Liberal Democrats President on Healing and the ASA

People are sometimes surprised that I can be an evangelical and charismatic Christian and also a member of the Liberal Democrats. After all, they say, the Lib Dems support all kinds of anti-Christian policies like abortion and gay marriage. Well, that is true, but they have a greater number of policies that I can and do support – and there were even more of them until they were abandoned by a leadership that seems over-anxious to get cosy with the Conservatives. But I digress here from my main theme.

So it is good to know that, although the party leader Nick Clegg MP is an atheist, the party president Tim Farron MP is a Christian, as is the party’s deputy leader Simon Hughes MP.

Tim Farron MP Tim Farron is also Vice Chair of Christians in Parliament, and in this capacity one of the three signatories of an interesting letter to the Advertising Standards Authority concerning the HOTS Bath controversy, as reported by Gillan Scott.

It is hardly a surprise that Tim Farron has come in for some criticism such as this, within his own party and elsewhere, for signing the letter. So I thank the Church Mouse on Twitter for a link to an article which Tim Farron has written for Liberal Democrat Voice, entitled The ASA and me – a response. In this response he distances himself from the letter he signed:

It’s not a well-worded letter – the reference to the ASA providing indisputable evidence is silly, and the implication that people should seek faith healing at the expense of medical intervention is something that I just don’t believe in. For what it’s worth, I also think that the Fabrice Muamba reference is crass. So on all those fronts, I should just say sorry and not bother defending myself. I shouldn’t have signed that letter as it was written …

Where does the letter imply that “people should seek faith healing at the expense of medical intervention”? As far as I can tell everyone in this controversy has rejected that suggestion.

But Tim Farron continues by reaffirming his opposition to the ASA ruling, not permitting any claims that God can heal physically. He gives these reasons:

a) The ASA genuinely do a brilliant job, but they really aren’t appointed to be the arbiter of theological matters, I think they’ve overstepped their remit
b) As a Christian I believe that prayer helps – although my belief is that God mostly heals through medicine, surgery and human compassion and ingenuity.
c) Freedom of speech – an organisation that makes a faith based claim that is clearly subjective (in the same way that a political party makes subjective claims) should be able to make those claims within reason.

I completely agree, except that I would go further than saying “prayer helps”: I believe that God can and does heal today, sometimes apart from medical or other intervention, but medical help should also be sought where available.

So well done, Tim Farron, for sticking to your position and witnessing to your faith, even in the den of liberal and democratic lions.

17 thoughts on “Liberal Democrats President on Healing and the ASA

  1. This is very helpful Peter. The letter wasn’t very well written although I think the point it made was valid. IIt sounds like Tim Farron signed it without actually reading it first. I’m glad he has given further insight into his thinking. Politicians should be applauded for admitting they haven’t got things quite right and I applaud Tim Farron even more for being so willing to put his neck on the line in defence of his faith.

  2. Good shout Peter, and good for Tim Farron (though signing something without reading it first is a bit silly).

    What bemuses me is the ASA making rulings about things that are not for sale. Prayer isn’t a commercial product, though some so-called faith-healers of the health-&-wealth variety might give that impression from time to time; and in my view the ASA is there to protect consumers from being ripped off commercially, so it seems to me they have no business ruling on this particular issue.

    Also astonished that they’d take a single complainant so seriously whilst ignoring all those who would support the prayer venture; contrasts remarkably with their refusal to rule against the ‘Marital Affairs’ advertising a while back despite numerous complaints from those who found that so offensive. There’s something seriously askew with a quango that dismisses the complaints of thousands but acts on the complaint of one.

  3. Amused by the Google ads showing in the sidebar, btw: right now it’s from the “National Accident Helpline” asking, “How much could you claim?” — can’t help thinking those are the sort of ads the ASA should be tackling; and anyway, who wants to risk divine healing disrupting a compensation claim? Now there’s a challenge…

  4. Thank you, Gillan. I agree with you.

    Phil, I think the ASA would see a church, or even a para-church group, as using healing as a means of advertising itself. And the ASA would see that church as a business, and in doing so sadly agreeing with too many church leaders, who are focused on money rather than spirituality.

    Now I suspect that HOTS Bath doesn’t fit into that mould at all. But where is the line to be drawn? Is what I write on my blog all advertising, because I also encourage people to become Christians and give the names of a few churches? Or for that matter because I also benefit financially, in a very small way, from the ads I carry? On the same basis the ASA could claim authority over editorial content in newspapers, as well as over explicit advertising, and could set themselves up as a general political correctness police force. If this is where they are going, I can only agree with Tim Farron’s final comment:

    To be honest with you, the ASA decision offends my Liberalism far more than it bothers me from a Christian perspective.

  5. Thanks for your supportive summary Peter, and to fellow commentators. You may know I’ve kept my nose to the scent on this issue and what’s been niggling me all along is the root cause of the problem.

    To my mind, this issue has arisen out of a lack of sound teaching and effective evangelism over decades. Thus, most of Britain at all levels, including churchgoers, is ignorant of the full meaning and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – when properly preached then signs and wonders will and do follow. (Hence my reporting upon what’s happening in the Bay Revival.)

    Had the lady who took offence at what she perceived as ‘false hope’ being offered by HOTS Bath already been familiar with the Gospel, or had on-fire close friends, then she’d have understood what was being made available. Her perception was coloured by having been let down by fellow ghost hunters who’d ‘sent healing’ for a condition that needed advice, for which she sensibly got medical treatment. However, she thus equated Christian prayer as being similar and complained to ASA. You and I know the error of this, but how could an unbeliever?

