Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Mark Hatfield (Word, 1976, 224 pp., $7.95), is reviewed by Carl F. H. Henry, lecturer-at-large, World Vision, Monrovia, California.

In a forthright book that will gratify some readers, dismay others, but challenge all, Mark Hatfield, a Republican Senator from Oregon, reaches with deep evangelical concern for biblical authenticity in facing socio-political problems of our time. He bares his struggle to maintain political convictions and positions among his critics, and admits to periodic urges to vacate politics—with its cosmetic pursuit of image—in order to work to establish principles he considers imperative but threatened by the prevailing politico-economic establishment and the evangelical religious establishment. The volume is refreshingly honest, its respect for Scripture unmistakable, and its desire to stand on biblical terrain under the lordship of Christ highly commendable.

Hatfield refuses to blur Christianity into a culture-religion. Insisting on distinctions between church and state he protests any tendency to regard politico-economic structures as "almost sacred." The United States, he avers, is not exempt from stern biblical judgement, nor is national security identical with military power.

Without professing to be a theologian, Hatfield nonetheless ventures a theological rationale for his commitments. Both his theory and program therefore deserve careful study by the Christian community. The volume does not convey—nor does it claim to convey—a comprehensive political philosophy. Some problems and their solution are confronted more fully than others; some, like predator powers and inflation, are not discussed at all. While the book is more an earnest conversation than a schematic thesis, it glows with conviction and a sense of urgency to recognize both the mission of the Christian Church and the fate of the world in our century.

Two conspicuous themes are Hatfield's rejection of military solutions to world problems and his call for decisive demonstration by the Church as the new society. Hatfield's opposition to the war policies of Presidents Johnson and Nixon so infuriated some onetime supporters that his political career was in jeopardy. The image-priorities of many leaders and spiritual rejection by many evangelical Protestants were disconcerting, though Hatfield found support at Fuller Seminary, at the Post-American, and from former Senator Howard Hughes among others. Rethinking his loyalties, Hatfield placed Christ's suffering love and service to others above self-preservation.

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He discloses an incensed Nixon, Haldeman, and Erlichman after he criticized American civil religion at a National Prayer Breakfast where in the presence of military and other leaders he called for national repentance. American culture, amid its military resources now equivalent to 655,000 bombs of the kind dropped on Hiroshima, its worship of industrial and technological progress and flair for bigness, its neglect of ecological problems, its devouring of natural resources, its lack of interest in ontological concerns, and its mounting psychic pressures, is not, he insists, exempt from a bleak prospect. He shares an important letter to him from Billy Graham that commends Nixon and criticizes civil religion in its unitarian form. Hatfield contends that the pride and ambition of Nixon do not differ in kind from those of most politicians, however, but reveal "the corrupting lust for power that characterizes our entire political system." The large scandals and consequent loss of faith in government nevertheless have temporarily awakened Congress, says Hatfield, to reconsider national purposes and values.

He is surely right that "nothing short of a spiritual revolution nurtured by faith is required as humanity's deepest need" and that "we must move toward the spiritual transformation of society" through the rediscovery of God, who is Love. All efforts to turn an unregenerate and rebellious world into a utopian tomorrow are doomed. The Christian vision centers in a New Order proclaimed by Christ that involves allegiance and hope grounded in the Spirit and not "in the efficacy of our world's systems and structures to bring about social righteousness in the eyes of God." The people of God are signs of that New Order. Its prophetic Word has an inherent power and life that is independent of political institutions and does not require their support.

"Radical allegiance to Jesus Christ transforms one's entire perspective on political reality," Hatfield states. Such allegiance requires "uncompromising identification with the needs of the poor and the oppressed;" "fundamental opposition to structures of injustice and forms of national idolatry"; commitment to "the power of love" as "the only means" to any end; and deep doubt that "the Christian's active participation in violence and war ever could be justified." Christ's teaching and example, says Hatfield, "set forth unequivocally the way of nonviolence for his followers," and the Sermon on the Mount precludes Christian participation in "violence and war" (the two terms are frequently used interchangeably).

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Just-war considerations, if applied faithfully, Hatfield contends, would today "more likely sanction the violence of the world's poor and oppressed in their struggle for human liberation than the military actions of the world's most powerful nations. When a political regime of a poor nation is dictatorial, ruthlessly oppressive, allied with economic and political forces that preserve the status quo, and offers no hope to the poor masses, then is not revolution committed to building justice for all a viable alternative?" Hatfield deplores the "ongoing structural violence" serviceable to the monopolistic wealthy that "causes" death not by bullets and bombs but by famine and poverty. "To oppose such violence is a moral imperative; moreover, this is central to faithful Christian obedience. … When a fellow-Christian from a poor nation tells me that violent revolution is the only option for freeing that country's masses from … human suffering, then I find the just-war stance set forth in its most compelling manner."

