By David Shapiro
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona has become a visible figure in an evangelical Christian movement that aims to mobilize thousands of "marketplace ministers" to spread the gospel of Jesus in centers of influence such as businesses, government offices, schools, union halls, the media and the arts.
The group, which calls itself Transformation Hawaii, hopes to gather 10,000 adherents at the Blaisdell Center this weekend for training on how to "transform Hawai'i to God's great plan."
Aiona, who is honorary chairman of the event, sent a letter over his official title urging church leaders to join the movement and "be the salt and the light."
"God is behind this," Aiona wrote. "I would like God to bless the people of Hawai'i and see God's love transform our state."
Other political leaders have been associated with Transformation Hawaii, including Kaua'i Mayor Brian Baptiste, state Sen. Norman Sakamoto and Honolulu Councilman Gary Okino, but Aiona has been especially prominent.
The lieutenant governor made a video promoting the event in which he urged viewers to "experience God's movement in Hawai'i."
"The movement is happening ... and we all have to be a part of it," he said.
In December, Aiona led 6,000 believers around the state in a "canopy of prayer," declaring that "Hawai'i belongs to Jesus."
He said then, "Our schools will become God's schools; our community will become God's community; our city will become God's city; our Islands will become God's Islands; our state will become God's state; and our Hawai'i will become God's Hawai'i."
The Rev. Alison Dingley, an Episcopal priest, said she found the letter from Aiona "really inappropriate" and disconcerting in its political implications.
"Officials who were elected to represent all of Hawai'i, which is very diverse religiously, seem to be allied with something that appears to be entirely one brand of Christianity," Dingley said.
"I think it's wrong-headed to try to convert people," she said. "We should be sharing the good news of our various faiths, Christian and non-Christian alike."
Aiona said in an interview that his letter was sent to leaders of all Christian denominations, not just evangelicals, and he's sorry if some felt offended.
"It's a matter of expressing my faith as a Christian," he said. "I hope people will see me as an image of God ... a good example."
Aiona, a former judge, said he respects the legal boundary between church and state.
The leaders of Transformation Hawaii are Francis Oda, a pastor and CEO of the architectural firm Group 70 International; Cal Chinen, pastor of Moanalua Garden Missionary Church; and David Monroy, a pastor and attorney.
In a promotional video, they describe Hawai'i as "a hurting community" with broken families, drugs, crime and hopelessness "symptoms of a spiritual crisis that undermines every part of society."
Their solution: "Taking the love of Christ into all areas of our lives and state."
The movement already reports successful small-scale "workplace ministries" on the Honolulu docks, at the University of Hawai'i and in Chinatown and Nanakuli.
A February gathering at the Hawai'i Convention Center that had little publicity drew 900 participants, a number the group hopes to increase by more than tenfold this weekend.
"The movement is so grassroots at this point that it's really simple and pure," said Daniel Kaneshiro, a Sprint senior account executive who helped organize the Blaisdell event.
He said Transformation Hawaii hasn't made political endorsements of candidates or issues, but neither does the group shy away from taking its "workplace evangelism" into the halls of government.
"You can't really separate church and state," Kaneshiro said. "Why not let God in?"
Correction: Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann is not an honorary co-chairman of this weekend's Transformation Hawaii Event at the Blaisdell Center. The information was incorrect in a previous version of this column.
David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.