Conspiracy against Christianity
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
For better or worse, the technological explosion has conspired with globalisation to dramatically change the face of religion, and particularly Christianity, on the local landscape.
That's the view of local church leaders and religious analysts as debates rage over the effects of globalisation on religion, resulting in the forays of seemingly alien philosophies into Jamaica's Christianity-dominated landscape.
For religious commentator, Ian Boyne, the unintended consequences of globalisation on the church are, for the most part, dire.
This is in stark contrast to the more positive outlook of the youthful Rev Herro Blair Jr, pastor of Gateway Deliverance Centre in Spanish Town.
Boyne argued that the infiltration of religious capitalism, a market, philosophy from North America, has been dishing out religious rubbish to Jamaicans.
He cited the huge impact of tele-evangelism, with the explosion of cable television on the Jamaican landscape that has, in large measures, changed the content of preachers.
Boyne contended that, as a result, there are growing levels of cynicism to traditional ways of worship, with many turning to unorthodox religious sects and various forms of eastern religion, though their numbers are statistically insignificant.
He noted that traditional mainline churches have declined significantly over the past 40 years.
In the 1960 census, Pentecostals accounted for a mere one per cent of the population, numbering 14,739. By 2001, they had accelerated to 247,452.
In the last census in 2012, Pentecostals grew to 295,195. Those with a style similar to Pentecostals - which include Church of God, now number more than 617,000.
The Catholics who numbered 115,291 in 1960 have slid to just 57,946, while the Methodists have tumbled from 107,858 in 1960 to just 43,000 in the 2012 census.
Anglicans, United Church and Moravians have also declined. "They have no strong media ministry and, if your religion is not on television, it does not exist," said Boyne.
He said the Seventh-day Adventists have their own cable networks internationally and, locally, they are our largest denomination in Jamaica.
"Globalisation has made more of our people sceptical about Christianity and the Bible," Boyne argued. "As a result of the Internet, more people are reading about other religions and are asking what is really unique about Christianity and the Bible."
Boyne argued that Jamaicans are also exposed to many sceptical writings about the Bible online. "So quoting the Bible as authority does not cut it as much as it used to. This is due directly to globalisation and the impact of the new communications technologies."
Boyne also pointed to the conversion to Christianity of former top-notch deejays, including Papa San, Lt Stitchie, Chevelle Franklin; J Goddy Goddy, Ryan Mark, DJ Nicholas and Prodigal Son.
He argued that these personalities have played significant roles in the conversion of churches, patterned from the worship of the North American groups.
"If you listen to preachers on cable TV and listen to our more popular preachers, you see the clear similarities, even plagiarism of language," charged Boyne.
Boyne argued that the old-time teaching about the value of suffering and "through much tribulation you enter the kingdom" has been replaced by "God wants you to prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers."
"The materialism of this age and the promise of a good life have conquered popular Christianity. People are saying essentially 'heaven can wait'... they want theirs now," said Boyne.
He said globalisation has also produced a trend towards de-institutionalisation, with all institutions being suspect as people retreat into higher levels of individualism.
But Rev Herro Blair Jr, a former president of Jamaica Youth for Christ, has asserted that technological explosion in the global environment has enabled churches to share their services with members who have migrated and the world on a whole, via the Internet.
He countered that the Jamaican Church has continued its traditional role, and continues to call for the old-time religion while people are hungry, desperate, and searching for a way beyond the struggles of their lives.
"So while the Church continues to seek the old ways, we are in a sense not making ourselves relevant to the everyday practical needs of the Jamaican masses," he argued.
"Streaming church services on the World Wide Web has allowed our pastors the opportunity to reach the world cheaply while not being able to pay to be a part of the big radio and television networks," said Blair.
He argued that while the Church is preaching against sin, the world is becoming more tolerant and encouraging our children, through the media, to accept lifestyles that are and have not been morally correct and acceptable in Jamaica.
"We are seeing cultural shifts also, and while they affect society on a whole, we are seeing the strong effects of them in the Church," he said. "Over a period of years, if these shifts are not dealt with, then we will see a transformation in Jamaica and the Jamaican Church which will leave us wondering, how did we get here?"
According to Blair, globalisation has also forced the local Church to step up in the areas of teaching.