Read Part 1 and Part 2.
Note: Apologies to unbrandedbreadnbutter. In Part 2, I classified his blog post as supporting City Harvest. I sort of skimmed through the blog post and missed the entire sarcasm and satire behind it. I have re-categorized his blog post as a ‘Fence Sitter’. And thanks to ah men for pointing me to the Limpeh is Foreign Talent blog. I have included the blog under the “Against the Church” camp in Part 2.
Note 2: I want to thanks all the City Harvest members and ex-members for clarifying some of the questions I had about the Crossover Project and for giving their own thoughts on the City Harvest case.
I apologize for the unduly long wait. By the time I published Part 2 of this commentary, I realized that I was starting to sidetrack from my main questions. At the same time, I had became overwhelmed with all the new information and opinions that I had to constantly process. I needed some time to recollect and reflect, especially since this will be the part where I will reveal my own personal thoughts on the City Harvest case.
In order to stop going off-tangent like I am always wont to do, I went back to Part 1 to read the original questions that I posed, and to reevaluate if I had managed to answer, or at least, gain some understanding in the course of this lengthy commentary . The original questions were:
- Why was the public backlash so severe?
- What was it that caused both the media and the public to react with such ferocity?
- Was it really necessary to arrest the five?
- Finally, there’s the question of the actions of Kong Hee and the other four. What drove them to do it?
For the first two questions, I covered both at length in Part 2. But even then, I covered it from the angle that the mainstream media (MSM) was the main cause behind the severity of public backlash by constantly stirring up emotions with their sensationalism reporting. In short, I more or less covered the what and how of the first two questions. What I did not do was to explore the rationale behind the media’s and public’s behaviour, or the why. As such, I will be exploring it in this final part.
The third question was not answered at all. Given that the case is now before the court, I will not attempt to answer it. However, I will raise a few questions of mine, something that I feel has been lacking throughout this whole case.
As for the last question, I sort of covered it in Part 1. However, Part 1 elicited more questions than answers since I was confused and unsure about the purposes of the Crossover Project. Fortunately, some CHC members and ex-members were helpful to clarify and answer some of the questions I had. Due to my uncertain knowledge about the Crossover Project, Part 1 focused more on the history of the Crossover Project: how Kong Hee and Sun’s actions brought great successes to the Crossover Project, and how it ultimately led to their overweening ambitions and the current situation. I did explored why they did it, but only briefly and only in the frame of the Crossover Project. Similar to Part 2, Part 1 focused more on the how and the what of the Crossover Project.
After much reflection, I shall attempt to tackle the most difficult question in this commentary: why? I know that I will still have large gaps with my knowledge on the issue. But hey, at some point I have got to confront the question. As such, in this final part, I shall attempt to answer the why question, while tying everything together and concluding this commentary.
Why, COC and CAD, why?
I am starting with this section since it will be very brief. As stated earlier, I am not attempting to answer this question. Rather, I will only be raising a few questions I had in mind throughout this case.
First, why did the Commissioner of Charities (COC) suspend the church leaders from their positions as office bearers and church employees before bringing the case to court? Was there another reason, beside the alleged misuse of S$50 million? City Harvest had been cooperating fully with the investigations (1), and even the article by City News on the Crossover Project mentioned that Sun returned to Singapore from the U.S. due to the investigations in 2010 (2). Furthermore, Mr. Bobby Chaw stated in the church’s press release on 28th June that:
… the church was also surprised that COC chose to implement the suspensions of the members involved without prior notice. “We have been co-operating with COC for two years since the start of the case, so these sudden suspensions came as a surprise to us.” (3)
So was it a procedural move on COC’s part to suspend Kong Hee and the other church leaders from their positions, or was it due to their arrests by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD)?
Second, why did the CAD arrest Kong Hee and the other four? The probe into the allegations of the misused funds had been going on for two years. So why now? What was it that pushed the CAD into arresting them? Were the arrests procedural? Did the CAD finally gather enough evidence to justify the apprehensions? Or were Kong Hee and the other four at flight risk?
