Monday, 11 August 2008

The ASA vs North Shrewsbury Community Church

For those not following this story, the best summary is found on Phil Whittall's blog here and here.

Now I am particularly infruriated by these circumstances, for the following reasons.

1) Dr Matthias is my Dad
2) Phil is my mate
3) It it so utterly, unbelievably ridiculous

Now, it would have been better to either insert the word "retired" or "former" in the description of the doctor, granted, but I think the ASA really have shot themselves in the foot if they are suggesting a retired medical doctor cannot call themselves a medical doctor on the basis of whether they hold current GMC certificate.

Will Professor Steven Hawking just be known as "Mr" on retirement? Will Rowan Williams be "Mr"? Do other medical doctors still use Dr in front of their name after retirement? Of course they do!

So the ASA have adjudicated that a trained medical doctor, of 35 years experience, having practiced for 20 years on the estate were 2,000 leaflets were distributed by a Church was attempting to "mislead" people, the majority of whom would be his former patients, into believing he held a current GMC certificate through the expression "I am a medical doctor"? I suppose they needed a success and changing "am" to "was" sorts that out for NSCC but it is pedantic in the extreme.

I propose that any member of the ASA panel, if on their way home from the meeting were travelling by train, and the passenger next to them had a heart attack, and they cried out "Is there a doctor here" would turn away the offer of help of a doctor with 35 years experience on the basis of him not holding a valid GMC registration document! I live on this estate and people are baffled that Doctor Matthias, who treated them for 20 years, who helped when they were pregnant, or when they were babies, who sent them for that cancer scan, has just got done for claiming to be a doctor, when he was, and is.

So on to the Church. Is it really irresponsible to say "Come and be prayed for because God heals" on the basis that it could prevent people from seeking medical advice?

What a complete red herring.

a) If they were suggesting not to take medical advice then why did they require a MEDICAL DOCTOR to verify the healings taking place?

b) At no point during the publication did they do anything to suggest it was to be done INSTEAD of visiting a doctor. All healing are to be verified by a doctor - meaning every person who claimed a healing would be told to go and see, erm, a doctor!

c) People always complain that claimed "miracles" are not medically verified. Now a Church is being pulled up for suggesting a doctor has verified the miracles. So Church should be silent if they cannot verify healings AND churches should be silent if THEY CAN verify healings.

From the ASA website

Religious organisations may make some claims about healing only if it is clear that they are referring to spiritual, not physical, healing.

In the ASA’s experience, those types of marketers have been unable to provide documentary evidence to prove the efficacy of their services; they should neither imply they can deliver results that they cannot deliver nor guarantee results unless the terms of the guarantee are clear.

One complaint made against a church said that:

"The complainants, one of whom pointed out that advertisers who claimed an ability to cure specific medical conditions would be required to hold substantiation, objected that the claims "MIRACLES" and "HEALING" were misleading and irresponsible, because they could not be scientifically proven and preyed on the credulity of vulnerable people."

So here is a Church, claiming healing, verified by a retired medical doctor of 35 years, being told it is irresponsible, not because the healing cannot be verified, which they have been, but because their verification is irresponsible and means people won't take up "qualified" medical advice, presumably off someone like a medical doctor of 35 years.

I am really interested to see how it all works out. How does it work when slimming world show a verified candidate who has lost weight and it has been verified. Does that stop people seeing a doctor about their weight / diet? Is that "irresponsible"? "Mrs Jones from Pontefract has lost 3 stone in 12 weeks, just in time for her summer holidays" is one thing - but if she had been to the doctor instead she may have found that she had diabetes as well.

What I have learned from this is as follows:

1) The ASA are going around in circles and there is no consistency of approach except to imply churches claiming healing in the name of Jesus are doing something irresponsible, or even bad.

2) God does heal today and people are being healed in the name of Jesus, including at my Church in central Shrewsbury, and at North Shrewsbury, and we have doctors and opticians who have verified this. Some of whom even have a current GMC certificate, out of interest.

3) Someone has complained about this and given the Church a much greater level of publicity than one could ever hope for in a print run of 2000 leaflets. I look forward to the next "Beautiful News" which fulfills the pedantic requirements of the ASA and raises the profile of God and His people in this area.

4) The Evangelical Alliance are on the case and looking to ensure future judgements are fair and clear. Let's pray for them.

I think people need to be wise, and I am sure Phil and others will have taken on board this judgement and refined their wording. But if news of over 200 teenagers healed at the Newday camp last week is anything to go by, ASA versus any Church is going to be a regular feature because God is at work, people are being healed, doctors are verifying it and we are not going to stop telling people about it, although we may run the wording past a few people in future!

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