Sunday, 9 April 2017

Kong Hee saga: the Final Reckoning.

This is going to be a tough call for God.

The Church is no doubt united behind their pastors and leaders. They have been holding overnight prayer sessions “among its more than 500 cell groups over the week, starting last Friday” for a breakthrough, possibly, a complete acquittal, that is, the setting aside of the conviction of Kong Hee and his other 5 leaders (Chew included I guess).

If nothing is learnt in this tumultuous saga, one thing cannot be denied: The unity of City Harvest Church (CHC). CHC has grown not only to be resilient and hopeful, but also mature and faithful.

One member said: “The church is prepared for whatever outcome, and I know that together with the leadership, we will be able to pull through.” (Andrew Koh).

Another member said that the church will stand behind Kong Hee and noted that “the past few days have not been different from the past months…our church has been in a season of prayer.”

And it should not be forgotten that this is the case where executive members of CHC, totaling 173 members, had once pleaded with Judge See - not so much in mitigation but in extrajudicial mercy - to spare their leaders from a jail term with these words: “It pains us to know that they face jail terms…We believe they wanted to fulfill the Crossover mission, and in their zeal, they overstepped certain boundaries.”

Indeed, the conviction, sentence and appeal dampened little of the members' faith, hope and love for God, for evangelism and for making a difference.

But it also cannot be denied that the negative publicity being aired about a megachurch has dented people’s faith, outlook and image of Christendom as a whole.

The dirty linen cast out in the public eye concerning the acrimonious breakup between Kong Hee and Chew Eng Han has impaired the credibility of pastoral leadership, and cast doubt on the ethical and moral practices of the church.

Here I recall what Serina Wee’s lawyer, Andre Maniam, once said at the appeal last year: “Neither the prosecution nor the defence has been able to turn up a precedent when criminal breach of trust was committed by using a charity's funds for its own purposes. We are in uncharted waters."

Indeed, we are in uncharted waters.

Lesson? Just one.

We are in uncharted waters. This is true. No courts (and church) in any country in this world has experienced what our judiciary (and CHC) has to go through because of the conduct of CHC leadership led exclusively by Kong Hee.

It is said that tough cases make bad law. But tough cases also make good publicity and there is no shortage of it here in the last six years.

And if there is to be an indictment of failure (not in the strict legal sense) but in the moral sense, the finger (for want of a better word) has to be pointed at the leadership, for the fish always rots at the head.

Kong Hee and Sun Ho have effectively dragged the church in sweat, blood and toil to uncharted waters with their experimental evangelism pet project that bordered on an extremity that few could ever comprehend save for themselves and their Australian endorsers. And the price paid for this experiment is to pull the faith down to its lowest point in the history of modern Christianity.

Today’s verdict (7 April 2017) is not so much about God’s vindication of Kong Hee's guilt in the Court of Law. It is however about his admission and repentance (for his wayward leadership) in the Court of Conscience.

In similar vein, there is no denying that he (and partner) have led the church to a certain waterfall or plunge that will be remembered by believers and non-believers alike as the dark history of disgrace, dishonor and disbelief.

In the appeal last September, Justice Chan asked a simple layman question, the answer to it exposes Kong Hee’s motive in plain black and white: “If I put out the money and eventually pay back to it myself, just sweeping around, playing around it myself, having full control of it, how can you call it an investment?” To which the prosecution DPP Ong replied, “Yes, your Honour, that is exactly our point.”

Alas, even if Kong Hee were to succeed in the appeal, his conduct at the trial sadly shows everything that a leader is not - what’s more a spiritual under-shepherd (or, as he once proudly called himself, a rancher).

You see, he may have believed in his innocence, and still does, and that his intentions were always pure and purified. That's his prerogative, however illogical to others. But as a leader, he acted most uncharacteristically. He readily shifted the responsibility to his ex-confidante Chew and his auditors, even his lawyers, when the faith rubber meets the prosecutorial road.

