Sunday, 22 November 2015

Uncrossing the Crossover.

The conviction and sentencing on Friday (20 Nov 2015) have finally wrapped up a case that has captured the nation’s imagination (mostly negative of course). 2 years of investigation and 3 years of trial have unraveled both religion and church leadership. DJ See singled out the 51-year-old leader Kong Hee as “the mastermind behind the conspiracy to cause wrongful loss to the church and defraud creditors.” He said Kong Hee was the “prime mover and driving force for the Crossover.” He got 8 years – the highest sentence meted out. The rest got between 6 years to 21 months. While Chew Eng Han made it clear that he will appeal, Kong Hee wrote that “unfortunately, I must continue to face some very difficult days ahead.” He may appeal subject to further legal advice. In a church service yesterday, he appreciated the support and love of his church members and thanked them on behalf of the other accused persons. He said, "My family and I, we are fine. We are just living each day by faith."
Lesson? I recall that Sun Ho, co-founder and recently appointed pastor of City Harvest Church, made this public statement after the conviction one month ago: "As was the case throughout these past three years of court trial, and the earlier two years of investigation, we have placed our faith in God and trust that whatever the outcome, He will use it for good (Rom. 8:28)."
I guess no biblical verse inspires more this side of heaven than Romans 8:28. Every trial has a silver lining and Romans 8:28 is that silver lining. While I can't read Sun Ho's mind on what she meant by "He will use it for good", I have my own view about the good I hope  to see in CHC after last Friday. And I am sure they diverge at a steep tangent from what Sun Ho had in mind. At the risk of being presumptuous, I have divided my Romans 8:28 hope into three parts and I preface that they are not prophecy or revelation of any kind - not by a long shot. They are however based on what I think is a common-sense approach to how things have developed. So, here goes.

