Benny Hinn—the televangelist who talks with God and knocks people down by merely pointing at them—is being investigated for fraud and tax evasion, following a raid executed by a search warrant on April 26, 2017. I am not surprised. He is full of tricks.
As I learned by attending a service undercover in 2001 (suitably attired and limping with a cane), Hinn’s healing technique can be quite effective. Instead of the afflicted being invited on stage to be healed (with no guarantee they will be convinced), the evangelist begins with mood music and in time announces that miracles are taking place. For example, at the service I attended, he declared that someone was being “healed of witchcraft,” that others were having the “demon of suicide” driven out, and that still others were being cured of cancer.
Then, only individuals who self-select—that is, emotional and receptive people who come to believe they have been healed—are invited forward. As they gather near the stage, there is a secondary selection process: Hinn’s helpers look for those who tell the most interesting stories with the greatest enthusiasm, and those people are chosen to come onstage.
In each instance, after the person has given a little performance (such as jumping up and down) or a sobbing testimonial, and Hinn has offered a brief prayer, mini-sermon, or other response, one of his official catchers moves into place behind the person. Each already has an idea of what is expected after Hinn gestures (or perhaps gives a little push): The person is to “go under the Power” or be “slain in the Spirit.” Hence, a few may slump, others fall stiffly backward, or some even reel. Once down, people may lie as if entranced, writhe as if expelling a demon, or otherwise creatively engage in expected role-playing. In other words, they behave as if “hypnotized”—hypnosis being just compliant behavior in response to suggestions. (For much more, see the chapter on Hinn in my The Science of Miracles, 2013.)
It should be obvious that convincing people they are cured when they are not is not harmless. The deceived may forsake medical assistance that could bring them relief or even save their lives. On an HBO documentary, Hinn prayed for a child dying from a brain tumor. The boy’s parents pledged a monthly sum to the Benny Hinn Ministries, but he died anyway. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner stated: “I hope there is a special place in Hell for people who try and enrich themselves on the suffering of others. To tantalize the blind, the lame, the dying, the afflicted, the terminally ill, to dangle hope before parents of a severely afflicted child, is an indescribably cruel thing to do, and to do it in the name of God, to do it in the name of religion, I think, is unforgiveable.”
But is Hinn now in trouble? He has undergone other investigations—one congressional, another from the IRS—without much consequence. But this one looked serious. News sources described federal agents conducing a raid and carrying boxes from Hinn’s Texas offices. IRS Special Agent Michael Mosley was quoted as stating, “We are primarily investigating Title 26, which is tax evasion and general fraud against the government.” Benny Hinn Ministries responded that they were cooperating and expecting a positive outcome. They did not say whether Hinn had heard from God.