As Liberty University continues to update its “clarification” about Ron Godwin’s ill-fated appearance with Benny Hinn, it becomes harder to understand why they denied involvement in the deal. Both Godwin and Reber appear to have been doing their assigned jobs, and nothing about what they were offering on Hinn’s show was new.
Instead of distancing themselves from Hinn because of his teachings and dubious behavior, Liberty’s leaders have resorted to a lawyerly contractual and intellectual property rights explanation for why they won’t be part of this deal. As I’ll try to explain, it just doesn’t make sense for them to reject the arrangement on that narrow basis.
Liberty University owns the Institute of Biblical Studies (IBS) and the Liberty Home Bible Institute (LHBI), though Dan Reber operates the LHBI from somewhere off the main Liberty campus. Reber, whose expertise is in marketing, sells courses from the IBS through LHBI. A footnote at the bottom of the LHBI site shows that it is copyrighted to Reber’s Internet Marketing and Communication company. The LHBI site promotes the courses as being relatively easy to complete, cheap (at $1,750), and transferrable to Liberty University for full credit. Liberty, which owns both entities, profits handsomely from these online courses because they are administered without needing live faculty oversight, then they charge up to $700 more for the privilege of transferring 30 hours to a traditional Liberty four-year degree.
The LHBI site is endorsed by Jerry Falwell Jr., who assures visitors that a diploma from LHBI is a diploma from Liberty University. This arrangement dates back to as early as March 2009, so there’s nothing that Reber was offering that could possibly have surprised the leadership at the university.
In one of Liberty’s denials, they said that they were unaware that Reber was operating a “Liberty Bible Institute,” and disputed his right to market courses through it. Though the denial is technically correct, I don’t think Reber, Godwin or Hinn were referring to a separate organization, but used the name Liberty Bible Institute in place of either IBS or LHBI.
The mishmash of organization titles gets even more confusing because Liberty has a page for its Liberty Bible Institute Online, which is exactly the same program as the Liberty Home Bible Institute (the page title showed that it was LHBI until it was changed last week after I pointed that out). So, through this whole story, the titles of four organizations (Institute of Biblical Studies, Liberty Home Bible Institute, Liberty Bible Institute, and Liberty Online Bible Institute) were being floated around, which helped Liberty deny participation in organizations that were either slips of the tongue or pseudonyms.
Here’s all you need to understand about these organizations: the Institute of Biblical Studies is owned and operated by Liberty University, and it creates curriculum that can be marketed by Dan Reber under the Liberty Home Bible Institute, which also remains the property of Liberty. References to the other two entities are to Reber’s marketing operation.
Dan Reber’s job, then, was to market highly profitable Bible courses on behalf of, and using the brand of, Liberty University. For at least five years, he has done that through a website that lets people register and pay for immediate access to those courses.
In Jerry Falwell’s statement announcing Godwin’s continued tenure as provost, he said that for the last two years, finding those new opportunities for selling Liberty’s courses was Godwin’s job.
Dr. Godwin has also assumed responsibilities associated with a varied array of initiatives designed to leverage Liberty University’s strengths with new and innovative educational projects external to the University. These projects included new programs and strategic alliances to deliver Liberty’s educational services both domestically and internationally.
Liberty’s particular strength is its delivery of online courses, so a strategic alliance with an international ministry external to the university was a perfect opportunity for both Godwin and Reber.
When Godwin and Reber showed up in Hinn’s studio, they were simply marketing courses that they had been delivering through Liberty University for the past five years. The tuition fee on Hinn’s website was much higher than through the LHBI site ($1,500 for two survey courses, compared to $1,750 for up to 10 if purchased directly through LHBI), though Hinn was surely demanding a large markup for advertising Liberty’s cash-cow courses to an international market.
All that was new about the program, besides the higher Hinn-padded fees, was Hinn’s promise to ordain anybody who completed the Liberty coursework. As useless and outrageous as that is, it really didn’t involve Liberty or Reber in any way. Hinn could ordain anyone he wanted to, provided they paid him enough (the same arrangement he has for healings). By at least acting as though the Liberty courses were required, he stood to benefit from his cut of the $1,500 fee, as well as from the fee he was sure to charge them for attending the conference at which they would be ordained.
So, offering quick-and-easy online courses for a Liberty-branded diploma with a promise of transferable credit was standard operating procedure for Liberty. This is why Godwin agreed to fly to California to lend his authority to the announcement, and why he saw no need to object to the arrangement. This is what he and Reber had been paid to do for the last five years.
What surprised the university was the immediate pushback it got when Hinn went public with the deal. Alumni protested, as did people with no links to the university who couldn’t believe that Jerry Falwell’s school was consorting with the likes of Benny Hinn. It seemed quite obvious to the Internet that Liberty would have to retract the announcement, which it did within a couple of hours, making World Vision’s reversal seem slow by comparison. What surprised us, though, was that the statement didn’t explain why Liberty did not want to partner with Hinn.
Why not just say that you don’t want to be in partnership with a ministry as full of error and corruption as Hinn’s is? Complaining about false teachers would look especially hypocritical, given Godwin, Reber and Falwell’s embrace of cults and false messiahs in the 1990s. As this earlier post describes, Godwin himself was appointed as a cultist ambassador to infiltrate the church in America. Given such a history, one dare not complain about heretics and false teachers.
If you publicly reject Hinn because he’s Hinn, you implicitly acknowledge that doctrine and right practice matter, and if you do that, you might have to defend your alliances with the likes of Glenn Beck and Steven Furtick.
Or even your continued alliance with the Moonie apostle, Ron Godwin.