CHRISTIANS IN SINGAPORE

CHRISTIANS IN SINGAPORE

Between 1980 and 2000, the Christian population has increased from 10.1 percent to 14.6 percent. Singapore’s 2010 census showed that Christians make up the largest share of university graduates, and the proportion of citizens who defined themselves as Christians increased the most in 10 years compared to all other religions. Christians here are known as devout and relatively affluent Catholics make up 4.8 percent of the population.

The government has restricted the activities of some Christian groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses who opposed military service, and in 1987 the government detained a group of Roman Catholic social activists, accusing them of using church organizations as cover for a Marxist plot. The charismatic and fundamentalist Protestant groups, though generally apolitical and focused on individuals, aroused official anxiety through their drive for more converts. Authorities feared that Christian proselytization directed at the Malays would generate resentment, tensions, and possible communal conflict. As early as 1974 the government had "advised" the Bible Society of Singapore to stop publishing materials in Malay. In late 1988 and early 1989, a series of leaders, including Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, condemned "insensitive evangelization" as a serious threat to racial harmony. Official restatements of the virtue of and necessity for religious tolerance were mixed with threats of detention without trial for religious extremists. *

See Separate Articles on RELIGION IN SINGAPORE

Christianity and Evangelism Thriving in Singapore

In August 2008, the Earth Times reported: “Christainity is increasingly attracting followers of the Chinese religion Taoism, with young Christian converts finding an extended family at church, hip music and opportunities to socialize, a published study said. Christianity has seen its flock grow to 14.6 percent in 2000 from 12.7 percent in 1990, said the breakdown in the Straits Times. "There's a leakage from traditional Chinese religions, which don't seem to have the same appeal to younger people," National University of Singapore sociologist Alexius Pereira was quoted as saying. Of the 112 Christians in the newspaper study, more than half had converted from their birth religion. Half of the conversions came in their teens and 20s. [Source: Earth Times, August 9, 2008]

In April 2009, AFP reported: “Singapore has seen a boom in recent years in born-again Christian movements, which experts said people perceive as modern institutions reflecting their personal aspirations. While Taoism and Buddhism are the traditional belief systems in Singapore, most people adopt them as a matter of birthright, rather than choosing to follow them as spiritual life codes. "Those who have converted (to Christianity) were probably not very entrenched in their original faith," said Mathew Mathews, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore. "People want to move out from traditional concepts of religion to a more 'classy' image with things which mirror our popular culture and are congruent to their own works and expectations," he said. New converts are encouraged to bring in more recruits, helping boost the number of Christians in Singapore. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 10, 2009]

“Tithing appears to be thriving among Singapore's Christian community, despite official forecasts that the economy will shrink by up to five percent this year. Reina Lee, 21, a member of Faith Community Baptist Church, tithes $80 from her monthly income of $800, and said she is not thinking of reducing the amount even in the current economic climate. "As a Christian, we give a proportion of what God has blessed us with as an act of thanksgiving and wanting to bless His ministry," she said. "It is also an act of faith, that we believe that God will provide for our needs in this time of recession."

City Harvest Church, another Christian church boasting healthy finances, has not seen any reduction in donations since the onset of the economic meltdown in late 2008, according to a spokesperson. "Donations are both a personal and a private choice of our members. We believe that as the church helps to meet the different needs of our members, they will continue to give free-will donations to the church," the spokesperson said. The church, which declared $79 million in assets in its balance sheet for January 2006-June 2007, says on its website it has 45 affiliate churches and 44,000 members in the Asia-Pacific region as of 2008. Locally, it claims a following of 26,000 and conducts its weekly Sunday services in a 2300-seat complex built eight years ago for $48 million.

