Televangelist Benny Hinn is accusing NBC of deception after the network's airing of an investigative report on the finances and spending practices of his ministry. The recent Dateline report featured former and current employees of Benny Hinn Ministries, who provided NBC with receipts and other documents detailing how ministry funds are spent.
Dateline's report focused on the witnesses' accounts of Hinn's allegedly lavish lifestyle, as exemplified in such practices as staying in hotel rooms that cost several thousand dollars a night during layovers between ministry events, or frequently shopping at a posh Beverly Hill's store where his name happens to be on the window.
The Dateline broadcast also featured Nathan Daniel, a former employee with Hinn's organization, who claims to have been fired after he raised questions about the number of orphans actually sponsored by the ministry. Daniel said he was deeply troubled at the idea of malfeasance on the part of Hinn or his ministry and remarked, "To me, this was a fraud and deception being put across the people that are his donors."
Michael Horton is a professor of theology at Westminster Seminary in California. He has edited a book called The Agony of Deceit -- What Some TV Preachers Are Really Teaching (Moody, 1990), in which writers from diverse theological backgrounds take a critical look at a number of popular televangelists and their theologies in light of what the Bible says.
Horton feels many of those who faithfully watch TV ministers fail to exercise careful thought or spiritual discernment about what they see and hear. "A lot of people, I think, who watch Benny Hinn or watch the TV evangelists more generally, think that what they're saying is authoritative -- after all they're on TV and they've written books," the editor of The Agony of Deceit says. "And we've lost the capacity to think critically and to weigh people in the light of what the scriptures teach."
Rebuttal: Was Hinn Expose an Unholy Hatchet Job?
While Hinn's organization has not returned phone calls seeking a response to the allegations in the Dateline story, the televangelist has posted a nine-page response on his website. In it, he vows that ministry funds are never misused, and that the sums of cash his ministry team carries while traveling are for food, transportation, gratuities, and unexpected expenses incurred in the normal course of international ministry.
Also, Hinn took the opportunity to explain that the luxurious hotel rooms and suites he occasionally occupies while traveling are often provided as a courtesy at no cost or at deeply discounted prices by the operators of the establishments. On the website he points out that, as a global ministry with crusades in nearly every country on earth, his organization rents a lot of hotel rooms for staff, volunteers, and ministry workers and, he adds, "The average nightly cost of all the hotel rooms rented by this ministry around the world in 2004 was $129."
The founder of Benny Hinn Ministries claims Dateline was using "distortions and incomplete truths to support its preconceived ideas." He says the NBC show deliberately tried to create through its reporting a false impression that the TV minister travels to certain overseas cities for personal pleasure rather than for ministry purposes -- something he insists could not be further from the truth.
"So please," Hinn pleads to his supporters through the website, "do not be deceived by the secular media's largely inflated reports ... and do not believe the notion that I would ever be careless with the precious seed you have sown into this ministry." He asserts that unreliable witnesses and disgruntled former employees have sought to hurt the ministry. However, he observes that enemies of the gospel are among the "unfortunate realities of ministry life."
Although Dateline raised issues about Hinn's personal income, the employment of his family members (three of them) in the ministry, and alleged questionable financial practices, the televangelist contends that Benny Hinn Ministries has an "above and beyond" standard when it comes to good record keeping, sound and principled business practices, and independent auditing of its books.
However, a Christian group that monitors and reports on the financial activities of ministries worldwide offers a different take. Wall Watchers says on numerous occasions, Benny Hinn Ministries has refused to divulge any sort of financial data that might provide accountability to its donors.
"[Benny Hinn Ministries] has demonstrated substandard openness and transparency through a lack of responsiveness, an absence of sending information and a lack of information available in public arenas, such as their website," says the group at its website. "After over a year of requesting information, [the ministry] finally answered a request by having their attorneys write a response letter denying the request."
In its "Transparency" ratings, Wall Watchers gives Benny Hinn Ministries a grade of "F."