Hinn: 'God has spoken'

The Orlando Sentinel/June 7, 1999
by Mark I. Pinsky

Controversial televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn told members of his congregation Sunday that he was moving his multimillion dollar ministry to Texas for one reason.

"God has spoken," he said at the end of a four-hour service at the World Outreach Center in Orlando. "It's a very, very definite thing you know inside of you," Hinn explained later in an interview.

The 46-year-old preacher has already moved his television operation and his personal residence to Southern California. The ministry's telephone, direct mail and administrative offices will soon move to a new, 70,000-square-foot facility in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

Whether Hinn will remain in his Central Florida pulpit, or for how long, is uncertain, he told the packed sanctuary.

"When God talks to me about it, I'll let you know," he said.

Hinn, who was born in Israel, said that leading a church and an expanding worldwide crusade ministry were taking a physical toll.

"It's very hard to do two things," he said. "If you're not focused on one thing, you're going to make a mess somewhere else."

There were other practical reasons, Hinn said, to move the operation, which raises an estimated $50 million to 100 million a year. The ministry is on the road much of the time, Hinn said, and the proximity to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport would save considerable money and, at the same time, allow the organization to expand.

"We can no longer grow right here," Hinn said. "We are boxed in. . . . It's been almost impossible to function."

Efforts to find suitable space in Central Florida were fruitless, Hinn said, and the only way to remain would be to contract out parts of his ministry, which he said he would not do.

Hinn said most of the ministry's 387 employees would be offered the opportunity to move to Texas, while the 50 people on the church staff would stay as long as the church remained open in Orlando.

The departure of Hinn's ministry is in marked contrast to the recent arrival and expansion of numerous evangelical organizations and seminaries. Campus Crusade for Christ has just moved into a 260,000 square-foot facility near Lake Hart.

Worshipers at the World Outreach Center were uniformly supportive of their pastor.

"I feel it's from God," said Adam Lopez of Orlando.

Sunday's service was vintage Benny Hinn, incorporating many elements of the televised crusades that have made him the nation's best-known faith healer.

Contemporary, upbeat hymns had the racially and ethnically diverse congregation singing, swaying, bouncing, clapping their hands and waving their arms.

The only things missing at the service were his trademark white suit -- he wore black -- and the rows of the afflicted falling like dominoes after feeling his healing touch. Instead, Hinn touched ailing congregation members one at a time at the close of the service.

Over the years, Hinn has attracted critics and been the subject of satire. A book devoted to his theology is titled The Confusing World of Benny Hinn. The Door, a humor magazine that focuses on religious subjects, takes frequent potshots at him. And a 1993 movie, Leap of Faith, was based in part on Hinn, according to its star, Steve Martin.

In an interview with Katie Couric on NBC's Today show when the movie was released, Martin explained that he developed his portrayal of the flashy, smooth-talking Rev. Jonas Nightengale by watching Christian television.

"There's this fellow named Benny Hinn who's a great evangelist," Martin said. "I can't speak for his veracity, I'm just saying he's a great performer, at least. And he does something when he heals people. He puts his hands on them, and they usually faint right away. He takes off his coat and he throws it at them. And they fall back just from the gentle touch of the cloth. And sometimes he'll blow on them and they just fall over."

Others, especially in the religious world, have been less complimentary of his healing crusades, which fill large auditoriums in the United States and soccer stadiums in Europe.

"The problem I have is that he is selling false hope," said Ole Anthony, president of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a Christian community that monitors religious broadcasters. "False hope is actually no hope, and it always must be exposed."

Anthony characterizes Hinn as an old-fashioned "snake-oil salesman," because the evangelist refuses to allow outsiders to verify his healings. The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to the Thessalonians, cautions Christians to "prove all things" before accepting them.

"Nothing that Benny Hinn says or does passes the test," Anthony said.

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