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Rewind: A Conversation with Mark Hatfield

CHICAGO, IL (November 7, 2013) — This interview with the late Oregon Republican governor and senator Mark Hatfield was originally published in the August 15, 1972, issue of the Covenant Companion while he still was a member of Congress. Win Arn, then director of Christian education for the California Conference of Churches, interviewed his long-time friend. Hatfield was known for his strong Christian faith and a voting record that was not easy to categorize. He died in 2011 at the age of 89. This article is adapted as part of an occasional series featuring past Companion articles that retain particular relevance today.

Win Arn: Senator Hatfield, would you share with the readers of the Companion the core of your life’s operation philosophy, as a person and as a politician?

Mark Hatfield: Well, I think the core is Jesus Christ because I think of the core of life as that which gives motivation, that which gives purpose, the kind of dynamic or take-off power that one finds to get through the day, through the tasks and responsibilities. I think it is basically a Person. I don’t respond in terms perhaps in which I used to respond…that it’s faith, that it’s the church, that it’s inspiration, or that it’s the gospel. I think what the whole Christian thing is all about is a relationship. It is a relationship between an individual and Christ and out of that relationship it becomes a matter of employing those experiences, appropriating that dynamic and extending this relationship to others.

Arn: In this relationship, are there specifics as to how this would affect you as a United States Senator?

Hatfield: I don’t think there are any specifics that would affect me any differently from anyone else. You see the marvelous thing is that a relationship with Christ is applicable and relevant to anyone in any position. In my particular job, it has certain unique characteristics that you might identify, but they are not that unique. In my case, as a senator, I find a great need for patience and love, for a sense of relevance to other people’s lives and other people’s lives as relevant to mine—needs that anyone has. Now when you apply them to the life that I live there may be implications that have a broader influence. When I vote on something that involves the lives of people, I’m aware that a vote or decision in a public office may affect the property rights as well as the personal rights of people. I seek God’s wisdom. I do not mean to imply that how I vote and what my political positions may be on controversial issues is the Christian way to the exclusion of all other viewpoints, and implying that all other contrary viewpoints may be non-Christian. But for me, as one individual Christian who seeks through prayer, through trying to listen for the still small voice—for me, as God has revealed truth to me, it is the right position.

Arn: You mentioned the Christian way—is there a Christian way in politics?

Hatfield: I think there is a Christian manner. Let me illustrate. I think you, Dr. Arn, could take a position which would lead you to vote a certain way on a controversial issue as a dedicated Christian. I, Mark Hatfield, could take the complete opposite position and feel that it was what Christ had led me to believe and to vote this way, which is totally opposite. But I think the application of the so-called Christian manner is that you and I retain fellowship—you and I are able to rise above that difference of viewpoint and still have love for one another and maintain contact and communication and mutual respect because we are thoroughly reconciled within the bond of Christ which is far stronger than any political difference that you and I may hold.

Arn: Do you find it difficult when fellow Christians take an opposite position and fail to show love?

Hatfield: Oh, my! This is really the deepest hurt of all. I say this because I’ve been down this road and it almost led me out of the field of politics. I went into political life fully aware that there would be those who would disagree and I would be subjected to criticism. This I expect. I have chosen a political style that follows conviction and I’ve not been afraid to speak my mind. I’m willing to express my viewpoint regardless of what the prevailing popular opinions may be. Because of this I have probably had a little bit more of this kind of static and reaction than other politicians. But when I would get the reaction of Christians who would make judgments on my commitment to Christ on the basis of my political position, this was very difficult. Because of different political concepts, I’ve had people who had been my Christian friends break fellowship and refuse to have communication of any kind. This caused me to question remaining in politics. Was it the right thing to do if it meant disturbing and creating division within the Christian relationships and disrupting Christian friendships? I seriously questioned whether politics was worth it.

Arn: You apparently have reconciled these problems?

Hatfield: Out of this experience the Lord has given to me a greater capacity to love and have no sense of ill will in my heart toward such people. At one time I responded in like manner. But I found that that was not really Christ’s way nor was it one that gave me any peace of mind either.

Arn: Are there, Senator, exciting Christian things happening in Washington these days?

Hatfield: Yes, many things. I think there is a far greater openness today than when you and I were first acquainted some years ago. For example, the other day I was going to speak at a conference. It was on a campus. The newly elected student body president wrote me a letter. He said, “I’ve just recently had an experience with Christ and I know you are coming to speak at this conference. Could you give me five minutes? I’d just like to tell you about it.” It was an exciting thing and I’ve had this kind of thing happen frequently on an individual, personal basis. Another example, a group of young marrieds of our Fourth Presbyterian Church where we attend made 7,000 sandwiches and took them down on the Capitol mall during one of the weekend moratorium marches. We sat in the same circles, even where some were smoking pot. We went to the tents and offered them a sandwich—food in the name of Christ. Our group said this was one of the greatest opportunities for witnessing they have ever had. People we ministered to said, “What are you, a bunch of nuts? You mean to say you are members of a Christian church, you are Christ’s people, and you’re really here concerned about me, about us?” And the warmth of the response was fantastic.

