Controversial televangelist Benny Hinn flies into Auckland for three 'Miracle Crusades' on June 7-8. They will follow the well-worn Hinn formulae and people will apparently be 'cured' of diseases such as cancer when 'God's annointing' descends on the event.
The Miracle Crusades will also suck up a lot of local money that will end up in the burgeoning coffers of Hinn's ministry - a ministry which has consistently failed to account for what it does with all the money it raises.
Hinn was born in Israel in 1952, to an American mother and a Greek father. He was raised within the Greek Orthodox Church and grew up in Canada. The turning point for Hinn appeared to have happened in 1973 when he attended a 'miracle service by the evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman.( Hinn himself acknowledges the influence of Kuhlman on his life and appears to have incorporated some of her techniques into his 'Miracle' events.)
A decade later Hinn founded the Orlando Healing Centre in Florida. In 1999 Hinn moved his operation to Fort Grapevine in Texas.
It is here that Hinn records This Is Your Day, a half-hour daily TV show, which broadcasts to more than 500 cable channels and TV stations around the world. In New Zealand, it broadcasts on TV2 and on Shine TV.
Hinn claims to heal people who are watching his programme. 'Somebody has been cured of cancer,' says Hinn. 'Praise the Lord'.
Hinn also uses the programme to exhort people to donate more money to his Ministry, often bringing some of his colleagues on to the show to aid his cause.
More often than not, Hinn and his colleagues will talk of 'planting a seed' for God, ie giving money to Hinn. What's more, apparently if you give more to Hinn's ministry, God will bless you with even greater financial rewards.
'You will receive a double portion,' was how one of Hinn's slick friends put it.
The message is that you can be saved - but only if you buy a ticket from the Hinn Travellin' Medicine Show.
Of course, one wonders why Hinn just doesn't cut out the 'middleman' and go straight to God with his financial requests.
But it is his 'Miracle Crusades' that Hinn is most well-known for.
These are highly choreographed and tightly controlled affairs.
After several hours of singing, clapping and praying, with he atmosphere carefully built up, Hinn will appear on stage. Some reports that 'God's presence' descends on the 'crusade' at approximately the same time time -10pm.
The people who Hinn 'cures' are all carefully chosen.
As the magician and con-buster James Randi has observed: 'Those that are admitted to the stage are all very carefully chosen..As with all the so-called 'faith healers' anyone in a customized wheelchair, anyone showing an amputation or other obviously untreatable disability, is barred from the stage area and kept at the back of the auditorium where there are no TV lights. In the lobby afterward, there are often victims writhing on the floor, having recovered from the adrenaline rush they underwent when first touched by the “healer.” They are ignored by those leaving the arena, since they’d “lost the faith” and were once again in the thrall of Satan.'
Hinn is prone to make wild claims at these events. At one show he told the audience that he had raised the dead:, "I was in Ghana just recently -- we had half a million people show up -- and a man was raised from the dead on the platform. That's a fact, people. A man was raised from the dead on the platform. We have it on video."
Hinn did not however produce the video, despite requests from journalists. He later backtracked from the claim, saying, "God can raise the dead. Absolutely. I have not seen it. In that one case we did hear about it."
Benny Hinn jealously guards the financial details of his Ministry, but it has been estimated he's pulling in some $US100 million a year. There's a lot of money to be made from religious quackery and Hinn knows how to mine this rich seam.
In March 2005, Ministry Watch, an independent evangelical organization which reviews Christian ministries for financial transparency and efficiency and advises potential donors accordingly, issued a Donor Alert stating that "the reported exorbitant spending of the Hinn family reveals that BHM has far more money than it needs to carry out its ministry" and advising Christians to "prayerfully consider withholding contributions to Benny Hinn".
Hinn and his family live in an ocean-front mansion valued at an estimated $US8.5 million in an exclusive gated community in Dana Point, California, travels by private aircraft, and stays in hotel rooms costing upwards of $3,000 per night. In December 2006, he sent out a mailing asking for donations towards a new Gulfstream G4SP jet valued at an estimated $36 million. The sad thing is that people actually sent him money for this extravagance.
Outside the 'crusades' Hinn lives a reclusive life surrounded by aides and security guards. He doesn't interact with ordinary people. Nor does he do media interviews.
Nor is there any interaction with his audience once a show is over. Hinn returns to his hotel suite.
But Hinn is aware of the criticisms directed against him.
He and and his Ministry recently succeeded in getting You Tube to remove many videos critical of him, his teachings and his methods.
Hinn and his business are claiming copyright infringement under the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) - an ill-conceived and much criticized piece of legislation also misused by such cults as the Church of Scientology as well as cult-like businesses like Landmark Education, in their efforts to stifle criticism
Among the videos removed was a copy of Do You Believe in Miracles, an expose broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative documentary program, The Fifth Estate.
Despite all the overwhelming evidence against Hinn, the sad reality is that his Auckland shows will get full houses. Hinn is making millions from sick, desperate and gullible people all over the world - this weekend it's Auckland's turn.
A Few Benny Hinn Quotes
Fidel Castro Will Die In The 1990s!
"The Spirit tells me - Fidel Castro will die - in the 90's. Oooh my! Some will try to kill him and they will not succeed. But there will come a change in his physical health, and he will not stay in power, and Cuba will be visited of God."
December 31, 1989
The American Gay Community Will be Destroyed by God's Fire, 1994 or 1995!
"The Lord also tells me to tell you in the mid 90's, about '94-'95, no later than that, God will destroy the homosexual community of America. [audience applauds] But He will not destroy it - with what many minds have thought Him to be, He will destroy it with fire. And many will turn and be saved, and many will rebel and be destroyed."
December 31, 1989
Jesus Appearing Physically in the Muslim World!
'The Lord is physically appearing in the Muslim world. I'm telling you, Paul, I am hearing it now more and more and more. Since we preachers cannot go there, Jesus is - just going there Himself....He's appearing, hear this, He is appearing to Muslims, saying I am Jesus of Nazareth! And they're coming to know the Lord! Why are those things happening? It's the last days! "
April 2, 2000, Trinity Broadcasting Network, Praise-A-Thon