Sometime ago Ancient Faith Radio (AFR) conducted an interview with Hank Hanegraaff. Here I want to take some space to give readers the skinny along with some analysis of the interview and then say a few things about where things are likely to go.
I Hate It When I am Right
The first thing to note is that, unfortunately I was right about Hank’s apparent intentions. Hank is not apparently interested in quietly sitting down in church for the next few years to learn the Orthodox faith. Rather he has moved at light speed to promote himself and his private Protestant business (which CRI still is-see the CRI doctrinal statement Article 6) on just about every media platform that would host him. (He didn’t go on Catholic Answers radio out of some great love of Catholicism.) This includes the Orthodox Christian Network, which continues to help to sell his Protestant books to an Orthodox audience.
Moreover, Hank as is typical for him, moved to make connections with key power players and decision makers in the church, getting his show carried on the
Orthodox Christian Network for free. (Why the church is carrying the show of a Protestant organization is beyond me.) In this way he gets all the donor funds, book sale revenue, and retains complete control with none of the accountability to the Church. This is just the beginning of latching his private business on to the Church. Some have remarked that the AFR interview is just an interview and Hank doesn’t get anything out of it. But I think this is grossly naïve.
What people have to understand is how this works. Interviews and similar media exposures are the currency of the business. They are a means of generating revenue. In an interview, a person gets exposure making it a form of de facto advertising, and in this case, advertising for Hank’s private Protestant business. On top of this, “plugs” for books and other items utilize the media exposure to generate revenue. And of course, media exposure for Hank generates potential donors for his private Protestant business, which eventually goes to support his exorbitant lifestyle. And then there is that legitimacy thing he gets from such an interview. So this isn’t about just an interview. It is about Hanegraaff using the Church to support his exorbitant lifestyle. (For what it is worth, I have no grievance with Mr. Ajalat. I believe his intentions are good and sincere. I think he has the Church’s best interests at heart. I just don’t think he is fully aware of Hank’s past behavior and his history.)
The Cancer Cudgel
It is now well known that Hanegraaff has a form of cancer. He seems to spare no opportunity to mention this fact and to capitalize on it, conducting numerous videos from the hospital. I have already discussed this in part previously. But what has not been pointed out is how Hanegraaff uses cancer to garner sympathy and to deflect or avoid criticism. Now I am not looking to get into a fight with a guy in a wheel chair, so to speak, but let’s think about this for a moment. If Hanegraaff had retired from public life due to his cancer treatment, then it would be appropriate to refrain from making public criticisms of his positions, actions, etc. But he hasn’t retired from public life. In fact, he’s made numerous trips across the country for speaking engagements at Protestant and Orthodox churches, not to mention visiting Orthodox seminaries and other facilities over the last six months. Nor has he retired from his public teaching via his radio program and podcasts.
Consequently his cancer is irrelevant to the issues I have brought up. He doesn’t get to have it both ways. He can’t position himself to avoid criticism simply because he has cancer while at the same time present himself as a public figure, teaching publicly. (Besides, his cancer hasn’t stopped him from criticizing others publicly.) Either his cancer is bad enough that he retires from public life and hence ceases to be a legitimate subject of criticism or it isn’t bad enough and so he is legitimately subject to criticism. Besides, he may beat the cancer entirely, though that is admittedly looking all the less likely. We should all certainly pray for his well being and salvation. (Yes, I mean this.)
The Oral Tradition
My understanding of the course of events at AFR goes something like following. Not more than three months after his chrismation, Hanegraaff had approached AFR to carry his show on their media platform. That way he retains control and the funds go to him with no church oversight. What the financials of such an arrangement were to be, I have no idea. AFR then polled their affiliated bloggers for approval. The bloggers rejected carrying Hanegraaff’s show on AFR. But they did approve an interview with Hanegraaff. Hanegraaff then went to the Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) which then
agreed to carry his show for free. Apparently OCN hasn’t learned its lesson from Franky Schaeffer. And I can tell you, Hanegraaff is far worse than Franky ever was. It wasn’t hard to see even before I was Orthodox that Franky would implode, but I have no reason to think Frank was insincere or out to make a buck and live in a mansion at the Church’s expense. Hank’s 3.1 million dollar home pretty much tells you everything you need to know. His previous home in pristine Coto de Caza, California wasn’t exactly modest either in the early 1990’s. The only difference between Benny Hinn and Hank is that Hank is just better at deceiving people with a higher IQ. Frankly, Hank’s mansion reminds me of old Jehovah’s Witness “Judge” Rutherford’s mansion, Beth sarim.
In any case, John Maddex, CEO of AFR has said that it is “too soon” to carry Hanegraaff’s show on AFR. I am left wondering after asking, when exactly does that time period end? Does that mean after one year? Two? After a few years, what do people expect to change exactly? Is Hanegraaff going to pick up a bachelor’s degree? (He holds no earned degrees, btw) Is he going to complete some private education from his priests? Is his exorbitant salary going to decrease and he will move into a more modest living arrangement? Will his wife step down from the board and give up her $150K plus salary? Will his kids have to give up their golfing careers? Another relevant question is this. Does Hanegraaff have an episcopal blessing? Does he have episcopal permission to crisscross jurisdictions to make impromptu speaking engagements at parishes? My sources tell me, probably not.
