Benny Hinn and I share a common experience. We both, at eleven years of age, had an encounter with faith healer, Kathryn Kuhlman. My great Aunt, a long-time, dyed -in -the-wool Kentucky Pentecostal, had an intense fascination with faith healing and evangelists. Before my tenth birthday, I’d been to more tent meetings and revivals than I had movie theaters. The magazines, pamphlets and photographs of Oral Roberts and A.A. Allen were fixtures in our little one-bedroom house.
Evangelical and Pentecostal roots can have an odd effect on the way you experience reality. It is for this reason I have a mix of disdain and sympathy for Benny Hinn after watching the Dateline program.
I’m not sure that any person who didn’t see Kathryn Kuhlman up close can appreciate the impact that her presence had on people. She struck fear in my heart. Ms. Kuhlman was a slight, nearly frail woman in her late forties. Her skin was translucent and she wore white dresses that made her look like an apparition...someone barely visible across the moor on a foggy night. And, that voice...it didn’t go with the body. The voice was booming and resonant. She would repatedly say, “I believe in miracles because I believe in God.’ By the time she delivered the word, “God,” her voice was about two octaves lower than when she began the sentence. It was chilling. Although she was based in Pittsburgh, PA, she would lead services at the Shrine Auditorium on Jefferson Blvd. in Los Angeles (The Shrine was home to the Academy Awards for many years.)
Her services began promptly at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoons. We would always sit in the balcony. The services would go on for a couple of hours. Toward the mid-point, she’d begin describing aloud healings that were taking place in the audience.
People would be crying and shrieking. Other were shouting. Those who experienced a manifestation of a healing were asked backstage where they were interviewed. Selected ones would appear on stage with Ms. Kuhlman.
It never dawned on me that any part of this could be manufactured. I accepted what I saw as absolute fact. Growing up Pentacostal means you never challenge what goes on in healing services-- you’ve been lectured about ‘grieving the Holy Spirit,” and live in perpetual fright of committing such a misdeed.
Five or six years later, I started dating a girl who lived near Sunset and Vermont. She was a rail thin Mexican girl who attended Belmont High. Her name was Maya and she went to a church called Angeles Temple.
This was the headquarters church of a denomination known as the Foursquare Gospel. And, it was the church made famous by one Aimee Semple McPherson. Ms. McPherson, in the land of stars and starlets, just a stone’s throw from Hollywood and Vine, pushed all the stars to the back page of the L.A. Times with a story of kidnapping, love, and betrayal. It is a shame that she is remembered more for the kidnapping than for her pioneering work in communicating the gospel. Today’s mega-churches, with choreographed presentations and elaborate sets, owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. McPherson. She was a pioneer in using mixed media to deliver her message. And, her real life was larger than anything Hollywood produced.
Maya wanted me to attend Angeles Temple with her. I would have done anything to brush against her soft Mestizo features and bright, shining eyes. I took the RTD bus from South LA to Angeles Temple every Sunday that I could.
After church, her Mom would cook us enchiladas, rice and beans while Vin Scully’s soothing voice, broadcasting the Dodger game, crackled through the speakers of their transistor radio.
I took an elbow to the face during a Friday night basketball game and could hardly open my mouth. Maya insisted on cutting my enchiladas into tiny chunks so they’d be easier for me to eat. She would walk me to bus stop and wait until it arrived.
On the long bus road home down Figueora street, passing the unending landscape of liquor stores, dry cleaners, and ‘store-front” churches, I’d reflect on the majesty of Angeles Temple and how it seemed-- at least to me-- like an elegant old-world Cathedral. It never dawned on me that the healing services were anything but real. Why would any person fake a healing service? I would fall asleep thinking what a beautiful church Angeles Temple was...and, about Maya.
If one is an honest seeker of truth, not only will truth find you, she’ll show more of herself than you may be ready to handle. I’ve expressed my adoration for the famous “X-files’ quote: “The truth is out there.” The trouble with most of us is that we’re too lazy, or wrapped up into taking kids to soccer games, going to work, or just contentedly uninformed that the truth is something that we rely on Mike Wallace and Ed Bradley to give us.
God help us to get off our lazy asses and become honest searchers rather than passive recipients.
