Occam’s Razor and the Perpetuity of Evangelical Scandal

This is a very helpful article from Pastor Tom Chantry, reflecting on some hard truths about the state of what is currently called ‘Evangelicalism’. The issues raised in this article are actually relevant to believers in every denomination (as many of you would already know first-hand), and are worthy of serious consideration.

Along with a well-considered critique of modern Evangelicalism, Tom provides practical encouragement to those who belong to Christ in the face of daunting and pervasive challenges within the visible church:

Occam’s Razor and the Perpetuity of Evangelical Scandal

Occam’s Razor is the name given to the logical argument that the simplest theory to explain any given phenomena is likely the correct theory.  Since our judgment is often obstructed, we need to shave away needless assumptions and bits of argumentation in order to arrive at a reasonable understanding.  Scientists debate the legitimacy of the Razor as an empirical tool; certain complexities in nature (think of the construction of the living cell) suggest that complex explanations of material phenomena are often correct.  It is nevertheless a useful philosophical tool, particularly as a foundational principle of the common sense by which we ought to live.  If I awake in the morning to find branches from my trees scattered about the back yard, it is simpler to assume that we had a strong wind than it is to believe that demons attacked my trees during the night!  The sensible man will automatically adopt the simpler theory.

It is in this solid common-sense manner that I propose we apply Occam’s Razor to the latest evangelical scandal, whatever that scandal might happen to be.  Last week it was Steven Furtick’s intentionally provocative “God broke the law for love” clip.  A few weeks earlier it was Andy Stanley’s nastyaccusationsagainst small churches.  Years ago it was Mark Driscoll’s braggadocio about his belligerent bus-driving technique.  And of course we aren’t allowed to forget Perry Noble’s “Highway to Hell” Easter service, mainly because he keeps reminding us of it.

There have been a number of responses to Furtick’s latest departure from orthodoxy.  The best I have seen is Todd Pruitt’s point-by-pointexamination over at Mortification of Spin.  Among the other responses, however, a perplexing note has emerged.  Jared Wilson at The Gospel Coalition gets to the heart of what was wrong with the video, but only after sympathizing with what he assumes Furtick was trying to say.  The ever-polite Tim Challies, while critical, also enlightens us as to what Furtick intended to say.  Why the rush to exonerate?

When well-recognized evangelicals – particularly those who have never made any significant contribution to or defense of biblical doctrine and piety – make asinine statements about the gospel or engage in stunts which contradict all the tenets of Christian virtue, why do we feel the need to cover their indiscretion with a cloak of good Christian motives?  They themselves rarely seem to desire this!  The complex logical gymnastics by which we defend the men while questioning their words and actions are based upon one obstinate presupposition: because these men are evangelicals, they must be received as brothers in Christ and granted every advantage of our most gracious instincts.  This is, I suggest, a needless assumption which we ought to simply shave away.

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Now at this point you might assume that I am going to argue from Furtick’s catastrophic misrepresentation of the gospel that he is, in fact, not saved.  Some of you are cheering me on, while some are already marshalling counter-arguments of charity and catholicity.  Actually, I feel no need to make such an argument about Furtick per se.  The fundamental assumption which ought to be abandoned is not so specific.  It isn’t merely that I think Furtick (or any other particularly embarrassing Christian celebrity) may not be a Christian, it is that I reject the idea that  any evangelical should  be automatically presumed regenerate.  Shave away our presumption, and not only the scandals du jourlisted above, but also a lot of the rest of evangelical history, suddenly make a lot more sense.  The simplest explanation is in this case both logical and correct.  The mere fact of being an evangelical is no safe indicator that anyone is a child of God.

Perhaps it will help to remember how we arrived at this assumption.  Back in my childhood, we divided Christendom into uncomplicated teams.  There was the team of Catholics, etc. (“et cetera” because we rarely encountered the Eastern Orthodox or various Middle Eastern strains, and when we did they looked to us like Catholics on steroids).  There was also the Mainline team, known for its modernism.  Members of neither of these teams were presumed to be saved, and for good reason.  Both had lost the gospel, and if anyone in their midst was actually a believer, it was clearly in spite of his church, not because of it.  So far, so good.  But then there was a third team called “evangelicalism,” and its members, we assumed, were all (or at least mostly) saved.  Perhaps I am oversimplifying.  Fundamentalists wanted to be on their own smaller team where everyone played by the same rules, but we tended to see them as the grumpy members of our team.  And of course there were a few big-R Reformed types who insisted that “Reformed” was never a subset of “evangelical,” but we thought of them as better-read but equally-grumpy Fundamentalists.  In our minds, big E was the saved team, and we accepted everyone that wore the right team colors as part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Yet there is precious little in evangelicalism to justify such an assumption.  After all, the Scripture does suggest that there will be certain signs which, while they do not allow us infallibly to identify each true believer, will give us a sense of who should and who should not be called a brother.  Let us consider three of the very simplest:This process was exacerbated by the politicization of religion during the Reagan Revolution.  As the church accepted the premise that its task in the world was political, it necessarily also accepted that its strength was in its numbers.  Expansion of the term “evangelical” and even of the concept of salvation became a necessity.  A new socio-theological calculus produced a triangle with Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Orel Roberts at the vertices, and we were assured that everyone inside was both a brother in Christ and a reliable Republican vote.  To even question whether some of these folks were actually Christian was to weaken the political punch of the evangelical demographic.  Of course we’re all saved!  How can you question your teammates?