As the situation unfolded, I along with some of my compatriots and some unrelated individuals began asking pointed questions on AFR’s FB page promoting the interview. We were quite quickly silenced by the deletion of our questions and remarks. Apparently, that space only existed to help promote Hanegraaff. It seems odd that AFR permits criticisms of Protestantism and Catholicism, and even individuals at times, but as soon as the poster child for Byzantine evangelical hero worship comes on the stage censorship is the rule of the day. (None dare question the Hankadox!) In response to this and other poor decisions AFR has made (Sr. Vassa much?), I along with a number of other Facebook Orthodox group administrators are considering a ban on AFR postings in our forums.
What did you come out to see?
As to the interview itself, it was essentially a puff piece. The interview didn’t tell us anything we did not know already. It is fundamentally identical to every other interview Hanegraaff has done prior and since, even down to identical phrases uttered by him over and over again. (“snaarling logicality” and so on.) The piece was nothing less than an exercise in saccharine self-promoting hero worship. Just think about it for a moment.
Hanegraaff gets to talk about everything he wants to and nothing he doesn’t. He gets to promote his books and his private Protestant business to a whole new audience of potential donors and potential consumers of his wares. There are no hard questions and certainly nothing substantial about his past or past controversies that he has been involved with. Certainly none of the former CRI employees or the Martin family were even asked what they thought or even brought up. AFR simply acted as if we didn’t exist. Essentially they judged that our voices didn’t matter. They made themselves a partaker in his sins by helping to perpetuate his fraud and shield him from legitimate criticism and attempts to hold him to biblical standards of accountability. They chose wealth and worldly glory. It is just that simple.
Part of this hero worship I think extends to the leadership in AFR. They seem blinded by the excitement of having a “big name” without really thinking about what is happening or who they are getting in bed with. They do not yet understand with whom they are dealing. Now for me, I stopped thinking of Hank as a big deal when I was 19 and worked at CRI. Someone who can’t place the Crusades or Inquisition within five centuries is not someone I am impressed with. But for lots of pop evangelicals who converted to Orthodoxy, who really lack a substantial grasp of theology, history or philosophy who are Protestant, Orthodox or otherwise, Hanegraaff is a big deal in their heads. (Besides, they don’t really know Hank. They are just going off of his performance.) This is why the interview was a chance to touch the hem of his garment, so to speak. It is also why the conversion of people like Richard Swinburne or Jaroslav Pelikan went largely unnoticed by them and their works aren’t getting sold or promoted by AFR. Any given work by either of the two previously mentioned men will educate you beyond anything you can learn in a dozen books with Hanegraaff’s name on them.
What Makes AFR Go Round?
There are a few major problems with the interview. The first is that the individual conducting the interview, Frederica Matthews-Green, had already been on Hank’s show with her own book being promoted by Hanegraaff. (Remember what I said above about the currency in this business?) And then of course, Hanegraaff gets to go on essentially her show and plug his books and such. This does not pass the smell test boys and girls. It certainly looks like a case of “You Scratch My Back and I Scratch Yours” or otherwise known as quid pro quo (this for that). When this whole affair broke, I went to her privately and warned her to stay away from Hanegraaff, (same with Maddex) but she seems to have rushed as fast as she could to the head of the apparent gravy train. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps she is just playing “mamabear” or something. Whatever her intentions, it doesn’t look good. In such circumstances one should avoid even the appearance of evil. So this was not a smart move on her part. Hanegraaff will simply use her for everything he can and then sever the relationship with a staged ambush as he did with Michael Horton, James White and others in the past. It is no accident that plenty of Evangelical leaders are happy to see Hank leave. As a Catholic acquaintance of mine remarked to another Catholic about Hank’s conversion “This isn’t a win for them.”
So what did the interview actually do? The first thing it did was to secure new sources of revenue and buttress Hanegraaff’s donor base. It also allowed him to promote his books as well as the fraud that he is an apologist in any substantial sense of the word. In essence, it helped to keep his private Protestant business afloat. (I’d still like to know why it is important that Orthodox Christians help support a Protestant business.) And of course it helps Hank pay his approximately $12,000 a month house payment on his 3.1 million dollar mansion. Then there are the country club fees which are about a grand a month. While the entrance fee for that country club comes in at a modest $65,000, it is possible that that was rolled into the purchase price of the mansion, but even still. For someone claiming to be a minister and to live off the sacrificial giving of others, this is just wrong. So please, let’s not pretend that this was about his “conversion” or anything of the like. This was about funneling money to Hank and making AFR look like they were a big player in exchange. It was about getting cash from point A to point B, whether AFR recognized that or not. And that is all it was. So below is what your donations to CRI pay for. Why send money to rich people? I don’t get it.
