A prayer in the wake of the verdict of the CHC leaders’ trials

A pastor I had a lunch appointment with burst into the church office, Have you heard the news? What news? I asked. He delivered the bad, sad but not unexpected news. After lunch I went to check the Straits Times online and read this:

“All six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, including founder Kong Hee, were found guilty of all charges on Wednesday (Oct 21).Judge See Kee Oon delivered the verdict of the long-running trial. The six defendants are Kong, 51; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47.They were accused of misappropriating $24 million in church funds, funnelling them into bogus investments that funded the singing career of the pastor’s wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. Later, a further $26 million was used to cover their tracks.The six faced varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts. The first offence is punishable with a life sentence, or up to 20 years in prison and a fine. The second carries a maximum of 10 years in jail, a fine or both.Kong and Lam were found guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust. Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Wee were convicted of six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsifying accounts. Sharon Tan was found guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsifying accounts.Sentencing will be at a later date.Delivering the verdict to a packed courtroom, Judge See said the main background facts were undisputed.On the wrong use of building funds, he said the bonds were “not genuine investments”. The “perceived success of Crossover was inflated”, he added.The six accused knew the building fund was a restricted fund. “It was not a realistic expectation to expect US album to sell more than 200,000,” he said, adding that it was “mere excuse” for City Harvest Church to channel money to Xtron, the company that managed Ms Ho.He was referring to the Crossover Project started by the church in 2002 to evangelise through Ms Ho’s pop music. Her career was initially funded directly by the church. But in 2003, a church member made public allegations that funds were being misused to bankroll Ms Ho’s career.The accused subsequently poured millions from the church’s building fund into Ms Ho’s music career, through a series of sham bond investments.Referring to Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Wee and Chew, Judge See said they knew that they had something to hide. The prospect of financial return was not their “genuine concern”, he said. “Accused persons all knew that the primary purpose of the bonds (was) to channel money to the Crossover (Project).”The accused people “just created labels attached on to stretch the meaning of the money”, he said, adding that he was not convinced of the supposed mixed purpose of the bonds. Referring to Chew, Tan Ye Peng, Wee and Sharon Tan, the judge said they all had the intent to defraud.He noted that much of the defence centred on the beliefs and they went ahead to act in good faith as a result. The weight of the evidence showed that they knew they were dishonest, he added. “They convinced themselves it was morally and legally permissible to use church funds, when they knew it was wrong.”Kong’s head was bowed low when the verdict was read. Wee appeared to be slightly teary-eyed, and Sharon Tan was seen wiping away tears.Bail of $1 million was extended to Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Lam. Bail amount was set at $750,000 for Sharon Tan and Wee. Wee was previously out on bail for $500,000. All six are barred from travelling overseas.The prosecution will file written submissions by Nov 6. The defence will file mitigation pleas by Nov 13. Oral submissions will be delivered on Nov 20 at 9.30am.”

For many on the sidelines who have heard, read the news, prayed and followed the three years of City Harvest Church leaders’ trials, the verdict was not a surprise. There were no raised eyebrows, no protests, just a sense of relief that the longest ever criminal trial in Singapore is about to end, and a lament that we the church are in a real sense one in all this.

An ancient prayer comes to our aid in this time of lament, shame and humiliation: O Lord Jesus Christ, take us to Thyself, draw us with cords to the foot of Thy cross; for we have no strength to come, and we know not the way. Thou art mighty to save, and none can separate us from Thy love. Bring us home to Thyself, for we are gone astray. We have wandered: do Thou seek us. Under the shadow of Thy cross let us live all the rest of our lives, and there we shall be safe. (Frederick Temple, 1821-1902).

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  • The church can commit all kinds of crimes in the name of God(a fact in the history of mankind which has been grossed over for the love of Christ – blinded by “pure love”) and yet, the people can’t smell a big fat rat or snake in its teachings as well as in their leaders.

    The show will go on because, idiots are born every day.

