"Pastor Benny, this man's spine was just healed! He could barely move his arms, and the doctors told him he would have to wear a neck brace forever - but just now, he felt a heat go into his back."
"Bring him here!" commanded the swarthy man with the anvil-shaped head.
All eyes were on me, including the swarthy man's, who was now approaching me, hands on his hips, head cocked. Suddenly his hands flew up to the sides of my head and clapped my temples smartly. WHAP! My eyes rolled back, my arms flailed. I ripped the neck brace off with a single motion and flung it to the heavens as I fell backwards. Pastor Benny was yelling, "Ooo Ooo - that's power, people." The auditorium cheered wildly.
Benny winked at the camera and said, "Pick him up." Two of Benny's "catchers" scooped my convulsing body to an upright position. "What are you feeling, man?" Benny was giving me his look of feigned incredulousness. One of the catchers shoved a mike in my face. All I could do was sputter unintelligibly. Finally I managed to gasp, "a h-heat."
"Well, here it comes again, brother." Benny pranced over and blew right in my face. This time the anointing was so powerful that Benny himself stumbled backwards a couple of steps. Meanwhile I'm back on the floor like so much anointed jello.
Or something like that. At least that's how I had it worked out in my mind, but as I came to find out, getting blown by Benny Hinn is not as easy as you might think.
The first time I tuned into one of Benny's crusades I was dumfounded. This mysterious, arrogant little man with olive skin and a big anvil-like hairdo could, with a puff of his breath, send people careening backwards, collapsing into quivering, ecstatic heaps. Ushers would haul these people off the stage and bring up new ones to be blown over in rapid succession by Pastor Benny. One time, Benny himself got so overcome that he started stumbling around, and when the ushers tried to catch him, he freaked out and blew them over and everybody fell down! I've seen Bob Tilton and others go down a line of people, slapping their foreheads and causing them to fall over, but this was madness. How could anyone take this guy seriously? But there they were, packing an arena fuller than a Motley Crue concert.
Needless to say I was beside myself with excitement when Benny announced that he would be bringing his show to the Dallas Convention Center.
Prior to the Dallas crusade I was able to dig up a little background info on Benny. Although many people think Benny is from India because of his clipped English and his hypnotic, Korla Pandit-like quality, he claims to have been born in Israel to Greek and Armenian parents. He moved to Canada at fourteen and became an avid follower of female faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman. By the early eighties Benny had moved to Orlando, married the daughter of a prominent pastor, and started his own church, the Orlando Christian Center. He preaches to a large congregation there, and once a month he takes his act on the road and stages huge crusades all over the country. Highlights from the church services and crusades, together with studio segments, are edited together for thirty minute programs which air several times a day on, among other stations, the Trinity Broadcasting Network (Jan and Paul's channel). At 39 he's considered a "rising star" of the religious television industry. My research turned up one other choice bit of Hinn trivia: in 1986 at an Oklahoma City crusade, an 85yr-old woman sustained fatal injuries when a man "slain in the spirit" fell over on top of her. The woman's family sued, claiming that the ushers delayed calling an ambulance so as not to disrupt the miracle service. The matter was settled out of court.
As the appointed days of the Dallas crusade drew near, a quest was born deep inside my Spirit Man: I wanted to get on that stage and have Benny blow me!
The Dallas sweep consisted of three services - Thursday night, Friday morning, and Friday night. I figured that the Friday night show would be the most crowded and that my best chance of getting on stage would be on Thursday. A neck brace had practically fallen into my lap earlier in the week, and I took that as a sign that my fantasy was going to become a reality. My plan was to get to the Convention Center a couple of hours early (wearing my neck brace), be noticed by an usher who would then screen me and see that I was a good candidate for a televised healing.
The folly of my little scheme became somewhat apparent when I arrived at the Convention Center and saw hundreds of people already crowded by the doors waiting to get in. Although it was cold and pouring rain, nobody was being let in. I tried some side doors and got the attention of a security guy, but he couldn't have cared less that I was cold, wet, and in severe neck pain. I even gestured at the brace. Nothing. So I joined the throng at the front doors. I didn't notice any other neck braces or crutches. Good. Less competition. The crowd was a complete mixed bag of race, age, and other demographic variables. I was prepared for someone to strike up a conversation or at least give me a look of sympathy or encouragement, but nobody even glanced my way.
