In court with the International Church of Christ
Around the world the International Church of Christ (ICC or ICOC) has, for many years, been called a cult, and sometimes much worse. In what was apparently meant to be a test case, the ICC in Singapore, through its Central Christian Church, in1992 initiated legal action for being publicly labelled a cult.
The case went to trial before Justice Warren Khoo, of the High Court of Singapore, on 30th June to 18th July, 22nd, 23rd, & 28th July 1997. On Friday the 7th November 1997 Justice Khoo completed his judgement.
The case involved the International Church of Christ’s Singapore church, Central Christian Church, suing both the Straits Press Holdings (The New Paper and Lianhe Wanbao, the Chinese language newspaper) and IMPACT Christian magazine for defamation, for referring to it as a cult in late 1991. The group, internationally has been referred to as a cult, and worse - e.g. ’One of Britain’s most sinister and dangerous religious cults…’ [Sunday Business, 9th June, 1996] - and has never taken legal action anywhere, but in Singapore they decided to sue for defamation and for damages totalling (Sing)$3.25 million ($2.25 million from The New Paper and Lianhe Wanbao, and $1 million from Impact magazine). This is in direct conflict with one of their public documents where they stated: ’How do you respond to critics who equate discipling with "mind control" or "brain washing"? We try to respond with forbearance and love, for Christians have always been misunderstood and persecuted.’ [Media & Law 8/1/94]
There were actually a number of separate suits, and initially it was thought these would be dealt with in two separate consecutive hearings, but the judge decided to combine everything for simplicity and greater ease of handling (no doubling up).
In the first week of the hearing the plaintiffs (Central Christian Church) tried to have the judge limit evidence and issues only to the CCC and Singapore, and ignore any international evidence against the ICC, London CC etc. - even though the CCC began as a work started from the London CC. John Louis, the original lead ’evangelist’ for Singapore helped to undo that effort (which appeared to be succeeding) by claiming to have written one of the standard doctrinal guides for ICC churches called, GUARD THE GOSPEL. He claimed that, while he learnt all the Bible references in London, he, out of his own head, wrote the Singapore version of GTG. However, it was recognised as almost identical (in comments, phrases, questions etc, not just Bible quotes) to an Australian version dated the same year. The defence was able to produce the Australian document and show that GTG was definitely NOT a local document produced entirely by John Louis. (The material actually originated with world leader, Kip McKean.)
During the hearing the court was told, amongst many other things, that Central Christian Church/International Church of Christ:
- was aggressively involved in proselyting - seeking converts - and openly tried to recruit young people who were already Christians attending other churches;
- teaches that the CCC/ICC is the only true church, that other churches don’t truly teach Biblical salvation and correct baptism; and that even those baptised by immersion need to be rebaptised by them (plaintiff’s witnesses tried to stress that SOME of their members had NOT been rebaptised - but these were amongst the original leadership who collectively came out of the non-instrumental churches of Christ in America - and even the ajority of original Boston movement members were rebaptised - in fact quite a number have been rebaptised several times!);
- operated on a pyramidical system of disciples who in turn became disciplers to new converts - and all were accountable to their disciplers above them, and the disciplers were answerable to their Bible Talk Leader; their Bible talk leader to the zone leader; the zone leader to the sector leader; the sector leader to the regional leader; the regional leader to the evangelist; the evangelist to the world sector leader; right up to the world leader, Kip McKean. In documents shown in court, Al Baird, one of the most senior men under McKean was asked who various people reported to all the way to Kip McKean, and then came the question: ’Who does Kip report to?’ Baird: ’Kip reports to, to - uh - I don’t know - no one….Who does the Pope report to?’ Baird twice asked the question about the Pope, likening Kip McKean to the Pope as not answerable to anyone else - other than God;
- requires new converts to prepare detailed sin lists - often in written form - which are then discussed in detail - one issue of Guard the Gospel states: ’The main aims of the SIN study are to help people to: 1. See themselves as God sees them: sinful. 2. Realise they need forgiveness. 3. Identify sins specifically, to enable them to repent….Go through the specific sins. Define terms where necessary. Discuss in detail such sins as sexual immorality (adultery, premarital sex, homosexuality, masturbation, fantasies, incest, lust, pornography, abortion, child-abuse…) greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, etc. The Bible is specific about sin. It does not speak in generalities. The scriptures are full of detailed lists like this one [Mark 7:20-23]. (Over 30 in the NT alone.)’ Various Bible passages are taken out of context to justify having new converts make up such sin lists, which are discussed in detail by the convert’s discipler, with the aim of having him/her repent. It was acknowledged in court that sometimes the discipler would discuss some of these sin lists and their detail with his or her discipler, and that there would be regular checks to see if the person had overcome specific sins, after repenting, or if they were still occurring. While sin lists were supposed to be confidential, the court saw practical evidence that details of sins - especially sexual sins - were well remembered and brought out of the past against those who disagreed with the leadership. Several defence witnesses who had left the ICC/CCC and dared to testify in court had references made to their sexual sins of the past in court - even when there was absolutely no relevance in doing so;