1) To reconsider Sun Ho’s ordination. I have spoken to pastors and lay persons alike about the recent ordination and the general consensus is that it is not a wise move. I can’t disagree with them. While this is clearly an internal matter and CHC's leadership is free to do as they deem fit, I sincerely feel that what one deems fit may not be the necessary fit that plugs the problem in CHC and Christianity at large. It can't be denied that the 140-day trial and the full dirty-laundry-and-linens disclosure (or exposure) had dragged the name of Christianity through the mud. The public at large (netizens at least) are shaking their heads in disgust. Believers are clearly disillusioned. And many have left the faith because of the whole saga.
It is painfully ironic that the sacred act to save the “unchurched” is the same act that pushes the unchurched (as well as the “churched members”) away from church. The casualty, both direct and collateral, is deeply unsettling. Therefore, the right and decent thing to do now is to give more thought (or time) to handing over the leadership mantle. I feel that one should not go for the lowest hanging fruit at such time.
While the wound is still raw and tender, the ordination of Sun Ho as the head of CHC would deepen the divide (or at least muddle the water further). The reason is actually obvious. The commotion is all about the theological legitimacy of the Crossover Project.  Notwithstanding the charges, sentences and the guilt of all the accused persons beyond reasonable doubt, China Wine and Kill Bill with all its audaciously racy videos outrightly betray any theological legitimacy that Sun Ho or Kong Hee can ever hope to raise in support of the Crossover Project. The premises upon which it is based is in itself a non-starter because the concept is self-sabotaging and inherently inconsistent (or incoherent).
The bottom-line is that you just can't compromise the gospel in order to spread the gospel (to quote a local pastor) – however good the intention is. In fact, the defence of good intention may just be used as an excuse to ride roughshod over genuine opposition to the Crossover Project. You see, the logic for the Crossover Project as a missionary goal is completely reversed, inversed and even perverse. And the main protagonist and originator of it is none other than Sun Ho. She was and is at the center of the theological, criminal and penal storm.
All monies were funneled, surreptitiously by her hubby, to build up her stardom for purpose that are highly controversial. She is the main, if not the sole, beneficiary and recipient of the church funds, whether given as love gifts or otherwise, to be used to shore up her fame, looks, hair, brand, style, choreography, accommodation, travel flights, makeup, medical and consultation fees, and album sales. Even her bonuses and royalties were astronomical by any standards. In other words, the Crossover Project is Sun Ho and Sun Ho is the Crossover Project. The two are inseparable.
Whether one can ever argue that the Crossover Project is a Trojan-horse mission for evangelism and the betterment of all in the supposedly ecumenical faith is really a foregone conclusion now since the net evangelistic loss for Christianity as a whole is painfully plain to see. The numbers, and more importantly, the destructive trail left behind after the trial, just doesn’t add up. Like the haze, I can still smell the burning from a distance for many years to come.
The best analogy I can give about the Crossover Project is to picture two adolescents with good intention playing a prank on another only to have it backfired to such extent that it ends up in total permanent damage irreparable. The joke, however funny and well designed, mutates into a tragedy – so to speak. This does not mean that the pranksters are less culpable. It only means that they should have given it more thought and deliberation. And if you transpose this analogy from unwitting pranksters to two grown-up, mature Christian leaders who hold the sacred responsibility of thousands of young and growing believers in their sole hands, the tragedy is compounded manifold.
(Actually, if you think about it, Roland Poon - the godsend whistle-blower - was the crossroad the pastoral couple needed to turn their gambit around if they were truly convicted at that time by a God-inspired conscience. Alas, the reverse happened instead and they discombobulated the situation further. It shockingly deepened the devious dare and made the couple's subterfuge even more insidious. They in fact upped the ante to pile up the cover-ups with more cover-ups in the guise of sham bonds, dubious advance rental and sham companies. These were all elaborate schemes pursued by a scheming mind to exact the maximum disinformation, duplicity and defrauding. It was not just an act with some calculated deliberateness, but one that was in blatant defiance and unmitigated deceit. This just deepens their guilt even more. That’s double, if not triple, the irony! I guess that is why the one (Kong Hee) who shifted all the blame to another (Chew and the auditors) also bore the highest penalty because he compounded the cover-ups with the cardinal sin of being a leader and that is cowardice. Alas, it is said that you will know who a true leader is in the foxhole of a trial. He is one who'll never leave his men behind. He is one who takes the first bullet. He is one who leads by example. I guess such leadership is rare nowadays because it is so much easier to preach the Word than to live it out).
But I have digressed. I apologize. Let’s return to Sun Ho’s ordination, or the reconsideration of it.
So if Kong Hee, as DJ See said, was the mastermind, then the Crossover Project was Sun Ho’s brainchild, conceived in the fermented womb of her innermost desires. And Sun Ho is currently thriving on the technicality that she was not charged and convicted - while those of much lesser culpability are - and therefore she is conveniently innocent when the truth is that she is just, if not more, guilty as her self-saving marital partner. That's just my view.
So to ordain her to lead CHC 2.0 simply smacks in the face of good sense, unbiased judgment and prevailing wisdom. Ironically, just like the many cover-ups in the Crossover Project, Sun Ho's frictionless elevation to the top appears to me to be enshrouded in secrecy, opportunism and convenience. Were independent and autonomous advice sought on her ordination? And were their views, if sought after, taken into earnest consideration? Or, is this another in-house, family-oriented decision made within closed walls? Alas, is history repeating itself?

2) Acceptance and moving forward. Kong Hee may appeal. He is still defensive about his god-purified conscience. He desires a second bite of the cherry of innocence. His apology is more self-serving than self-reproaching. And on this point, DJ See remarked that the charismatic preacher is prone to exaggeration and inflating facts. His oral judgment in fact sums it up about Kong Hee - not as a humble shepherd willing to sacrifice for his flock - but as a manipulative leader driven by blind ambition to ensure that his wife's music career succeeds at all costs. In fact, according to Chew, he once confronted Kong Hee after the COC report in 2013 and this was what Kong Hee told him, "Let's forget about everything that we are talking about. I just want to know are we good or not...Are you still on my side or not?" I guess there are always two sides in a church. One is on the side of the leader and the other is on the side of God or truth.
At times, I felt that whether the likes of China Wine and Kill Bill would bring in souls into the Kingdom of God was largely secondary to his unquenchable appetites to make sure that his wife makes it really big in the international music scene. Like the 2008 economic recession where banks are deemed too big to fail, for Kong Hee, his wife's music career simply cannot afford to fail as the stakes and the personal reputation are just too high.
After the 140-day trial, DJ See noted that there was never any genuine belief by Kong Hee that the bonds invested using the building funds would bring CHC any financial return. Further, the Judge stated that there was never any genuine belief in Sun Ho's prospect of success for the US Crossover. Even Serina herself had conceded at trial that her Asian Crossover albums all made losses and Xtron "incurred substantial accumulated net loss." The Judge also noted that "the accused persons hid or obscured material information" from their auditors and lawyers.
In being satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that all the accused persons were guilty of all charges, DJ See wrote: "The accused persons chose to engage in covert operations and conspiratorial cover-ups. They contrived to create cover stories and clever round trips concealing their unlawful conduct. They chose to participate in the conspiracy to misuse CHC's funds, which included siphoning off large amounts from the Building funds for Sun Ho's music career...They chose to defraud the auditors with falsified accounts suggesting a series of genuine transactions for the redemption of bonds and advance rental. The evidence points overwhelmingly to a finding that they had all acted dishonestly and in breach of the trust reposed in them and they played their respective roles in a conspiracy with intent to cause wrongful loss to CHC and to defraud the auditors.” 

