October 8, 2009

Evangelicals In Hawaii: How Are We Different?

Here's a question I've been thinking about recently:

How is evangelical Christianity in Hawaii different from evangelical Christianity in the rest of the U.S.?

That's an easy one. We eat more SPAM here.

Some other possible answers:

1) The high cost of land and limited open space have prompted many churches (including a few megachurches) to meet in auditoriums, theaters, school cafeterias, golf courses and other non-traditional settings.

2) Since any travel out of state requires flying 2500+ miles, we are less likely to participate in popular Christian conferences, conventions, music festivals and other parachurch gatherings than our mainland counterparts. While I'm not too upset about missing Point of Grace (or Whitecross) live in concert, it would be nice if it didn't cost $1000 in airfare, room and board just to attend the nearest theology conference.

3) Hawaii lacks a fully-accredited theological seminary and often "imports" pastors who are (initially) unfamiliar with the nuances of Hawaii's multicultural landscape where Caucasians are in the minority. We probably also lose a fair number of homegrown future pastors who move away for college or seminary but do not return to the islands.

4) For better or worse, we don't seem as picky about denominational and theological particulars around here. Most evangelicals in Hawaii identify more with their specific congregation than the denomination to which it belongs. For example, does the 'typical' churchgoer know the difference between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)? On the mainland, this is a monumental divide meriting follow-up questions like, "What kind of Presbyterian are you?" (or Baptist, Methodist etc.) In Hawaii, we're more likely to "peg" someone by where they attend church, if at all. Only oddball church geeks like me will actually pry into your denominational background.

5) While Christians in Hawaii experience ripple effects of broader trends in American ecclesiology (such as mainline Protestant decline and the rise of multi-site megachurches), our local denominational landscape is very unique. Hawaii's two most prominent denominations are the United Church of Christ (128 churches including Central Union, Makiki Christian and First Chinese among others) and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (49 churches including New Hope Christian Fellowship and Hope Chapel among others). I'm not aware of any other state where the UCC and Foursquare (or vice versa) are the two biggest Protestant bodies. Some of the rapidly growing denominations on the mainland like the PCA (3 churches in Hawaii), Evangelical Covenant Church (1 church) and the Anglican Mission in the Americas (no churches) have yet to make a huge impact in the 50th state.

6) Many of the cultural differences between Hawaii and the mainland affect the way we "do church." There is a greater representation of Asians and Pacific Islanders living in Hawaii, but less Latinos and African Americans. We tend to dress more casually and eat more rice/less potatoes than our mainland friends. We tend to prefer reggae over country music on the radio. We baptize people in the ocean and hold wedding receptions at hotels. I don't remember doing too much of that when I lived in Illinois.

I'm sure there are other differences between Hawaii's churches and those on the mainland. Any thoughts? What could we add to the list?


roosky said...

Too true! The new gossip at saga is how there's one church in Wheaton that meets in a school cafeteria-- "what a disgrace to a church! I guess the economy really hit them hard this year..."
I'm actually thinking about looking into that church for a little familiar taste of how we do church back home in the islands.
I also never know what to tell people when they ask what denomination I belong to, seeing as I never really knew. Most people think I'm pretty weird when I mention that my family has attended at least four different churches with different denominations in my lifetime. Oh, the joys of being the odd one out on the mainland.

-one of the six Wheaton college students from Hawaii

The Common Loon said...

Good thoughts, roosky. Hawaii may seem a little "weird" to the untrained eye, but it's still a great place to call home.

I'm pretty sure there were less than 6 students from Hawaii when I was at WC. Go Thunder!