Sunday, 17 July 2016

Kong Hee vs. Eng Han: The ultimate church?

The friendship started in 1995. At that time, Kong Hee’s church services were held at the old Hollywood theatre in Tanjong Katong. The congregation was only 1,300-strong, but growing fast. A demon possession brought them together. Eng Han’s wife suffered "attacks" and had no control over her actions. She had a history with the occult as her father was a medium.

At one of the church services, Eng Han’s wife was doing a handstand and shocked everyone present. But Sun Ho came to her aid in 1996 when she prayed for her for two hours. She cast the demons out of Eng Han’s wife and the couple were very grateful. Their faith grew after that.

From there, Kong Hee and Eng Han bonded like brothers. Eng Han then rose quickly through the ranks. He was appointed to the church board in 1998, eventually becoming vice-president and treasurer. For the Crossover project, he was CHC’s investment/fund advisor. He was also Kong Hee’s confidante, mensch, trusted friend.

But things went down-south fast when the investigation of fraud started in 2010. Their friendship was put to the test when Eng Han was asked to draw the battle-lines of his allegiance. Accordingly to Eng Han, he “confronted Kong about the above, where Kong simply responded by asking him if he was still on his side. When Chew urged Kong to “just apologise and repent” by coming clean, and he didn’t, that was his last straw, where he finally left, in a signal he hoped to send to others to think about the church more critically.”

From foxhole buddies, they became two strangers standing on the opposite side of the fence or chasm, and the latter is getting wider of late. The bitterness between them spilled over during the 142-day trial when Eng Han told reporters that Kong Hee was a liar and deceived those closest to him. Eng Han then left the church in 2013 in utter disgust and disappointment.

But the feud did not end there. His woes worsened when CHC sued him last year for $21 million being unreturned investments. Mind you, this was the same church he once gave tens of thousands of dollars to without flinching or batting an eyelid. In total, about S$600,000 of his own money was poured into the building fund and a multi-purpose fund, which was used rather lavishly and exclusively by the pastoral couple.

Thinking back about the church members who had parted with their hard-earned money, Eng Han lamented: “These people are all living difficult lives, you know? Even for myself, for all the earnings I have given, I could have saved or multiplied it for my own children. I hardly have anything now, because I believed in this vision, in serving God.”

Then came the recent saber-rattling when Eng Han lodged a police report last week against eight CHC’s members for fraudulent misrepresentation. He said, "I am only one of many victims of misrepresentation. The focus is not on myself but on what Kong, Sun and (their) team have done to the members, many of whom have left the place.”

Alas, Eng Han’s dream of a church which was “so different from other churches, always at the forefront of new things” came to an unexpected, bitter end with the investigation, prosecution, trial, conviction, sentence, civil litigation (for the return of S$21 million) and the recent accusations of fraudulent misrepresentation against his ex-mentor, former spiritual leader and trusted shepherd, Kong Hee.

At this juncture, it is ironic that when Kong Hee was cross-examined in Aug 2014, he said this: “I began to transition from the role of a shepherd to that of a rancher. So basically and I’ve said this to my members many times instead of just becoming a shepherd, I became the chief feeder, the chief leader….. I’m still pretty much playing the role of a typical church pastor, although, because the church has grown, I got to take a more helicopter view of things.”

The operative word here is “rancher” as against being a shepherd. And if I may stretch the metaphor further, with some indulgences, I see a nuanced difference between the heart of a shepherd and the business of a rancher.

I think the Bible used “shepherd” for a specific purpose. In John 21, Jesus the Good Shepherd told Peter that if he truly love him, he would do three things: “Feed my lamb”, “Take care of my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep.” Unmistakably, the sacred role of the Good Shepherd is to watch over His sheep, protect them, nurture them, guide and lead them, and inspire the flock – just as Jesus had done with his disciples. And should even one sheep wander off, the Good Shepherd would spare no effort to look for it.

But Kong Hee’s rancher metaphor, although unintended by him, is uncanny (not to mention, disturbingly ironic) and the parallel to his current situation in the light of the investigation, trial, sentence and Eng Han’s recent police report leaves a bad taste in the mouth – to put it mildly. It is unfortunately a case of cutting your nose to spite your face, or in Kong Hee’s case, shooting one’s foot with a metaphor that backfires more than it stirs up the noblest of intention and desires.

