Christianity imbues
Aiona’s public life

His claim that Hawaii "belongs
to Jesus" raises some concern
in the multifaith isles

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona might not be the first Hawaii politician to publicly embrace his religion, but his recent call that "Hawaii belongs to Jesus" is raising questions.

Aiona recently wrote a letter on Transformation Hawaii letterhead endorsing the Christian business group and a rally held at the Waikiki Shell. Aiona also served as honorary chairman of the event. In an earlier rally, he told the group that "Hawaii belongs to Jesus."

Transformation Hawaii was organized by the Rev. Cal Chinen, pastor of Moanalua Gardens Missionary Church, and featured Ed Silvoso, a businessman from Argentina and author of the book "Anointed for Business."

Also attending the rally were Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Kauai Mayor Brian Baptiste and Mitch D'Olier, Kaneohe Ranch Ltd. president. According to organizers, the rally was to "encourage business, political and spiritual leaders to work together in the marketplace to change our community for the better."

Aiona has been a featured speaker in appearances at Christian church meetings across the state. He has also participated in fasting and prayer rallies at the Capitol.

At one rally in Mililani last year, Aiona delivered the "the prayer declaration at a prayer rally to promote a drug-free Mililani," according to his posted schedule.

Aiona said there is no problem with his community and religious involvement.

"My faith is my life. My faith gives me energy and passion to live my life. It is I how I live my life.

"I say religion is a way of life, and it is my way of life.

"I was born a Catholic. I was baptized a Catholic. I have been a Catholic my whole life, so my religion has not changed since I was born," Aiona said.

Some observers expressed concern that note Aiona's strong Christian faith will color his government decisions. "As for his ardent Christian beliefs, pretty obvious that he is an evangelical Christian who has a tough time separating church and state. This hurts him," said former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

"When I became lieutenant governor, it was a big adjustment. I needed to make more public appearances. My life was open to the public. If there is anything I am struggling with, it is trying to find that nice happy medium with my family."

James "Duke" Aiona
Lieutenant governor

The Rev. Elizabeth Zivanov, rector at St. Clement's Episcopal Church, questioned Aiona's comments in a sermon last month, noting that Gov. Linda Lingle is Jewish, not Christian.

"I can't help but wonder, too, if our governor is down there also affirming that Hawaii belongs to Jesus. That kind of participation and affirmation might surprise her rabbi just a little," Zivanov said.

"For a government official to come out and say that Hawaii belongs to Jesus, even as a Christian, I find that offensive," Zivanov said.

David Panisnick, a professor of religion at Honolulu Community College, said you cannot expect someone to "divorce themselves from whatever religious ideology they have."

"They can do whatever they want, but they also have to pay the penalty if the voters think they went over the top," Panisnick said.

Aiona does not back away from his strong religious convictions, and said he knows how to keep church and state separate.

"There may be some people in a certain faith that may be offensive to some people and will then brand everyone who calls themselves a Christian, and as a result they have a different perspective of what a Christian is or is not," Aiona said.

But, as a former judge, Aiona said he knows the law and knows how to apply it with neutrality.

"(I don't think) there is anyone in this whole building, and that includes legislators, who has any greater respect for our system of laws and the criminal justice who can top me.

"If there is anyone who understands the separation of church and state, it is me. I really understands what it entails," Aiona said.

Panisnick noted that "separation of church and state is not separation of church and politics."

Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi, for instance, repeatedly campaigned for office as a Christian, saying once that "this is a Christian nation."

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