1. Actual Believers will understand, confess, and defend the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.(See, for instance, I Corinthians 15:1-5.) This gospel is, in brief, that Jesus, the Son of God who became true man, died for the sins of others and then rose so that they might have eternal life.  Some years ago White Horse Inn recorded answers to the question, “What is the gospel?” at a Christian booksellers’ convention, seeking to illustrate the paucity of gospel knowledge among evangelical Christians.  At the time I thought they were exaggerating their case, but that was before my experience in Christian education.  Four years of teaching the children of evangelicals demonstrated a sad reality: unless they attended either foreign language churches or confessionally Reformed churches, the evangelical kids not only didn’t believethe gospel; they had rarelyencountered it.

2. Actual Believers will decisively reject all counterfeit gospels.(SeeGalatians 1:6-9.) Not only is evangelicalism widely ignorant of the gospel, it is actually awash in various false gospels. Many simply cling to empty platitudes about being “on fire for God” or “having God in your life.”  Increasingly, though, evangelicalism is not preaching a content-less message, but one with terrible content.  The Prosperity Gospel, for instance, teaches that God wants to bless us with happiness in this world, and if we trust him to do so, we’ll be inevitable winners at life.  This is of course a complete rejection of the words of Jesus (see Matthew 5:11-12 and many other places), but it is the dominant theme of evangelical Christianity.  How else do we explain the Tim Tebow phenomenon, in which an athlete was considered a great Christian leader because of his championships at Florida?  How else do we explain the far more sinister Trump phenomenon, in which too many evangelicals are willing to accept an obvious degenerate’s claim that he is a “great Christian”?  Is it not because his ostentation looks like the sort of blessing promised by Osteen, Jakes, and others?

3. Actual Believers, while not morally perfect, will care about holiness and will strive to live according to God’s commands. (See I Corinthians 6:9-11.)  Evangelical piety has degenerated to the point that it now reflects the knee-jerk “Don’t judge me, bro!” ethics of the typical modern agnostic.  Having long ago rejected the fourth commandment on shaky theological grounds, and having never really had the sophistication to understand the second commandment, evangelicalism is now losing commandments at an accelerated rate.  Various forms of abuse keep popping up in the church. Years of easy divorce are giving way to confusion over sexuality.  Tomorrow’s evangelicalism looks likely to giggle at the idea of the seventh commandment as much as today’s evangelicalism snickers at the fourth.  Leading the charge are the evangelical pastors who demonstrate little of the dignity and sobriety which is to characterize God’s ministers.

So tell me, why do we accord the presumption of regeneration to every evangelical?  These trends are the very reason we recognize that most members of the Catholic and Mainline teams are not actual believers: they reject the true gospel in favor of false ones and do not demonstrate genuine biblical holiness.  How is evangelicalism different?  Once we shave away our false and unhelpful assumption, a far simpler explanation for the rolling scandals of the evangelical world emerges: a great many evangelical Christians are simply not saved.

To be perfectly clear, I am not at all implying that I have sufficiently examined Furtick (or any other member of the evangelical kakistocracy) to make any sort of pronouncement on his spiritual state.  He has not applied for membership in my church, nor did I sit on his ordination council (assuming the perhaps unlikely existence of such).  Perhaps the best element of Pruitt’s write-up on this particular scandal was this:

“Now, if any of this seems serious to my brothers and sisters in the North Carolina Convention of Southern Baptists then perhaps they can press for a meeting with Pastor Steven. Certainly they do not want to be associated with such serious error. Certainly.”

This places a certain burden squarely on those shoulders which deserve it.  It lies with the Southern Baptists to determine the answer to two critical questions: what is required in order to be a Southern Baptist pastor, and what does it mean to convene together with pastors who evidently do not fit that requirement? These are questions which I do not need to answer, and I do not pretend to have answered them.

