I have, with a heavy heart, seen the lines of people waiting for hours to get food for their families. While many were helped, many also left empty-handed. I have to ask: Do the Senate president, Ron Kouchi; the Ways and Means Committee chairman, Donovan Dela Cruz; the House speaker, Scott Saiki; and the Finance chairwoman, Sylvia Luke, not see the suffering everyone else in Hawaii sees?
Anyone who pays attention to the opening of the legislative session in Hawaii knows that it is marked by the celebration of the so-called Red Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace. At the state Capitol, opening day is never complete without the solemnity of an oli and the cultural resonance of hula performances.
As a minister, these ceremonies mean a great deal to me. They signify who we are as a people, and what faith expects of us. But I am always troubled when we invoke faith simply as spectacle. Witnessing what our elected leaders are doing — or rather failing to do — right now, one must conclude that all the celebratory faith-based fanfare with which the Legislature opened is just that: spectacle, unsupported by responsible stewardship.
Whether because we are called by chapter and verse in the Bible, or whether it’s because we embrace the host culture of aloha, we are each our brother’s and sister’s keeper. And that responsibility is much greater when one occupies positions of power.
What exactly do our elected leaders expect hungry families who are entering a third month without a paycheck to do? How are they to eat? Our elected leaders have an obligation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and ensure adequate care of the sick and the vulnerable.
When these politicians took office, they assumed responsibility for all of Hawaii, regardless of who voted for them or not. It’s how democracy is supposed to work. With leadership comes responsibility. Their first and primary responsibility is to the people, not to political action committees or to big donors. Telling people to “be patient” while legislators bank hundreds of millions of dollars in badly need federal aid and they think about how and when to disburse funds, is negligence. Sinful negligence.
This is not a public shaming. It is a public call to conscience. Because lives are at stake. And those who are suffering the most are those who have the least access to power, and no megaphone to make their voices heard. I fully understand the separation of church and state. But I also take my faith seriously. I assume our political leaders do, too. At the heart of my faith are these familiar words from Matthew 25:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Many of our elected leaders profess to belong to a faith tradition. If they can live up to the call of their faith in ways that go beyond the observance of ritual, they will do some real good. It will go a long way toward restoring public faith in our political leaders and alleviating the human suffering writ large across our state. Spend the federal monies from the CARES Act.
State Sen.Laura Thielen was right: We should be ashamed of ourselves if we fail to rise to the moment. Our common humanity, our faith and the obligations of leadership should galvanize our elected officials to act. Now. Not next month. Not later. Now.
The Rev. Sam Domingo is a retired United Methodist pastor; he was involved in the founding of Faith Action for Community Equity.