By Zach Isaiah Chia
This is a story of passion, exploding several times with different characters and now playing out on the national stage. It has been portrayed as an issue of church versus state.
But is it?
To truly appreciate this requires some understanding of history.
It began literally with passionate love.
In early 2012 a female administrative staff member at the Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) who was undergoing divorce proceedings was found to have committed adultery with a former male worker who had just come through a divorce. The relationship was sexual, and the creative energies of eros led to a pregnancy. The church leadership led by Pastor Lawrence Khong stepped in to try and stop the perpetration of sin.
This was not the first time that Pastor Khong had faced pregnancy out of wedlock. In 2003, his daughter bore a child out of wedlock.
To Khong, these were different situations. The former was employed as a staff and did not repent of adultery while the latter although personally related, bore a child out of wedlock, was not professionally related to the church and did repent.
Illicit pregnancies violated the moral precepts of the church and Khong felt that they needed to take a stand.
Khong in an interview with Singapolitics, mentioned that staff members did not have to be Christian, although he expected them to abide by the moral code of the church. These moral codes were not explicitly mentioned in the contract, but in Khong’s view implicitly suggested with the job.
The church made eight attempts at counselling the staff member. They gave her time to think and repent.
Repenting, in Khong’s view meant “to come under the pastoral counselling of the pastor assigned to her to walk through the reasons why her marriage has failed, to take time to heal from that failed relationship, to learn how to grow stronger before jumping into another relationship… if possible, seek reconciliation with the former spouse, if not possible, we help the person to become emotional(sic) stable and become strong in her character before going into another relationship.” (Facebook Post 23 Aug)
After thinking about it, she refused. The church then asked her to resign, again she refused. In response, she was relieved of her position.
She was seven months pregnant at that time.
When news broke, Khong faced a barrage of criticism from Christians and non-Christians alike. In the same Facebook post, he quoted four bible verses and highlighted the word rebuke four times to explain the pastor’s role in spiritual leadership and why the leadership felt its actions justified.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, REBUKING, correcting and training in righteousness (2Tim. 3:16)
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, REBUKE and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2Tim. 4:2)
This testimony is true. Therefore, REBUKE them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith (Titus 1:13)
These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and REBUKE with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you. (Titus 2:15)
Some observers have suggested another verse perhaps equally applicable to the situation.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the centre of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the centre of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)
Until today the lady at the centre of the storm has not spoken a word. Her only act was to report the FCBC for unfair dismissal.
The Manpower Ministry (MOM) ordered the church to pay her $7,646 in salary and maternity benefits based on their interpretation of her not having just cause for dismissal. The FCBC complied and paid the required amount in August because it felt that it had to comply with the law. On 2 Oct 2013, FCBC submitted an appeal to ask the court to determine how much room a government has in religious organisations, it decided to challenge Minister Tan’s decision, “on where we stand with reference to the constitutional rights of religious bodies in the management of their religious affairs, which we believe include the hiring and dismissal of staff, the moral standards expected of staff at a level that reflects the ethos and values of the organisation.” (Facebook, 2 Oct 2013)
Religion is an emotive issue in Singapore, and focusing too much on emotions would limit our understanding of the truth. To quote Christ, the truth will set you free. Identifying the truth involves cutting through the fog and getting to the crux.
On first blush it appears that this is a classical state-church issue with the state encroaching on the church, but on closer inspection this is actually not the most accurate description. It is really an issue of different expectations seen through different tinted lenses. The ministry viewed it as a labour dispute based on a legal contract while the church considered it as a moral affair which was its own private matter.
In a debate, when there is no direct meeting between the proposition and opposition on the issue, there usually is not much debate. No agreement can be reached except the agreement to disagree. Had both sides agreed that a contractual dispute was an internal religious matter, one would be sure that the church would be allowed to act according to its conscience. The issue at hand however is the termination of a staff member who happens to be working in a church; MOM’s decision suggests that at no time did it consider this a religious matter but a workplace matter.
This misunderstanding derives from a difference in world views. This is really what is at the heart of the whole affair.
The government’s world view is very clear, Singapore is secular and will stay that way, religious persons can take part in politics (Minister Tan himself is a Christian) but religion should not mobilise in politics. All issues of the workplace are secular in nature and will be dealt with that way.
To understand the FCBC’s world view and the spiritual leader Pastor Khong, we need to delve deeper into the theology of the church.
In 2002, the FCBC joined the Government of Twelve (G12), set up by a Colombian Pastor Cesar Castellanos to evangelise and multiply Christians throughout the world. The G12 vision is to fulfil the Great Commission of Jesus – to make disciples of all nations.. Its aim is for every individual to win twelve converts and in turn these twelve would win another twelve. Critics of this movement have called it a form of dominion theology; some have gone as far as to term it a cult and a pyramid scheme. Dominion theology is worldview that believes that a nation should be Christianized or run by Christian moral law. It argues that the authorities have a divine right to rule over the people; in plain English this means a theocracy. Seen through this prism, the curious line of Pastor Khong’s statement, “… we respect the authorities and believe that they have been established by God over us…” (Facebook, 2 Oct 2013) begins to make sense.
Part of the core principle behind dominion theology is the seven mountains theology. In it, seven peaks are to be conquered for their faith – business, media, education, entertainment, religion, government and family. In Singapore, this group is called the International Coalition of Apostles. The FCBC belongs to this group. Khong was commissioned as an Apostle by the group founder Peter Wagner in 2000.
Another group set up by Khong in 1995 is Love Singapore.
Love Singapore’s stated aim is as follows:
The vision is to effect Kingdom transformation in the Seven Gates of Cultural Influence in Singapore and among the nations:
· Arts and Entertainment
· Business, Science and Technology
· Communications and Media
· Disadvantaged and Marginalised
· Education and School
· Family and Home
· Government and Leadership
In a nutshell, since its inception, LoveSingapore is all about God’s greatest glory expressed through a life changed, a church revived, a nation transformed, a world evangelised.
Love Singapore is a legally approved organisation.
Pastor Derek Hong, formerly of the Church of Our Saviour Anglican Church, also belongs to this organisation. The Church of Our Saviour Anglican Church was embroiled in the 2009 Aware controversy.
In 2003, Khong and his daughter entered the world of entertainment and magical performance. It was a controversial move and he lost a significant number of followers over that decision. Today he is a much sought after magician.
Early in 1992, Khong set up TOUCH Community services to help the needy and underprivileged.
One can see a very strong sense of mission and a passionate desire to spread the gospel, a very intense sense of sin, a constant state of war (against Satan) and a powerful desire to mission and win the world for God.
The story ends as it started, with passionate love.
This is not an issue of church versus state, but a conflict arising from different world views. This is the deeper issue.
Whichever side of the fence you fall on, the actions of Khong should be seen from the angle of believers engaging in what to them is viewed as a just cause – saving the faith from external interference and protecting the purity of God’s church. It was with passion to protect his faith that Khong acted.
The ministry acted to uphold a legal contract. No one should be surprised if a similarly robust defence of the traditional Singapore world view is presented.
Not everybody will agree with Khong’s world view, but one thing nobody can fault him for is his passion in promoting it.