Unfortunately, there was not much detail released by the mainstream media (MSM), the COC or the CAD. While it is understandable that this will be a complex case, and that the COC and the CAD may not want to disclose too much evidence, I hope, that as the case progresses, more information behind the arrests will be release.
The last question is not so much of a why, but more of a who. Amidst all the furore, there is one thing that was not exactly answered. Kong Hee and the other four were charged in court. So who is the prosecutor in this case? The state or the CAD?
So many questions, so few answers. All we can do at this moment is to wait till 25th of July when Kong Hee and the rest are officially brought to trial.
Why, media, why?
In Part 2, I mentioned the first reason for the silence before 4:32pm on the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. The reason I stated was that Channel NewsAsia (CNA) broke the news on a Tuesday workday afternoon (at 2:47pm). This means that very few Singaporeans will be reading online news at that time; so a lower likelihood of someone sharing the breaking news through their social network. It was not until when both CNA and The Straits Times (ST) tweeted the news around 4:32pm did people start taking notice of the arrests of Kong Hee and the other four church leaders and started sharing that news with their social networks.
That is the first and most straightforward answer. There was nothing on Twitter between 2:47pm and 4:32pm because people seldom check online news on a workday afternoon. Either they were working hard or hardly working.
So what is the second reason that I alluded to in Part 2?
The other reason why it was so quiet could be, and this is just conjecture on my part, could be that both news providers wanted to confirm all the details before tweeting it out to their networks. Notice the two hours discrepancy between the news release by CNA and then the subsequent tweetings by both CNA and ST. Why wait until 4:32pm to tweet about the news? Both CNA and ST could have immediately tweeted the newsflash. It was a news feature that was bound to grab the public’s attention. Yet, both chose to keep silent until 4:32pm. Furthermore, they both tweeted about the arrests around the same time when STOMP (Singapore’s citizen journalism portal) tweeted about it at 4:32pm. It is as if both CNA and ST were scrambling to reassure the public that STOMP’s tweet is the truth.
This may sound too much like a conspiracy theory. But the second reason why it was so quiet on the Singaporean front between 2:47pm and 4:32pm could be due to the false tweet sent out by STOMP the week before. As a result, both CNA and ST were very cautious about tweeting the news. Until STOMP messed it up. Again.
I briefly touched upon the STOMP fiasco in Part 2. If you were not aware about the STOMP fiasco, or STOMPgate as some netizens took to naming it, the long and short of it is that a paid staff from STOMP tweeted a picture to the public, showing one of the train/subway doors remaining open while the train/subway was still moving. The picture turned out to be false, and the paid staff was later fired while the editor-in-chief from STOMP had to apologize to SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transit). It was a bit hilarious to read about a government-linked company apologizing to another government-linked company. You can get more information from both mrbrown (4) and Alex Au (5). Overall, it was a very big embarrassment for Singapore Press Holdings (SPH is the owner of both STOMP and Straits Times). So it might be understandable why ST delayed their tweet.
However, CNA is owned by Mediacorp and was not involved in STOMPgate. So they could have immediately tweeted about the arrests. So why didn’t they? But let’s face it, Mediacorp is owned by Temasek Holdings, a state investment agency (6), which means you have two government-linked companies controlling majority of the MSM in Singapore. With STOMPgate still fresh in the public’s mind, CNA may not want to take the chance too. Hence, it may be why the Singapore MSM delayed tweeting about the arrests. After all, if they messed it up, they would have to apologize to the Commercial Affairs Department, the white-collar crime agency. Imagine the two media giants apologizing to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
So that is my second reason for the delay in the tweeting of the news. However, it does not explain why the MSM was so overzealous in their coverage of the City Harvest case. Ironically, the answer may also be related STOMPgate.
