Trouble In Paradise?: Religious Right Organizes In An Unlikely Place – Hawaii

July 9th, 2010
By Rob Boston
Elections, Marriage & Sexuality, Religious Right Research

Earlier this week, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a bill that would have created civil unions in the state.

In her veto message, Lingle talked about how she agonized over the decision. She said she has always opposed extending marriage rights to same-sex couples and concluded that this bill was essentially marriage under another guise.

Lingle didn’t mention religion, but one can’t help but wonder if the issue wasn’t on her mind. As strange as it may seem, the Religious Right is on the march in the Aloha State, and that may have influenced the governor.

Hawaii would seem to be an odd state for a Religious Right resurgence. It’s one of our most religiously diverse states with a large non-Christian population. It leans liberal and Democratic in politics. (Barack Obama, who born there, won nearly 72 percent of the state’s vote in 2008.)

Nevertheless, Religious Right activists claim to have made inroads into both political parties. The Hawaii Family Forum, an affiliate of the James Dobson-founded Focus on the Family, held a series of rallies opposing civil unions and is now urging conservative Christians to get more politically involved. (The group’s director, Dennis A. Arakaki, is a former state legislator who is well connected to conservative religious groups in the state. Even though he is a Protestant, Arakaki has worked for the Hawaii Catholic Conference.)

At one anti-civil-union rally in 2009, Arakaki told attendees, “We are here in the spirit of love, compassion, and grace, but we are also here armed with the sword of truth.”

But an even more ominous religio-political force may be growing in Hawaii. Bruce Wilson, a blogger at Talk To Action, has reported extensively on the rise of a politically connected fundamentalist Christian group called the International Transformation Network (ITN), headed by Ed Silvoso.

ITN is charismatic in nature, and according to Wilson, strongly anti-gay. Silvoso, he writes, claims homosexuality is caused by demons and says it can be “cured” through exorcism.

Wilson says members of the group believe “that HIV and AIDS can be cured through faith healing and prayer and decry basic birth control methods. They oppose labor unions and secular public education. ITN ideology targets mainstream Christianity with the charge that Catholics and Protestants who are not ‘born again’ and charismatic are not saved and so will not go to heaven.”

In Hawaii, ITN is represented by a branch is called Transformation Hawaii, and Wilson believes the group is positioning itself to play a more prominent role in politics.

“Transformation Hawaii is developing the ability to mobilize large numbers of Hawaiian voters and, because Hawaii has historically had a low rate of voter turnout, the organization’s ongoing church-based voter registration drive has the potential to significantly impact upcoming elections such as the 2010 Hawaii gubernatorial race,” wrote Wilson.

We don’t know how all of this will shake out, but recent developments in Hawaii should serve as a lesson to all of us. There has been a lot of talk about the Religious Right being on the ropes. Many commentators in the media have speculated that the movement is taking a backseat to the insurgents of the TEA Party.

I’ve argued before that this assertion is short-sighted. No other right-wing movement has the money, leadership and institutional presence of the Religious Right. With the political situation of the nation in flux, Religious Right organizations could easily ride the coattails of a bevy of far-right candidate and come roaring back into power this fall.

The Religious Right remains a potent force in American political life. If this theocratic movement can make inroads even in Hawaii, imagine what it can do elsewhere.

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