Many bytes have been spilled out on the recent news concerning City Harvest Church. I would not touch on it since I don’t know what actually happened, and following Wittgenstein, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Instead, I would share my recent experience which might illustrate its understanding and practice of cultural relevance. In writing this post, I hope that I will be fair enough in characterizing the practice and that we could have a discussion to enrich our understanding and practice as well (comments from CHC-ers will be perfect to edify the discussion).
It was Saturday afternoon and I was on my way to NTU. And I met some well-dressed young adults in the bus. I assumed they were going to CHC (Jurong West site) and my guess was correct. I guessed that way because it is pretty well known that CHC-ers are well-dressed. They wear casual clothes, the ones that you will find among the youths and in the pop culture. That’s how you reach the contemporary culture, you dress like them. And this is how they understand the cultural mandate, that it means to be relevant, and one way to be relevant is through what you wear.
Nevertheless, somehow I feel uneasy with the whole thing. Particularly because it occurred in Jurong West, where you are not supposed to wear those kind of clothes here. They are, well, out of place. I understand that they try their best to be relevant with surrounding culture, and the particular culture that they want to reach is the pop culture, and so it explains why they want to move to the city (hence, Suntec) for their congregational worship, why they hold contemporary worship, and why they wear casual and cool clothes. However, if you are going to be consistent with the principle, then you need to be like the people of Jurong West when you are going to Jurong West. This is, I think, the problem of its current practice of cultural relevance.
To be truly relevant, basically you renounce any rights for yourself and be like the other. To follow the Pauline dictum, to the Jews he became as a Jew, to those under the law he became as one under the law, to those outside the law he became as one outside the law, to the weak he became weak. And in an ulu place like Jurong West, you become like an ulu people. To force a particular way of dressing in all places is not being relevant at all. Tragically, what is originally an earnest effort to be relevant has become an irrelevant practice. To be relevant doesn’t simply mean you try to be the coolest people on earth. Not at all. It means that to the cool you become like the cool, but to the uncool you become like the uncool.