    • Hi David, the City Harvest Church members are not idiots. They were once lost, blind and needed God. God used the ministry of this church to lead many to a genuine conversion to Christ. This is a wonderful thing we mustn’t forget: souls were saved under this ministry. At the same time, something about the church culture prevents the members from accurate spiritual discernment of the malaise. However news reports indicate a drop of 25% in church attendance, since reaching 23,565 in 2009. Yes the court has found him guilty and the church building funds were misused and channeled into purposes other than what it was designated for. This is wrong, a breach of people’s trust, and bad stewardship of the Lord’s provision. More members will leave in the coming years too. However there will be those who will remain and continue not because they are idiots but for various reasons like they believe in forgiveness and grace; they are happy where they are; they have to be where the parents or children prefer to be; they feel a sense of responsibility for the welfare of the church; or other good or idiotic reasons. Some will be stumbled and leave the church. Worse still some will leave the faith. This is the idiocy of the whole affair. Satan is having his Amen.

  • Well written. Ultimately, we are responsible for the decisions we make may it be right or wrong as well as the consequences that follow. Many of us start the Christian ministry with good intent but along the way, some of us lose the God focus and the self-focus creeps in. Perhaps this comes with human success, the intoxicating tastings of power, materialism and pride? For some of us, the consequences of our actions are minor but for others catastrophic. Regardless ,God has not abandoned us but through this time of ‘wilderness experience” he often makes us realise our mistakes. With this self realisation coupled with our humility and repentance, God will restore us to the right path again. Perhaps ,as unpleasant as it is, these wilderness experiences can save our soul. For some of us, these terrible consequences may be our only way to return us back to God.

    I also read with interest, Pastor Kong Hee’s wife Sun Ho has been ordained a reverend at CHC and assume executive responsibility. I am quite bewildered by this. To me the responsibility of leading God’s flock should be based on merit and God’s calling rather than a ‘family dynasty hand-down.’ I am equally surprised by her endorsement from the CHC Board and other mega church leaders affiliated with CHC. Perhaps I don’t know the full story, but from my naive perspective I would certainly question a Church which endorses a “China Wine” and a non theologically trained person as their executive Pastor and Church leader.

    • Hi Euhan, thanks for taking time to comment. I remembered the inspiring “cultural mandate” vision of CHC, how the church should seek to influence all areas of society including the entertainment and show biz world. That propelled the “Crossover Project”. Success has a way of breeding the seeds of its own failure. Perhaps, like you said, this may have been at work. I agree with you that God has a way of using the consequences of our decisions to lovingly prod us back to His way. Most children of God would have experienced the reproof of the Lord in their life. I certainly have myself and that journey has been humiliating, eye-opening and redemptive too.

      From what I understand Rev Sun Ho was one of the key founder leaders with Rev Kong Hee in the formation of the church. She pastored, counselled and was reputed to be a very good worship leader. I am not sure about formal theological training but as you know CHC had a Bible School so she probably sat under many anointed teachers. Anyway since the days of old, churches have been led by “lay leaders” who were often unschooled formally, but had learned the things of God on the job.

      The dynastic succession thing you mentioned is not uncommon in the mega-church and mega-organization world of independents: Billy Graham has his Franklin Graham, Oral Roberts had his Richard Roberts, John Osteen was succeeded by his son Joel Osteen, and we may yet see our local megachurches’ ageing pastors succeeded by their sons and daughters.

  • Hi blogpastor,

    I’m actually quite surprised by the response of most Christians to the CHC incident. Firstly, there’s the group which has gone on the attack. I’m not surprised as there will always be that group online – especially on social media. But then, there are also many good people who have commented in a negative way. Perhaps not as extreme as the first group. But I’m surprised by this group too because I’ve read almost everything online about CHC over the years. And wanting to be as impartial as I am (I am not a CHC member and I have a lot of issues with CHC – e.g. their legalism, not too impressed with their Crossover project e.g. China Wine, etc.), I have not come to the conclusion as many of the people in this second “moderate” group. I say “moderate”, because they are more “moderate” than the first group, but in actual fact, I think they are basing their negative comments more on what they’ve read and the “politically correct mood” (which is to find fault with CHC somehow) than on actually knowing what’s been going on.

