evidence being produced that God is not able to heal”… really?? I’m sure you know that “proving” a negative is almost impossible. Just as you can’t prove that we should all be worshiping the FSM or that I can prevent you from getting ill by magic if you send me all your money (postal address available, unless you can prove that the claim is false). The ball remains in the court of the person making the extraordinary claim. I hope that these papers you have written don’t use the “true until proven false” concept, because I doubt they’ll be worth much if they have.

    • Abandon Ship is absolutely correct – the common ‘terms’ being used by people here are the ones promoted by Richard Dawkins, proving that the commentators are influenced by Dawkins books and videos etc. Abandon Ship is right in his or her observations, the unspoken complaint and motive here is not ‘damage’ or ‘false hope’ for other individuals, but rather the dislike of Christians praying for the sick to be healed and more than likely, anybody actually being healed. It is like saying, I object to anyone advertising soap and telling me it can clean me, so I won’t look at it. In fact, I’ll complain about it because I don’t want to believe that soap can clean anything and I’m not even going to see if it does, in case it does!

      Listen, if you don’t like soap, then don’t buy it, but please don’t prevent others who see the benefit of it, from buying it!

  14. Well done, Hayley; I’ve gone down the ASA route for chiropractic and homeopathic claims before, but we don’t tend to have many evangelical groups in our area. One of the homeopathy leaflets was written in a way that made it appear that it guaranteed conception for infertile couples; the chiropractic ads listed the usual, from asthma to bedwetting to cancer to depression… I’ve told a few of my local bulletin-board owners that they need to watch out for this sort of stuff, and take down the ones with concrete claims, but as the boards are free-for-alls they just keep popping up again and again.

    • Drat, you haven’t got any evangelical Christians to complain about in your area! Sorry to disappoint you! If only you had some to complain about, then you could show them what for!

  15. panpau delgato // 3 February, 2012 at 7:48 pm // Reply

    The ASA/HOTS story was mentioned on Pharyngula. I linked to this post in the comments. Just wanted to give you a heads up.

    Thanks for all the good work you do Hayley!

  16. The story has made it to the BBC local news website:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-16871116

  17. Well done! One person can make a difference.

  18. Skeptic Barista // 4 February, 2012 at 1:13 pm // Reply

    Just seen these people out on the streets of Loughborough. As far as I know they plan on turning up on 1st Sat of every month.

    A woman gave me a leaflet with healing claims (Cancer, addictions, blindness, deafness + others).

    I had see the ASA adjudication. She tried to take the leaflet back (Failed!) saying that their solicitor had said it was OK as they had some different text at the bottom. Checked with the leaflet I was given before Xmas, it’s all the same.

    The text is certainly not a disclaimer and the whole leaflet will be with sent to the ASA.

  19. I am a Christian but would uphold your complaint as to the claims being made by HOTS.
    Do I believe that God can heal? Yes. But I do not believe there are any special kinds of prayer or method that can used to effect a cure for an organic disease or terminal condition.I do not believe that God dispenses miracles to order.
    My wife works in palliative care and has seen many religious people who have been told by their minister/church that God is going to heal them .Of course she has seen the same people reach the end of their lives soon after. The problem she finds is that these individuals are deprived of the dignity of sorting out their affairs and wrapping up their lives with dignity and facing death with that same dignity and departing this life with in integrity of their faith .
    I do like the idea of HOTS but I am put off especially by ther emphasis on the ‘leg lengthening’ miracle. This has been a staple trick among charlatans since at least the 1950′s .(I am not saying that HOTS are charlatans) Even the HOTS training sessions which are sometimes run by its founder Mark Marx,feature the leg miracle. There are lots of examples of this on Youtube.
    So yes, I agree with your complaint and feel it is well justified. You were not attacking religious people for their views,you were not attempting to muzzle free speech. You may be upsetting some very genuine people, but also saving others from a false sense of hope.

  20. Nice work Hayley.

    I suppose that here is as good as anywhere to leave a link to the Cochrane meta-analysis of the effectiveness of intercessory prayer.

    http://summaries.cochrane.org/CD000368/intercessory-prayer-for-the-alleviation-of-ill-health

    I’m sure Abandon Ship! will be understand that although it’s not possible to prove a negative, a group claiming that they can heal specific sicknesses ought to have rather better evidence than a review that finds no evidence overall for any benefit of their intervention and recommends nobody bother to study it further.

