January 21, 2013
Sanford Pastor Sam Hinn engaged in a four-year love affair with a member of his congregation before being confronted by his wife and church officials, prompting him to step away from the pulpit, according to the woman’s family.
Chantel Wonder said Hinn, the younger brother of televangelist Benny Hinn, initiated the affair with her mother by telling her they were “soul mates” and that God approved of the relationship.
“He put her in a position that this is OK because it’s what God wants. He was using God to justify it,” said Wonder, 28, of St. Petersburg.
Hinn, 51, founded The Gathering Place Worship Center in 1996, about five years before Wonder’s family joined.
Messages left on Hinn’s home phone were not returned. Church officials responded to requests for comment with a copy of the letter Hinn wrote to his congregation, which says:
“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.”
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.
On Wednesday, church officials read Hinn’s letter to the congregation, in which he says, “…I am taking a leave of absence from any and all ministry so I can focus my full energy on both my walk with God and restoration in my family.”
Church officials also released a statement that the board has initiated a restoration process for Hinn that involves the counsel of Ron Johnson, pastor of One Church in Longwood.
“This process includes Pastoral and Professional Counseling, as well as a mandatory time out of ministry so that all factures in both his personal and family life may be healed,” the statement says.
Chantel Wonder said this isn’t enough.
“He’ll be back in a couple of months as senior pastor, and that’s just not right,” said Wonder, who fears the church will shift all the blame on her mother.
Wonder said both her parents were involved in church activities. Her father was an usher and both were engaged in Bible study.
Her mother, who works as a hairstylist, eventually become the stylist for Hinn’s family, including his wife and children, Wonder said.
Hinn is the latest in a series of high-profile pastors of large nondenominational churches in Central Florida who have become embroiled in extramarital affairs. In November, Isaac Hunter, son of megapastor Joel Hunter, stepped down from the Orlando church he founded, Summit Church, after admitting to an affair with a staff member.
New Destiny Christian Center pastor Zachery Tims left his Apopka church for a time after getting caught in an extramarital affair around 2009. Tims returned to the church, but died suddenly of causes still not disclosed in a New York City hotel room in August 2011.
In all three cases, the churches were creations of their dynamic lead pastors. Experts in church dynamics say when churches lose their founding pastors, it often creates a crisis of direction and confidence, even when they return.
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Copyright © 2013, Orlando Sentinel
Original article HERE.
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Also see related story “Benny Hinn’s Brother Steps Aside as Sanford Pastor” by Jeff Kunerth.