- kept disciples, especially those who had become disciplers and taken on other forms of leadership, fully occupied with some church commitment or involvement every day of the week. The court was given outlines of church time in a week as: Monday - Family night - spent at home, witnessing to the family, also making phone calls to contacts and disciples and/or disciplers; Tuesday - Evangelism night - street evangelism MRT (railway) stations etc.; Wednesday - Closed door discipleship meeting - meeting with disciple or discipler and holding each other accountable for the week’s activities, contacts etc - go through discipling course; Thursday - Prayer night - group prayer meeting; Friday - Bible study night open to non-members - contacts to be brought along - testimony sharing; Saturday - Fellowship activities in afternoon - group dating in the evening; Sunday - Morning follow-up Bible study; afternoon Chinese service; evening fellowship and dinner. There were a number of accounts where this busy schedule negatively affected family relations - in one family the CCC member was too busy and tired with church activities to attend a family funeral - which obviously caused great concern and hurt;
- even organised when, where and how holidays should be taken, what jobs were acceptable or not acceptable for members, how personal time ought to be used;
- had accountability sheets which included not only statistics of attendances and absences, but gave ratings of: Bad, Good, Great, Awesome - these ratings were used of Bible Talk Leaders depending on how many of their disciples attended meetings, how many new contacts were made, how many of their contacts became coverts and were baptised;
- keeps detailed statistics on many things including finances pledged and actually given - there is even a space to fill in an IOU on the CCC offering envelope, giving was controlled - members had to give 10% of gross income, leaders would keep records of a person’s earnings and of their actual giving, additional giving for various projects was also controlled and pressure applied, personal budget advice and how money should be spent was also given;
- dating between members is organised and conducted along strict guidelines, steady dating should come after about 6 dates or three months, there should be nine months of steady dating before an engagement, and the engagement should last three months before marriage - disciples are expected to discuss their dates with their disciplers, and usually a disciple doesn’t date another person without first checking with the other person’s discipler if it is feasible;
- expects accountability to disciplers even in relation to sexual frequency and related matters with married couples - women are responsible for ensuring their husbands are sexually satisfied each week and so won’t be distracted with other women and lustful thoughts - there is a weekly minimum of sexual frequency, but apparently no maximum;
- has a deliberately taught persecution complex and expectation - the court heard the declaration, from official ICC literature: ’Persecution is part of our identity because it is part of the Name we follow. Persecution alone proves nothing but not being persecuted is indisputable proof we are not of God.’ ICC members around the world had been prepared for both victory and defeat in their Singapore defamation action. Some in Singapore, even during the court hearing, were heard to discuss how they were going to put up a big building with the money they would win from the case. But on the other hand, if they lost their case it would prove they were truly a New Testament church, being persecuted for Christ;
- had not been completely open and honest in their registration as a society in Singapore, and also that John Louis, the first lead evangelist or Singapore had to leave Singapore (for immigration and visa irregularities) - and that Al Baird, a senior international leader, had stated in a BBC interview: ’There are times when the only way toget into a country is to get in illegally.’ ;
- encouraged disciples to follow and imitate their disciplers - and that American leader, Steve Johnson, as an example of this, openly stated, about his discipler, Kip McKean: ’To those who believe that I, like countless others in a "manmade movement", am blindly following Kip McKean, then know this. With eyes wide open I’m following Kip McKean; Consciously; Intentionally; Thankfully. I guess I’m just not as strong as some folks and I need help in following Jesus. And so far, I’ve found no better help, no better leader, no more righteous man - no better friend than Kip.’;
- has double standards and does not have as high expectation of attendance to all activities for prominent persons who were seen to have ’high utility value’ - such people rarely being chastised or reprimanded for their lack of involvement in comparison to other members;
- leaders exercise absolute unbridled authoritarian rule over others, and would ridicule and intimidate members with harsh language (for numerous reasons, such as lack of submission and conformity, not sharing and answering personal questions, being independent etc), including calling people ’insubmissive’, ’arrogant’, ’proud’, ’sinful’, even going as far as John Louis admitted doing, of calling another leader a ’dog’ and ’conniving snake’ - which he justified by saying the person involved was not submissive, and such language was Biblical!;
- disguises its identity on college and university campuses with a variety of names and name changes: e.g. The Historical & Literature Society at the London School of Economics; SCUM (Sydney Church Uni Ministry), Vision 100, Souled Out at the University of New South Wales; Disciples on Campus at Adelaide University; Vision 100 and Church of Christ University Ministry at the University of Sydney etc.;
- is so controlling and destructive that when members decide they have had enough and leave, they are usually so disillusioned that they mostly give up on Jesus Christ as well, and lose all faith. Even those who don’t completely lose all faith in God, still find it such a struggle and difficulty to cope that they cannot settle into any other church. It was claimed that this was not unusual, and somewhat similar to divorce in a marriage situation, and happens when people leave any church or group. On the defence side it was emphasised that the trauma and devastation of divorce was similar to the trauma members experienced in leaving the ICC/CC - but this was NOT the normal experience when Christians move from one denomination to another. In Singapore there are Anglicans who leave and join the Assemblies of God, Pentecostals who become Presbyterians, Methodists who join the Brethren - there is considerable movement between denominations and almost never with the trauma experienced in divorce or in leaving the ICC/CCC. One of the reasons is that Christians are taught that members of the Church are in a ’marriage’ relationship with Jesus Christ - the ’Bridegroom’. Our intimacy and deepest commitment is with Jesus Christ - not disciplers or leaders in some religious group.
After considering the evidence, Justice Khoo completed his judgement on Friday the 7th November 1997 which was made public on Monday 10th November.
The judge dismissed four of the five suits filed by the CCC and John Louis - though he ruled that the group was not a cult, in the context of Singapore’s multi-religious community.
In ruling that the CCC was NOT a ’cult’, Judge Khoo indicated that part of the problem was that there was no agreed definition of the word and that the plaintiffs (CCC) had not made clear what they understood by the word, though they claimed it was defamatory. The judge referred to a list of cult characteristics suggested by the counsel for the plaintiffs, and noted that these were fairly extreme and ’associated with the more notorious dangerous, violent and destructive cults that surface in the media from time to time in a dramatic way, such as those led to the Jonestown and Waco tragedies. As we know the facts, the CCC, of course, cannot by any stretch of the imagination be equated with such groups. One can say straightaway that CCC is not a commune of half-crazed people living in isolation from the world at large worshipping and kissing the foot of some self-appointed messiah or prophet.’
The judge stated that such a suggested meaning as given by the plaintiffs’ counsel was ’a meaning which was not pleaded’ and was ’an attempt to win an argument by reducing the opposing argument to absurdity.’
He found the whole exercise of definitions, by both plaintiffs and defence to be ’quite futile’ and only ’served to demonstrate the illusory nature of the meaning of this word "cult" if one uses it without reference to context.’
Following final submissions by the lawyers for the plaintiffs and the defence, Judge Khoo noted: ’Doing the best I can, I find that the imputation of the word "cult" in the context is that the CCC is a group with such extreme doctrine and practice that it should be shunned by right-thinking members of society.’
After carefully examining - and listing in his findings - the claims by the defendants and the evidence presented in court the judge stated: ’To sum up, apart from some exceptions and qualifications (sin lists, accountability sheets, communal living), most of what the defendants say about the CCC is true in substance; so are the statements in the three publications about the CCC’s beliefs and practices.’
This, however, did not answer the issue of whether or not the CCC was a cult. The judge explained in his ruling that, as there is no jury system in Singapore, the judge has to be both judge and jury. He stated that ’If this case were tried by a jury in a country whose population was predominantly and homogeneously adherents of the orthodox mainstream Christian faiths, I am sure there would be every chance that the jury would find that the CCC was indeed a cult. The verdict would simply reflect the predominant view of such a society.’ He then speculated that in an hypothetical jury in Singapore, considering the matters before the judge, he would have no doubt that the Christians in the jury would regard the evidence as showing that the CCC was a cult - but that non-Christian members of the jury would not necessarily perceive the issues in the same way. The non-Christians would not let the Christian minority on the jury decide the issue for all. ’With a few minor exceptions (such as in relation to the "sin list", accountability sheets, communal living) and qualifications, what the defendants say in their defence about CCC’s practices is largely and objectively true, even though people in the CCC itself would not see the same things in quite the same way. But, to the collective mind of the hypothetical [Singaporean] jury, does this make CCC a cult? I venture to suggest, no…My best guess is that the minority of Christians and Christian-sympathisers in the hypothetical jury room would have a difficult task persuading the others that the CCC is indeed a cult. So, I find on balance that the defendants have failed to justify the main sting of the libel of calling the CCC a cult. The defence of justification fails in all suits.’