Singapore’s Loaded, Entrepreneurial, Pop-Star-Connected Mega Churches

In September 2012,Sharon Chen of Bloomberg wrote: “At “Miracle-Seed Sunday” in Singapore’s New Creation Church, the pastor’s sermon was preceded by PowerPoint and video presentations, and donations were overseen by auditors. Centuries after Catholics established missions in Asia, Singaporeans are flocking to a new species of churches making appeals more in common with “Material Girl” pop-singer Madonna than the Jesuits. Wearing a white leather jacket and jeans, Senior Pastor Joseph Prince asked God to reward a crowd of about 1,200 with houses, cars, jobs, pay raises and holidays if they contributed to New Creation’s multimillion-dollar funding drive. [Source: Sharon Chen, Bloomberg, September 4, 2012 /*\]

“Prince’s 24,000-strong flock belongs to a flourishing breed of churches from Houston to Sydney winning followers with a focus on personal well-being. As the rise of so-called mega churches helps make Christians the fastest-growing religious group in majority-Buddhist Singapore, their fundraising prowess is also making its mark, allowing groups including New Creation and City Harvest Church to invest in some of the island’s biggest commercial properties. “Mega churches have been able to articulate Christianity in a very contemporary manner,” said Terence Chong, a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies who has researched such groups. “Being able to adopt the language of pop culture, mass consumption -- we think this appeals to the new middle class, people who are aspiring middle class.” /*\

“In a city state of 5.2 million people occupying a quarter of the area of Rhode Island, the mega churches stand out with their gatherings of thousands, near-celebrity leaders and outreach methods that range from magic shows and concerts to musical worship backed by electric guitars. At the New Creation service, PowerPoint slides showed attendees how to write checks to the church, while armed security guards watched the cash. RSM Chio Lim LLP provided the auditors overseeing the donations, according to E-Sah Woo, an audit partner at the Singapore-based accounting company and Kelly Lim, a New Creation spokeswoman. Staff in the counting room, including the auditors, wore specially designed pocketless aprons, according to the church’s website. /*\

“Worship and Holy Communion were followed by a video about a woman who donated on Miracle Seed Sundays even when her husband’s cancer treatments saddled the couple with debt. Images of a Volkswagen and a condominium showed the rewards that came to them for giving. “As they come forth Lord to sow, release upon them Father the power to get, to create, to receive wealth in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Prince said in the rented Rock Auditorium at the Suntec City Mall. “Prosperity is right. Amen. We prosper to prosper others. We prosper to prosper God’s kingdom, so come believing.” /*\

“The special session sought to raise funds for the church’s half of a S$976 million ($783 million) retail and entertainment complex, which includes a 5,000-seat auditorium. The venue, which will double as New Creation’s meeting place, is set to open in November with concerts by musician and producer David Foster and friends including Chaka Khan and Babyface, according to a statement from the theater. The joint venture with CapitaLand Ltd. (CAPL), Southeast Asia’s biggest developer, would be among the 10 largest commercial properties by value and the biggest investment by any religious organization in Singapore, according to Nicholas Mak, executive director at SLP International Property Consultants. The Miracle Seed event in 2010 raised S$21 million in a single day from 22,272 attendees, according to New Creation’s website, and the church planned three such sessions this year. It had raised S$348 million for the property project as of July 2012, the website said.” /*\

“By making their services enjoyable and embracing prosperity, groups such as New Creation, City Harvest and Hillsong in Australia are able to attract followers, said Jeaney Yip, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School who has studied the marketing practices of mega churches. “Market-friendly ideologies associated with individualism and self-empowerment are often blended with selective Christian theologies to emphasize positive living and blessings, while deflecting overtly negative Christian doctrines such as suffering, judgment, sacrifice, hell or death from sin,” Yip said. “Their church services are scripted and ‘produced’ with deliberate use of contemporary music, sound and lighting.” /*\

Mega churches thrive in urban, newly-developed countries where they create networking opportunities and a sense of identity, according to Hoon Chang Yau, an Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at Singapore Management University who researches Christianity in Indonesia. “These churches are “beyond any doubt” the fastest fundraising bloc among religious organizations in the city state, said Gerard Ee, former President of the National Council of Social Service who was previously a partner with Ernst & Young. “The message here is: The more you give, the more you get back from God. It’s like an investment.” /*\