    Let me explain. I don’t think I’m less intelligent than most of the people in these group, but having read almost everything online (and a few times over for some articles in recent days), I still can’t come to the conclusion that in the eyes of God, they did wrong. Now, I’m not talking about their forceful legalism or their “prosperity gospel” or “China Wine” or the fact that they create blind followers (many churches in Singapore do that and not just CHC) – all these things I am critical of. But these has nothing to do with the case. All the above could surely convince people to be critical of CHC and be biased against CHC, but I’m trying to separate all this from the issue at hand.

    What I feel is that these “moderates” (which are only moderates because they are not as extreme as the extreme group, but which I don’t think are being very impartial) have come to a negative conclusion about CHC without really understanding everything. I say they probably don’t understand everything because I myself have read so much and I still have TONS of questions. Most people have commented based on the interpretation and verdict of the judge and the laws of the land.

    It’s the judge’s verdict and as citizens here we have to accept it in a certain sense (as we live here and we’re bound by the laws) even though we may disagree with it. The problem is everyone seems to just accept it and agree with it without thinking. I’m sorry, but the judge’s verdict may be the “be all and end all” if you’re a citizen here (and you have to accept it as a person living here), but that’s not the verdict or even interpretation of the true judge in heaven. I’m not going to accept his interpretation just because he’s a judge. Of course, I have to abide by it and same for the pastors (unless they go through the legal process to appeal, etc.), but I have a mind of my own and I should think too and I think too many Christians have accepted what the judge says just because he said it. And to be honest, I think they are too lazy to do their own investigation. My point is that most Christians read a bit of the verdict and come to their conclusion based on that. That’s wrong. It’s the lazy way out. I have refrained from being judgemental about CHC because it’s more complicated than just reading a Judge’s verdict. It was one of the longest trials in Singapore. And people just read a 500-1000 word article and they are satisfied with the verdict? Sorry, but that’s lazy. But of course it’s very convenient as we all already have an extremely negative opinion about CHC and so it’s easy to be politically correct and be condemning of CHC and Kong Hee. Yes, it’s politically correct to condemn CHC. That’s what it’s become. So people are getting away with a lot of criticisms that may or may not be grounded in truth – and few people are going to challenge them (except perhaps CHC members) because 90%+ of Singaporeans who are not CHC members are against them to begin with.

    I wish people would be a bit more careful and critical. As far as I know, CHC and Kong Hee have not apologized for any wrongdoing. They’ve apologized for what the church has gone through. They have not admitted their wrong (at least in the eyes of God). Now, it’s either because Kong Hee and gang are not humble enough to do so. Or it’s because they really feel that in God’s eyes (at least with this issue), they have not done wrong. And if so, then good for them. They don’t need to apologize for something they did not do wrong.

    My point is that there’s more to it than just what we read online. In order to really understand this, I’d love to talk to people in the financial and auditing/accounting industry – I am not familiar with all that. What is their opinion of what’s happened. 1) Is it so clear cut that everyone in this industry would say that KH and CHC were wrong and they broke the law? If that’s the consensus, then even so, a breaking of the laws of the land does not necessarily mean you’re doing wrong in the eyes of God (it could be, it may not be so). Christians are probably not allowed legally to be too forceful in evangelizing Muslims in Singapore, but are we going to listen to God or man? 2) Or is it so that among the people of the industry that there’s really no consensus and it’s a very grey area. If it’s true that there’s NO clear consensus among the financial/auditing/accounting industry (or whatever, I’m not in this line) that KH and CHC were wrong with regards to their sham bonds, etc. (how many people who have commented actually understand all this totally – certainly not me and I bet 90% of them) , then why in the world are we being so critical of CHC/KH and taking the judge’s word as if it’s final. As mentioned, because we’re citizens and because the law works the way it is, yes, legally we have to submit ourselves to the laws of the land. But that doesn’t mean the judge has a monopoly on truth on the earth, and especially when it relates to truth in relation to whether it’s right or wrong before God’s eyes.