In my conclusion of Part 2, I mentioned that some Singaporeans pointed out that STOMPgate could be the reason for MSM’s rabid and sensationalist coverage of the City Harvest case. During my research for Part 2, I stumbled across this tweet:
I know that correlation does not imply causation. But if you think about it, it does make some sense. Back in 2009, Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who was then Senior Minister of State for Media, Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA), stated that the “‘Internet is not an effective self-regulated regime as some may have touted it to be'” (7). A year later, Minister Lui went on to say that the MSM in Singapore is still considered by Singaporeans as a trusted news source (8). Even before Minister Lui made his statements, the PAP government had constantly paint the online community and new media as untrustworthy, and that the MSM was the only public arena with reliable information.
Furthermore, both SPH and Mediacorp constantly state that they stand for responsible journalism, including STOMP, the online citizen journalism website. I am not sure how that works, but fine, we all took their word for it. However, after STOMPgate, the journalistic credibility of the Singapore MSM took a beating, and as such, it can no longer claim the journalistic high ground.
Perhaps, in a bid to distract the public from the incident, it decided to cover the City Harvest case intensively. Furthermore, in order to claw back its journalistic reputation, it tried to prove that it still had its journalistic credibility by overcompensating through their reporting. Ironically, in doing so, it covered the case in a very sensationalistic manner. So much so that, in the words of Mr. Chaw, they “… seem to have pre-judged [City Harvest]” (9).
However, like I said before, correlation does not imply causation, and one cannot point to STOMPgate as the main cause of MSM’s rabid and sensationalistic reporting on the City Harvest case. In my judgement, STOMPgate was just a symptom of the underlying structure that pervades throughout the media system in Singapore.
Now, most of you are wondering what I am driving at. Bear with me for a moment.
As most Singaporeans are aware, two media giants, Mediacorp and SPH, largely dominate the media system in Singapore. The former is dominant in television and radio broadcasting, while the latter retains a monopoly over the print media. As stated earlier, both have close links to the PAP government (10) and as such, the majority of MSM is co-opted by the government.
With the media co-opted, the culture of Singapore MSM had evolved into one where “political communication in Singapore is … seen as nothing more than official government communication to the public on its own prescribed terms” (11). And one of the PAP government’s prescribed terms is that the bureaucracy, and Singapore society in general, are free from corruption.
Hence, the main reason why the MSM gave the City Harvest case such an intense and sensationalistic coverage was to demonstrate that corruption, regardless of whether it occurred within the bureaucracy, the private or the public spheres, is simply not tolerated. And given that the case involves a charitable and religious organization, and that similar cases had had occurred in the past (12) (13), it is no wonder that the MSM devoted so much attention to this case. CNA aired a televised debate on the City Harvest case (14), and even the Parliament discussed about the case during its sitting on Monday and Tuesday (15).
Some of you may be thinking, “Wait, you got all these explanations, all of them, just from STOMPgate?”
Like I said, colerration does not imply causation. STOMPgate was just a symptom of the media system in Singapore. This is not the first time it happened, especially with the advent of new media. But I think this is first time where the Singapore MSM truly lost their journalistic and moral high ground. For years, they have been posturing themselves as “as a neutral and morally corrected information-provider for the Singaporean public” (16). But after STOMPgate, they lost that position, for good (I hope).
As a result, they did a zealous coverage on the City Harvest case for a two-fold reason. Not because they wanted to shift the public’s attention (they can always spin on another news item), but because they wanted to remind the public of the strict anti-corruption stance taken by the PAP government, and that as government-linked organizations, the MSM itself will be free from public corruption and will always maintain its journalistic integrity.
Sounds too conspiratorial? Yeah, even I myself, am not satisfied with the reasons I came up for the rationale behind the MSM’s behaviour. Perhaps it was as simple as it was: the MSM was humiliated by STOMPgate and just wanted the public to forget about it.
Why, public, why?
It is easy to brush off the severe backlash from the public as nothing but a mindless jump onto the media’s bandwagon. While it is true that some people were jumping onto the bandwagon, they were either the vocal minority or had no understanding of the incident. I believed that the majority of the public was trying to look at both sides of the issue and that most of the public knew not to take the MSM’s words at face value. Besides, if you really think about it, the MSM did not really provide much information other than rehashing what the COC, CAD, or City Harvest issued through their press statements. The rest was just speculation writ official.