Now, one can’t help but see Kong Hee’s leadership as he’d self-described it, that is, a rancher. And a rancher in the modern context is one who breeds and sells animals for food-related purposes, or a tidy profit.

A rancher essentially runs a business, and unlike a shepherd who tends to and protects his flock, sacrificing himself for their safety, the rancher’s goal is to feed his livestock, and encourage them to reproduce, all for the purpose of marketing, advertising, distributing and selling them for money. At the end of the day, it is all about the bottomline, or the profit margin to maximize self-gain.

Metaphor overkill or a Freudian slip? – you be the judge.

Here, Luke 15:3-7 is instructive. It is about Jesus rebuking the religious leaders when the latter caught Jesus welcoming and eating with “sinners”. Jesus’ riposte is captured in this parable: “Which of you men, if you had one hundred sheep, and lost one of them, wouldn’t leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that was lost, until he found it? When he has found it, he carried it on his shoulders, rejoicing. When he comes home, he calls together his friends, his family and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” I tell you that even so there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

The metaphor, I admit, gets even more ironical. With granted indulgence to stretch it just that tad bit, it is safe to say that Kong Hee is not going to set up an a la Tommy Lee Jones’ search party anytime soon to overturn “every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse to look for that one sheep (and the many others) who had once dedicated his (their) life, time and money to his ministry, but had left in disillusionment and disappointment for what they have perceived as an unrepentant leadership, which now desperately seeks expansion just to regain lost ground.

Metaphor overkill or reality check? – you be the judge.

The biting irony? Kong Hee (and his wife) have spared no effort and expenses to go around the world to look for new sheep, rounding up the flock in the outer regions, but, to those who had once given their undying allegiance to him, even his most trusted confidante, he conveniently walks on by, leaving them to care for themselves, their broken trust, faith and hope lie in ruins (while the charismatic rancher and his beatific partner expand their estate to welcome the new flock). And when the church attendance dropped from about 24,000 to 17,000, with many even leaving the faith due to numbing disillusionment after giving of their best years to the ministry, I wonder what is Kong Hee doing as their self-proclaimed shepherd to remain accountable to them? Is his apparent nonchalance in conformity with what Jesus once commanded Peter to do, that is, Feed my lamb”, “Take care of my sheep”, and “Feed my sheep”?

Unfortunately, this is made even more unsettling when we clearly saw last November the passing of one's decade-old bible to another (spouse to spouse), a marital mantle transference, yet Kong Hee, not being a pastor, is currently busy being a pastor (or a rancher as he called himself) taking a helicopter-like flight around the regions to preach with sweet abandonment. I guess searching for (and making peace with) one or two lost sheep is less of a priority for him than roping in new ones.

Metaphor overkill or opportunistic spirituality? - you be the judge.

(Now, let me be absolutely clear that I rejoice too when souls are saved – regardless of the effort or intention. My focus is not on the saved, but the leadership – which is called to a higher accountability. My point is about the personal and private reflection of the whole truth by the leadership, and not the evasion, manipulation, dilution or discombobulation of it. I preface that no one here is beyond reproach. My only concern is that Kong Hee might be on an evangelistic overdrive to overcompensate for his leadership failures and shortcomings instead of coming to a point of broken admission at the feet of Jesus so as to move forward for greater enduring works. For I always believe there is no greater manifestation of God’s power than a man reformed, renewed and truly reborn).

I guess Jesus was spot on when he said that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” Alas, in today’s self-therapeutic culture in some religious circles, I think repentance is grossly undervalued. It has become an inconvenient truth. We rather keep it under wraps – especially the leadership – because repentance makes us look bad. Saying sorry is not only the hardest word; it is also an image wrecker. We just can’t keep up with appearances if we admit to the need for personal deliverances. Kong Hee’s three bows say it all. It is a melodrama of finger-pointing and not a personal trauma of unreserved admission.

Some churches are even dispensing with after-altar-call repentance altogether because they have deemed themselves righteous long even before a stray thought, a crooked act or a devious desire could materialize. For them, repentance is always other people since the body of Christ is already righteous, beyond reproach by virtue of Calvary. But seriously, are we? Has Christianity of late gaining more appeal, authenticity and credibility because we are progressively becoming more righteous than before? Is that why people believe and are drawn to us...because of our declared righteousness (or is it because of our admitted brokenness and open humility)? 

