You may have come across him while channel surfing -- a slight man in a gleaming white suit -- throwing around what he calls "the power of God" in thundering oratory.
He has a Middle-Eastern accent. And a sense of humor.
His followers stream onstage and swoon into the arms of burly men -- catchers -- who sometimes fall under the power themselves. He's been credited with healing heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield's heart.
And according to experts in the field of televangelism, Benny Hinn is the next big thing.
"He's probably the fastest-growing ministry in America," says Ole Anthony, head of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a group that monitors Christian media. "He became the replacement for Jim and Tammy Bakker, for Jimmy Swaggart. He is now the man of the hour."
Benny Hinn fills sports arenas and stadiums across the country and around the world. To his followers he's a miracle man, a conduit between the sick and hurting and the Holy Spirit. To his critics, he's another in a long list of religious con men, bilking the most vulnerable members of society of millions of dollars.
Hinn's daily television program, "This is Your Day for a Miracle," appears on more than 500 cable channels and television stations worldwide. He's one of the biggest stars on American television's biggest religious network, Trinity Broadcasting, run by televangelist couple Paul and Jan Crouch.
His show features excerpts of his popular healing crusades, as well as religious happy talk with a wide-ranging cast of TV sidekicks. At the end of each show, he reaches his hands out toward the camera. "You may want to come and touch the screen," he coos. "A heart condition has just been healed. Diabetes has been healed." Never mind the fact that the show is usually taped two weeks before it airs.
Healing, or Hope?
Some of Hinn's healings are indeed documented and defy medical explanations. He's even published a book listing these cases, with doctors' notes included. Hinn provided IMPACT with two dozen documented healings from people suffering a variety of illnesses. All of the people contacted were true believers who claimed to have significantly improved since attending a healing crusade.
But many of the spectacular "healings" claimed at Hinn's healing crusades are not miracles at all.
In November, IMPACT interviewed several people at random during a Hinn crusade at the Omni Coliseum in Atlanta. Despite their immediate claims, there were no long-term miraculous recoveries from serious disease. In fact, one of the people we followed, 35-year-old Laura Twilley of Snellville, Georgia, died of cancer just four weeks after the crusade, leaving behind a husband and three little girls. "I was skeptical about going to the crusade at first," says her husband, David, "but I'm glad I went. It was important to Laura."
Twilley said his wife showed dramatic improvement immediately after the crusade but deteriorated a short time later. He said he believes Hinn means well but is sometimes more interested in putting on a good show than helping desperate people.
"If Benny Hinn can give people one thing, I'm satisfied -- and that's hope," says Hinn himself on the grounds of his Orlando-based World Outreach Center.
IMPACT interviewed a number of people who said that despite their infirmities, Hinn offered just that. "I feel I got to hold on to that hope," says Linda Tyson, mother of 18-year-old Shandez Daniels.
A former honors student and football star from Elba, Alabama, Shandez was paralyzed in his high school's 1995 homecoming game. After two unsuccessful attempts to get into the Atlanta crusade, Shandez was briefly prayed over and touched by Hinn backstage.
His condition to date has not significantly improved.
In a wide-ranging interview with IMPACT Senior Investigative Correspondent John Camp, Hinn repeatedly stressed his ministry is in the midst of rapid growth and transition. For example, Hinn says he is considering joining televangelism's voluntary watchdog organization, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which was co-founded by the Rev. Billy Graham. It sets strict standards on TV ministries in efforts to avoid the scandals that have plagued televangelists in the past. ECFA even conducts surprise inspections and spot audits.
"We know that people do a better job when they're being held accountable and when someone's watching. That's just a basic premise of human nature," says Paul Nelson, the organization's president. "I think the dangers for a televangelist are no different from that of a politician, an athlete, a movie star. There's something about power that is corrupting."
But it's often Benny Hinn's mouth that gets him in trouble. When the camera's on, he's prone to make wild claims that cause his staff fits.
In a recent show he told the audience, "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."
IMPACT asked Hinn's television producer, Jeff Pittman, for a copy of that video. But we were told Hinn misspoke, and the cameras weren't rolling at the time. When IMPACT asked Hinn about the resurrection claim, he backtracked from his original story. "God can raise the dead. Absolutely. I have not seen it. In that one case we did hear about it."
This isn't to say all faith healings are fabrications. Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University is author of "Timeless Healing," a book about religion's role in curing the sick.
"There are cases where faith healers bring about miraculous cures. Many people do get better, but it may not be the faith healer that's doing it. It may be their belief in the faith healer and what the faith healer represents," he said.
"It scares me," says Hinn, "because I know I'm not the healer."
Benedictus Hinn was born and raised in Israeli-occupied Palestine. His Greek Orthodox parents moved to Canada when he was 14 years old. He's been preaching the gospel since the early 1970s, after attending a crusade conducted by the late televangelist Kathryn Kuhlman.
"He's aped all of Kathryn Kuhlman's mannerisms," says Ole Anthony. "Except he's got a white suit and she's got a white dress."
Anthony steers people interested in Hinn to the 1992 Paramount film "Leap of Faith" starring Steve Martin. "Martin modeled the evangelist character on Benny Hinn," he says.
"Well, in a way it's a compliment, I guess," says Hinn.
"That's just me. I don't put anything on."