    If prayer had any significant effect beyond placebo it really ought to have shown up in trials before now.
    Just because HOTS have wrapped their medical claims in a cloak of religion, they do not and should not get a free pass on providing evidence for those claims.

  21. [...] = Healing On The Streets). For the whole story of why the complaint was made, check out this blog post (written by the person who originally made the [...]

  22. Well done Hayley. really good work.

    Although I am an atheist I have spent rather a lot of time defending religion and pointing out that it is not, in general, in conflict with science. I have written extensively about it here: http://ill-conceived-rant.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/richard-dawkins-is-enemy-of-reason.html and in some other blog entries too.

    I am pointing this out so that you understand I have no grudge against religion, but I fully support this complaint and didplike the attempt tom paint it as motivated by a anti-religion attitudes. In general religions cannot be tested scientifically, but specific claims like healing people with prayer can be and have not been observed, which should put tight limits on any potential effect. To actually advertise this as a service is extremely misleading and potentially dangerous.

  23. [...] on the Streets from advertising that “God can heal today!” This was in response to a complaint made by a certain Hayley. You can read the ASA adjudication and the response from HOTS [...]

  24. Christopher Moore // 12 February, 2012 at 3:36 pm // Reply

    I am a member of a HOTS team, we can be found all round the UK and beyond. God can and does heal people but we always tell people to stay on medication and seek medical advice. I have also been to Lourdes where many thousands of healings have taken place. The ASA matter is not concluded, it has only just begun but thanks for the publicity, I expect we will be busier than ever now! God bless you.

    • Cardinal Fang // 6 April, 2012 at 6:42 am //

      @Christopher Moore – just out of interest. When you say “God can and does heal people”, I presume you can provide the evidence to support this – and by evidence I mean empirically based evidence rather than a collection of anecdotes? And also the evidence that it is the Christian god doing the healing as opposed to some other deity?

    • David Cohen // 8 April, 2012 at 12:56 pm //

      @Cardinal Fang – I have just had some interesting exchanges with Peter Kirk on: http://www.gentlewisdom.org/5174/god-heals-today-through-prayer-scientific-paper/ which is a follow up page to the one referred to in Trackbacks/Pingbacks below at No.2 and discusses ‘cures’.

      A paper cited on that page (Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique)is, in my opinion, flawed in that the experimental conditions were not conducive to testing changes in hearing ability.

      Also, apparently, such hearing improvements “Only happen in Mozambique”!

      @Christopher – I have also been to Lourdes, out of curiosity whilst on a camping holiday in France, and can honestly say it was one of the most depressing days of my life. Hundreds of unfortunate people arrive each day, many with congenital conditions, lots of hope (of course) but nowadays, with requirement for medical confirmation, very few, if any, cures. Not the “many thousands” claimed by you.

      Without ‘healing’ but in an extremely large sample (as in Lourdes) a very small number of recoveries from certain conditions could possibly be expected. People bang their head and their sight suddenly returns: there have been several such cases. All medically provable but not due miraculous healing: unless you want to claim that some “god” deliberately caused the interaction between cranium and some solid object!

  25. [...] been called evil, callous, and told I am attempting to censor people’s religious freedom because I named myself as the person who had made a complaint to the ASA about a group called ‘Healing on the Streets of [...]

  26. Hi, just reading on this story after I found it on the Daily Mail website.
    I’m a Christian and I, too, have serious reservations about healing ministries. As a person with a mental illness (bipolar) I have seen and heard people like me being told that God will heal them, they just have to have enough faith/stop sinning/remove their demons/give money to the ministry.
    Christianity does teach that God can heal – but the Bible does NOT say that he will heal all who come to him. There are examples of people with various illnesses in the Bible who were basically stuck with them (like Paul in 2 Corinthians). The Bible tells us what the purpose of healing is – an extraordinary event that is a sign of something important. Not something for everyone.
    So while I do believe God can heal through prayer (which you probably disagree with), I think he more often heals through conventional medicine and the skills of doctors and other medical people and treatments.
    Were I to go leafleting I would probably say to people that prayer might help them but should only be used in conjunction with medicine. That said, it requires careful wording for Christian groups, that I do not think they all understand.