However, some City Harvest members will point out that even those who were trying to be fair and impartial still ended up being biased against Kong Hee and the entire City Harvest Church (like me). Looking at how both MSM and social media reacted, there is some truth in that. Overnight, City Harvest was branded the new organization to hate, with some going as far as to call City Harvest a dangerous, brainwashing cult.
So what is it that got the public so riled up? Why was the public backlash so severe?
I believe that when it comes down to the heart of the matter, there are two broad reasons for the severely critical attitude from the public: initial unease towards City Harvest’s teachings, and the siege mentality adopted by City Harvest members.
If you read most of the blogs, Facebook notes, and tweets that were against City Harvest, and even those that belong to the fence sitters, the one common contention they had with City Harvest is: the prioritization of money. Simply put, they were uncomfortable with the message preached by Kong Hee and City Harvest.
While City Harvest’s core beliefs align closely to that of the Evangelical Protestant movement: The Great Commandant, The Great Commission, and the Cultural Mandate (which I covered at length in Part 1) (17), it is another aspect of their teachings that drew the most ire. This aspect can be broadly defined as the prosperity gospel. For those who do not know what the prosperity gospel stands for, it is a movement that originated from the United States at the end of the twentieth century (18). Essentially, the prosperity gospel states that “‘health and wealth’ are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of the package of salvation” and that the “individual is entitled to an endless supply of material satisfaction” (19).
Or as Alex Au succinctly states in his blog post: “if you believe, believe, believe, you would be blessed with material riches, then you yourself had better live a life of luxury” (20).
In the words of Deng Xiaoping: “To be rich is glorious”.
The prosperity gospel also makes a point that Jesus and his disciples were very rich. Alvin, blogger of Alvinology, put up a couple of Youtube videos on his blog that feature Kong Hee’s sermons (21). I am going to focus on three videos here. The first two videos feature one sermon. In this sermon, Kong Hee states that Jesus was not poor as he had the funds to support a large ministry.
This is Part 1 of the sermon:
I have picked out a few quotes that I found rather memorable:
At 3:07: “Jesus was rich, from the day he was born, for the Glory of God. Come on, Give the Lord a big hand”. Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought Jesus was born as a son of a carpenter? Sure, the Bible makes no mention if Joseph was poor or rich. All we know is that he was certainly not living at subsistence level. If God wanted Jesus to be born rich, he could had been born as the son of the Roman Emperor, or the son of King Herod. Yet, he was born as the son of a carpenter.
At 3:22: “Jesus ran a sophisticated sermon organization. I know a little bit of that”… and continuing on … “To hold public meetings usually cost a lot of money. Holding evangelical campaign”. I understand that Jesus ran a ministry. But what I liked is how Kong Hee drew parallels between a City Harvest music concert that cost almost S$250,000 and an ancient public meeting hosted by Jesus. Kong Hee’s reasoning is that because the concerts City Harvest organized is so damn expensive, so must be Jesus’ public meetings. I guess paying the Roman legionaries for crowd control must be a really huge drain on Jesus’ funds.
09:57: “They had the means to eat healthy, sustainable food, because the work is hard, the work is long”. I have nothing against eating. I mean, you do need to eat healthy to sustain your energy levels and health, otherwise, how are you going to live a productive life? But if you take this quote into the entire context of Kong Hee’s sermon, what he seems to be implying is that hey, it is okay to live beyond your means. You know, trying to keep up with the Jones. Or maybe I am just reading too much into it.
But these are not the most memorable quotes. Close to the end of Part 1 of his sermon, Kong Hee demonstrates a brilliant flash of ironical recognition. I mean, when he said that sentence, I was in awe. He knows how absurd his sermon is, he knows the huge amount of cognitive dissonance it was going to take to believe his sermon, and he probably knows that he is pissing off some of his congregation that stick to the more traditional interpretation of the Bible. So he said this:
11:09: “So don’t get upset with me. You know I’m showing you [examples] from the Word of God. And the Word is the source of our faith.”
