TV evangelist will move growing empire to area

Flamboyant preacher wants to expand ministry

The Dallas Morning News/June 4, 1999
By Deborah Kovach Caldwell

Benny Hinn, the flamboyant Pentecostal preacher with a fast-growing TV evangelism empire, has announced he will move his ministry to the Dallas-Fort Worth area from Orlando, Fla., by Sept. 1.

"The Dallas airport makes the world accessible for our people, and the metroplex area has the resources we need to expand the ministry," Mr. Hinn, 46, said in a prepared statement.

Spokesman David Brokaw said many of the church's partners and donors live around Dallas.

"There's also a sense that a lot of the physical plant growth that needs to take place can happen more efficiently in the Dallas-Fort Worth area," he said.

In addition, Mr. Hinn, a controversial figure, has long been associated with the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world's largest Christian network, which has studios in Irving and Southern California.

Mr. Hinn's "This Is Your Day" airs several times a day on TBN, to a potential audience of more than 100 million homes.

Mr. Hinn, whose television ministry extends to 128 countries, is famous for theatrical healing performances. Wearing his trademark white suit, he blows on followers, knocks them under the chin, rubs his jacket over his body - which he says is electric with the power of the Holy Spirit - and flicks it at the audience.

For a decade, Mr. Hinn has made news.

Steve Martin modeled the evangelist character in Leap of Faith after him. Heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield said Mr. Hinn healed his defective heart.

Over the years, Mr. Hinn has made some wild claims. He said a man was raised from the dead on the platform at one of his crusades in Ghana last year. He said the Holy Spirit revealed to him that women were originally designed to give birth out of their sides.

Critics continue to poke at him, but Hinn has always apologized for missteps and gone on to greater popularity.

Late last year, questions surfaced about the fund-raising methods of the church, which collects about $50 million a year in donations, according to various sources.

Mr. Brokaw said the ministry has outgrown its World Outreach Center in Orlando, although the church - which draws 12,000 worshipers a week - will remain open. Mr. Hinn will continue to preach there occasionally, he said.

In Dallas, he will lease temporary office space beginning Sept. 1 until a new headquarters is built by June 1, 2000, somewhere near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the State Highway 121 Corridor.

The ministry employs 370 people in Orlando. Mr. Brokaw said the ministry would know by July 1 how many of them would move to Dallas. Twenty other people work at the ministry's television production studio in Southern California, which opened last year.

In February, Mr. Hinn announced that he was moving to California to be close to the studio. At the time, church officials said the ministry wouldn't leave Orlando.

The change in plans is particularly interesting because Dallas is also home to the Trinity Foundation, an aggressive TV evangelism watchdog group. In 1991, the Trinity Foundation helped expose abuses by Robert Tilton's Farmers Branch-based Word of Faith World Outreach Center Church and W.V. Grant's Eagle's Nest Family Church in Dallas. Mr. Grant served time in prison for tax evasion; Mr. Tilton moved his ministry to Florida.

The Trinity Foundation has also investigated Mr. Hinn.

"I feel like the moth is flying to the flame," Trinity Foundation president Ole Anthony said Thursday.

He said he believes Mr. Hinn is moving to Dallas to be close to the ministry's law firm, Brewer, Brewer, Anthony & Middlebrook of Irving. Mr. Anthony believes the ministry will employ one of the lawyers as a business manager and then invoke attorney-client privilege to allow the ministry to shield its business practices from investigators.

"Every purchase order, paycheck and aspect of the ministry's operation is handled through an attorney's office, so they claim privilege for even the smallest detail of the ministry," Mr. Anthony said. "That provides another shield which keeps investigators from evaluating whether they're doing what they say they're doing."

David Middlebrook, the ministry's attorney, rejected that theory.

"That's patently ludicrous," he said. "It discloses a complete lack of understanding of Pastor Benny, his ministry and what attorney-client privilege is."

Mr. Anthony said he has met with Mr. Hinn, who has apologized for some of his practices, such as not getting medical verification of healings, and has promised to change.

He hasn't, Mr. Anthony said.

"The saddest thing in the universe is to go to one of his crusades and see people in wheelchairs follow him all over the country," he said. "He's analogous to a snake-oil salesman."

Mr. Brokaw shrugged off criticism.

"Pastor Hinn is really at peace with what it means to have such a large church and an enormous following," he said. "Part of what comes with having a high profile and having success is there are critics. And you will find those critics virtually anywhere. He just accepts there are going to be some people that won't agree with or accept what he's doing."

At least one prominent Dallas Christian is delighted that Mr. Hinn is moving here.

"He's a very fine man," said Freda Lindsay, who founded Christ for the Nations with her husband, Gordon, 51 years ago.

She said Mr. Hinn has donated $25,000 to a CFN school in Jamaica and $50,000 for a building at CFN's Dallas campus. He also spoke at the school's 50th-anniversary gala.

"I like to make friends with people of integrity," she said. "We've tried to be decent people, and I don't want to link up with someone who misrepresents what a Christian ought to be. And Benny Hinn is the kind of Christian a person ought to be."

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