SINGAPORE: The group meets every Saturday evening at one of their homes. They read prayers, talk about their struggles with faith and catch up on their friends’ happenings for the past week.
On Saturday, this Christian prayer group in Singapore had the City Harvest Church scandal on their minds, and they were frustrated that the financial scandal at the mega-church was dragging on this long.
“I kind of feel as though the government is trying to drag it out to try and tell us that religion is bad,” said Thomas, a Singaporean citizen of British origin. He told Bikyamasr.com that “this scandal has really affected all Christians in Singapore and we just want it to be over so Jesus Christ is not defamed.”
Others nod their head in agreement. They believe that if the City Harvest Church leadership is guilty of using the church’s money for personal projects, they should be punished according to the law.
“But it shouldn’t be seen as an attack against religion,” began Jane, 33, a mother of two who hosted the most recent meeting. “I believe in Singapore and as a Chinese Christian woman here, it is important that people don’t see this as Christian corruption. It is plain old corruption and if they are guilty, they should be punished, but it is not Christians’ fault.”
Their sentiments have been echoed in previous interviews by Bikyamasr.com with Christians in the country. Many fear that the scandal is taking too long to investigate and with an expected trial to begin next month, it could see the controversy play out for a much longer period.
They believe that the government and the prosecution should do more to ensure that anti-Christian sentiment doesn’t grow.
“I would like to see the government come out, even the prime minister, and say that this is a matter that is not about faith or religion. It would be a good step for the country,” added Thomas.
Bikyamasr.com has followed the controversy closely over the weeks, highlighting the inside workings of the mega-church. The issue has struck home for many Christians in the country who feel the situation in Singapore for them is being tarnished by the actions of a few individuals.
The founder of Singapore’s embattled City Harvest Church Kong Hee issued a statement late on Wednesday detailing the charges against him as well as maintaining that he did not participate in any wrongdoing and again maintained his “integrity.”
“The Prosecution has brought three charges against me, which I have carefully considered with my lawyers,” he began in a statement to the media.
“I do maintain my integrity, and will rigorously defend that integrity against these charges,” Kong Hee continued.
He is charged with misusing church funds and corruption charges as the head of the Singapore mega-church. If convicted, he could face a lengthy jail sentence.
“I have and will continue to place my faith and trust in our judicial system. I will explain the facts and circumstances to the Court, and am confident that I will be vindicated.
“Sun and I would like to take this opportunity to thank God for all the people who have blessed us with their love, kindness and prayers during this challenging period of time. We have been tremendously humbled by the support and encouragement from the public, family and friends. We especially thank all those from City Harvest Church and the Christian community at large. They have been a constant source of strength.
“I respect the Court proceedings which are underway, and will not make any comment about the charges until the appropriate time and forum.”
The case was adjourned on Wednesday until August 30.
In late June, as the church was charged with misusing some $50 million of church money, they appointed New Zealand’s Reverend Phil Pringle and Reverend A.R. Bernard to function as advisory pastors in order to maintain services for worshipers without break.
Pringle is the founder and senior minister of Christian City Church in Sydney, Australia.
But now that he is in Singapore, working for a church embattled with corruption charges, he has become targeted by the Christian watchdog organization C3 Church Watch, which tasks itself with overseeing good practices at Christian organizations globally.
The group’s blog said that it was “designed to watch and monitor C3 Church and its pastors, specifically Phil Pringle.”
It has raised questions about the New Zealand-born pastor’s religious credentials and teachings.
It is the latest in a weeklong battle over embezzlement charges and fears that the situation could potentially see the end of City Harvest, which hosted some 14,000 over the weekend in services.
The church’s founder Kong Hee was quick to acknowledge why some 8,000 people had packed into the church earlier this month for his sermon.
“I also know that you are all here tonight to hear something from me.
“As you know, the past few days have been very challenging for me, my family and my team, and many allegations have been made in the media.
“Obviously, as this is an ongoing case, I cannot comment on the details, but please know that there are always two sides to every story. I look forward to the day when I can tell you my side of the story in court,” he said.
Seven minutes into his sermon about a woman who had worshiped Jesus humbly, Kong stopped and told his congregation, “Yes, I do maintain my integrity.”
But it comes on the back of much controversy and uncertainty regarding the church’s future.
Singapore’s City Harvest Church Executive Pastor Aries Zulkarnain said last Thursday evening that he and his Church stand by members accused of embezzling and misusing funds.
He said the Church will maintain support for the accused throughout the court proceedings.
Another pastor from the Church, Bobby Chaw, added that City Harvest has “actively worked to ensure good governance and have complied with codes set by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports.”
Five members of City Harvest Church were charged by a court on Wednesday of corruption, misuse of funds and embezzlement, Channel NewsAsia reported.
The report said the court charged City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee with three charges, while senior pastor Tan Ye Peng faces 10 charges. Finance manager Tan Shao Yuen faces seven charges.
Senior member Chew Eng Han also faces 10 charges and former secretary of the church’s management board Lam Leng Hung faces three charges.
The five allegedly diverted some S$23 million (RM57 million) of the church’s money to fund Ho Yeow Sun’s music career in the United States. Ho is Kong Hee’s wife.
CNA said they were charged for another S$26.6 million (RM66 million) of misappropriated funds, used to redeem “sham bonds” to cover their tracks.