Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Church and Its Accountability

 Some churches, such as this in Italy, are a real work of art. Contrary to 
what most of my friends think, I'm not such a bad photographer, am I?
The City Harvest trial in Singapore reveals astounding sums of money that the church seems to get quite easily from its members.  The trial tells us at least one thing - parishioners are always willing to give liberally to the church.  It's not uncommon for us to hear stories of people who sell their houses to give the entire proceeds to the church.  Notice that it's always the lay person who does this. You'll never find the clergy giving away all they have.

From my personal experience, mad people do have a strange fascination for religion.  I know someone (from a church group of course) who is a schizophrenic and he hallucinates ever so often. He asked me once if I had seen angels or heard the voice of God. I told him NO, NEVER!!! He said he saw angels all the time and God spoke to him regularly. I told him to take his medication which he would refuse to do because it made him drowsy and in a daze. He asked me how he could distinguish God's voice from the hallucination. I told him any time he heard anything in his head, it's got to be a hallucination. There's no such thing as "God's voice". He didn't believe me and continued to think he heard God speak all the time. It's sad but he's just the sort of person who might give everything he has to the church if his hallucination leads him in that direction.  And there are many opportunities for him to have hallucinations of this sort.  If he listens to a sermon on the importance of giving tithe to the church (which is not such a rare sermon in church), he may very well be led by the power of suggestion to hallucinate God's voice telling him to give everything he has.

I can't be sure but I think many churches are compassionate enough not to accept a large sum of money from someone of dubious sanity if they know where the money is from in the first place.   Usually, the church does not know.  A madman may put a lot of money into the offering bag and nobody will know where the money comes from.  I know most people think the government should not get involved with the church but I see the church as being in a position of great authority over its parishioners.  There are many believers who have surrendered their minds and wills to the church even though they may not care to admit it.  It's easy to see the reason for this.

Churches have taught their members from a very early age onwards that giving to the church equals giving to God.  Some churches are fond of quoting Malachi in order to frighten believers into accepting that not giving to the church is synonymous with robbing God.  The City Harvest case is highly revealing of the mentality of many Christians.  Many of its members continue to support the church leaders even after the arrest and trial (which is still ongoing) and although I can't be sure of this, I am inclined to think that there has been no reduction in the church's monetary collections every Sunday.

I know the church does not like Government scrutiny (no organisation does) but the church is not your normal organisation that should be allowed some autonomy.  The church wields such immense power over the thoughts and actions of its members that it would not be wrong to say that it owes a huge fiduciary duty to parishioners and there must be an accountability that far exceeds that owed by other establishments and institutions. 

I am saying all this as a Christian and an active church member.  I'm sure if Jesus were here, he who overturned the tables of commerce in the Temple at Jerusalem would say precisely the same thing about church accountability.  Anyone who opposes my call for greater accountability by churches cannot have honourable motives.  What reason can there be?  

I'm hoping the Government would step in and check on all churches and make them doubly accountable.  The people must be protected from unscrupulous leaders of organisations.  I have no doubt that many churches have at their helm noble clergymen.  I pass no judgment on the leaders of City Harvest because the trial is still ongoing and who knows?  They might very well be acquitted.  But I'm speaking generally about the great fiduciary duty that the church owes to members of the public.

You may say the fiduciary duty is owed only to church members but I disagree.  The fact is church membership is fluid and from statistics, it's clear that church memberships are increasing rapidly in Singapore.  Churches are allowed to proselytize freely and they are allowed to approach members of the pubic to lead them to full membership in the church.  Churches do this all the time.  Spreading the Gospel, as it is called, is one of the most important activities in the church and every Christian is duty-bound to preach to others.  Because of the constant approach the church makes to the general public in order to convert non-believers to the faith, ie sell its membership to them, the duty owed by the church should not be confined to church members alone but to the entire public just as a seller of contaminated food cannot claim that he does not pose a hazard to the public but only to his regular customers.

Since the public in general is exposed if there is any wrongdoing by a church, it behoves the government to examine the affairs of all churches with a fine toothcomb.   Churches that are innocent of any wrongdoing should welcome this.


  1. I think while the Church should remember that while it's supposed to be apolitical (at least in theory), there is a need for church leaders to remember that, because you stand in front of an audience at the pulpit, and under the auspices of the church, people are going to take what you say as gospel truth.

    If I may, there is a tendency for people to leave common sense at the front door as they enter a church and just take in everything they hear without much of a filter-- to question a priest or pastor, especially a very influential one, is wrong and sinful, given the notion that "God is watching".

    Then there's the bit where, because of our faith (yes, I am Christian), there is a tendency for us to think a man of God can do/say no wrong, and that because we are (supposedly) living a path guided by Christ, our fellow brethren are necessarily a good bunch...and further, we are taught that whatever good things are attributed to divine mercy and grace, hence, you'd see things from the angle that whatever successes you get are given to you by His grace.

    Faith and common sense can conflict at times, I guess that is why people swing to to the defensive whenever criticisms about the church or their leaders arise. I can understand how CHC members feel, but I also sense that their loyalities are to the church and Kong Hee more than they are to the Christian faith in general: it's obvious in the way they seem to tell the rest of us non-CHC Christians that their brand of Christianity is more superior (just my sensing, not representative of non-CHC parishes)

    Well, the case is on-going, let's not pre-empt judgments, and even in the event that the parties are adjudged to be guilty, that is a different thing from saying the church is wrong-- the corruption etc (if any proven) is the misdeeds of Man, and we already know that no man is infallible.

    I can only imagine that CHC will emerge from this saga more enlightened, and where man failed, God's word shall prevail and heal.

  2. Thanks for that comment, The Peranakan Dude! I only have a comment to make on your last sentence. You wrote "CHC will emerge from this saga more enlightened, and where man failed, God's word shall prevail and heal".

    Seeing how blindly devoted the members are to Kong Hee, I really doubt they will emerge more enlightened. Blind devotion is never rational.

    As a Christian myself, I know what you mean when you say "God's word shall prevail and heal". If by God's word, you mean the Bible, I really don't think we can honestly say the Bible can in any way prevail or heal. The only way the Bible can be looked upon as prevailing is when we pick and choose those parts of the Bible that appear wise and are of universal application. The horrid parts of the Bible will have to be allegorized or even brutally ignored.