That’s all folks. Let’s pack it up here.
Oh, but wait, hang on. That’s not all. In Part 2 of his sermon, it becomes even more absurd.
Skip to 4:23 (first 4 minutes is just praise and worship). I like how in the second part of the sermon, he started harping on the fact that Jesus owns two properties. If I remember correctly, Jesus most likely did own a house. After all, he inherited the carpentry business from his father, Joseph. I am not so sure if Jesus did own another property. Either way, by stating that Jesus owned two properties, Kong Hee is implying that more is never enough. Keep buying, people.
Now, here comes the winner where Kong Hee manages to outdo his “don’t get upset with me” statement. From 6:40 to 9:24, Kong Hee made Jesus looked like an entitled asshole. I mean, seriously, watch it, it was one hell of an awe-inspiring speech. From the way Kong Hee described Jesus, I would have pictured Jesus as a stuck-up rich asshole, no different from the Pharisees and the Sadducee of his time.
I guess Jesus must be rolling around in heaven:
Jesus: “ARRRGH!!! That… that… that KONG HEE!”
Gabriel: “My Lord? Is there a problem?”
Jesus: “Problem? PROBLEM? A pastor just described me as an entitled asshole and you ask if there is a problem?”
Gabriel: “I’m sorry, my Lord. Is there anything I can do? Maybe I can go down and reason with him.”
Jesus: “No, no more reasoning. Call Michael.”
Gabriel: “But… my Lord, is that not a bit too… drastic? Perhaps there are some other ways where…”
Jesus: “CALL MICHAEL! DDOOOOO EEEEETTTTTT!!!!!!”
Heaven has no rage like a pissed off Jesus.
I am not trying to make fun of City Harvest. But I am trying to point out the absurdity of Kong Hee’s prosperity gospel. And this is what most critics are so condemning about: Kong Hee and City Harvest essentially warps the words of the Bible to fit the prosperity gospel. In the third video, Kong Hee implicitly compares faith to the central bank:
In short, if you do not give enough material goods to God, your faith is worthless.
I know that by now, most CHC members will probably be very pissed off with me. Some may argue that the Bible is open to interpretation. The problem is that many religious texts are always open to interpretation, and most of the time, they are interpreted to justify someone’s personal worldview. An extreme example is the Ku Klux Klan using the Bible to justify their racial hatred.
Others will argue that I am reading too much into Kong Hee’s sermons. The problem that I find with many church members is that they take their pastors’ sermons at face value. They tend to forget that although the pastor is much more experienced and knowledgeable in the study of the Bible, sermons are usually filtered through the lens of the pastor’s worldview and personal experiences. Essentially, sermons are personal interpretation of the Word of God.
I am jumping at a huge leap here. But if you take it that sermons are personal interpretations of the pastor, then what implication does this has on Kong Hee? Basically, from his sermons, he is placing the love of money over the love of God. Some members will say that I cannot base Kong Hee’s beliefs and character on just a few videos floating around on Youtube. But I do not think I am the first to point this out. Other Christians and non-Christians who were trying to stay neutral in this whole debacle were also trying to point out this fact to City Harvest members. Basically, if you have faith in God, you will have all the material riches… but… you must keep on giving, and giving, and giving out material riches, in order to get these material riches. So really, it is sort of a vicious cycle.
I am not saying that all Christians and all pastors must live like beggars. I understand that everyone aims for a comfortable standard of life. Neither am I saying that a Christian cannot give anything to God. What I am saying is that Kong Hee is implying that the larger the amount you donate to the church, the bigger your faith is in God. Ultimately, your faith is tied to your wealth, not to God.
And it all comes down to this, really. Critics like me are trying to point out that if faith is just another exchangeable commodity to make you feel good, then how different is City Harvest from any another secular charitable organization?