Arn: These are exciting days in the Christian life. What about the church? What do you feel is the major issue facing the church today?

Hatfield: The number one problem is providing a format and developing a skill of communication with the youth and learning to relate to them. I see so many churches as a group of people growing old together. Then I see an example of what can happen when, as again may I refer to an experience of the Fourth Presbyterian Church. There are hundreds of high schoolers, and junior high schoolers, and collegians, involved in that church’s activities and in their schools representing Christ.

Arn: Do you see the church getting involved in the political field?

Hatfield: No, only through the lives of its people where the church has taught them to identify issues and create a sense of mission with the membership of that church to really become involved as individuals. I don’t see the church as a political instrument.

Arn: Four years ago the Gallup poll reported four out of every five Americans thought religion was losing its influence in this country. Do you think this would be true today?

Hatfield: No! There is a religious curiosity today—yoga, Eastern religions, witchcraft and sorcery and magic and astrology, evidences of curiosity, a transcendental curiosity. Jesus Christ Superstar—who would have believed a few years ago that there would be a lawsuit brought before the courts to see which company would be privileged to put on a rock opera on Broadway concerning the person of Jesus Christ? And “Amazing Grace” as number one song in America? These are evidences only of spiritual or religious curiosity. Now, I think there is also evidence of a tremendous surge of interest in the person of Jesus through music. Much of it is folk style, but to me it is the greatest opportunity of the church. But as far as church influence—yes, I think it probably is still declining.

Arn: How do you read the moral, spiritual tone of America today, and where do you think we are going?

Hatfield: There is an openness today that has both its strengths and its weaknesses. There is also an honesty, an authenticity of relationship. As I said before, people are willing to talk about Jesus Christ, to share Jesus Christ as an experience in their life. But also in this same openness there is a laxity as to certain standards of conduct, certain attitudes toward sex, toward self-discipline. There is an undermining of the role of authority—the authority of the state, the authority of the family, the authority of the school, the authority of the Scripture. So I should say this openness has the opportunity for more dynamic in spiritual life, and this same openness has undermined attitudes of self-restraint and standards of conduct. There’s an interesting mix.

Arn: If you could make one appeal to the readers of the Covenant Companion, what would that appeal be?

Hatfield: I think probably that it would come down to a simple statement. I’m called by the people to help resolve some of the great national problems from the perspective of a United States senator. These problems we tend to identify as political, economic, social. I would like to say that when you strip the whole institution of government down to its real heart, when you reduce all of these problems down to their common denominator, these are really problems of human relationships. We’re still talking about people. It’s people, it’s human relationship problems, whether it is war, peace, poverty, race, whatever it might be that we’re trying to resolve. And, therefore, we could say that the breakdown in human relationships can only be ultimately and effectively healed by a spiritual application or a spiritual injection, or a spiritual commitment. And when I see that these are the problems that we are wrestling with and we’re spending billions of dollars…we’re expending thousands of lives of people…killing…and all that goes with war…all that goes with neglect of the elderly because of inadequate pensions and Social Security, ill-housed people, hungry people, discriminated and set-upon people…we’re talking basically about a spiritual question. Therefore, I would say that people within the Christian community have the ultimate solution, have the ultimate answer. We can’t legislate it in government. We can’t force it. We can’t buy it with appropriations.

Arn: Are you appealing for Christian people to be Christian—to get meaningfully involved—to live Christ?
Hatfield: To live Christ, yes—but how? Through the expression of love, the agape love. To be able to love the unlovely, to comfort a lonely heart of an older person, to reach out a hand and just take hold, to physically take hold of a fatherless child in a ghetto and let him feel the compassion and warmth of an adult’s hand, to provide food to a stranger coming into the neighborhood who feels anxiety. These are the simple things, and yet these are the way in which we express our love. But the whole thing starts with our learning to love each other.

What did Christ say? “The world will know you are my disciples by the way you love one another.” I would say to your readers they should begin first of all to develop the dynamic of true love and reconciliation within their fellowship, then reach out to the next-door neighbor, to the person on the next lathe, on the next desk, to the one who lives next door. That’s going to resolve these national and international problems. Christian love is contagious—we can infect this country. We can be infectious with the Lord Christ, and at the same time become the real catalyst, the real answer to these problems.

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  • Covenant Companion

    The Communications staff at The Evangelical Covenant Church works to bring you the most complete information on the stories that matter to the Covenant.

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