The first defence of all three defendants had been one of justification - that is, it was justifiable to call the CCC a ’cult’ because it WAS a cult. The judge rejected that defence. The second defence was that calling the CCC a ’cult’ was a fair comment.
Judge Khoo acknowledged: ’There is no doubt in my mind that the subject matter of the publication is a matter of public interest. Also, as stated above, to make a statement that a group is a cult is essentially to make a comment. So, it is a comment on a matter of public interest. The question then is: Is it a fair comment?’
The judge examined in detail the background to the writing of the IMPACT articles and the subsequent newspaper coverage. He stated: ’It seems to me…that a Christian in the mainstream orthodoxy…is likely to take the typical orthodox Christian stance, and say it [the CCC] is a cult.’ He believed it was a fair comment, in this context, to refer to the CCC as a ’cult’.
He added: ’It is the bane of any new religious movement on the fringe to be labelled a cult by those in the centre. It is unfortunate for the new movement, but it seems to be a fact of life. This is not the first time that an ICC church has been called a cult and I think no one would predict that it was the last.’
The judge stated that ’all defendants fail in the defence of justification, but (except in respect of the front page of the New Paper), succeed in the defence of fair comment.’ He further explained that: ’the majority of Singaporeans, particularly those outside the Christian faith, would probably not consider that the CCC is a cult, any more than they would consider any other religious group as a cult. They would hesitate to make any judgment. However, it would not be difficult to find a substantial number of people, particularly those in the mainstream Christian faith, who believe, perhaps quite strongly, that the CCC is a cult. They are entitled to hold such a view, and if they honestly believe it and express it within reasonable bounds, the law will uphold their right to do so.’
The one exception that the judge referred to was the front page of The New Paper, of November 23rd, 1991, in which the large headlines and generalised accompanying comments were regarded by the judge as sensationalist and NOT a fair comment. He concluded: ’all the other suits are dismissed because the defendants succeeded in their defence of fair comment and, in respect of the Impact publication, in qualified privilege as well.’
In other words, while he considered the ICC/CCC NOT to be a ’cult’ in general, it was fair and reasonable for Christians to refer to the group as such. The newspapers had their stories, in part, based on the Christian publication, Impact, and the judge regarded it as fair comment for them to pass on the Christian based concerns to the general public.
The one exception that the judge referred to was the front page of The New Paper, of November 23rd, 1991, in which the large headlines and generalised accompanying comments were regarded by the judge as sensationalist and NOT a fair comment.
The leadership of the International Church of Christ/Boston Movement/Sydney Church of Christ/Central Christian Church has been known to be deceptive. World leader, Al Baird, acknowledged in a BBC interview: ’There are times when the only way to get into a country is to get in illegally.’ At local levels leaders have disguised their identity on campuses with all sorts of names, e.g. The Historical and Literature Society, Vision 100, Souled Out. Some have even claimed to belong to the associated Churches of Christ when challenged about their true identity.
A more serious form of deception was carried out by former Singapore Central Christian Church founder/leader, John Louis, following the defamation case. This deception centred around a report made available to Sydney Church of Christ members and others within the ICC, following the November 1997 handing down of the findings of Justice Warren Khoo in relation to the court case of the CCC vs The New Paper, Lianhe Wanbao, and the Christian magazine, Impact.
A five-page report was circulated claiming to be: ’Excerpts of Judgment by Justice Warren Khoo of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Singapore - Central Christian Church vs New Paper & others’.
Throughout this document [hereafter referred to as Excerpts…] quotation marks were used of all paragraphs, suggesting that these were accurately reported quotes made by Justice Khoo in his judgement. However, Excerpts… was far from accurate. Words had been added, deleted and substituted, contexts ignored and combined, paragraphs presented out of sequence with no indication or explanation, parts were highlighted in bold and/or italics (which are NOT in the original court document), giving a misleading picture of the judge’s actual statements and findings.
No explanation was given for any of the alterations, change of sequence/order of paragraphs, or other major issues. Everything was presented as paragraphs in quotation marks, as if it all came straight from the court document.
