Astronaut Remembered as First Buddhist in Space

Times Religion Writer

Air Force Lt. Col. Ellison Onizuka, who perished in the space shuttle explosion Tuesday, will be remembered with Buddhist services in his native Hawaii and in mainland temples as someone who exemplified Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

By virtue of his first shuttle flight one year ago--a secret, 73-hour mission aboard the Discovery space shuttle--Onizuka had earned the distinction, little known outside his own religious denomination, of being the first Buddhist in space.

“He had a very strong Buddhist upbringing; his mother still attends monthly services here on the big island of Hawaii,” said the Rev. Tatsuo Muneto, resident minister for the Kona Hongwanji Temple at Kealakelkua, Hawaii. As a teen-ager Onizuka was active in the Young Buddhists Assn., Muneto said.

“We have more than 10,000 affiliated members of Jodo Shinshu in Hawaii,” Muneto said in a telephone interview. “All were aware that Onizuka’s sense of dedication to the country, conscientiousness and honesty came from Jodo Shinshu teachings.”


Jodo Shinshu, or Shin Buddhism, is said to have 10 million adherents in Japan. Its teachings, developed in the 13th Century, declare that salvation is attainable by people in everyday life as well as by disciplined, ascetic practitioners.

Bishop Seigen Yamaoka, head of the Buddhist Churches of America, said a memorial service for the astronaut will be held Tuesday at the denomination’s national headquarters in San Francisco. Affiliated churches, also called temples, have been asked to hold memorial services.

In his January, 1985, space flight, Onizuka wore a medallion with the Jodo Shinshu crest (a hanging wisteria). He presented the medallion and other mementos to the denomination’s abbot, Monshu Koshin Ohtani of Kyoto, during the abbot’s visit to San Francisco Sept. 13.

“Onizuka recalled that night how happy his deceased father and grandfather would have been to witness these things,” Yamaoka said. Of Onizuka’s gratitude for his family’s encouragement, the bishop said, “We are very reflective on the idea of gratitude. Whatever happens, good or bad, there is always a potential for meaning.”


UCLA historian Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of a new book on how the U.S. press covered the Holocaust, has been selected as director of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley.

Lipstadt, 37, is believed to be the first woman named to head a major national Jewish institution, according to President Ira Weiner.

Currently assistant professor of Jewish studies at UCLA, Lipstadt wrote “Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust” (The Free Press).

She will begin her new job in June, just before the institute’s annual summer leadership camp for college-age youth. The institute, housed on 3,200 acres of rolling countryside, has various programs aimed at stimulating Jewish religious roots and understanding among Jews of different traditions.


The Religion Newswriters Assn., which represents about 200 reporters on secular publications, will have its annual meeting in Atlanta rather than Salt Lake City because of the refusal by leaders of the Mormon Church to allow women reporters to attend a meeting of the church’s all-male priesthood.

The writers’ conference, the first ever planned for the Utah capital, had been timed to coincide with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ spring conference April 5-6.

But the gathering was recently scrubbed by the religion writers’ executive committee after it was learned that women would be excluded from the priests’ meeting.

Mormon public relations officials, eager to have the writers’ conference in Salt Lake City, had arranged for President Ezra Taft Benson and his two counselors to meet with reporters for the first time since Benson was installed Nov. 11.


Louis Moore of the Houston Chronicle, the organization’s president, said the committee decided to switch the conference to Atlanta, just before the June meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The religion writers typically seek to cover a newsworthy conference in addition to holding their own seminars and business sessions. Although the Mormon conference itself rarely produces headlines, the growing Mormon church has been in the news lately with manuscript controversies, possibly related bombings and a recent leadership change.

While the credentials of men entering the Mormon Tabernacle are not checked, making it possible for male reporters to attend, church spokesman Jerry Cahill said women trying to enter would be stopped.

Cahill said that the priesthood meeting, from which women would be barred, could be watched on closed-circuit television and that transcripts would be provided. But Moore said that the writers’ organization would not meet in connection with an event at which reporters of one sex are barred.


The new television preacher for the Worldwide Church of God’s weekly broadcast, replacing the reruns of programs taped by the late founder Herbert W. Armstrong, will be David Hulme, 39,the Pasadena-based church’s acting director of communications.

Pastor General Joseph Tkach, who succeeded Armstrong upon his death Jan. 16, said Hulme will host “The World Tomorrow” and Tkach will fill in when necessary. The program is seen in Los Angeles on KTTV (Channel 11) 9:30 a.m. Sunday and on KHJ (Channel 9) at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

The program was hosted for many years before the mid-1970s by Garner Ted Armstrong, Herbert’s son, until the father banished the younger Armstrong from the church.