Evangelist Hinn lands under a cloud

Benny Hinn readies for crusade and defends lavish healing ministry

Toronto Star/August 17, 2007

Pastor Benny Hinn, in Toronto this weekend for two days of miracle cures and old-time gospel, makes no apologies for all the money his far-flung ministries take in each year.

"The gospels are free, but the means of delivering the gospels is really expensive," Hinn, who got his start in Toronto 30 years ago, told the Star.

Tonight and tomorrow, Hinn brings his Texas-based Miracle Crusade to the Air Canada Centre, attracting up to 20,000 to each of his three shows.

The shows are free but, as at all his crusades, donations will be sought and many buckets will be passed as the audience sings rousing hymns along with a mass choir amid a light show worthy of a rock concert. While Hinn acknowledges people come mainly to see and take part in the healing miracles, that is left to the feverish end – they will first hear him preach, pray and sing in his trademark white suit.

But Hinn arrives under a cloud after the CBC's The Fifth Estate this week challenged his claims of miracle cures and described a lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, a 7,000-square-foot ocean-side mansion and luxury travel to five-star hotels on a private jet.

In the show, reporter Bob McKeown estimates Benny Hinn Ministries takes in as much as $250 million a year in donations and proceeds from sales of such items as autographed bibles.

Hinn, who keeps his finances private, doubts the show will hurt turnout at the ACC.

"They will never stop people from coming to meetings such as ours."

Followers donate money, he says, to ensure his work, including curing the sick, continues.

"They believe that God heals and they want to see something like this go on. They also understand it takes money to rent stadiums."

Hinn's sessions have gained a reputation for sudden miracle cures for cancer, blindness, diabetes and even AIDS over the past 30 years since his humble beginnings in a church hall at Bloor and Yonge. People dramatically fall to the floor proclaiming their health after a touch from Hinn's hand.

Hinn, however, professes to having nothing to do with making anybody healthy. "The Lord has not called me to heal people," he says. "He heals the people."

After the prayers, songs and preaching from the charismatic minister, Hinn tells the crowd he is getting a message from God that people in the audience are being cured, and he asks them to come to the stage. The Fifth Estate used hidden cameras to show staff screening audience members coming forward, ensuring none with obvious physical ailment get near Hinn.

"It's always somebody that has some kind of illness that can't be readily seen" that makes it to the stage, Justin Peters, a Baptist minister in Mississippi who studied Hinn, tells the CBC.

Hinn says the cures take place in the audience, not on stage, so no one still in a wheelchair is allowed on stage. God, he says, has obviously not cured these people.

"I won't let them up, because they haven't been healed," he says.

The CBC tracked down some of the people claimed to have been cured, only to find that they were either still sick, never had the condition they were supposedly cured of, or had died. Speaking to the Star, Hinn says he is forced to rely on the word of those coming to his crusades to tell him they are cured.

"It's not my job to claim that they are healed. I have never done that," he says. "I'm not a doctor."

Hinn defends his use of luxury hotels and a private Gulfstream jet detailed by the CBC, saying they offer greater efficiency and security.

"People in my position will have threats," he told the Star. "If you ask for a secure (hotel) floor, you're going to pay more money."

Hinn also criticized the CBC for using hidden cameras and old footage he says depicts his wife just before she had a nervous breakdown.

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