The above opinion in a 140-day trial of a mountain load of evidence closely scrutinized, debated and reexamined contains such words like "conspiratorial cover-ups", "contrived to create cover stories", "concealing their unlawful conduct", "conspiracy to misuse CHC's funds", "defraud the auditors with falsified accounts", "all acted dishonestly", and "in breach of the trust". The question here isCan the Judge be any more subtle? And can Kong Hee (and his church members) be any more unconvinced?
So, after all said, convicted and sentenced, is Kong Hee going through a Job-like, God-approved trial to build his godly character and faith with a Joseph-like ending, or is he no different from the many other fallen leaders before him who were led astray by their own greed, pride and self-delusion? You be the judge. And in my view, in either scenario, God has nothing to do with it - not even by a long shot. 

3) Uncrossing the Crossover. Today's paper talks about Chew Eng Han. He once "urged Kong Hee to talk to CHC's board and executive just apologise and repent." And when Kong Hee did not, Chew quit the Church. Having said all that, my third lesson is about turning back. It is about the prodigal son’s final leg home. I trust no man (or woman) is beyond redemption. And sometimes, it takes a life-shattering event to change for the good. If you allow me some indulgence, I imagine these eight spiritual transformations of Kong Hee for each of the eight years he will be serving his sentence (not in any strict order).

1st year: Crossover. This is the cause of it all. The project to save the world by becoming the world. This is what led Kong Hee to where he is today. Everything was done in the past decade or more to make the Crossover project a runaway success by whatever means possible, whether legally or illegally. And this is also where the main focus (and rehabilitation) has to be. This is the convergence of all efforts to transform Kong Hee in the next eight years of his solitary confinement. 
2nd year: Crosscurrents. I would expect stubborn resistance here. It was a calling from god anyway. The couple was vacationing when they claimed to have heard the divine mandate. So, the cognitive dissonance will raise up a wall of denial and a storm of protest against calling it otherwise. Kong Hee will fight with every carnal fiber in his soul against the thought that he might be wrong, that the calling was self-serving. He will struggle real hard to admit his mistakes. I'd expect that it's going to be a tough battle between the dawning reality and self-delusion.
3rd year: Crossfire/Cross country. Yet, Kong Hee cannot help but face his waterloo. He has to own up to reality. In the four walls of his cell, he will have hours, days, and even months of intense self-reflection to confront the demons within. He will be compelled to take a long and hard look at St. James' mirror and see the shared brokenness of humanity. This is the wilderness he alone has to trek to find himself, and to find God.
4th year: Uncrossing. In his fourth year, Kong Hee will have arrived somewhere. The preceding three years will have mellowed him somewhat. I'd expect a return of some good sense. I'd expect some somberness and direction to set in. Hopefully, Kong Hee will start to see the folly of his ways. He will come full circle to view all past creeds and deeds in a whole new light. The crossover will by now  come undone before his eyes. He will undergo an internal process to "uncross" the crossover.  
5th year: Crossroad. The fifth year is Kong Hee's turning point. It is where he confronts the Crossover project with a gradual change of heart. His resistance over the years has taken a reversal of direction. With heart and eyes opened, Kong Hee is empowered to take the first step forward. He is no longer entrapped by the blind ambition of success at all cost. He is starting to see the futility of it all. He is gaining a Solomon-like perspective. He is on his way out.
6th year: Re-crossing. As it all started with the crossover, the road to make amends will invariably involve another crossover. This time, it is about tracing the steps back from where he came before. Like the prodigal son who came to his senses and returned to the father, Kong Hee will do the same. His road to enduring change will lead him to a place of poignancy and familiarity. It is a place called home. And on the sixth year, he is spiritually ready to pack up and go home.
7th year: Crossing Jordan. If crossing the Jordan river represent the last hurdle to overcome in order to enter the promise land, then Kong Hee will have to complete this journey in faith and hope. In the same way that God was with His people led by Joshua, God's presence will follow Kong Hee as he crosses the final hurdle towards repentance, reconciliation and restoration.