    I don’t agree with the way KH and CHC has gone about doing this crossover project. They may have been too ambitious and missed God in it. But we’re all imperfect. And this has nothing to do with the case at hand. I think it’s absolutely horrible to see Sun Ho wear sexy outfits and do all she did to reach the lost. I think it’s a disgrace and compromising. But that doesn’t mean I ought to be biased against CHC in this case. I admire the fact that they wanted to reach the lost. I disagree with a lot of the methods and ways CHC has gone about doing church. But I admire how they’ve reached out to people. I give them great credit for that. They’ve certain done perhaps more than any other church in Singapore. They are not the perfect church and they’ve done a lot wrong. And I have a lot of reason to be very critical of them. But I have refrained from doing so in this situation because I don’t think it’s as clear cut as people are making it up to be.

    KH and CHC may be wrong and maybe the judge’s interpretation of things is close to how God would see this. Or it may be totally different from God’s view. I don’t know. And I am not in the position to comment too much on it until I know. Right now, I just feel so sad that so many Christians are commenting as if they knew everything. And especially for Church leaders in Singapore, I haven’t heard much from them. Most I’ve heard is more negative than not. And I would love to ask them how much they really know about the case – just the 1,000 word articles? Have they followed this case through and are they familiar with this financial industry and what’s lawful and not, etc.? Or do they just take the judge’s word as truth – as God’s truth? Even if legally they broke the law, does that mean they broke God’s law?

    I know it’s not popular to write the above, but it’s about being fair. It’s about being as impartial as possible. I have not taken a side, but I’m still open to the possibility that the judge’s verdict is just one interpretation – something that you have to live with as a citizen, but definitely just one way of looking at it. I may be wrong, but at least I’m open to that possibility. And I think more Christians should be because I’m quite sure that most don’t know much about the case except for the short articles they read. And if so, they have no right passing judgement based on one judge’s decision. And of course I stand corrected too and I may be wrong.

    • Hi Concerned, your desire to be objective, impartial and to see this from God’s perspective is admirable. You have raised a pertinent and intriguing question, “Even if legally they broke the law, does that mean they broke God’s law?” You have given an example of preaching the gospel in countries where it is against the law to propagate and convert people to Christ from other religion. You are right in that we have to obey God rather than man in these instances. So the opposite would hold true in this case, The church can legally keep the law and yet break God’s commandment to preach the gospel.

      May I simplify things at the risk of being accused of not comparing apple with apple. My church raised money from members as we wanted to purchase a property for worship. We wanted to purchase a property in an easily accessible industrial building. However due to clarification about the use of industrial property by churches from the National Development Minister, we decided not to do so. We went back to the members to seek their permission to use the funds raised for renovating our twenty year old interior instead of purchasing a property as originally intended. We did it because we felt funds raised carry a sacred trust to God and to man. Designations of funds should be honoured with great diligence and care. And should there be a change the body should be allowed to vote on the change of use.

      Part of stewarding of the funds is that we put the funds into safe time deposits to gain an interest. As the funds were not designated for investment, we simply kept them in virtually risk free time deposits. We felt this is part of keeping that sacred trust the generous members deserved.

      My point is that not only is the law broken in the sad CHC leaders’ case, but a sacred trust between leaders and members has been violated. Is this against God’s moral law? Do give this some thought and I hope you find the justice you still haven’t found.

      • Hi Blogpastor,

        Thanks for your response. You mentioned:

        “Part of stewarding of the funds is that we put the funds into safe time deposits to gain an interest. As the funds were not designated for investment, we simply kept them in virtually risk free time deposits. We felt this is part of keeping that sacred trust the generous members deserved.”

