However, we have to be realistic. Money is an essential item in getting things done and religious institutions are not exempt from this. Whatever we might want to think, religious organisations have to maintain facilities and pay people. These things require money and we have to accept the reality that these organisations will find ways to raise it and the most likely place to do so will be from their followers.
Religion is not in conflict with making an honest living. Buddha did not say one could not own material goods. He merely argued that one should not be attached to them. Christ did not argue that one should not have money, he argued that one should not place the pursuit of money before God. Mohammed, who was a merchant before he became God’s messenger, argued that commerce should follow God’s rules rather than the dishonest ways of men.
When you look at things from this perspective, there is no religious prohibition to fund raising. Money in itself is acceptable. It’s what you do with it that matters.
In the case of religious organisations, the argument is that they raise money to do “God’s work.” Most would understand that “God’s work” is about making the world a better place. Religious Organisations have tremendous scope to take on social causes. Traditionally, they have done this in the area of healthcare and education (think of the number of schools and hospitals named after Saints). However, there is tremendous scope for the religious organisations to focus on other areas too. The “mega-churches” alone have an incredible amount of financial and human resources that they can devote to social causes.
Let’s just look at some examples. The Archdiocesan Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (ACMI) specialises in helping “foreign” spouses. This Catholic Organisation has found a need for care amongst women from developed countries who are brought into Singapore as spouses and then abandoned. Another example is the cause of rehabilitating released prisoners. City Harvest was active in this area.
Reverand Kong Hee’s case should be decided on its legal merits. However, there should be careful management of the publicity for this case as it has the potential to cause a popular backlash against religious organisations and their fundraising capabilities.
The objective here is to encourage religious organisations to become specialised centres of dealing with social issues. There is a need for this. The government has to accept that it cannot solve every social issue on its own and it may not even be good at recognising social ills immediately. As such, it needs to work with partners which can do the job.
There are plenty of voluntary organisations. However, religious organisations are in unique position of being able to provide certain services. Religion is a potent force in motivating people with various skills to volunteer for things. It is a potent force is getting people to contribute financial resources. This is a role they have played throughout history.
It would be a shame if the government - and the public - drew the wrong lessons from the events at City Harvest. It’s time to see how we can get religious organisations to strengthen their historical roles in adopting social causes and becoming part of the solution.
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