The Rev. Benny Hinn led a Christian “miracle healing service,” as it was called on his ministry Web site, at Cornerstone Church, 1520 Reynolds Rd. in Maumee, Sunday night, his first visit to Toledo. The service featured times for religious conversion, promises of prosperity for giving more money to support religion than a person could easily afford, a sermon that explained the concept of the holy spirit as “Jesus unlimited,” and then the healing portion.
The sanctuary, which seats around 3,000 people, was filled to capacity for the Pentecostalist Pastor Hinn's appearance, which Bishop Michael Pitts, one of Cornerstone's founding pastors alongside his wife Kathi Pitts, called “the last stop on his European tour” as Pastor Hinn was on his way back to California after preaching in Europe.
An evangelist with his ownTV show, This Is Your Day, and many large crusades held around the world, one of the things Pastor Hinn, who was born in Israel and has a distinctive appearance with his white hair and Nehru-style jackets, is known for is his “anointing touch,” when he puts his palm to a person or lays on hands, to use a religious term, gives a gentle push, and says that the holy spirit touches and heals people.
“It's a heavenly, tangible substance,” Pastor Hinn said after the service. The people touched or only waved at frequently fall backward, into the arms of ushers or into their chairs. “When the anointing came I did feel a power,” Pastor Hinn said. “As I grew in the lord, it got heavier, and I think with bigger crowds, bigger responsibility, God anoints you more. Honestly, there have been times when I wondered if my body could even handle it. It's like a live wire, like live electricity, but the anointing is not what's important; it's the presence of the lord that's important.” In this charged atmosphere, Pastor Hinn urges those in attendance to feel healing.
Before starting to give the anointing touch, the last segment of the more than three-hour service, he told the congregation, “As I pray, the lord is going to heal you.” During the prayer, he said, “I take my place in office and I rebuke every sickness to go. I command every disease in this house to be gone in the name of Jesus.” He asked those assembled to “pray in the name of the holy ghost” which is a Pentecostal way of letting spirit lead (early in the service he had some words to say about falsely “speaking in tongues” with made-up sounds or language).
Then he declared that someone's legs were healed. He singled out cures of skin, asthma, and the lower back. And those suffering from arthritis received special attention, with Pastor Hinn asking them to “step to the nearest aisle” and “begin to release your faith right now” while also moving the arthritic parts. A few minutes later, about half of the worshipers who were brought to the stage whom Pastor Hinn asked about healing said they were free from arthritis.
The first person who walked onstage, a heavy young woman claiming healing, said that she had shin splints for two years that prevented her from dancing and, having followed Pastor Hinn's instructions to touch the part of the body needing healing, she said, she felt cured.
At one point Pastor Hinn pointed to an usher who was in place to support people who might fall from Pastor Hinn's touch and asked if he had had a chest condition, then said, “God is healing that heart.” Near the end of the service he said, “And you better go back to your doctor and have him check because there's nothing wrong with that heart of yours.”
Though the event was free, two offerings were collected, the first for Cornerstone and the second for Benny Hinn Ministries. Pastor Hinn, a proponent of the prosperity gospel, told his own story of following what he said was God's command to give sacrificially when he had huge debts, including a $787,000 legal bill for his divorce in 2010 (he and his ex-wife were remarried earlier this year), and by obeying, he said God promised restoration and abundance. His story was one of being in financial trouble. Seven days later those bills were covered, he said, by a Texas couple who said God told them to pay all of Pastor Hinn's debts, “past, present, and future,” and to give him money monthly for the rest of Pastor Hinn's life. It sounded like Pastor Hinn had been at a time of true rock bottom, with no resources.
But speaking after the service, he said that he had earlier decided not to rely solely on ministry for his income, in part because of Sen. Charles Grassley's investigation of prominent preachers that started in 2007; Pastor Hinn cooperated with the investigation. Pastor Hinn started two companies, “buying the rights to Christian books of people who have gone to heaven, and then we began developing music and books, and then some health products, and I'm making more money now than I've made in the ministry. I still believe they that preach the gospel live by the gospel,” so there is ministry income that goes to his family, he said. “To be honest, during my divorce our income went down and I thought, dear God, I'm glad I'm not dependent totally on this or I'd be in trouble.”
Besides being one of the subjects of a Senate investigation, Pastor Hinn has had some scandal in his past, and Bishop Pitts has faced legal problems, too. Bishop Pitts had two criminal trespassing convictions in 1998, and pled no contest after alcohol-related driving arrests in 2000 and 2006. Pastor Hinn's divorce made some headlines, and accusations of financial misbehavior have also followed him.
On Sunday Pastor Hinn told the congregation to say about their own prosperity, “It's my time. It's my time.” Then he said that, God being with them, “every loss you had will stop and everything the devil took will come back double … double for my trouble.” He told the congregants to write an affirmation of “no more losses for me” on the offering envelope, and “to give an amount that will cause your faith to rise.” He said,
“If it doesn't hurt, it doesn't work, because God is not looking for the amount of money, he's looking for the amount of faith that money releases. It's not the money; I don't need faith for $50 but I need faith for $1,000 because you spend $50 or $100 on food, candies, and chocolate, but when God says give $1,000, everything in you has to believe. So it's all about faith.”
Prosperity in religion “creates hostility” for those who don't understand it, Pastor Hinn said after the service. “At one time I, too, did not believe it.” He said that being taught by Franciscans in Catholic schools, he was “taught poverty,” but that isn't what he saw in the Bible. “The God we serve made it very clear in scripture that God has given his children all things to enjoy.” For his ministry organization, Pastor Hinn said, “God has given us people who support us. In my case, I have three ladies that are millionaires. They by themselves could support my ministry, but I don't ask them to because I believe it's God's people's responsibility.”
Pastor Hinn said, “I will tell you that I've experienced prosperity, one, because I am a giver. I give all the time, all the time, all the time--for large sums, in fact. And two, I've become very smart in how it's handled. I don't think God's going to prosper somebody who's not smart. If you waste your money, you're not that smart.”
Near the beginning of the service, Pastor Hinn led many in the congregation through what is sometimes termed an altar call, leading a prayer and then declaring those who spoke it to be saved, and then he instructed them to read the Bible, have a prayer life, and attend Cornerstone, “you can't miss coming here, this is awesome,” or a church like it “whenever the doors are open.”
With the service concluded, both Pastor Hinn and Bishop Pitts are looking forward to other major dates. Pastor Hinn plans to preach in mainland China for the first time and also to go to Pakistan “where I'm a little afraid to go, but I'm going,” he said. “I had been invited years ago but because of the dangers with Muslims, they felt at the time it wasn't safe for me. Now, though, I'm going to go and preach mostly to pastors.”
Bishop Pitts, who recently returned from Zimbabwe, is preparing for the Oct. 7-10 annual Heaven on Earth conference at Cornerstone. “This year's theme is simply 'Let's go,'” he said. Guest ministers and music by Grammy winner Israel Houghton are on the marquee. Then Pastor Kathi Pitts's women's conference will be March 26-28, 2014. Cornerstone's regular services are Sundays at 10 a.m. and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.