So, even in an acquittal, and the Crossover Project is gloriously vindicated, his leadership is still flawed in the way he conducted himself at the trial.

It is said that in the foxhole of a trial, there are no atheists. That may be true, but you can always find a coward.

Alas, Kong Hee may have believed that he has always been faultless (so to speak), yet if there were any fault to be unearthed, it was just not his.

That part he has made it crystal clear. His three bows were in fact symbolic of his absolute self-embellished innocence with his apologetic god on his side. It is therefore not about a conviction or an acquittal today, but a certain accountability that Kong Hee has yet to confront and accept.

In Court, he played and projected the role of an unwitting victim; even though in CHC, he held full reins and dominated like a firebrand CEO running a secular company dabbling in questionable evangelistic outreach that involved becoming the world in order to save the world.

(His self-ordination of his wife as the one to take over fully after the conviction proves only one thing about CHC’s leadership, and that is this: the consummation of power, influence and authority converges in the hands of one man, the one and only, self-styled head rancher Kong Hee).

Here, I believe with all my heart that Jesus came to call us out of the world and not join forces with it on the pretense of redeeming it. Recall that Jesus stood alone at the Cross, abandoned and discarded like an abused animal. He did not run from his calling, responsibility and accountability.

On contrary, he died alone in fulfillment and completion of his Father’s will. The world was never his home. He never consorted with it. He remained unblemished and kept his distance from the world. His kingdom is of another place. More relevantly, it is in our hearts.

You see, if that was Jesus’ MO (that is, the way Kong Hee had lived and led as a head rancher with attention-seeking evangelism and worldly intermingling), he would not have been born to a fugitive couple running from authorities.

But on the contrary, he would have entered the womb of royalty, be delivered in comfort and luxury, be savoring unprecedented material wealth and power, and be “changing” the world with one edict after another while perched in an aloof earthly throne enjoying unimaginable luxury.

Instead, Jesus spent 33 years of his life in anonymity, servitude and humility, bore the Cross until death, suffered the whip in agony, offered to be nailed to the stake, gave of himself without any thought of himself, led the way all the way, embodied the truth at all times, good or bad times, and most importantly, Jesus, being blameless and faultless, took upon himself all blame and faults because he truly and genuinely loves the church.

In my book, that is a leader – anytime, anywhere. He is a leader who took responsibility, not for any fault of his own, but the responsibility of his calling, his mission, even at the worst of prosecution, in the throes and the jaws of death, and till the very
last breath.

That is a leader I respect, adore, and rightfully, gladly and wholeheartedly worship.

In the end, on this earth, I don’t expect a perfect leader. I don't expect him to be blameless all the time – that would be scary. I don't expect him to project an image of invulnerability, or be morally unimpeachable – that would be hypocritical no less.

But the least that is expected of him as a leader, especially a shepherd of hearts, a reliable guide in this muddled world, is that he takes responsibility, whether it is for his own failings or the faults of his fellow members or the staff assisting him in running the church. Leadership is high calling - what's more, a leader under God. The respect comes with the accountability.

An earthly leader in my book is one who takes the first bullet, not deflect it to the most scapegoat-able. He stands in the gap for the failings and not open more gaps that others may fall into it. And a leader – in the time honored traditional of my Savior – is one who bears his Cross and suffers and sacrifices first, and not one who lives in luxury, spends at his fancy, misrepresents to his people (on album sales), travels around the regions to convince others of his innocence under the covers of evangelism, resists all responsibility, and never owns up to his own wrongdoings, not legal mind you, but moral and ethical leadership.

You see, if it is the head of the fish that rots first, then by extension, it is always the head that is to be "chopped first” – because he is one head or leader who truly and enduringly loves the church.

Jesus offered himself without question (though in trembling fear no less) because it was not his will, but that of his Father’s will be done.

That is one leader I will always respect. He faces the music (His calling) and bears (sacrifices) it all for the people he loved (and loves), and not one who empties himself from a foxhole at the first sound of marching (prosecutorial) steps. Cheerz.

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