These are some of my random musings on the CHC saga (my own thoughts, which are not representative of the views of any church, family, society or organization that I am a part of):
We now have a legal judgment: A court case is the process by which judgment on the legal issues in a matter is obtained. Here, the role of the court was to determine if the elements constituting Criminal Breach of Trust and/or Falsification of documents were made out. It was not to give an assessment on the theological prowess, leadership ability or spiritual calling of the convicted individuals. If we choose to draw our own conclusions on such matters based on the verdict, that’s our own prerogative, but I don’t think it would be right to say that the judge decided on these.
The legal judgment should be respected: Unless (and I think in this case it’s highly improbable though perhaps not completely impossible) the case gets overturned on appeal, the judgment of 21 Oct has decided on the legal status of the 6 individuals. To me it makes sense that all the elements required to prove the offences have been made out. Perhaps the main point of contention was the presence of dishonesty on the part of the 6, which requires an intention to cause wrongful gain or loss. Under the Penal Code s23, wrongful loss is “loss by unlawful means”. The standard to be applied here is one of the law and not one of morality, insofar as the latter has not been given effect to in our law. So in my mind the judge must surely be right as a matter of law, especially given the way that funds clearly meant for other uses (e.g. the building fund) were channeled for other purposes. The issue of whether these other purposes were right or noble in themselves should not make a difference. I think one of the clearest indications as to what the judge was concerning himself with (i.e. the law) is this sentence: “But no matter how pure the motive or how ingrained the trust in one’s leaders, regardless of the context in which that trust operates, these do not exonerate an accused person from criminal liability if all the elements of an offence are made out.”
They probably could have handled it better: It’s good to know that they apologized to the church. It probably would have been better if the long process today had included an apology for breaking the law, and not just being sorry for what the church had to endure. I feel that an acknowledgment of the judgment, or at least an indication that you respect the judicial system, would not necessarily be at odds with the assertion that they were spiritually/morally justified in doing the relevant acts. The latter is an issue between them and God, whereas the legality of what they did is an issue for the courts. Admittedly, I suppose it would make sense not to do so if any of them are planning to appeal and wish to avoid making an admission as to their legal culpability.
We aren’t any better than them: How many of us have justified our actions on the basis of our religion or even ideological views while harbouring that niggling suspicion at the back of our minds that the grounds we cite don’t actually support what we’re doing? I know I have. We all are fallible, imperfect beings. So while this obviously does not justify what they did in any way, it’s just a good time to remind ourselves that although we may not have been convicted of a crime in a court of law, that doesn’t make any of us saints.
It makes no sense to criticize people for praying for them: I can see no point in criticizing people (whether members of CHC or not) for wanting to pray for or stand with the convicted individuals, insofar as it is possible to do so without calling into question the validity of the legal judgment. Do we call for others to condemn an accused person once he is convicted? Do we rail at the church for wanting to reach out to prisoners, telling it to disassociate itself from such individuals? If the church is called to love the sinner, why should it stop just because the sinner comes from within its leadership? I’m not saying that we should attempt to whitewash what they did: as the prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt in court, what they did is against the law and was committed with the necessary dishonesty. Nor am I saying that you should take someone who has been convicted of CBT in relation to church funds and reinstate them in a position where they would be in charge of those said funds again. All I am suggesting is that it is not wrong to wish good will onto someone who has just been convicted of an offence.
Lessons that I’ve learnt: This case has been a great reminder that no one is above the law, and rightly so. Even if we think that we are acting for the good of our ministry, or for the good of anything else, we should respect the law. If ever faced with a system of laws that seem wrong on principle (which is certainly not the case in Singapore), then perhaps in order to do what is right we would have to go against the law. But I don’t think that necessarily means we evade the law: maybe part of standing up for what we believe in is taking the human punishment that is meted out, recognizing that the reward is in heaven and not on earth. Paul was often imprisoned, and God made use of him whilst he was in prison, but I don’t think he ever tried to escape.
Another thing that I took away from this is that it probably isn’t a great idea to run a church like a company. Perhaps going down the more “conventional” church route of saying “hey look, we’ve got this project that we need a lot of financial support for, could you please donate to it?” would have been a safer alternative. When you rely on complex financial instruments like bonds to effect what is in essence the sponsorship of a project, you have to play by the rules governing them. Yes, the law is a tool, but it is also a heavily regulated tool. It’s all too easy to get lost in the blurry details.
I’m not quite sure why I wrote this. Perhaps in penning down my thoughts, I hoped to crystallise them and figure out what I actually think. Maybe it’s a delayed response to when people ask me for my views. Or maybe it’s so that I can find out what others think, so that I can realise the holes in my thought process.
I wonder how sentencing will go.