Monday, June 7, 2010

The Benefit Of Doubt

After my series of posts on Pastor Kong Hee's alleged plagiarism and his recent "apology" were published, I have received feedback from quite a few people that I should be gracious and give Pastor Kong Hee the benefit of doubt. Some have also said something to the effect that I shouldn't kick a man when he's down.

Let me say that it is unfair to say that I'm kicking Pastor Kong Hee when's he down because I wrote my articles BEFORE he was "invited" for an interview with the CAD. I was and still am dealing with only the issue of alleged plagiarism.

As for giving the man the benefit of doubt, let me ask this: Why should there be even any doubt left after Pastor Kong Hee's explanation cum apology if it was indeed truthful and unambiguous? One commenter on my post, 'Pastor Kong Hee Explains His "Oversight"', said:
"Everyone of us can fall into wrong doings, including plagiarism, judging, probe, cheating, etc. Many great men of God in the bible ever committed the wrong doings too (I write this not as an excuse at all). It can happen because of ignorance, carelessness, other factors, etc. The most important thing is that we should always have a spirit of repentance and humility to change to be a better man of God. While other people fall, let's pray that they can realize it, repent, then get up again and continue to grow up in truth."
Yes, I agree with the commenter that "everyone of us can fall into wrong doings", and that "we should always have a spirit of repentance and humility to change" but in this case, I don't see that spirit of repentance and humility to change in the explanation cum apology. Instead, what I see is a poor attempt to whitewash the wrongdoing of plagiarism into an apparently honest mistake or "oversight".

Pastor Kong Hee's explanation should have removed any trace of doubt that it is not plagiarism but an honest mistake of omission, yet it raised even more doubts due to gaping loopholes in the explanation:

1.   I read a TODAY report (title "Before He Was Reverend Kong Hee") yesterday, and one of the CHC cell group leaders who was interviewed, Mr Kelvin Chew, said about Pastor Kong Hee:
"He's a perfectionist. Working with him is not at all easy. You have to work even harder because he's so sharp. A slight mistake and he'll be upset, and that's how he moulds most of us to be sharper." (emphasis in bold mine)

 The report also mentioned about "the church's anniversary celebration at the Singapore Indoor Stadium a few years ago, when the sound crew could not get things right and the backup vocalists could not hit the right tone. The crew had to rehearse "again and again", with the session ending close to midnight."

His cell group leader, Mr Chew described Pastor Kong Hee as a "perfectionist", therefore it is hard to believe that a perfectionist like him makes a basic mistake like omitting to credit his sources even if the devotionals were originally meant for "internal circulation". Ok, maybe you want to give him the benefit of doubt on this one. Let's take a look at loophole number 2 then.

2.  Pastor Kong and his publisher said that he had received permission from the other authors to reproduce their articles and his publisher said that after investigation, they discovered there were about ten such articles.

Let me ask: Why did the publisher not know that there were articles in the publication which were written by other authors BEFORE the hardcopy was published? Didn't Pastor Kong mention to his publisher about those articles since the hardcopy is meant for external circulation? Ok, maybe you want to give Pastor Kong the benefit of doubt on this one too, that it is really the perfectionist, Pastor Kong's oversight in not telling his publisher. Let's take a look at loophole number 3 then.

3.  Pastor Kong Hee said in his explanation that since they were informed in March about their "oversight", they have been, I quote, "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", unquote.

Let me ask: How much effort does it take to credit the ten articles which they have identified? Now, if Pastor Kong had received permission for the reproduction of the other authors' articles BEFORE the publication of the hardcopies of the Daily Devotional, what kind of best efforts is needed to identify those articles and "properly credit" the relevant sources? It should be quite easy to do so since Pastor Kong should have those correspondences which confirm the other authors' approvals on record, properly referenced and filed.

However, even though they have started the process of crediting since March, the Daily Devotionals published on Pastor Kong's website dated 20 May and 4 June (see my previous post) still contained materials from other authors which were not credited.  Those articles were subsequently removed from the website after Cheat Grace highlighted them. Do you want to give Pastor Kong the benefit of doubt on this one too?

You must be wondering why I am still harping on this alleged plagiarism issue.  My point has always been and is this: Plagiarism raises questions about a person's integrity and should raise a red flag in our assessment of that person's character. Another red flag should be raised when the explanation that it was an honest mistake and that no plagiarism occurred is not convincing and full of contradictions. 

Some commenters have said that we should not be quick to judge others but didn't Jesus also said that we should "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves"? (Matt 10:16) We should be alert to clues which may save us from being led astray or taken advantage of by others.

When in doubt, should we just meekly give the benefit of doubt? I don't think we should give the benefit of doubt as a matter of course but rather the prudent thing to do is to verify and verify and verify. If it is not possible to verify, or there is no response to your queries, or there is any doubt even after verification, then can you choose whether to give the benefit of doubt.

12 June Update:

1 comment:

Gary said...

I have never before heard KH until I view the clips on a blog.

His performance strike me as some stage entertainment (the one he talked about cum 'demonstrated' with the use of a member) of God returning to you a 100 fold what you gave.

In another, I have serious doubts about his sincerity when he repeatedly shouted his words -reminds me of some movies like archilles, Troy and Alexander where the heroes raised their voices to urge their soldiers on in battle scenes. Completely, unChrist-like, IMHO.