The doors finally opened, and everyone swarmed in. The Dallas Convention Center is comprised of three levels, and I headed for the ground floor. There I was confronted with a door, a security guard, and a sign that said that the floor level was reserved for people in wheelchairs and one helper each. My neck brace did not qualify.
Back on the second level I was again thwarted. That level was reserved for people who had special postcards, probably people who sent Benny money on a regular basis. Well, there was no way I was going to be banished to the nosebleed section, so I bided my time until I was able to slip past security. The 10,000-person capacity arena was filling up, but I spotted a single unoccupied seat right up at the front of the middle level between a 40ish black woman and a pair of young, well groomed, Christ For The Nations types. There I had an unobstructed view of the ground floor, which was now a teaming mass of crippled, maimed, deformed, and disease-ridden humanity. I felt a twinge in my neck.
A hillbilly family had brought in their young son on a rolling cot hooked up to some kind of ventilator apparatus. Across the aisle in a wheelchair was a guy who must have been in the final stages of AIDS. The choir rehearsed and cameras were being set up.
It's hard to say when the service actually started. All of a sudden I noticed Benny was on stage, albeit somewhat obscured by the camera equipment. A meandering series of prayers, songs, announcements, & guest speakers was underway. We faithful seemed to be there merely as extras for the crowd shots. Unlike Bob Tilton's, Benny's TV shows consist of edited segments, so he doesn't have to worry about putting on a cohesive, dynamic show--just getting the shots he needs.
During one bit Benny acknowledged and thanked God for every local pentecostal mover and shaker in Dallas--all but one. Yep, Big Bob Tilton was conspicuously omitted from Benny's schmoozing, name-dropping, and prayers.
Next, Benny had a group of visiting pastors from South America come up on stage and knocked them over by slinging his jacket at them, a brief break in what was turning into a pretty monotonous evening. More songs, more prayers.
Benny finally seemed to turn his attention away from the cameras and to focus on the crowd. Yes, it was time to tithe. I gotta hand it to Benny. This was the slickest begging for money I've ever witnessed. He started off by apologizing for having to interrupt this beautiful service for even five minutes to take up an offering. He said he knew he didn't even have to tell us how much it cost to put on one of these crusades (he did go on to tell us, though), and he knew he could count on us to do the right thing. At least a $100, he mentioned offhandedly. The lady next to me wrote out a check for $300.
The final leg of the service began with upbeat singing which gradually degenerated into new-agey chant-singing of "hallelujah" over and over. After about 15 minutes of this a large portion of the audience had broken down and were softly sobbing. Against this backdrop Benny announced that the miracles were starting to happen. He recited a laundry list of miracles, and finally asked for those who had just received a miracle to come to the stage. Notice that Benny doesn't even have to perform the miracles one-on-one. People are asked to come up after they're already healed. Benny just takes the bows (and knocks people over for good measure).
I ripped off my brace and made a dash for the ground floor, but long lines were already snaking off either side of the stage. I watched as a guy in a full body apparatus took the stage and stripped off his braces. A fat lady who had been crippled with arthritis jogged up and down the stage. Benny milked these people for a long time while the rest of us had to wait. It was getting close to 11'o'clock, and my dreams of getting on stage were fading fast. I retreated to the back of the ground floor and just watched for a minute. The AIDS-ravaged guy I had noticed earlier was struggling to take a couple of steps.
I'd had about enough.
So in the end, no, I didn't get blown by Mr. Anvil-Head and I left with a bad taste in my mouth. Benny Hinn is no Bob Tilton. Bob pumps you up, kicks you in the butt. Benny, on the other hand, lulls you into a submissive, emotional stupor. He's a wimp. He's Liberace to Bob Tilton's Elvis.
Comparisons to Bob aside, I am glad I went, but I would recommend a Benny Hinn crusade only to the hardcore false followers among you. Benny's much better digested in his thirty minute programs of edited highlights.