        This is an interesting point. From what I’ve read, and I’m open to correction, there was no loss of money involved and also there was no “risk”. If this is to be trusted (http://www.citynews.sg/2015/10/city-harvest-trial-church-will-forge-on-despite-verdict/), then I have no issues with what they have done and I don’t see much of a difference between what your church did above and what CHC did:

        “The church recouped its investments in full plus interest via the personal guarantee of Wahju Hanafi who made good on his word to underwrite the church’s investments. No church funds were lost.”

        Perhaps what CHC did was a bit riskier – again, I’m not an accountant or auditor and even if I were I don’t think many of such people would know the full situation to give a definitive answer.

        But if what CHC did was riskier, then I wouldn’t fault them too much because they were investing in kingdom work. I recall the parable of the talent. Being “safe” in not wanting to lose money may not be the most admirable thing to do. I’d give CHC a bit of credit for their crossover project (even though I have much to disagree with the specifics of it as mentioned before).

        Having said that, if what was quoted above is correct, CHC did earn an interest and no money was lost. I would have no problems with that at all as a member. If money was lost, I’d probably have some issues.

        As mentioned before, what are sham bonds? Is there even a consensus that what CHC did was wrong or is it just the interpretation of the judge. Here are some quotes from that webpage – again, I have no idea what are the finer details and what the truth is but I’m supposing CHC wouldn’t write something that is clearly not true when they wrote the below. At least, it proves there’s a difference in opinion (something lost by most people who have taken the judge’s word and interpretation as gospel):

        – ” The auditors and lawyers knew about the bonds and where the proceeds were channeled—into the Crossover Project. No red flags were ever raised.”

        – “The bonds were genuine, with binding, legal obligations on the borrower to repay the money owed to the church, with interest.”

        So I think there is much more than meets the eye. I would sincerely love to hear more of CHC’s side to all this and also the feedback from different people who are in the finance industry. My sneaking suspicion (again, I may be wrong and I stand corrected) is that there’s more diversity of opinions to what’s happening than we read in the media.

        But probably, you just got to leave it at that because nobody fights with the courts in Singapore or the government and think they have a chance of winning – you’ll only lose out. That’s probably why CHC hasn’t come out more strongly to defend itself. And maybe these people still believe they have not done anything wrong (or at least anything to the extent the judge is insinuating) but they also know God is in control and God knows their heart. That’s good enough. No point fighting a losing battle.

        • Prior to the CAD investigation, someone had threatened in Asiaone forum to expose the misuse of funds in CHC. This resulted in a scramble to put back the money back into the church. If not for the CAD investigation and the court case, money might or would have been permanently lost.

          In addition, you mentioned that Hanafi underwrite the Crossover project and returned the money to CHC. But the underwriting documents was executed in 2010 but was backdated to the years where the Crossover project started. Can’t you smell the rats?

        • Looks like the judge have to review things. Looks like the prosecutors and some of the accused are appealing too. Looks like we will have another round of media analysis of the whole case. Frankly, I have moved on already. It’s too tiring.

  • Judge See pronounced all six guilty of colluding to transfer funds intended for church building into supporting Sun Ho’s then-fledgling and now-moribund music career. The funds was transferred through a series of deception via round-tripping (similar to how money laundering is done) and lies to cover for the non existent profit from CD sales. This amounts to criminal breach of trust. They violated the law of the land, duped their church members and brought shame to God’s name.

  • I met kong hee in 1990, a young couple, a great preacher when i was at uni. Imagine working day and night praying, preaching, for 25 years and then losing it all. Sad.

    He stole 25 million because he was a perfectionist and determined to win, to make it in Hollywood even though there was dubious links to evangelism.

    When no one is looking, that is when our real character is revealed. After being investigated, He thought he could escape jail by getting the funds so that City Havest sufferred no lost, but alas judgement came.

    And he still can’t accept that he is guilty in this difficult next journey. May God give CHC grace to accept the verdict and to move on. There are some like me who gave many thousands, but it is ok.

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