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)
- 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?
- 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: