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Benny Hinn Relentlessly Seeks Souls, Money

Evangelism: The popular faith healer brushes off criticism of his long-running television ministry.

April 27, 2002|From Associated Press

GRAPEVINE, Texas--If Benny Hinn puts on a remarkable television show, the view from his side of the camera is even more incredible.

Looking into viewers' homes recently, the evangelist spotted a bald, overweight man with a heart problem. Wearing a yellow shirt.

Hinn said he could see the man walking away from his TV, resisting appeals to donate during a Trinity Broadcasting Network "Praise-a-Thon."

"Come back," Hinn begged. "If you will come back and make that pledge, God will heal your heart tonight."

It was vintage Hinn: charismatic, even outrageous, melding the promise of healing with support for the network that broadcasts his show.

Such claims, of course, are the hallmark of some TV evangelists. But though others like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Robert Tilton have fallen from grace over the last two decades, Hinn plows ahead, relentlessly seeking souls and money.

Like some colleagues, he embraces his worldwide followers who say he has cured them, like heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, who has credited Hinn with correcting his heart problem.

For the most part, he brushes off scrutiny, though not always gracefully. He once wished aloud for a "Holy Ghost machine gun" to blow off the heads of his critics, who object to everything from his unverifiable healing claims to his perfectly coiffed hair.

"I think he's a great showman who understands how to utilize both media and the stage in order to manipulate the audience," said Stephen Winzenburg, a communications professor at Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa, who monitors evangelists' broadcasts.

Hinn's "This Is Your Day" program appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and airs in 190 countries.

His crusades around the world draw thousands who hope the diminutive preacher will zap them with the power he says he absorbs from the graves of dead faith healers. The lucky ones end up on stage, where, with a motion of Hinn's hand, they are overcome, dropping helplessly into the arms of a "catcher."

"I've known him for many years, and he's doing a world of good with hundreds of thousands of people," said Freda Lindsay, co-founder of Christ for the Nations, a Dallas-based church-building ministry.

Lindsay, 88, shares Hinn's belief in faith healing and said prayer cured her of tuberculosis. "Benny Hinn is very sincere," she said. "I would vouch for him that he's a man of God. He's not a phony."

Though Swaggart's and Bakker's highflying ministries were leveled by sex scandals, and Tilton was brought down by reports of false promises and a legal battle with his first wife, Hinn has tripped over no such obstacles.

"He has a charm and a charisma that some of the other television evangelists don't have," Winzenburg said. "He's no threat. He's someone people feel that they can approach."

The man who was the white-suited inspiration for Steve Martin in the movie "Leap of Faith" has been conducting public healings for nearly 30 years.

Benedictus Hinn, 49, was born in Israel to a Greek father and an Armenian mother, according to the 1999 book "Religious Leaders of America." His mother named him after Patriarch Benedictus of the Greek Orthodox Church.

As a boy, he was embarrassed by a stuttering problem--an impediment he says was later healed by God. He attended Roman Catholic schools and says he had his first religious experience at 11.

"I saw Jesus walk into my bedroom," he writes in "He Touched Me," his 1999 autobiography. "He was wearing a robe that was whiter than white and a deep red mantle was draped over his shoulders."

The family later moved to Toronto, Canada, where Hinn was "saved." Relatives were baffled, and his father got him an appointment with a psychiatrist.

The defining moment in his life came in 1973 when he attended a service in Pittsburgh by the late faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman.

It is often suggested that Hinn has fashioned himself in her image, and he frequently mentions her influence. He has written a book about Kuhlman's life but says he never knew her personally.

"He's copied her act almost to the letter," said Joe Nickell, author of "Looking for a Miracle." "She wore white gowns with gold trim. He wears white suits with gold jewelry."

In "He Touched Me," Hinn writes that seeing Kuhlman simply pointed him in the right direction. That path led back to Toronto, where by 1974 he was conducting his own healing services.

He moved his operations to Orlando, Fla., in 1983, where he married Suzanne Harthern, the daughter of an Assemblies of God minister. (Hinn calls himself a Pentecostal.) He rose rapidly to become one of the best-known healing evangelists.

In 1999, he moved his corporate headquarters to Dallas-Fort Worth, noting that the ministry's legal and accounting firms were already in the area. Hinn lives in Southern California, home of his World Media Center, which houses his television production facilities.

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