What do Singaporeans think of Kong Hee?

ASIA / 038: Singapore - spirituality and show business, megachurches under fire (IPS)

IPS-Inter Press Service Deutschland gGmbH
IPS daily service of August 24, 2010

Singapore: when spirituality and show business meet -Megachurches under criticism

From Kalinga Seneviratne

Singapore, August 24 (IPS / IDN *) - Every Sunday, thousands of young and old flock to the Expo and Suntec convention centers in the state of Singapore. There, in the thunderstorm of twitching flashes of light, their eyes fixed on the illuminated stage, they await the arrival of their idol. Camera teams stand on cranes and send pictures to huge screens. After a long wait, the time has come. The star, dressed in a leather jacket and knee-high boots, appears in the spotlight and cheers fill the hall. A hand signal from him is enough and there is silence: the sermon can begin.

The man on stage is not a famous rock or pop star, but a representative of a Christian Protestant church. Like many of his colleagues from the music scene, he has what it takes to banish the masses and win people over. He also knows how to capitalize on these skills. Thanks to his appearances, his church receives millions of euros.

Although Christians make up only 15 percent of the four million Singaporeans, they form an influential minority in the Southeast Asian country. Many of them are entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, media representatives and politicians and belong to the best of circles.

The Protestant churches in particular have seen a particularly large number of visitors over the past decade. The largest is City Harvest Church, with an estimated 33,000 members, which has accumulated reserves of $ 103 million (US $ 75 million) last year. A staff of 154 full-time employees consumes 9.3 million Singapore dollars (6.9 million US dollars) annually.

In addition, the denomination is the owner of a church complex in western Singapore. The loan has already been paid off. City Harvest also claims to be involved in a deal worth 310 million Singapore dollars (228 million US dollars) to purchase the majority of shares in the Suntec Congress Hall.

But it is precisely such projects and the aggressive manner in which more and more members of other faith communities are hired out to bring the church organizations, which enjoy tax exemption in Singapore, into disrepute. Investigations are underway against City Harvest Church. In addition, a fierce controversy has broken out over the understanding of the faith of Evangelical Christians in Singapore.

Riches the wages of God

Ever since City Harvest and other churches hit the headlines, new zesty details about the churches' business acumen have been leaking out into the open. It became known that many pastors have degrees in management and business administration and run the churches like companies promoting the gospel as a 'product'. The fact that many of the clergy lead a luxury life is not a bone of contention and is propagated by those affected as the Lord's reward for a godly life.

City Harvest founder Pastor Kong Hee, 47, owns a fashion house and a sportswear company. He is married to the 40-year-old pop singer Sun Ho, who lives with their son in Los Angeles. The artist lives in the Hollywood mountains for rent for $ 28,000 a month. Pastor Hee owns a Singapore apartment that is said to be worth 2.6 million Singapore dollars. After Sunday mass, he flies regularly to his family in the USA:

Another major church is the New Creation Church (NCC), which has 20,000 members. She owns five companies that operate in the entertainment and rock music industries, selling gifts and books, and organizing travel, among other things. In 2007, 'Rock Productions' joined forces with real estate giant 'CapitaLand' to build a billion-dollar Singapore-dollar lifestyle center in Singapore.

Simple message

The founder of the NCC, Joseph Prince, is said to have an annual income of around 500,000 Singapore dollars (around 368,000 US dollars). His sermons carry the message that believers are "especially blessed, preferred and deeply loved by God". Only when they achieved the full extent of divine grace could they renounce sinful love and lead a godly life. Prince reaches fans in 150 countries with his sermons through television channels, books, videos, DVDs and MP3 files.

The Faith Community Baptist Church, another mega-church in Singapore, has more than 10,000 members. The founder is Pastor Lawrence Khong, descendant of a resource-rich family. He has a bachelor's degree in administrative science and a master's in theology and is one of the first to host the mass events in Singapore. In order to bring the gospel to the people, he sometimes uses some magic tricks.

The Singapore daily 'Straits Times' (ST) published a six-page special report on the country's mega-churches in an issue in early July. It states that there are many priests who would rather take on management tasks than do pastoral work.

The report also accuses the megachurches of being uncritical of the Singaporean government. A theologian, who asked for anonymity, said that the success of the Singaporean government and its influence on society were perfectly compatible with the prosperity doctrine of the megachurches.

But the offensive way of recruiting believers is increasingly met with rejection in Singapore. For years resentment has simmered beneath the surface, which boiled over in March 2009 when a Christian Protestant church wanted to swallow the oldest women's organization in the country, AWARE, because of the "promotion of homosexuality".

Megachurches under the microscope

For Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Hindus and liberal Christians, the measure was full. They called for resistance to the takeover and raised numerous allegations of intolerance against the Protestant Christians from the point of view of the various religions.

The pastor of the 'New Creationist Church', Mark Ng, said in an audio clip broadcast on YouTube that the Taoists prayed to their gods out of fear of gangsters - a statement for which he later apologized. In February 2010, insensitive comments on Buddhism and Taoism brought the founder of the 'Lighthouse Evangelical Church', Ronald Tan, a reprimand from the Singapore Homeland Security Agency. The priest felt compelled to apologize - but only when the controversy in multi-religious Singapore came to a head.

The contribution of the Straits Times also raised the question of whether the intolerance of the Evangelical Christian churches was not due to ignorance. In such a case, it would make sense to familiarize prospective priests with the different religions, it said in an editorial in the newspaper. (End / IPS / kb / 2010)

* Dr Kalinga Seneviratne is a Sri Lankan journalist, radio announcer, documentary producer and international communications expert. He is head of research at the Asian Media Information and Communication Center (AMIC) in Singapore.

* The information and analysis service IDN-InDepthNews created by the Global Cooperation Council and Globalom Media is a partner of IPS Germany.


© IPS-Inter Press Service Deutschland gGmbH
formerly IPS-Inter Press Service Europa gGmbH


IPS daily service of August 24, 2010
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published in Schattenblick on August 26, 2010