Pastor Benny Hinn is being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee and was recently denied entry into the United Kingdom. The press has been bad, he says, because the media doesn't understand him.
But the Texas-based faith healer, whose "Holy Spirit Miracle Crusades" pack sports arenas across the United States, is fielding questions about his controversies nonetheless. He says he needs to voice his concerns over the land of his birth, Israel, and the threat to it posed by a nuclear Iran — which he talks about in his new book “Blood in the Sand.”
“[The media] are never going to paint me as I want to be painted," Hinn said in an exclusive interview. "But, really, it doesn’t matter as long as people give me the chance to talk.”
And talking he is … about the finance probe, his lavish lifestyle and accusations that his faith healings are fake because he offers no documentation or verification that he has, in fact, helped the blind see and the crippled walk.
“They question me on why I don’t verify,” Hinn says. "I answer, ‘God never called me to verify. I’m not a doctor.'”
He says that after a tabloid news show aired an exposé on his worldwide Benny Hinn Ministries, he tried to make changes. The exposé reported that though thousands of people attending Hinn's religious gatherings said they were healed, the ministry couldn't prove they suffered from any infirmities in the first place, or that they actually had been miraculously healed.
So, Hinn says, his ministry created a department to handle verifications and follow up on the "miracles."
“It was chaotic. It was a mess,” he says. "The staff would call and people would be mad and say, 'Why are you questioning that I was lying up there?’”
“Then we would call the doctors. They wouldn’t talk to us most of the time … so it didn’t work.”
Last week Hinn was denied entry into the U.K. for a three-day rally at which, according to his Web site, thousands of evangelical Christians planned to hear him. New immigration rules that crack down on religious extremism required him to present a special certificate of sponsorship, which he didn't have.
Hinn claims several Christian ministers before him also were denied entry, but his expulsion made headlines because he's a well-known, charismatic pastor who preaches a prosperity gospel. Give generously to God, he preaches, and God will give even more generously in return.
Hinn has reaped great benefits from that philosophy.
Benny Hinn Ministries doesn’t publish its finances, but one report estimated it takes in $100 million a year. Hinn says only that the ministry pays him more than half a million dollars a year — but that income doesn’t include money from the sales of his books and his other private business ventures.
He says he plans to cut his salary in half, and eventually to receive no pay.
That decision comes amid an ongoing probe of six evangelical ministers and their megachurches by the Senate Finance Committee, headed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Benny Hinn Ministries is one of the six.
The committee is investigating whether the ministries are using their tax-exempt status to further God's work — or to fund luxuries like mansions, expensive cars and private jets.
“We’ve answered every question … over 5,000 pages ... and of course it’s not over yet," Hinn says. "It’s still open. We’re still talking, still cooperating.”
Grassley’s office confirms this, saying Benny Hinn Ministries is one of only two that have cooperated completely with the Finance Committee's requests.
But questions still loom about Hinn's lavish lifestyle and his private plane, which he says his ministry owns.
The pastor defends both, saying that "in today’s world, there’s this idea that preachers are supposed to be poor, wearing sandals and riding bicycles, I guess … which is really nonsense.
“The Lord wants us to follow His righteous life, but yet we have to exist in the 21st century. You can’t be going about riding a bicycle and to travel the world … that is not smart."
Hinn says "the plane is a necessity, not a luxury" because of his extensive travel.
Another necessity, according to Hinn, is to get evangelicals to understand the biblical importance of Israel, where he was born. Hinn was born to Christian parents in Jaffa, Israel, in 1952. So, for him, it’s personal.
“I am forced to view the Middle East as if I am looking in a mirror that has been shattered,” he writes in his book. “There’s a great threat against Israel from Iran, a threat from radical Islam from within and without.”
He says he's concerned that President Obama doesn’t understand that the struggle for peace in the Middle East is a biblical struggle that politicians cannot solve by themselves.
Peace between Jews and Arabs can never be about a simple dividing of borders, according to Hinn. “Spiritually, it’s not about land, it’s about the promises of God. That’s the difference.”
“On one hand, you’ve got the Jewish people saying, ‘God gave us this land.' You've got on the other hand Arabs saying, ‘God gave us this land,’ what they believe the Koran says.
“So it’s a very deep spiritual problem … and only God can solve it.”
Lofty theologians may scoff at Hinn’s style, but on this issue everyone agrees: Peace in the Middle East would indeed be a miracle.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."