In 2003, The Straits Times reported the following,
‘I have done nothing wrong’
SINGAPORE – pastor-turned-singer Ho Yeow Sun was in tears on the phone last Saturday morning.
The City Harvest Church leader sounded distraught on the line from Taipei, where she is promoting her second album, Sun*day.
Someone from her congregation in Singapore had just informed her that the weekend edition of Today had a Page 1 story in which some church members expressed uneasiness over City Harvest’s support of her pop career.
Her husband and church founder, Reverend Kong Hee, was described as giving updates of his wife’s singing and promotional activities during church service.
One church member was quoted as complaining: ‘Even before the name of God is glorified, the husband always praises her first and shows her video.’
The report also said there were suggestions that the church was being used to drum up votes for Ho at this Friday’s MTV Asia Awards.
Ho, 31, is one of five nominees vying for the Favourite Music Artist from Singapore award.
She is up against Urban Xchange, Stefanie Sun, A-do and Kit Chan.
Besides being asked to vote, a member said church-goers were asked to buy Sun*day, while another said the 13-year-old church was fast becoming a ‘personality cult thing’.
In between sobs, Ho told Life!: ‘I really don’t need this. At first, I was quite affected and wanted to give up everything and just go home.
‘Then I thought, ‘Hey, my conscience is clear, and I’ve not done anything wrong.’ So, I’ll still come back to sing during the show.’
Rev Kong told Life! on Saturday that there is nothing exceptional about rallying behind Ho.
‘It’s the same when we support and celebrate any member of our church who is making a significant difference in the marketplace,’ he said.
He cited the example of Ms Elim Chew, founder and owner of streetwear chain 77th Street who was named one of the Montblanc Businesswomen 2002. A year before that, she won the Most Promising Woman Entrepreneur award given out by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises.
After her wins, the church invited Ms Chew to share with its flock her experience during a service. At the same time, a large screen projected newspaper clippings for all to see.
Rev Kong said that the church took this approach: When one member succeeds, everyone rejoices.
But City Harvest draws the line at hard sell, added a spokesman.
‘We did announce that Sun had been nominated and that members can vote for her if they want to. But it’s different from saying that we’re actively asking them to do it,’ she said.
Either way, Ho, whose first album, Sun With Love, in 2002, sold more than 100,000 copies, said she does not stand a chance of winning the MTV award.
‘I’m lucky enough to be nominated. How can I beat such strong contenders as Stefanie Sun and A-do? Stefanie won last year and I think she will win again this year,’ she said.
‘Anyway, what’s so wrong if my church members want to support me voluntarily?’
The spokesman also said that parishioners were not pressured to buy her two albums.
Other than putting up some publicity posters in church, ‘we just let them know that her albums are available and let them decide whether to buy them’, the spokesman said.
Of 10 City Harvest members contacted by Life!, eight said there was no compulsion for them to buy the albums or to vote for Ho.
Senior account executive Stella Gwee, 27, said the matter was one of interpretation.
‘It is true pastor Kong will share about what pastor Sun has been doing. But it depends on how people read that. We do not see her very much these days, so it is interesting to know what she is up to. We do not take it as a promotion of her CD per se,’ she said.
As for the few occasions when her music videos were screened in church, housewife Ivy Long, 31, and freelance educator Ng Chin Wei, 27, said that these were requests from members who did not have cable TV where the videos are aired more frequently.
In any event, senior programming executive Lynette Tan, 28, said that Ho does not gain from album sales because all proceeds go to charity.
That Ho does not pocket any of the takings was confirmed by a spokesman for her church.
But not everyone in City Harvest’s 14,000-strong congregation is comfortable with these explanations.
Businessman Roland Poon Swee Kay, 39, for one, had called up and written to The Straits Times last week about the alleged impropriety. He said mixing religion with secular matters was ‘unethical’.
Mr Poon, who has been attending City Harvest for six years, alleged that he was ‘encouraged’ by his cell group leader to buy both of her albums, and so he bought five of each at one go.
He also claimed that church funds were used for Ho’s publicity and promotional campaign.
He said the only reason he was staying on in the church was because he felt he had invested ‘too much money’ towards the $48.7 million used for the construction of the church building at Jurong West.
In response, Rev Kong said that not a single cent from church funds was used to buy or to promote Sun’s albums.
Integrity, he added, was a core value of the church.
‘As such, we always try to be as transparent as we can in all our activities. Our accounts are audited yearly by a public accounting firm,’ he said.
Source: By Samuel Lee, Additional reporting by Loh Hsiao Ying, ‘I have done nothing wrong’, The Straits Times, http://www.straitstimes.com/life/story/0,4386,167080,00.html, 20/01/2003. (Accessed articles and source information from various websites from 07/07/2013-02/10/2013.)
The Straits Times also reported the following in 2003,
Poon says sorry; pastor asks church to forgive
Businessman withdraws allegations about City Harvest Church and singer Ho Yeow Sun, and church prays to forgive him over the weekend.
