News Articles

Hawaii’s moral challenges prompt ministry

HONOLULU (BP) — The legalization of gay marriage and a sex education curriculum that normalizes sexual activity for children under 14 are among the latest developments that have prompted Hawaii Baptists to engage their culture with renewed commitment.

Andrew Large, pastor of Waikiki Baptist Church, told Baptist Press he’s not willing to watch “society go downhill because [he’s] being silent and staying passive.” The Great Commission demands that believers “be engaged in the civil issues and [let] our community know exactly what Christianity is all about, what the Bible has to say,” he said.

In November, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law a bill granting marriage rights, benefits and protections to people of the same sex. The bill, passed in a special legislative session with vocal support from Abercrombie, made Hawaii the 15th state to legalize gay marriage. More than 1,000 citizens testified before the legislature regarding the bill, with about 80 percent opposing it.

Meanwhile, a sex education curriculum for children ages 11 to 13 that is taught in at least 12 Hawaii public schools describes the anatomy of homosexual and heterosexual intercourse and fails to mention that intercourse with a child under age 14 is a felony in the state. Known as Pono Choices, the curriculum also does not discuss the benefits of monogamy, stating only that “limiting the number of sexual partners a person has can greatly reduce their risk of getting an STI [sexually transmitted infection],” according to a report by State Representative Bob McDermott.

The word “pono” in the curriculum’s title is the Hawaiian term for righteousness, a fact that pro-family advocates consider sadly ironic. The Hawaii state motto also contains the word pono and is rendered in English, “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

Among other headlines, a Hawaii court dismissed two churches in January from a lawsuit brought by atheists alleging that five congregations committed fraud by paying substandard rent to the public schools where they met. Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, who represented the exonerated congregations, called the lawsuit an attempt to “bully churches into settlements when they did nothing wrong.”

Amid these developments, Hawaii Baptists have found ways to advocate morality in the public square while also presenting their neighbors with the message of salvation in Jesus.

“I’m very proud of our churches’ engaging our communities across the board when it comes to sharing the transformed life,” Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention executive director Christopher Martin said.

“They are engaging the communities,” he said. “They really have a heart to see Christ change their neighbors and their families and even the tourists out here.”

The Hawaii Pacific convention passed a resolution advocating traditional marriage the week before gay marriage became law. During the debate, the convention hosted webinars and posted resources on its website, including arguments against same-sex marriage, advice on ministry to homosexuals and suggested language for church bylaws to protect congregations from being forced to host same-sex weddings.

As the legislature’s vote approached, the Maui County Baptist Association ran an ad in its local newspaper quoting the Baptist Faith and Message’s statement that “marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” The ad urged citizens to tell their legislators to vote no on same-sex marriage.

Rick Lazor, pastor of OlaNui! in Honolulu, said Hawaii Christians should respond to the Pono Choices curriculum by adopting public schools and serving them. That would demonstrate believers’ care for students and help Christian leaders gain a hearing regarding what’s taught about sex, he said.

“My dream is for a Southern Baptist church to be in every school complex in Hawaii,” Lazor said. “We only have basically one school system here and one board of education for the whole state. We as a church need to adopt elementary and middle and high schools and be there for the principals when things are right and not only when things are wrong so that relationships are built.”

Although many Hawaii pastors “steer clear” of politics, “the homosexual marriage vote in September and October shook loose a lot of guys that have never been involved before,” Lazor said. “Right now I’m just hoping that momentum will stay alive.”

Hawaii’s moral tolerance is a misdirected byproduct of its friendliness and openness to all people, Lazor said. The state’s emphasis on personal warmth often makes Christians fearful of speaking out on public square issues for fear of being perceived as mean, he said, but many believers are learning that engagement is not the same as unfriendliness.

It’s difficult to find unfriendliness at OlaNui!, a congregation named with the Hawaiian word for “abundant life” from John 10:10. Located in the state’s fastest growing urban area, the church includes a mix of doctors, business people, retirees and homeless people. They sit at five-person tables during worship, and food is served before and after services.

“You have the wealthiest and one of the poorest census tracts in the state in the square mile surrounding our church,” Lazor said. “Our dream is that our church would be a place where both of those kinds of folks could sit down together for Sunday morning. And it’s somehow becoming that.”

In the wake of gay marriage legalization, Large said helping churches amend their wedding policies to avoid lawsuits by homosexual activists is an important ministry. The church amended its bylaws to stipulate that only the church’s paid clergy may officiate weddings on church property. The new policy was approved by the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and allows Waikiki Baptist to stand against gay marriage while still complying with the state’s public accommodation laws.

But Waikiki Baptist, which is located in a resort area, doesn’t limit its cultural engagement to the realm of public policy. Every Thursday night between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m., church members set up a table outside with a sign reading, “Need prayer?” It draws tourists, locals, prostitutes, drug dealers and homeless people, affording opportunities to share the Gospel.

Once people receive Christ as Lord and Savior, Waikiki Baptist involves them in a series of discipleship classes and home groups that meet across the island. Teaching these new converts how to honor God with their votes is part of the discipleship process, Large said.

“Part of discipleship is showing people that in every area of their life God is relevant,” Large said. “It’s not compartmentalized. We don’t put our civic duties in one box, our work ethics in another box, our church attendance in another box. Christianity is the whole basis of what we do. It’s who we are 24/7.”
David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).