  27. Does prayer work? well Edzard Ernst, the well known sceptic of this parish, published a review of 23 trials into distance healing that included prayer and showed the 57% had “statistically significant treatment effects” that’s research speak for ‘they got better’ see Ann Intern Med, 2000; 132: 903-10

    As for the ASA they are a trade body who no one has to take any notice of, they have no powers to do any more than you or I could. My guess is that the HOTS teams will ignore them and carry on regardless.

    For those of you who have suggested that healing prayer is not a central part of Christian teaching you are wrong, there are prayers for healing in the book of common prayer and common worship, and the methodist service book and the URC equilivant. the last version of BCP was written in 1662 so it’s a long held belief that prayer works and as I’ve already pointed out scientificaly verifiable. btw rnst didn’t include the rubbish trials in his study.

  28. [...] the fact that it had been just around the corner from where I stood that I’d encountered the ‘Healing on the Streets’ group – an encounter which led to headlines around the w… that the HOTS group were making misleading claims on the [...]

  29. Firstly, the HOTS initiative was started by a guy in Coleraine called Mark Marx who took what they had learned doing healing on the streets there, and formed it into a model which could be used by other church groups.

    Many groups have been trained by Mark and go out onto the streets of their home towns offering to pray for sick people. I am a member of a group that does HOTS in Hampshire.

    This is a link to a you tube video showing Mark praying for Francis Finn, a BBC reporter, and her giving her account of her healing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtoosvGIqYs

    In my experience with HOTS, we see quite a few healings of the type in the video, but have not yet seen anyone healed of some of the major conditions mentioned in the Bath-HOTS leaflet. This isn’t to say people couldn’t be healed of those things, but that we haven’t seen it.

    I don’t know whether the HOTS team in Bath have seen those things healed or whether they are just putting some things “out there” to give people an idea of what God can heal and what they are there on the street for.

    I think there would be more integrity in only mentioning the healings that have taken place during Bath-HOTS sessions. I aheva feeling that the text for there leaflets is taken from information given out by the HOTS office in Coleraine, but I may have mis-rembered.

    In any case, even as a member of a HOTS team, I think the ASA finding was good. All HOTS groups should take note and modify their leaflets and websites accordingly.

  30. Sorry Michael, I’m not convinced about this leg lengthening ‘cure’.

    Where are all the before and after X-rays? If there were so many ‘real’ leg lengthening results through prayer the web would be a wash with ‘real evidence’ and there would be healers employed on the staff of every Orthopedic Unit. And there aren’t ….. I wonder why?

    As you say, Michael – “In my experience with HOTS, we see quite a few healings of the type in the video, but have not yet seen anyone healed of some of the major conditions mentioned in the Bath-HOTS leaflet.” And the reason why there are no miraculous healing events, Michael, is that they can’t be produced. If you could make a leg grow then you could close a cleft pallet!

    As for leg lengthening, it’s one of the oldest parlour tricks in the book. One of the critical things with this illusion is that the ‘patient’ is seated and lifts their legs out horizontally. If anyone would like to know how to ‘make legs grow’, and how the illusion works, then just Google – “Leg lengthening trick” – or something similar.

    I don’t doubt that the ‘healers’ who perpetrate such ‘cures’ are probably sincere in what they claim but they are just reproducing an age-old-trick they’ve been shown without realising what it is they are doing.

  31. You deny the power of God to heal. Where is your evidence that he does not?

    You include your comments about various other healing beliefs, and a personal story, to prove your point.

    So let me tell you my personal story – a cancerous growth on my nose, assessed by several specialists at RUH, the operation booked. It was cured by the Bath HOTS team and holy water from one of the local churches. The very same Dr at the RUH who told me the cancer could spread to my brain was the one who signed me off as recovered. If you disbelieve me, I can scan and email you the intial and final assessment. That constitues far more proof of healing, than your complaint ever included of non-healing.

    No one reputable ever claims categorically that healing will occur, nor do they state that you should not go and see a Doctor. A shame that you could not have exhibited the same characteristics of tolerance and openess.

    • God isn’t real, ergo, he does not heal. It’s actually quite simple when you think about it rationally. Also, I’m glad that you recovered from your cancer, but it probably wasn’t god. To suggest so is a huge leap of logic – cancer sometimes goes into remission all by itself. That’s more likely than some unproven deity chosing to cure you. Sorry, but that’s the way I feel and no amount of personal testimony from people such as yourself will change my mind.

      Trust me, I’ve had dozens and dozens of emails such as yours and I’m still unconvinced. Give me testable evidence and I’ll think about it.

  32. Hey Hayley

    Why did you remove my post? Does it bother you that I have medical evidence of being healed? Surely you can at least admit that in my case it worked?

    I guess the problem is that your entire case is undermined if my skin cancer was cured by HOTS Bath and I have the hospital notes to prove it.

    Don’t worry though, I will send my evidence to HOTS Bath with my blessing to use it themselves AND distribute the evidence to all other HOTS teams around the country.

    I pray that God will cure you of your ignorance and bias and pray that you will come to know him.

    • David Cohen // 15 January, 2013 at 5:56 pm //

      @Alan

      Both Hayley and Pete are correct: it is up to you to provide the evidence.

      As your cancer was presumably biopsied as part of the diagnosis there is always the possibility that the local trauma caused by such an intervention helped to boost the body’s natural defences in fighting the growth. I am pleased you are in remission.

      Your statement that “It was cured by the Bath HOTS team and holy water from one of the local churches” is just this – a leap of faith. My favourite definition of FAITH is: Pretending to know what you don’t know.

      Alan,in your spirit of “tolerance and openness” – if you are really interested in assessing the true effects of religious healing I suggest you travel to Lourdes. Over 6 million people visit each year. Presumably visitor numbers in the early days were much smaller. However, in the 150, or so, years the shrine had been open less than 70 “cures” have been attributed, by the Catholic Church, to “religious intervention”!

      When “faith healing” cures a single case of cleft palate then the medical community will take notice.

  33. Hi Alan,

    “You deny the power of God to heal. Where is your evidence that he does not?”

    The problem with this query is that the burden of evidence doesn’t fall on us, it falls on you. I could equally ask “You deny the power of cheese to heal. Where is your evidence that it does not?”.

    You can substitute cheese for oxygen, fairies or the flying spaghetti monster. Extraordinary claims require convincing evidence.

    Incidentally, I don’t doubt your sequence of events, but in this instance it’s an isolated case. Your particular story doesn’t in any way cater for the ruling out of coincidence (via control groups, etc…). Show us a repeatable controlled experiment, and we can talk.

  34. Hi
    Hayley, thank you for your honest words, and people seem to have a lot of thoughts on this issue which is very interesting.

    I too have thoughts. Many years ago, I became a ‘committed Christian’. At first it was very helpful and uplifting. I spent ten years in the church and during that time I had two mental breakdowns. I had been to many different churches during that time. I have finally been diagnosed with Bipolar Illness. I don’t go to church any more but I still have a (struggling) faith. My conclusion, my belief is, there is a lot of healthy teaching in the bible which can help with mental health if taken in context. Things like sound principles for living, the idea of a spiritual being (God) who loves you unconditionally, plus principles of forgiveness, letting go of anger, fairness, justice, common sense (see Proverbs). Unfortunately, I think elements of the church have moved away from grounded common sense to a wacky super spiritual element which can be really harmful to mental health. I myself was asked by the church when I was going through a mental breakdown ‘is there major sin in your life?’. Such attitudes are not helpful. I believe sticking to medication prescribed by doctors and following their wisdom is vital too, personally I see that as a God given gift to help healing, he moves in many ways. It upsets me that although I believe genuine Christian spirituality, with its principles understood correctly in context, can help lead to a fulfilling life with good mental health, there is a lot of teaching out there which in actual fact is quite damaging to mental health and it does need addressing. The important thing I think is to discuss and address damaging practices and teaching and really try to get back to understanding what simple Christian principles are all about, and that it shouldn’t be a wacky free for all.

    I don’t have a problem with people saying they believe God can heal, they’re entitled to their opinion but I do have a problem if they say God WILL heal you and if you’re not healed it’s because of sin/not enough faith etc etc. and I think it is absolutely necessary to carry on following the advice of doctors and the medical profession.

    Thank you, and by the way, I believe I saw a ghost when I was about 8.

    Best wishes

    Caroline

  35. […] (ASA) who upheld her complaint and ordered the group to remove such claims from its publications. The HOTS team subsequently issued a statement claiming that Hayley represented a group, generally opposed to Christianity. They have since […]

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