Clerics Warn Of TV Evangelist
Local religious leaders are warning the public to be "extremely sceptical" of healing claims made by one of America's most controversial television evangelists, who brings his flamboyant ministry to Hong Kong tonight.
By yesterday morning the five thousand free admission tickets had been snapped up for the four-hour Benny Hinn Hong Kong Crusade at the Hong Kong International Trade and Exhibition Centre in Kowloon Bay.
Though hardly a household name in Asia, Pastor Hinn's lavish lifestyle and extravagant claims for his healing ministry have attracted much attention in the US.
His daily television show This is Your Day is broadcast on the Internet and syndicated on 190 cable and satellite TV stations worldwide. While his preaching may be popular, it is the spectacle of his "healing" powers that brings in the crowds.
On television, empty wheelchairs are shown with their former occupants proclaiming themselves spontaneously cured of conditions such as lupus and heart disease. Those who have been "healed" are shown taking faltering steps across the stage before collapsing into Pastor Hinn's arms in what resembles a hypnotic trance.
"The healing may happen instantly and may happen gradually, but surely as God is God, your legs will work again, and your body will be healed again" is a typical statement of Pastor Hinn.
Pastor Hinn first appeared in Hong Kong in May 2001 as the guest of Reverend Titus Poon Man-shun, of the Assemblies of God Wa Wai Church, which has branches in Kowloon and the New Territories.
But not everyone supports Pastor Hinn's preachings.
"I would say he is the worst kind of charlatan, the kind of person who gives religion a bad name. He preys on people at the worst times in their lives," said John Le Mond, a professor of theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Sha Tin.
"He uses the funds for his own personal use and travels by private plane. I consider him a person without any personal moral integrity.
"I think it very sad that some group in Hong Kong has chosen to bring the very worst of American Christianity to Hong Kong."
But Reverend Poon defended Pastor Hinn. "I don't think everybody in the Christian circle will have the same perspective. But in the Bible, Jesus preached to the sick and the demon-possessed. The early churches did this kind of thing, and it's recorded in the Bible where healing is very common," said Reverend Poon. "The message tonight is that Jesus Christ is our saviour, the healing will be secondary to that."
Although the Roman Catholic St Joseph's Cathedral refused to comment on Pastor Hinn, the Dean of St John's Cathedral, Christopher Phillips, urged people to "be very wary, careful and to use common sense".
Father Phillips said: "Television evangelists go for these big rallies. They steam into town then out again, leaving mainstream people to pick up the pieces, especially with 'healing ministries'.
"I'd like to know what happens a week later when the razzamatazz has gone. We end up picking up the pieces."
According to a recent report, the Hinn ministry's total annual income has increased dramatically from US$50 million (HK$390 million) in 1997 to the latest estimates - which the ministry says are inaccurate - of more than US$100 million a year. And because the ministry is registered as a church, the money is tax-free. There is no legal obligation to make its books public.
The pastor has a private jet. His entourage - which includes staff musicians - will be staying at the Peninsula hotel while in Hong Kong.