My concern is much simpler: what am I, a Reformed Baptist pastor in a smallish church (but I repeat myself) supposed to think when Andy Stanley attacks my people, or when Steven Furtick – in what seems to have been one of his rare attempts to actually talk about the gospel – attacks the holiness of God?  Well, what do I think when the Pope says something moronic about Mary, or when some lesbian Methodist pastor is discovered in further scandal?  Why should I think anything?  I am not particularly shocked when the Pope or the Mainline minister acts like less than a true Christian, and frankly, the mere fact that someone is a pastor in an evangelical denomination doesn’t mean that much to me either.   Just because the folks at the Gallup Poll think the latter is on my “team” doesn’t mean I have to presume his regeneration.

No doubt these self-evident observations will seem terribly unkind, unloving, and un-Christian to many.  Perhaps Justin Taylor can even be convinced to call me a low-quality “discernment blogger” again, although he’d have to read past the title this time.  Given the likelihood of such a response, let me suggest three advantages of shaving away the idea of presumptive evangelical regeneration:

1. When I stop assuming that every evangelical is a fellow believer, it helps me to be a better neighbor. I am convinced that rejecting the risible myth that something like a quarter of my fellow Americans are genuine believers makes me a far better citizen of the Republic.  I can give up on the absurd notion that I live in a “Christian country,” and instead I can busy myself with seeking the good of the nation in which God placed me.  My political stance may be influenced by my faith (I agree with Dennis Prager that anyfaith makes one less susceptible to progressivism and statism), but my faith and my politics are not coterminous.  Most importantly, I can grant my neighbor the gospel rather than assume, most likely falsely, that he has already heard it.  This last holds true even if my neighbor is an evangelical; I have mentioned before that I have long considered my ministry in Christian school chapels to be mission work.  Knowledge of the gospel being so rare in the evangelical world, we do well to bear regular witness to it.

2. When I stop assuming that every evangelical is a fellow believer, it helps me to be more peaceful and more peaceable.How should I respond to the antics of evangelical superstars?  Let us take Furtick as an example, and let us be clear: he has never done anything to suggest that we ought to consider him a fellow believer.  (I am putting aside, you see, his evangelical ordination, which is meaningless.)  If I feel it necessary to respond, I will notfeel the need to charitably ascribe to him Christian motives which he evidently lacks!  It isn’t that I must ascribe badmotives, either.  I simply treat theological rubbish as theological rubbish.  Since I won’t be twisting myself into knots to say, “Look, I know this is heresy, but clearly he didn’t mean it,” I will be at far greater peace within myself.  On the other hand, neither do I need to kick and rage and scream about how awful it is, like the true watch-bloggers.  Did an evangelical super-star deny the gospel?  Well, is the Pope Catholic?  It’s not as though it’s something I’m going to fix.  If I do respond, it needn’t be with outrage, which means I’m not only at peace internally, I’m free to be peaceable with all men.

3. When I stop assuming that every evangelical is a fellow believer, it helps me to love the brethren. It is spring, s0 – even though while I write this snow is falling outside my study window – allow me a springtime metaphor.  On the rare occasions that I attend a Phillies game, it is almost never in Philadelphia.  Nevertheless, I always wear at the very least the appropriate red cap.  Furthermore, I always see others in red, because our phans “travel well,” even when our team is awful.  (Who am I kidding; that’s most of the time!)  If I walk into Miller Park in my bright red cap, the other phans and I will nod, wave, and generally acknowledge one another, all for no reason except that we are dressed similarly; we are “on” the same team.  Of course, I do not invite them into my home, concern myself with the well-being of their families, or share their joys and sorrows.  (Not, that is, beyond the general sorrow we all feel over Ryan Howard’s impossible contract.)  I suspect that this is what Christian fellowship has been reduced to.  Christians know that they are supposed to smile and nod when they see someone from their team, but they keep one another at arms’ length.  Why?  Is it not because, deep within themselves, they suspect that other “Christians” may not be true brothers?  When I discover a fellow-believer, it is not by such trivialities as his self-identification as an evangelical.  It is instead by his love of the gospel, his rejection of false gospels, and his concern for biblical holiness.  In other words, I’ve found a brother, even if we disagree on some of the particulars.  I’ve found someone to whom I can gladly extend the right hand of fellowship.

In this case, the simplest explanation really is best.  Many evangelicals are unsaved, and the world makes a lot more sense when we acknowledge it.

Source: Tom Chantry, Occam’s Razor and the Perpetuity of Evangelical Scandal, Chantry Notes, https://chantrynotes.wordpress.com/2016/04/11/occams-razor-and-the-perpetuity-of-evangelical-scandal/, Published 11/04/2016. (Accessed 11/04/2016.)