    The matter is a blessing in disguise. It serves to remind us of the wisdom in checking health changes with our GPs – yet those with serious conditions unquestionably know when they’re healed: the difference is obvious.

    Also, it should stir and embolden more believers to stand up for the Gospel more prominently and proclaim God’s glory in indisputable healings and notable miracles. There are many signs this is happening, for which I’m doing my little blogging bit, as are you. And in defiance of the ASA my site now has a collection of postings with video testimonies – including some medically impossible cases!

    No way are they going to gag us! Can we hear the Lion of Judah roar?

  6. Richard, the irony is that it there were better understanding of the gospel in this country there wouldn’t be such a need for healing in evangelism. But we have to start from where we are.

    Phil, that’s a great video and a great shop. If you don’t report it to the ASA, nor will I!

  7. Pingback: New twist in Christians in Parliament’s criticism of the ASA row | God and Politics in the UK

  8. Well, Cradle Anglican, we can hardly expect anything else from an atheist. But if his plans “may pave the way for the disestablishment of the Church of England”, I fully support this goal. Actually most people seem surprised that Clegg didn’t propose removing the bishops altogether.

  9. Hi Peter, Just a minor nitpick. Nick Clegg has been reported to be an atheist, but he’s since clarified that he’s really an agnostic. – George

  10. “As a Christian I believe that prayer helps – although my belief is that God mostly heals through medicine, surgery and human compassion and ingenuity…”

    “I completely agree, except that I would go further than saying “prayer helps”: I believe that God can and does heal today, sometimes apart from medical or other intervention, but medical help should also be sought where available.”

    I find these little ‘get out’ clauses rather amusing – the ‘God heals through medicine, surgery… and ingenuity’ is the kind of platitude often regurgitated by the Christian hedging his or her bets. Of course it works on one level, but in reality it is just a case of Christians trying to reap the rewards of the Enlightenment and the subversion of religion and superstition by science. In reality all this caveat is saying is that God couldn’t care less about all those who suffered and died of horrible (not to mention simple) illnesses and disabilities prior to circa 1900 in the West – and who are still suffering or dying in the developing world.

    For seven or so years I worked as a social worker in cancer and end of life care at one of London’s main teaching hospitals. After a while, I began to notice a curious phenomenon: many people with a deep and active religious faith (not necessarily Christian – as I noticed this in Jews and Muslims too) were more likely to have life extending treatment, even if that treatment meant their quality of life would be severely compromised. Whereas many none or nominal believers were happy to let nature take its course, and died naturally with greater dignity and quality of life. I have since trawled the internet and noted there have been academic studies that back up my own observations (see: http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2009/03/18/religious_dying_patients_more_likely_to_get_aggressive_care/).

    I mention this because I find it curious that Christians so hot on ‘The Word of God’, telling the rest of us, unequivocally, just how true the Word of God is and how we are supposed to live our lives, can be rather blind to the bits of the Bible that might cost them something! Throughout his ministry, Jesus tells us that his followers will do greater things than himself, when it comes to signs and miracles; and Mark 16:18 states that the ability to heal the sick will be a sign of a true Christian. There is no talk in the New Testament of once in a while someone will be healed, rather it is stated the ability to heal will be the property of the believer. Yet few are willing to put their money where their mouth are, when it comes to the implications of these Scriptures. As you note ‘medical help should also be sought where available…’. Why? Surely if Christians (particularly a certain, right-of-centre flavour of Christian) are happy to bore the world with the ‘requirements of Scripture’ (tho’ it is odd how many of these seem fixated on what people do with their genitals – the morality of the vast bulk of the Bible, just passing them by!) – why are so few as literal with the obligations of Scripture when it comes to healing? Moreover, why do the Pro-Life lobby jaw on about the immorality of taking life, yet say little (if anything) about the immorality of extending life? Surely if you get cancer or heart disease or whatever illness, isn’t that God’s will? But this is not the case for the vast majority of the religiously inclined – and as my own experience and academic study demonstrates, for a disproportionate number of the devout, there is a bias to cheating death at all costs, even when this compromises quality of life.

    Obviously, some of the above is tongue in cheek, but I think there are some issues around medicine and healing – not to mention the problems of a ‘conservative’ reading of the Bible – that are glibly skated over by many Christians. Can you have your cake and eat it? It would seem for many Christians you can, when it comes to healing and the role of medicine!

    P.D.

  11. George, thank you for that link.

    Peter, thank you for your comments. I recognise that there is a lot of double talk, even hypocrisy, in how many Christians approach healing and medical treatment.

    As for why I wrote that “medical help should also be sought where available”, I am concerned about the kinds of abuses when people are encouraged to believe that they are healed despite the symptoms, and so refuse life saving treatment. I am thinking for example of recent tragic cases of people who were told they had been healed of HIV, which seems to have contributed to at least three deaths in London. Responsible pastors would not have advised these people to stop taking their drugs.

  12. I take a fairly simple view of prayer: God works through people; which means you and me, each one of us, is as likely to be the answer to a prayer as any ‘supernatural’ intervention … more likely, in my experience…

    I guess we all know the story of the drowning man who cried out to God to save him. Along came a boat – he sent it away, crying, “No, God will save me!” … then a helicopter … same response … then a lifeguard swam out to him, same again. Eventually he drowned and berated God: “Why didn’t you save me?”

    God: “I sent you a boat, a helicopter and a lifeguard: what else di you expect me to do??”

  13. Agreed, Phil. Even if a healing or other answer to prayer is not dramatic or miraculous, it can still be from God. Atheists can say that it might have happened anyway, but the eye of faith sees God’s hand in everything.

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