Monday, May 31, 2010

Pastor Kong Hee Explains His "Oversight"

Pastor Kong Hee has written a personal note on his website to explain the circumstances surrounding the evidences of plagiarism found in certain entries in his Daily Devotion series:

A WORD FROM ME...

Dear Friends,

Recently, it was brought to my attention that in certain entries of the Daily Devotion series, my sources were not properly credited.

These devotions were written many years ago as an inspirational aid to encourage CHC members to read through the Bible at least once. They consist of notes that I have recorded through the years detailing reflections from my own spiritual journey, as well as select readings of other Christian authors who inspire me.

This series was originally meant only for internal circulation among the members of my church. As such, there was an oversight in not quoting the sources of some portions that borrow from the writings of other Christian authors. A section of the series was subsequently compiled by a local publisher into two books, Renewing Your Spiritual Life in 90 Days (Vol. 1) and (Vol. 2). I recognize that we could have been more careful to credit any source of inspiration used. Since we were informed about our oversight in March this year, we have been in the process of properly crediting, to the best of our efforts, the original sources of the entries in question on the website edition of Daily Devotion. The hardcopy editions of these publications are now out of print. The Daily Devotion series is only available free-of-charge on my website.

There was never any intention to give readers the impression that the entire contents were written by me. I do apologize for this oversight in the Daily Devotion and Renewing Your Spiritual Life in 90 Days (Vol. 1) and (Vol. 2) publications.

Thanks for your continuing love and support,

Kong


I know I run the risk of being branded ungracious or even malicious by friends and non-friends alike but personally, I am not satisfied with his explanation; maybe I am being cynical, or some of you may even think I am biased against Pastor Kong Hee since I attend New Creation Church but I see in his statement a shirking of responsibility instead of assuming responsibility for the plagiarism.

To me, it is very simple: Pastor Kong just has to say, "I'm sorry, I copied word-for-word from other authors for some portions of my devotional series and falsely gave the impression that they were written by me. This is wrong, please forgive me and it won't happen again." I would applaud him and respect him for humbling himself and admit the truth even though it reflects very badly on him. However, what I see is a subtle but precise play of words to deflect guilt, and hence an unconvincing admission of oversight but not plagiarism.  The intention, I suspect, is to have a vague confession of a lesser wrongdoing, and hope that most people will have a forgiving attitude and eventually let this matter rest.

You ask, "What's wrong with Pastor Kong Hee's note? Didn't he admit that it was an oversight? What's the big deal? Why are you so unforgiving?" Like I said earlier, if Pastor Kong Hee just made a simple and straightforward confession, I would have just let the matter rest and like what many of you would probably say, "Let's move on." I can accept that pastors do make mistakes, however, what I can't accept is the whitewashing of those mistakes, especially through subtle wordplay.

Let's decipher Pastor Kong's statement carefully:

Recently, it was brought to my attention that in certain entries of the Daily Devotion series, my sources were not properly credited.
(emphasis in bold mine)

"Recently"
- How recent is "recently"? Pastor Kong Hee in the latter part of his statement said that he was informed of this issue of alleged plagiarism in March but no reactions or responses were forthcoming from him or his leadership to address this until the last week or so, after Cheat Grace's blog garnered more and more interest from the online community in recent weeks, and more and more evidences of plagiarism were surfaced on Cheat Grace's blog with the latest evidence being a devotional dated 20 May! Why did Pastor Kong Hee maintain his silence on this issue of alleged plagiarism for more than two months?

"properly"
- Pastor Kong Hee said his sources were not "properly" credited. Hello??? His sources were NOT credited at all, period. Never mind properly or improperly! I don't know whether this is the case with his two published devotional books (Cheat Grace, can you confirm this if you are reading this article?) but go check out his online devotional archives (if it is still possible), there were never ever any kind of crediting of sources whatsoever. The casual reader will naturally have the impression that everything written there is the personal handiwork of their revered pastor.  I have read some of the comments on his devotional pieces and many address their comments to the pastor himself.


These devotions were written many years ago as an inspirational aid to encourage CHC members to read through the Bible at least once. They consist of notes that I have recorded through the years detailing reflections from my own spiritual journey, as well as select readings of other Christian authors who inspire me. 
A section of the series was subsequently compiled by a local publisher into two books, Renewing Your Spiritual Life in 90 Days (Vol. 1) and (Vol. 2). I recognize that we could have been more careful to credit any source of inspiration used. Since we were informed about our oversight in March this year, we have been in the process of properly crediting, to the best of our efforts, the original sources of the entries in question on the website edition of Daily Devotion. The hardcopy editions of these publications are now out of print. The Daily Devotion series is only available free-of-charge on my website.

(emphasis in bold mine)

"as well as select readings of other Christian authors who inspire me"
- It is clear, therefore, that Pastor Kong Hee knowingly used the writings of other Christian authors.  However, don't you find it strange that even though Pastor Kong Hee knowingly used the works of other Christian authors, he says "we could have been more careful to credit any source of inspiration used" when no credit was done at all? Moreover, he used the term "source of inspiration" when most of the "source of inspiration" were actually outright word-for-word copying.  Do you see the play of words there to mitigate the severity of the offence? Pastor Kong Hee completed a tertiary education and even has a doctorate degree, surely he knows there's a world of difference between a "source of inspiration" and "a source of copying"?

"we have been in the process of properly crediting, to the best of our efforts, the original sources of the entries in question on the website edition of Daily Devotion"
- Do you see the subtlety of a caveat added there? No? Let me show you: "to the best of our efforts". Do you know what this mean? It means that should Cheat Grace later unveil any further evidences of plagiarism, you should cut them some slack as they are trying their best to properly credit the original sources and may have inadvertantly missed out on that particular article.  Do you know what this also means? That they are not even sure of the actual extent of the plagiarism and are having difficulty digging all of them out. Their 20 May article is a case in point.

