Defamation Suit filed by the Central Christian Church against Impact magazine

November 7, 1997

This document was first posted and obtained from "Is The International Churches of Christ Teachings Biblical"? Web site by Charles Barsoum.



CAV Judgment I
Impact article
New Paper publication
Wan Bao publication
The Plaintiffs' Complaints
"Cult" : The meaning
"The only true church"
Salvation and baptism
Other allegations
A week in life...
Communal living
Leaving the church
The law: notional jury
Conclusion on justification defence
The fair comment defence
Back to the fair comment defence
The pictorial representations
The New paper and Wan Bao
The New Paper front page
Paradox - apparent or real?
Qualified Privilege
Impact publication
"Section of the public" point
New Paper and Wan Bao publications

Suits Nos. 846 to 850 of 1992 (30 Jun - 18 Jul, 22-23 Jul, 28 Jul; 7 Nov '97)


Central Christian Church and another

... Plaintiffs And

Chen Cheng and others ... Defendants Coram : Warren L H Khoo J

Counsel : Mr Y H Cheong Mr Christopher Bridges and Mr Mohan Singh for both Plaintiffs in all suits

Mr Tan Chee Meng and Ms Doris Chia for all defendants in Suits 846, 848 and 850.

Mr Daniel John and Mr Robin Lim for First and Second Defendants in Suits 847 and 849

Ms Victoria Chua for Third Defendant in Suits 847 and 849.

CAV Judgment I.

There is a bi-monthly magazine published in Singapore called Impact. It is a publication of, or associated with, the main Protestant body of the Christian faith in Singapore. In the Oct/Nov 1991 issue of Impact, there appeared an article about two new religious groups which had been actively evangelising among the youths in Singapore. The groups referred to were the Army of God ("AOG") and the Central Christian Church ("CCC"). This article was subsequently reported on by the New Paper and the Wan Bao. These defamation suits have arisen from the reference to the CCC in all these publications and to its then leader John Louis in two of them.

The Impact article

2. On the front page of this issue of the Impact magazine, there is a hooded figure leading a couple of sheep, the hooded figure bearing the words "Holy Bible" on its front. Next to it are the words "AOG & CCC - Are they Cults?" This hooded figure, and other, differently garbed hooded figures, singly or in a pair, appear in the inside pages of the magazine where three different articles appear. The first is headed "Satan's Wily Schemes." A pair of hooded figures, one holding a lighted candle, appear on the first page of it. The second article is headed "AOG & CCC They're Not What You Think." In this article, two hooded figures are shown facing a young lady, against a background of an MRT station. In the part of the article about the AOG, the young lady is shown as if she is shaking hands with one of the hooded figures. A few pages on, where the part about the CCC begins, the young lady is shown as if she is receiving something from the same hooded figure. Two pages further one, the "Holy Bible" hooded figure appears again in the concluding section about the CCC. There then follows on the next page the third article, headed "Who Cares About Heresies Anyway?" Two hooded figures, each holding a lighted candle, appear at the end of the article .

3. The part of the second article which deals with the CCC starts with the following introduction :

"You may meet them at MRT stations, inviting you to their home meetings. You may even have attended their meetings, described by some to be meeting places of the yuppies. They will tell you that they are part of the Church of Christ, Boston and they do everything exactly as the Bible says ... They are the Central Christian Church."

4. The article then traces the history of the CCC, to its origin in the United States and subsequently London (more of this later). It states that "the Singapore group is led by 'evangelist' John Luis (sie.)" It then sets out the beliefs, teachings and characteristics of the group. The following are some of the statements in this part of the article. Under "What CCC Believes", it is stated that :

1. Other churches are not true congregations until they are "reconstructed"

5. Under teachings:

2. The group teaches baptismal regeneration and practices rebaptism. Only those baptised by the group are truly baptised.

3. The movement has a pyramid-type organisation, and expects total commitment to the leadership. One of their leaders was reported to have said : "Leadership is to be imitated, not evaluated."

4. Members are to confess their sins to one another. All sins including sinful thoughts are to be confessed.

5. Members are encouraged to leave their homes and live communally. Boyfriend and girlfriend relationships tend to be guided, if not determined, by the group and its leaders.

6. Under group characteristics :

6. Control is very tight. The disciple has to report to the discipler exactly how he spent his time and who he was with.

7. The article continues with extracts of interviews with two persons who had left the group. These two apparently had been members of the more conventional Christian churches. They had been attracted to the group by the warmth, openness and sincerity of its members. But they were never able to reconcile what the group taught them with what they had been taught previously, such as in the area of baptism. One of them also had difficulty accepting that CCC was the only true church. She also could not understand why the group was trying to reach out to existing Christians to get them to repent and be rebaptised. Both spoke of the emotional difficulty they experienced on leaving the group.

8. In the middle of the article is interposed a section, in a box, headed "Why People Join Cults" and the author analyses how cult groups satisfy certain basic needs of people.

9. At the end of the article, there is a note saying:

"Attempts to interview the leaders of both the AOG and CCC were not successful. "

10. The Impact article was picked up by two newspapers, the New Paper and the Wan Bao.

The New Paper publication

11. On 23 November 1991, the New Paper, which is an afternoon English tabloid, carried on its front page in 2-inch bold type the loud headline "2 CULTS EXPOSED". On top of these words appeared distinctly in '/4-inch bold type the names of AOG and CCC, and under them, there was this statement :

"Christian groups warn of two new cults in Singapore. The Army of God and the Central Christian Church tend to "stretch the truth" and have "exclusive" practices, says one Reverend...."

12 . More than half the space of the front page was taken up by the headline and these captions and words.

13. The reader is led to page II, where an article appears under the heading "Concern Over Two Cult Groups." It is accompanied by a sketch of a man holding a mask in front of his face with a Bible- like tome under his arm before a group of three persons.

14. The article begins by saying :

"Two new Christian groups described as cult groups have sprung up in Singapore, say a few Christian organisations ... The groups in question are the Army of God

(AOG) and the Central Christian Church"

15. It says that the New Paper's interviews with pastors from three mainstream churches confirm the concern expressed in the impact Magazine and the Methodist Message, the official journal of the Methodist Church of Singapore.

16. Further down the column, it says

"One reverend ... said he was concerned because of the AOG's and CCC's ideological differences with more established churches.

The AOG and CCC tend to "stretch the truth" and have 'exclusive' practices, [the reverend] says. In addition, "they imply that they are the TRUE believers and the other churches are not"

17. After a few column paragraphs, under the heading "CCC Traits", it says :

"Tight control. A disciple must tell the group exactly now he spent his time and who he was with"

18. Then it quotes the two magazines (Impact and the Methodist Message) as saying in respect of the CCC:

"Other churches are not true churches until they are 'reconstructed'."

"The movement expects members to be wholly committed to the leadership. One of its leaders was reported to have said : 'Leadership is to be imitated, not evaluated)."

"Members are encouraged to be totally transparent with one another. Members have to confess their sins to each other, including sinful thoughts."

"Members are encouraged to leave their homes and live together in a group. Boyfriend and girlfriend relationships tend to be guided, if not set, by the group and its leaders."

19. In a box in the middle of the page where the article appears, under the heading "Leaders of the Cults", is the statement:

"John Luis (sie), a Malaysian, was converted and trained by the group while he was studying in England. He was later sent to Singapore to start the group here. "

The Wan Bao publication

20. A translated version of the Wan Bao article, which appeared also

on 23 November 1991, says :

"Two more religious cults have recently been discovered in Singapore. Local Christian churches have warned their members to be wary. The two cult organisations are the Army of God (AOG) and the Central Christian Church (CCC). Local Christian publications, Impact and the Methodist Message, have uncovered their existence and activities. Christian church sources in interviews have expressed worries about new cults engaging in harmful activities here.

One reverend said he was concerned because of the differences of the cults' beliefs from those of the more established churches. They always emphasize that they are the "true believers" and that others are not. They always regard themselves highly, they have extreme views and they reject others ,..

These two cult organisations not only have an impact on some of the churches in Singapore; it is also possible that they have influence in some mission schools ...

According to reports, the new cults have these characteristics. CCC : strict control. Members must disclose frankly who they are with, how they spend their time.

The parties to the suits

21. The CCC is the plaintiff in three of the suits (No. 846, 848 and 850) in respect of the three publications. Mr John Louis, who is referred to only in the Impact and New Paper publications, is the plaintiff in two of the suits (847 and 849). The defendants in all the suits are the editor, the publisher and the printer of the respective publications complained of.

22. Apart from the addition of the complaints about John Louis being referred to as the leader, both suits in his name raise complaints very much about the same matters as are raised in the suits in the name of the CCC. Since there is no dispute that he was the leader at the relevant time, his suits would stand or fall with the suits in the name of the CCC. It was therefore agreed that all the five suits should be tried together. In this judgment, I use "plaintiffs" to refer to the CCC and, where the context admits, to Mr John Louis as well.

The plaintiffs' complaints

23. The plaintiffs allege that each of the statements and references which have been set out in bold print in the preceding paragraphs of this judgment is defamatory of the CCC or (where he is referred to) of Mr John Louis. There are separate complaints about the depiction in the Impact magazine of the CCC by the hooded figures and the reference there to "Satan's Wily Schemes"; and there is also a complaint of the use of the sketch of a man with a mask in the New Paper article. However, the main complaint of the plaintiffs is the reference to the CCC as a cult, and to Mr John Louis as a cult leader. That, the parties agree, is the sting of the libel. The defendants in all the suits, although separately represented, adopt a common set of defenses.

"Cult" : The meaning

24. Plaintiffs' counsel Mr Cheong says that whether words complained of are libelous is determined by an objective test, that is by the meaning in which the ordinary reasonable man would understand them. This applies to the use of the word "cult"

25. Mr Cheong is obviously right, but unfortunately, unlike a word like "thief" or "murderer", the word "cult" is not susceptible of one generally accepted meaning. A scholar might classify Christian or pseudo- Christian religious groups - in a sort of church-sect-cult continuum, and reserve the term "cult" to the extreme end of a scale of deviation from the mainstream. A person in an orthodox Christian faith might consider almost any group outside his religious orthodoxy as a cult. And then there are also the most notorious violent and destructive groups, such as the ones that led to the Jonestown and Waco tragedies. Probably everyone, Christian or not, would regard them as cults.

26. It is a rule of pleading in a libel action that where there is room for disagreement as to what meaning an ordinary reader might attach to a word, the plaintiff must plead the meaning which he alleges the word to have. See Gatley on Libel and Slander 8th ed. para 1075, citing Allsop v. Church of England Newspaper 11972] 2 QB 21 C. A., and other cases.

27. The plaintiffs did not really plead any meaning for the word "cult". This can be seen from the fact that in regard to some of the statements in the articles complained of (all set out in bold print above), the plaintiffs would say that the meaning of the statement was that :

(a) the plaintiff is a cult;

(b) the plaintiffs beliefs and practices are considered strange, unnatural, harmful.

