They came in their droves to feel the power of teflon televangelist Benny Hinn.
It’s Friday night and Benny’s in the house – the house of God – and in Benny’s house no kids are allowed in the aisles, no talking during the anointing and, apart from an occasional “amen” and “hallelujah”, no chatter permitted at all.
And that’s without exceptions, as one woman apparently suffering from Tourette’s syndrome discovered when she was rudely ushered out of Benny’s house, Auckland’s Vector Arena.
“Shut up. You cannot be speaking when I am preaching. Nobody can do that here. We cannot allow people to be speaking back to me when I am ministering the word,” Hinn yelled.
Pastor Hinn required conformity from an audience, which included many who were sick and had come to be healed.
“I have come to give you the word of the Lord,” Hinn proclaimed. And the Lord sure does move in mysterious ways.
According to surely one of his best-paid prophets, it’s estimated Hinn’s annual income is US$100-$200 million.
“This is the house of the Lord. Don’t let your children play in the aisles.”
To a second parent, Hinn insisted: “This is not your house and not a football stadium.”
Another churchgoer was also humiliated in front of the 7000-strong audience, this time a lone man, who was discovered wandering around the auditorium.
“Would you please find a seat? You must understand, distraction kills the anointing and I won’t allow no one to distract me, so sit down now. I am not going to change,” Hinn snapped.
The American-based preacher paid tribute to the several thousand people who were turned away from the “crusade” and applauded those who had lined up for 12 hours to secure a seat at the free event, many of which were pre-booked online.
The host of TV2’s early morning series, This is Your Day with Benny Hinn, is currently pleading on his website for donations. “$1.8 million is immediate and pressing, and it requires your most urgent attention. In fact, unless I raise a substantial amount of money in the next 72 hours, This Is Your Day with Benny Hinn could be taken off one of its airings,” reads the message.
The church-funding watchdog Ministry Watch, which reviews the financial transparency of religious organisations, recently criticised Hinn, saying his expenditure revealed the organisation had far more money than required to carry out its international operations. Ministry Watch urged members to “prayerfully consider withholding contributions to Benny Hinn”.
His Pentecostal televangelism is certainly at the other end of the faith spectrum from the next spiritual leader to hold forth at Vector Arena.
Next week, exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama will speak about “compassion and kindness”.
Massey University associate professor of history, Peter Lineham, said there were “some pretty significant differences” between the messages of the Dalai Lama and Benny Hinn.
While much of Hinn’s New Zealand audience would be poor, Polynesian and “relatively simple in their understandings of faith”, the Dalai Lama’s crowd was likely to be secular with an interest in the message of peace, or people drawn to spirituality generally. “They might be into Buddhism, meditation and interested in various types of Christian faith. They put together their own personal version of religion,” Lineham said.
Meanwhile, for Robert Heta, the wait to see Hinn on Friday night to be freed from crutches was all “worth it”.
The Otara father, who had never been to church but watched Hinn on television, told the Herald on Sunday that he “kind of felt it”. “It was just a light that came on when I was closing my eyes.”
Heta said he was going to donate to the Hinn Ministries and intended returning yesterday for the second of three events.
As well as calling on donations from the mainly Polynesian and Asian congregation, merchandise stalls selling Bibles, DVDs and $60 “prayer kits” were dotted around the venue.
TENZIN GYATSO: HIS HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA
• The 42nd Dalai Lama
• Age 71
• Tibetan Buddhist
• Awarded 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to negotiate peace between Tibet and China
• One of the most influential spiritual leaders of Tibetan Buddhism
• Claims to be Tibet’s Head of State
• Fourth visit to New Zealand in 15 years
Parnell’s Vector Arena
• June 17, 2pm, “Compassion and Kindness” ($20, Ticketmaster)
• June 18, 10am, “Four Noble Truths” ($60, Ticketmaster).
Wellington’s TSB Bank Arena
• June 19, 1pm, Lecturing “A Human Approach to World Peace” ($20, Ticketek)
PASTOR BENNY HINN
• Televangelist, writer, speaker.
• Age 54
• Born in Israel
• Pentecostalist, the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world
• Lives in a seven-bedroom, ocean-front mansion worth an estimated $8.5 million
• Known for his television programme, This Is Your Day, which screens on TV2, and for stadium appearances around the world
• Criticised for luxurious lifestyle, including private jet, flash cars, and unwillingness to have ministry finances independently audited
• Reported annual income $100-$200 million
• Staying at Auckland’s Regency Hyatt after three free “crusades” at Vector Arena