Despite feeling under the weather as I get over an ear infection I forced myself to go out to Bath yesterday to visit the Roman Baths and the Abbey which is something I’ve never done before despite being local to them.
As I made my way along Stall Street in Bath I was texting a friend and became vaguely aware of two men handing out leaflets to the crowd a bit further up the street, but didn’t think much of it. I took the leaflet one of the men handed to me as I passed and carried on my way until a glance at what I’d been given literally stopped me in my tracks.
The leaflet was telling me that prayer could cure illness. It was like a slap in the face considering the fact that it had been just around the corner from where I stood that I’d encountered the ‘Healing on the Streets’ group – an encounter which led to headlines around the world after I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the HOTS group were making misleading claims on the leaflet.
The newest leaflet was from a different group called The Revival Fellowship and made claims like:
‘We believe in prayer for the sick and divine healing by the power of God through His Spirit’
coupled with claims like
Leila Emms healed from arthritis after prayer. She has a healthy daughter now aged 15 who doctors said would not be born alive due to a condition incompatible with life.
‘Granville Finney – after suffering brain heammorage for the second time, he was pronounced dead three times before making a full recovery after prayer.’
These were pretty bold claims that were made under the heading ‘Truth with Proof’, and my gut instinct was that such claims could be potentially misleading even if well intended. I decided to head back and talk to the man who had given me the leaflet about the things written on there and what they meant. Id’ never heard of the Fellowship before and was quite interested to see what he had to say. I recorded the conversation on my iPhone so that I could recall it properly and because I felt it was a matter of public interest. The recording will be kept private, but below is the transcript.
Me: Excuse me, you gave me this leaflet here…
Me: it talks about his autism?
Me: How did that… do you know how that happened?
Man: What happened was he got baptised, in the water, and he came out and it cured – it cleansed him, sort of like filled him with this all this like – like an inside power, inside a trance sort of like
Me: He went into a trance?
Man: Yeah went into a trance like and he started speaking in tongues, in a different language and was speaking to god and it basically just healed him completely…
Me: What was the difference though? What did it get rid of? I know it says Autuism but were his symptoms all gone?
Man: Yeah he has a food allergy as well it syas on there
Me: Do you know what food allergy it was
Man: No I’ve only known for a couple of weeks, sort of like chocolate or something and he can actually eat chocolate again.
Me: Oh right
Man: He ate is and came out in spots and everything, when he ate chocolate for the first time..
Me: So he came out in like a rash?
Man: Yeah, every time he ate chocolate now it’s normal, just a really nice guy and he’s really happy now. This guy *indicates another testimonial on leaflet* died three times and came back to life after being baptised in water, he had 3 brain haemorrhages and they brought him back from the dead, he came back to life again.
Me: It wasn’t just coincidence?
Man: No, no it’s the power of the lord, the power of baptisim
Me: Oh right. It’s just I know people who’ve got autism and cancer. *indicating leaflet testimonial* She was healed from tum- oh, a cyst. Is that cancer?
Man: Yeah, breast cancer.
Me: Breast cancer?
Me: How did that work? Oh what … so she had – it says ovarian cyst, and she couldn’t have children…
Man: Yeah she couldn’t have children, but she’s got 2 children now!
Me: And someone was cured of cancer as well?
Man: Yeah, same person. Look um here *hands me second leaflet*
Me: Oh you’ve got another one
Man: This woman had a baby and they said wouldn’t be alive, but anything is possible with god. Anything. If you pray hard as possible and believe it’ll actually come true.
Me: Okay, it’s just I know some people who pray and don’t get better
Man: This is actually a true thing, it says it in the bible
Me: Do you have one of those I can take?
Man: Take this one here, it’s for the local group and this other ones for Poole.
Me: Oh right, okay. Brilliant. Thank you
Man *looks around for man he was handing leaflets out with* I think my mates around here somewhere…
Me: *looking around* think he’s gone. Does he have more then?
Man: He’s got the scriptures which will tell you more than I can from this *points at leaflet*
Me: Oh right, well it’s got some scriptures in here *opens leaflet* so I could look it up online maybe, on the website. Do you have a website?
Man: Yeah, it’s on the front here
Me: Okay I’ll check it out online. Thank you.
I thought they were another group like Healing on the Streets who are a collection of local churches who conduct regular prayer sessions on the street as an outreach activity, however what I found after a bit of digging around online was something much more serious. The Fellowship have groups in Third World countries where they claim to enable miraculous healing of HIV/AIDS and Resurrection of the deceased. My friend Marsh encountered the group in Merseyside a few years ago and took a rational look at the healing claim they were making which can be read here. Another skeptical blogger, David Waldock, also wrote in 2010 about how he had made a complaint to the ASA about the Revival Fellowship when they dropped a leaflet through his friends door. You can read his account here.
I initially intended to submit a complaint to the ASA too because of the claims being made, but then during my research into the organisation I came across allegations of cult like behaviour and mentality, and members finding it difficult to leave the Fellowship. Would the ASA be the authority to deal with my concerns? Had I accidentally approached a cult to probe them over their leaflet?
I visited the international website of The Revival Fellowship and all I found were more testimonials and clumps of scripture claiming that god can and does heal people. The UK site for the Fellowship is under development. On the international site they state:
For many people the most attractive aspect of the gospel message can be that of a living God that can heal and be involved in their lives on a daily basis.
Their doctrine is oddly centred around speaking in tongues being the only indication that a person has truly been saved by god, and it is very clear that only scripture that backs up their interpretation of the bible is promoted.
” . . . it is only when the earnest seeker speaks in tongues that we can say with scriptural that he has received the Holy Spirit.”
Their website was pretty full on and not very clear about what they are or what they do. I found one website called ‘Why I left the Revival Fellowship‘ on which an ex-member outlines the contradictions and false teachings that they encountered which led them to leave. The Wikipedia page for the Revival Fellowship states
Former members have noted that the ability to leave this type of church once a person has joined can be problematic
I found a forum on which ex-members discuss their experiences with the Fellowship, and some of the stories there are a little worrying to say the least. It includes the story of Sue Durrant (you can listen to an interview with her here) who said of the group:
“…didn’t allow a capacity to grow”, ”Women were second class citizens”, ”members were allowed to socialize outside of the organisation but only to try and witness to them and bring them along to the fellowship”.
Former members describe a system of control and manipulation and experience the same post-cult symptoms as those who come from other well known cults such as Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.
I am extremely concerned to have discovered that the Fellowship have a group operating locally, especially as despite their reputation I had never heard of them before and my encounter with one of their members gave me no indication of what may lay in wait for me if I had decided to attend one of their weekly meetings. This is scary.