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By John Sweatman
In June 2006 I attended a Benny Hinn "Miracle Crusade" at the Sydney Superdome (now called the Acer Arena) along with at least 18,000 others.
Israeli born faith healer and television evangelist Benny Hinn conducts huge charismatic "Miracle Crusades" in city stadiums throughout the United States and the world. These popular crusades, along with his TV show This Is Your Day, have seen Benny Hinn Ministries grow into a multi-million dollar Pentecostal empire with Hinn enjoying a lavish lifestyle many CEOs would envy. The exact details of his wealth are hard to validate, since Hinn claims a "church" tax exemption, which exempts Hinn and his ministry from having to reveal financial records. We do know, however, that he lives with his wife in an $8.5 million oceanfront mansion in Dana Point, California, an indication of just how lucrative his faith healing ministry must be.
Hinn's Sydney crusade began with some Hillsong style Christian rock performed by the band of Christian City Church - Oxford Falls. The pastor of this church was Benny's host for the evening and remained on stage with him the whole time, helping out and speaking from time to time. A more traditional gospel-style choir and band followed the Christian rock stars. Benny Hinn broke loudly into song many times during the crusade, accompanied by the choir and the organist. He strutted about in his trademark seventies-style white button-up suit which reminded me of Dr Evil from the movie series Austin Powers.
In fact the first half of the crusade consisted of musical items interspersed with Benny's sermons, some of which I thought were getting a bit repetitive. He told of how his aunt - a lifelong atheist - refused to convert on her deathbed, and as a result was now in hell for all eternity. After a pregnant pause he lowered his voice and reiterated "she will never, ever, ever get out". He talked about atheists he'd met who don't believe in the existence of hell. "They will once they get there", he crowed, eliciting a roar of approval from the audience.
Benny now asked for all those who had decided to accept Jesus Christ as their savior to come down onto the floor in front of the stage to publicly announce their conversion. The hellfire pep talk was obviously effective because literally thousands made their way down from the towering stands and massed on the stadium floor. Even after twenty minutes, hundreds were still making their way down, the staircases now choked. Hinn seemed genuinely surprised and elated at the sheer numbers of new Christian converts his charismatic performance thus far had generated. They all repeated the sinner's prayer after him, were each promised to be sent a Bible and one of Hinn's books, and were then asked to resume their seats, having now been "Born Again".
I would, however, be very surprised if there were any true skeptics amongst these 'converts'. I suspect the vast majority would have already been supporters of Hinn's Pentecostal version of Christianity, even if their religious devotion had waned somewhat over the years.
Next it was time for the buckets to go around. I initially thought this was a strange order of events; surely it would make better business sense to have the "offering" at the end, once everyone had been suitably impressed with the miracles they had come to see. I was soon to be proven wrong.
Benny stressed the importance of giving, claiming that, according to the New Testament, whatever one gives, he will receive again seven times over. He related an anecdote from many years ago when he was deep in debt and responded to the call of God to donate a large sum of money to the ministry of Oral Roberts. A short time after he had done so, Hinn received a much bigger donation from another churchman, clearing all his debts. With this story serving as an example, he appealed to those in the audience who were in dire financial straits to dig especially deeply in expectation of great financial reward in return. "Prosperity is divinely bestowed upon all Christians who devote themselves generously to the Lord's work", he claimed.
The reason for the timing of the offering had now become clear to me. Benny Hinn encouraged everyone to write their personal miracle request to God on the back of their donation envelope, the clear inference being that the amount of the donation and the likelihood of their desired miracle taking place were directly proportional. There was also a plea from Benny of a more mundane nature: "for all those filling out the credit card donation slip, PLEASE don't forget to include your card expiry date and signature."
Finally, after a couple of hours of build-up, it was time for the Holy Spirit to do His work. The organ and choir grew louder with expectancy and Hinn began to sing again, stopping only to advise the audience that miraculous healings were now occurring to people throughout the building. The atmosphere in the audience was electric. Everyone was standing, waving their arms in the air, shouting out the name of Jesus Christ, some with tears streaming down their faces. Below me on the floor of the arena, a middle-aged man danced wildly in the aisles, leaping up and down, his arms and legs flying about.
Finally the music softened and Hinn asked all those who believed they had been healed to come down and gather on the floor just below the stage. Hundreds assembled, one of them pushing her own empty wheelchair and waving joyfully to the audience above. Benny relayed messages to the audience that he claimed he was receiving from God:
"Someone called Sam on the left side of the building has just been cured of diabetes."
"Someone on this side over here has a brain tumor. It is now GONE. Praise be to Jesus Christ!"
"A man in the rear stand has had his left ear just open. He used to be deaf in that ear"
"Two people with stomach ulcers have just been healed. The Holy Spirit is moving mightily here tonight!"
And on and on like that it went, punctuated by cheers and applause from an enthusiastic crowd.
