Hawaii's religious landscape


POSTED: Saturday, March 07, 2009

Church people of various stripes have streamed into the temple of democracy recently to give testimony about House Bill 444, which would permit civil unions for same-gender couples.







Religious traditionHawaiiU.S.
Evangelical Protestant2626
Mainline Protestant1818
Roman Catholic2224
Jehovah's Witness21
Orthodox Christian0.51
Historically Black Protestant0.57
Other Christian0.50.5
Other world religions0.50.5
Other faiths21


Based on Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey.





The biggest gathering was convened last week by folks who think 444 looks more like 666, a symbol of Satan. Evangelical Christian congregations donned red T-shirts, Roman Catholics chartered buses from distant parishes and more than 2,000 came together outside the state Capitol to shout out their beliefs at lawmakers.

There's another fresh-air opportunity sponsored by church folks tonight, but this is an expression from the other corner of the issue and unlikely to generate the crowd that righteous opposition sparks. The 6 p.m. “;Lama i ke Kukui”;—“;light up the night”;—on the state Capitol mall is billed not as a demonstration, but as a candlelight vigil to support “;the values of tolerance, acceptance and diversity.”; It is intended to remind the state Senate “;that all people deserve equal protection under the law as they consider the civil unions bill,”; according to a release from Family Equality Coalition Hawaii. The sponsors include Church of the Crossroads, Temple Emanu-El, First Unitarian Church of Hawaii and Unity Church. Similar events are planned on Maui and the Big Island.

It seems like a good time to take a wider view of the “;religious landscape”; by way of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. The forum is one project of the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington, D.C., not connected with any religious group.

More than 35,000 people were questioned in the 2007 U.S. Religious Landscape survey, which was released last year. Their views on homosexuality were solicited.

Fifty percent of the total said homosexuality should be accepted by society, and 40 percent said it should be discouraged by society. Five percent chose the “;neither/both”; option, and another 5 percent refused to answer or said they did not know.

What's interesting is how the viewpoints weighed out in each religious tradition. The “;homosexuality should be discouraged”; answer was affirmed by 64 percent of people who identified themselves as evangelical Christians, 34 percent of mainline Protestants, 68 percent of Mormons, 76 percent of Jehovah's Witnesses and 61 percent of Muslims.

Of the people who said they were Catholic, 58 percent affirmed that “;homosexuals should be accepted by society,”; as did 79 percent of Jews, 82 percent of Buddhists and 71 percent of those “;unaffiliated”; with any religious tradition. Yes, I know there's a difference between individual acceptance of the person and government endorsement of same-sex union. I'm just saying, it does reflect believer-voter views.

Here's another peek at how religion might shade the views of citizens in this democracy. A survey statement—“;I worry the government is getting too involved in issues of morality”;—drew affirmation from 52 percent of the total survey respondents.

But among evangelical Christians it was 41 percent, while 50 percent of that group chose “;the government should do more to protect morality in society.”; Some 59 percent of Muslims concurred with the latter view, as did 54 percent of Mormons.

Among those wary of government legislating moral issues were 49 percent of Catholics, 58 percent of mainline Protestants, 71 percent of Jews, 67 percent of Buddhists and 66 percent of the unaffiliated.

According to the Pew Forum survey, evangelical Protestants make up 26 percent of the total U.S. population, and the same is true in Hawaii. Mainline Protestants account for 18 percent of people in Hawaii and nationwide. While 24 percent of people in the U.S. identified themselves as Catholic, it was 22 percent in Hawaii.

Buddhists make up 1 percent of the U.S. population, while 6 percent of Hawaii survey participants identified as Buddhists. Mormons are 2 percent of the population nationwide, but 5 percent of Hawaii residents. There are fewer Jews and Muslims and more Hindus in Hawaii than in the overall U.S. head count, all minuscule minorities.

The large number of survey participants give the national figures credibility, a margin of error of only 0.6 percentage points. However, the Hawaii survey is another story. The Pew folks talked to only 201 people in the islands, and that translates to an 8.5 percentage-point margin of error.

One set of questions seems to show there is a spirit of tolerance alive among believers. Some 28 percent of Hawaii people interviewed said their religion is the one, true faith that has a lock on heaven's door, while 66 percent agreed that many religions can lead to eternal life.

While the Pew think tank feels comfortable with percentages, there is no reliable objective head count of Hawaii's diverse religions. Some churches count their own members by who pays their membership dues or drops money in collection baskets. Others count baptisms or filled seats in the auditorium.

There are many other questions in the U.S. Religious Landscape survey, which can be found at www.pewforum.org.