A church billboard proclaiming that "Jesus Heals Cancer" has breached advertising standards by suggesting the church can offer something other churches cannot, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled.
Napier's Equippers Church had a billboard saying "Jesus heals cancer - church but not as you know it."
It drew a number of complaints including from a mother whose son had cancer.
"As the mother of a three-year-old boy who has spent the past 18 months fighting against leukaemia, I find the above billboard offensive and upsetting," the complainant, identified only as Jody Condin, wrote.
"It shows no compassion and understanding to those in our community that have journeyed through cancer and lost loved ones."
In her initial complaint, Condin said the billboard made her blood boil "and brings back sad memories of those I have lost in my life due to cancer. It is false advertising."
She said the billboard was dangerous and deceptive as it could potentially offer false hope and lure in the vulnerable in their time of illness and sadness.
"I would be more than happy if this billboard was to read 'Jesus Heals' and that way it could be interpreted to mean he heals spiritually/emotionally which I believe is more along the lines of what the church are trying to say."
Equippers Church told the authority that it was never their intention to create offence, division or contention in the community.
They had already removed the billboard but wanted an Advertising Standards Authority ruling on it.
Their new billboard said "Jesus Heals every Sickness & Every Disease - Matthew 4:23".
The church said they believed the Bible as the authoritative and reliable source of information and it gave numerous accounts of Jesus healing people.
"Our belief is substantiated by the fact six people within our congregation have testified to Jesus healing them from cancer," the church said.
The church said religious advertising and freedom of speech were vital components of a free and democratic society.
Pastor Lyle Penisula recognised that using ''the C word'' made some families uncomfortable and believed this was why the billboard hit the limelight.
''In the days of Jesus, leprosy was the word of fear, that everybody sort of walked around, and Jesus in his day healed leprosy. In today's day cancer is probably the modern day leprosy and people just want to tread carefully around it.''
Ad Feedback However, he maintained his belief that Jesus could cure cancer.
In its consideration, the Advertising Standards Authority said it had looked a photograph of the billboard which was clearly identifiable as an advertisement for the Equippers Church.
But it said the billboard made its statement as a "strong absolute statement of fact" when it should be stated as a belief of the church. It breached the advertising code of ethics on that ground.
The authority said it acknowledged the vulnerability and sensitivities of some of the public exposed to the advertisement, but said it was unlikely that people suffering from cancer may forgo conventional medical treatment because of the statement "Jesus Heals Cancer".
The authority said that while the church wanted to offer "a message of hope" its billboard was provocative and would cause offence to people who were dealing with, or knew people who were dealing with, cancer.
It said the billboard could cause confusion for some people as it could be interpreted as meaning the Equippers Church was able to offer something that other churches could not.