Ellipses are the omissions of words from sentences or paragraphs, and are normally indicated with three dots (…). This clearly shows the reader that the quoted passage is incomplete. Not to indicate ellipses is gross carelessness or a deliberate attempt at misleading readers, especially if meanings are altered by such lack of indication. Words in rounded brackets ( ) are parentheses which are an aside, or explanatory comment, made by the original author and should be included in quotes where appropriate. Words in square brackets [ ] are explanatory comments by the editor, placed alongside the author’s comments, or, where ellipses have been used, to summarise comments in order to provide context for the words following.
Excerpts…, circulated by John Louis and the Sydney Church of Christ, purporting to be actual excerpts from Justice Khoo’s comments began with out-of-sequence paragraphs. There were 21 paragraphs, and two incomplete sentences (at the end). Few of these paragraphs were complete (as they were in the court judgement), and most were combinations of parts of several paragraphs from the court document. Excerpts… commenced with paragraph 43 (of the court judgement), and was immediately followed by paragraphs: 36; 32; 48; 53.
There were 22 places where ellipses should have been clearly shown, but were not. One paragraph, for example, paragraph 18 at the bottom of page 4 and top of page 5 of Excerpts…, combined parts from the court judgements paragraphs: 94; 95; 96; 99; 100; 102; 103. Parts of these paragraphs were quoted as one paragraph, with no indication of ellipses [seven of them]. Ellipses ARE show in this paragraph, but they don’t indicate the combination of various paragraphs, rather the omission of part of a sentence: ’something that one arrives at after weighing the pros and cons, the pluses and minuses’ (from court judgement, paragraph 100).
The judge’s actual words were changed without explanation in Excerpts… "imputation" becomes "meaning" and "in context" becomes "as used by the newspapers" (Excerpts… para. 2, p.1 - Court judgement para. 36 p.23). Some of the changes were careless and lacked clarity. Excerpts… para. 15 on p. 4 (a combination of paras. 80; 82; 85; 88; of the court judgement) reads, in part: "Dr Melton likens the trauma of leaving the CCC to that of a person going through a divorce. Sin lists, accountability sheets, communal living, I can imagine, however, that some people might ask, colloquially, a question like: is it true that CCC is a cult, just as they might ask: is it true that so and so is a male chauvinist pig? Or a cheapskate?"
The first sentence quoted above, ’Dr Melton…divorce.’ Came from the middle of court judgement para. 85 p. 51. The words immediately before this sentence in Excerpts… came from para. 82 pp.49-50. The words immediately after this sentence in Excerpts… (underlined in our quote above) were not to be found in any of the paragraphs combined to make up this 15th Excerpts… paragraph (paras.: 80; 82; 85; 88). They were words made up (strung together) by the ICC/SydneyCC/CCC leadership and put into the mouth, or pen, of Justice Khoo. And they were meaningless in their given context.
In the court judgement, para. 88 p. 52, Justice Khoo considered that legally ’Unlike a statement of fact (e.g. that X stole something from Y), the statement that a group is a cult…is essentially a comment. It is more appropriate to ask: "Is the statement correct?" than to ask "Is the statement true?" I can imagine, however, that some people might ask, colloquially, a question like: is it true that CCC is a cult, just as they might ask: is it true that so and so is a male chauvinist pig? or a cheapskate?’
Even omissions were careless and left sentences obscure, if not meaningless.
Consider the following from Excerpts… para. 4 p.1: "The plaintiffs’ [CCC] fact witnesses are largely existing members of the group. Many are graduates, happily married and successful in their respective professions. As to be expected, they are all positive about the group and what it has done for them and their family. As to be expected, all of them have less than positive experiences with the group." These last two sentences, both started with ’As to be expected’, are contradictory. The first stated that ’they [CCC members] are all positive about the group’, while the next sentence proclaimed that ’all of them have less than positive experiences with the group.’ The reason for this anomaly seemed to be that the leaders did not want to acknowledge the judge’s comments: ’On the other hand, the fact witnesses for the defence are largely ex-members.’ When this sentence is inserted before the second ’As to be expected…’ things make far more sense.
At the close of Excerpts… (p.5) it stated: "The defence on all suits fails on justification." And: "Damages awarded to the CCC…[and have yet to be determined]." [Their square brackets in the quote.]
