The social media world was afire this week with questions about Liberty University’s “partnership” with faith-healing huckster Benny Hinn. When I first saw the reports, I was slain in the Spirit with shock, and I think I heard ol’ Jerry spinning barrel rolls in his grave.
Of course, some of the more angry “discernment” ministries jumped on this and heaped condemnation on Liberty University. A once-biblical ministry had partnered with one of modern American Christianity’s most shameful charlatans – one more piece of evidence of the spiritual decline in our land.
There was a legitimate issue in this situation. Had the facts as presented been completely true, it would have been shocking, shameful and sad to see Liberty University in league with Benny Hinn. But the facts did not completely support the outrage.
And that is my point here. We ought not default to condemnation. Get the facts. Check things out – BEFORE issuing proclamations of condemnation on Christian brethren and institutions.
Liberty clarified the situation. Frankly, I still think Liberty made a mess of this. However, they are not in partnership with Benny Hinn. Their provost erred in appearing with Hinn in a video, an error he has apologized for. But the reports that circulated and the harsh words of some of the purveyors of condemnation turned out to be overheated and unnecessary.
Liberty has issued clarifications that explain the situation. Again, I think they used poor judgment in this situation. They are imperfect. And I am glad that people raised this issue.
But the issue could have been raised with Christian grace not angry condemnation. Some “Christian” ministries – especially those espousing “discernment” as their goal – seem to default to anger, hate and condemnation against other Christians and Christian institutions.
Here is Liberty’s statement, “Liberty not partnering with Hinn.”
1) The situation started with Liberty selling licensing rights to the “Liberty Home Bible Institute” to Dan Reber. Reber had some rights to use the name “Liberty”, but Liberty is questioning whether this use violated the terms of the agreement. Here is a part of Liberty’s statement.
Liberty University is not partnering with Benny Hinn. Liberty transferred the operations of Liberty Home Bible Institute, a non-accredited biblical studies certificate program, to Mr. Dan Reber in 2011. Mr. Reber was granted certain licensing rights to use Liberty’s name because the Liberty name was deeply imbedded in LHBI course materials. Earlier, in 2009, Liberty engaged a company of Reber’s, Internet Marketing and Communications, LLC, to market Liberty Home Bible Institute and the Institute of Biblical Studies, another non-accredited biblical studies certificate program. Liberty University has maintained ownership of both programs. It is our understanding that Dan Reber or his company is working with Benny Hinn but Liberty University is not aware of the extent of the relationship or the terms. A review of the relevant contracts demonstrates that any such cooperative venture, branding initiative or partnership with Benny Hinn regarding these Liberty University properties violates the terms of its agreements with Mr. Reber and Internet Marketing and Communications, LLC. Liberty University has placed them on notice of this breach and is taking steps to stop the unauthorized use of its intellectual properties and trademarks. It is true that a senior administrator of Liberty University appeared on a Benny Hinn program where a certificate program was promoted, but no other Liberty officials had prior notice of the planned broadcast. The administrator appeared after he was misinformed regarding the extent of Mr. Reber’s contract rights. Again, Liberty University is not involved in any cooperative venture with Benny Hinn.
2) In a Q&A session, Liberty clarifies a series of mistakes, most made by Dr. Ron Godwin, the Provost of Liberty. They claim he made mistaken representations.
