Info for Students » Uncategorized

Mixing faith and politics

Before Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson or Michelle Bachmann, there was Mark Hatfield. The late Oregon senator was evangelical before evangelicalism was cool.He was weaving his faith and politics before Jimmy Carter explained how his belief in Christ informed his views. Hatfield’s quiet legacy is worth considering as another presidential race heats up.Hatfield, who died this month at 89, was both a liberal evangelical and liberal Republican, pairings that may seem odd today. But Hatfield blended them, including drawing on his faith to oppose the Vietnam War as a governor. When elected to the Senate in 1966, he was one of the few evangelicals in national politics.Most evangelicals then saw politics as too worldly. Fortunately, that has changed. People like Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential hopeful, feel compelled to engage the world.But there’s an important difference between Hatfield’s compassionate evangelicalism and the swaggering modern brand we see today. The distinction was summed up by Richard Gathro, dean of Nyack College’s Washington campus, who labored beside Hatfield in the evangelical vineyards for almost 30 years.Gathro explained that many prominent evangelicals now marry their faith with a rugged individualism. Christ’s emphasis on the “we” over the “I” is less apparent among today’s evangelical politicians.Hatfield, who served in the Senate until 1996, also advocated for those left behind. He worked to expand food aid programs. He supported federal civil rights laws when conservatives balked. He backed strong public health programs. Hatfield actually was more akin to today’s younger evangelicals who emphasize AIDS in Africa, sex trafficking and the poor. But you won’t hear their views from a Bachmann or a Rick Perry, who are more in the mold of battling culture warriors like Falwell and Robertson.Another key distinction: Hatfield didn’t align his politics with a Christian political movement. I remember interviewing him once when he warned about the dangers in that approach.For one thing, there’s no single Christian position on issues. For another, when people of faith put so much emphasis on acquiring political power, they risk losing their prophetic voice, the one they must use occasionally to call foul on their country’s course.Hatfield played the prophet when necessary, but especially when he stood before President Richard Nixon and warned a National Prayer Breakfast audience about abuses of political power and the dangers of a “national folk religion” that assumes God is “a defender of only the American nation.”We probably wouldn’t hear that from a Bachmann or a Perry. But there’s a lesson in Hatfield’s legacy, including that people who align their faith closely with a political movement lose the ability to collaborate with others for the common good.McKenzie writes for the Dallas Morning News. His email address is .

Comments are closed.