5 Feb


Opening day of the 2011 Hawaii House and Senate Session

         It was a sad and tragic week when the Hawaii Senate voted on January 20 to be the only state legislative body in the entire USA to bar any opening prayer to begin its session.

         It’s sad because it is humility that builds a healthy community, especially if the humility starts from its leaders. Humility acknowledges that we may not have all the ideas or answers we need. That more eyes mean clearer vision. That we don’t have the strength to endure the stress of the issues before us. In essence, we need help, and that aid, assistance, insight and entrepreneurial vision can come from above, particularly from our all-knowing God.

         It’s sad because the Hawaii Senate’s decision is saying, “We don’t need divine help.”

         The Senate doesn’t seem to understand what people have learned and understood in recovery groups, like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). Here are the first three steps in the original 12-step AA program: 

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

         Sure we can say, “But our Senators don’t deal with alcoholism.” Might be true, but they might be tempted or addicted to power, greed, selfishness, deceit. We all are. We need all the help we can get, and the best help comes from above.

         There’s another reason why it is sad that our senators made the decision to remove opening prayer: Lack of historical understanding of our state. It’s sad because faith and prayer are such a rich part of our history in Hawaii. Queen Liliuokalani, Queen Kapiolani, Queen Kaahumanu, Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV, to mention a few monarchs, all had a deep Christian faith, and all of them expressed it as part of their rule as leaders of our land. How far we have come when the leaders of our state bar prayer! It seems like we can say “Jesus Christ” more freely in communist countries than in our own communities and public schools in Hawaii.

         In Hawaii, you will rarely find the construction of a building, a house, an office site, a bridge, a stadium or a tunnel without a prayer of blessing and request for God’s protection. Not many construction workers would want to be employed on a project that did not have a prayer that inaugurated its work. Call it faith, or maybe for the cynical it is just superstition. But for the majority of our people prayer is deeply ingrained in the fabric of our community.

          In the United States Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, there are FULL-TIME employed Christian chaplains with six-figure salaries with multiple staffs. These chaplains say opening prayers when the legislative bodies are in session. They meet with senators and representatives to give counsel and pray. The Federal government clearly has seen no breaking of the law. Our tax dollars support this.

         The idea of separation and state was not quoted from our U.S. Constitution. The Constitution states that it does not want the leaders of our country to ram down one’s faith on another. It did not want to legalize a state religion. But it did NOT mean that faith could not be expressed in legislative sessions. 

         To prohibit prayers when leaders gather is dangerous in that it says we do not want God’s wisdom or protection. It is dangerous because it is saying that we humans have all of the wisdom we need. We are self-made people where we take full credit for all of the good in life. It’s dangerous because it does not recognize that in our hearts we have tremendous capacity for evil, sin, pride, prejudice, bigotry, sadism. You can’t read a newspaper or watch a TV news show or read what happens in politics to escape that fact that part of human nature wants to cheat, deceive, and hurt others. Politics of all places need God! How ironic that politicians would want to eliminate talking to God in their sessions.

         Our laws were based on Judeo-Christian beliefs. For lawmakers to now say we reject any praying to God or asking for His help or blessing during a legislative session is a disloyalty of “not dancing with the one who brought you to the dance.” God gave us the healthy principles in the 10 Commandments that all state and federal laws are based. And now to reject talking to Him?

         A society is better when there is a daily reminder that there is a higher power, who is relational. Life is not about rituals, rules, regulations. It’s about relationships.

         My Hawaiian friends tell me that that the full meaning of the Hawaiian word “pono” means “righteousness that has a right relationship with God, and a right relationship with others.” To take half of the equation out and think it’s all about us is dangerous.

         Where is the government that asked me, a pastor, to organize a statewide memorial service at Punchbowl two days after September 11, 2001? It was planned that no politician would speak. Only two people were allowed to give an extended address – Admiral Dennis Blair, the Pacific Commander, and myself. The Admiral was chosen to reassure the Hawaii people that they were safe and that the military was ready to defend them. I was chosen to speak as evidence that it’s not all about us and that there is a God we can turn to during tough times. 

