‘I have done nothing wrong’

Though upset by charges of impropriety in City Harvest Church’s support of her pop career, pastor Ho Yeow Sun will return to perform for the MTV Asia Awards
The Straits Times (Singapore), Jan. 20, 2003
http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/
By Samuel Lee

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 differ ent 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.

Additional reporting by Loh Hsiao Ying

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