Singapore’s New Creation Church

In April 2009, AFP reported: “Believers gather at the New Creation Church every Sunday for upbeat services conducted in ultra-modern surroundings that are helping make Christianity the religion of choice for Singaporeans. The venue, a plush 1200-seat auditorium equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual systems, is on the third floor of an upmarket shopping mall in the city-state's business district. "Say not what you can do for God, but what God has done for you," preacher Lawrence Lim told a rapturous congregation during a recent service which opened with rousing hymns played by a seven-piece Christian rock band. "Amen," the churchgoers replied in unison. [Source: Agence France Presse, April 10, 2009 ^^]

“The New Creation Church, with its slick audiovisual presentations and interactive services, is clearly benefiting from the trend -- with 18,000 members, it is probably the most financially successful of the new churches. It expects to move into a purpose-built 62,000-square-metre (667,000-square-foot) complex in 2012, with the project budget of S$120 million (US$80 million) largely funded by members' contributions. ^^

Located in a high-tech district, “the new church complex will boast retailers, food and beverage outlets, two amphitheatres and a 5000-seat performing arts auditorium. During one giddy eight-hour period in February, the church raised $19 million from four Sunday services, and believers are heartened by the support. "There are a lot of people who are willing to contribute a lot more, so that's why the amount became so big," says 21-year-old student Ng Yiling. Responding to criticism that the money could have been better spent, Ng said: "The church didn't force us to do it. In the end it's our money, it's up to us how we want to spend it." ^^

“The church and its businesses, which include two child development centres, a travel agency and a diversified firm called Rock Productions, declared assets of $146 million in a balance sheet dated March 31, 2008. It is going ahead with overseas missions and global "outreach" programmes, with members able to register for trips to Vietnam and Thailand scheduled over the next six months, according to the church website. ^^

Sharon Chen of Bloomberg wrote: “New Creation, whose website reports 24,000 church members, convenes at several locations in the city every week because it’s outgrown the Rock Auditorium. At the Suntec City Mall, which houses retailers including Carrefour SA (CA), restaurants and a “Fountain of Wealth,” tickets are given out starting at 6:45 a.m. on Sundays for those wishing to see Prince speak in person. Those who don’t have tickets watch him remotely via video feeds from other venues, such as the Marina Bay Sands casino resort and convention center or a nearby movie theater. [Source: Sharon Chen, Bloomberg, September 4, 2012 /*\]

“Prince, who sports a black leather jacket and bronze highlights in his hair on the church’s website, speaks at four sessions throughout the day, and recordings of his sermons reach millions across North America, Europe, Africa, Australia and Israel, according to his podcast’s iTunes page. Websites unaffiliated to the church put his age at 49, though New Creation declined to confirm the information. /*\

“Axel Ng, 20, a recruit serving his mandatory National Service with the Singapore Army, attends Prince’s 8:30 a.m. Sunday services, after waking up before 6 a.m. to get in line for tickets. At New Creation’s Miracle Seed service on Aug. 19, he gave $50 to the building fund from his $510 monthly pay. “Pastor Prince is one of the reasons why I come to church, but we believe he is just a messenger,” said Ng, who was introduced to New Creation by his mother in 2005. “The music is liberating, it speaks to me.” /*\

New Creation Church and Money

One of Singapore's fastest growing churches, New Creation had an income of $55.4 million and net assets of $143.36 million in 2008 according to its website.

In March 2009, AFP reported: “The New Creation Church, which raised S$19 million in just one day in February for the construction of its new premises, paid one employee between $500,001 and $550,000 in the financial year ended March 31, 2008, the Straits Times said. It said the church did not confirm if the money was paid to its leader, Senior Pastor Joseph Prince. But New Creation's honorary secretary, Deacon Matthew Kang, was quoted by the newspaper as saying it was the church's policy to "recognise and reward key contributors... and Senior Pastor Prince is the main pillar of our church's growth and revenue." [Source: Agence France Presse, March 30, 2009]

Kang also described Prince as "the key man responsible for bringing in about 95 percent of our church's income," and added "he has enriched the church and not the other way around." Two other employees of the church were paid between $150,001 and $200,000, but no names were given, the report said.