What Justice Khoo stated was: ’In the result, the defendants in all suits fail on the defence of justification. The defendants in the suits arising from the Impact magazine publication succeed both on the defence of fair comment and qualified privilege. Those in the suit arising from the Wan Bao publication succeed on the defence of fair comment, but fail on qualified privilege. Those in the suit arising from the New Paper publication succeed in the defence of fair comment in respect of the main article, but fail in respect of the front page. They fail on qualified privilege.’ (court judgement para.161 p.95)
And: ’As far as costs are concerned, I have to consider whether any special order might be appropriate in view of the duplication of matters in and about the suits. Counsel are requested to address me on the matter on a date to be fixed. Damages for CCC in Suit 848 will be assessed at the same time. Any evidence on that is to be filed within 2 weeks.’
Excerpts… failed to mention that not only did the ICC/CCC fail in its efforts to sue the newspapers and Impact magazine, except in the matter of what the judge regarded as sensationalist headlines (all the stories were acceptable in labelling the CCC as a cult on the grounds of fair comment), John Louis lost ALL his lawsuits against the magazine and newspapers. (There has also been a perception amongst some Sydney CC, and other ICC, members that the CCC had been sued, instead of the truth, that the CCC was doing the suing - contrary to their printed claims that they would "try to respond with forbearance and love" "to critics who equate discipling with ’mind control’ or ’brain washing’" (Media & Law, 1 August 1994).)
Excerpts… also failed to mention that Justice Khoo pointed out that the registration of the ’rather atypical name, Central Christian Church’ involved lying to the Registrar of Societies in Singapore, which was deliberately done by the leadership to obscure its connection with the controversial London Church of Christ (see court judgement para.47 p. 33).
Excerpts… furthermore fails to acknowledge that Justice Khoo stated: ’To sum up, apart from some exceptions and qualifications (sin list, accountability sheets, communal living), most of what the defendants say about the CCC is true in substance; so are the statements in the three publications about CCC’s beliefs and practices.’ (Sub-conclusion, para. 86 pp. 51-52)
’If this case were tried by a jury in a country whose population was predominantly and homogeneously adherents of the orthodox mainstream Christian faiths, I am sure there would be every chance that the jury would find that the CCC was indeed a cult. The verdict would simply reflect the predominant view of such a society.’ (para. 90 p. 53)
’With a few minor exceptions (such as in relation to the "sin list", accountability sheets, communal living) and qualifications, what the defendants say in their defence about the CCC’s practices is largely and objectively true, even though people in the CCC itself would not see the same things in quite the same way.’ (para. 93 p. 55)
’It seems to me unlikely that a Christian in the mainstream orthodoxy, when making a comment on the CCC, would pause to deliberate whether CCC is a cult or merely a sect, the way a scholar might do. He is likely to take the typical orthodox Christian stance, and say it is a cult.’ (para. 125 p. 74)
"However, it would not be difficult to find a substantial number of people, particularly those in the mainstream Christian faith, who believe, perhaps quite strongly, that the CCC is a cult. They are entitled to hold such a view, and if they honestly believe it and express it within reasonable bounds, the law will uphold their right to do so.’ (para. 144 p.85)
Excerpts… additionally failed to mention that the group’s own American expert witness, Dr Gordon Melton, admitted in court that the ICC/CCC had most of the characteristics of cults he described in his book: Encyclopedic Handbook of Cults in America, published in 1986 (in spite of his constant claim that there are no cults, and he never uses the word because it is not accurate enough for his liking).
One of the most distorted paragraphs in Excerpts… was para. 19 p. 5. This paragraph added words that were not in the original court record; combined parts of judgement paragraphs: 109, 110 and 125. It ignored the context and made the judge the author of comments he did not make. The Excerpts… paragraph reads (as printed in their document - with their italics):
"Rev Van Leen has called himself a cultbuster", he is prepared to label as cult any religious movement that does not agree with his own conventional precepts; he has even called Islam a cult. Mrs Carpenter did not make any attempt at verifying the turth [sic] of Van Leen’s assertions. She also did not make any real attempt to get the facts from CCC itself, before publishing the article. I am quite satisfied that Mrs Carpenter honestly believed what she wrote., [sic] so I do not think Mrs Carpenter’s honesty is an issue. The defence of fair comment does allow latitude for the strength of people’s feelings. When a person makes a comment, he is often using more the emotional than the disciplined intellectual aspect of his faculties. He speaks his mind rather than makes and evaluative [sic] judgement."
Mrs Mary Carpenter was the editor of the magazine, Impact. She had obtained some material written by CCG Ministries’ Director, Adrian van Leen, for, and in, an Australian context. When she published the article dealing with the ICC/CCC our Director did not know about it until after it was out in print. It was apparent that some parts of the article were based on material he had written.
