The Queen Lili‘uokalani Ho‘oku‘ikahi Reconciliation Service, held on Friday, January 19 in the main temple at Honpa Hongwanji Hawai‘i Betsuin in Honolulu. Photo by Stephen Hale, Capital Hope Productions for the California-Pacific Conference.

By Kristen Caldwell, WJ Communications

When examining its history for a 150th anniversary celebration, First UMC of Honolulu uncovered a direct correlation between the colonization of Hawai’i and The United Methodist Church.

The harm the church caused and the desire to bring truth to the island-state’s history lessons has led individuals to request a formal apology from The United Methodist Church on behalf of native Hawaiians at this General Conference

Clergy and laity from the California-Pacific Conference of The UMC are hoping Petition 20582: United Methodist Apology for the Illegal Overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom starts the healing process for Native Hawaiians who were directly harmed by The United Methodist Church’s involvement in the overthrow of Hawaiian government and annexation of the islands into the United States.

“We’re going home and hopefully saying ‘The United Methodist Church recognizes what they’ve done and hope for repentance and reconciliation,” said Rev. Amy Wake, pastor of Trinity UMC in Pearl City, Hawai’i.

Wake was serving at First UMC of Honolulu when members of the congregation uncovered old plays and documents referencing a Rev. Harcourt W. Peck, who later became pastor of First Methodist Episcopal Church in Honolulu in the late 19th century.

As Wake and members discovered, Peck was an instrumental part of the overthrow of Queen Lili’uokalani’s government of Hawai’i on Jan. 17, 1893. The overthrow was led by independent sugar cane plantation owners heavily assisted by U.S. marines. Peck was a sharpshooter and assisted in the removal of the monarchy.

“At one point decades ago, (church members) were very proud of the role they played in the overthrow,” said current First UMC of Honolulu pastor, Rev. Won-Seok Yuh.

Where other white Methodists were struggling to gain a foothold in Hawai’i, Peck appeared to be succeeding with the First Methodist Episcopal Church.

“The only reason he had success where others failed is because he had all these connections,” Wake said. “He continued to go out from his pulpit and shoot people.”

The petition has been assigned to the Independent Commissions Committee, but it hasn’t been scheduled yet for discussion.

The process to deeper understanding began when the California-Pacific Conference created a task force for acts of repentance with indigenous communities following the call at General Conference 2012, and the task force began looking into Hawai’i’s own complex history.

“It took on new meaning when we recently learned Rev. Peck was directly involved,” she said.

Members brought a petition to the 2018 California-Pacific Annual Conference gathering in hopes of advancing this legislation to the 2020 General Conference.

Although COVID delayed its move to General Conference in 2020, Wake and Yuh have used that delayed time to reach out to native Hawaiians and gather their feedback on what a meaningful apology would be.

Yuh said task force members have had “hundreds” of conversations which has resulted in a deeper understanding of not only what an apology would mean, but the work local pastors and congregation members can do to understand and see Hawai’i as more than just a tourist destination.

“People from across the (UMC) connection come to Hawai’i,” he said. “It involves the whole UMC to undo the colonial mindset in regard to Hawai’i.”

If adopted by the General Conference, Wake, Yuh and others will return to their communities in Hawai’i in hopes this is a first step in healing. There’s work to be done on creating advocates and allies for a deeper understanding of the island’s history. There is hope that some resources can be returned to native Hawaiians.

“It’s nothing if it’s just words,” Wake said.

To understand the story more fully, watch the YouTube video members of the Hawai’i District of the California-Pacific Conference created.

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