BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
When it comes to being restored, re-ordained and returned to the pulpit after confessing to a four-year extramarital affair with a member of his congregation, Sam Hinn, the younger brother of well-known televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn, may have set a new speed record for fallen evangelical leaders.
Older brother Benny is a big-time brand, squirrelling the spotlight for a good chunk of his professional life, and his ministry reels in extraordinary amounts of money. He's traveled the globe, bought mansions, and has lived the good life. He's also experienced a fair amount of controversy along the way; his prophesies have been way off the mark, including one made in 1989 that Fidel Castro wouldn't outlast the 1990s; he was one of a group of televangelists whose financial shenanigans inspired an investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa); and, two years ago, he was accused of being involved in a messy extramarital affair with Paula White -- another well-known televangelist -- an accusation that threatened his worldwide ministry. Hinn self-recovered and is back televangelizing.
Now, younger brother Sam, who compared to Benny is a minor figure in the world of evangelicals, is grabbing some kinky headlines of his own.
An affair made in heaven
"Chantel Wonder said [Sam] Hinn... initiated the affair with her mother by telling her they were 'soul mates' and that God approved of the relationship," the Orlando Sentinel reported in January. It should be noted that one of Sam Hinn's claims to fame is that he has a personal relationship with God, ergo Sam's assurances to her that God had pre-approved the affair.
"He put her in a position that this is OK because it's what God wants. He was using God to justify it." Her mother is a hairstylist who eventually styled hair for Hinn's wife and children.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, "Wonder said her father became aware of the affair in December 2008 after he found text and voice messages from Hinn on his wife's phone. At the time, his wife denied the affair. The couple, who were married June 20, 1980, divorced on Feb. 14, 2012.
"Wonder said Hinn, who is married and has four children, continued the affair after her parents divorced. She said church officials confronted Hinn with evidence of the affair in December 2012, but he refused to admit he was involved with the woman.
"On Jan. 14, Hinn denied the allegations of an affair to his wife, but promised not to talk to the woman again, Wonder said. Later the same day, she said, Hinn's car was photographed parked outside her mother's apartment."
Finally, Hinn issued a statement: "As painful as this is to confess, I have allowed myself to be drawn into a relationship that has caused much hurt and pain to my wife and family. I have repented and asked for and received their forgiveness."
Then Hinn entered into a restoration process that was supposed to last two years.
According to Christianity Today, however, Sam Hinn "completed a restoration process and was 're-ordained' Sunday at Orlando-area Church on the Living Edge, just eight months after he resigned from his position at Gathering Place Worship Center in Sanford, Florida." It was also reported that Hinn would become a professor at Tabernacle Bible College in Sanford, Florida.
Sam Hinn is just one in a long line of preachers and pastors in need of rehabilitation and who desired restoration after sexual and financial shenanigans. Amongst the most famous are Ted Haggard (homosexuality and drugs), Jimmy Swaggart (cavorting with prostitutes), Jim Bakker (bilking his supporters), and Benny Hinn himself (see above).
In Sam Hinn's case, the restoration process was supposed to take two years but Hinn, who decided that he had been restored enough, nipped the process in the bud. Ron Johnson, a pastor of One Church in Longwood, Fla., who counseled Sam Hinn, told the Orlando Sentinel that Hinn's early withdrawal left "many of his problems unresolved."
In an op-ed piece for Charisma, Johnson wrote that he "outlined a two-year plan of restoration and walked through the initial stages with him. ... Sam wanted to renegotiate the terms. When I wouldn't agree to that, he withdrew from my covering and has since found a group of men willing to endorse his leadership in a more expeditious manner."
"There's an important issue in the body of Christ that needs to be addressed in light of Sam's 're-ordination,'" Johnson wrote. "This and other recent instances — both in Orlando and around the nation — prove that we, as the church, still struggle with how to restore fallen leaders."
Johnson pointed out that "Restoration is a not a quick fix but a systematic process of transformation that deals with a person's deep-seated sinful and narcissistic tendencies. These are the issues at the core of these problems and the cause of these failures in the first place."
Although the National Association of Evangelicals doesn't appear have an official position on the restoration process for fallen pastors, the majority of NAE board members "say pastors can be restored to church roles after marital infidelity," Christianity Today reported.
Was Sam Hinn's abrupt restoration financially motivated?
According to charismamag.com's Jennifer LeClaire, "Clearly, there's a strong disagreement among well-known leaders in the body of Christ over whether this man should have been released back into public ministry so quickly. In an age of the hypergrace movement — which is full of dangerous errors, such as denying the need for true repentance — re-ordaining a man who admitted to a four-year affair after less than a year smacks of grace wrongly applied. Grace (and forgiveness) is one thing. Restoring trust is another."
In January, Chantel Wonder, the daughter of the woman Hinn had his four-year affair with, presciently told the Orlando Sentinel that "He'll be back in a couple of months as senior pastor, and that's just not right." She was right: His short-circuiting of the restoration process is not sitting well with the Wonder family, Hinn's former restoration coach, and Christian conservative evangelical commentators who worry that Hinn's all-too-quick return will set a precedent for other fallen pastors.
(Photo: Benny Hinn Ministries)