But I guess this point got lost in the baying for Kong Hee’s blood.
Another point that the critics were trying to raise is, why does City Harvest need so much money? To be fair to City Harvest, the critics tend to forgot that the church does run numerous missionary and humanitarian projects in Singapore and overseas. I am not taking away that achievement from City Harvest. But with net assets of S$103 million (22), it is a huge amount of money, especially for a charitable religious organization. And understandably, the public will want to know how much of the money actually goes into funding the missionary and humanitarian projects. In short, a transparent record of where the money goes.
I tried looking for financial records on City Harvest website but found none. Perhaps COC and CAD ordered City Harvest to take them down in lieu of the investigations. That, I am willing to give City Harvest the benefit of the doubt, especially now that the case is before the court.
However, what struck me as strange is that some of City Harvest’s members stated that because City Harvest did no solicit donation or funding outside the church, the public has no right to make judgements.
Daphne of Mother Inc. blog, writing in support of City Harvest, uses the analogy of a stranger lecturing a family on how to manage their money:
I mean, I don’t come into your family and lambaste you for how you’re spending your money. If you decide to build your kids a bowling alley in your basement, that’s your right. Or if you decide to splurge on a Breitling for your dad, or a Prada bag for your second grandaunt’s cousin’s daughter, that’s entirely up to you. (23).
The problem with such thinking (“it’s our money, we can whatever we want with it”), is that, as a charitable organization, there is no stopping City Harvest from soliciting donations from the public. One reader commented in Part 1 that the Crossover Project is not widely publicized because it is a missions project. He then went on to state that City Harvest Church’s missions projects are not publicized as projects from the church. I asked if that means the missions projects does not advertise the fact that they belong to City Harvest, but I have not got a reply yet.
This is what worries me, and this is what many critics were trying to drive at too. There have already been reports of companies related or linked to City Harvest (24) (25) to deal with the numerous aspects of running the church’s many projects. It means that at any time, the church can solicit funding from the public through these companies and funnel the funding to the church. The “it’s our money, so back off” approach really ticked off a lot of people.
On top of that, supporters of City Harvest Church, especially some City Harvest members, kept quoting from the gospel of Matthew: “Do not judge, or you too will be judge. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (26).
To be honest, I was a bit put off by such sanctimonious behaviour. I understand that the Singapore MSM bungled the entire issue through its coverage. Although the Singapore MSM later tried to take on a more impartial by sending out reporters to City Harvest services, the damage was already done. I also understand that the members were trying to protecting their leaders and the church.
However, sometimes I think religious people love to constantly judge others for their morals. Yet, when the tables are turned, the religious come out screaming that only their God can judge humans. Not all are that way, of course, but it is usually the vocal minority that fuck things up.
The thing is that the charges were laid against Kong Hee and the other four, not the church. Even Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean stated that the case was only against Kong Hee and the other four, not against the church itself. City Harvest is free to continue its operations and services. Unfortunately, as the founder and an extremely public pastor of the church, Kong Hee’s charges became a blight on City Harvest, a blight that some members were desperate to remove.
Even Joel, a Christian, was puzzled by the behaviour of some of the more fanatical supporters of City Harvest (27). In his blog, he pointed out that:
1. The facts, as laid down by the mainstream media are, we must admit, incriminating. Kong Hee and friends intentionally concealed and misrepresented the way church funds were being used, and worked in a way which suggests a conscious and systematic mishandling of money. While, of course, they may not be guilty of any real wrongdoing, the very likely likelihood is there, and if he and his friends are indeed guilty of a crime, then the appropriate course of action is to condemn their misdeeds. There are no two ways about that – even praying to God will not change that fact because God is a God of justice, and He would want wrongdoings to be condemned.
This siege mentality by City Harvest members certainly did not do wonders. That combined with the initial disapproving view of City Harvest’s prosperity gospel, and the lack of transparent financial records, all snowballed into one very pissed off public and thus, the huge public backlash.
