For centuries, religions have sought to spread their faith through word and sword, sometimes leaving bitterness and hatred in their wake.
On Kauai, Rev. James Koyama sought to bridge the gap between religions and fulfill his dream of harmony. As his desire to know leaders from different faiths grew, Koyama established the Interfaith Roundtable on Jan.18, 2005.
“I feel great about it,” said Jeffery Pears, chairman of the Interfaith Roundtable, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. “This, I think is a testimony that there’s a need that’s being fulfilled from the roundtable to the communities.”
The roundtable began after Koyama saw a split in the many faith groups on Kauai. Believing there were religious leaders who wanted to have interfaith dialogue and seeking to establish collaboration between the groups, Koyama created opportunities for the faith groups to share their beliefs.
“The Interfaith Roundtable is a group of local representatives from different spiritual, religious and spiritual educational organizations who gather to share our faiths and explore our diversity while focusing on our similarities,” Pears said. “We promote understanding, respect and harmony across different spiritual, religious and cultural groups in our shared community of Kauai.”
The organization’s title is meaningful as there is no head of a roundtable, thus “all religions sit in equal positions in a continuous curve.”
Many religions are part of the roundtable, including Baha’i, Taoism, Christianity, Buddhism, Shintoism, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism and Native Hawaiian.
“It sews the seeds of peace,” said Sister Deborah Burnham, co-chair of the Interfaith Roundtable. “When you focus on what our commonality is, the living the life with the divine being a very practical resource, that’s a commonality that brings us together, that helps the community.”
To celebrate 10 years, the organization will continue the three events they sponsor which are “The International Day of Peace” on Sept. 21, “The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Celebration” on Jan. 19 and “The National Day of Prayer” on the first Thursday of May.
It will also establish days of commemoration for different types of service groups. Pears said people should ask themselves how they can serve others.
Interfaith Roundtable Secretary Sharon West said 10 years is a testimony to the “do-ability” of people coming together who believe differently but celebrate each other.
“We love one another and our differences, and to endure for 10 years and to also be able to really flourish and grow says a lot about what some folks think is an impossibility,” she said.
The organization features “Interfaith Dialogue” on the last Fridays of November and December, and peace and prayer celebrations meant to inspire participation in the three annual celebrations.
It is especially looking forward to honoring Martin Luther King Jr. this month at the Lihue Neighborhood Center. The celebration will feature food and drink, performances by singer/songwriter Blu Dux, a film about King’s life and Hawaii cultural reflections on MLK Day by Kumu Sabra Kauka.
West said religions tend to put their leaders on pedestals.
“But Jesus was a human being, Martin Luther King was a human being, a husband, a father, a minister,” she said. “His big message was to say to us ‘you have a part in this, it’s not just me.’”