The man who made allegations about City Harvest Church’s support of pastor-singer Ho Yeow Sun’s pop career has apologised publicly.
And in five sermons over the weekend, Ho’s husband, church founder and senior pastor Reverend Kong Hee, asked the congregation to forgive the man.
Two weeks ago, Mr Roland Poon Swee Kay contacted the press to complain about what he said were improper practices by Rev Kong and his wife.
Last Friday, the 53-year-old businessman issued four apologies in The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News. A fifth apology appeared in The New Paper last Saturday.
In all, they cost $33,372.06. A source close to Mr Poon said yesterday that the amount was paid by an anonymous donor who knew of the businessman’s financial difficulties.
In the half-page apology in The Straits Times, Mr Poon, a member of the church, said he had fed false information to journalists from Life! and Today via e-mail and telephone conversations.
He also retracted all previous statements he had made regarding Rev Kong, Ho and the church.
Some of his earlier remarks were aired on Channel NewsAsia on Jan 17. This was followed by a Page 1 story in Today on Jan 18, which claimed that some church members had expressed uneasiness over City Harvest’s support of Ho’s pop career.
After reading the report, Ho, 31, who was then in Taiwan, broke down in tears.
In a Life! story published last Monday, she said that she had done nothing wrong.
Her husband also denied Mr Poon’s allegations. Rev Kong said that no church funds had been used for Ho’s pop career promotion, and that it was normal practice for the church to support and celebrate the secular success of its members.
The Chinese press also picked up the story.
Ho, who has been the church’s music pastor since 1993, launched her pop career last year.
Her first album, Sun With Love, sold more than 100,000 copies last year.
She recently launched her second work, Sun*day. All proceeds from both albums are pledged to charity.
She also sang at last Friday’s MTV Asia Awards, and was nominated for Favourite Artiste – Singapore.
As a result of all the news, members of City Harvest, which is in Jurong West, say they have been under a lot of ‘unnecessary’ scrutiny.
UFM 1003 DJ Danny Yeo, 30, for one, said he had been bombarded with phone calls.
‘I tell people that I’m still attending City Harvest and that it takes more than reading headlines and newspapers to make a judgment about the church,’ he said.
Last Friday, Life! also published a response from the City Harvest management board.
The letter reiterated Rev Kong’s stand that no church funds were used to finance Ho’s pop career. It added that there was no hard-selling of her two CDs in the church and no question of a personality cult forming.
That Mr Poon’s retraction in The Straits Times appeared on the same day as the church’s reply has raised some eyebrows among observers.
However, Rev Kong and church board member Chew Eng Han explained yesterday that it was pure coincidence.
The board had already submitted its statement to the newspaper last Wednesday, before the church received a call from Mr Poon later that day.
‘He voluntarily met up with me and a few board members at Fullerton Hotel on Wednesday evening,’ said Mr Chew, 42, a general manager of an American bank.
‘There, he told us he realised his foolishness after reading the positive remarks from other members of the church in the Life! article last Monday.’
He added that Mr Poon’s turn-around came after the businessman telephoned Sri Lanka-based clergyman, Bishop Jebanayagam, for advice last week.
Mr Poon could not be reached for comment and has not been attending service since Jan 18.
A source close to him said that he had met the bishop during the latter’s visits over the past eight years.
Bishop Jebanayagam apparently told him to come clean with City Harvest if he wished to be truthful, and that he would be forgiven.
Together with Mr Chew, Mr Poon drafted the apology last Wednesday night, got it vetted by City Harvest’s lawyers last Thursday and submitted it for publication the same day.
Mr Chew said that Mr Poon also revealed that his quotes to Today were attributed to several church members, including two identified as ‘Mr Png’ and ‘Mr Lee’.
He had contacted The Straits Times variously as ‘Roland Poon’ and ‘Swee Kay’.
Mr Chew said: ‘We have already forgiven him and have also asked him to come back to church next week.’
Rev Kong asked his congregation, which numbers 14,000, during his five weekend services to forgive the businessman.
‘My wife and I have forgiven him and so has the church. We’re not going to single him out and he can remain anonymous. That’s the good thing about being in a big church,’ he said.
Still, he felt that the church’s credibility ?especially that of its community service here and in the region ?had been unfairly undermined by the episode.
Rev Kong also said his wife remained badly shattered.
He said: ‘All she has been saying since she came back from Taiwan last week for MTV is how all her hard work has been for nothing.
‘Her success, which has been achieved through her own talent and efforts, has been unfairly discredited by the false allegations. However, she believes that in time, the truth will dawn.’
Source: Samuel Lee, Poon says sorry; pastor asks church to forgive, The Straits Times, http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/life/story/0,4386,168507,00.html, 27/01/2003.
For more information, visit the National Library of Singapore: http://newspapers.nl.sg/Digitised/Article/straitstimes20030127-220.127.116.11.aspx