         The next day after that the Governor asked for a memorial service in the Hawaii State Capital Rotunda so that we could pray to God and honor those who died in New York.

         Because of 9-11 people started going to churches. Church attendance throughout our country went up 20% as people realized that when in dire need we ultimately turn to God who also teaches us to pray for our enemies and love them. This kind of principle does not come from some Hawaii Revised Statute but from the Bible.

         I am not saying that all opening prayers have to be Christian. In a pluralistic society there has to be an allowance for different faiths to pray. For me that Higher Power has a name, and it’s Jesus. 

         For others, they call it just Higher Power. For the atheists maybe having a legislative opening time of silence to collect one’s thoughts for the day would be good. But what the State Senate did was throw out the baby with the bathwater. It knocked out prayer completely and, therefore, was not only sad but bordering on dumb.

         If our Senators are all atheists and don’t want prayer then I guess for this specific legislative session that would be appropriate for them. But if our senators, as I believe, are a mixture of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Christians, Mormons, etc., then I think there should be a respect for faith for all peoples and allow a blessing. 

         I have been asked to do the prayer as part of the ceremony and program of the Mayors’ inaugurations, the Governor’s and Mayors’ inaugural balls and President Obama’s Hawaii state inaugural ball. I have also blessed the Governor’s house before Governor Lingle moved in. (I think later she had a Jewish Rabbi bless the house, too. Not that mine wasn’t strong enough (I hope) but it’s a recognition that Hawaii people have different faiths.

         At public ceremonies for Federal Government, State and City events, I have seen Jews pray, Muslims pray, and Hawaiians dance, chant and pray to gods in which I do not personally believe. But that’s the beauty of Hawaii. All is allowed. None are made illegal. And whenever I have ended my prayers I normally say, “In deep respect to those of other faiths or of no faith, I pray in Christ’s name, Amen.” 

         Isn’t that what we want in our state? To have respect and tolerance for others who are different from us, and still be able to declare who we are and have a faith in Whom we want?

        A tolerant state government does not mean we eliminate all people who think differently than we do. A tolerant state is one that recognizes all people of all cultures and faith (or of no faith) and allows them to express that faith IN and OUTSIDE of government activities. Do we really want Hawaii to be a barren land of faith? 

         Think of some of the great speeches of all time that were anchored in faith: the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King Jr., who used quotes from the Old Testament; the Second Inaugural address by Abraham Lincoln that quoted Genesis, Jesus Christ and the Psalms; the Democratic Convention speech where Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “God is not finished with me yet;” the Christmas Eve speeches by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. 

         Now you might say, “But those were not in a Hawaii state legislative session.” You’re right. They weren’t. So let all the good speeches not come from the Hawaii legislative session.

         Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” 

         Most people, whom our governments serve, have a faith in something, someone greater than they for that is where they can ultimately have a future and hope. Our local government should reflect that just as our country’s great leaders did. Faith is by the people, for the people so that we will not perish from the earth.

         One last thing. Faith says that prayer is a two-way communication. It is not only asking God to bless our leaders but also asking God to talk to us and grant us wisdom. So making prayer illegal in the Senate means turning a deaf ear to God as senators begin their day of work. That’s like saying we don’t want to hear from Him. We don’t want His thoughts, His wisdom, His higher perspective. 

         It was a sad, tragic and dumb day on January 20 when God not only got outlawed but also gagged in the Hawaii State Senate.


  1. DJWChang February 6, 2011 at 2:39 am #

    Amen @PastorDanChun Hawaii Senate shuts down prayer, Auwe. Wonder what they thought of Pres. Obama declaring Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior @ National Day of Prayer this past week? Our President is proud of his prayer life, why isn’t our Senate. Let’s Hanai our legislators in prayer.

  2. danchun February 6, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    Thanks. I actually had not head President Obama saying that. Most intriguing!!

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