Jamaica is renowned for having more churches per capita – 1,600 and growing – than any other country in the world. Even though this statistical claim has been disputed by skeptics, the fact is that churches exist in every nook and cranny of the island.
Available statistics show that 65% of Jamaicans are Protestant Christians and that there are over 100 denominations spread across the length and breadth of the island.
The average child grew up on a religious diet that required grace to be said before every meal and prayers to be said every night. Religious education was taught regularly in school, and it is fair to say that there was a time when deep religious values formed the foundation of Jamaican society.
Many Jamaicans were unaware of the Kingdom Restoration Ministries of Pathways International in St James. But on Sunday, October 17, that changed and the country got a disturbing glimpse of their compound, where three people were lying dead and many more were injured. The leader, Kevin Smith, and dozens of his members have been taken into police custody. They will have their time in court, and we await the revelations.
Mr. Smith is one of the new generation of preachers who are growing in popularity around the world. He takes photos with celebrities and political figures, and he posts them on social media to demonstrate that he is just as powerful as he claims to be, especially because he has friends in high places. Of course, in the age of selfies, celebrities will gladly oblige someone who is meant to be a fan rather than face the backlash from social media.
GENERATE THE BUZZ
These charismatic preachers tend to be very expressive, delivering their sermons in a dramatic manner. They generate a lot of buzz, and devotees who seek some sort of worship excitement drift into these congregations and develop a cult-like devotion to leaders.
But there can be a dark side to this style of church leadership, where there is no accountability from a leader who does not tolerate criticism or dissent. It is not surprising that over the years much controversy has revolved around these church leaders who have generally been accused of being manipulative and abusive. More than that, however, some have shown very liberal attitudes towards sex and have been accused of criminal activities such as sex with minors, as well as fraud, financial impropriety and violent assault.
While the scale of events at Pathways is not yet known, many Jamaicans are grappling with the enormity of what has been reported in the media so far. “How could this have happened? They ask. Many have frankly expressed concern that there are more such resorts on the island and want them closed before more lives are lost.
Let’s turn to Pathway to focus on how the Church might deal with the fallout from such events and try to restore ethical pulpit leadership. Will the Church step in to try to mend the heartbroken members whose lives have been left in tatters?
Already, a growing number of people have begun to question the validity of the Church by emphasizing the role of the Church in slavery, child abuse, racism, sexism and hatred. Church introspection must also take into account an Irish scientist’s prediction that atheism will invade Jamaica by 2041. Dr. Nigel Barber’s conclusion that atheism will overtake religion was drawn after his study of 137 countries, including Jamaica.
The Church seems to have its work cut out for Jamaica to remain a Christian country. Churches like Pathway, which are thriving in membership even as the pandemic shrinks the number of traditional churches, may not be an inspiring role model.