In the above quoted paragraph from Excerpts… the opening comment, ’Rev Van Leen has called himself a "cultbuster"’, was not to be found anywhere in the court judgement. Justice Khoo certainly did not make it, neither did our Director, nor anyone else.
The court judgement clearly shows that the lawyer representing John Louis and the Central Christian Church, Mr Y H Cheong, made some of the statements that follow this opening comment to Excerpts… fabricated by John Louis and the Sydney CC.
Justice Khoo reported in the court judgement, para. 109 p.63: ’Mr Cheong for the plaintiffs questions Mrs Carpenter’s honesty in what she wrote. He submits that Rev Van Leen, the author of the articles Mrs Carpenter relied on, is a very biased commentator. His one-man organisation, the Concerned Christian [sic] Growth Ministries, was set up with the avowed object of exposing cults. He himself has been called a cult-buster, and has the mindset of one. He is prepared to label as cult any religious movement that does not agree with his own conventional Christian precepts; he has even called Islam a cult. He has made charges against the CCC without studying the group from the inside, content to rely on materials on the ICC from other countries. Mrs Carpenter did not make any attempt to verify the truth of Van Leen’s assertions. She also did not make any real attempt to get to the facts from the CCC itself, before publishing the article.’
These comments did not originate with the judge, nor did he agree with them. He reported what the CCC, through its own lawyer, Mr Cheong, claimed in court. Claims which were clearly shown to be inaccurate during the court hearing, both in regard to Mrs Carpenter and our Director.
Justice Khoo then went on to state, in his own words (para. 110 p.63): ’I am quite satisfied that Mrs Carpenter honestly believed what she wrote. [Here Excerpts… omitted the remainder of the judge’s comments, except for his last sentence in the paragraph.] Since Rev Van Leen shares much of the bias and world-view of the evangelical community of which Impact is its voice in Singapore, I think it is understandable that Mrs Carpenter, as its editor would accept, at face value, views expressed by him in his writings. In Mrs Carpenter’s own words, she belongs to a community in which Van Leen is highly regarded; his reputation and credentials had never been questioned…’
Excerpts… para. 19 p. 5 then used the judge’s concluding comment in para. 110 p.65, ’So, I do not think Mrs Carpenter’s honesty is an issue’ and followed this with his opening words of para. 125 p.73: ’The defence of fair comment does allow latitude for the strength of people’s feelings.’
(Why does Excerpts… omit the word ’Christian’ when it quotes Cheong stating: ’his own conventional [Christian] precepts’ in reference to our Director??)
To make it appear as if a judge made the comments actually made on behalf of the group by its own lawyer was extremely deceptive and quite despicable.
Excerpts…, produced by John Louis and the leadership of the Sydney Church of Christ, was a deceptive and distorted document which broke all the rules of fair reporting and quoting. It, and the leaders of the ICC, need to be exposed for such errors.
We also encourage those with access to the Internet to check out the web page of Charles Barsoum at http:/members.tripod.com/~Charles7/ - Charles was a former member of the Sydney CC/ICC. On his web page, Is The International Churches of Christ Teachings Biblical? [sic] he has provided access to a number of interesting articles. Those most relevant in relation to our article are: Singapore court judgement, (the complete judgement handed down by Justice Khoo in November 1997 - but not with the double spacing and other gaps [our page references relate to the original, double spaced etc. judgement, so won’t match the edition on Charles’ web site]); The excerpts that the ICC chose to show it’s members (each of the five pages of quotes plus three pages of newspaper clippings have been scanned into the computer - rather than typed up as text. This means slower downloading and separate downloading for each individual page. This is the complete document circulated by John Louis and the Sydney CC/ICC); Court report (this is where Charles did a very good job of comparing the judgement with Excerpts… by showing in differing colours which parts of the judgement were quoted, and also where words had been added or deleted - his work made our task of doing our own comparison so much easier, and we thank him for his efforts.)
Both the ICC/Central Christian Church and the newspapers (through Singapore Press Holdings Ltd and The Straits Times Press (1975) Ltd) appealed the judge’s ruling.
In July and August 1998 the appeals were heard in the Court of Appeal, with the judges handing down their ruling in October 1998.
The Appeal Judges, Justices Karthigesu, L P Thean and Lai Kew Chai, agreed with many of the points raised by Justice Khoo. They dismissed the appeals against Impact magazine, and ruled that the Central Christian Church and John Philip Louis pay Impact’s legal costs.
However, the judges disagreed with Justice Khoo in relation to the newspapers. Whereas Justice Khoo had accepted the newspapers’ defence of fair comment, the appeal judges rejected this.