City Harvest case: Appeal hearings set for September before a three-judge panel

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The Straits Times reports:

City Harvest case: Appeal hearings set for September before a three-judge panel

SINGAPORE – The appeal hearings for the six City Harvest Church leaders have been set for Sept 19 to Sept 23. This was decided during a pre-trial conference on Monday (Jan 25), parties confirmed with The Straits Times.

The appeals will be heard before a three-judge panel, tentatively comprising Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Justice Woo Bih Li and Justice Chan Seng Onn.

Last October, the six accused – church founder Kong Hee, 51; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 39, and Sharon Tan, 40; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47 – were found guilty of misusing around $50 million in church funds after a trial that stretched more than two years.

The church leaders were convicted of using church funds to further the music career of pastor-singer Ho Yeow Sun, Kong’s wife. This was allegedly done by funnelling $24 million into sham bonds to bankroll Ms Ho’s career. The accused then misused a further $26 million to cover their tracks.

All six were handed jail terms of between 21 months and eight years. Kong got the heaviest sentence as the alleged mastermind of Singapore’s largest charity financial scandal.

The prosecution, which called the sentences “manifestly inadequate” after asking for jail terms ranging from five to 12 years, is also appealing.

Source: Lim Yi Han, City Harvest case: Appeal hearings set for September before a three-judge panel, straitstimes.com, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/city-harvest-case-appeal-hearings-set-for-september-before-a-three-judge-panel, Published 25/01/2016. (Accessed 26/01/2016.)

Kong Hee reveals he still thinks he is innocent in recent statement

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Kong Hee writes on FaceBook,

After the sentencing last Friday, I have had a week to carefully consider the sentence and have also studied the Court’s grounds of conviction together with my lawyers. Whilst I respect the Court’s decision, there are points which appear to be erroneous and warrant appeal. I will therefore be preparing to file an appeal against both my conviction and sentence. Earlier today, I was informed that the Prosecution has also filed an appeal against the sentence imposed by the Court. My lawyers will also address the Prosecution’s appeal at the appropriate time. I sincerely need your prayers during this process for a favorable outcome. The road ahead is long and arduous, but God’s grace is sufficient for me. I love and appreciate you so much. Thank you for loving me and my family.

Read the full statement here: https://goo.gl/MgSyRj

Source: Kong Hee, FaceBook, https://www.facebook.com/konghee/posts/10153079190051895, Published 27/11/2015. (Accessed 27/11/2015.)

proof_FaceBook-KongHeeAppeals_27-11-2015

We would like to know who helped Kong Hee write this below statement. This is not his work. It’s too theologically slick, refined and deep for him to produce without others being involved to make him look this theologically credible. (Compare this presentation with Kong Hee’s ‘9 Reasons Why Jesus Was Not Poor’ sermon.) We’re quite confident that Kong Hee wouldn’t even know who Archbishop Chrysostom is or how to access the appropriate writings on Chrysostom. We know who Pinky is, so who is the Brain?

And see if you can spot the lies in Kong Hee’s appeal:

MY APPEAL


After the sentencing last Friday, I have had a week to carefully consider the sentence and have also studied the Court’s grounds of conviction together with my lawyers. Whilst I respect the Court’s decision, there are points which appear to be erroneous and warrant appeal. I will therefore be preparing to file an appeal against both my conviction and sentence. Earlier today, I was informed that the Prosecution has also filed an appeal against the sentence imposed by the Court. My lawyers will also address the Prosecution’s appeal at the appropriate time. I sincerely need your prayers during this process for a favorable outcome. The road ahead is long and arduous, but God’s grace is sufficient for me. I love and appreciate you so much. Thank you for loving me and my family.


 

Can & Should Christians Appeal?

Personally, I have been studying the journeys and trials of the Apostle Paul from Acts 21 to 28. From Scripture, we know that Paul had stood trial before a Jewish court and three Roman courts. He spent a total of at least five years in prison.

In about 57 A.D., Paul arrived at Jerusalem to bring humanitarian aids to the Jews1 and to share the gospel with them.2 A week later, he was at the temple when a riot erupted, resulting in his arrest and subsequent interrogation.3 Paul had to stand trial before the Sanhedrin, the ancient Jewish court of judges. Twenty or so years earlier, it was this same Sanhedrin that had tried Jesus,4 and John,5 as well as Stephen.6

Being a Roman citizen, Paul was then sent to the Roman procurator Antonius Felix in Caesarea.7 As the governor of Judea, he was also the chief judge of the province.8 Five days later, Paul’s accusers, together with their lawyer, brought “many serious charges” against Paul.9 They accused him of rioting, breaking Jewish laws, and committing treason against Rome.10 If convicted, Paul could be sentenced to death.11 While Felix chose to temporize and not reach a verdict, he imprisoned Paul in a jail cell at Herod’s judgment hall for the next two years.12

In 59 A.D., 13 Porcius Festus succeeded Felix as the governor and chief judge of Judea. He reopened the trial for Paul to give his defense before his accusers. In the midst of the hearing, Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen, and appealed to Caesar, who presided the highest court in the empire.14 Festus granted his request.

