Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Mark Hatfield ★★★★★
Mark Hatfield is well-known to me, as he was the two term governor of the state of Oregon, and then long-term senator in Washington, D.C. from Oregon, best known as a Republican who was anti-war, and very out-spoken against the war in Viet Nam. Mark was also very outspoken as a Christian, coming from Baptist roots, and growing up on the Oregon Coast. In WWII, he served in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and he was among the very first GI’s to hit the Japanese mainland and see the destruction of the two atomic bombs. These war experiences had affected his thinking regarding the nature and toll of war, leading to his Pacifist position. Wikipedia has a fairly even-handed description of his life ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Hatfield ) including a few episodes later in his life where he possibly succumbed to the siren-call of political power.
This book expresses the agony of many of the decisions that Hatfield had to go through as a governor and then as a senator. He expresses the challenge of not being overwhelmed or tempted by the power-structures of Washington. Hatfield, in speaking once at a Presidential annual prayer breakfast, was reprimanded by his dear friend Billy Graham, only to have Mark remind us that even Billy Graham perhaps compromised his message in order to “buddy-up” with the power-elite in Washington D.C..
This book has both strengths and weaknesses. The strongest point is that Hatfield continually and freely expresses a Christian world view. There isn’t a chapter or page that doesn’t refer to Scripture or the Christian mind-set in his thinking. This book, written in 1976, could never be written today without the widespread public condemnation of the liberals and the press.
It’s weakness is that Mark expresses a naiveté which is a bit inexcusable. Others, such as Francis Schaeffer, have written extensively by the year 1976 when this book was published, and quite heavily on many of the issues that Mark brings up, including war, social concerns, world hunger, the environment, economic wealth distribution, and the like. Schaeffer does a far superior job of arguing a solid case for Christian involvement in all of these areas. Hatfield gets his main orientation rather from Jim Wallis and the Sojournersmind-set, which I fear is more guilt-manipulation (a term used by David Chilton as the title of a book counteracting a Sojourners thinker Ron Sider in a book titled “Rich Christians in and Age of Hunger”) than truly thinking things out in a Biblical fashion. Hatfield inadvertently acknowledges this in an essay toward the end of the book dealing with world hunger, where he gives a number of action points for dealing with world hunger. I then quote “The final change must come from within our hearts”. Actually, a true Christian response doesn’t make the heart change last but first.
Hatfield gives in royally to confused liberal thinking in many points. He is overwhelmed by Malthusian principles, but then, who wasn’t in 1976? He decries strong central government, but his solutions usually demand an even larger central government. He condemns the United Nations, but simultaneously calls on the UN and similar institutions to solve problems of world hunger, war, over-crowding and poverty. Hatfield definitely flunks in his understanding of economics. Interestingly, he was a friend of Murray Rothbard, and held to many libertarian type economic principles, though this book betrays any form of libertarian thinking or consciousness for fundamental economic principles. As an example, he notes that world hunger is due to poverty, but seems clueless as to the causes of poverty.
The first 9 chapters of this book is a polemic against war, with a few other side issues, such as capital punishment, thrown in on the side. It is also a personal tale of the anguish and agony that Hatfield would go through in attempting to resolve these issues from the stance as a politician. The last chapter in the first part is titled “The purist and the apologist”, where Hatfield discusses the issues of thinking as a purist through social issues, while simultaneously thinking in a pragmatic fashion for practical solutions of world problems. He admits both sides as partially correct, but tends to create a straw-man of the apologist which he then attacks. The second part of the book, which are the last four chapters, discuss 1) the destruction of war and nuclear weaponry, 2) the meaninglessness and futility of Washington power-structures, 3) the need for a Christian environmental movement, and 4) the approach to world hunger.
This book gets five stars for being unique, in that it is about the only book that I know written by a prominent political official that expresses their heartfelt thinking from a Christian world-view. Even though he gets many things wrong, he also gets many things quite right. He doesn’t give strong arguments for his thesis, which I can easily forgive him for. His identification of the problems in Washington, D.C. have since vastly compounded themselves, and I’m sure Hatfield would be horrified by what is now going on in the national capitol. It is a book to read and weep over. Nearly every legislator, executive branch official, and judge has lost the Christian world-view, and we are only the worse for it. Without God’s grace, we will probably never again see a high political official like Mark Hatfield with a heart for God as well as a strong heart for those he served.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place, by Mark Hatfield ★★★★★