Let me end this way. I read somewhere that Eng Han was once so impressed with Kong Hee's leadership that he exclaimed that CHC was the "ultimate church". This is in line with what Kong Hee once said that he didn't want CHC to be just like any of the neighborhood churches.

Well, after the fallout in 2010, I guess it is back to the drawing board for Eng Han because, for now, the ultimate church only comes when the perfect comes. In the meantime, and for all time until then, all churches are work in progress. We are churches on the way and no church, be it by virtue of popularity, charisma, wealth or numbers, can declare that they have arrived – that they are the ultimate church.

And I trust that it is not just a matter of declaring one's righteousness and that's that, but it is about bearing the fruits of His righteousness that matters most. For we all know that seeds don't spring out into a mature oak tree in a day or two. It takes time. It takes discipline. It takes a whole lot of trust and obey. And no infinite recitation of one's righteousness without genuine repentance along the way can mature the spirit, strengthen the soul, and deny the flesh.

So, I guess the animus between Kong Hee and Eng Han will go on for some time to come. And while Kong Hee can publicly claim that he has forgiven Eng Han, even with the latest stunt concerning a certain police report, I don’t think both of them will be voluntarily sharing a space together any time in the future since the fault in their view always lies with the other person. Cheerz.


Some have come to me of late to tell me to stop "bashing" Kong Hee. Why do I have an axe to grind? Leave him and the good things he is doing alone. Don't touch God's anointed. And I am not even from the church; never attended except for one occasion last year with my son because he was invited quite enthusiastically by his classmate and his parents.  Well, here is why, in the best way I know how to explain it (if what I have written above thus far is woefully inadequate)...
...I recalled one CHC member once said: “Our trust is in God, not in man. As the Bible tells us, all men will make mistakes.” This is clearly a sound statement and the member appears discerning. But what happens next is more disconcerting than discerning. Here's how it all spills out. Kong Hee passes the full leadership mantle (over to his wife); yet he is still leading, preaching, instructing, traveling, conferencing, liaising, networking, connecting and commandeering. No one attending CHC can be mistaken as to who is still in full charge and ownership. Is Kong Hee really this indispensable to CHC, to the kingdom of God at large? Is preaching the word to an audience of hundreds and thousands more important to him now than to withdraw from all that for a season and a season only to preach to an audience of one – himself? And doesn’t this make a mockery to (or at least trivialize) the authenticity of the leadership handover? Here’s more disconcerting turn of events. Kong Hee is convicted and sentenced in November last year; yet he shows absolutely no remorse, regrets and contrition (even if not for the criminal charges, which he is understandably appealing, at least for the moral failures or lapses, or “mistakes” as his member puts it). Or is this a case of reserving a different standard for leaders and another for laymen? And that’s not all. Kong Hee had been forewarned before of the slippery slope regarding the Crossover project by a truly discerning member Roland Poon (and even pastors from other churches offered guidance); yet he did as he deem fit using religion, charisma and status quo as a justification, prosecution (of Roland Poon) and perpetuation, and forgetting Proverbs 10:37 which reads: “Whoever heeds instructions is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” Then, comes accountability. Kong Hee’s leadership over the years has been marred by controversies, shortcomings, dubious collection drive, pressure tactics, extravagant lifestyle, lavish expenditures, disturbing music videos, lies and deception about the sales of it, and I am not even talking about the criminal charges, and yet he is still riding high as CHC’s de facto pastor as if he is sacredly chosen for the role (with his name on it) by the god who once told him to endure it all for a purpose and even apologized to him that he had to endure it all for that purpose. My god, am I the only one who sees a disconnect here? Is it any wonder that non-believers are disgusted? Can we as believers not understand their godsmacked incredulity of Kong Hee’s total obliviousness and mind-boggling audacity?  If we are honest about it, truly honest, I think the Crossover project is not so much about evangelism. It is however about telling the world (and the other churches) that Kong Hee and Sun Ho have got it right. They are simply obsessed with the rightness of their decision, with religious zeal even, and all else that comes against it is just plain rebellion. This literally cause her members to leave Godly discernment at the doorstep as they blissfully enter the blessed House of.…Kong Hee. And I agree with the church member who said that his trust is in God and not man, for all men make mistakes. But from the looks of it, from the things I have spelt out above, from the impunity-like care-freeness of Kong Hee’s recent evangelistic romp, I think the member is saying one thing and doing another. What is more ironic is that he - like Kong Hee - may not even realize it - or simply choose not to. Cheerz.

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