Bone Marrow Blackout
As things stand, Hank remains impenitent. Every attempt both from the past and recently to reconcile with Hanegraaff has been met with refusal. (More on this later.) When it comes to Matthew 18, Hank is the Anti-Bible Answer Man as it were. The Bible just doesn’t matter to Hank when it comes down to it. Recently, Hanegraaff has revealed that his biopsy has come back with results that warrant a bone marrow transplant. This is of course is a measure of last resort. It is my understanding that if this doesn’t work, hospice care is next. While I certainly don’t wish Hank to die, as I said before, now would be a really good time to repent and to reconcile.
Something else to consider is the fact from what I understand, that the bone marrow transplant requires a substantial period of immunological isolation. Hank simply can’t afford to have the BAM show conduct repeats for long periods of time. Donations drop substantially if you have too many taped shows. I know this from when I worked there and from more recent former employees. What is likely to happen is that Hank will have to tap replacements to host the show. Since Hank eliminated practically all of the research staff many years ago, there is no one in-house to take his place. (Again, the number isn’t 888-ASK-HANK for nothing.) And that means fill-ins. These are likely to be either more established names like Koukl or up and comers (More on this later too.) I seriously doubt Hank is going to have some Orthodox clergy host the show and he surely can’t let Catholic Answers do it for him. So this means that it is likely that Protestant fill ins will host the show for a substantial period of time. And that means OCN will be carrying Protestant apologists, teaching Protestantism directly to our church members. Why is this acceptable?
The Conversion Question
Some have asked me, why would he convert if this was so obviously a losing proposition? It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t begrudge him conversion if sincere. I have generally stayed agnostic on that question since I don’t think anyone can really know that someone else is sincere or not. Such things only God knows. That said though I think the question depends on how you look at it. For many years long prior to Hank’s interest in Orthodoxy, he was quite tight lipped about his church membership. No one seemed to know where exactly he went to church. In the early 1990’s he not only claimed to be an ordained minister but also claimed to be under Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel. Everyone with two brain cells to rub together knew that that meant absolutely nothing in terms of accountability or any real pastoral oversight. After that, Hank was just off the radar.
Something else to consider is that Hank had no prepared game plan for the conversion. There was no press release and no apparent preparation for a public announcement. When the news broke CRI scrambled to eliminate all of the material directly critical of Orthodoxy off their web page with no explanation. (Plenty of other material directly contradicting Orthodox teaching is still up with Hank’s name on it.) Hank had to know that the news would cause quite a stir. But he seemed unprepared for it. Added to this is the fact that the only real announcement was the leaking of a picture of his chrismation. Once that picture was leaked, within twenty four hours it was everywhere and there was nothing left to do except damage control.
So I think what occurred is something like the following. His son David converted and Hank followed. I think he thought he could keep it quiet, as he had his catechesis and prior church membership. But two things were working against him. The first is the hero worship. People are going to want to participate in it and so take pictures. And secondly, in this day and age, everyone has a cell phone with a high resolution camera with internet capability. So once it was out, it was too late. It is possible his eyes got big with the artistic displays of wealth (meaning it takes a lot of money to build a church like that) and he thought he could expand his donor base quietly. I don’t know. It is speculative. But what I don’t think is speculation is that he didn’t plan on it getting out. So I don’t think he planned on it being a losing proposition at all.
Where do we go from here?
The reality is that we do not need to import the culture of evangelical lone ranger celebrities. We have saints and martyrs. We do not need vigante pop celebrities, floating from parish to parish to sell their wares. Christ did not come to establish “para-church” organizations. Besides, I know not a few clergy that aren’t exactly financially comfortable. The Church needs our support and not some cheap popular Evangelical knock off. Moreover, we really don’t need Hank’s show or CRI. First, CRI isn’t under the oversight of the Church. Second, most of what CRI can offer can be gotten from various sources on the internet. CRI ceased doing cutting edge work on cults and apologetics years ago. It is what happens when you eliminate your research staff. All they have now are pretty much freelanced articles, mainly by Biola, Southern Evangelical Seminary and other grads who are trying to make ends meet at 200-500 bucks a per article. Hank, with Paul Young figured out if he could eliminate the research staff and just freelance everything, he could increase his profit margin. I believe Hank’s exact words describing CRI were “cash cow.”
There are a lot of things currently in the mix. There are things set to take place later on and there are others more immediate. Voices from the long past have emerged and figures have stepped forward out of the shadows, much to Hank’s chagrin. Newer figures from CRI’s history have also stepped forward. And frankly not a few things have taken place that can’t be described as anything less than providential. (I do not use that term lightly.) As we continue to assemble and compile information, if you wish to contribute information confidentially or otherwise, you can contact me via the email listed in the “About” section of the blog.
In any case, one thing is for sure. I’ll never be on AFR again. Ole well!
Update: A mistake I have made is not including the following information. In the above post, I argue that the AFR interview is a puff piece. There have been other puff pieces. It is to their credit that GetReligion.org has pointed out this problem.