Faith healer appeals to believers for donations to finance $4.5-million facility in Aliso Viejo
His hands were said to heal the defective heart of heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield. His silver hair and wild gestures inspired Steve Martin in his movie “Leap of Faith.”
Parents take their disabled children across state lines to see him. And critics decry him as a manipulator who makes millions off the desperate and desperately ill.
Benny Hinn is one of the fast-rising televangelists in the country. And he’s coming to Orange County.
The controversial Hinn, 44, is building a multimillion-dollar TV production studio and world ministry center in Aliso Viejo, calling on faithful followers to help defray the cost.
“It’s going to be a major presence, not only in Southern California but in the production of television programming,” said Harold Ezell, a board member of Benny Hinn Media Ministries, of the Aliso Viejo facility.
The World Media Center, described in a Hinn brochure as a 30,000-square-foot building purchased for $2.5 million, will become the new operations center for “This Is Your Day!,” the Hinn program broadcast daily on more than 90 stations and cable outlets across the country.
It will also serve as the hub for a global TV ministry, cranking out foreign-language translations of the show to be broadcast worldwide, Ezell said.
Hinn currently tapes the show at various facilities, including Tustin’s Trinity Broadcasting Network, which airs it, as well as studios in Oklahoma, North Carolina and Canada.
The Southern California location for the new studio facility was “something that was the pastor’s choice and involved the availability of technical people in that part of the country,” Hinn spokesman George Parson said.
Ministry officials are making an appeal to supporters to cover the $4.5-million cost of buying and renovating the building. For a $1,500 gift, donors will receive a gold-and-bronze colored leaf embossed with their names that will hang on a “Tree of Remembrance” in the building’s lobby. Others are urged to give more, even up to $10,000 each.
Hinn, who has been described as the fastest-rising televangelist in the country, has come a long way since his youth. A shy boy with a stutter, Hinn was raised as a Greek Orthodox Christian in Israel. At age 14, he moved to Toronto with his family and said he was born again, losing his stutter at a church gathering when he rose to speak of his conversion.
His crusades, which feature believers “slain in the spirit” reeling into the waiting arms of “catchers,” was influenced by the late faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman, whom he has said he first saw at a Pittsburgh church revival in the 1970s.
Now based in Orlando, Fla., Hinn pastors to 12,000 people a week at his World Outreach Center and takes his miracle crusades around the world, promising cures for every ailment from varicose veins to cancer. Hinn says that God has channeled the power of healing through him.
Hinn, who admits to some theatrics during his crusades, blows on his followers, knocks them gently under the chin, rubs his suit jacket over his body–which he says is electric with the power of the Holy Spirit–and flicks it at the audience like a whip. They reel.
At the end of many of his half-hour programs, Hinn reaches out to the camera and implores viewers to come toward the screen.
“I see cancer. Lord, dissolve that cancer,” Hinn proclaimed on a recent show, signing off with a generic get-well session. “I see a leg losing feeling. Lord, restore feeling to that leg!”
For now, the Aliso Viejo center–visible from the San Joaquin Hills toll road–is surrounded by a chain-link fence, the white building wrapped in a banner proclaiming Hinn’s impending arrival.
An application for a permit to renovate the building’s interior is pending, county records show. Once complete, the building will hold a permanent studio for “This Is Your Day!,” Parson said.
While some have wondered whether it heralds a permanent move for Hinn, Parson said it doesn’t. “He is still the senior pastor of the World Outreach Center in Orlando,” Parson said. “This is where his family is. His kids are in school here. He’s indicated pretty strongly to the congregation here that he won’t be moving.”
Ezell, a former INS regional commissioner and architect of the anti-illegal immigration measure, Proposition 187, said he could not discuss board matters.
Hinn is scheduled to hold a crusade at the Anaheim Convention Center on Nov. 2. He already spends a good deal of time on the West Coast and will undoubtedly spend more time here once the production studios are completed, Ezell said.
