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‘Vote for righteousness,’ flock told

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At Hope Chapel West Oahu, a modern, vibrant storefront church in Waipahu, the Rev. Leo Bogee has given the same message about voting for months.

The Bible, in the book of Isaiah, says government is on the shoulders of the body of Jesus Christ, he tells the congregation. In Romans, he says, it says God created positions of government authority for his ministers.

"We’re called as Christians to vote for righteousness," Bogee said at the 9 a.m. service yesterday. "So you decide who is the righteous candidate."

On a big screen above a lighted stage, the congregation can see a comparison chart of two candidates for governor.

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, the Republican, is a Catholic. Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, the Democrat? His faith is unknown.

Aiona is for traditional marriage. Abercrombie is for House Bill 444, the civil unions bill.

Aiona is conservative on fiscal stewardship. Abercrombie is for taxes and spending.

Aiona is pro-life. Abercrombie is pro-abortion.

"I’ll guarantee you in this next four years, same-sex marriage will become an issue again," Bogee said. "Civil unions will become an issue again. Who do you want to be sitting in the governor’s seat?"

Churches can urge people to vote and take positions on public-policy issues, but they risk their tax-exempt status if they participate in political campaign activity on behalf of candidates.

"It’s not our job to tell you who to vote for, but as Christians we ask you to vote for righteousness," Bogee emphasized. "Amen."

The church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Mike Kai, told the congregation that the church is not pushing a candidate or a political party.

"I think it speaks for itself, though, if you understand that," he said, referring to the comparison chart.

"You may be thinking, ‘Well, you already pushed it.’ No, we’re not. It speaks for itself. What you saw tells you how to vote," he said.

Aiona has not publicly made his religion or his opposition to civil unions significant parts of his platform. State GOP Chairman Jonah-Kuhio Ka’auwai’s letter to pastors in August describing Aiona as the only "righteous" candidate caused enough political static that his campaign has publicly downplayed religion as an issue.

But Republicans have done extensive outreach in the evangelical community and are relying on religious conservatives to help Aiona and other Republican candidates tomorrow. Higher voter turnout by religious conservatives might help offset Abercrombie’s strength among the state’s large and politically active labor unions.

Ka’auwai has been comparing the election to the biblical clash between David and Goliath.

"Goliath is big government and David is the church," he said, describing his message at churches as educational. "Big government is against the values of the church."

Malia Gray, who is coordinating outreach for Aiona and his running mate, Lynn Finnegan, in the faith-based community, said the separation of church and state by the Founding Fathers was meant "so the government doesn’t tell the church what they have to preach."

"To me, I feel that every person that’s in church should vote, should educate themselves, on who they’re voting in to lead the state," she said. "The church plays an important part."

Abercrombie has said he is a confirmed Episcopalian but does not have an institutional foundation to religion. He has said his approach to social policy issues has a spiritual component influenced by philosophers and theologians.

"In these challenging times, Hawaii needs leadership that invites all people to join in a common purpose," said Abercrombie campaign spokeswoman Laurie Au. "Over the past months, Neil Abercrombie has had many positive discussions with pastors and religious leaders to talk about how government can partner with communities of faith to solve our toughest problems."

Some Republicans are concerned that Aiona and party leaders have relied too much on the evangelical community and not enough on energizing conservatives who worry about taxes and government spending.

State Sen. Sam Slom (R, Kahala-Hawaii Kai) has questioned why Aiona has not been more aggressive at going after some of Abercrombie’s potential negatives, such as his liberal voting record in Congress and his past as a Vietnam War protester.

"If they win on Tuesday, it will be a brilliant strategy," he said. "I just think that there’s so many of these other issues that people are aware of and they brought up, and they wonder why the campaign hasn’t addressed them."

Hope Chapel West Oahu has a diverse and growing congregation. The church used to hold services at Waikele Elementary School but moved into the old Ashley Furniture store in the Waikele Shopping Center. The setting is friendly and inviting, with a youthful ambience that includes a rock band, stage lighting and large screens to deliver born-again evangelism.

Senior Pastor Kai, who grew up on the Big Island, is in his 40s with a wife and three daughters. He dropped "Star Wars" and University of Hawaii football references into a sermon yesterday about how Jesus is the living word of God. Dressed in a casual, white short-sleeved shirt and jeans, he talked more like a guy at a backyard cookout than a theologian.

While other interest groups that share voter advice might have loyal followings, few — even labor unions — get the kind of intimacy and emotional connection that can happen between pastor and congregation on a Sunday morning.

Pastor Bogee has been speaking of the importance of voting for months. Last month at the church’s Equip and Inspire Conference, Bogee and Ka’auwai — the GOP chairman — discussed the role of ministry in politics.

Yesterday morning, Kai said the next governor will likely appoint state Supreme Court judges who could have a lasting impact on state law.

"We know that as Christians we can influence the vote," he said. "We can change things from the grass-roots level up. And let’s not be just the talkers and complainers or just go-with-the-flow people.

"Sometimes, I think, as Christians we just think, ‘Well, it’s just going to happen, because God is going to have his candidate.’ I don’t know. I think to some extent it’s a partnership with God. He will allow who gets in if we don’t do something about this.

"Amen?"

Star-Advertiser reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this story.

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