Evil is real. What did Kaiser Soze tells us in the film, The Usual Suspects. “The greatest trick the devil every pulled was to convince the world that he didn’t exist.” It goes to the heart of secret societies and ‘power behind the throne” conspiracy theories. I mean, there is no reason to go looking for something that ain’t there. Moreover, if you convince a large enough group there is nothing there, what are the chances anyone is going to look for you? Everyone is too busy at working, living, paying bills and going here-and-there to concern themselves with truth. You can get away with your dirty deeds and blame it on anything from a rise in barometric pressure to a butterfly flapping its wings on the island of Borneo.
When I finished watching the Dateline story, I wanted to call Benny Hinn and say, “What is up with you? Do you think avoiding these people is going to make them go away. They will relentlessly dig until they find something. That’s the nature of reporting.The best approach is to meet them this head-on.“
I don’t advance the position that you should reveal all-- there is a school of thought that says, “if you have nothing to hide, why not let the cameras in? ” That, primarily, is a sucker bet. It’s like playing the slots at Vegas...you can win a little, but you will ultimately lose a lot. The slots are rigged so the house wins 64.5% of the time-- you are not going to beat the house in this game.
Everyone has something to hide. Benny’s strategic approach should have been to have purchased television time and presented a separate rebuttal to the Dateline piece--and, to have cooperated with Dateline on his terms.
Why are the Dateline producers so ‘hot” to expose Benny Hinn? That question has haunted me since watching the Sunday night episode. I can think of twenty corporations and their top management teams that would make exceedingly more delectable faire than Benny Hinn.
Benny makes news because he’s associated with Christianity and it’s cool to bash Christianity. Especially, anything that has a Protestant or evangelical bent...and, if its even remotely affiliated with the more Southern dialectical of miracles, healing, and faith teaching, it’s fair game to be ridiculed. Television, often, paints churchgoing Southern whites and Blacks with the same ignoble,condescending brush: Impugn the theology by painting the follower as ignorant and gullible.
So, I take Dateline to task not for what they showed about Benny Hinn, but instead, for a different reason...namely,this: Why Benny?
1. Is it the money?
Kenneth Lay and Bernad Ebbers (of WorldCom and Enron infamy) and a host of other corporate stories are much more riddled with greed and the quest for filthy lucre. Wasn’t Mr. Lay touting the value of Enron stock while he was selling thousands of shares and freezing the 401K retirement accounts of his workers? Doesn’t the GAO say that millions of dollars of money just simply can’t be accounted for each year?
2. Is it a matter of obtuse theology?
Have you ever read anything by L. Ron Hubbard, the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Book of Mormon?
3. Is it because Dateline is performing a public service by educating us about Benny Hinn?
Doubt it. Benny Hinn is not a utility company, No one is forced to attend his crusades. I still don’t understand my electric bill, nor water bill. And, the phone bill...please. It may as well be written in Syriac. How about an expose on where that money is going.
4. Is it because Benny likes staying in expensive hotels?
I’ve stayed at Waldorf Astoria and at LaQuinta Inn. Although there is nothing wrong with LaQuinta, I, like Cole Porter, would be at 50th and Park Avenue every night if I could.
5. Is it because Benny lays over in Cancun when he travels to South America for a crusade?
Hey, crew rest time. You’ve gotta layover and refuel the GulfStream II someplace. If you’re driving on the Interstate and you have a choice between stopping at Mr. McFilthy’s Truck Stop and Diesel Refueling Center, or another place that has clean restrooms, videogames, bright lights, and a real restaurant, where are you going to stop your SUV?
6. Is is because Benny give his kids money from petty cash?
I agree its bad judgment, but parents make questionable decisions as it relates to their kids. If Dateline followed you around and photographed everything you did for your kids, how would you look? “Come on Mom, everyone in the senior class is getting a new system in their Hummer. It’s only $1500.00....please, I’ll pay you back.”
7. Is it because Dateline believes Benny preys upon the sick and desperate with false promises of healing?
The Bible clearly teaches healing and miracles. Jesus performed miracles and certainly condoned and endorsed healing as activities to be performed by the original twelve (among whom is numbered one Judas Iscariot) and the Junior Varsity crew of Seventy that were later commissioned.
So again, I’ve got to wonder…Why Benny Hinn? Could it be that we need to be protected from him?