8th year: Cross of Calvary. The eighth year is where Kong Hee comes face-to-face with his Savior, his first love, after a long leave of absence. Here is the culmination of all the years of reflection, rehabilitation and remorse as he surrenders himself at the foot of the Cross. The Cross was where it all first started before he lost his way with the Crossover and this will be where he starts all over again and find his way back. And as he steps out of solitary confinement to reclaim his legal freedom, the greatest victory for Kong Hee is the spiritual freedom he had fought so hard for in the eight years to secure. It is this endearing freedom in Christ that will ensure that his transformation is genuine, enduring and even inspiring. Till that day comes, we will all be praying. Cheerz.

Postscript: I believe God loves the Church. He loves the Church so much that He is able to work all things for the good notwithstanding flawed leadership. I have myself been to CHC and I know intimately why God loves the Church. I saw eager seekers of the truth. I saw people praying with real needs.  Some were kneeling for answers. Others were even tearing with the genuine struggles they brought back with them to the unglamorous home they live in. They are the reason for Calvary. They are why Jesus gave his life for. The heart of the Church is the body of Christ. They are made up of people from all walks of life, reconciling their brokenness, grief, pain, and humanity with Calvary's finished work. I feel that the people in CHC is why God loves the Church - not so much its disappointing leadership. While CHC 2.0 will move forward with or without Kong Hee, I believe that they cannot go forward into a new future by denying, ignoring or dismissing their past. They have to come to terms with it. They as a body of Christ have to take up the interim leadership and tell it as it is - the same way Jesus courageously told it as it is. Jesus did not come just to offer the free gift of salvation. He also came to be our advocate, to bring our brokenness before God, to fight for what is right, to receive repentance, to give hope and to discipline and correct in love. At times like this, the body of Christ has to realize that their support for their leaders may be in direct opposition to God. And therefore, to support them absolutely is to oppose God absolutely. They therefore holds the sacred responsibility to stand in the gap to save the Church and her leadership. And to save her leaders is to break them into repentance, that is, to say sorry this time not for the turmoil caused to the members. But for being the main cause of that turmoil.  Cheerz.


  1. Absolutely well said and words of a wise man indeed. Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts and articulating them into a beautiful article that neither condemns nor judge. You are right in that God loves the Church and so much so that He is making things right in CHC. I think I learn more from you than Kong Hee's sermons ;)

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  3. Thanks for dropping by. Encouraged. Cheerz.

  4. I'm not surprised that they ordained Sun Ho as pastor - its to be expected. Why should the leopard change its spots? In their eyes they have done nothing wrong.

  5. You said it so well. I've said similer things to several pastors to see if the council of churches could step in & give strong spiritual advice to the leadership of CHC on their next phase. Sun Ho much absolutely be removed from all leadership position & should be given counsel. CHC cannot allow a foreign friend to advice or run the church. It's time for genuine refection & like the prodigal son, turn around. No more blind respect & blind submission to the leadership. This case & saga should also be a wake up call for other churches & clergy. If Jesus Christ is not the sole purpose & leadership head of the Church, than all that is being done is hay, wood & straw.
    My fear is the Khong's may still not repent & may have been too deep into their self believe to declare that this judgement is flawed. It's time for divine intervention. CHC has to start on a new path.

  6. Repentance is the key. However, Kong Hee is too proud and full of himself to repent.

  7. Truly saddened by this whole situation. We had our Baptist World Youth Conference in 2013 at the same venue, using their resources, and we were able to witness one of their worship meetings... So many hungry souls!
    May God grant him the grace to say like Jonah... It is because of me... Throw me overboard! God is merciful. Cheers!