Church pays $7,000 compensation for dismissed pregnant staff who had affair

FCBC founder and senior pastor Lawrence Khong delivers a sermon in May this year. (Screengrab from YouTube)

A Christian church on Tuesday paid in excess of S$7,000 in compensation to Singapore's labour ministry, nearly a year after firing one of its staff for committing adultery.

Yahoo! Singapore received confirmation from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) of the payment, concluding about 10 months of investigation, mediation and negotiation between Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) and the former employee. According to local media, the woman, who gave birth in November 2012, has stopped worshipping at FCBC and has found a new job.

This is the latest development in a controversial saga that became the talk of town last week. Local media reported that the independent church dismissed the administrative staff in September 2012, after she, being married, was discovered to be pregnant with the child of another male staff, a divorcee who worked in the same department. The man was, according to FCBC founder and senior pastor Lawrence Khong, dismissed four months earlier on a breach of confidentiality with the church.

Because she was terminated without compensation about seven months into her pregnancy, the woman, aged in her 30s, complained to the MOM that she was deprived of her wages and maternity benefits that she was entitled to while she was employed.

Last month, the MOM directed FCBC to pay compensation to the ex-employee, but its leadership refused to do so until 19 August, when they met ministry representatives once more.  In that meeting, they agreed to pay up.

Church's 'moral standard'

After the matter became public last week, Khong shared on his Facebook page that the church leadership attempted to counsel and provide moral support to the woman, while urging her to end the adulterous relationship she was having.

"We unfortunately did not see any progress and positive closure after the eight sessions of counseling with her," Khong wrote in a post dated 23 August.

"At the end, we were left with no other option but to terminate her with just cause on the grounds of her continued involvement in this illicit relationship," he added, explaining that adultery was against the teachings and doctrines of the Bible.

"As much as we wanted to avoid this recourse, it was simply not possible for her to continue working for the church while leading such a lifestyle."

In a subsequent post that evening, Khong noted that being a member of the operational staff, FCBC would have permitted her to continue working if she repented and ended her relationship. It would be different if she were a member of the church's pastoral team, Khong said. He said that she would have been dismissed anyway by virtue of having disqualified herself from taking on spiritual leadership.

"It has nothing to do with a lack of compassion," he wrote, stating explicitly his disagreement with the ministry's position. "It has to do with maintaining a high moral standard for those who are in Christian ministry and leadership. This is for the protection of the members."

Khong added that the church was unable to give her compensation because it was compelled to fire her, after she refused to resign on her own — an arrangement that would have allowed the church to pay her dues.

Too harsh?

Responding to news of the case, some Internet users criticised the church for being too rigid and cruel to the woman in firing her and denying her maternity benefits.

"Because of your church's dogmatic, numbers-driven and almost Pharisian culture, it completely sickens me that to uphold your church's 'righteousness', you would choose to deny a woman's maternal privileges and cast her out," wrote user Julian Low Junliang on Facebook.

"Withholding and refus(ing) to pay her severance packages for her dismissal is wrong according to the law (of) the country," wrote another user named Steve Toh B. "Submit to the authorities and stop justifying and explaining… it is the right thing to sack her and also to pay her."

One FCBC churchgoer, however, told Yahoo! Singapore that people he spoke to about the issue said they would question the church's morality if it had not fired her.

"In my opinion, it would be like monks bringing girlfriends back to the monastery," said the 24-year-old, who declined to be named. "(The incident is) totally normal in any other context, but (there is an) expected code of conduct in the church."

"Your personal life is your business in so far as it does not affect your work code of conduct," he added, highlighting the example of a serviceman in uniform being required to adhere to specific behavioural conduct. "Take it off and you can offend whoever you want -- except you can't quite take off the fact that you work for a church."

When asked about the case by Chinese tabloid Lianhe Wanbao last Tuesday, the woman declined to elaborate further on the matter as it has passed and she has since moved on with life, but said that she still felt maligned.

According to the daily, she had given birth to her child in November last year, found a new job and switched churches. Still, she feels it is unfair that the public formed its impression of the case from reading FCBC's perspective and did not understand her real situation, the paper reported.

Employment should be non-religious: MOM

With regard to Khong's disagreement with the ministry's decision, the MOM said its employment legislation has to be kept secular because of Singapore's multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

Responding to queries from Yahoo! Singapore, a spokesperson shared that the MOM's conclusion of the woman's termination being without sufficient cause stemmed from a secular consideration of the facts of the case, as well as the circumstances in which the dismissal took place.

"While each of us will have space to practise our religion, we have to preserve a common secular space for people with other beliefs, and employment is one of these secular spaces," she added.