Poverty, prosperity and City Harvest Church

By Ravi Philemon The article in Economist 'Reaping what they sow', in saying that the City Harvest Church's (CHC)case 'worries those who see corruption as a growing problem', has tried to link the CHC saga to the other ongoing corruption cases in this city-state. But only, the alleged misuse of funds case against City Harvest Church, may not be a clear-cut case of corruption. Before Kong Hee, there were other religious leaders who have been investigated, and some others like Ming Yi and Joachim Kang, who have been jailed. But what does cases like CHC say about governance in religious organisations? And why did the earlier governance review by the Commissioner of Charities not reveal any irregularities in CHC's case? To understand why the earlier governance review did not pinpoint any irregularities in the CHC's case, one must understand what the primary purpose of such a review is. The primary purpose of reviews like that is to improve the standard of governance in an organisation. And even if the review may give hints of irregularities in the organisation, because the objective of the review is not to investigate or audit an organisation, it does not have the mandate to do so. What the governance review can do in such instances is to recommend an inquiry to establish the truth; and that is what the Commissioner of Charities had done in CHC's case. What many also do not know is that it is purely voluntary for religious organisations to register themselves with the Commissioner of Charities. If a religious organisation is gazetted, registered as a society, or is a company limited by guarantee only, they can be governed purely by their own constitution or articles of incorporation. But some religious organisations voluntarily register themselves with the Commissioner of Charities (COC) because they are also involved in efforts to relief poverty, relief of people in need and community development; and by registering themselves with the COC, they receive an automatic tax exemption on their income, and also receive property tax exemption on premises used for exclusively charitable purposes. But when they register with COC as a charity, then these religious organisations have to comply with conditions (besides those required by their own constitution)

set by the Government, and that is the tricky part. And this is the area where religious organisations which have strong religious leaders, find it difficult to do better. Because for good public governance, you must have independent-minded people in the Board. But in religious organisations with a domineering religious leader, often also acting in the capacity as Chairman or President of the religious organisation, there is bound to be some level of deference and group-think within the Board. This is where proper public accounting becomes more complicated. With regards to CHC, - from Kong Hee's announcement that he runs his church like a medium enterprise to his wife Ho Yeow Sun's provocative dance numbers that church has always had its detractors. So to those, when something like this happened, it was only 'a matter of time' and it was no surprise to them. But also most churches have advised their adherents to not prejudge the case, and to be mindful of the tremendous impact CHC has had on the social welfare scene (both locally and abroad) - and rightly so. The CHC case may have also unfairly cast Christians as being rich, when compared to others in society. But if adherents of the Christian faith come from society with varying income levels, then at best, it's only an illusion that Christians are rich, even if the churches themselves may be rich. Many followers of Christ draw inspiration from Christ's giving of himself to give selflessly - and some preachers of the prosperity gospel may unscrupulously use such selfless giving to enrich themselves. And from Jim Bakker to Vaughn Reeves, it has been witnessed how vulnerable some adherents of the Christian faith can be, to such prosperity gospel preachers. And those that castigate all prosperity gospel preachers for the transgressions of some forget that Christianity itself is a spectrum which has the vow of poverty on one end, the prosperity gospel on the other, and everything else in-between. That being the case, if you come down too hard on the adherents of a particular persuasion of Christianity, the danger may be that it's only a matter of time before the vibrations travel through the entire fence; and the entire Christian community feels that it is being unfairly scrutinised and persecuted.
-This article was published in Public House on Tuesday, 21 August 2012 http://publichouse.sg/categories/co unity/ite /!"#-po$erty-prosperity-and-city-har$est-church

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