Remembering Sen. Mark Hatfield

Remembering Sen. Mark Hatfield

Former Senator Mark Hatfield was a hero to many of us who consider ourselves "New Evangelicals."


This remembrance was originally published at the Huffington Post.

Former Senator Mark Hatfield (R-OR), who died at 89 years of age, was a hero to many of us who consider ourselves "New Evangelicals."

My first occasion to hear him speak was in 1970, the graduation ceremony at Fuller Theological Seminary. It was a contentious political era in the height of the Vietnam War, and the hard feelings were felt deep in the nation’s psyche and exemplified by the black armbands being worn that day. As an opponent of the War, one of the few in the United States Senate, Hatfield was invited to address the graduates. Upon completion of his message, which presaged thoughts from his 1971 book "Between a Rock and a Hardplace," a banner was unfurled entitled "We Love You Mark." It represents how so many of us felt then, and always have since, about this principled man.

A few years later in 1980, upon completion of my own seminary degree from Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, which was Hatfield’s denomination, I was invited to join the staff of the National Association of Evangelicals governmental affairs office in Washington, D.C. Among those evangelical leaders whom I would come to know personally, including Carl F.H. Henry, Frank Gaebelein, Richard Halverson (who would become US Senate Chaplain), was the unforgettable Mark Hatfield.

Senator Hatfield was a pacifist, which I am not. He was also an opponent of the defense build-up of President Ronald Reagan, which I supported. But Mark Hatfield above all else, personified a kind of evangelicalism that knew how to build alliances across party lines and respect those with whom you disagree, and to do so amiably. It was rooted in a born-again faith that realized an essential truth as C.S. Lewis put it: "To make politics not just something but everything, is the devil’s lie."

Hatfield was a leader whom many Evangelicals outside of the pacifist tradition opposed, and treated most unkindly, but he never returned that unkindness. Hatfield was always gracious, thoughtful, and kind to even those who despised him for his votes against the war, and every defense appropriation bill. In the 1980’s and early 90’s under the directorship of Robert P. Dugan, also a Conservative Baptist, NAE’s Office in Washington invited Hatfield to address its many Washington Insight Briefings, and College Student Seminars, and Hatfield would always accept, even if it meant leaving a Senate hearing. Such was his concern for the Church and the witness of the Gospel in the nation’s capital.

At the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and 12th streets in Washington stands the statue of Edmund Burke. Inscribed at the base is an inscription which I have over the years asked every intern to personally read: "Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom." Mark Hatfield personified that magnanimous spirit. His witness lives on in many other ways.

While in the Senate, Hatfield helped pass a ban on underground nuclear tests. He campaigned for rules to prohibit the sale of arms to undemocratic countries and countries that do not respect human rights. As he left office, he spoke bluntly about the regrets he felt about the work he left unfinished. "We’re still the largest arms peddler in the world," he said in 1997, "and we infect the rest of the world with our lust for weapons." After all, Hatfield had seen the effect of nuclear warfare for himself: as a young officer in the U.S. Navy he personally witnessed the devastation wrought in Hiroshima.

Hatfield’s concerns are shared by those world leaders who attended a Summit of world leaders in London’s Savoy Hotel this Summer for Global Zero, a movement for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It was my privilege to be there, and to speak on a panel with, among others, former British Defense Secretary Lord Des Brown, Dr. Hans Blix, Christine Beerli, and Ricken Patel, on the threats posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The Economist explains that, "There was a time when the sort of people who campaigned to rid the world of nuclear weapons wore anoraks and thick jumpers and camped out in yurts." It goes on to say that Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, both secretaries of state in Republican administrations, did not belong among them. But those men have been joined by President Barack Obama, and were history to rewind itself, by even former President Ronald Reagan, who stated his goal of the elimination of all nuclear weapons in his famous "Evil Empire" speech to the National Association of Evangelicals in 1983 at the Orlando Florida Twin Towers Hotel.

Mark Hatfield and Ronald Reagan opposed each other on the defense buildup during the 1980s, but they both would probably agree that the proliferation of nuclear weapons is fast approaching a "tipping point" beyond which it will be impossible to check their spread. I suspect Reagan would join Hatfield and condemn the one trillion dollars the nine nuclear-armed powers are set to spend in the next decade on the procurement and modernization of atomic weapons programs, a figure calculated by Global Zero founder Bruce Blair. (His testimony in the Participant Media documentary "Countdown To Zero," released last year and available for dvd rental, is nothing short of scary.)

Today, the leaders of the "New Evangelicals" and millions of others in the wider evangelical family, remember and laud Hatfield’s bi-partisan style, generosity of spirit, and the public-policy values he endorsed, from the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction to the unborn and a sanctity of life ethic. We all owe him a great debt of gratitude. For those of us who experienced or observed all of these attributes up close, we join with his family and others in mourning a truly great and humble man, who did his best to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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