Kong Hee had managed to sell his Sentosa Cove penthouse, but it was at a loss of over $2m.
It reports that “the 5,242 sq ft waterway-facing unit at The Oceanfront changed hands in April for $6.7 millions, a loss of over $2 million” for the former pastor and his investor, one Indonesian tycoon Wahju Hanafi.
FYI, they purchased the luxury property in 2007 for a price of $9.33 million and each paid monthly installment of $17,000 to service it.
And it was sold to a Kenyan diplomat one Neal Manilal Chandaria, “whose family is in the process of moving in.”
The diplomat had viewed the property four times and said that “it was a good opportunity” to buy it at that competitive price.
It is also quite ironic that Kong Hee was arrested at his Sentosa Cove penthouse in 2012 and is currently serving a jail term of 3.5 years.
I know by all counts, I should have let dead dogs lie. This is an unfortunate part of the fall of a megachurch leader, and I have written much about it.
But this post is not so much about Kong Hee. I should know better to leave a man on the road to certain redemption out of it. He is dealt with in his own way and that is how it should remain.
My morning reflection is however about religion and it rides on what Kong Hee once said when he first put up his property for sale in 2015.
He clarified that the Sentosa Cove penthouse was just a “temporary home” and he denied at that time that he was “living the high life”.
If you wonder why some may accuse him of living the high life, here is a brief description of amenities that the penthouse has: -
“The 11th-storey penthouse comes with a private lift, four bedrooms, an entertainment room and a jacuzzi. Its crown jewel is a high rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the upmarket One Degree 15 Marina Club, offering views of luxury yachts entering the marina and the city’s skyline and fireworks during festivities.”
Lesson? One, and it comes in the form of this question: “Should pastors live the high life?”
Now, I am not going to put a spin to defend what Kong Hee said.
By all counts, having a private lift to your exclusive 11th-storey penthouse and a high rooftop infinity pool that overlooks the marina horizon of luxury yachts is deemed as living the high life.
Of course, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So in the land where every HDB home owner has an infinity pool and a private lift, the high life has to mean more than just one private lift and one infinity pool.
But it is not the case here. And I guess one can say that Abraham and King David lived in like manner, that is, the so-called “high life.” And it is called the high life because one lives in luxury and wealth the majority can only dream about.
Whether it is a case of material blessings from God or the entrepreneurial efforts of a man or woman, or even both, I would not be qualified to be a judge of it as the mysterious ways of omnipotence and/or the random element of fortunity are too complex for me to even take a stab at it.
But, be that as it may, I still come back to the same question I started my lesson with: “Should pastors live the high life?”
And to be fair to Kong Hee, he did not start out that way. When they married in 1992, their home was a $127k five-room HDB flat in Tampines. Then, they upgraded to a million-dollar Horizon Towers unit in River Valley.
In 2010, the family moved into a $2.6 million condo unit in The Suites at Central in Devonshire Road. And from there, it was Sentosa Cove penthouse, amongst other properties.
I believe their upgrades matched the rapid grow of their megachurch and the funds they had received from the thousands of willing churchgoers.
And this is where I will try to answer that question: “Should pastors live the high life?”
The conventional answer is, “Where your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
For the rich secularist, he or she is not ashamed to declare that their heart is to make money. That is what they aim to achieve when they set up companies, invent new products and invest in properties. All entrepreneurs have to watch their profit margin. Their business rise and fall based on it. That is their raison d'etre.
What about pastors then? Isn’t it possible for him to live the high life and still be faithful to his high calling? Can’t his heart be in his high calling and not in his high living?
More relevantly, what does Jesus mean when he said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money”?
Can a pastor still serve God and only God while he lives the high life?
In my view, Jesus saw what is coming when the accumulation of one risks the dilution of another. At some point, using money as a means to a godly end risks risking the end for that means and making that means its own end.
As Christians, we are called to always guard our own hearts. But that guarding risks becoming overladen when we take in too much and grow beyond the capacity our heart can take and guard.
That is why only absolute power does the greatest damage and the love of money corrupts even the most sincerest of hearts.
And Jesus’ warning comes at the opportune time when he said that we cannot serve two masters not because we can’t organizationally manage it, but because our heart risks being overwhelmed by the misattribution, the distractions and the unwieldy grandeur of it all.
That is, I feel, why Jesus rejected the kingdom of this world for the kingdom of the heart even if it means just sharing an intimate relationship with twelve for three short years and not seventeen thousands or more than thirty thousands for one’s lifetime.
His is a church not primarily on quantification but transformation with time and personal devotion, that is, heart-to-heart, and not one to a few thousands of hearts.
So, should pastors live the high life?
Well, my answer is that there is something more than meets the eye about Jesus’ forewarning and the risky incompatibility of God and money.
Ultimately, it is still about individual accountability.
But, it invariably gets harder to give a proper account as a mortal accumulates in excess, wields almost unquestioned power and receives the raging adulation of thousands. Cheerz.