Some readers will point out that I am just as bad the other strident critics. I did warn you though, my personal opinions were come out in this part. This is not to say that I am taking away all the other humanitarian achievements by City Harvest. What I want to point out is that the actions of City Harvest members were complicit in creating this huge public backlash.
Last week, a reader emailed me a link to a Facebook group where all the City Harvest members were writing testimonials about how City Harvest changed their life. Called “Testimonies from the Hearts of City Harvest Members (Open)” (28), I read through some of the testimonials. Most of them were about how City Harvest helped them during very low points in their life. While I understand that City Harvest is their second home and family, I think they are missing the whole point here.
The point is, City Harvest is not Kong Hee, and vice versa. If anything, Kong Hee should be subjected to the body of City Harvest. Did not Jesus say that the leader should be the servant? Yet, City Harvest members conflated Kong Hee to the point where he was treated as a semi-deity. Yes, Kong Hee is a very capable man who started and built up City Harvest as one of the largest ministry and congregation in Singapore. But the way City Harvest members treated him and Sun was as if they both could do no wrong. I think this reaction stems from the fact that both Kong Hee and Sun are so integral to the organization to the point that both have become the organization. To criticize City Harvest is to criticize them, and vice versa.
And you can see the result. Kong Hee and Sun were in the public’s sights.
Why the Crossover Project and the Cultural Mandate?
So how does all these tie back to the Crossover Project and the Cultural Mandate?
Some of the comments that were left by readers in Part 1 raised many good points, and some actually helped to clarify the questions I had about the Crossover Project and the Cultural Mandate.
A couple of readers stated that the purpose of the Cultural Mandate was to break beyond the four walls of the church. What the term “four walls of the church” really means is to break out of the Christian community, and to handle society on society’s terms. In short, instead of insulating oneself within the Christian community, one must interact much more closely with the secular society, to speak its “language” on the same cultural level, and in the process, bring people into Christ’s fold.
When I asked, Part 1, why Sun did not just went into Contemporary Christian Music, a reader pointed out to me that secular people do not listen to CCM. As such, this is where the Crossover Project comes into play. It allows City Harvest, and Sun, to sort of ‘infiltrate’ the secular. The same reader pointed out that it did not had to be Sun to lead the Crossover Project. Anyone with the same amount charismatic, energy, and vision, could lead the Crossover Project.
In Part 1, I also further questioned the need to break into the the U.S. market. Some readers explained that breaking into the U.S. market was part of the larger plan to break into China. The reasoning was that Chinese people still take cultural cues and styles from the U.S. If you made it big in the U.S., then doors will open in China. Fair enough point. But I want to point out that Singaporean artistes like Stephanie Sun and JJ Lin made it big within the China market without ever going to the U.S. In fact, both Stephanie and JJ Lin were included in the 2008 Olympics “Beijing Welcome You” Song (29). The Chinese government will definitely not include them if they were not well known within the Chinese population.
However, to be fair, the readers pointed out that the Crossover Project became very successful in China. And one pointed out that without the Crossover Project, all these side projects, humanitarian projects and so on, would had never materialized.
But how is the Crossover Project financed? Many City Harvest members proudly proclaim that the support they Crossover Project. That they believe in its cause and that they will continue to donate to it. I understand. But what I want to know is whether the whole Project is funded purely by church members’ donations, or a combination of both church members’ donation and proceeds from Sun’s albums sales. And furthermore, I want to know if Sun’s music career is funded by the Crossover Project. So far, no readers has answered these two questions. But we will leave that for the court to decide.
So where does this bring us to?
The City Harvest case does represent a complex question. The way Kong Hee and the senior leaders conducted the business of the church had blurred the lines between charity and business, between religion and secular. To be honest, I do not have a problem with City Harvest organizing and running humanitarian projects and trying to get out to hard to reach areas. My issue with City Harvest is that as a charitable organization, they should be held up to a high standard of governance with transparent and clear financial records. None of that “it’s our money, so back off” bullshit. To be fair, Kong He and Sun did not take on that attitude. The blame laid squarely on the vocal minority of City Harvest members who were also screaming about not judging the church.
