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20 August 2013

BBC under fire for misleading public

BBC under fire for misleading public

Pentecostal church leaders are concerned the BBC has purposely misled the public with its story about pastors advising sick patients to give up their medicine and rely on faith alone to be healed.

The story went out across BBC TV, radio and online platforms over the weekend, and was based on anecdotal evidence from 19 doctors and health professionals. Ten doctors said they had encountered HIV patients over the last five years who had felt under pressure by their pastors to stop taking their anti-retroviral drugs.

Steve Welch, chairman of The Children's HIV Association, which conducted the survey, expressed his own concern that it was "difficult to engage with faith leaders where healing was an integral part of the worship".

But the story has been labelled "biased and unfounded" by Rev John Glass – a member of the Alliance's One People Commission and general superintendant of Elim Pentecostal Churches, and Rev John Partington, general superintendant of the Assemblies of God. Together, the men lead the UK's two largest and longest established Pentecostal denominations.

In a joint letter of complaint to the BBC, they said it is "an outrageous assertion that it is standard practice of Pentecostal ministers to advise people to refrain from taking medicine", and that "any leader who asked people to dispense with their medicine would be subject to enquiry and discipline".

Earlier this year, the Evangelical Alliance contributed to the BBC Trust's 2013 review of impartiality, highlighting concern about the way evangelical Christianity is reported by its national stations1.

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, said: "Christianity should never be beyond the media spotlight or criticism. However when a tiny survey containing measured criticism of some minority sect views is profiled on national television news, radio and the web as a problem of Pentecostalism as a whole, it suggests there may be a problem at the BBC. 

"The Pentecostal movement in the UK is well-established and growing, and across the world its extraordinary growth means it will be an important social presence in the future. We recognise that there are issues that the evangelical Church must tackle internally and the Alliance will continue to equip and resource its members in dealing with such issues. But to depict this significant faith group en masse as somehow being against conventional medicine is preposterous, not least because many Pentecostals are themselves scientists and health professionals. They understand from experience that medicine is a God-given method of healing. They also understand that, when we are faced with illness, we should always do what we can do, and always look to God to do what we can't do.

"For the BBC to seize upon this obscure survey to present Pentecostalism in such negative terms is simply unacceptable. It further confirms the recommendations of the Evangelical Alliance submission to the BBC review of impartiality, that the issues of ideological bias and religious literacy should be addressed as a matter of priority."

[1]BBC backs Alliance recommendation that journalists must improve religious literacy