The concept of appealing to a higher court to review the verdict of a lower court was not foreign in biblical culture. Scripture tells us that there was an appeal process already in place for the Hebrews and Jews from ancient times. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, as well as many other Bible dictionaries, explains “appeal” in Israel’s judiciary as this:

“After the Exodus, Moses at first adjudged all cases himself, but at the suggestion of Jethro he arranged for a number of inferior judges, with evident right of appeal to himself (Exodus 18:13, 26). Later on the judges of the different towns were to bring all difficult cases that they were unable to decide before the Levitical priests and judges at the place of the sanctuary for a final decision (Deuteronomy 17:8‐11).”15

Was Paul defiant in his attitude toward the Roman rulers? Was he afraid to be punished for breaking the law? Paul had taught that every person must submit to governing authorities,16 and he was certainly not afraid to be thrown into the lion’s den.17 However, he knew it was not time for him to die yet, because in an earlier night vision, Jesus had said to him, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.”18 Wanting to fulfill the Lord’s mission for him,19 Paul availed himself of the civil privileges of a Roman citizen, which God had blessed him with, and appealed to the “supreme court” of Caesar. He was also convinced that the evidence was on his side, and that he had a fair chance of winning the appeal in Rome. A few days later, Paul’s confidence was further affirmed when King Herod Agrippa II heard his testimony in another court hearing, and felt that Paul should indeed be acquitted.20

In 60 A.D., Paul arrived in Rome. Unfortunately, it would be another two‐year wait for his day in court with Caesar, during which he was placed under house arrest.21 Rather than being incarcerated as a common criminal, Paul was permitted to live in his own rented dwelling, though bound by chains, and always in the company of a prison guard.22 During this time, to all who visited him, Paul kept preaching and teaching the gospel “with all confidence.”23 The four “prison epistles” of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon were written during this two‐year incarceration.24

At the end of 62 A.D., Paul was able to make his defense before Caesar and was acquitted of all charges.25 According to church traditions and the early fathers, like Archbishop Chrysostom, he was released from imprisonment and continued his missionary work to Western Europe, possibly as far as Spain.26

Three years later, in 65 A.D., Paul was rearrested and imprisoned again in Rome for about another year. It was during this time that he wrote his final epistle, the second letter to Timothy, to tell Timothy that he had “fought the good fight,” he had “finished the race,” and he knew that “the time of [his] departure [was] at hand.” True enough, sometime in 66 A.D., Paul was beheaded by the order of Nero Caesar.27

In God’s sovereign will, Paul was destined to be a martyr. However, before that appointed time for martyrdom, Paul exercised his legal rights within the judiciary of his day, and fought for the freedom to preach the gospel as instructed by the Lord Jesus.28 His courtroom advocacy and legal appeal gave him eight years of powerful ministry to many parts of Europe. He fulfilled the purpose of his life29 and was not disobedient to “the heavenly vision.”30

Paul appealed not because he was defiant toward the ruling authority.31 He appealed because (a) the weight of the evidence was in his favour, (b) he had a clear mission from the Lord Jesus that he still needed to fulfill, and (c) he was exercising his legal rights as a Roman citizen, a privilege that God had blessed him with.

Regarding my decision to appeal to the High Court, I sincerely need your prayers for a favorable outcome. It has been a very long and difficult journey since 31 May 2010, but I have always felt God’s loving presence and your unfailing support. I am so blessed by your friendship. Thank you for loving me and my family.

Source: Kong Hee, MY APPEAL, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzYLXQWuYruRdFV6ZkVrMHRCSVU/view?pli=1, Accessed 28/11/2015.

 

City Harvest trial: Prosecution calls for 11 to 12 years’ jail for Kong Hee and church leaders

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The Straits Times writes,

Although Kong faced only three charges of criminal breach of trust, Presiding Judge See Kee Oon said he was the key man behind the scandal.
Although Kong faced only three charges of criminal breach of trust, Presiding Judge See Kee Oon said he was the key man behind the scandal.ST FILE PHOTO 

It asks that 4 leaders be jailed 11 to 12 years each; sentencing could be as early as Friday

The Public Prosecutor has asked for stiff sentences for all six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, including the recommendation that church founder Kong Hee be sentenced to 11 to 12 years in jail, The Straits Times has learnt.