To combat oppression, destitution, unjust structures, and nationalism, and to put the ready militarism of our century on the defensive, are indeed imperatives. But many who share these concerns will disagree that pacifism adequately fulfills New Testament obligations to civil government; they will question the logic, moreover, of equating a duly constituted government's resistance to aggression by a predator power with internal violence by self-appointed revolutionaries. While governmental authority is divinely limited, Hatfield's claim that submission due the state necessarily implies a reciprocal obligation falters on the use of hupotasso in Luke 10: 17, 20. Romans 13 presupposes the legitimacy of the sovereignty involved, even though it be a pagan government. Submission, however, presupposes conscientious obedience to God's will, which binds a particular state no less than its citizens.

Hatfield, who fought in World War in the U.S. Navy, says that to have served with an invading U. S. Army in Viet Nam would have violated both his conscience and his Christian faith. He holds that God permitted, but did not desire, his ancient covenant-people to wage war, and that in any event no analogy can be drawn for modern nations that have no such covenant-basis. Nonetheless the biblical prophets, Hatfield says, demonstrate how God's people are to relate to political power; trust in military might they considered corruptive and a sign of distrust in Yahweh.

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The earliest Christians declined military service. But through mutual opportunism the Constantinian era changed church-state relationships, and Christians became the soldiers of Caesar, ultimately at great cost to the Church. "We cannot assume that the enemies of God are coincidentally the enemies of our own nation," says Hatfield pointedly, "or that the Americans have been divinely appointed to carry out the judgments of God in the world." The Christian politician, he insists, is "in no way exempted" from the need to love enemies.

Jesus' proclamation of the dawning kingdom in its "full political and spiritual sense" threatened the established order. Its exposition by Hatfield in terms of suffering love that repudiates violence and war for love in all human relationships, including public and international concerns, generally follows John Yoder's The Politics of Jesus. Whether the American Revolution was militarily justifiable is not explicitly indicated, but Christian obligation to cooperate with a government in acts of war is rejected; the Christian must, however, be willing to suffer the legal consequences of such responsible disobedience.

"Much of the organized Church," we are told, has "succumbed to a civil religion instead of obeying the Scriptures and the revelation of Christ." We are reminded that the Church "has a unique "role to play" since loss of community is at the basis of modem social estrangement. The Church should furnish and practice models that rest on new values and embody "the first signs of a New Order in the world. Economically, socially, racially, and spiritually, such new communities can point the way…"

In contrast to environmental indifference and personal estrangement in the big cities, "it must be the responsibility of the Christian community to reestablish in our society a model of people who know how to care for each other and an ethic reaches out to the world at large with this sensitivity and commitment." "The Body of Christ must witness with peculiar clarity and power to the truth that we are not the owners of creation, but rather its stewards, entrusted with its temporary use." A fast-approaching doubling of world population indicates the need for concern for universal humanity irrespective of national borders and political ideology.

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Despite moving passages that stress the need for Christian renewal, the volume does not spell out in a programmatic way what the kingdom implies for political commitments inside and beyond the Church. In one instance, regarding world hunger, a concern that Hatfield will be as major and encompassing in the coming years as were civil rights and Viet Nam in the recent past, he discusses the Church's own program at some length. At the bottom of the famine crisis, he believes, lies not an insufficiency of food but rather the control and distribution of it by and for the affluent, and their unconscionable life-styles. This imbalance can be significantly relieved by voluntary stewardship to neighbors who have less, the Christian community's example of compassion for the poor and needy even among enemies, and a famine-relief program that involves church budgeting, tithing, fasting, dietary change, restraint in possessions, even temporary support of a needy family, and the formation of food cooperatives to support small farmers and assist consumers.

But just how is Christian principle to impinge significantly upon a pluralistic nation and the world? Hatfield commends Lincoln's emphasis on universal divine sovereignty and the need of national repentance and justice but does not note that Lincoln contributed to an institutionalizing of civil religion that Hatfield deplores. In line with Lincolnian precedent and in view of the prevalent materialism, militarism, and racism of our day, Hatfield sought, but to no avail, congressional proclamation of a 1974 national day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer.

Hatfield does not wrestle with the plight of the world in terms of a systematic outline of Christian political duty, but calls for a change in national and world structures without a principial discussion of method. However, for three concerns—world hunger, bureaucratic government, and multinational corporations—he proposes specific alternatives. In confronting the present-day megalopolis, which multiplies problems of pollution, crime, energy, housing, and refuse while eroding community values and personal sensitivity, Hatfield's solution is two-pronged. "We need compassionate communities and must "no longer look merely to government to do it for us," he says; yet legislation is needed to preserve natural resources and recreational facilities and to protect the needs of the poor amid urban development. Hatfield disowns the notion that the Christian task can be satisfied by "reforming the existing structures" to achieve justice; such effort reduces merely to applying short-term "band-aids" when major surgery is needed. The prophetic approach, he states, is far different from the kind of modern reform ventured by Common Cause.

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If it is true that nuclear war most jeopardizes the continuance of civilization, it is just as true, thinks Hatfield, that "the threat of de facto bureaucratic power poses the gravest dangers to the worth of life within that civilization." Huge governmental bureaucracies need to be challenged; tenured bureaucrats in them wield massive power, and the agencies themselves are inefficient and oversimplify regional needs. The alternative, Hatfield believes, lies "in smallness, through decentralization," and hence "in the political world … a massive and legitimate return of power to the citizens" with greater reliance on neighborhood self-government and commensurate changes in tax laws. Likewise the inner function of industrialism should be dramatically changed by division into smaller units more compatible with worker values and decisions, and small entrepreneurship should be encouraged.

