/ 7 February 2011

TAC, church face-off over healing claims

The Christ Embassy Church — recently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) from airing its claims of faith healing — will be appealing the ruling.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an HIV/Aids rights organisation, took the church to the ASA over its claims that faith healing could cure tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/Aids.

According to the TAC, the church aired a “commercial” on Sunday mornings on e.tv in which Pastor Chris Oyakhilome claims he can heal congregants with cancer, or HIV.

TAC treasurer Nathan Geffen said a broadcast agreement between Christ Embassy and e.tv “shows that Christ Embassy paid R2,6-million excluding VAT to run 52 24-minute episodes”.

Geffen told the M&G that a doctor at a Cape Town public hospital informed it that a patient with extensively drug-resistant TB had started attending services at Christ Embassy, and had then stopped taking her medication.

“Tragically she died and the worst part of the tragedy is that before she died, she transmitted extreme drug resistant TB to her children,” he said.

In 2010, the ASA ruled that the content of the Christ Embassy television show was not an advertisement, but sponsored programming, and it therefore did not have jurisdiction over its content. The TAC then appealed, which led to the ASA ruling that found the programme to be:

  • an advertisement, as defined by ASA’s code;
  • promoting faith as a means to cure illness or disease;
  • promoting Christ Embassy as the place to seek this cure, and;
  • violating ASA’s code because it offers a product to cure a disease for which it has not received Medicines Control Council registration.

The attorney acting on behalf of Christ Embassy, Sean Sim, said the church intended appealing the ruling within 20 days from the ruling on February 2.

‘The product is called faith’
The church would be appealing on the grounds that the television programme was not an advertisement and that the church did not intend registering with the Medical and Dental Council.

“The product is called faith,” Sim told the Mail & Guardian.

The TAC is prepared to oppose the appeal.

“We will do everything to make sure that the [current] ruling stands,” said Geffen.

The programme has since been removed from e.tv.

Geffen said its action was not an attack on churches in general, but was an attempt to stop Christ Embassy from “deceiving people into not taking their medication”.

“This is a highly dangerous church and their pastor, Chris, is a man who’s constantly in the news for all the wrong reasons.”

When the M&G called Christ Embassy for official comment on the matter, it said all queries should be directed to the attorney. The church had “no comment” on the matter.

The Christ Embassy website has a “Healing School” section, which shows, among other people, a South African mother testifying that she had been “cured” of HIV following prayers from Oyakhilome.