Bloomberg reported: “Irene Hii, a former atheist, became a believer after hearing Prince speak at a conference organized by Hillsong, a mega church in Sydney, and has been a New Creation follower since she was a university student in 2000. She gives 10 percent of her income to the church every month, known as a tithe. “It’s my way of telling my God: You’ve given me my blessings, so this is the portion that I’m giving back to you, but I’m keeping the 90 percent,” Hii, a 34-year-old doctor, said after one of New Creation’s services.

City Harvest Church and Faith Community Baptist Church

Sharon Chen of Bloomberg wrote: “City Harvest Church, a non-denominational church founded by senior pastor Kong Hee, 48, has attracted a reported 20,619 members as of 2011. It proposed in 2010 to spend S$310 million for a stake in the Suntec International Convention & Exhibition Centre as well as related rents and renovation costs. The building was the venue for the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in 2009.” [Source: Sharon Chen, Bloomberg, September 4, 2012 /*\]

“At a July 21 church service, Executive Pastor Aries Zulkarnain told followers the group raised a record S$22 million for its building fund last year, and had doubled its stake in the property to 39.2 percent for an additional S$54 million. He used PowerPoint slides to instruct churchgoers how to give offerings via cash, check and credit card, and highlighted the online donation system. /*\

“Faith Community Baptist Church, founded in 1986 by Senior Pastor Apostle Lawrence Khong, provides “celebration services” for its 10,000 members, according to its website. Khong, born in 1952, is pictured on the site with gelled hair and a black leather jacket and matching bracelet. He also fronts the group’s entertainment arm, staging shows that “combine magic, music, drama and dance to establish God’s Kingdom in the marketplace.” Faith Community’s attendance compares with a weekly congregation of more than 38,000 at the Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, according to the U.S. church’s website. /*\

“City Harvest, which says the average age of its congregation in 2010 was 29, has affiliate churches in Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Taiwan and Brunei. It lists business awards won by its members as well as statistics measuring their academic performance against the national average on its website. At the July 21 City Harvest service, singers led the congregation in song during the worship session, featuring contemporary-styled music backed by a band with drums, electric guitar and bass. The founder, Kong, read Bible verses from an iPad and then invited the crowd to talk to God “in tongues,” leading almost a minute of unrecognizable spoken sounds.

Leader of City Harvest Church Singapore’s Mega Churches, Politics and Charges of Fraud and Conspiracy

Sharon Chen of Bloomberg wrote: “The boom in fundraising has been accompanied by concern over how the money is used. Kong and five other City Harvest officers were charged in 2012 with conspiracy to misuse S$50.6 million of the church’s funds, including using a portion of the money to finance the music career of Ho Yeow Sun, Kong’s wife. Kong denied the charges. The church has said it stands by the accused leaders. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a June statement the City Harvest case involved charges against the individuals, not the church or Christians, adding that the group was free to continue its services and activities. [Source: Sharon Chen, Bloomberg, September 4, 2012 /*\]

Associated Press reported: “City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, 47, was charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust in connection with a scheme to syphon at least 23 million Singapore dollars (US$18 million) of church funds from 2007 to 2010 to finance the singing career of his wife, Ho Yeow Sun. Known professionally as Sun Ho, the 40-year-old has put out several Mandarin and English pop albums and songs, including a 2007 collaboration with pop star Wyclef Jean called "China Wine." [Source: Associated Press, June 27, 2012]

Kong did not enter a plea and was freed on SG$500,000 (US$390,000) bail after his passport was seized. He would face up to 20 years in prison or a fine for each charge if found guilty. He did not comment on the accusations in court but earlier had tweeted that he trusted Jesus and referred to the day was arrested, as a "tough day." Prosecutors also charged four other church leaders with breach of trust and conspiracy to commit falsification of accounts.

The charges follow a two-year police investigation sparked by local media reports that depicted Ho's lavish lifestyle, including a $20,000-a-month Los Angeles mansion. A church member had alleged in 2003 that City Harvest funds were paying for Ho's singing career, but he later retracted the statement and publically apologized to Kong and Ho.