28. They do not appear to have said that Cult" means a group with beliefs and practices which are considered to be strange, unnatural and harmful. The pleading seems to have assumed that there is a meaning (which they did not identify) to the word "cult" which is generally accepted; that a cult has certain characteristics which may include but which do not consist entirely of the characteristics in (b) above (strange, unnatural, harmful beliefs and practices). The defendants, on the other hand, also seem to have made a similar assumption. They did not press the plaintiffs to identify a meaning, although, on the basis of the rule of pleading I have just referred to, they could well have done.

29. This common assumption that there is one general meaning which can be assigned to the word "cult" led to an attempt by the defence to fix a definition of what constitutes a cult, and to show that CCC possesses characteristics which make it fall within the definition. The defendants set out in their defence a list of beliefs and practices of the CCC, and adduced evidence in support of this list. (The ]list is set out in the section of this judgment under the defence of justification below). They called as their expert witness Rev Adrian Van Leen, an Australian clergyman of a mainstream Christian church, of the "cult-buster" fame. Rev Van Leen postulated a definition of "cult"; he set out a list of characteristics that a "cult" would generally have, and then concluded that each of the allegations in the defendants' list regarding the CCC was consistent with one or more of the characteristics of a cult which he postulated.

30. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, called Dr Gordon J Melton, a leading authority on religions and cults in America. Although also a clergyman from the mainstream, Dr Melton is more a scholar who prefers to study religious groups in a detached manner. He eschews the use of the word "cult" as he considers that it is an emotive term that only serves to interfere with scholarly inquiry. He avoids defining what is a "cult". But he has studied groups that have been variously called cults by different groups of people in America - social scientists, orthodox Christians, parents whose children have been lost to those notorious violent and dangerous groups like the Moonies and Hare Krishna. He has compiled a masterly handbook on the cults in America, a compendium of groups that have been variously called cults. He knows only too well how difficult it is to postulate a definition. What is cult to one person may be merely new religion to another. He also knows how difficult it is to say that because a certain group exhibits certain characteristics, everyone would agree that it is a cult. It depends to an extent on who is speaking. The most that Dr Melton is prepared to say is that CCC does share some of the characteristics of groups which have been called (not by him, as he does not himself use such a term) cults. On the other hand, he says that CCC also shares some characteristics with churches in the mainstream.

31. Despite the fact that no meaning has been properly pleaded, Mr Cheong in his closing submission submits that in its ordinary meaning,'cult" is understood to refer to groups which :

(a) break up families and friendships;

(b) practice double standards or deception as to morals, teachings and money - their leaders grow rich at the expense of the members;

(c) make their members give up all or nearly all their assets;

(d) use mind control methods reminiscent of authoritarian regimes to make automatons of their members; (e) use methods of control (including violence and harassment of families) to prevent members from leaving; (f) use harassment or intimidation of ex-members or their families, particularly if they threaten to give testimony against them;

(g) live in communes;

(h) control their members' every movement;

(i) maintain secrecy - secret agenda;

(j) are started by self-appointed messiahs or prophets.

32. It is apparent that these characteristics listed by Mr Cheong are those 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 straight away 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. Most of its members carry on with their full time jobs just like members of other churches. Its members do not give up their assets to a commune, and its leaders do not live in riches on the backs of its members. It is not a secret organisation run by persons with an agenda which is kept secret from its members. People are welcome to join its meetings and services. In fact it actively tries to get people to attend these meetings and services so that they can see if they wish to join. They are made fully aware of what being a member would involve. People are never deceived or tricked or trapped into joining it. Furthermore, although a member is dissuaded from leaving, if he is bent on leaving, he will not be stopped from doing so. In fact, in the short history of the CCC here in Singapore, the people who have left the group far outnumber the existing members. There has been a constant turnover of members. It certainly does not harass or intimidate ex-members.

33. So, in suggesting a meaning for the word "cult" by reference to the characteristics he listed, Mr Cheong is not only putting forward a meaning which has not been pleaded. With respect, it is also an attempt to win an argument by reducing the opposing argument to absurdity.

34. On the other hand, as stated above, counsel for the defence also indulged in constructing a definition of their own, and sought to show that the characteristics of the CCC tally with the characteristics of a "cult" as so defined (although no doubt of a less sinister overtone than Mr Cheong's model).

35. The whole exercise of definition searching and characteristics fitting was, in retrospect, quite futile. It only served to demonstrate the illusory nature of the meaning of this word "cult" if one uses it without reference to context.

36. In truth, when one re-reads the Impact article, which is the source also of the other two publications, what led the writer to conclude that CCC was a cult was not because CCC was dominated by characteristics of the dangerous and destructive cults postulated by Mr Cheong. Rather, it was because CCC's beliefs and practices deviated from those of the mainstream Protestant faith, and a few, perhaps two or three, of the practices (pyramid-type leadership structure, communal living and control by a discipler) may be redolent of some, but only some, of the characteristics referred to by Mr Cheong. One needs only to refer to the description of the article at the beginning of this judgment to get a flavour of it. However, towards the end of his submission, Mr Tan, for the defence, as a back-up position as it were, submitted that a group could also be a cult if its doctrine and practice deviate to an extreme degree from the orthodox mainstream religion. It seems to me that this alternative meaning, although not spot on, is closer to the meaning that one should attribute to the word as used in the context of the article. 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.

