In the midst of the various events in my life going on right now, including some degree of heartbreak over an inability to move back to Canada for the time being, uncertainty as to where I could go after the contract here in Japan ends, and the need to make critical decisions about how to get back to Canada or maintain my stay out of Singapore(the country which I have left permanently for reasons of being a prisoner of conscience), the breaking news of City Harvest Church’s Pastor Kong Hee and his impeachment by the law for alleged embezzlement of over 50 million dollars to finance his wife’s secular career as a pop music singer–alongside 4 others in that church–was released to me via my friends’ tags and posts on Facebook.

It does appear that we are indeed in the cyber-age of Facebook and social network media which allows us to know the news faster than anyone who does not go online and relies on traditional print media or even broadcast media. The news has been covered in the USA even in local LA-based papers, owing to that infamous wife of Kong’s having lived near other Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and singers of the ilk of Leona Lewis and so on.

There have been so many responses, most of which are polarized ones. One type of response is “blame it on the church and ALSO the pastor himself”, and suggests that any potential punishment extended to the culprit should be extended to the church, which foolishly gives him the money without thinking and behaves like some proto-cult group to believe in him mindlessly even till now. Another type of response however elides the very issue of blame, by suggesting that all the good done by that pastor and his church can wash over and atone for the sins committed at this point. In this case, it was labelled in secular legal vocabulary as “criminal breach of trust” and “embezzlement of church funds” (for a church which is registered legally as a charity organization so as to guarantee tax exemption).

My response will not steer towards either one, but in fact considers other possibilities. Granted that I do not agree theologically with City Harvest Church, and have a theological standpoint that the church itself has been promulgating heresy over the decades, and that I do not agree either with their hardline practices of soliciting members(done through poaching from other churches, or harassing people through aggressive follow-ups) or church donations(such as alleged membership opt-in projects and funds to ‘aid the cause of God’s kingdom’), I will deal with the matter at hand, and state what the real import of this legal impeachment of Kong Hee amounts to as a Christian.

The model for a pastor has been laid out very clearly in 1 Timothy 3:2: “Now the overseer is to be above reproach,   faithful to his wife,   temperate,   self-controlled, respectable, hospitable,   able to teach …” Being above reproach literally means that there is no valid ground by which the pastor can be charged with and subject to moral reproach, including crimes such as the current ones which Kong Hee has been charged for, which in Christian, theological vocabulary amounts to nothing less than simony(engaging in the buying and selling of the power of God). On this very count, Kong Hee cannot be allowed to be a pastor of a church.

The claim that his crimes can be weighed out by the former good he might have done over the years in the name of God and in the cause of charity or the Christian gospel is largely a red herring argument,because it is based on a calculus approach towards sin and wrongdoing. We do not try to do a good act or two good acts (or any other number of it) so as to hope that it can “write off” that sin. Sin and redemption do not work out that way in the eyes of God. While grace is unwarranted and unmerited and given freely by God, in the person of Christ, any sin is sin. There might be the case of a major sin such as killing and taking another life in cold blood, or a petty sin such as stealing from your neighbour who is rich and well-to-do, but having a varying degree of gravity or seriousness to that sin does not make that sin any less a sin. The Bible is very clear that the wages of sin is death(Romans 6:23), and that any sin has the capacity to cause alienation from God.

We cannot judge the motivations of Kong Hee and his accomplices exactly because human hearts are impervious to human assessment, but we can judge the theology and the actions because we have been given the Bible to judge what is of God and what is not. In other words, two wrongs do not a right make. This proverbial wisdom bears itself out in the example of what Kong Hee and his accomplices did. While they claimed to have paid back that lacking amount of 23 million dollars with another amount of 26 million dollars, this other amount was in itself culled from other church funds again, including “love gifts” (donation) from a Malaysian donor, and other cash endowments given by members and church affiliates outside in branches like those in Malaysia and Indonesia. What they did was basically taking more from church funds to cover up the church funds which they embezzled in the first place, in other words amounting to no better act than that of using more credit to cover up credit(or should I say, using robbery to cover up robbery?).

I know that my claims will not sit down well with those who argue for clemency for Kong Hee, or with those who think that he is innocent or started out with good intentions, but the degree of secrecy and silence with which they conspired to hide such things from the church amounts to nothing more than what Ananias and Sapphira did to hide the facts concerning their use of money originally meant for the extension of God’s kingdom for their own end (Act 5). In the times of the New Testament, God struck this couple dead right on the spot before everyone else to make a public example, but in our days, it just amounts to nothing more than a legal impeachment process(and an earlier investigation process) which might turn out to be protracted and even convoluted to the point of siding with these frauds. Justice must be, and needs to be served out expediently in the cause of God’s kingdom, so that we can expunge the very disease which will eventually eat away at the body of Christ–the Church-at-large or Christendom–if left unchecked. In doing so too, by punishing those involved, it gives them a chance for them to reflect on their crimes and to turn away from them in contrition. It goes back to the admonishment given to us to surrender the man (in this case, men and women) to Satan, so that their souls can subsequently be saved (I Corinthians 5:5). In this case, the secular law can in fact serve as the very hand of God’s justice to restore things to true order.

This essentially can be distilled to these Bible verses uttered by Christ Himself: But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 19:14); “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6). Contextually, Jesus was probably referring to little children (biologically), but if we extrapolate this to the case of ‘spiritual children’, a case often made by Paul the Apostle who addressed the Christians at Corinth as spiritual children in need of milk (basic doctrine) rather than real meat (deeper theology and theopraxis), such actions like Kong and his accomplices’ are by far capable of stumbling new Christians  and steering them away from the basics of the faith. Justice must be served for their sake. The albatross of guilt must be tied around the necks of Kong Hee and his accomplices, and they must be made to realize this for the sake of young Christians.

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