Sunday, 24 April 2016

Kong Hee and the collective comfort zone.

I can’t start writing this post without first book-marking it with two extracts at the opposite poles of each other. Here are the extracts with a brief background.

You can find this post in Kong Hee’s recent Facebook. It is about his trip to Japan. He wrote: “From 29 March to 6 April 2016, Sun and I went to Japan and ministered to many churches at 4 different cities Fukuoka, Kumamoto, Osaka and Kyoto. We have a deep love for Japan and for our beautiful Japanese brothers and sisters-in-Christ. Their hearts are so hungry for the Lord Jesus and His Church…We can hear the sound of revival in our hearts, and sense that the harvest is definitely ripening. “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land” (Song 2:11-12). Japan, Jesus loves you and we love you too! Thank you for receiving us with such open hearts! Jesus says, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23)””

At about the same time, the foreign ministry's policy adviser, Mr Kausikan has this to say about Kong Hee’s evangelistic trip to Japan: "To my Japanese friends: this disgraceful compatriot of mine has been convicted of a criminal offence and is now free only because he is appealing his jail sentence. His conviction was for misuse of church funds. Do not be deceived." This personal post has in fact gone viral.

End of extracts. Here comes my commentary, chariot-led by this question.

I really don’t know whether we should let bygones be bygones or are we living in a culture of judgment, criticism and/or condemnation?” 

But first, here are the undisputed facts: Kong Hee was convicted and sentenced to 8 years. He was charged with misusing church funds under the cover of deception, manipulation and fraud. He and his other leaders have appealed, which will be heard in September this year. He is also the co-founder and senior pastor of a local mega-church, City Harvest Church. His wife is the other senior pastor. 

Both husband-and-wife team have been busy lately ministering to masses locally and around the Asian region with the most recent trip to Japan. 

Now, I can’t deny that Kong Hee has touched many lives with the gospel. If you see the videos he had posted on Facebook, it showed churches in Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan all being ministered to by his preaching and presence. There were even testimonies of healings, overcoming and personal victory in their lives.

All these can’t be bad for the Kingdom of God right? And no matter how you spin the wheel of misfortune and deception, they are what the gospel has been talking about, that is, ministering to the lost, feeding the poor, helping the downtrodden, encouraging the weak, inspiring the masses, and giving of yourself in humble service to the people hungry for God. They all form an integral part of the Great Commission that Jesus had anointed and empowered his disciples for.

And in his Facebook post, Kong Hee swooned with these words: "We have a deep love for Japan and for our beautiful Japanese brothers and sisters-in-Christ. Their hearts are so hungry for the Lord Jesus and His Church. They are believing that God is opening up heaven and pouring out His Holy Spirit afresh upon this generation." 

Here, one can’t deny that Kong Hee is doing God’s work and is doing it with sheer commitment and passion. What’s more, recently a lawyer from East Malaysia was healed of serious pain in his leg and he was amazed at Kong Hee’s disposition - he said that he saw “a man who was totally immersed in the joy of the Lord. He seemed to be the happiest person in the auditorium.So, is Kong Hee for real? Is he the real thing?

At this point, even if Kong Hee’s critics were quick to suspect his motive, accusing him of being hypocritical and trying to whitewash his records in a desperate attempt to garner support and sympathy, can an objective bystander then find his “tainted evangelism” (so to speak) partly defensible based on Philippians 1:15-18? The verse reads: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” No doubt Kong Hee has ministered to many lives, but is there just one life that he may have missed - his own?

Mm…food for thought?

So, let’s return to the question I posed earlier: “Should we let bygones be bygones or are we living in a culture of judgment, criticism and/or condemnation?

Well, to be honest, our society would come to a standstill if we kept all judgments to ourselves and bury the hatchet regardless of the conduct/response of the convicted offender. The matter is of course more complicated than that and it should rightly be so.

You see, Christians are called to stand up for what is right, to pursue justice, to embrace repentance, to offer forgiveness, to accept godly advice and to keep each other accountable. And even if Kong Hee were to succeed in his appeal this September on whatever ground or on some technicality, he cannot escape the moral failings in his leadership. I am sure even his most ardent fan cannot defend the indefensible without appearing disingenuous. (But of course, I may sadly be proven wrong by the tenacity of groupiness).

In my view, he is still accountable for misleading the masses by claiming with a straight-face that he has “a genuine belief in his wife’s prospect of success for the US Crossover.” Even Serina Wee had “readily conceded that Sun Ho’s Asian Crossover albums all made losses and Xtron had thus incurred  substantial accumulated net losses.” I guess for a leader, there is a very thin line between blissful ignorance and willful blindness. 