37. I now deal with the defences in proper order.

The defences

38. The defendants' first line of defence is that it is not defamatory to call any group a cult. They rely on a definition from a dictionary to the effect that a cult is merely a group of people believing in a particular system of religious worship, with its special customs and ceremonies. To call a group a cult is only to say that it has its own system of worship, customs and ceremonies. It therefore has a neutral meaning.

39. I reject this argument. I find that the word "cult" in the context of the articles has the imputation I have just set out. I have no doubt that the word "cult" is a pejorative term and is prima facie defamatory. It is also defamatory to call someone a cult leader.

40. The defendants then raise the defences of justification, fair comment and qualified privilege. First, the defence of justification.


41. As stated just now, the defendants seek to justify the sting of the libel (that CCC is a cult) by postulating through their expert witness Rev Van Leen, a definition of what is a "cult" and what characteristics, in terms of teachings and practices, a "cult" would have. They then attempt to show that the teachings and practices of the CCC fit those of a cult. The alleged teachings and practices of the CCC are set out in the particulars of the defence. There are minor variations in the wording, but the list is substantially the same in all the suits (with the addition of the reference to John Louis as the leader of the CCC in the suits where he is the plaintiff). Although it will lengthen this judgment, I have to set them out. To add coherence to the listing, I have taken the liberty of changing the sequence of some of the items. The list follows:

Particulars of teachings and practices

(1) The CCC are the daughter church established by missionaries from the London Church of Christ ("LCC") ").

(2) The LCC and CCC are both part of a worldwide religious organisation known as International Church of Christ ("ICC"), also known as the Boston Movement/Boston Church of Christ.

(3) The CCC's conduct, practices and beliefs are substantially similar to those of the LCC and ICC.

(4) The CCC do not associate themselves with any of the mainstream denominations or churches.

(5) The CCC have through corporate meetings and individual gatherings asserted and/or implied that the CCC are the only true church.

(6) It is stated by the leaders of the CCC that all other churches are spiritually dead and that the majority, if not all, of the members of those churches are not saved accordingly to Christian faith.

(7) The CCC teaches that any baptism which has not been conducted by themselves, LCC or churches of the ICC is invalid. The CCC re- baptises any person who wishes to become a member, even if he/she was baptised elsewhere.

(8) Members of CCC are called "disciples" and are expected to submit to the authority of disciplers and the leaders of the CCC.

(9) If members of CCC do not follow their discipler's advice, their disciplers report this to their own disciplers, who then speak to the member.

(10) Members of the CCC who openly question or disagree with any of the leadership are deemed to be rebellious and would be isolated and disciplined.

(11) Members of CCC are required to submit weekly accountability sheets to their leaders wherein they set out their proposed activities for each day of the week from 6:00 a. m. to 11:00 P·m.

(12) The CCC encourages members to date and/or marry other members of CCC only.

(13) Members of CCC who wish to date another member individually are allowed to do so only if the members' respective disciplers give their approval .

(14) The disciple is taught to confess his/her personal weaknesses and private thoughts and sins to his/her discipler.

(15) Members of the CCC are expected to submit a "sin list" to their leaders.

(16) CCC members' attendances at church services, bible talks, and most other meetings are regarded as compulsory.

(17) Members of the CCC are constantly expected to contact, convert, and disciple others (becoming disciplers themselves). Lack of recruiting others is regarded as a failure to be true disciples.

(18) Members of CCC are expected to put their involvement in the CCC's activities above their work.

(19) The CCC encourages their members to leave their homes to live together with other members.

(20) Because of the time commitment expected of members, they become isolated from their friends and family.

(21) Members of the CCC are encouraged to believe that leaving the CCC and the ICC is the same as leaving and rejecting God, going over to Satan, and that there is nowhere else to turn.

(22) The LCC/ICC have been banned from various institutions of higher ]earning [in Britain, Ireland, USA and Australia].

42. I now consider the evidence, First, a word about the history of the CCC.

The history

43. The CCC is part of a renewal movement which grew out of the traditional Churches of Christ in America. It gained momentum in 1979 when it came under the leadership of Kip McKean, a minister at a Church of Christ near Boston (hence "the Boston movement"). He started a programme there of transforming church members into active disciples, dedicated to what he saw as the first, basic principles of Christianity. The discipling concept became a distinguishing and controversial feature of the movement.

44. In 1981-82, McKean developed a plan that he believed would allow for the evangelism of the world in one generation. This plan envisaged sending a small group of disciples to key urban centers. They would grow a congregation and it would become the pillar from which a cadre of disciples would be sent to each of the world's national capitals. From the capitals, the movement would move on to the other, smaller cities.

45. The implementation of this plan, with its direction coming from the leadership in Boston, represented a major departure in organisation from that traditionally followed by the Churches of Christ. It led to a separation from the older Churches of Christ movement. In 1988, nine men were appointed as "sector leaders" and given responsibility for different regions of the world. Douglas Arthur was put in charge of developing the movement in the British Commonwealth countries.

46. The church that was planted in London is known as the London Church of Christ ("LCC"). It was there that the two founders of the CCC here in Singapore, Daniel Eng and John Louis, were inducted. Daniel Eng had been a full-time minister in the mainline Church of Christ in Klang, Malaysia when he was invited to train as an intern in London. There he joined the LCC, which was designated by McKean as the body responsible for the expansion of the movement in the British Commonwealth. John Louis, now 33, grew up in Malaysia. He went to England at the age of 15. He had been brought up by staunch Roman Catholic parents, but in London he, too, was inducted into the LCC. In October 1987, John Louis and Daniel Eng were sent to Singapore to begin the planting of the church here. That was the beginning of the CCC.

47. By this time, the ICC had become a controversial group in America because of its aggressive evangelising on university campuses. The LCC had also become controversial in England. In order to ensure a smooth passage in the application to the Registrar of Societies for registration of the church here, it was decided by the leadership to avoid the use of a name with the words "Church of Christ" (a la, for example, London Church of Christ). That is how a rather atypical name, Central Christian Church, was chosen. When asked by the Registrar of Societies what foreign affiliation the church had, instead of saying the London Church of Christ from which it originated, a name of a church in Huntsville Alabama, which apparently had no connection at all, was put forward. In the event, the church was registered .

The witnesses

48. The plaintiffs' fact witnesses are largely existing members of the group. Many of them 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. On the other hand, the fact witnesses for the defence are largely ex-members. As to be expected, all of them had less than positive experiences with the group. Some of them had left because they were not able to reconcile the group's doctrinal teachings with their own inner convictions. Others had left because they were not able to cope with the demands made upon them. All had gone through great emotional trauma after they left, being cut off from the warmth and comfort of the group and having to readjust to the world outside. I find, however, that, on the whole, the fact witnesses on both sides take their oath seriously. There is not much difficulty as far as the primary facts of the practices are concerned. Even Daniel Eng, the co-founder of the CCC who left it in very bitter and unhappy circumstances, was quite helpful as far as the primary facts of the teachings and practices are concerned.

49. However, for the reasons just stated, the witnesses on one side, understandably, tend to put a different colour to the teachings and practices from that put by those on the other side.

50. At the trial, I ruled that no evidence was to be led on the allegation that the LCC or ICC had been banned from various institutions of higher learning overseas, on the ground that, unless the reasons for their being banned were gone into, it would not be helpful, and that any help from such evidence would be far outweighed by the amount of time needed to explore it.

51. Apart from this allegation, and the allegations about communal living, accountability sheets and sin lists (items 20, 12 and 16), all the allegations in the particulars are well supported by the evidence, although, as I say, different witnesses tend to put different colour to the facts, depending on which side they are on. However, whether the defence of justification succeeds on proof of these allegations, of course, is a different matter.

"The only true church"

52. There is some fine argument as to whether the ICC believes that it is the only true church; that other churches do not teach the full Biblical truth; that other churches are "dead" and that their adherents are not true Christians.

53. John Louis says that the CCC teaches people the way to being true Christians, it does not proclaim that it is the only true church or denounce other churches as not true or "dead". Other witnesses for the plaintiffs say very much the same thing. They are reluctant to say anything against other churches.

54. Dr Melton in evidence puts it this way:

"... most churches and most religious movements consider themselves to be the possessors of the truth and to be in one sense the only true church. Most churches will draw a circle that includes other churches and say this is the boundary of the only true church. Christianity, by its very nature, is very boundary-conscious of who is in and who is out ... Any number of churches consider themselves as the only true church. All churches by implication do that. The ICC has been very reluctant to push the issue. That is, they will basically say we are true, our theology is biblical, we are following the biblical path, but they do not have a history of condemning other churches."

55. The ICC may not condemn other churches, but I think the line between "the true church" and "the only true church" is an exceedingly fine one. I have no doubt that the implication of everything that is taught and done in the ICC (and therefore CCC) is that it is the only true church, although the more sophisticated leaders may not go out of their way to say so in so many words. Going back to the first true principles of the Bible was, after all, the raison d'etre of the birth of this revival movement in the first place.

56. It would seem to be a natural corollary of this that other churches, by and large, are spiritually dead, in the sense that their commitment to the original principles of the faith has waned. However, that does not mean all is lost. A church whose faith is waning can, in ICC's view, always be revived by following the ways of the ICC. Hence the reference in the Impact magazine article to other churches being "reconstructed". That was how the Boston church was revived by McKean's "First Principles" in the first place.

Salvation and baptism

57. The essential teaching of CCC is that in order to be saved and to become a true Christian a person must take full stock of all his sins, confess and repent them, and be baptised by immersion. A person who has been baptised by another church and who wishes to be a CCC member must go through rebaptism in this manner. Only in the rare instances where a convert is thought to have gone through the equivalent of the process of conversion in the manner of the ICC is the need for rebaptism and the steps leading to it dispensed with.

58. The argument about "the only true church", salvation and baptism may appear to be inconsequential to an outsider, but, as I shall show in another section of this judgment, it lies deeply in the controversy between CCC and the mainstream Christian churches.

Other allegations

59. I now deal with the other allegations in the defence. Laborious as it may be, I am duty-bound to give a summary of the evidence, by reference to these allegations. It is not anything like a full account of life in the CCC. It s more like a response to these allegations, somewhat by way of a check list.


60. First, then, discipleship. Discipleship is a main plank of the ICC movement, in accordance with McKean's idea of energising all Christians to be active disciples. So in the CCC, like in all other ICC churches, every member has a discipler. The discipler himself has his own discipler and so on. The discipler is a tutor, counsellor and friend, all rolled into one. He monitors and guides, on a regular basis, every aspect of a member's life.

61. As a disciple, you meet your discipler at least once a week. Apart from studying the bible, you inevitably talk about what you have been doing and what you intend to do, always by reference to your commitment to God and church.

62. If you have committed a sin, you would confess to him. He might also ask you about the sins you have committed and confessed in the past, and ask you if you have overcome them. You are not unlikely to use any "sin list" for this purpose, particularly if your discipler already knows what your sins were. Contrary to what is alleged, you do not submit "sin lists" as a matter of routine. If there is any sign that you might not be candid about it, your discipler will encourage you to open up, he might even press you.

63. Sins are of all kinds - behavioural, moral, emotional, spiritual, e. g. sexual immorality or impurity, greed, selfishness, arrogance and pride. I assume that what is considered a sin would be largely nothing new to a Christian of any shade of the faith.

64. Although discipleship is in theory a one-to-one relationship, a discipler often has several disciples under him, depending on his capability to cope. So, sometimes the topics described above may be discussed in the company of other disciples, even intimate topics like one's sexual sin. In the book of the church, this is perfectly in order. You are taught to be open, to share your life and thought with everyone else; very little of your personal life is kept to yourself.

65. As sharing the faith is such an important thing for the church, a major subject of your conversation with your discipler is likely to be about what you have been doing in that area, how many people you have contacted and how many you are likely to bring to meetings, and so on.

66. If you have difficulty fitting in your church commitments with commitments in other areas of your life, such as your job, your discipler will help you plan your time so that you can fit everything in. But if you find that you cannot adjust your commitments in other areas of your life to your commitments as a disciple, you are likely to be advised to give up the former. The church and your faith always come first in your life.

67. To help you concentrate on this business of time management, your discipler might use a printed form with days of the week and hours of the day, so that you can see how you could fit everything in. This is one of the "accountability sheets" that was much talked about at the hearing. No, the church does not, as a general practice require members to fill out "accountability sheets" for form's sake. The church is run by highly intelligent people, and they are not likely to want to waste anybody's time in unnecessary form-filling. Where forms are useful, however, they will be used.

68. Now, relationship with members of the opposite sex. Yes, it is true that the church takes great interest in your relationship (the with-a-view-to-marriage kind) with members of the opposite sex. It is true you must not form any relationship with anyone outside the church. If you have not formed a relationship with anyone, your discipler might suggest that you do so; he might also suggest who might be suitable. If you have formed one, he might encourage you to go on, or, if he thinks (no doubt after consulting other seniors) that your partner is not suitable (e. g. too "spiritually mature" for you), he will discourage it. A courting relationship which has received the blessing of the church may be announced to the entire congregation.

69. If by any chance you develop a serious relationship with someone outside the church, unless you can persuade your partner to join the church, you will most likely try to hide the fact from your fellow CCC members. Your relationship would probably not be able to withstand the strain of the advice and concern of your discipler and others around you and you will find yourself in an exceedingly difficult position of conflict.

70. Now, submission to authority. There is no rule to say you are expected to submit to the authority of your discipler; or to say that if you disagree with the leadership, you will be isolated and disciplined.

71. But consider the fact that you have always been taught that it is sin to be arrogant and proud and virtue to be submissive and obedient. Consider the fact that you have also been taught that what is expected of you by the church is what is expected of you by God. Consider the fact that a member of any group has a natural tendency to conform to group norms and a natural desire to be accepted; the pain of rejection and the pleasure of acceptance ensure submission without the need for any overt pressure or explicit rules. So, submission to the leadership is a norm in the CCC.

72. The Impact article refers to a pyramid-type of leadership organisa6on. Yes, there is such a hierarchical organisational structure, progressing from the ordinary member to the evangelist, who is the leader of CCC, as follows: ordinary member - assistant bible talk leader - bible talk leader - assistant zone leader - zone leader - full-time intern - assistant evangelist - leader evangelist. Daniel Eng, who should know, says that every leader, down to the lowest level, is directly answerable to another leader higher up in the pyramid until it reaches Kip McKean. When Eng was in the CCC, he had at one time four levels of leaders below him. He was himself answerable to John Louis, who was answerable to Douglas Arthur (one of the "sector leaders" responsible for the movement in this part of the world), who in turn was answerable to Kip McKean. Daniel Eng also says that whatever instruction or new idea Kip McKean had, would flow through this hierarchical system.


73. Now, recruitment, evangelising, sharing the faith, call it what you will. If there is one thing that can be said about the CCC without fear of contradiction except of the semantic kind, it is that conversion of non-believers is top on its agenda. It is in line with the vision of evangelising the whole world in a generation.

74. Recruitment activity is the one single most important commitment of every CCC member at every level. A member does it wherever and whenever the opportunity presents itself. He also goes out and creates the opportunity for recruitment. Almost every one that a member comes into contact with is a potential target for recruitment. Members of one's own family, one's relatives and friends, are all natural targets. So are people a member comes into contact with at work or study. In Singapore as elsewhere, campuses of universities and colleges are favourite grounds for recruitment. One evening a week is set aside for members to do recruitment in a more public way. They go out, typically to MRT stations or out on the streets, to share the faith. The targets are people who are between their late teens and early thirties, but primarily those in their twenties, and English- educated .

75. The object of these "sharing of the faith" activities is to get people interested enough to accept an invitation to attend the church's services and other activities, with a view to eventual conversion. It is quite true that you are considered a good Christian if you succeed in getting new members. Conversely, if you fail to do so, you will feel, or made to feel, that you have failed as a good Christian.

A week in the saturated life of a disciple

76 . As a member of the CCC, almost all your evenings and week- ends are taken up by church activities of one kind or another. Monday evening is designated "Family Night". You are with your family, but you spend time explaining your new-found faith to your family. You may even succeed in converting a brother or sister. You might also use this evening to follow up on contacts that you have made on your public faith sharing rounds. The rest of the evenings of the week, you go out evangelising; you meet your discipler; you attend bible studies, prayer meetings. The whole week-end is virtually taken up. "Relationship-building" is on Saturday afternoon, with group outings, group datings, and group fun. Sunday is more bible study, fellowship again and dinner.

