Spiritual solutions begin with tolerance
The Interfaith Alliance Hawai'i held its annual dinner and celebration on Oct. 15. It was a wonderful evening of honoring the strength, wisdom and beauty of our spiritual diversity. In a time of such religious polarity and exclusivity, it was an inspiring and hope-filled time.
We were led in silent reflection by a Buddhist minister, a minister of Unity Church chanted a traditional Hawaiian oli, members of Hare Krishna offered their music and chants and a minister of the United Church of Christ led our closing Circle of Peace. In addition to these spiritual traditions, we heard reports about the participation of other faiths: Muslim, Jewish, Bahai and Hindu, as well as a wide variety of Christian denominations.
We honored four organizations and one individual for their generous work in our community, efforts that exemplify our mission statement: "to provide a positive healing role in Hawaii with people of faith, goodwill and aloha; encouraging nonviolent civic participation; facilitating community activism and challenging religious and political extremism."
In addition to these noteworthy contributions, there were two more memorable highlights. One was the dancing of the State Hospital Hula Halau, who left us breathless and energized with their joyful and soulful rendition of some Hawaiian favorites. The second was the message of our guest speaker, the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, the North American president of the World Council of Churches and spokesperson for the WCC focus on overcoming violence in the United States.
In comments around the theme "Another World is Possible," she outlined the daunting difficulty of overcoming the root causes of violence, from poverty and family dysfunction to the promotion of a culture of violence. She quickly moved from this challenging picture to an image of an alternative world, a world and community of justice and peace.
Dr. Jackson's comments reflect TIAH's concern about the health of our communities, our state and our nation. This includes our physical, mental, social, moral and spiritual health. We hope we can contribute toward the creation of an environment of civil discourse and cooperation -- especially when we encounter disagreement -- so we can find solutions that will actually improve our health. We believe in the potential of building alliances with all faith traditions and networking with community organizations.
Therefore, we agree with and support efforts like Transformation Hawaii, a coalition of Christian churches and businesses that improve the general life of our community by strengthening the family and encouraging people to establish a strong faith in God.
However, once you move beyond the differences in belief and practice, every one of the living religions has the purpose of teaching their followers to live with compassion and kindness. TIAH believes that one of the foundational goals of Transformation Hawaii, that of needing to believe in Jesus, needs to be expanded to include people of other faiths. We hope the organizers of this worthy movement will invite and accept the participation of all spiritual traditions, all people of faith and all people of good will who choose a secular path.
Our nation may have been founded on the premise of Christian principles, but we are not, and should not be, an exclusively Christian nation. The doctrine of church-state separation guarantees every citizen freedom of religion and freedom from religion. The moral principles of the United States are supported and taught by every spiritual tradition, not only the Christians. As a nation, we cannot follow one belief system, but rather the universal moral principles that are part of every faith.
Fundamentalists of every faith must expand their understanding of what it means to be a good person and a good citizen. In reality, a good person can be a good Buddhist, a good Jew, a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Bahai, a good Christian, etc.
Whatever our faith and system of belief, whatever scriptures inform and inspire us, whatever name we call upon as deity or higher power, we can unite around the universal moral principles of love, compassion and justice.
Making connection with the mystery which is the source of life -- the living God, the Buddha, Allah, the Light -- we can be united through our daily acts of kindness, respect and acceptance and continue with our efforts to improve the quality of life of our island ohana.
The Rev. John R. Heidel is retired as a United Church of Christ minister and is president of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii.