Kong Hee fronted the Home Section this morning (17 Nov 2015) with this caption, “Prosecution calls for stiff sentences.” Notwithstanding only three charges, compared to others who are convicted of 6, the prosecution is asking for 11 to 12 years for the leader of the pack (similar to all except John Lam – 8-9 yrs, and Sharon Tan – 5-6 yrs) DJ See, in his written judgment, “pointed to Kong as the key man behind the scandal, writing that the charismatic church pastor had acted consciously and dishonestly.” It is reported that “for the moment, only King and Chew have indicated that they are likely to appeal.”
At this juncture, I recalled an article in the new paper one week ago. It was about “love gifts” that went into the secret account of the leaders of CHC. It was called MPA for “Multi-purpose account”. MPA was set up in 2006 and was closed in 2010. Over that period of time, a select group of donors gave S$2.8 million to the couple, namely, Sun Ho and Kong Hee. It was reported that a major part of the money was spent on Sun Ho’s salaries, bonuses and royalties. On top of that, her hair and makeup and medical bills alone came up to about S$240,000 in 2009. Airfares, hotel and travel insurances nearly topped S$200,000 in 2009. And consultancy fees was about half a million.
One mother of three, who contributed to MPA, came forward to defend her actions and the couple: “I made the decision that it was okay, because this is my money and I know where I want it to go. I gave with my free will. No one forced me to do it.” She continued, “Think about this as though you are contributing to your boss’ birthday and you can give however much you want. Someone sets up a birthday fund for the office and the money is put in there. Eventually, whether the money is spent on the birthday cake or the decorations is besides the point. I just know that I gave the money away as a birthday present and I trust the person to handle it.” Mm…with S$2.8 million over about three years, the lucky recipient could very well celebrate her birthday everyday.
Lesson? “God or money”, that’s what I learn this morning. If there is a final distillation of it all, a convergence of some sort, a crossroad where all the lessons coincide, it is one that goes beyond the love of money as the root of all evil. I think you don't really need to love it to nurture its virgin root. Sometimes, you just need to have absolute control of it and the heart will waver, the soul lust, and the spirit limp. It is said that if you give a beggar a horse, he will ride his way to hell. Same here. If you give a mega-church pastor untrammelled control, with only self (and wife) acting as the oversight, he will then ride his way to his own unmaking. Alas, God does not need to let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, we ourselves sometimes do a better job at it.
Here, I am reminded of Jesus’ admonishment in Matthew 6:24: "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
If we put aside the recent conviction, and the judge's statement that Kong Hee “acted consciously and dishonestly”, we are left with a lot of money in the absolute control of two fallible and highly vulnerable persons wildly adored by thousands, and who are living rather large and extravagantly. I feel that the lethal mix of money, control and adulation is dangerously combustible. Imagine a wild river of kerosene and a lighted match floating precariously on top of it - a chain explosion is just a split second away.
You can see how the issue here goes beyond whether the devotee is serving one master or the other. Sadly, it is more about using one master to serve the other, that is, using religion as a means to secure personal fortune and fame as its end. And in a situation where the flush of easy money meets the rush of endless human ambition and appetites, the real crossover happening right under one’s nose is to turn one's hatred for the world into an unwitting accomplice with the world – good intention notwithstanding. (It is ironic that it is called the Crossover, because it seems more like a crossover with no plans to turn back).
But the charade does not end there. Here is where the cover-up goes full throttle. It is also where self-deception takes on a sanctimonious moonshine. Kong Hee claimed in the earlier article that "it's a freewill giving...we didn't force them...We do not use it in a cavalier fashion." (I guess what is modesty to Donald Trump is cavalier to Kong Hee).
However, in the same breath, when Chew accused Kong Hee of defrauding his goodwill donors, including Chew himself, by "hiding the royalties and the salaries and the bonuses (amounting to $450k)...so that they would be emotionally led to contribute more," Kong Hee's only explanation was that "he did not have a chance to check with his wife whether she was comfortable revealing her salaries and royalties." He further said: "We do not have a culture in CHC, as in many companies, that we keep our income as confidential."
It is hard to believe that Kong Hee was sincere with that explanation. Is he accountable to God as His faithful steward or to the comfort level of his wife? Or, is he a trustee of the Church money or a protector of his wife’s feeling? (reminds me of Adam taking the fruit because he could not resist Eve’s persuasion). More relevantly, Is his Church no different from secular companies where the worldly culture was to keep all income confidential or is his Church the body of Christ where truth and integrity reign at all costs?
I recall George Washington once said that it is better to offer no excuse (at all) than a bad one. I guess serving one master would require one to betray the other. This betrayal is subtle and it happens over time. It is also highly resistant to correction. Indeed, to err is human, and to admit and learn from it, for some, is simply preposterous.
One former Chaplain’s words ought to shed some light on the whole prosperity gospel saga: “Jesus Christ said more about money than any other single thing because, when it comes to a man’s real nature, money is of first importance. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character. All through Scripture there is an intimate correlation between the development of a man’s character and how he handles his money.” I guess where one’s treasure is, there his heart will be.
In the end, Kong Hee and his wife are no different from the many fallen leaders before them. His followers would really want to believe that they are different, but sadly, they are not. The reality about us has not changed since time immemorial. But the human fantasy about it keeps changing its script – hoping that this time, it would be different.
The issue with us is that we are all looking for a hero – someone for whom we can emulate on a moral and spiritual high ground. As such, we will always hitch our dreams to a bright, dazzling, high-in-the-sky…falling comet. Alas, no matter how much we rewrite the script, this overriding fact remains: We are only human; none is exempted. We can’t pretend to be what we are not. Given the same circumstances, the same temptations, the same level of adulation, and the same deluded sense of invulnerability developed over time and feted by such mindless adulation, we are all inescapably fallible. We will ride our way to perdition. And to believe otherwise is the greatest lie of mankind.
Let me end here with this tale about being human.
“A man travels many miles to consult the wisest guru in the land. When he arrives, he asks the wise man: “Oh wise guru, what is the secret of a happy life?”
“Good judgment,” says the guru.
“But oh, wise guru,” says the man, “how do I achieve good judgment?”
“Bad judgment,” says the guru.”
And until we admit and learn from our bad judgments, we will always be condemned to live a life piling them up, even unknowingly (until it is too late). Cheerz.