77. There is also a service in the afternoon. This service, and the one on Wednesday are activities you must attend. Missing either one would cause great concern. So, with all these activities every day of the week, what time have you got left for yourself? Apart from your job or your studies if you are a student, practically none at all. No one would be asked to give up his job, but where the requirements of the job (e. g. overtime or courses) conflict with your commitment to Church and God, they must be adjusted to fit in with the latter. Church and God are always number one, as one witness puts it.

78. This is the position if you are a mere member. What if you become a discipler yourself, or a group leader? The answer, again simply, is more demands. You are then not only responsible for yourself; you are responsible for those under you. It means monitoring the commitments of those under you, in addition to accounting for your own commitments. Dr Melton in his scholarly way puts it very mildly when he refers to the CCC as a high-demand group.


79. With such total commitment to the church, you will find that you have no time at all for your family, friends and relatives. The natural result is that you lose touch with friends outside the church; you do not socialise with your colleagues at work. You may be physically living with your family, but your priority is elsewhere. Your only friends are CCC members. The CCC provides all your social, emotional and spiritual needs. Except for your work or studies, you are as good as being completely cut off from the outside world. So, yes, you become isolated from your friends, and even your own family.

Communal living

80. No, contrary to what the Impact and New Paper articles say members in general are not encouraged to leave home to live with other members. There are a few from Malaysia who might find it convenient to live in the few places which CCC has at its disposal, but, by and large, members do not leave home to live communally, in the way of those of some of the destructive cults in the U. S. that one reads about. Mrs Carpenter got the information about communal living from Rev Van Leen's articles. What was stated is true for some ICC establishments abroad, as confirmed by Dr Melton (in respect of the one in Los Angeles).

Leaving the church

81. If you are able to cope with the demands and succeed in meeting expectations, you are likely to get enormous satisfaction from being a member. You are likely to find much happiness.

82. On the other hand, if you find that you are not able to meet these constant demands on you, or you are unable to resolve some underlying conflicts, this may trigger off negative feelings about the church. You may then think that discipleship is nothing but a form of control over your life; you may resent the pervasive intrusion into every aspect of your life. You may question whether CCC is the only true church as you have been taught. Particularly if you had gone over to the CCC from some other church, you may question whether they are right to have said that your previous baptism had been invalid. In general, you are exhausted, disillusioned. You begin to miss meetings. When you show signs of wanting to leave the church, your discipler and your friends will try to dissuade you from leaving. It is then that you may be told that leaving the CCC is like leaving and rejecting God and going over to Satan.

83. A substantial number of people do leave the church; the "fallaway" rate is quite high. As stated earlier, in the short history of the CCC, there has been a constant turnover of members .

84. When you leave, while you feel a great sense of relief, you are most likely to experience a great emotional, social and spiritual trauma. There is suddenly a huge void in your life. One witness says :

"After leaving the CCC, I felt very alone because most of my circle of friends were gone. I did not go to any other churches because I had become very critical of Christianity. ... My own personal relationship with God was gone because I felt that if God was so concerned with works, I could never measure up to that standard ..."

85. This witness could not bring herself to go to any church for 2 and a Half years after she left. Some people give up going to church altogether. Dr Melton likens the trauma of leaving the CCC to that of a person going through a divorce. This is a measure of the depth of the emotional and spiritual involvement required of a member of the church, while he is in it.


86. 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.

87. I now go back to the defence of justification.

The law : the notional jury

88. In a defence of justification, the defendant must show that in so far as the libel consists of statements of fact, those statements are true, and in so far as it consists of comment, the comment is correct. Sutherland v. Stopes [1925] A. C. 47 at p.95. Unlike a statement of a primary fact (e. g. that X stole something from Y), the statement that a group is a cult is, being an inference from the primary facts of the group's characteristics, 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?

89. Different people undoubtedly have different notions of what is a cult, or how much deviation from the norm, if there is a norm, would make a group a cult. The first question to ask is : by whose standard is one to judge? This is not an easy question to answer, but I shall attempt to do it by going back to the basics.

90. In a system of trial by jury, the jury decides whether the libel is true in substance and in fact. 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.

91. In a system, such as ours, where the functions of judge and jury are combined, when the judge is performing the function which would otherwise be performed by a jury, it is only right that he put himself in the position of a hypothetical or notional jury, and try to come to an educated guess as to what such a jury would have decided. Only if he does this, instead of allowing his personal, private view to rule the day, would it be possible for a case like this to be decided with a just and consistent result, regardless of who is the trial judge or what his religious persuasion, if he has any, may be.

92. What, then, would be the complexion of this notional jury? Since it would be drawn randomly from the adult population of a country with a diversity of races, cultures and religious faiths, it would reflect this diversity. There would be one or two Christians of the more conventional mould, probably none from the fringe. There might be one or two who are not Christians but whose worldview is sympathetic to orthodox Christianity. But together they would not form a majority. If the jurors were to do a proper job of deliberation, it would not do for them to bow to the view of the minority. It would be a dereliction of duty if any of them were to say: "Only you Christians know what is a cult in your religion. So, will you please decide for us all?"

93. Turning to the case at hand, we have here a case of a new religious group which is an off-shoot of a movement which has acquired quite a controversial reputation in the West. II doctrine of salvation and its concept of baptism are apparently controversial. Its concept of discipleship and its practice in that area are also apparently things that the more conventional Christian churches find disagreeable. 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 jury, does this make CCC a cult? I venture to suggest, no.