America, with 6 per cent of the world's population, allegedly controls 40 per cent of its wealth; "we must begin to share the world's wealth rather than continue to exploit it on an ever-increasing scale," says Hatfield. He suggests breaking up large power-complexes—international and national corporations—in the interest of re-division and extension of ownership, such corporations account for 56 per cent of the nation's "economic income of wealth," and only 100 firms control half of all industrial assets.

"For the next ten years the deepest moral challenge we face is the injustice of a world dramatically split between the wealthy and the impoverished," between the so-called "Fourth World," with a per-capita GNP under 275 dollars, and the United States, Europe, Japan, and the Soviet Union. The almost unthinkable statistics of famine and poverty are crowned by disproportions that widen despite what sacrifices are being made, and will continue to do so apart from a change in basic patterns of food consumption, production, and distribution. (The book does not discuss population control.) Many "foreign aid" programs have been paternalistic and culturally insensitive. They have neglected the connection between poverty and unemployment. Future global policies as "first tasks" must promote "comprehensive land reform and income redistribution" and provide single-family farms with heavy capital coming from cooperatives. Otherwise, instead of achieving "human liberation from need," foreign-aid programs will only further entrench the national élite in poor countries.

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Hence the nation and the world need to be called "to a rightful exercise of stewardship," to a kind of political decision-making that benefits all humanity. "Let us be stewards of justice over our resources, sharing and utilizing them for the sake of all humanity."

Alongside this call by the true Church, which is already the dawning kingdom of love, Hatfield proffers suggestions of a program for radically reforming the nation and society in general, which now seek peace and justice by force and violence. While he rightly analyzes many weaknesses of the contemporary ethos, he seems to offer no consistent or persuasive methodology for achieving radical changes, nor does he indicate how these changes guarantee the spiritual revolution by which and for which he elsewhere devalues other efforts.

This confusion stems from a failure to distinguish between the morality of love that binds Christians in all interpersonal relations and the universal obligation to seek justice in socio-economic and political affairs in a fallen society. The book therefore is more an analysis of modern problems and a dramatization of Christian opportunity than an acceptable elaboration of Christian methodology for changing world-structures other than by the power of love. Some critics will ask whether an emphasis on equalization of the world's wealth may not be as materialistically oriented in terms of ultimate social solutions as an emphasis on economic distinctions.

The author preserves no careful distinction between orders of divine creation (marriage, labor) and of divine preservation in a fallen human society (civil government), on the one hand, and structures and institutions that on the other are depicted as intrinsically rebellious and hostile to God. He quite indiscriminately lumps together as world-powers "in rebellion against God's sovereignty" all ideologies, forces, structures, and institutions that lie "at the groundwork of a society or culture." The basic structures of human existence—not only their sinful deployment—seem to be viewed, if not as intrinsically evil, at least as having a quasi-independent or deistic reality that God uses to restrain those who are outside of Christ. Hatfield shows little recognition that the creation ordinances of God provide the basis for a comprehensive political ethics, that Christians motivated and instructed by the realities of redemption may serve mankind nobly within these creation ordinances, that in a fallen world our Christian choices also share in that fall, and that divine providence may turn to goodness these feeble offerings of Christian service.

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In an epilogue Hatfield voices his frustration at trying to reproduce in "the style of my political activity … the character and quality of love I see in Christ." His commitment to faithfulness above success, to the regenerate Body of Christ as God's new order in a fallen world, to unconditional love in interpersonal relations, is laudable, even enviable. The political arena is not for him, as it is for some, a realm of opportunism governed mainly by pragmatic considerations. But unless one recognizes that in the public arena justice properly prevails, rather than interpersonal love, then tensions in political practice are inevitable. Indeed, even with such a recognition tensions are inevitable, since political justice inescapably involves a tenuous compromise of competing interests. Only Christ can and will inaugurate a millennium in history.

The Christian knows, however, that true justice always honors God's law, that only in the inner spirit of love can one wholly fulfill God's law, that Christ already rules the nations invisibly and providentially as King of kings, and that at his return in power and glory he will openly establish his kingdom. In the interim the Church is indeed to be the new society ruled by exemplary love; it is to work for justice in the fallen world not only by encouraging the vocational efforts of believers but also by espousing just structures and respecting them. The content of this justice for which the Church works is to be derived not from modem social critics or revolutionaries but from God's new covenant; to this covenant all humanity remains answerable. In the hard place of this life the Christian rests always on the Rock; he knows that it is the God of both justice and justification who continually plots the critically important docking maneuver between an as yet unglorified Church and a rebellious world.

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This article originally appeared in Christianity Today on June 18, 1976.

Related Elsewhere:

Used versions of Between a Rock and a Hard Place are available from and other retailers.

Christianity Today interviewed Mark Hatfield for a 1982 cover story

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