This post is on religion which is a very subjective. Everyone interpretes religion differently. You see that in the vast numbers of religions, the vast denominations within religions (e.g. Methodist, Protestants, etc for Christians and Sunni, Aqidah, etc for Muslims). Within denominations there are differences between places of worship. And within places of worship, differences between members. Religion is subjective so take this post with an open mind.
I was born into a Protestant family. My parents were both originally Catholics before converting to Protestant Christians in their teens. I was taught at a young age to discern between teachings of the Bible and teachings of a church / men. My parents have emphasized multiple times that a church is a place for support and gathering and that no one should be deemed as a spiritual icon or an untouchable character. The difference between titles within a church is purely functional and role based rather than rank based. So a pastor commands more responsibility than an elder but not more respect or priority. You get the idea.
It was with this that my parents exposed me to Bible (KJV) from the age of 5. I picked up the language and was taught linguistic interpretation of old King James English. This was very important to my bringing up as a Christian because the goal was always to base everything I believe within the Christian faith only on the Bible and the Bible alone. Not to influenced by the church, family or friends in their interpretations. My family goes through 2 chapters in the Bible each day, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. During these daily sharing sessions, any point brought up from the text must be substantiated with support from other areas in the Bible. It was similar to writing a well researched thesis. A verse in the Bible on its own can be interpreted in multiple ways. But interpretations get narrowed down when the verse has to stand as a member of the many verses in the Bible.
Being brought up with this mindset allowed me to be freely critical of things and places I belong to. I have been attending my church for the duration of my life, yet I have never found the need to defend it. My parents attended this church because of its pure focus on the bible and that no one in church was getting paid. This reduces possible conflicts of interest. All pastors, elders and workers (full time) in my church do not have jobs and leave their homes to stay in the church and serve. They have no possessions and they leave everything and everyone to serve full time (this includes family, so people with heavy family responsibilities are not allowed to serve full time). You can see this as akin to monks except they are not allowed to hold personal cash, etc.
Tithing is practiced but not forced. My church does not ‘pass the bag’ around. It has also never called for cash or donations in the 25 years of my attendance. It’s a humble church, tiny in Singapore but well established internationally. I will not name it here.
City Harvest Church
Being from this background a number of things that City Harvest Church practice came across as appalling. I have many friends and relatives who went to CHC. Most of them have left for other churches after spending 2-3 years there. Through their accounts and my reading of the materials that CHC provides I pieced together a picture of the church’s beliefs and goals. Here’s an objective overview.
CHC positions itself as a modern church that is forward looking. It keeps its interpretations of the Bible wider across the board. It embraces what many more traditional Christians would reject. This includes its looser interpretation of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life. I can see why my parents were aghast. CHC would allow any type of fashion sense and practice because it considers such as non integral to a person’s faith.
This is why it is not surprising that Sun Ho could dress in such a manner in her music videos and still proclaim herself a devout Christian with blessings from her pastor husband. With a wider definition of Christianity, CHC was able to attract a larger crowd because it was more accepting. The laissez faire approach made it exceptionally appealing to youngsters. You can view this as both positive and negative in religious and business contexts.
There is no one that can judge another for their interpretation or beliefs. No one who can say which is right. I leave the above to your discernment.
The biggest arguments CHC members put in defense of their church teachings is that they are saving many people. They come by the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands. No church come close in terms of such numbers. The counter argument that they get is ‘Are you saving a lot of people or just adding them into your member list because your church doesn’t require them to change’. It is a significantly easier job to ask people to join a cause that augers well to what they already are. Also there’s an argument between quantity and quality. I can have 10 children but that is no better than having 1 if I cannot give all of them a proper childhood.
The second argument is that CHC is ahead of its time as a church. There may be some meat to this as churches of the 1950s and 60s publically derided TVs and computers and these are now socially acceptable. Could this be the same case for CHC’s loose definitions in their Christian teachings? I won’t go into the details about this but the Bible has clearly written about the trajectory of its own faith.
Even as a mega church, I believe CHC’s main problem was its focus on individual speakers rather than the product it was supposed to be selling – God. Speaking to those I know from CHC, they were first attracted by the speakers and the service, particularly the songs and performance. It is normal for a non Christian to first be attracted by more tangible areas. This is analogous to how a child would rush to a school because it had a nice playground and fun activities – not purely for education.
What became worrying is that most of those I spoke to came back a year later saying they haven’t learnt much. Things they were taught were rather superficial morally upright lessons with a twist of Christianity. Well crafted quotes that frankly could come from any religion or any wise man. There were multiple guest speakers (world renowned) but there was no attempt to help each member to progress in their Christian faith. The lack of progress was a worry to other Christians but yet again, who are we to judge?
Kong Hee has not been proven guilty nor has he been cleared of the charges laid against him. The outcome could range from being fully acquitted to a jail term similar to what Ming Yi went through. Singaporeans jumping to condemn him may be too eager to see a controversial figure fall. CHC members who have come out aggressively to defend him may also face a similar risk of being made to look naive.
The magnitude of this case comes not just because of the S$23 million (and possibly $26 million more, 3rd charge) mismanaged funds or the size of CHC, but because the church was built around Kong Hee. CHC has many pastors and well known figures but Kong Hee (as described to me by CHC friends and family members) stand as the pillar of the church. His personality is fervently lauded and there seems to be a cult following especially in its younger members. One will not be stepping too far to say that Kong Hee has more ardent fans than his singer wife, Sun.
A Christian’s Angst
As much as peace loving Muslims around the world have had to bear with the atrocities that Islamic fundamentalist have wrought, conservative Christians in Singapore have to deal with a major blow in public confidence. To have a religious figure being charged for criminal misconduct is a sad sight. There is worry for those who became a Christian because of him. If the court rules against Kong Hee, souls may be shattered. These were the main worries of my parents.
‘The Greater Good’
In discussions a few days back, I felt it was good that such charges be brought on Kong Hee. CHC has always lived under the cloud of controversy and suspicion because of two polar opposites at its head – a pastor and his singer wife. If Kong Hee be proven guilty, then let him pay for his crimes. If souls are lost through this, then it is better that way because these were not people who became Christians because of Christ. If Kong Hee be proven innocent, then the furor over funds and such will be abated. My relatives left CHC because of an aggressive push for tithing. My aunt was called and reminded multiple times to pay their tithes when they were late for a week. My only hope is that justice is done and that this unfortunate issue passes.
As much as we do not pin a country on a man or a party (sorry LKY & PAP), religion should not be based on a figure or a few figures. To do so is to do injustice to the faith involved may it be Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. It is in times like this that I am reminded of why it was a key goal of my parents to teach me to be impartial to any church and teaching, relying solely on the Bible as a whole to guide me through my spiritual endeavors.
A lesson and push for objectivity is key for any religion that considers itself to be truth. Truth that is ready to be tested under all conditions.
As members of any particular religion, you are members of that religion and not the building, the name of the organization nor the stature of the leaders. If you put your faith in men, sooner or later, you will be disappointed. Because, just like we are, all men are fallible.