Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – The Jamaica Evangelical Alliance (JEA) yesterday described as evil and demonic the deadly religious ritual which reportedly occurred at Pathways International Kingdom Restoration Ministries of Montego Bay on Sunday and said the Christian Church has a duty to oppose it.

“If we are true to the Word of God we must admit that the religious ritual in Montego Bay is not Christianity. What went down is evil! It is clearly demonic and the Christian Church has a responsibility to confront evil with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God,” the JEA said in a statement sent by its president, Rev Dr Peter Garth.

The JEA, he said, firmly believes that the incident represents a very serious and disturbing development in Jamaica and the fact that three people were killed and three others hospitalised in the name of religion is enough to send reason reeling.

The throats of two members of the religious organisation led by Kevin Smith were slit during a ritual and a third person was killed in a confrontation with the police, who said they were fired upon as they approached the premises Sunday night.

The police said they were forced to enter the building in Albion where Smith operated a church to prevent more people being killed in what was believed to be a human sacrifice ritual.

Forty-two members of the congregation — 31 women and 11 men — as well as 14 children were taken into custody. The children were placed in State care, while the women and seven of the men were charged with breaches of the Disaster Risk Management Act and granted bail. Four of the men, including Smith, remain in custody. The other two, the Jamaica Observer was told by police, have been released.

The killings have shocked the country and have drawn condemnation from other religious organisations, including the International Council of Pentecostal Bishops (ICOPB) which, on Thursday, confirmed that it had severed ties with Smith because he has breached the council’s code of ethics.

“We have known the leader of that church for quite some years and have never seen or known of any of this kind of behaviour or false belief systems which are diametrically opposed to the teachings of the faith,” ICOPB chief prelate and president, Archbishop Dr C Lloyd Battieste stated in response to questions posed by the Observer on Wednesday.

“In the strongest way possible we denounce and reject his present belief system, practices and demonic behaviour!” Archbishop Battieste said, adding that the ICOPB was “heartbroken by the diabolical events that took place at Pathways”.

Yesterday, Rev Garth said the JEA was “deeply saddened by and abhors the tragedy” that took place at Pathways International.

Added Rev Garth: “The deception and seduction of power, both individual and institutional, is a tale deeply rooted in history. It is extremely sad that, under the guise of church, the misuse and abuse of authority has taken a very devastating toll in broken lives and congregations.

“It is unfortunate that there are incidents where some pastors end up feeding off people, using them to meet their needs or make up for their vulnerabilities. This behaviour is condemned in the Bible, and Ezekiel 34 warns against shepherds and their lavished lifestyles rather than looking out for the well-being of their sheep.”

He said the JEA believes that there is an urgent need to examine the widening Christian culture in Jamaica, with its temptations toward fame and status, feeding into the problem of abusive church leaders.

“The way the Bible depicts the Church, Christ is the head and we are part of His body. This means that there is a system involved, but the system is a system that is supposed to follow its head. The congregation has some responsibility for keeping the system healthy, mainly by worshipping Christ and Him alone,” Rev Garth stated.

He said the Church also needs to pray for its leaders, that God will uphold them in godly leadership, “not for the sake of gaining the material and reputational blessings that some have come to love so much, but for God Himself to be honoured above all”.

Rev Garth also said the JEA commends the members of the security forces who responded promptly to the incident to avert further disaster, and the alliance remains committed to doing all that it can to educate people concerning deception and warning signs of cultic practices.

“We also pray for the unfortunate members of the movement who have been traumatised, and for those who have lost their loved ones,” he said.