Orville Taylor, Contributor
If there was any reason to doubt it, just take a Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) bus and you are likely to run into a zealot, literally preaching the hell out of you. Sorry, it is a week too late, because the managing director, no-nonsense former top soldier and top cop Hardley Lewin, said the practice must stop. And even the ubiquitous SSP Radcliffe Lewis said that they will be prosecuted.
Not even rain is as right as the admiral, because while many appreciate it and some are moved, it is a source of discomfort for others, including a few devout Christians. As one who thankfully no longer takes the bus, there is great sympathy and empathy for those who endure.
During my high-school years and early in my working life, the Jesus peddlers and salvation agents would hound the wayward and sinful as we sat in the uncomfortable seats of the JOS 'jolly buses'. At best, it was annoying, because as boys at St George's, we were virtually blackmailed by white males, who had a direct 119 line to God and St Peter, because we had to confess our sins to them. Every first Friday, Father would corral the Catholic youth and have us outline the litany of our transgressions.
Of course, forced confessions are not admissible in civilised courts and, doubtfully, in the kingdom of heaven. Nonetheless, many of us made up tall tales to challenge the imagination and stoicism of the celibate priests and neatly confessed to lying as well, thus, totally confusing them.
Yet, to the credit of the Jesuits who have their strict catechism and other rules of their faith, no one was forced to go to Mass if he was not a Catholic, although everyone was strongly encouraged to. After all, one was being educated by Jesuits in a Jesuit Catholic school, therefore it would be fair. If one did not want his or her child to be exposed to the teaching and ideology of Boston-based American men wearing dresses (cassocks), like a survivor from the movie 'Ten Commandments', send him to the school down the road.
Even more amazingly, St George's, with a captive population of young minds, and emphasis on grooming, did not force its boys to cut their hair if they were Rastafarian. This was, ironically, when Haile Selassie I Secondary had challenges admitting dreadlocked students.
This is the heart of the issue; respect of the rights and freedoms of others. Society is built on a sort of social contract or value consensus system, whereby we agree to carry out acceptable patterns of conduct in order that others do not violate us. We don't necessarily have to believe deeply in what we do; we simply recognise that there are consequences for our antisocial behaviour. We thus form rules which underlie these patterns of behaviour. Most times, the rules are formal and enshrined in a legal code, the principal one of which is the Constitution.
Ours, in its original form and with the amended Charter of Rights inserted last year, guarantees a range of entitlements, including; freedom of expression, freedom of association, and, of course, freedom of religious choice. Section 13 (3) (s) outlines: "The right to freedom of religion, as provided in Section 17." And the corresponding Section 17 (1) declares, "Every person shall have the right to freedom of religion, including the freedom to change his religion and the right, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private manifest and propagate his religion in worship teaching, practice and observance."
Read along with Section 13 (3) (c), which addresses, the right to freedom of expression; (d) the right to seek, receive, distribute or disseminate information, opinions and ideas through any media, Elder Brown or any person who is filled with the Spirit or any other individual who missed his medication and took a meditation, can get up and preach, irrespective of whatever tomfoolery he might be saying.
My recollection goes back to an elderly woman whose message was, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work ... ." Her voice trailed off into unintelligible gibberish. And, as I attempted to nod off and pretend that I didn't see the fat lady who might think that I should get up and give her my seat, she blared, "Thou shall not do any work!" I was never taught that scripture in school or by my Church of God elder father. Therefore, the reason I remember it is the sheer trauma it gave me as a teenage boy. She was one of many who either had a lot of money for fare or got free rides.
While some of the preaching was welcome or inoffensive, some was simply scripturally wrong and outright lies. These include the non-biblical references to children having children in the 'last days' and, Jesus chasing gamblers out of the temple, and that the Good Book says gambling is a sin. With a stomach ill-accustomed to untruth and illogic, the temptation often led to engagements with my Adventist friends who phoned me on the Sabbath, bought gas at the service station or purchased a kid's meal for their children after the very emotive fire-breathing sermon. And then, pointing to Luke 14:5 when Jesus asked about rescuing the donkey on the Sabbath, lamented their ambivalence as they, like an ostrich, kept their head in the sand and left the ass in the hole.
True, the admonition Jesus gave to his disciples was to go into the byways and highways to be fishers of men. However, under Section 13 (1) (a), the State has an obligation to promote "universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms". Section 13 (1) (c) (C) states: "All persons are under a responsibility to respect and uphold the rights of others ... ."
One travels on the bus ostensibly to get from one place to another and with the expectation that the journey will be timely and incident free. It must also be noted that the charter further states, "No person attending any place of education ... shall be required to receive religious instruction, or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance ... other than his own." Thus, if in a place where one goes to be taught it is wrong to force preaching on to the victim, it is reproachable for the 'Transitvangelists' to pressure Abdul Muhammad, Bobo Karl or Viswanath Singh with his ideas of salvation on the public buses.
To say that one is doing God's work is commendable, but unless there is an explicit document which bears his signature and it is shown to the admiral, there shall be no preaching, because it is unlawful and unconstitutional. The lay preachers need to educate themselves on the Word and stop speaking only from 'spirit' and 'visitation'. Romans 13:1-7 says, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established ... . Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities." One must render unto Caesar and go pitch a tent or hold a street meeting. Apostles are not beyond the laws of man.
Going on a bus with a set of 'hostages' whom you force the Word upon is cheating and not doing the hard work that God wants. The admiral used to control lots of seamen; no man is going to make him bow.
Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.