Benny Hinn: The rock star of evangelism

What would Jesus do?

I do not think he would deck himself out like a Ralph Lauren poster boy, then brag to an adoring crowd at TD Waterhouse Centre about going to Hollywood parties with the beautiful people.

Benny Hinn may be the Lord’s servant, but he’s not a humble one.

Benny returned last week, a small-town boy made good. After building a national following here, the miracle man left town in 1999 and now lives in Southern California, a place more conducive to his lifestyle.

Benny Hinn

Evangelist Benny Hinn is controversial for his frequently aberrant – and at times heretical – theology, his unorthodox practices, and his false claims. Nevertheless, large numbers of people who indentify themselves as Christians follow – and, often, appear to worship – this preacher.

There are no more Florida hicks asking, “Golly, is that really a Rolex you’re wearing?”

As Benny told me in a 1991 interview: “It’s this crazy idea that preachers should be poor — that’s not in the Bible.”

Benny still hasn’t bought into the vow of poverty. Nor has he given up his trademark miracles. They remain the focal point of his ministry, the draw that packs auditoriums.

But more than 12 years after I first watched Benny in action, it seems God still works his wonders in murky shades of gray. I saw the same assortment of followers prance on stage to announce they’d been cured of arthritis, asthma, back pain and neck pain. As always Benny put them through their paces, having them walk, run and bend over like competitors at the Westminster Kennel Club.

That nobody with a snapped spinal cord has ever jumped for Benny is of little concern to him. God decides who gets cured. Benny simply serves as the anointed vessel and enjoys all of the perks that such a calling brings with it.

But nitpicking Benny’s miracles is like nitpicking professional wrestling. The believers believe, and the non-believers do not.

I obviously do not. That doesn’t mean I think Benny is a phony — because I believe he believes.

And there still are things to appreciate about him. Benny lives lavishly, but he works hard for it. His crusades are four hours long, and he generally gives three performances in the cities he visits. His entourage rivals that of any rock band, and it’s no easy logistical task dragging it around the world.

Onstage, Benny is a master of ceremonies, a preacher, a storyteller and, most of all, a showman who knows his audience. His voice is a marvelously complex instrument. Turned down low, he uses it to hypnotize the crowd, to bring forth wails, moans, murmurs and tears. He gets them drunk on the Lord. He gets their hands up, feeling the power. And then he barks out an outburst that literally jolts them to their senses.

Benny is the conductor, and they are the orchestra. I’ve seen him flatten 5,000 people by blowing into a microphone. Even I felt the energy.

Many in the Orlando audience Friday morning watched him for four hours, then went outside after the show was over and got in line for the 7 p.m. crusade. They are, for the most part, working-class people. All nationalities, colors and creeds are welcome.

Benny is an inclusive guy. He does not preach hate and condemnation. He stays out of politics.

It is all about Jesus, love, miracles and, of course, Benny. He said he would fulfill a prophecy this year by helping bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians. He also talked about going to Hollywood parties and being called to pray at one of them.

“I was really amazed by the love toward me,” he said.

I doubt it matched the love from the crowd in his former hometown.

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