Then there is the Cultural Mandate. The more I think about it, the more I find that Kong Hee’s modus operandi can simply be described as “if you can’t beat them, join them”. This is the whole gist of the Cultural Mandate. The problem is that, how far do you draw the line? Because from what I see, in the process of ‘infiltrating’ the secular, Kong Hee, Sun Ho, and the other senior church leaders became more or less secular, with religion as a mere veneer. Or as Hunt succinctly states, the “…increasing secularization of religion, which is directed towards this world and material gain, and are best understood as an attempt to fulfil America’s dream of worldly progress by magical and supernatural means (Harris, 1981: 141)” (30).
Maybe when Kong Hee first started City Harvest more than 20 years ago, he was driven by a vision. He knew that in a country so obsessed with wealth and status, especially with a government so anal over Singapore’s GDP and GNP rankings, that there had to be a way to bring Christianity to the secular. But in the process of attempting to ‘infiltrate’ the secular and non-Christians, he became one of them. In the end, Kong Hee and the other senior leaders are no different from the many fengshui practitioners who promise wealth and status if you follow their advice.
For now, we will have to wait for part of the truth to be out on 25th July.
Appendix (the sources that infiltrated this post)
1. Channel NewsAsia: “Individuals, firms linked to City Harvest Church under probe”
2. City News: “City Harvest Church: 10 Years Of The Crossover Project”
3. City Harvest Church: “City Harvest Church Responds to Allegations”
4. mrbrown: “STOMP kena STOMPed”
5. Yawning Bread (Alex Au): “SPH falls out of open train doors”
6. Lee, Terence, and Lars Willnat. “Media Management and Political Communication in Singapore.” Political Communication in Singapore. Eds Lars Willnat and Annette Aw. New York: Routledge, 2009. 93-111. Print.
7. AsiaOne: “Online attacks: Minister rues lack of self-policing”
8. The Star Online: “Singaporean mainstream media ‘a trusted news source’”
9. City Harvest Church: “City Harvest Church Responds to Allegations”
10. Lee, Terence, and Lars Willnat. “Media Management and Political Communication in Singapore.” Political Communication in Singapore. Eds Lars Willnat and Annette Aw. New York: Routledge, 2009. 93-111. Print.
12. Wikipedia: “National Kidney Foundation Singapore scandal”
13. Wikipedia: “Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre”
14. Channel NewsAsia Talking Point: “Blurring the Lines” (uploaded on 3rd July 2012)
15. The Straits Times Breaking News: “Parliament to discuss City Harvest case on Monday”
16. Lee, Terence, and Lars Willnat. “Media Management and Political Communication in Singapore.” Political Communication in Singapore. Eds Lars Willnat and Annette Aw. New York: Routledge, 2009. 93-111. Print.
17. City Harvest: “Our beliefs”
18. Hunt, Stephen. “‘Winning Ways’: Globalisation and the Impact of the Health and Wealth Gospel”. Journal of Contemporary Religion. 15.3 (2000): 331-47.
20. Yawning Bread (Alex Au): “Crossing over from gospel to vanity”
21. Alvinology (Alvin): “Pastor Kong Hee: ‘Was Jesus Poor?'”
22. Commissioner of Charities’ Press Statement
23. Mother, Inc. (Daphne): “City Harvest, My Church”
24. Channel NewsAsia: “Individuals, firms linked to City Harvest Church under probe”
25. Commissioner of Charities’ Press Statement
26. The Holy Bible, New International Version: “Matthew 7:1-2”
27. Joel Joshua Goh: “On the Kong Hee scandal”
28. Facebook: “Testimonies from the Hearts of City Harvest Members (Open)”
29. 2008 Olympic Song: “Beijing Welcomes You”
30. Hunt, Stephen. “‘Winning Ways’: Globalisation and the Impact of the Health and Wealth Gospel”. Journal of Contemporary Religion. 15.3 (2000): 331-47.