“He’ll be maintaining a both-coasts operation,” Ezell said. “I don’t know how the guy’s gonna do it.”
Ezell met Hinn several years ago through a friend, and said Hinn invited him to join the board last spring when he was restructuring his ministry.
“My dad was a minister and I’ve been around the ministry all my life,” Ezell said. “I would say that Benny Hinn probably is one of the most dynamic guys. He’s extremely bright, and a real communicator.
“I think his is one of the ministries that has the potential to really be a worldwide influence in the Christian community.”
Ezell said he could not speak on behalf of the ministry, but as a board member and friend who has seen Hinn in action. He witnessed Hinn’s recent crusade in Taiwan, and introduced him to the country’s foreign minister.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “In any language, people seem to understand what’s happening.”
But evangelical watchdogs say Hinn has gone too far.
“We’ve had numerous complaints about Mr. Hinn that have had to do with people stopping taking their medicine based on promises that they were healed by him,” said Ole Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation, the evangelical watchdog group in Dallas that investigates complaints collected on a toll-free phone line about televangelists.
“He’s appealing to the massive greed and need of the audience,” Anthony said. “And without any real results, people follow him all over the country to just be touched by him.”
Anthony said his group has tried unsuccessfully to get Hinn to verify testimonials before airing them, and wait at least six months to make sure improvements in believers’ health are not the result of remission or psychological influence.
“I think Benny believes in what he’s doing. I like Benny. But he’s fallen in love with himself and he’s forgotten the cross,” Anthony said. “We feel that it’s deceptive what he’s doing, in giving false hope to these people, millions of people.”
Faith healers have been making such promises “throughout history, and it’s not going to happen,” said Hank Hanegraaff, who heads the Irvine-based Christian Research Institute.
“A lot of people think I just have an ax to grind with Benny Hinn,” he said. “I have dinner with him, I spend time with him, I have nothing against him personally. The problem is when he communicates these things there are consequences. When people buy into his theology, his principles and his practice, there are casualties.”
At crusades all over the world, people claim to have been miraculously cured by Hinn’s presence. Parson has said that Hinn always tells those who claim they no longer need their medication to see a doctor and get a thorough physical examination.
Hinn himself recently told a television interviewer that “if Benny Hinn can give people only one thing, I am satisfied. And that is hope.”
Science accepts such healing, to a certain extent, but many believe it falls short of miracles.
“We in medicine know that belief can heal,” said Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School.
“Belief can kill you by voodoo death if you are hexed. Belief can keep you alive in terms of people waiting for anniversaries. And the most powerful belief people have in America is belief in God.”
Benson said some ailments clearly require treatment by medication or medical procedures. But many others fall into the realm of health problems that can be treated by “self-care,” such as relaxation, nutrition, exercise, stress management and belief.
It is on ailments of this type that a so-called placebo effect can work wonders, said Benson, author of “Timeless Healing.”
“Because religious belief is the most powerful belief for many people,” he said, “you can see how it can be translated into healing.”
Profile: Benny Hinn
Title: Pastor and founder
Organization: Benny Hinn Media Ministries
Headquarters: World Outreach Center, Orlando, Fla.
Activities: Worldwide miracle crusades, televised broadcasts, books and videos
Education: High school dropout
Background: Born Benedictus Hinn, but goes by “Benny”; Palestinian-born to Greek and Armenian parents; raised in the Greek Orthodox church; attended Catholic schools; immigrated to Toronto in 1968 at age 14; claims to have been touched by the Holy Spirit after hearing faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman speak in the 1970s; is said to have been healed of his lifelong stuttering affliction while speaking at a church meeting in 1974; founded the World Outreach Center in 1983
Major influences: Kuhlman, who died in 1976, and Aimee Semple McPherson, a flamboyant healer popular in Los Angeles during the 1920s and ’30s
Television show: “This Is Your Day!,” broadcast daily worldwide
Web site address: http://bhmm.org
Source: Benny Hinn Media Ministries; CNN