Mark O. Hatfield’s political witness shaped a whole generation of students, teachers, pastors, and social activists in the evangelical community and beyond. The voice of Christians today who plead for social justice and peaceful alternatives to war would not have emerged with its strength and clarity in the 1970s without his leadership. His death underscores the vacuum of such spiritually rooted voices uncompromising in their commitments to peace and justice within the cacophony of political rhetoric today.
One of my life’s greatest privileges and joys was to work as an assistant to Senator Mark O. Hatfield for nearly a decade, from 1968 to 1977. I saw first-hand what courageous leadership, combined with unswerving compassion and civility, looked like within the political life of that turbulent and formative era. Those experiences are shared in my book, Unexpected Destinations (Eerdmans).
In 1968, Mark Hatfield was one of the few political figures voicing strong opposition to the Vietnam War, and the only well-known evangelical and Republican to do so. And he never compromised. In 1970 and 1971 he teamed up with Senator George McGovern in legislation to block funding for the war. Though the legislation never passed, it galvanized growing political pressure to change policy.
It’s a remarkable and little-known fact that in 1972, George McGovern had Hatfield (without his knowledge) on his short list for the vice-presidential nomination prior to choosing Senator Thomas Eagleton, and the subsequent debacle. This was after Mark Hatfield had been on Nixon’s short list in 1968, before he selected Governor Agnew — and an earlier subsequent debacle. Just this example is one of many underscoring Hatfield’s commitment, when it mattered, to put principle before partisanship — a practice nearly alien to today’s political culture.
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Here are two more tributes to Mark Hatfield: