City Harvest pastor Kong Hee, probably the most lambasted pastor in Singapore, recently blessed stacks of olive oil in a Facebook video, and promptly got attacked online by netizens and online platforms.
“Is he trying to cheat people of their money? Isn’t there a better use of oil? What is he up to? Are his church followers stupid or what?”
There are many questions about his practices and how he’s leading (or some may say, misleading his flock).
The tirade against Kong Hee, while it makes for boliao entertainment to some, actually stirred a little bit of dissonance in me this time.
I’m not from City Harvest and have never been to any of their services. This is just an observation that triggered off a lifetime of observations which I’ve noted but never thought deeply about.
1. The case of the skirt-only pastor
When I was in school, I attended a relatively conservative church, which was stuck in an existential mid-life crisis of catering to both the spiritual needs of the older generation (married or single adults) and the youths (either their children or first-generation Christians).
Being a small church, it was common for visiting pastors of other churches to come and deliver sermons, of which you’d sometimes get pretty strange advice (from a youth’s point of view).
One pastor brought up the issue of appropriate dress codes.
At first she started off talking about how youths should dress modestly (which wasn’t new to our ears and we usually wouldn’t wear skimpy clothes to church anyway).
Then she continued about how females should stick to traditions and shouldn’t wear pants or shorts, but skirts, preferably all the way to the ankle.
That was the first time the youth congregation started to seriously doubt whether they really had to listen to every pastor that visits the church, or they could actually question the pastor’s words.
2. The case of the charismatic church
My church (actually ex-church) had a lot of well-meaning adults, and the youths gave them a lot of respect.
Even so, it was common for us to follow our friends to “sample” other churches.
Some churches were so traditional only a pipe organ was used to accompany solemn hymns, some so charismatic that you felt your day was on steroids.
Obviously the youths were very attracted to the charismatic churches (seen as more happening and in tune with what youths want), till one day, one of my ex church leaders decided to say (something to this effect that) these charismatic churches don’t preach the right gospel, but lure and mislead Christians away from God with a prosperity gospel not in line with Jesus’s teachings.
3. The case of the guitar and drums being tools of Satan
Meeting fellow young Christians from diverse Christian denominations, and worshipping with them (where we sing songs to God) in a single service (it was a Christian camp, and not by any single church) brought out many discrepancies we were each told by our respective churches.
One friend said his church only allowed the piano to be played during worship, because the guitar and drums were thought by his leaders to mislead Christians towards having ungodly feelings and thoughts (the work of Satan) due to the excitable music of these instruments.
His leaders said piano and slow hymns were the best route to being in a prayerful state to God.
4. Worshipping in tongues, damned if you do, damned if you don’t
In my old church, speaking in tongues was not encouraged as who knows if we were speaking in the right tongue of the Holy Spirit.
There were previously a few cases of demon-possession of a couple of church members who spoke in”demon-tongue” which dragged the entire church leadership through a harrowing period, hence the general aversion to anyone in the congregation speaking in tongues.
Then I attended another church, a more modern, high class one.
It was a richly-designed building with water features, multiple lifts and even its own theological college.
During my first service there, one pastor reminded the congregation how successful the church was because it owned 3 properties, and my mind honestly went a bit “WTF did she just say?” because we were taught not to covet things of the earth.
It was the in-thing to speak in tongues, and if you couldn’t, well the reason given was that you weren’t as close to God as you should be. Sometimes I wonder whether anyone faked speaking in tongues just to fit in.
5. Sneering at fellow Christians and other churches
For some reason, I found some Christian churches highly snobbish, and some Christians unbearably elitist.
Elitist because they had such an unshakable conviction that their brand of Christianity was the only right path.
If you didn’t follow their spiritual standards (like speaking in tongues, going out to evangelise every month, giving a huge chunk of your money in “Faith” offerings on top of your tithes – which is 10% of what you earn – and chasing after targets of number of people you brought to church and converted to Christianity etc), what worth are you as a Christian?
6. Sneering at other religions
If you think there’s way too much underground back-stabbing in the Christian community, it gets worse when other religions are involved.
There’s the issue of some Christians putting down Catholicism as an outdated religion because of all the rituals and “praying to idols”.
By the way, you won’t see a Jesus or Mother Mary statue in a Christian church because statues are apparently considered idols, and the Bible states we shouldn’t worship false idols (this is what I was told).
Islam is seen by some Christians as an even more outdated religion than Catholicism because the Quran doesn’t have the New Testament where Jesus comes into the picture, and Christians believe that if you only believe in God but not Jesus (who is your intermediary and sacrificial lamb to go to heaven), you won’t go to heaven.
So in short, some Christians believe that all those who don’t believe in Jesus won’t go to heaven. And Catholics won’t go to heaven either because they are seen to worship idols.
People subscribing to religions not even historically-linked to Christianity, are seen by some Christians as slaves to made-up stories and doctrines by humans, not God.
Why am I bringing all these up?
Firstly, it is not my intent to make fun of any religion.
You have a right to believe in any religion or teaching you want, including doctrines by Jehovah Witness or the Mormon church (which are seen as cults and are outcasts of Christianity). Your life, your choice.
I’m sharing these observations because you should be aware that as Singapore is a multi-religious country where we are supposed to respect all faiths, this respect extends to the practices of different religions and religious denominations too, even if you disagree with these practices.
Yes I know it doesn’t make sense to tolerate practices by other religions if you think it’s not in line with your beliefs, but other religions tolerate your beliefs that e.g. Jesus is the only way to heaven and the rest of you will go to hell, burning offerings is a must to support my ancestors in the afterlife, I can’t eat meat/pork/beef etc.
Yet it is trendy to poke fun at the olive oil blessing by Kong Hee, while decrying France’s previous short-lived burkini ban.
Once it is trendy to attack someone’s religious beliefs, it could cumulate in a trendy witch-hunt on increasingly bigger polarising narratives such as e.g. calling City Harvest church-goers dumb, LGBT advocates immorality, the list goes on.
You can imagine all the bigoted religious and anti-religious narratives having a field day on steroids.
P.S. By the way, there’s a Bible verse (James 5:14) which says “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
So until Kong Hee is officially not a pastor of City Harvest Church, he is still considered a church elder.
In this case, are the websites which poked fun at him also being religiously insensitive as they are sort of attacking the Christian practice mentioned in the Bible?
Also published on Medium.