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Miracle Crusade sparks protest

A West Virginia man has challenged the owners and promoters of Mellon Arena to bar an evangelist who claims to be a faith healer from performing here this evening.

Benny Hinn, a Pentecostal preacher who tours the country with his “Miracle Crusade,” is expected to draw a crowd of about 16,000 today, Good Friday.

Many think of Hinn as the real deal. His ministry has claimed to raise about $60 million a year in donations.

But Wheeling salesman Eric Saferstein says the “Crusade” is a hoax meant to rob desperate people of their hard-earned money. Saferstein and a small group plan to gather at the arena in protest.

Saferstein has researched Hinn, and found exposes he finds troubling.

Hinn once agreed to heal a blind child who was dying of a brain tumor, according to the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims for the Paranormal, based in Amherst, N.Y. The child’s parents, though not wealthy, pledged $100 a month to Hinn’s ministry, but the child died.

Others also have protested against the evangelist, who, it seems, wears a mantle of controversy along with his signature white suit and stiff combover.

But Saferstein’s protest is taking a new tack. The salesman is focusing his rage not on Hinn — who Saferstein feels he cannot change — but on Mellon Financial Corp. Because Mellon pays nearly $2 million a year for the arena’s naming rights, Saferstein says he hopes to shame the corporation into exercising its influence to bar the evangelist.

“I want to get (Mellon chief executive officer) Mark McGuinn to issue an apology that (Hinn) was ever there and would never return,” Saferstein said. “I hope the local news stations pick it up. That would induce other places in other cities with corporate naming rights to stop having him.

“The theory is to knock him off the arena circuit and into the carnival circuits where he belongs.”

Hinn’s office declined to make the faith healer available for comment, saying he is focused on prayer in the days prior to the crusade.

The ministry released a written statement in response to questions about Saferstein’s protest: “We don’t know anything about them — nor have they contacted us or the arena. That being said, it would be very difficult to make a comment.”

Saferstein’s objectives intrigued Marjorie Kelly, editor of Business Ethics magazine, known for its ranking of the top 100 ethical corporations.

“Simply as a protest tactic, tying the two seems an effective tactic,” Kelly said.

But the protester’s goals struck the arena’s owners and promoters as unworkable.

Asked about Saferstein’s strategy, Mellon spokesman Ron Gruendl tried to deflect attention to Spectacor Management Group, or SMG, the private company that manages bookings at the arena.

“We have the naming rights for the facility. We have nothing to do with what they (SMG) book and schedule,” Gruendl said.

The spokesman declined to get drawn into a discussion about whether owning naming rights carried with it any ethical responsibility. When asked whether Mellon had an obligation to screen objectionable groups from the venue that carries its name — as, for example, a hate group — Gruendl repeated the statement.

SMG’s general manager, Jay Roberts, said the management company’s policy was not to screen groups who wish to rent the facility.

“We’ll rent the building to anyone,” Hank Abate said.

Abate said renters were to follow all laws and ordinances and decency requirements, but past that, he said, it becomes too slippery a slope to determine whose content is allowable.

“We’re not going to start discriminating against specific groups, because when do you stop?”

The city-county group that owns the arena, the Sports & Exhibition Authority, also does not screen renters and leaves the matter up to SMG, said Executive Director Steve Leeper.

Kelly, the ethicist, questions that stance.

“I think if you have the naming rights, your company has to have some sort of responsibility,” Kelly said.

“If I were Mellon, I would suggest to the management company that they draw up a policy on who will and who will not be permitted,” Kelly said. “I think to pretend that we have no right to refuse anyone is naive.”

Kelly said such a policy could prevent groups that advocate violence or discrimination, and bar groups that engage in fraud or who show evidence of potential fraud.

Hinn has written that he became born again at the age of 19. Two years later, in 1973, he traveled to Pittsburgh to attend a “miracle service” by a Pentecostal faith-healing evangelist.

Pittsburgh became Hinn’s road to Damascus. At the service, he wrote, he had a profound religious experience, and that night he was pulled from bed and “began to shake and vibrate all over” with the Holy Spirit.

Hinn’s ministry, in Grapevine, Texas, has drawn criticism and has been the center of news exposes.

He once encouraged his faithful to donate $30 million to allow him to build a “World Healing Center,” but the project was later put on hold, according, it said, to God’s will. The ministry kept the money, however.

Now Hinn has a “parsonage” worth $3 million. The home — in an exclusive gated community near Los Angeles — overlooks the Pacific Ocean.


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