This is a tale of two bows. The first one happened a few months ago (25 October) when Kong Hee bowed in multiple directions to his congregation.
Then, just last week, at the Star Awards, actress Rui En also bowed to a packed crowd. She said, "Regarding the recent incident - it's still under investigation, so before the full report is out, I hope you can all forgive me. I'm unable to answer the media at this point, but I hope to apologize for whatever inconveniences this has caused...I am very sorry."
It is reported that "at the end of her speech, she moved away from the microphone and gave a deep bow. That's Rui En's apology and bow.
Now comes Kong Hee.
He took the microphone, spoke in tongues, told the congregation to collect their gifts from the Church, that is, free CDs, and said:
"You have suffered much over the past few years because of your commitment to City Harvest Church. And your commitment to me. I am so sorry for all the pain and the turmoil you have had to endure under my leadership, under my watch. You have had to answer questions, and criticisms from family, from friends, from colleagues.
Pastor is so very sorry. So so sorry. That you have to endure through all these under my leadership."
Then, he continued his message to the Church and ended with this: "City Harvest, I love you. I really, really do love you. Always have and always will."
This is where he bowed, four long, deep and meditative bows. He bowed to the left, center, right and returned to the center again.
Lesson? I guess an apology is an apology is an apology. It has to be inward-focused. It has to point to a wrongdoing. It has to be one that accepts full responsibility for that wrongdoing. It is also about accountability. It is about personal integrity to do right. It is most importantly about change, making amends, repentance, and moving forward.
Yesterday, Rui En admitted, "This is an important moment in my career but I also face a difficult obstacle. To be a good actress, I not only have to act well, but I also have to put on my best self to the public. Because I have a straightforward personality, I show all my emotions on my face, so sometimes that causes misunderstandings. I still wonder every day if I'm suited for entertainment industry."
Here, I find that public celebrity/figure, whether in the entertainment industry or the mega-churches, share this same "difficult obstacle". And in this context, it comes in three parts:
1) Reconciling one's private self with public self. For Rui En, this is difficult because she literally wears her heart or emotions in her sleeves. She is straightforward. There is therefore a gap between the person she is and the person she is expected to project to all. And the wider the gap, the harder the obstacle.
But of course, the expectation in the entertainment industry is different from the religious institutions. It is only natural. No matter how human they are, pastors are supposed to set the example. Their misstep is sadly always met with this reaction, "But he's a pastor what!" With celebrities, the norm is to shake one's head and mutter, "Expected lah."
2) The issue of authenticity. I feel that all public personalities are role models in one way or another. Barring artists in the likes of Charlie Sheen (whose idea of a role model is to follow your heart), celebrity are like earthly heroes whom the fans look up to.
For pastors, the higher expectation comes with its higher calling. This is what the believer needs to believe as they view the church leadership as the emissary or ambassador of their Creator.
That is their un-admitted hope even if they claim to be following God and not his anointed human leaders. It is sadly a dependency syndrome where they can feel better about themselves (and it is less exhausting too) to know that they can look to or rely on a better example (than themselves) every time they don't meet the mark.
Seen in this light, morality is about following a supposedly brighter light to lead one's way and not so much about developing one's own light by going to the source.
For this reasons, pastors are held up to a standard that sometimes seems unrealistic to me and the vicious feedback cycle is that some pastors will endeavor to meet it unfailingly, without exception - or so help me god!
This brings me to my last point, coming back full circle to the bows and apologies.
3) The calculated apology. I know it has been six months and the appeal is still pending till September. But there is just something unnerving about Kong Hee's apology and his all-surround bows.
Honestly, I would rather he spare his congregation the "apology" and wait for such time when he is prepared to really apologize. It is therefore better to say nothing at all than to apologize with one hand and using the other hand to deflect all blame or worse, finger-point. (Surely, dragging his church through 142 days of trial with allegations of deceit and dishonesty proven beyond reasonable doubt, not to mention the name of Christ - even if the main charges were dismissed on appeal - would at least hint to some failings in leadership right? The right and honorable thing to do then - apart from an apology - is to step down, and definitely not to tighten even further the couple's grip on power with an allegedly new anointed pastoral leadership from on high).
And telling his congregation that he is sorry that they have to suffer pain, turmoil and criticisms under his leadership and no more is as clear an apology as a father telling his child to do as he says and not as he does.
A role model is one who is exemplary in both speech and deeds, and not just in speech. At the risk of stating the obvious, this is sadly a calculated apology. And to think that it comes from a man who is supposed to embody most, if not all, of the qualities of his crucified Savior is deeply disheartening.
So kudos to Rui En, for having the moral courage to do what is right. Cheerz.