Mdm Yeow Sun Ho, the wife of Pastor Kong Hee and pop star was reported in the news as living in luxury in Los Angeles in 28,000/month mansion. The New Paper camped near her rented mansion at Hollywood Hills, LA and observed a black SUV and Mercedes Benz driving in/out from the premises. The estate has an area equivalent to at least five Singaporean typical 5 room flat. Forgotten in the debate about her lifestyle was Sun Ho’s involvement in humatarian work in the Sichuan earthquake, Tsunami relief effort, building schools and clinics in Indonesia and China. She has also done Singapore proud with involvement singing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
On the face of it there is nothing wrong with having lots of money if there is balance. We should not expect the mega church pastor to be living as a “church mouse”, yet we should not run the church as a business organization with similar pay rates especially when the funds are public charity and tax-free. Sun who did well as a pop star could obviously afford to live as a celebrity without depending on her husband. Whilst it may not be morally or legally wrong for Pastor Sun and Kong Hee to live in luxury, there is the question of proper witness and reputation for the Gospel message. They have included in the Gospel message, the element wealth and God’s many fold blessings.
In the bible, very early on in the church, we see conflict arising to the question of what is permissible or not in relation to foods offered to sacrifice.
(1 Cor 8:7 NIV) But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.
(1 Cor 8:9 NIV) Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
As Christians leaders in particular, they should be mindful of how they use our liberty in what they say, do, and live, to impact others – in particular, their own faith and walk in Jesus Christ. In Asia Minor, where Cities are dedicated to certain gods and feasts celebrating these gods occur frequently with foods offered to them, the question is asked whether Christians could join in the city wide celebrations and eat the food that is offered up to the gods. There is nothing particularly wrong with eating foods offered to these gods, not that we bow down to them, but the act of eating these foods seen by the Jewish non-Christian could be such a poor testimony that they may never want to consider the Christian Faith. Therefore, it is nothing wrong with Sun staying in a 28,000/month mansion, but here the message given to the outside world would be conflicting when testimonies were given by people who down grade from 5 to 3 bedroom flats to pay for the building funds whilst their Pastors do not seem to share equal sacrifice and live in royal luxury.
(1 Cor 6:12 NIV) “Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
The reported responses by some church members were also not mindful. When question whether church tithes were being used to support Pastor Sun’s lifestyle, they replied “Church money is separate and is protected by the church’s constitution. All our financial transactions are on our website – you can go and check it out.” This is partially true but the constitution gives a lot of freedom to Kong Hee and the churches management board to spend the money even to be involved in business deals. The financial transactions on the web site are also very high level without breakdown for big priced items. Even so, some entries seem suspicious. Another church member by pointing to a group elderly folks and said “This is where part of our tithes go to – we buy them food, medication and pay for their transport to church and back.” This is also true, the tithes did go to help charities, but less than 5% based on the CHC high level financial statement.
(Deu 28:12 NIV) The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none.
(Deu 28:13 NIV) The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom.
It would be difficult for any church member to criticize the high lifestyle on pastor Sun because for the past decade we have been “programmed” that Christians are supposed to be rich and prosperous, the head and not the tail. Therefore when it was reported that Pastor Sun lived in a 28,000/month home, there is no surprise but only an aspiration that we would one day want to live like Pastor Sun. If God can do it for her, why can’t God do it for us. It is often said that the church must portray an image of wealth and success for no one would want to become a Christian if it means a life of poverty and suffering. Therefore, Prosperity and blessings are an integral part of the image portrayed and the pull factor of people to City Harvest Church. Is this right? for the biblical first century church offered not riches but pain and suffering and many atimes death yet people believed because God touched their hearts with the revelation of Christ, His death, resurrection, and love for mankind.
I have received regular lectures from my friends at City Harvest that I am poor and do not have a vision or a mission to do well in life. This is indeed true, and perhaps I am too contented with a simple life with having few and living by God’s abundance grace and mercy in my life. I do not have much – no house, no car, few belongings. I work a fair day’s wages, dependent on no one, and where possible give and bless others. I would be considered a “failure” by their standards ie not prosperous but a wagging tail.
I would probably be far worse than Pastor Kong and Sun if I ever had their wealth and power. Yet, I am probably considered by them a worst sinner simply because I am gay. Somethings in life we have to be contented to accept what we cannot control, the family we born into, whether we are male or female, our race, language, culture or our sexual orientation. God, grant us the serentiy to accept things we cannot change.
The path that City Harvest appears to be travelling is near a well trodden path. The Catholic Church by the 15th century owned more than half of Europe and had control over the sovereignty of many nations. The temptations of power and wealth is not too far away and when we achieved it, it is never enough and soon it becomes a treasure in our lives that blinds us from seeing our sins and becomes our god, driving our very action to build our Suntec Cathedrals. The Catholic Church offered Penance to heaven for their Cathedral building fund, so do we, a hundred fold blessings for our church building funds, our heaven on earth.
We are reminded of Sy Rogers, a regular visitor in City Harvest being sexually confused not knowing whether he was a transgender or a gay person (he claims that he was both a transgender and gay person). Similarly, City Harvest is having a religious confusion whether it is a business or a church. Somethings in life, we “cannot morally be half-half”. In fact being a business is not enough for CHC as it seeks to carve out its influence in all sectors of Government, religion, media, education, etc despite the fact that Singapore is a secular state. It is important that we come back to the business of saving lives and giving hope through the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, and surrendering ourselves as charity to the nations to be God’s helping hand to the poor, outcasts, sick, and the despised. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.