City Harvest, which has a congregation of more than 30,000 people, said in a statement that church operations would continue as usual and declined to comment on the case. The Charities Commissioner suspended the five charged church leaders along with Ho and two others from their positions as trustees, board members and employees at City Harvest.

Cheeky Jesus Cosmetics, Da Vinci Code and Irreverent Jesus Cartons Too Much for Singapore

In February 2008, Reuters reported: “Want to use Jesus handcream? Well, you can't anymore. At least not in Singapore. A Singapore-based retailer pulled a line of cheeky Jesus branded cosmetics from its shelves after complaints from irate Catholics, the local newspaper reported. The cosmetics, called "Lookin' Good for Jesus", is made by American makeup company Blue Q. It was sold in three Topshop outlets in Singapore. Wing Tai Holdings, which manages the Topshop brand in the city-state, pulled the items of its shelves late last month after some customers complained, the Straits Times newspaper reported. "We don't want to offend our customers," a company spokesman was quoted by the paper as saying. [Source: Reuters, February 13, 2008]

The Straits Times said Nick Chui, 27, a Catholic, spotted the items in a Topshop outlet and then wrote a letter to Wing Tai last month saying that the products trivialised Jesus Christ and Christianity. "There are also sexual innuendoes in the messages and the way Jesus is portrayed in these products," the paper quoted Chui as saying. Some of the products sold include, a "virtuous vanilla" lip balm, hand and body cream and a mirrored Jesus statuette. They feature a drawing of Jesus flanked by two adoring women and carry slogans such as "Get tight with Christ", "Get His Attention" and "Redeem Your Reputation and More". Blue Q also carries other tongue-in-cheek items such as a "Believe in God Breath Spray".

In 2006, AFP reported: “A Singaporean blogger is under investigation for posting cartoons mocking Jesus Christ and could be jailed up to three years, the police said. The Straits Times said the suspect was a 21-year-old office worker with his own blog site. His race and religion were not disclosed. The blogger, who described himself as a “free thinker”, had first posted a cartoon depicting Jesus Christ as a zombie biting a boy’s head, the Straits Times said. He ignored an online message asking for the cartoon’s removal and went on to post more caricatures of Christ to spite the sender. [Source: AFP, June 16, 2006]

“I never thought anyone would complain to the police because the pictures were not insidious,” he told the newspaper, adding the cartoons have already been removed from his site. He was called in by police and the investigation is ongoing. “It is a serious offence for any person to distribute or reproduce any seditious publication which may cause feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes,” said a police statement.

In May 2006, censors barred viewers below 16 years of age from watching ‘The Da Vinci Code’ because they were afraid some children might see it as a factual movie. The blockbuster film poses the explosive idea that Jesus Christ married his follower Mary Magdalene and started a bloodline that still exists in secret. AFP

Novena Church Priest Denies Exorcism Led to Post-traumatic Disorder

In September 2006, 50-year-old Amutha Valli Krishnan sued the Novena Church claiming that an exorcism there had caused her post-traumatic stress and depression. Channel News Asia reported: “The Novena Church says it is not a proper party to be sued for this case. One of the two priests named in the suit, Father Simon Tan, has also responded to say that Amutha's condition, if true, is due to pre-existing conditions, and not the prayer session conducted. [Source: Channel News Asia, September 16, 2006]

Amutha had claimed that she fainted while praying at the church, and that an exorcism was then performed on her as she resisted furiously. Father Simon Tan said that Amutha's son had in fact brought her to the church for help, and said Amutha was possessed He added that Amutha became violent when she was brought into a room, and it was her family members who restrained her.

Amutha's family had earlier claimed they were not allowed to enter the room where the exorcism was taking place and did not know what was taking place inside. But Father Tan claimed that her family members were free to enter the room, and were aware of the activities inside as there was a window on the door. He added that Amutha's family thanked him when they left the room though Amutha continued to be abusive, shouting vulgarities at other worshippers. The incident is believed to have taken place in 2004. The civil suit is estimated to cost at least a million dollars.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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