I watched the documentary, Super Size Me the other night. We need more protection from daily doses of commercials pushing Super sized French Fries and double chocolate shakes than we do from Benny. How about a follow-up story as to the long-term liver damage that occurs when one eats fast food regularly?
Or, can we talk about the most recent projection that 25 Million people living in Sub-Saharan African have AIDS—and, many could be saved if they could get the equivalent of $25.00 in drugs each month.
Maybe Dateline could produce a segment challenging McDonalds to donate a portion of sales from Big Macs to creating a distribution system for getting generic brands of immune-system strengthening drugs to teenagers in Malawi and Zambia.
With all that’s going on the world, do we really need to be saved from Benny Hinn?
The answer, of course, is no. My training as a filmmaker taught me this: the real power is in editing. Why? Because editing is as much about what is left out than what gets in. There is power in being able to exclude.
I can offer Bob Mckeown twenty story ideas that are far more compelling and meaningful than saving us from Benny Hinn. Dateline, though, has another agenda. And, it is every bit as insidious as reporting non-existent healings as being real.
Dateline’s Benny Hinn program that aired last Sunday night subtly discredits and devalues Christianity.
On the surface it seems like an expose of another white-suited preacher getting old ladies to part with their Railroad Retirement Checks.
What, really, is as it seems?
The show implies miracles aren’t real—and, anyone who believes in them is an uniformed sap…a mark, if you will, just waiting to be taken. Taken, by some guy like Benny Hinn.
The reality resides in a different place. Let’s just do a bit of historical theology. Christianity, of the three major religions, is the only one that begins with a miracle. No resurrection after three days, no Christianity! It becomes, at best, a fringe aspect of Judaism (everyone agrees that Jesus was a good and wise teacher) but never exploding throughout the Middle East and into Asia Minor.
In less than a century after Jesus’ resurrection, Christianity was being practiced as Far East as Ethiopia and as far North as the British Isles. This was long before chat rooms, cell phones, and satellite uplinks.
Could a message based on anything other than a miracle spread so rapidly and have people chose to be eaten by wild animals, rather than to renounce their beliefs?
“Ok Terrance, all you’ve gotta do is renounce this Christianity business and say Caesar is God and you can go home, play with your kids, eat dinner, and get cozy with your wife. Or, you can continue saying Jesus is God and we’ll feed you to those hungry lions over there and burn your twelve year old son at the stake.”
What did these Christians do? They chose the lions. Most of today’s Christians would have sold out Jesus in less time than it takes Marion Jones to run 100 meters or JJ Reddick to make the front end of a one-an-one in the NCAA tournament.
Can any person’s life be dramatically changed on the basis of a fraud? If you can’t swallow miracles as a clear and present part of Christianity, you’re in the wrong camp. Christianity’s blistering opening salvo was a miracle. Five hundred people saw Jesus after the resurrection. If his body had been stolen, don’t you think the politcal leaders would’ve found it? Their reputations were at stake.
And, since we’re talking about miracles, the OT scriptures tell us that Elijah raised the dead, and Enoch was so perfect that God just “took” him away so he wouldn’t experience death. If there aren’t miracles, then what is a miracle? Paul prayed over pieces of cloth and his crew took the cloths to other cities and people were healed of diseases by coming in contact with cloths.
Is Benny Hinn bilking people out of money? I’m not sure that he is... If those attending his crusades are doing so because they’re looking to barter for ‘some of that healing stuff’ then their eyes are gazed at the wrong horizon point. If, however, they genuinely seek truth, God will reward their honesty…even if Benny is goes down as the Elmer Gantry for this millenium.
If Benny Hinn knowingly presents bad theology, and approaches his ministry as a money-generating scheme...some neo-capitalistic Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride designed to line his pockets, my man has bigger problems than being ‘outed’ on Dateline.
He will, someday, have to stand before the guy founded Christianity and explain himself. You and I are destined for that that same conversation. For some it’s going to fare better than others…and, for Benny Hinn…I’ll just say a prayer that he embraces his awesome responsibility to those crying out for help.
Benny has no responsibility to Dateline, nor does he have to report to anyone what he does with the money-- especially to some Christian “watch-dog” group.
What he should do-- and must do-- is become more accurate in his teaching and more circumspect in how he presents these healings. Last time I checked, Benny ain’t performed NOT ONE MIRACLE. Miracles are the examples of YHWH’s grace. We musn’t forget that, and neither should Benny.