Now it was time for the really exciting stuff! Hinn's offsiders had been busy selecting people from the crowd at the bottom of the stage to come on stage and show off their miraculous healings. A young boy came up with his mother and was interviewed by Hinn. He had had asthma all his life and was now cured! The boy then left the stage and ran up and down the floor to the delight of the ecstatic crowd. Back on stage, he proudly showed off the fact that the running did not trigger an asthma attack. A miracle! He was then touched on the forehead by Benny Hinn and fell backwards into the arms of one of Hinn's 'catchers'. For good measure, he did the same to his mother who obligingly fell backwards as well.
An elderly woman came up next with her husband. Her husband explained to Benny that for the past three years, his wife was unable to walk up or down stairs due to chronic and severe arthritis. Hinn asked her to demonstrate her miracle cure by walking up and down the stage stairs, to which she happily (and successfully) obliged. Another miracle! She also got the forehead touch and falling backwards treatment which seemed to be standard for the dozens of 'cured' people who came on stage in similar fashion.
Another married couple came up, with the woman having just been cured of lupus. Benny Hinn asked her what she felt at the exact time of the healing and she reported an "amazing feeling like electricity" through her body. As they were about to be ushered off the stage, the woman turned to Benny and asked if he wouldn't mind quickly looking at her husband's hand. He had no feeling in it at all, we were told, due to an industrial accident several years earlier. The nerve tissue into the hand had been irreparably severed, a fact that seemed to be confirmed when the camera zoomed in on his hand showing the scaring from the accident. Hinn took hold of the hand, commanded the healing in the name of Jesus, and went through the usual repertoire that ended in the man falling backwards. I waited in breathless anticipation for him to get back up and show the results. A lot of the 'healings' up till now could be described as subjective at best - but here was an opportunity to demonstrate unambiguous proof of supernatural power. When the man got up, Benny told him that when he and his wife were in their local Anglican Church tomorrow, they were to conduct healings on other sick parishioners, and his hand would then be immediately healed - tomorrow. I sighed.
My excitement was immediately renewed, however, when the next person walked onto the stage. It was a bloke with a wooden leg! Succeed with this one, Benny, and a Nobel Prize is yours! Hinn acknowledged the prosthetic limb, asking the man to lift up his trouser leg to show the audience. I was ready for anything now! Hinn then performed his usual "slaying in the spirit" repertoire after which he asked the man what he had experienced. He replied he had felt an amazing experience of warmth go through his body. The crowd cheered. "Another miracle! Praise the Lord!" bellowed Benny. This is when I nearly lost it and had to bite my lip to stop me shouting "any woolen jumper will make him warm - what he needs is a new leg!" After having had a minute or two to rationalise the situation, the man in question said he also believed that the neuropathy in his remaining leg had been cured.
Benny Hinn claims to heal using the same Holy Spirit power that Jesus and the Apostles used, according to the Bible. If this power could raise the dead, instantly stop a fierce storm on the Sea of Galilee, restore sight to the blind since birth, cure deformed arms, turn water into wine, and many other wonders recorded in the gospels, then restoring a missing leg should be child's play. Not for Pastor Benny it seems, despite all the donations.
The final 'healing' I'll recount here is the one I found the most disturbing. A young girl, no more than about 10 years old, came onto the stage with her mother. The girl explained to Benny Hinn that she had suffered from diabetes for pretty much all of her life and needed to inject herself with insulin seven times a day. She and her mother both thought she had been healed during the service. Benny immediately confirmed her hopes: "By the healing power of the Holy Spirit, from tonight onwards this girl's diabetes is completely GONE forever!" "Who do we praise?" yelled Hinn to the audience. "Jesus" the crowd roared back.
I can only hope some healthy skepticism crept into her mum's mind on the trip home, causing her to decide against chucking out her daughter's needles and insulin. Just as the mother and the girl were leaving the stage, Hinn told her "now take her to the doctor and he will further confirm this miracle by finding her free of diabetes". I thought at the time that this was just Hinn's way of showing everyone how confident he was that the girl was healed. But upon reflection, I now think this may have also been a sneaky way for Hinn to cover his backside should anything go wrong.
The show ended at about 11:15 pm, and everyone filed out of the arena. Numerous wheelchairs were rolling out with their owners still in them - not behind them as some might have hoped would be the case. Most of the faces I saw afterwards were happy ones; this was an easy-to-please audience it seemed.
A young bloke sitting near me got up and rang a mate on his mobile, not even a minute after the show had concluded. His mate apparently expressed an interest in how the Benny Hinn show went. "Ahh yeah it was great. The Holy Spirit was doing amazing things. How did the Swans go against Collingwood?" Benny Hinn's aim was to have the Holy Spirit bring about great changes to the lives of Australians. At least our priorities still seem to be intact.