March 2007 Church & State | People & Events

Flamboyant TV preacher Benny Hinn made a foray into Washington, D.C., in late January, offering to meet with U.S. senators.

Hinn, who has been criticized for his extravagant lifestyle and controversial claims of faith healing, was squired around the nation’s capital by Robert K. Gray, a former official in the Eisenhower administration who now runs a real estate and public relations operation in Florida.

“Pastor Benny Hinn is one of our most famous international citizens,” read a Gray message to Senate offices. “In addition to dozens of crusades in stateside cities in 2006, Pastor Benny personally preached to over a million citizens in major countries like Italy, Japan, England, Greece, Korea, Denmark and Australia. He also preached to several hundred thousand in areas as remote as Fiji, Trinidad and Indonesia.”

Hinn offered to conduct a “five-minute prayer session” with senators. A staffer in Gray’s office told Church & State in February that Hinn met with “several” senators, but she declined to name them.

Hinn’s ministry has repeatedly been the target of journalistic exposés focusing on his high-flying lifestyle, shady finances and grandiose faith-healing crusades. About two years ago, NBC’s “Dateline” ran an exposé on Hinn’s operation, noting that Hinn lives in a ministry-owned seven-bathroom, eight-bedroom mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean valued at $10 million. He claims this house is a “parsonage.”

The story also noted that when traveling, Hinn stays in five-star hotels and once bedded down in a suite in a London hotel that cost more than $10,000 per night.

His ministry owns a private jet, and Hinn gets around town in a Mercedes SUV and a Mercedes convertible, each costing about $80,000. He wears $800 Versace suits and routinely finds time when traveling to crusades for multi-day layovers in places like the south of France, Italy, Cancun and so on.

Most people, however, know Hinn through his claims of faith healing. At Hinn services, he claims to be able to cure various afflictions, and he frequently causes people to fall over in a faint merely by waving his hand, a practice referred to as being “slain in the spirit.”

Over the years, NBC and other news outlets have interviewed several people whom Hinn claims to have healed of diabetes, cancer and blindness. Follow-up visits showed that many were not truly healed. Some had even died.

A 2003 investigation by the Los Angeles Times told the story of William Vandenkolk of Las Vegas, then 11 years old and legally blind, who attended a Hinn healing crusade in 2001. Vandenkolk was brought up on stage and “healed” by Hinn, but there’s just one problem: He’s still blind.

“It’s pretty sad when you mess with a little boy’s mind,” Randy Melthratter, the boy’s uncle and guardian, told the Times.

Financial information about Hinn’s ministry is hard to come by, because it is not listed with voluntary oversight bodies. The Times reported that the organization brought in $160 million over a two-year period. Hinn has repeatedly refused to disclose his salary.