Basil Jarrett | Kevin Smith: How could this happen here?
THE KEVIN Smith affair has beguiled and enthralled us all week. Ever since the alarming news first came out of Montego Bay two Sundays ago, Jamaica has been mesmerised by this incredible story.
Who would’ve thought that in 2021, suicidal religious cults would still exist – much less here in ho-hum Jamaica. We’ve learnt so much about Mr Smith, or should I say His Excellency, over the past week, that I feel almost criminally negligent in not knowing who he was or the influence or presence he had in the Second City.
We’ve learnt about his childhood, how he had his first spiritual vision at age nine, and most infuriatingly, how he attended my alma mater for all of three months. And as the days go by,we start to see more and more videos and stories and images come out about this man, seen by his followers as either the next coming of the King, or the King himself. And just when you thought the story couldn’t get any more bizarre, Mr Smith goes out in a blaze of mythical glory and in the most astonishing of manner.
Whether or not you believe in the myth of Kevin Smith, one thing I’ll bet is that when you first heard the story that he was killed in a car accident on his way from Montego Bay, a small part of you wondered about whether or not this man may actually be something more than the charlatan, con man, religious nutcase that some have judged him to be. I will admit that as I typed this, I found myself looking nervously over both shoulders – right then left then right again, of course.
But as intriguing as the stories coming out of Montego Bay are about how he had healed the sick, gave sight to the blind and speech to the dumb, all while turning water into wine, the part that really has me scratching my head is how could someone like this lived literally under our noses and go unnoticed and undetected for so long. Or was it just me? One social media post showed a birthday celebration marked by a motorcade of stretch limousines, a civilian procession and what looks like a full military guard of honour which any state leader would envy. But what I find most worrying is that His Excellency could have been carrying out his bizarre and outlandish church sermons in plain sight of everyone for years on end. Some of his sermons appear to be more at home in the dancehall or in the most garish of roots plays.
My church, I will admit, is nowhere near as festive. The bigger question for me, therefore, is how tolerant we’ve become of all sorts of obscene, vile, reprehensible behaviour even in our church. How could this man conduct himself in this fashion and we did not take notice? It should not have to take three deaths and a shoot-out with police to alert us to what was happening at Pathways International Kingdom. Is this how inured we’ve become to this level of obscenity in society, that even when it happens in our church, it no longer moves us. We have really lost our way. Good order, discipline, integrity and a properly aligned moral compass have long been extinct as hallmarks of a bygone era. But this level of moral decay in one of our churches is a whole other level. Admittedly, I’ve been in church on occasions and have had some of the most inappropriate thoughts randomly cross my mind. It usually involves one of the scantily clad church sisters sitting in the pew next to me. On those occasions, I would shamefully close my eyes and turn my head to the ceiling with guilt, at which point someone would touch me on my shoulders and say “yes, I will pray with you, my brother”. But in all seriousness, how did we get here where such lewd, lascivious language and such raunchy imagery abide in a church? Mr Smith was not only tolerated by his church community, but his members were quite happy to post his adventures on full display for the public to view, with no sense of shame, apology or remorse. Is it any wonder, therefore, that our children, our leaders, our role models find that the bar is set so low.
As a society, we must remain guarded against this type of complacency. We must stay alert for the small cracks in our social institutions which, if left ignored, could very well become wide open chasms that may become so irretrievable, that they become the rule rather than the exception. It begs the question, are these cracks newly formed and just the next step of evolution (or devolution) in our society, or have they always been here, only more apparent now due to social media and the proliferation of digital communications. On the surface, it may be a bit of both as Mr Smith’s antics have never been hidden. Why did it take so long and cost so many lives before the alarm bells started to sound?
The church was once the most sanctified and safe place within society. Now, in some cases, it is no different from the dancehall. So whose fault is it? Who do we blame? The media? Our leaders? Our families? Schools? COVID? I’m not certain. One thing that’s for sure, however, is that when economies perform poorly, churches often become a major source of support in the form of social services and political action. Perhaps that’s why we still hold the record for having the most churches per square mile.
When I first heard it as a rumour that Mr Smith was killed in a car accident on his way to Kingston, I dismissed it first as more spiritual propaganda. Then when it was confirmed that he was in fact killed, I genuinely paused for a second. The next bit of news I got was that the ambulance taking him to the hospital showed up and his body had mysteriously disappeared. If this man rises on the third day, as is being suggested, then I will also hand over the entire contents of my last will and testament.
- Major Basil Jarrett is a communications strategist and CEO of Artemis Consulting, a Communications Consulting firm specialising in crisis communications and reputation management.