Church people worthy of regular coverage


POSTED: Saturday, April 11, 2009

Parking lots were crowded this week outside hotels where Passover Seder meals drew hundreds of members of the island Jewish community. The same is true today at Kapiolani Park, where the Thai community hosts a New Year festival rooted in Buddhist observance of Buddha's birth. And thousands of members of the majority religion will flock to Easter services tomorrow.

We're small-town people, and religion is held important by a lot of us. And in our well-mixed cultural climate, most of us are tolerant of or curious about or even open to sharing the other folks' experience. We may have strayed from Grandma's place or style of worship, but we go back when it's time to mark our family and ethnic roots. Invited to an event, we're not afraid to set foot in the other guy's temple or mosque or chapel. And who offers better old-fashioned food treats than the church bazaar, festival or luau?

Some of the best opportunities to hear new, provocative ideas from famous, inspiring, sometimes bizarre speakers are provided by religious organizations.

Some of the best music in town reverberates in those peaked roof venues, from Kawaiaha'o Church's weekly jazzfest during Lent to the Lutheran Church of Honolulu's grand concerts of the work of great classical composers.

If you don't think religion is a political force down here at the grass roots, you haven't been watching the alternating faith-based crowds chiming in on the civil-union issue at the state Capitol—and the lawmakers' response.

My favorite perspective on church people has been their impact on the social problems and challenges of our society. It has been a pleasure to tell about them, from the many, many tireless volunteers who take hot meals out to homeless people to the activists for affordable housing and fair wages and government accountability like Faith Action for Community Equity, a band of faith-filled folks who engineered keeping Kukui Gardens as low-income housing.

We read daily about the dysfunctional parts of our society, people killing and hurting and cheating and endangering others. But there are peacemakers at work in Hawaii every day, and now and then it's been a privilege to chronicle some of their attempts to understand each other, to honor the host culture in Hawaii, to keep neighborhoods safe, to “;speak truth to power,”; which is a favorite modern mantra. So often those efforts begin in a church or temple.

Religion is news. See the sophisticated worldview of Newsweek magazine with its cover story this week. The “;Decline and Fall of Christian America”; says that the American Religious Identification Survey found people who identify themselves as Christians declined by 10 points since 1990, and those who don't identify as religious at all now total 16 percent of the population, double what it was in 1990. It's a periodic telephone survey of 50,000-plus people by a pair of Trinity College professors.

What's most notable about it is that a top news magazine considers a story about religion to be front-page news. And of course, they timed its publication for a religious holiday.

This column hasn't been a worldview, but we've tried to tell the story of your neighbors, how their beliefs drive them, what magnificent, predictable or curious things they do. Especially we find how much alike we all are, no matter what our spiritual niche might be.

Well, this “;View from the Pew”; won't be part of the new look of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, which will be unveiled Monday. You'll still find religion stories when they measure up as news. This e-mail address will remain open to ideas. So please keep telling us your stories.