I admit to being the world’s worst advocate of democracy. It’s 38 years since I became of voting age and in all that time I’ve managed to put my X in the box twice in general elections. I do think that honest abstinence is a legitimate position, though.
I see that David Cameron is on the defensive after his former party treasurer was forced to quit after offering access to the Prime Minister and senior colleagues for money. This is only the latest in a string of scandals going back many years, and only a couple of years ago Parliament’s reputation suffered the biggest blow it has ever probably suffered in the so-called expenses scandal, as MP after MP was exposed systematically cheating or at best breaking the spirit of the law. My own MP, Bill Wiggin, claimed mortgage payments on a “second” home after buying a cheaper property outright.
This is one of the problems with democracy – you have to be very careful who you vote for. Actually the low esteem in which politicians are held is an argument for democracy, insofar as we can get rid of them, albeit sometimes it might seem akin to cleaning out the Augean Stables.
One can see that I’m not particularly enthusiastic about our legislators. But if I lived and voted in South West Devon, South Luton or Westmorland right now it would just be too embarrassing. The members for these three constituencies are active in the “Christians in Parliament” group, and have written to the Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) attempting to get the authority to change its adjudication on a Christian group that claimed that God heals illnesses. As these claims were highly specific, naming particular illnesses, this could well be the easiest adjudication that the respected ASA has ever had to make.
Nevertheless, the three MPs are a bit miffed about this and have decided to embarrass themselves and their voters by sending the following letter:
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.
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
It’s difficult to express the feelings I have to think that we have legislators that consider faith-healing (for that is what it is) to be a legitimate activity and who genuinely appear to believe that Fabrice Muamba – who I’m happy to say is now well into his recovery – owes his life to prayers. I would also think it bad taste to use someone like Muamba, fighting for his life in hospital, to score cheap political points. We must remember that people who use faith healers are very often the most desperate people of all – it’s said that difficult situations concentrate the rational mind wonderfully but actually the opposite is true. The three MPs, if they had their way, would be guilty in many cases of acting against the interests of society’s most vulnerable.
The ASA is quite clear on this. Anyone or group advertising a product needs to be able to objectively back up any claims made. Testimonies, such as Streeter’s claim that his bad hand got better, are not sufficient in this respect. Healing on the Streets – the group in Bath – offered no evidence at all.
The last paragraph is a thinly-veiled threat. Scientific evidence by its nature is never indisputable. Yet, as is common among the religious, they are making unreasonable demands simply to allow room for their own unsubstantiated position. It would be good if the question was raised in Parliament if only to raise the profile of the witless threesome.
h/t Ophelia Benson