The six were found guilty last month of misusing some $50 million in church funds.

Of that, $24 million was used to bankroll the music career of Kong’s wife, singer-pastor Ho Yeow Sun.

Apart from Kong, 51, the prosecution also recommended a jail sentence of 11 to 12 years each for deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43; former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, 38; and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55.

For former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47, the prosecution asked for a jail sentence of eight to nine years.

  • WHAT THE PROSECUTION IS ASKING FOR

  • KONG HEE, 51

    Founder and senior pastor of City Harvest Church (CHC)

    Guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust.

    Sentence: 11 to 12 years

    TAN YE PENG, 43

    Deputy senior pastor

    Guilty of six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

    Sentence: 11 to 12 years

    SERINA WEE, 38

    Former CHC finance manager

    Guilty of six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

    Sentence: 11 to 12 years

    CHEW ENG HAN, 55

    Former CHC fund manager

    Guilty of six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

    Sentence: 11 to 12 years

    JOHN LAM, 47

    Former CHC finance committee member

    Guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust.

    Sentence: Eight to nine years

    SHARON TAN, 40

    Former CHC finance manager

    Guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

    Sentence: Five to six years

The lightest sentence of five to six years was reserved for former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, 40.

The prosecution handed in its written submissions on sentencing to the court on Nov 6.

The six are due back in court on Friday for oral submissions on sentencing.

It is the earliest date for the court to pass a sentence.

For the moment, only Kong and Chew have indicated that they are likely to appeal.

“I think it’s likely (for Kong to appeal) but I can’t confirm right now; realistically, we have to see what happens on Friday,” said Kong’s lawyer, Mr Jason Chan.

Chew told The Straits Times: “I am standing by my defence and what I testified during the trial, and will make an appeal.”

The defence has told the court repeatedly that CHC suffered no loss and the six accused had not profited from their crimes.

The church leaders were found guilty of varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

A maximum cumulative sentence of 20 years can be imposed on the accused, in addition to a fine.

Kong faced only three charges of criminal breach of trust, which along with Lam, was the lowest number faced by the six accused.

But in his written judgment, Presiding Judge See Kee Oon pointed to Kong as the key man behind the scandal, writing that the charismatic church pastor had “acted consciously and dishonestly”.

“Kong Hee maintains that he is a pastor and not an expert in legality.

“But one does not need to be an expert in legality to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity,” the judge wrote.

Judge See added that the group used their positions in the church to shroud their crimes in secrecy.

“When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies,” he wrote.

The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its wearer the power to become invisible at will.

It was mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s Republic.

He wrote: “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.”

Source: Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, City Harvest trial: Prosecution calls for 11 to 12 years’ jail for Kong Hee and church leaders, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/city-harvest-trial-prosecution-calls-for-stiff-sentences-for-kong-hee-and, Published 17/11/2015. (Accessed 27/11/2015.)

City Harvest trial: Kong Hee to appeal conviction and sentence

Channel NewsAsia reports:

BREAKING – Prosecution appeals against ‘manifestly inadequate’ sentences

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Six Accused

The Straits Times reports,

City Harvest trial: Prosecution appeals against ‘manifestly inadequate’ sentences

SINGAPORE – The prosecution has filed notices of appeal against the sentences given to the six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders on Friday (Nov 27), noting that they were “manifestly inadequate”.

“Having carefully considered the written grounds, the Prosecution is of the view that the sentences imposed are manifestly inadequate, in all the circumstances of the case,” the Attorney General’s Chambers said in a media statement released on Friday morning (Nov 27).

CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee and five other church leaders were found guilty and convicted of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts on Oct 21.

Last Friday (Nov 20), the six were given jail sentences ranging from eight years to 21 months. The written grounds for the judgment were released on Nov 23.

The prosecution had earlier asked for much harsher sentences ranging from five to 12 years.

Making it clear that Kong was the mastermind behind the conspiracy to cause wrongful loss to the church and defraud auditors, the judge had sentenced him to eight years in jail.

Former board member Chew Eng Han was given six years’ jail; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng faces a 5-and-a-half-year term in prison, while the church’s former finance manager Serina Wee was handed a five-year jail term.

John Lam, former secretary of the church’s management board, was given three years’ jail. Sharon Tan, former finance manager, was sentenced to 21 months in jail.

Meanwhile Tan Ye Peng’s lawyer N. Sreenivasan told The Straits Times his client has decided to appeal.

Chew, who said he “didn’t agree with the conviction and the sentence”, would be appealing as well.