94. If there is one thing that binds a jury of such a composition, I would suggest it is the national creed of tolerance. This hypothetical jury would know that there is a great diversity of religions and religious groups in the world. Many of them are represented here. Each has it own beliefs and practices, some of which might appear to an outsider to be strange and extraordinary .

95. The majority of the hypothetical jurors (who are by definition not Christians), I venture to suggest, would not understand why anyone should be so troubled by the fact that the CCC claims to be the only true church. Many religions claim to be the true path to some desirable state or other. Equally, I suggest that the majority of the jurors would not be unduly perturbed by the fine points about CCC's doctrine of salvation and baptism. They might well wonder why that should make it a cult. To the minds of this majority, what CCC teaches is probably no more strange than what is taught by many others. The same can be said about almost everything else that is practiced by the CCC - the discipleship, the control, the unremitting demands. 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 CCC is indeed a cult.

Conclusion on justification defence

96. 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 the suits.

97. As pointed out above, there are complaints about other statements and other matters (such as the pictorial depictions in the Impact and New Paper articles). They do not add to the sting of the libel. So whether they are justified or not, it does not matter. I do not need to say anything about them.

The fair comment defence

98. The second line of defence of ail the defendants in these suits is that the respective publications in so far as they refer to the CCC as a cult are fair comment on a matter of public interest.

99. 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?

100. The use of the word "fair" in the context of the defence of fair comment is slightly misleading. It does not, as one might think, mean something just, reasonable, balanced, something that one arrives at after weighing the pros and cons and the pluses and minuses. The crux of the meaning of the word is honesty, and not these other meanings.

101. More than a century ago, Lord Esher M. R. in the much cited case of Merivale v. Carson [1887] 20 QBD at pg. 280, 281 said:

"The question which the jury must consider is this : would any fair man, however prejudiced he may be, however exaggerated or obstinate his views, have said that which this criticism has said?"

102. For "fair", read "honest". In Turner v. Metro - Goldwyn Meyer Pictures Ltd [1950] 1 ALL E R 449 at 461, Lord Porter in the House of Lords said he would adopt this dictum of Lord Esher except that he would substitute "honest" for "fair", as otherwise some suggestion of reasonableness, instead of honesty, might be read into it. So, the emphasis is honesty.

103. It is often said that such a test is an objective one. See Gatley, op cit., para 73; Aaron v. Cheong Yip Seng [1996] 1 SLR 623 at 651. However, the rule has a subjective element to it in that if it is shown that the comment was in fact not the honest expression of the commentator's real opinion, he will fail in this defence. See, for example, Turner v. MGM, ibid, per Lord Porter; Silkin v. Beaversbrook Newspaper [19581, WLR at 747, per Diplock J. Pray J in a 1905 unreported case (RV Russell), cited by Diplock J in the Silkin case, told the jury:

"[The commentators] must believe what they say ... If they do believe it, and they are within anything like reasonable bounds, they come within the meaning of fair comment."

104. The law recognises that on anything attracting comment, different people can feel quite differently about it; they express themselves differently in what they say and how they say it. Some may feel very strongly about the subject and express themselves in robust or exaggerated language. The law, in short, recognises the place of bias and prejudice in how people express themselves about things. In Merivale, Lord Esher stressed the point when he said:

"Every latitude must be given to opinion and to prejudice ... mere exaggeration, or even gross exaggeration, would not make the comment unfair. However wrong the opinion expressed may be in point of truth, or however prejudiced the writer, it may still be within the prescribed limit."

105. In the Russell case, a liquor licensing case, Bray J said it was a matter on which people who knew the subject held very, very strong views. If they used strong language, every allowance should be made in their favour. He said to the jury :

" If comments were made which would appear to you to have been exaggerated, it does not follow that they are not perfectly honest comment. "

106. What is true of liquor licensing is even more apt in a matter like religion. People do feel very strongly about the subject. This is of particular relevance when one considers the Impact magazine article .

107. As stated above, the Impact magazine is a publication under the umbrella of the main body of Protestant churches in Singapore, referred to as the evangelical community. The writer of the article complained of, Mrs Mary Carpenter, was also the executive editor. She was in a sense a spokesperson for that community. She belongs to one of the mainstream churches herself. Mrs Carpenter explains that from early 1990, various people in the evangelical community had expressed concerns about the CCC's activities. The group set itself apart from the mainstream, and avoided establishing any link with the umbrella organisations of the mainstream churches - the National Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore. Its members seemed to think that it was the only true church, as they even stood outside other churches and invited their members to attend its meetings and services. Mrs Carpenter got hold of some articles written by Rev Van Leen on the ICC movement, albeit in the Australian context. She also interviewed two or three ex- members of the CCC. What they told her appeared to fit well with what Rev Van Leen had written about the ICC. She was particularly impressed by what they told her about the CCC's claim to be the only true church; about the group's insistence on rebaptising Christians who had been baptised before; and about the near-total control of members' lives by instilling guilt.

108. Rev Van Leen was highly regarded by the evangelical community here, and Mrs Carpenter said she had no reason to question the correctness of what he had written, especially as it was by and large confirmed by her interviews and by what she had heard about the group here. She felt she had enough material on which to write a feature article on the CCC, Her article was thus largely based on Rev Van Leen's writings and the interviews with these ex-members.

109. Mr Cheong for the plaintif

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