There’s a lot of nasty shit that you can say about televangelists, but you can’t say they’re not all about their business. I filled out a form to attend and cover one of Benny Hinn’s New England crusades nearly a decade ago, and the sonofabitch still robo-dials me when he comes back to town. We’ve been wanting to post relevant archives here at DigBoston, and when the call came to my cell phone from an 800 number last night saying Hinn is coming to the Chevalier Theatre in Medford this Saturday, November 22, we went digging. Here is our feature, in full, from the August 2, 2006 issue of Boston’s Weekly Dig (as we were known back then) …
Do you have drug and alcohol problems? Herpes? Conjunctivitis? Credit card debt? Instead of wasting last week drinking and sinking deeper into your shallow world of pain and sin, you could have found peace at TD Banknorth Garden, where, for two nights only, silver-coiffed televangelist Benny Hinn slung hope to cancer patients, wheelchair-bound children, junkies, and a gaggle of other assorted dreamers, during what might have been his ballsiest mission yet: Crusade New England.
If you smoke weed and have cable, then you probably know Benny Hinn. His daily TBN show, This Is Your Day, is highly tube-worthy; it’s entertaining in a “C’mon, who really watches this?” kind of way, a reminder that there’s life beyond Boston, in a “Bush is president” kind of way. Unlike you and me (or at least me), Hinn cures the sick, has phenomenal hair, raises millions in exchange for faith healing, and floors people by touching foreheads—all of which makes for some sweet drama in a day and age when television is overrun with reality shows.
In Boston, word of last weekend’s crusade spread fast. By the 7pm start time on opening night, the joint was packed to the roof. Eager to catch them some Holy Ghost, busloads of Haitians and Latinos filled the aisles, their children holding Bibles like kids hold mitts at ballgames. Any skepticism I had about Hinn’s drawing power was crushed; he was backed by what I estimate was a 1,300-person choir, much of which was drawn from local parishes in Dorchester and Mattapan. When Hinn was called onstage, he was welcomed by roughly 36,000 open arms.
In order to fully appreciate the spectacle, I had to embrace Pentecostalism—the widely popular yet obscure branch of Christianity that Hinn’s Texas-based World Outreach Church dangles on. Pentecostals are the hapless gamblers of modern religion; unlike Christians who tirelessly serve god on earth to reach heaven, P’s believe that salvation is possible through a single spiritual encounter. Hinn, being one of the few Americans who can channel god, helps them find that peace, which spares them from the Rapture—a fiery, sodomy-infested holocaust looming for non-believers. It’s a typical mooch-on-mooch relationship: Hinn wants their money, and they want him to save their asses.
I should mention here how humbling it was to be around so many people who think I’m scheduled to burn; people who, while laughable in their devotion to Hinn, were able to sniff me out with ease. Figuring I’d pray along anyway, I made a wish of my own: to tongue Cool Whip off the hot woman down on her knees next to me. But as I stood there thinking about how she would look without clothes on, I’m pretty sure she was thinking about how I’d look with mine on fire.
Within seconds of his entrance, I noticed Hinn’s overwhelming lack of charisma. His intro was the stuff of motivational-poster rhetoric, at times plummeting to nonsense like: “Miracles will happen,” “Nothing is too difficult” and “Mighty things are on the way.” He’s a mediocre speaker, and his scant scriptural knowledge remains under perpetual fire from clergy members and theologians alike. His true talent—and what becomes painfully obvious in a stadium filled with working-class minorities and immigrants lining up for wholesale miracles—is Hinn’s ruthless ability to manipulate those who shalt have no other gods before Benny.
I asked Elaine and Bertha—two senior-citizen televangelist groupies from Londonderry, NH, about Hinn’s knack for roping in believers. “Benny’s a great soul-winner. I love everything—the healings, the blessings, the praises and the worship,” Elaine said. Bertha clarified things: “It’s the work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not Pastor Benny; it’s the atmosphere he creates. God has chosen this man to do this.” I asked them what proof they had that Hinn was truly tapped, and Elaine said that as a young adult, Benny was divinely healed of a chronic stutter so that he could preach. Never mind that her evidence came from Hinn’s autobiography, Good Morning, Holy Spirit, or that the Personal Freedom Outreach counter-cult ministry reports talking to several people from Hinn’s youth who don’t recall him stuttering.
After 26 years of selling religion, Hinn doesn’t fear naysayers. His followers don’t flinch at documented character assassinations that are readily available online, such as aerial photos of his $10 million home in Dana Point, CA, or the fact that the World Outreach Church hides behind an IRS code that enables Hinn to conceal his finances (how the money is raised, how it’s spent, etc.). Last year, Dateline aired a damning report about how Hinn refused to provide medical documentation on any of the people he has allegedly healed. Still, Hinn’s sheep shell it out, ignoring the Better Business Bureau’s warning that his organization’s “lack of cooperation may demonstrate a lack of commitment to transparency and accountability.”
But I didn’t waste four hours at this thing just to try wallet-blocking Benny. By the time you read this, he’ll already be counting his Boston purse and jetting to his next crusade. (In addition to whatever donations he jerked out of the roughly 40,000 people who came to the Garden on Friday and Saturday, Hinn also offered a $20 ministry crash course on Saturday for 1,200 registrants).
I clearly can’t sway believers who are too blind to notice Hinn’s propensity to cure people with invisible ailments, or who believe that his megalomaniacal panhandling is for “upcoming international crusades [that] are increasingly expensive because of extensive travel and setup costs.” My purpose was to rake up some outlandish claims that Hinn dropped on thousands of naive onlookers, and to spoon them out to readers for good laughs.
Hinn’s fans are mostly ignorant and/or non-English-speaking, which enables him to effortlessly push subjective politics on them.
Hinn testified that Christianity is the Middle East’s only hope, and that “For the first time in 2,000 years, the Jews are hearing the Gospel.” His proof was that he recently met with the Jerusalem Post “CEO” in California about the newspaper publishing a cover story on his World Outreach Church. (Reached by email, Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief David Horovitz assured me that, “The Jerusalem Post does have a monthly Christian edition … but [Horovitz knows] nothing about this feature.”)
With fans eager to mindlessly slurp up his teachings, Hinn has carte blanche to baloney. He begins most sentences with “What you don’t understand,” which effectively mutes any skepticism that his followers might be able to muster. Among the shadiest assertions that Hinn floated to unanimous applause in Boston: He was “the only Pentecostal minister at Pope John Paul II’s funeral service” (tough to disprove); “More than one million Arabs converted to Christianity in Egypt alone last year” (also pretty hard to disprove); “Kurdish people believe in Satan” (maybe); “Jesus is appearing to millions of Muslims in dreams” (unlikely); and “The Northeast is alive with the Holy Ghost” (guessing no).
On the smorgasbord that Hinn cooked for his crowd, however, the tastiest treat was: “Before the Rapture, we are going to experience a wealth transfer.” This particular promise—that God allows the wicked to make money, but will ultimately redistribute that loot so the righteous can preach their Gospel—excited people even more than Hinn’s trademark large-scale baptism and faith healings.
Peering around the Garden at that moment, watching World Outreach operatives line up at the gates holding buckets of donation envelopes while people clapped, hugged, sang, kissed and celebrated the prospect of divine windfall, I realized that there was one single truth to be found in Hinn’s Crusade New England:
If there really is a hell, and its most sweltering room is the kitchen, then this unconscionable fraud is going straight into the frialator.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.