Monday, August 08, 2011

Mark Hatfield (1922-2011): The Conscience of a Christian Politician

From a 1982 interview in Christianity Today:
[Senator Hatfield:] Finally, I reached a point where I knew I either had to get on or get off. I had to make some kind of commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Master as well as Redeemer. Salvation was not just a historic thing that happened back there once, but a continuity that had to be reflected in my own life. That commitment was my real encounter with Christ. I learned more from those Christian students than they learned from me.

I soon realized my illiteracy, my lack of maturity, and my poverty in the spiritual realm. So I began to arm myself with knowledge and read J. B. Phillips, C. S. Lewis, and D. R. Davies. Their style of writing was very provocative and specific, so I read and read and read.

I next felt the need to become part of a community of believers. I went back to the same church with a more tolerant attitude than I had when I was less active in church. Soon I was elected moderator. One day Doug Coe asked me to speak at a public Young Life meeting. I had never witnessed publicly, and I knew I couldn't play games. I wrestled with this because it was in my own community.

That old banquet hall had mirrored posts. I can recall vividly, as if it were yesterday, the point in my speech when I had to say something more than "the Galilean" or "the Master." When I finally used the phrase 'Jesus Christ," I felt the Devil was there. I really did. If I ever had an encounter with the Devil, it was then. That name Jesus Christ resounded off every post. I got the most piercing headache that I ever had, like hammers hitting the back of my head, pounding me from every angle—Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ. When I finished and sat down I was almost nauseated.
. . .
My goal as a senator is the same as my goal in life. Whatever role I may have, it is all part of my goal of helping build the kingdom. I am striving to help trigger a spiritual revolution. As a senator, I am dealing with political, economic, social, military, and international problems. Fundamentally, these are spiritual problems. The attempt to find a political or economic answer to a spiritual problem will never work. Therefore, in whatever role I play in life, as a senator, as a husband, as a father; in my social life, in my economic life—whatever—I have a single objective: to help create spiritual understanding.
. . .
For instance, education and welfare both average a 40 percent overhead in administrative costs. With a block grant program the overhead is reduced to 20 percent. Therefore, when we reduce a program by 25 percent, we are only reducing it by about 5 percent in terms of the recipient, because 20 percent of the 25 percent would be absorbed by the change in administrative structure. In cutting some of these programs we are putting additional pressure on removing waste and abuse. I cannot tolerate that in the name of the poor or anyone else.

I also have sought to change eligibility criteria. Last year the federal government paid out over a billion dollars in Medicare payments to people who earned more than $30,000 a year. Spreading that entitlement to such a broad base of people is really weakening the whole program. By tightening the criteria we'll have sufficient resources to help those who have desperate needs and no alternative. The appearance is that I'm trying to take away from the poor, but in effect, what I'm really doing is building strength into the programs so they reach the poor and are not wasted.
. . .
[Question:] You have said that when Christians organize politically they lose the real power of their Christian witness. Is this necessarily the case?

I think so. I don't know of any profession or pursuit in life that is more seductive than politics, because it deals primarily with power.

[Question:] Shouldn't we have Christian organizations to take positions and then disseminate literature propounding them and defending them?

I don't think so. Let me tell you my alternative: it is the living presence of Christ in the life of the believer in every facet of society. Christ calls us to be the leaven, the light, the salt. Those elements are known for their capacity to make an impact, to influence, to transform their environment. The infusion of the institutions of society with the presence of Christ, lived out through the lives of Christian people, brings the impact.

Christian political action tends to pull apart. When we try to form a new force, we're imitating the world and its means of exercising power. We have a greater power, the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, expressed in love, compassion, and the other fruit of the Spirit. Why should we reduce that power, thinking we're enhancing it through organizations? At times we need to mobilize ourselves, to speak out as bodies. But when we say, in effect, that if we can get enough people out to vote and get enough Christians elected to public office we'll have the levers of power, we are reflecting a cultural, not a spiritual, bond.
. . .
But let me be frank: reelection is an issue that all politicians play to a certain advantage. When I made my commitment to Christ, I said in effect, "Christ, I want to live my life for you, I want to be in your will." From the standpoint of that commitment, I don't know what the future holds for me, but I do know it's the Lord's will that I'm here now. I'm in a business where you are constantly tempted to think ahead to the next term, to wonder what impact your vote is going to have on your reelection. It's easy to succumb to this political culture that says you have to commit yourself for 30 or 40 years because if you don't, the world will fall apart.
. . .
When I came to know the Lord, I sensed a liberation from enslavement to intellectualism, to cultural acceptability, to being socially debonair. Having sensed my liberation from those false gods, why should I imprison myself again in any area of life?


Ten Mile Island said...

Few know that Hatfield was a photographer in the service, and was one of the first men to enter Hiroshima following the fall of the Japanese Empire.

The Senator was a true hero of mine, even if I didn't always agree with him. But you should never make the good the enemy of the perfect.

T. D. said...

I liked him too. You shouldn't have to agree with someone to like and admire them. I agreed with Hatfield more than I didn't and really like how he presented himself in this interview.

(As an aside, I'm wondering if he had little actual battle photography experience (especially in the brutal warfare of the Pacific) to be so overcome by Hiroshima. It was obviously horrendous, but definitely in the same vein as the torn up men in Pacific ground warfare. There are no pretty wounded and dead in any war, but especially not in the Pacific theater which was much more brutal than in Europe because of the Japanese view of honor and surrender.

Thanks for the comment, TMI!