A Conservative Remembers Mark Hatfield

Mark Hatfield, who died Sunday in his native Oregon at age 89, was the first Christian politician I recall meeting in Washington, which is to say he did more than keep a Bible on his desk. He sought to keep its words and teachings and its main "character" in his heart.

When we first met in the early 1970s I was in the middle of my own "faith journey," trying to sort out what Scripture teaches about this world and the next and to see if it could match my conservative political leanings.

Hatfield was the first to suggest to me that the two kingdoms -- of God and of the world -- sometimes intersect, but more often than not diverge.

He was criticized by some political conservatives for aligning himself with liberal Democratic Senator George McGovern against the war in Vietnam.

The McGovern-Hatfield amendment, had it passed, would have required the end of U.S. military operations in Vietnam by the end of 1970 and a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country by the middle of 1971. Its defiance of executive power is repeated in our current debates over Afghanistan and Iraq and the purpose and use of American military might in the world.

In retrospect, Hatfield and McGovern were right about Vietnam. The reason more of us didn't recognize it at the time was that proponents of the war (most of whom didn't have to fight it) wrapped themselves in the flag and treated any criticism of Presidents Johnson and Nixon and their prosecution of the war as unpatriotic. Sound familiar?

Hatfield was a consistent "pro-lifer." He opposed abortion, the death penalty and war. In 1982, he told the Christian Science Monitor, "There is no direct ratio between the increase of our arsenals and the diminishing sense of national security," adding, "there comes a time in a nation's life when additional money spent for rockets and bombs, far from strengthening national security, weaken national security -- when there are people who are hungry and not fed, who are cold and not clothed." That last line is straight from the teachings of Jesus.

Mark Hatfield may not always have been right about some political issues, but he was not a hypocrite. He lived by the standards he professed and he challenged others to do the same.

For a young Christian like myself, that had an impact on me.

Though we may have disagreed on some political issues, our common bond in Jesus Christ kept us close. In the end that is all that really mattered -- to Mark Hatfield and to me.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated newspaper columnist and a Fox News contributor.