The death of former Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, on August 7, reminded me of just how influential this incredibly thoughtful and seriously devout man was for my journey of faith. While I never shared every view that Hatfield held on every issue I always paid careful attention to his arguments and respected him for his courage. He was a man of principle, something that there is too little of in our time. He feared no one and consistently spoke truth to power no matter what it cost him.
Hatfield served thirty years in the U.S. Senate and two terms as governor of Oregon. Sarah Pulliam Bailey, writing for Christianity Today, said of Hatfield:
For nearly four decades, [he was] perhaps American evangelicals' most prominent and admired politician . . . a man associated with liberal politics, one of the country's leading voices against the Vietnam War and military spending, and a critic of the nascent religious right.
Hatfield stood out at a time when the nation, after World War II and the strong warnings of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, began to pursue global empire under the guise of spreading democracy, an idea that has now come home to roost. This notion of place in the world as a benevolent empire has been promoted by every president since Nixon, including our current president who openly ran against the notion and now defends it. George W. Bush did the same thing, telling Al Gore in a debate he opposed the “nation building” ideas of Clinton and Gore.
One of the most moving tributes to Hatfield that I read came from Russell Moore, a conservative who disagreed with many of Hatfield’s ideas. In a moving and respectful tribute, also published in Christianity Today, Dr. Moore spoke of a time when he was conflicted about feeling a call to the ministry and yet he had a love for politics. He told how he sought help from Hatfield through a brief three-minute encounter in the Capitol. Moore writes:
Hatfield leaned in and listened to me. He told me, as I thought, that politics was a noble calling, but he said, "You should really be sure that the Lord isn't calling you to ministry, though, because that would be a shame to miss." As he left, he turned back and said, "Remember 1 Corinthians 4:20."
I am quite sure that Hatfield had no idea that these few minutes were that important. Most of us never do. But he stopped and spoke to this young man and made a big difference in his life. That inspires me to stop and listen.
How many leaders, in Washington or in the church, would stop and give that kind of personal attention to anyone? I would hope that I would but I am sure I have failed. I feel like Hatfield, in a way that was never directly personal, made a real difference in my life and many in my generation of young evangelicals. I do not wish to be sentimental at all but he touched my life. I thank God for him and pray that he now rests in the loving presence of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.