Many of us know that the City Harvest Church (CHC) congregation experienced a difficult time over the weekend just past.
Indeed, this is because founding senior pastor Kong Hee and five other CHC leaders failed in their appeal to overturn their convictions, even though their sentences were reduced from between 21 months to 8 years, to between 7 months and 3 years 6 months.
With its large congregation — CHC boasted 16,482 members in its 2015 annual report — the well-organised church created an frequently-asked question list (FAQ) two days ago to address some of the concerns its congregation may have about the court case.
The FAQ pops up as you enter the CHC website:
The 11 questions were addressed by CHC in a informative and fair manner, peppered with wisdom from bible verses.
Here's our pick of the lot, which we provide our unsolicited verdict/fact-check in accompaniment:
1. The AGC has filed Criminal Reference with the Court of Appeal. What happens next?
If the Court of Appeal grants leave to refer to any question of law of public interest, then they may reframe the question to reflect the issue of law of public interest.
Two scenarios could happen:
a) The Court of Appeal agrees with the High Court’s judgment. Everything is status quo as per the verdict last Friday.
b) The Court of Appeal disagrees with the High Court and makes its own decision.
Mothership's verdict: Agree. To elaborate, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) also asked the Court of Appeal to reinstate the State Court's original convictions.
2. How should members’ reaction be to this?
While it is human to feel anxious about the latest news, let’s remain calm. Please do not be reactive or emotional -- it could aggravate matters and put our church at risk...
As we have already learned these seven years, the battle belongs to the Lord. So, let us look to the Lord in prayer. Remember, we are called to win the lost for Christ—this weekend is a very important one for us. Let’s focus on what we are called to do.
Mothership's verdict: Agree. CHC has asked its congregation to focus on the Good Friday-Easter weekend, which is an important week for the Christian community — and also potentially Kong and company's last weekend with their flock. Resorting to name-calling online may not be the most Christian thing to do.
3. How is the church going to support the six now?
Some among the six have indicated they will begin their sentence within two weeks of the verdict (i.e., by April 21). As you can imagine, their families have many needs.
Wanbao has reported that the legal fees for the six will have cost over $20 million. While the church is restricted by the authorities from helping them to pay for their legal fees, individual members are free to support them. As always, keep them and their families in prayer. We can best support our leaders by making sure CHC fulfils its mission and purpose — let’s always be loving God and ministering to people.
Mothership's verdict: Agree. It is interesting, however, that instead of just asking the six of them how much they spent on their lawyers through this period (I mean, they of all people should have the best access to them, right??), church leadership is quoting Wanbao's estimation of legal fees (The Straits Times estimates this to be $15 million, by the way, #justsaying).
4. Now that the verdict is out, how do you answer anyone who asks how can you follow a spiritual leader who is now convicted and going to jail? In the eyes of the public, as long as they didn’t get acquitted, it doesn’t matter that their sentences were reduced. it still means the judges believe they did something wrong and deserve jail time.
Yes. By the law of the land, the six are guilty of committing criminal breach of trust and four of them, of falsification of accounts. While the fact remains that their actions were wrong, the appeal judges made note in their written judgement that:
- They “accept that the appellants had acted in what they considered to be the best interests of CHC.”
- They note “Their fault lies in adopting the wrong means.”
Mothership's verdict: Agree. At least CHC is fair in trying to enlighten its congregation that the six convicts were guilty and that their actions were wrong.
5. Since found guilty, does it mean they are guilty?
Yes, they are guilty of breaking the law.
But we must bear in mind of the appeal judges’ finding that “the appellants had acted in what they considered to be the best interests of CHC.” The judges also noted in their written judgment that “it is not the Prosecution’s case that any of the appellants could be said to have benefitted financially from their offences. Their fault lies in adopting the wrong means.”
Mothership's verdict: This is the contentious part.
The appeal judges may have said that the "the appellants had acted in what they considered to be the best interests of CHC", but the decision to reduce the CHC leaders' sentences was not unanimous.
The three-judge panel -- Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn -- voted 2-1 for parts of the judgement.
In his dissenting submission, Justice Chan did not agree that the CHC leaders acted in CHC's best interests:
"On appeal, the appellants (CHC leaders) strenuously advance the argument that they had never intended to cause CHC to suffer any financial loss and thus they were never dishonest. Instead, they submit that they had at all times acted in CHC’s best interests...
I reject the appellants’ argument on two levels.
In the first place, I agree with the Judge and the majority that the appropriate question is not whether the appellants intended to cause CHC financial loss, but whether the appellants knew that they were not legally authorised to use CHC’s funds in the manner which they did, even when there was in fact no intention to cause CHC financial loss, which I do not accept on the evidence.
On a more fundamental level, even if I do accept the appellants’ legal argument that a finding that they had never intended to cause CHC financial loss would lead to their acquittal on the CBT Charges, I wholly reject the appellants’ characterisation of their intention on the facts...
[I]n my view, it cannot be doubted that the appellants had intended to enter into transactions that were not to CHC’s financial advantage. In fact, those transactions were to CHC’s financial detriment and the appellants had intended to and did cause financial loss to CHC at the time the transactions were entered into by them on behalf of CHC".
In case you haven't been following the case and its developments over the weekend:
Top photo adapted from photo by Zheng Zhangxin.