The judges ruled that in their view the newspapers’ articles were presented as statements of fact, rather than obvious expressions of comment. As a result they awarded two lots of (Sing)$20,000 damages against the newspapers for the Central Christian Church, and (Sing) $30,000 against the newspapers for John Philip Louis - lead evangelist of the CCC at the time of the original lawsuits (a total of (Sing) $70,000 damages). The newspapers were also ordered to pay legal costs for the CCC and John Louis for the original law case in July 1997, as well as the legal costs of the appeal.
However, the CCC victory was a hollow one.
Both the original trial judge and the appeal judges accepted, with a couple of minor possible exceptions, that all the evidence presented against the CCC/ICC - their practices and recruiting techniques etc. all the issues that caused the concerns leading to publication - were fairly reported and, on the evidence, factually correct.
And while the courts ruled that the CCC was not a cult in the general context of the Singapore public, Christians were entitled to believe that the group was a cult from their perspective, and to refer to it as such, especially in Christian circles.
Furthermore, the CCC had initially hoped to have received damages amounting to (Sing) $800,000, and had even circulated the idea that God would give them a mighty victory that would enable them to put up a worship centre in Singapore with the proceeds. (It had also suggested that if they lost the case it would show that they were being persecuted for the Lord’s sake, proving that they were faithful followers.)
Because of their unrealistic damages anticipations - some might say, their greed - they decided to sue through the High Court of Singapore, rather than a lower or subordinate court. This immediately increased the legal fees and costs for all concerned. Defamation lawsuits presented through the High Court, if appropriate and successful would normal attracted damages above (Sing) $100,000 per law suit. The fact that the three lawsuits which were successfully awarded damages only amounted to (Sing) $20,000 and (Sing) $30,000 each, the whole legal procedure should have been dealt with in a lower or subordinate court - not the High Court.
In awarding damages AND legal costs, the newspapers were only required to pay the legal costs equivalent to what the costs would have been if the law suits had been dealt with in the lower court.
This meant that, after paying for the legal costs of Impact magazine, the Central Christian Church and John Louis, were to pay the balance or difference between lower court fee structures and costs, and those of the High Court.
In other words, while they recouped some of their costs through the damages awarded in their favour, and the equivalent to lower court legal costs being met by the newspapers, they had substantial amounts to pay for the outstanding balance.
The comments regarding the case as presented on one of the many ICC Internet web pages (in this case, the LA CoC) were misleading and failed to tell the whole story as it really was.
’Singapore High Court Rules in Favor of ICOC John Bringardner, General Counsel, ICOC
In the fall of 1998, God gave us a tremendous legal victory in the Republic of Singapore. Eight years ago, our brothers and sisters were publicly maligned in one of Singapore’s major newspapers, alleging that the Central Christian Church of Singapore was a cult. God led us to some prominent attorneys who were eager to help us clear our good name. Seven years later, the case went to trial. After hearing all the testimony of both the disciples and our critics, the trial judge was persuaded the church was not a cult… The newspaper filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. Jesus told his followers they would be blessed when people insult them, persecute them and falsely say all kinds of evil against them because of him. (Matthew 5:11) This past fall the Supreme Court of Singapore upheld the lower court ruling that we are not a cult. Praise God for this great victory!’
These comments failed to state clearly that the Central Christian Church/International Church of Christ initiated defamation lawsuits against the Christian magazine (not mentioned above) and the two newspapers (not one newspaper, as stated above) involved. The ’prominent attorneys’ did not come to the CCC/ICC and ’eagerly’ volunteer to help CCC ’clear its good name’. The CCC went looking for lawyers to represent them in the lawsuits they were initiating. They also failed to mention that they, the CCC/ICC filed appeals against virtually everything decided by Justice Khoo! They appealed against decisions regarding the newspapers and Impact magazine. The newspapers only filed one appeal (No. 247), the CCC and John Louis filed five appeals (Nos. 248, 249, 250, 251, 252). Impact magazine did not file any appeals. The CCC and John Louis lost their appeals 249 and 251 against Impact and had to pay their legal costs. They won the other three appeals against the newspapers - but at a much, much smaller amount of damages than they had hoped for, AND at only part of the total legal costs incurred in pursuing the matter through the High Court of Singapore.
They should be honest enough to tell their followers the truth, and the whole story. This includes the fact that earlier published statements indicate clearly that they didn’t think it appropriate for them to take legal action to silence critics!
(From TACL Vol 18 #4 July/Aug 1997)