"only available free-of-charge"- This is another subtle attempt at mitigating the severity of the offence by hinting that they are not profiteering from the plagiarized material, and therefore no harm was done.

Dr Kong Hee said that as his devotionals were "originally meant only for internal circulation ... there was an oversight in not quoting the sources of some portions that borrow from the writings of other Christian authors". Surely, Pastor Kong Hee should know that his "internal circulation" does not consist of just a few close friends but rather, a congregation of more than 20,000 people? Isn't that a large enough reason to exercise due care in "properly crediting sources"?

At the very least, the so-called "oversight" smacks of gross negligence but Pastor Kong Hee is no novice preacher. He is the leader of the largest (as he so often claims) church in Singapore, with a doctorate in theology and I would have to give him a major dose of the benefit of doubt to believe that what he says - "There was never any intention to give readers the impression that the entire contents were written by me" - is true.

"Oversight" or "Plagiarism"? Either way, this matter raises doubts about his leadership capabilities or integrity.

12 June Update:
 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Pastor Kong Hee's Response To Plagiarism Allegation

CHC member, Terence Lee has blogged about Pastor Kong Hee's response to his query on Facebook regarding the alleged plagiarism.  According to Terence, Pastor Kong Hee has replied that CHC is presently is in the process of attributing the devotionals to the right sources and that there was never any intention to claim sole authorship over the devotionals.

Questions remain but Terence said that he would be meeting with one of the pastors soon and hopefully, a clearer picture would emerge then.  However, I'm curious why the CHC leadership does not just simply explain this plagiarism issue directly through its own website but chooses to have a dialogue with Terence and then let him do the explaining for the church.

May 27 Update: City Harvest Church will be issuing a response to explain its oversight in not attributing Reverend Kong Hee's daily devotionals to sources, possibly by this week, said a pastor of the megachurch.
(Source: Terence Lee)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Zo Luan Say Guy

You guys must be wondering what the heaven my post title is all about? I think if you are a Hokkien-speaking Singaporean, you may have guessed correctly that it is a rough transliteration of a Hokkien phrase which literally means Creating (Zo) Chaos (Luan) in the World (Say Guy) ;-)

This is what I think others are probably saying of me whenever I write an article involving Pastor Kong Hee, that I am stirring up trouble or disturbing the peace. It is also why I think twice or even more about whether to write an article involving Pastor Kong Hee, and when I do, I tend to mull over my words carefully, writing and re-writing over and over again trying to pick the right words, phrases and tone for the article.

True to form, after my previous article about Pastor Kong Hee's alleged plagiarism was published, I received an sms from a dear sister-in-grace (who is still dear, by the way) telling me that I am "driving Kong Hee and his supporters further away from the grace gospel by what you are blogging and commenting. The Grace gospel is not just about Pastor Prince or law vs grace.", and another sms from a precious brother-in-grace (who is still precious, by the way) who also shared the same view that my article may cause Kong Hee to be "more hardened against the gospel of grace".

I don't know (in fact, I'm doubtful) whether my article will have such a big impact on Pastor Kong Hee and his followers. I think Pastor Kong Hee is so firm in his position against the gospel message preached by Pastor Prince that I doubt his views would be so easily moved or hardened by my little article. From past comments by City Harvest Church members which I have read in Pastor Kong Hee's blog and other blogs, the position of those who fervently support Pastor Kong Hee are not easily moved anyway.  However, there are some CHC members who still support Pastor Kong Hee and the church but who would like a proper open explanation from Pastor Kong or his appointed spokeman to clarify the issue (although it seems that this has not happened so far) and to rectify any wrong which may has been committed (it seems that CHC has recalled copies of Pastor Kong Hee's 2005 devotionals book which have been on sale in Christian book stores, read here) .

I must also clarify that I wrote the article after a CHC member, Terence Lee first published his article, "Did Kong Hee Plagiarise?". I had read some of Terence's comments on Pastor Kong's blog post regarding CHC's Suntec City deal, questioning the value of and seeking clarifications on the deal, and some of his fellow members have accused him of not trusting the leadership and questioned his loyalty to the church in their follow-up comments. I guess Terence also suffers the same perception of being the "Zo Luan Say Guy" ;-)

I must stress that I did not write the article to condemn Pastor Kong Hee.  The context of my article was that 2 senior pastors of very large churches, who fervently preach on the importance of obeying the 10 Commandments as a means to living out a holy life, ironically failed on that account based on the compelling evidences of alleged plagiarism.  This perfectly illustrates that futility of the Law as a guide - as Paul said in Romans 7: 7-10, "Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death."
  

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

He Who Fights To Uphold The Law Ends Up Breaking The Law

Do you guys still remember my article about plagiarism committed by a certain Pastor Koh? Pastor Koh "wrote" an article on "Antinomianism" which basically accused us, embracers of the gospel of grace, of  being lawless and therefore being licentious to sin.  Isn't it an irony that he who fights to uphold the Law ends up breaking the Law? While plagiarism is not a crime according to our criminal law system, it is certainly a breach of the 10 Commandments for plagiarism is basically lying, deceiving others into believing that someone else's work is your own.

Well, today I am going to write about what looks suspiciously like plagiarism by a certain Pastor Kong who is well-known for his defense for the 10 commandments' importance in guiding a Christian's daily walk (you can read his article, "Do We Need The 10 Commandments?" here).

I received an email today alerting me to a blog (http://cheatgrace.blogspot.com) which (I believe) devoted considerable time and resources to track down certain articles in cyberspace which bear an uncanny similarity to certain articles/passages written by Pastor Kong.

For your convenience, I have reproduced two examples below (but do visit the original blog for even more examples):