Sunday, 11 September 2016

The many faces of Sun Ho.

These are the many faces of Sun Ho.

Since City Harvest Church was founded in 1989, she has taken on many roles, titles and names. As the co-founder, she was also her pastor. Subsequently, she stepped down as a pastor to pursue her singing career by relocating to Taiwan.

Recently, with the leadership vacuum urgently needed to be filled after the conviction in November last year, she was re-ordained as CHC’s pastor. The hand that ordained her was none other than her husband's, who is the lead accused in a trial that lasted 142 days for criminal breach of trust and fraudulent misappropriation.

Kong Hee prayed this over her: "I pray when she speaks, fire will come out of her belly." He then asked the congregation to "continue to pray for Sun and our new generation leadership team, as they work together for CHC 2.0!"

Her public persona did not end there. There was a time when Sun Ho achieved much success in her singing career. She stayed on top of music charts with her hit song "Lonely Travel". She scored internationally with five Mandarin Albums under the auspice of Warner Music Taiwan. From 2003 to 2006, she released five English songs which reached the top of the dance club charts of Billboard Magazine and London-based Music Week. She also collaborated with top music producers like David Foster and broke into Hollywood with her debut American single "Where Did Love Go".

Sun Ho had numerous firsts too. In 2003, she became the first Asian pop singer in Hollywood Film Festival. He was the only Chinese singer to be invited to the 46th Annual Grammy Award 2004 and in 2007, she was invited to the MTV Europe Awards.

If there were ever a church leader who was actively participating in the worldly glamor/stardom scene, soaking up the fame, riches and attention with panache, it had to be Sun Ho.

Unlike many Christian singers who have drawn the line when it comes to mixing Christian beliefs with worldly culture, Sun Ho threw herself into it with flair and relish. This intermingling or cross-pollination came to the fore with her collaboration with writer/producer Wyclef Jean on the controversial "China Wine".

This is a difficult wine to swallow for Christians. It reeks more than it uplifts. It smacks of everything that grates on the sensibility of an earnest believer. The video is anything but edifying. The sexually suggestive dance moves, glossolalia-like lyrics and fornication-themed narrative are a direct affront to all the enduring values that were portrayed at Calvary. Forget about crucifying the flesh, suffering for Christ, denying oneself, bearing the Cross and being persecuted for righteousness' sake. With China Wine, the wine of the spirit has undergone a worldly fermentation to become a symbol of decadence, debauchery, sordidness and lewdness.

And here is where Sun Ho had reinvented herself with the many faces she project for the public to cringe, twitch and marvel at. At the same time that she projected the image of a wanton and loose geisha in China Wine, she was also a globetrotting celebrity leading a team to raise funds for victims of natural disasters.

She helped to build medical clinics and orphanages in Indonesia, China and Sri Lanka. In 2002, she was awarded "The Outstanding Young Person Award" and the next year, she was voted "The Outstanding Young Person of the World Award." She also donated her royalties to build schools in Chongqing, Guizhou and Henan.

In 2008, she was appointed the Music Ambassador for the Beijing Olympics. And to add to her multiple public portfolios, Sun Ho is also a businesswoman who had set up boutiques in 2006 and 2007 to market and sell American labeled apparels and accessories.

With the notoriety she had gained from China Wine, she layered it with the popularity that came with doing charity work. This is definitely one personality you can't pin down. But whether you like her or not, controversies and praises doggedly shadow her wherever she goes. And the last public stunt that shot her to stardom of an unnerving kind was the 2010 investigation, leading to a trial that lasted for three years and concluding with convictions, sentences and appeals of all accused. The outcome of the appeal is in a few days' time.

In the trial, revelations of her extravagant lifestyle shocked the church and public, causing thousands to leave the church and the faith. Her upscale LA mansion, where she rented to film her music videos, costs the church $28k a month. She (and her husband) took in S$1.4 million from 2006 to 2009 as payment for her music artiste salary, royalties and bonuses, and her personal expenses came easily up to half a million. She also lives in an apartment in Singapore that runs up to the millions.

Further, it was revealed that her husband had misled the church he professed to have loved with sham bonds, sham companies and sham announcements of inflated album sales when there was clearly a massive deficit. 

All this was done just so that the Crossover Project could have some semblance of authenticity, credibility and success. If it were truly God’s ordained plan, then one has to wonder, why all the surreptitiousness, subterfuge and sophistry? Why is CHC’s culture “mired in secrecy”? Why not just come clean and be honest with their congregation since the members have come forward during the trial claiming that they would have given freely to the pastoral couple regardless of how the money was to be used? (I call it the blankcheque faith).

These are questions that have divided believers with her supporters claiming that she is going through persecution for her faith and her detractors claiming that she is using church funds to realize her teenage dream of becoming an international pop star with the tag-along goal of evangelism to boot.

So, these are the many faces of Sun Ho, and her singing-cum-pastoral ministry over the last three decades, which she had started when she was only 20 years old, has been a rather complicated, stigmatized and belabored one. She is therefore anything but an open book. And with her husband firmly controlling the purse-string of the church and ordaining her recently to lead CHC 2.0, the beloved couple have violated the one cardinal rule of accountability and leadership ethics to their congregation, and that is, conflict of interests.

Alas, from one pastor to another, let me briefly introduce Pastor Eugene H. Petersen before I end. I have read his memoir entitled “The Pastor” and I have to say that he is a man who had lived an understated life as a pastor (he’s retired), but with overwhelming impact nevertheless on the people he met and ministered to.

Pastor Petersen discreetly stayed out of the limelight. He didn’t pursue or court the world in order to change it. On the contrary, he pursued the lover of his soul in order to change the world.

His ministry did not operate on a shock-and-awe basis, borrowing the world stage to introduce one’s savior to a besotted crowd who cares more about the one on stage strutting her stuff than the one she apparently urges all to exalt.

The danger of Sun Ho’s modus operandi is that it is a case of competing visibility (by crowd perception) where God and the earthly star are both exalted. As such, the devotion and worship are mixed and shared, and often muddled. Take the earthly star away and you can rest assured that many will fall away too. It is unfortunately a case of evangelism by personality and not so much by sacrifice and humility.

I guess that is why Jesus did not come in golden robe and heavenly chariots, with his angels making advance booking in the most luxurious palatial room in the Roman province, and waiting to be served by a coterie of indentured servants. He also did not fill up the grand amphitheaters and hippodromes with cheering crowd and amaze them with supernatural stunts and manifestations.

Jesus came almost anonymously, spent decades in the humblest abode, intermingled with the disenfranchised, dispossessed and disadvantaged, taught and served twelve social misfits, traveled from one place to another with no permanent residence (or “church”) to call home, left all finances to His heavenly Father, performed miracles without drawing attention to himself, consciously sought only to glorify the one who had sent him, and with nothing and in blood he came, he left in the same way, that is, in blood, in gore and with nothing to his name.

Jesus dispossessed himself in order to possess all. He denied himself in order to save all. And he led with a servant heart in order to transform all. He did not court the world so as to do his Father’s will. He courted his Father’s will so as to change the world.

RT Kendall once said that we often see the dove coming down from heaven (Matthew 3:16) and miss the Son standing before us. With the controversies that have dogged Sun Ho’s life and ministry, I wonder, did we miss the Son for the dove? Or worse, conveniently assume that the Son and the dove are interchangeable. Cheerz.

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