1. What is Liberty University’s relationship with Mr. Dan Reber?
Dan Reber is a longtime donor to Liberty University. Personally and through his companies, he has provided various services to Liberty University over the years, especially in the area of direct marketing.2. What is Liberty University’s relationship with Mr. Reber’s Liberty Bible Institute?We are not aware of Mr. Reber having a Liberty Bible Institute. One of his companies markets courses for Liberty University’s Liberty Home Bible Institute and our Institute of Biblical Studies, two non-accredited biblical studies certificate programs offered by Liberty University’s Center for Professional and Continuing Education. In 2011, Mr. Reber took on additional responsibilities to operate the Liberty Home Bible Institute on behalf of Liberty University but was not authorized to make changes in the program without the consent of Liberty University. Please note that courses from the Institute of Biblical Studies, not Liberty Home Bible Institute, were being promoted on Benny Hinn’s program.3. Does Mr. Reber’s Institute operate from Liberty University’s campus or other property?Dr. Ron Godwin was mistaken when he stated on television that Liberty’s Institute of Biblical Studies was operated by Mr. Reber. It is owned and operated by Liberty University on Liberty’s campus. By contract, the Liberty Home Bible Institute, a program not mentioned on Hinn’s program, has been operated by Mr. Reber at a location outside the campus of Liberty University, within the County of Bedford, Virginia, since August of 2011.4. Does Liberty University provide any resources to Mr. Reber’s Institute?Yes, Liberty provides resources to Mr. Reber in connection with his operation of the LHBI (again, the program not mentioned in the Hinn video). Examples include the rights to reproduce program materials, computerized scoring equipment, presence on Liberty University’s website, letterhead, email redirection, telephone redirection, completion certificates and certain other benefits to graduates of the program.5. Dr. Ronald Godwin, identified by Liberty University as its senior vice president for academic affairs/provost, says Mr. Reber’s Institute program, though a “separate entity,” is “recognized and endorsed by Liberty University.”Again, Dr. Godwin was mistaken. The Institute of Biblical Studies is not separate but LHBI is separately operated by Mr. Reber. Both programs are Liberty University programs. Those who successfully complete the program are eligible for college credit on the same basis as other certificate program graduates. LHBI graduates must still meet the criteria for admission to any program to which they seek admission and completion of IBS or LBHI is not, in and of itself, a guarantee of admission or of academic credit. Our public statement issued yesterday only referenced LHBI. Liberty officials were able to review the 2009 and 2011 contracts and the Hinn video today and, for the first time, realized that IBS courses were being sold on the video, not LHBI courses.Is it a fact that Liberty University recognizes and endorses Mr. Reber’s Bible Institute program? And to what degree is the recognition and endorsement, if that is the case? See above.6. Was Mr. Godwin operating as a Liberty University representative in his endorsement of Mr. Reber’s partnership with Benny Hinn?No. His communications were not authorized and were contrary to the terms of Liberty University’s contracts with Mr. Reber and his company. Dr. Godwin says that he was advised that Mr. Reber had the contractual right to sell IBS courses and says that he asked Benny Hinn not to air the program until he returned to Virginia and confirmed that Liberty had granted Reber the rights to sell the courses.7. Does Liberty University plan to pursue any legal course of action? Liberty University is putting the parties on notice of its rights and requesting actions inconsistent with its contract, trademark and intellectual property rights be stopped and rectified.
3) Dr. Godwin has issued an apology, taking responsibility for the mistakes.
Provost’s statement, 4/4/14:
As the Liberty University Official who appeared on the Benny Hinn TV show I offer the following in order to explain why and what actually occurred.
The reason why I appeared on Pastor Hinn’s show was because of my understanding that small church pastors in multiple countries are facing government takeovers of their churches and the loss of their own rights as pastors. It was explained to me that there are literally thousands of pastors and churches in imminent danger.
Mr. Reber’s contribution to the project would have provided pastors with at least a modicum of Bible education and a diploma certifying same and Pastor Benny Hinn’s contribution would have been to ordain those pastors through his worldwide church, thus providing a double shield of protection against government takeover.
Because of the urgency of the request and the assurances by Mr. Reber that he had been authorized since 2009 by Liberty University to sell Liberty University Institute of Biblical Studies courses via Benny Hinn Ministries, I agreed without hesitation to appear on the Benny Hinn TV show with the understanding that I would have the opportunity to confirm what I believed at that time to be true: That Liberty University does grant college credit for Institute of Biblical Studies courses successfully completed.
What I failed to anticipate was that what I actually said would be lost beneath the weight of the gravely wrong assumption that I was announcing a partnership between Liberty and Benny Hinn. And I further relied on Pastor Hinn’s personal assurance that no public pronouncements would be made without my approval — which approvals I never gave, orally or in writing.
Today I was informed by Liberty University’s attorney that Mr. Reber apparently does not have the authority to market LUIBS courses on Benny Hinn’s program. But I want to go on the record that I still believe today that Mr. Reber sincerely believed he had such authority when he asked me for my help. And I believe that Dan Reber’s motivation was to provide Bible education to pastors in desperate need of such education.
It is my sincere prayer that the mistake I made in attempting to generate desperately needed help for pastors around the globe will not result in further hardship for those pastors and further distractions for Liberty University and its mission.
Dr. Ronald S. Godwin
Provost, Liberty University
Frankly, I wouldn’t license my worn-out undergarments to Benny Hinn – my feelings are strong about this man and his ministry. It would be my opinion that Dr. Godwin blew it. But he seemed to be operating from a heart that desired to minister in the name of Christ, not a heart of compromise. This is a significant mistake and I don’t know if Liberty will take further action against Dr. Godwin. Perhaps they should. But he made a MISTAKE. He did not sell out to the devil.
Grace might be preferable to condemnation in such a situation. Liberty may discipline him, but we ought to accept his explanation and apology.
4. Liberty has been unequivocal on the fact that they have not partnered with Benny Hinn and would not do so.
I have close ties with Liberty and a few years ago I would have strongly recommended it. I am not completely comfortable with all of the changes that have taken place since Jerry, Jr. took over for Jerry, Sr. But all in all it is a good school.
They may have made some mistakes, but they are not in league with the enemies of the gospel.