The Christian politics of Mark O. Hatfield

Former senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon passed away this week at the age of 89. He was one of the last of the liberal Republicans–someone who bucked his party on many issues.

But Hatfield wasn’t simply a liberal Republican in the Nelson Rockefeller mold. He was a devout evangelical Christian, a virtual pacifist, and a “seamless garment” pro-lifer who opposed abortion and capital punishment.

Hatfield played an important role in the rise of the nascent evangelical Left in the ’70s. This article from Religion Dispatches describes his unique political outlook:

Hatfield did not embody the evangelical left perfectly; he was, after all, an anti-New Deal fiscal conservative in the Republican Party. But he pursued its unorthodox agenda in most respects. He was an unambiguous social conservative on abortion, but against capital punishment. He was an anti-war environmentalist. His populist call for “genuine political, economic, and ecological self-determination” meant reducing “excessive concentration of power” everywhere—not only in the executive branch of government and labor unions, but also in big corporations and the military.

At Reason magazine, Jesse Walker points out that Hatfield once expressed sympathy with the ultra-libertarianism of economist Murray Rothbard, even reading one of Rothbard’s articles into the Congressional Record. Hatfield was so admired on the Right and the Left that both George McGovern and Richard Nixon considered him as a potential running mate!

Hatfield’s outlook seemed to be equal parts evangelical Christianity and New Left counterculturalism. I’m not sure what larger lessons should be drawn from this except to note that there were times when the boundaries between Left and Right seemed much more fluid then they are now, and the role of Christianity in U.S. politics was up for grabs. An alternate history where the most influential version of Christian politics was decentralist, anti-war, environmentalist, and consistently pro-life would certainly be an interesting one.

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