Further, the subterfuge continued with Kong Hee’s questionable leadership in trying to withhold important information from his lawyers and auditors about his controlling stakes and role in both Xtron and CHC. (And I am not even talking about the sexually suggestive China Wine video).

On the whole of the evidence, the Judge found that “the Crossover became a comprehensive logic for justifying their beliefs and actions, and for doing whatever was expedient for its advancement. The pervasive mindset seemed to be one of short-term expediency; the use of means involving dubious methods was worth the risk to them if there was some hope of longer-term gain.” And all this clearly fits the profile of a cunning schemer with ulterior motive.

So, it is surely still-waters-run-deep for his leadership and the real issue on a moral leadership level goes beyond merely hammering a gavel and pronouncing one’s guilty or innocent. I presume Christian leaders are called to a higher standard of thought, conduct and example?

As such, appeal or no appeal, Kong Hee cannot possibly exculpate himself for the moral gaps in his leadership – good intentions notwithstanding. And more so, as a Christian leader, he is called to give a proper and full account. Therefore, what is expected from a Church leader like Kong Hee is not “short-term expediency” for “longer term gains” but long-term self-sacrifice for the sake of his beloved Church and his loving Savior. And whatever the distances he travels to spread the world, albeit admirable in some ways (motive notwithstanding), he would still have to return home one day to confront himself.

However, thus far, he has shown neither a broken heart nor a contrite spirit for what he had done. On the contrary, he had deflected all blame, pushed it exclusively to his finance/investment manager, played the “it-wasn’t-me” card, projected the martyr image in the likes of Apostle Paul, apologized to the congregation only to give the impression that they (and himself) are enduring this trial for God and with God’s approving nod, conveniently ordained his wife (who may well be the primal motivation for all that the Judge considered as expedient to advance the Crossover project), and took this time to go on a regional tour to preach the word instead of coming humbly before God to examine his own heart. I guess based on Philippians 1:15, it’s all the same even in the name of self-interest expediency as long as Christ’s name is preached, right? Or not?

Alas, if I have any explanation at all for the overwhelming support he is receiving from his Church, it may not be a God-endorsing one. In other words, it may not be an explanation where he has God’s seal of approval. It is on the contrary a secular one. 

And here, I recall the 2008 recession where Ben Bernanke borrowed the phrase “too big to fail” as a justification to save the big corporate players who were the main culprits for the financial debacle. He explained it as a situation where “the size, complexity, interconnectedness, and critical functions are such that, should the firm go unexpectedly into liquidation, the rest of the financial system and the economy would face severe adverse consequences.” 

And Mr Bernanke went on to say that “the Governments provide support for too-big-to-fail firms in a crisis not out of favoritism or particular concern for the management, owners, or creditors of the firm, but because they recognize that the consequences for the broader economy of allowing a disorderly failure greatly outweigh the costs of avoiding the failure in some way.”  

In the context of Kong Hee’s moral complicity and leadership duplicity, the overwhelming support he is receiving may just be a case of “too good to fail”. The Church therefore cannot imagine any alternative leadership except the husband-and-wife team. The status quo is just too good to let go without throwing the Church into a tailspin of uncertainty and leadership crisis. It is this “adverse consequences” that the Church as a whole is desirous of avoiding in return for overlooking, downplaying or rationalizing the leadership flaws.

Kong Hee and Sun Ho have therefore positioned themselves  to be increasingly indispensable and they and CHC have become indistinguishable. So, the “too good to fail” factor would be placed under threat if they are taken out of the equation. 

As such, the situation has become a case of shooting the arrow at the wall first before drawing the bull’s eye around it. Seen in this light, the justification for the perpetuation of their leadership is based on working backwards by throwing up conscience-soothing reasons for their stay. This way, their pastoral tenure in CHC is for life with no need to reconsider at any given moment whether it is the right thing to do or it is what God had intended in the first place after his conviction. The default position is thus about how to justify their continued leadership.

In the end, it takes moral courage to step up to the plate and call a spade a spade. Alas, this will not happen anytime in the near future, even if Kong Hee fails in his appeal and serves his time without ever coming to terms with his ethical lapses, because in the eyes of the Church, his leadership over the years is just “too good to fail”. 

And if this explanation is credible and true, then the collective comfort zone of the Church has sadly taken precedence over the effective Will of the Father. Cheerz.