The Rev. Dr. Jonipher Kūpono Kwong works with 36 congregations in the Pacific Western Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) as Congregational Life Staff. He also serves as a Program Leader for the UU College of Social Justice. Born and raised in the Philippines (but of Chinese descent), most of Jonipher's adult life was spent in California and Hawai'i. He served several congregations during his over decade-long ministry including: First Unitarian Church of Honolulu (where former President Barack Obama attended Sunday School), Sepulveda UU Society, Temecula Valley UU Community, 'Ohana Metropolitan Community Church in Honolulu and Resurrection Beach MCC in Orange County, CA. His non-profit leadership included serving as Executive Director of the Counseling & Spiritual Care Center of Hawai‘i and API Equality-LA.
Raised in an ecumenical background, Dr. Kwong values his pluralistic upbringing – from Evangelical to United Methodist, Episcopalian to Calvary Chapel. He was christened at a Gospel church and baptized as a Chinese Mennonite. In Hawai‘i, Jonipher was a member of the Honolulu Mindfulness Community, a sangha influenced by Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn. Dr. Kwong obtained his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Claremont School of Theology. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Film Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Prior to getting “the call,” Jonipher worked in the film industry for three years, followed by two years as a Graphics Specialist at McKinsey & Company in Los Angeles.
Jonipher and his husband Chris Nelson were the first legally-married same-sex couple in Hawai‘i, minutes after it became law there at midnight on December 2, 2013. The ceremony was officiated by a Jewish Rabbi and affirmed by 19 clergypeople from diverse faith traditions. The former Governor of Hawai‘i was also present during the wedding as well as two of the most influential House of Representative members who championed the bill to legalize marriage equality during the special session. This event was the culmination of Jonipher’s advocacy for LGBTIQ rights since becoming ordained as an activist minister in 2004. During the battle for Proposition 8, Jonipher was an Interfaith Organizer with California Faith for Equality and advocated for equality in faith communities, including moderate and even conservative congregations. He eventually became the Founding Director of API Equality-LA, educating the Asian Pacific Islander community on the importance of LGBTIQ inclusion.
Some of Jonipher’s published work includes meditation pieces on Voices from the Margins: An Anthology of Meditations and his experiences as a queer immigrant can be found in Queering Migrations Towards, From, and Beyond Asia.
(This biographical statement provided by Jonipher Kwong.)
Biography Date: March, 2017
Unitarian Universalist | Asian | Clergy Activist | Marriage Equality | Hawaii