President's Annual Message by Bishop Randolph Sykes:
Welcome, again, to The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii’s Tenth Annual Community Awards Celebration and Dinner. We are grateful for your participation with us this evening as we honor both those who serve our community and have an opportunity to gather with friends. Before I begin my report, there are several people whose tireless efforts over a good number of years have made tonight’s event possible.
First and foremost, the Reverend Doctor John Heidel who, until this year, served as our president and continues to mentor us as we move forward. John’s role has been one of an outstanding leader, competent counselor, generous benefactor, and good friend. We will never be able to thank him sufficiently for the excellent work that he has done. Thank you, John.
Next, I ask that – especially tonight – you keep the Reverend Sam Cox and his wife, Rima, in your hearts and thoughts. Sam, who has been a cornerstone of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii cannot be with us this evening. Many of you know that Rima is in hospice and Sam indicated to me this morning that she is at the stage of “letting go.” Please keep her and Sam, and their family, in your prayers.
Lastly, I thank Jade Young, Cecilia Fordham, Joan Chatfield, Paul Gracie, Alan Goto, Renie Wong Lindley, Rob Kinslow, and all of our board members whose efforts have made this wonderful evening possible. Thanks to all.
The title of my remarks this evening indicates that I am to give the annual report about the activities of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii. In fact, the key activities we held and in which we participated are listed in tonight’s program. And, I ask that you peruse them at your leisure.
Rather, I want to focus my comments on The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii’s future. Tonight is not only the tenth anniversary of these awards but 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii. While our organization may be considered a successor to the earlier Hawaii Council of Churches, it was in 2002 that The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii was formally incorporated.
We have come a long way in seeking to unite the various spiritual and faith traditions that are found in Hawaii in a very special way. Since, as a society, Hawaii is a majority of minorities as well as a series of islands, there is an inherent camaraderie and insular character that makes those of us who live here work at getting along. That is not always to say that everything runs smoothly and we are all one in our thoughts and emotions over various issues. However, when pressed, our neighbors and friends are much more easy to identify.
As we move into our second decade, I envision that The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii will continue to focus on these issues and more. Especially during these troubled times of Depression-Era like financial turmoil, global climate change, and continuing wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, people of faith must be at the forefront of the social issues that result from and perpetuate these inequities. Many of them have or can have impacts directly in Hawaii. And, I am reminded frequently of Buckminster Fuller’s dictum to “Think globally and act locally.”
• Hawaii’s families continue to struggle to make a living wage. Costs continue to rise and, given the devastation of crops in many countries including the United States, we will see food shortages and starvation on a scale that many may find unimaginable.
• Hawaii has thousands of houseless people including families with children as well as single people. All it takes is a drive out to the Waianae Coast to get a view of the magnitude of the problem. The houseless are everywhere and no community wants to take responsibility for making room for them in their backyard, as the saying goes.
How can The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii be part of the solution to ensure that those in our community have food and shelter and, importantly, ensure that the children receive medical and educational assistance that will help them grow to be adults who are able to offer a better start in life than their parents are today? In most cases, what today’s houseless are facing is a fact that it is too expensive for many working parents to afford housing. We have thousands of empty condominiums that are owned by persons from the Mainland, Asia, and elsewhere who are able to afford the high cost of maintaining a second home while providing affordable housing is, for most developers, a pain in the okole, to be blunt. We import more than 90% of our food but are giving away our prime agricultural land to developers to put up more high-cost housing. Oil prices are near record levels and that has a direct impact on both the cost and availability of food.
• In 2009, the Federal Emergency Management Agency sponsored an intergovernmental study of the impact of a Category Four hurricane coming ashore at Ewa. Many do not yet realize how much more common global climate variability will increase sea levels and the likelihood of catastrophic storms. In that scenario, it was estimated that Oahu would loose 80% of its housing stock and all of our hurricane shelters have been built only to withstand a Category Two storm. In that time of catastrophe we would need to evacuate approximately 80,000 visitors and more than a quarter million “at risk” people with disabilities with needs for power and supplies that we would be unable to provide. It could take three months or more to get electricity back to all who need it. Our closest base of supply would be the West Coast.
• Hawaii’s economic engine is Waikiki. Scientists at the University of Hawaii are predicting that by 2100, the sea level will rise between three and just over six feet. There is already flooding around many parts of the island during high tides. Very sophisticated maps have been developed that show clearly where water will replace dry land, and not all of it is at shoreline. While it is not an immediate worry, the longer we take to begin addressing how we as a community will adapt to the coming changes requires the courage, creativity, and commitment of today’s leaders, not those six or seven mayors from now, to begin determining how best to mitigate the affects on Hawaii. Australia, as an example, has already developed and is moving forward with a plan that is abandoning entire swaths of prime beachfront communities because it is more cost effective to the taxpayer to develop strategic alternatives in areas that will not be inundated.
This will mean a major change in our current lifestyle and how attractive Hawaii is to visitors.
What role will The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii play in the education of our communities about the facts of the global changes that will, over time, affect us as dramatically as any catastrophic earthquake or tsunami? How will we help communities develop resiliency and bring forth leaders who do have the courage to do what today’s leaders lack. How will we help people cope with the changes to the world as it is today? How will we help people envision a world of tomorrow that continues to foster care and cooperation, recovery from displacement, and interfaith harmony?
• Thousands of citizens still lack equal rights, especially disenfranchised are the Native Hawaiians; women whose “equal rights” were never made part of our Nation’s constitution and whose ability to control their own reproductive rights are constantly challenged; children who are psychologically, physically, and sexually abused with a regularity that shocks anyone with a conscience; and homosexuals, lesbians, and bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers whose ability to express their personal love relationships is far from settled.
• Thousands of citizens who are Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Hindus, American Indians, Blacks, Asians, and others suffer from discrimination and acts of hatred and violence on a regular and systematic basis. The mass slaughters of people in temples, churches, synagogues, and even movie theaters or by missiles launched across the Middle East is an unconscionable sin. Most of the victims are innocent and many are women and children.
What will The Interfaith Alliance Hawaii do to bring civility back to civilization? What will we do to foster human rights? What will we do to stop the terror that feels as if it is overwhelming us? These are significant questions that deserve our focused attention and deep commitment to assist in resolving.
As we move into our second decade, we have much work to do. We need to be a vital force in our community speaking out wisely but strongly against injustice, inequality, and violence. We need to influence our elected leaders to take positions of courage and to demonstrate the political will that is necessary to ensure that the lives of our children will, in fact, be better than our own. We need to be active in whatever way allows us to do locally what can be done to better the world globally. Mahalo!