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Mark Hatfield (Photo by Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian/AP)

Crossing divides

Christian, Republican, anti-nuclear activist Mark Hatfield was not a typical senator

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

Oregon's longest-serving U.S. senator, Mark Hatfield, who died Aug. 7 at the age of 89, was a study in contrasts. An outspoken evangelical Christian of Baptist background, the pro-life Hatfield once wrote that the "cornerstone of all our freedoms is freedom of religion." But the moderate Republican who served from 1967 to 1997 had a rocky relationship with the then emerging Religious Right.

"To identify any political agenda with Christianity is a miscommunication of the Gospel, plain and simple," he wrote in his memoir, Against the Grain: Reflections of a Rebel Republican. "We would all do well to infuse our personal, spiritual ethics into politics rather than bringing more politics into our religion." It was at Hatfield's urging that Christian leaders in the late 1970s formed the self-regulating ECFA to oversee the compliance of ministries and avoid an emerging threat of government intervention.

Seeing the atomic bomb destruction of Hiroshima as a young Navy officer at the end of World War II, Hatfield became an anti-war activist. Dubbed "Saint Mark" by his colleagues, Hatfield joined the nuclear freeze push, often went against his own party in opposing wars from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf, voted against all military authorization bills and, as chairman of the appropriations committee, redirected money from Ronald Reagan's Pentagon budget to social programs.

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For nearly three decades Hatfield managed to walk along this partisan divide between conservative and liberal. But his deciding vote against a balanced-budget amendment in 1995 infuriated conservatives and eventually led to his retirement a year later.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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