The remaining defendants have adopted a wait-and-see approach.

“We are discussing developments with her and she will decide whether or not to appeal by next week,” said Sharon Tan’s lawyer Paul Seah.

Wee’s husband Kenny Low, who appealed for space for his family, said: “I think it’s too fast to comment.”

On Friday evening, Kong said in a Facebook post that he was going to appeal the conviction and sentence.

The remaining five defendants have seven more days to decide whether to file a notice of appeal.

Source: Yuen Sin and Danson Cheong, City Harvest trial: Prosecution appeals against ‘manifestly inadequate’ sentences, Straits Times, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/city-harvest-trial-prosecution-appeals-against-manifestly-inadequate-sentences, Published 28/11/2015. (Accessed 28/11/2015.)

More details on Kong Hee & cohorts sentencing

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The Straits Times reports (screen grab image added),

City Harvest trial: Kong Hee sentenced to 8 years in prison, 5 other church leaders get between 21 months and 6 years

SINGAPORE – City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, 51, was sentenced to eight years’ jail on Friday (Nov 20).

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55, received a six-year sentence, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, got five-and-a-half years, and ex-finance manager Serina Wee, 38, got five years.

Ex-CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 40, received lighter sentences. They got three years and 21 months respectively.

All six accused had been found guilty on Oct 21 of misappropriating $24 million in church funds, funnelling them into bogus investments that funded the singing career of Kong’s wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. Later, a further $26 million was used to cover their tracks.

Judge See Kee Oon said he had agreed with the prosecution’s call for general deterrence, but he said he was mindful that did not mean “disproportionately crushing sentences”.

He also highlighted the unique nature of this case – those found guilty did not enjoy personal gain and believed that they were fulfilling the objective of the church. As Kong was the overall spiritual leader and prime mover and driver of the Crossover Project – the church’s attempt to use Ms Ho’s pop career to evangelise – he should be held most culpable, the judge said.

As for Chew, Judge See said Tan Ye Peng, Wee and Lam all relied on him.

Their sentences will start on Jan 11 next year.

Asked by reporters if he intended to appeal his sentence, Kong declined to comment.

Speaking on behalf of Tan Ye Peng, lawyer N. Sreenivasan said: “This has been a very trying case. He needs to pray, reflect and discern, before deciding what to do.”

Wee’s husband, Kenny Low, would only say: “We are thankful that we are able to have some time to go back and settle our family and to (think) about what’s ahead.”

Sharon Tan’s lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, said he would have a good chat with his client and look at the judge’s statement carefully before deciding on what to do next.

Lam was also unsure if he would be appealing, and said he would have to speak to his lawyer first. “I’m just glad we have cleared this stage, at least the sentence has been passed and we know what we are in for. It’s obviously a very difficult time and we want to get the family ready. We have to prepare ahead,” he added.

As for Chew, he told The Straits Times: “No comment, you already know I want to appeal.” When asked what his immediate plans were, he told The Straits Times he would be catching the new Hunger Games movie with his family tonight.

After the sentencing, the church’s senior leadership issued a statement on their website and on Facebook thanking the congregation for their support: “We want to thank each and every one of you, our church members, for demonstrating such strength and unity throughout all these years, and particularly in these last few extremely difficult months. We ask you to remember and hold close to your heart the call of God upon City Harvest Church.

“We have learned lately what it means to have faith, trust and rest in God—let us put what we have learned to practice. Let’s band together to fulfill the heavenly calling for us through CHC 2.0.”

The statement also asked supporters to pray for the six leaders who were sentenced.

“Let us continue to pray for the six and their families as they prepare for this next step in the legal process. May God grant them grace and the peace that surpasses understanding,” the statement added.

proof_FB-CHCAnnounceCharges_21-11-2015

Both the defence and prosecution of the case made their final arguments earlier in the morning, ahead of the sentencing of the six church leaders at 3pm.

The prosecution had earlier asked for stiff sentences for all of them.

It had recommended a jail sentence of 11 to 12 years each for Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Wee and Chew.

For Lam, the prosecution asked for a jail sentence of eight to nine years, and six years for Sharon Tan.

A maximum cumulative sentence of 20 years could have been imposed on the accused, in addition to a fine.

A queue of about 50 people formed overnight outside the State Courts – the first person had started queueing at 10.30pm on Thursday – as church members turned up in a show of support for their leaders. By 7am, there were about 66 people in the queue.

Production supervisor Sam Lew, a CHC member for the past 15 years, said he was not feeling nervous or worried about the sentencing as he had already prayed about it.

Said Mr Lew, 37: “Of course we are disappointed by the verdict but we do respect the decision of the State Courts. But (I have never wavered) in my trust in the church leaders because I believe in what God is doing in our church.”

Chew and Lam were the first to arrive just after 9am. They were followed closely by the other four. Kong, usually accompanied by his wife, arrived alone.

The session began at 9.45am in a packed courtroom, with lawyers for each of the six church leaders taking turns to submit their clients’ final oral arguments.

Kong’s lawyer Edwin Tong, who was the first to speak, said the sentence meted out to Kong must be appropriate and proportionate. The characteristics of the offender and circumstances surrounding him must be taken into account.

Mr Tong said Kong had shared with the church about the Crossover Project and its members expressed support. Kong’s wife, Ms Ho, was also chosen not without their knowledge. He added that the project was without a doubt an integral aspect of the church’s evangelism.

Emphasing that all six loved the church and meant no harm to it whatsoever, Mr Tong argued that every cent which was drawn out went to the church and was supported by the church. None of the church leaders benefited from the funds used in a wrong manner.

Mr Tong concluded by claiming that Kong had demonstrated remorse. The length of the trial had taken a toll on Kong, who has aged parents and two deaf and mute siblings who rely on him for support. Kong’s 10-year-old son, who was five when the case first came to court, also suffered from the attention received, and had to be withdrawn from school after being evaluated by a pyschiatrist, Mr Tong said.

Mr Tong also submitted a letter, signed by 173 of the church’s current executive members, pleading for leniency.

An excerpt from the letter reads:”Sir, we are the ones who have given, through tithes, offerings and building funds. We are still here. And so are Pastor Kong Hee, Pastor Tan Ye Peng, John Lam, Serina Wee and Sharon Tan. Throughout these past five years, we see them still attending church. Still helping out. Still serving. We see them stand and worship God every weekend, many times with tears streaming down their faces.

“In this whole matter, we believe they wanted to fulfill the Crossover mission and in their zeal, they overstepped certain boundaries. We sincerely ask for leniency on their sentencing. For the sake of their young children, we appeal for them to be spared jail terms.”

CHC letter of appeal

Letter of appeal for leniency signed  by 173 of the City Harvest Church’s current executive members. ST PHOTO: DANSON CHEONG

Mr Kenneth Tan, lawyer for Lam, said his client’s involvement was not as extensive as the other five leaders. He was far less culpable as he was just a volunteer who failed to inquire about the questionable use of church funds because of ingrained and misplaced trust in Kong.

Mr Andre Maniam, Serina Wee’s lawyer, described his client as a follower who “started out as a girl doing accounts”. Wee was not entrusted with any funds and was not on the board at the time of the criminal breach of trust charge. She was also never a pastor, Mr Maniam said. Wee’s role was to provide administrative support “with limited involvement”.

He added that the job in the church’s accounts department was Wee’s first job – she had no prior experience in the private sector. Church was Wee’s life – in terms of family job, and faith – at a point in time when she was relatively young and inexperienced. There was no evidence of wrongful gain and no permanent loss in funds was intended, Mr Maniam said. Wee and the other five church leaders are not innately bad people, Mr Maniam concluded as he pleaded for leniency on behalf of his client.

In response, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong listed four aggravating factors in the case, chief among them the fact that CHC – as a large registry entrusted with millions in members’ donations – had betrayed public trust and the trust of its donors.

The prosecution also found that the offences committed were “premeditated and carefully planned”, and they were subsequently covered up with numerous cunning deceptions to avoid detection.

DPP Ong went on to refute the mitigating factors put forth by the defence, stating that the good character of the six accused was not relevant in this case given the seriousness of the offences.

“How much weight can the good character of a shepherd be given if he is also a wolf at the same time?” he said.

The argument that no personal gain was made and that the church did not suffer any losses also does not apply, he added.

On Kong’s claim that he was remorseful, DPP Ong said Kong had not actually apologised for his role in the offences, and a confession letter he had tendered was filled with excuses in an attempt to shirk responsibility.

Straits Times CHC charges graphic

In the weeks following the verdict on Oct 21, both the defence and prosecution have handed to the court their written submissions on sentencing.

The defence has told the court repeatedly that the church suffered no loss and the six had not profited from their crimes.

The church leaders have been out on bail and barred from travelling overseas.

Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Lam have each posted bail of $1 million. Wee and Sharon Tan have each posted a sum of $750,000.

Source: Danson Cheong, City Harvest trial: Kong Hee sentenced to 8 years in prison, 5 other church leaders get between 21 months and 6 years, http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/city-harvest-trial-kong-hee-and-church-leaders-back-in-court-on-friday-for, Published 20/11/2015. (Accessed 21/11/2015.) (All photos taken from The Strait Times.)