Curious about the origins of Christianity in Hawai`i, I researched via internet and found confusing and sometimes-contradictory information. After sifting for attempted accuracy, the following account seems to be generally reliable history.
About 400 A.D., or so it is thought, a gentle people emigrated from Southeast Asia and Polynesia to what we know as Hawai`i, and there they lived peacefully for perhaps 500 years. Between 900-1100 A.D., Tahitian invaders enslaved the Hawai`ians, ruling with terror and torture for nearly 1,000 years. When British explorer Capt. James Cook “discovered” these islands in 1778, some Hawai`ians received him as a long-expected god, but he died a mortal death after attempting to take a royal hostage in response to the theft of one of his boats. Cook neither brought Christian influence to Hawai`i nor left any behind.
A few decades later, King Kamehameha II (1797-1824) renounced the old traditional religion (which included human sacrifice), helping to prepare the way for the arrival in 1820 of the first Christian missionaries to Hawai`i, a group of Congregationalists from New England. The missionaries wisely sought and won the king’s favor and assistance. They and their successors (including an educator named Edward Bailey, whose house is now an official museum) not only preached the gospel, but also created a 12-letter alphabet, taught reading and writing and stimulated the writing of Hawai`i’s oral histories. Kamehameha III (1813-1854), regarded as Hawai`i’s first “Christian king,” is remembered for his motto: “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” In 1861, King Kamehameha IV, formally established the Hawai`ian Reformed Catholic [Anglican] Church as the state church of his kingdom.
Perhaps the most famous missionary to Hawai`i was “Father Damien” de Veuster (1840-1889), the sacrificial Roman Catholic priest who served a colony of lepers on the island of Molokai. But not every missionary was so selfless. Some deserted their spiritual calling to pursue personal fortunes, prompting the saying that they “came to the islands to do good, and they did right well.” In 1853, Joseph Fielding Smith, Sr., nephew to the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) spent four years on mission in Hawai`i, and that unorthodox group is thriving in the islands today.
Buddhism and other non-Christian religions claim the allegiance of many Hawai`ians, and Hawai`i’s professing Christians now include most denominations and fellowships found anywhere else. Although (or perhaps, because) Hawai`i is one of the most secular states in the USA, it is also the only state in the U.S. that saw an increase in the percentage attending church from 1990-2000, according to Dave Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Churches of Christ have had a presence in Hawai`i since at least as early as the 1920’s, with later U.S. preachers including Homer Hailey, Graham McKay, Don Givens and others. (09/06/09)