Monday, April 4, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we head to the mailbag to finally answer that one question.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 4th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Ok- enough of the silliness. Bryan in Kent Washington asked, “are you actually going ever to tell the story of Christianity in Hawaii?

Yes- I am going to do this today. No zigs or zags. Part of why the show kept getting bumped was. First, a mistake I made the second was a mistake by a publication (publications make mistakes all the time- I don’t care if it’s Wikipedia or a doctoral dissertation. You had always had more than one source… the anti-Wikipedia stuff is dated. I digress)

And then, the more I read about the beginnings of Christianity in Hawaii, the more bummed out about how the western and western Christian influence decimated the islands.

(Quick note on language fun: when we say “decimated,” we mean “destroyed,” but it only means to destroy 10 percent…)

I don’t want to be a one-note song- so “colonization = bad” isn’t going to be my refrain, despite having many reservations about it because of sin and all that… but in some ways, the story of Christianity in Hawaii is about good intentions, the temptation of greed, and subsequent generations of missionaries children acting in less than a Christian manner.

Here are the big beats:

1778: Captain James Cook was the first European to the site and noted these islands he would call the “Sandwich Islands” after the 4th earl of Sandwich (yes, the guy who requested a meal he could eat with one hand while also playing cards).

In 1809 Henry Opukahaʻia, a native Hawaiian was sent to America for education- he would go to Yale and meet a class of would-be missionaries. Opukaha’ia would die of typhus, but the first missionaries would arrive at the Islands in 1820.

And, file under wild coincidence, in 1819, king Kamehameha died. He was a reforming King who united the Islands but also ruled under the Kapu system (this was a system of religious taboos). In his life, Kamehameha unified the islands and made it safe for outsiders (like missionaries) to travel. In his death, the Kapu system would die- leaving a religious void just in time for these Missionaries to arrive with the Gospel.

The first group of Missionaries led by Hiram Bingham arrived in 1820- with his work, the Queen regent Kaʻahumanu (and former wife of Kamehameha I) embraced Christianity as the official religion of the islands.

Titus Coan, among others, led the second group of Missionaries. Coan would come in the 1830s after working in upstate and Western New York with the likes of Charles Finney. Under the influence of the revivalists, Hawaii would experience a revival and rapid church growth throughout the 30s and 40s.

But with the revival came the desire not just to evangelize but also “civilize.” Missionaries brought with them the Western Enlightenment ideal of private property. Did they bring industry and scores of sailors that lacked, um… the posh New England manners of the best Missionaries from Yale? They got the idea of tariffs and trade, and while it would do wonders for sectors in the economy, it would also have devastating effects on others.

Ironically, when Presidents Cleveland and McKinley preached the need to “save” and civilize the Hawaiian “savage,” an argument could be made that the population was as Christian, if not more, than the Americans.

The Christian church in Hawaii today reflects the Protestantism of Bingham and the first missionaries, and the style reflects that of the revivalistic zeal of Titus Coan.

I’m sorry that I was flippant about the rich and complicated history of Christianity in Hawaii… to make up for it, I will happily lead a tour of the history of Christianity in Hawaii- let’s get someone on this…

Thanks, Bryan from Kent Washington (home of the Rams 2000 Super Bowl TE Ernie Conwell!)

The Last Word for today comes from Hebrews 10 (I’m doing my Lenten reading from the daily lectionary in the run-up to Holy Week):

19 Brothers and sisters, we have confidence that we can enter the holy of holies by means of Jesus’ blood, 20 through a new and living way that he opened up for us through the curtain, which is his body, 21 and we have a great high priest over God’s house.

22 Therefore, let’s draw near with a genuine heart with the certainty that our faith gives us, since our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies are washed with pure water.

23 Let’s hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, because the one who made the promises is reliable.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 4th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man who will warn you if you think you are purchasing 100% Kona Hawaiian coffee beans… Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who could go for some Spam Musubi right now… I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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