Churches want faith-healer's claims tested

Faith-healer or spiritual charlatan, American evangelist Benny Hinn still manages to pack in the crowds.

The Courier-Mail/June 9, 2004
By Jason Gregory

A modern Christian "crusade" led by American television evangelist Benny Hinn, a self-professed miracle-worker and faith healer, will be unleashed on Brisbane later this month.

More than 30,000 believers hoping for some kind of healing of body, mind or spirit, are expected to raise the roof of the Brisbane Entertainment Centre for two shows - sandwiched between shows in Chicago and Ohio - on June 25 and 26. They are his only shows in Australia.

Apart from those watching television during the vampire hours, relatively few Australians know of Hinn although his Orlando Christian Centre ministry, founded two decades ago, earns up to $100 million a year and is said to have a weekly world TV audience of more than 50 million.

In the US "disbelievers" have marred his church and concert hall performances by protesting outside venues and accusing the 51-year-old Lebanese-born tele-minister of preying on the sick and elderly.

Watchdog groups have been lobbying US Congress to pass legislation making it illegal to hawk anything that cannot be proven to deliver what it promises, and authorities have also been investigating his growing wealth.

His visit, along with that of fellow millionaire faith healer Kenneth Copeland next month, have been pre-empted by Australian church authorities who believe claims of miracle healings should be investigated by government.

St Paul's Theological College academic dean Reverend Dr David Pascoe said a secular authority was needed to test claims of "miracle healings" to protect people's rights.

"Some (evangelists) appear to be their own authority and if one of the Government's charges is to protect people's rights, then a secular authority could do that - we do it for consumer goods," Dr Pascoe said.

Although Hinn calls himself a pastor, he has no theological training and therefore cannot have his claims censured by higher authorities.

Brisbane Catholic Archbishop John Bathersby said he was "disappointed" by people attracted by signs and wonders holding unreal expectations.

"The Church would come down on us like a tonne of bricks if we made outlandish statements proven false because Rome carefully investigates acts of wonder or awe," Archbishop Bathersby said.

In 1998 when Hinn, who claims God appeared before him when he was 11, was last in Brisbane he attempted to ban the media from entering the entertainment centre.

Hinn claims that during his stage shows he cures the seriously and terminally ill, those with long-time drug habits and leanings towards witchcraft.

He asks for "gifts, your best seed (money) or donations" as he performs the acts. He imparts the Holy Spirit by touching people, with a small puff of the lips or by throwing it into the audience like a cricket ball.

Currently Hinn is requesting donations to enable him to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. Three years ago he was asking for $30 million to build a "World Healing Centre" and although the funds were raised the plans were abandoned.

Hinn says the massive donations (able to be given via credit card on his website) he receives are no different to those collected by mainstream churches.

Australian Catholic University theology professor Tony Kelly said despite the church almost accepting a long history of craziness on the fringes, "all types of snake oil" should be treated with extreme caution.

"Bad publicity for the whole range of spiritual values should not be tolerated and churches need to be, while recognising God can work in mysterious ways, explicit in not letting simple devout people be exploited and they must give firm guidance on this," he said.

"Any person who is humbly trying to do the work of God needs some money but once self-promotion and amassing huge sums of money takes over, it is not a good sign. The work needs to be God-directed, non-profitable, and carry the spirit of poverty and humility."

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