Mark Hatfield Taps into the Real Power on Capitol Hill
Note: Mark O. Hatfield, longtime United States Senator and Oregon Governor, died Sunday, August 7, 2011. Christianity Today will soon be publishing his obituary, but in the meantime we offer this extensive interview, which was the cover story of our October 22, 1982, issue (the last issue for which Kenneth S. Kantzer served as editor). The interview concludes with a question about whether Hatfield planned to seek reelection; he did, and continued to serve in the Senate until 1997. He never lost an election.
What makes Sen. Mark Hatfield so different? Newsmen and radio commentators find it difficult to place him in a neat pigeonhole. As the New York Times puts it: "Mr. Hatfield does not fit the mold." He is a Republican, but is known as a liberal in politics. He is against nuclear war, but he is not a pacifist. He supports all sorts of programs to aid the poor, but he is a diehard fiscal conservative. He is a friend of Billy Graham, and he cosponsors a resolution with Sen. Edward Kennedy. He has never been a "wheel" of the Senate's power structure, but he has become chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. He antagonizes his Oregon constituency by voting flatly against a measure 90 percent of them badly want, and they turn right around and reelect him to office. He is a devout evangelical and an active member of Georgetown Baptist Church, but no fundamentalist or evangelical organization has him in its pocket.
What makes that kind of man? We believe this interview will reveal his secret: it is his deep commitment to Jesus Christ and a conscience structured and refined by Holy Scripture as his own final rule of faith and practice.
Senator, would you describe your spiritual and religious roots?
I am convinced that a person carries the imprint of his environment. I had the advantage of being raised in a small community. From that experience of knowing neighborhood and neighbors came a real sense of community. You knew the doctor, the merchant, the groceryman. If the fire whistle blew, you could call central and find out where the fire was. If the doctor was on a house call, you could call central and the operator knew where he was—at Mrs. Jones's house, say—and if you called the Jones house, he would stop to see you on the way back to his office. This was in the little town of Dallas, Oregon.
It was a marvelous experience as a child growing up to sense the relationship to relatives, neighbors, community. Sunday school and the Methodist church were very much a part of our lives. My parents were Baptists but since there was no Baptist church in Dallas we were part of the Methodist congregation. A very important part of my early life was the fact that when I was five my mother left home to complete her education and my father and I moved in with my grandmother. I was the only child in our family.
We moved to Salem when my mother graduated from Oregon State University. She got a job teaching school just as the depression hit. My father was a blacksmith on the railroad and traveled a great deal, living in outfit cars. We united as a family in Salem and returned to the Baptist church. I was exposed to the teaching of the Bible in Sunday school, and learned the catechism pretty well—the Baptist catechism. Some people would react to my using the term "catechism."
I remember vividly that I did not feel a part of the Baptist culture. There was a great deal of legalism in that church that created a sense of separation. I had always gone to movies; my parents felt good movies were good movies and there was nothing wrong with good movies. In high school I learned to dance and went to dances, which further isolated me.