Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
In Memoriam: Christ's Call to Service
Senator Mark O. Hatfield
August 12, 2011
by Senator Mark O. Hatfield
Mark O. Hatfield, a former U.S. Senator (R-OR) and Governor of Oregon, died on August 7 at the age of 89. He delivered “Christ’s Call to Service” as the keynote address at the first major conference of the Association for Public Justice (now the Center for Public Justice) in 1977, held in Sioux Center, Iowa. Excerpted below, it was published in essay form by the Center for Public Justice in Confessing Christ and Doing Politics (1982).
I have sensed for many years that we in the North American evangelical community have had a burning question put to us. What do we do with our political responsibility? Many have felt that political activity is beyond the scope of appropriate Christian involvement. I have frequently been asked by other Christians how I could retain my faith and still be a politician. There has been a general tendency to believe that faith is non-political and that the two realms are totally incompatible.
But today among the same circles there is a growing consensus, a reawakening perhaps, that Christian political and social involvement should be a part of our natural witness. This new awareness of the integration of our faith with our political, economic, and social life is helping us to recover the wholeness of the biblical message.
The further question remains, however, of how, exactly, that Christian responsibility is to be exercised. What should be the shape of the Christian witness to the state? On this issue, a variety of views are being explored, tested, and debated, both theologically and practically. For our present purposes, we may ascribe righteousness as far as motives are concerned to the entire spectrum of action. The method, the shape, the scope, and the purpose of Christian political activity is the issue demanding our attention.
This witness, as I see it, must begin with the fact that the Christian is called to live according to a kingdom whose reign and reality has not yet been accepted by society at large. The heart of our political witness must be rooted in our faithfulness to the kingdom proclaimed by our Lord. The vision of that kingdom places us at odds with the prevailing values of our society.
The gospel accounts reveal Christ’s persistent exposure of the shortcomings of the prevailing systems of his day. For Christ, the problems of injustice and the lack of social righteousness were at the very heart of the problem. The values upon which the existing institutions and political movements were based were the desire for power and domination, the quest for money, and the lure of prestige and recognition.
We must not suppose that Christ was apolitical. The truth is that our Lord set forth a hope for social and political renewal, for achieving God’s purposes and standards of justice, which was far more radical in its dimensions than any of the movements of His time.
Our Christian witness to the state must begin by reestablishing, in our own life as God’s people, that quality which gives genuine witness to the kingdom. Our standard is never one of withdrawal, but rather one of pointed, courageous, and sacrificial interest and penetration into all passages of the world. Through the record of biblical history, God has worked to achieve His purposes for all the world by calling out a people to be faithful to Him, and then calling them to pour out their lives for the purposes of God’s justice, of His love for all of humanity.
Of course if one temptation is to withdraw from the world, the opposite one is to take part in the world’s systems uncritically, playing by their rules, their standards, in order to work for God’s purposes. Again, the Bible gives us a different word of counsel. We are to be in the world, but that is not to be mistaken for being like the world, captive ourselves to its myths, idols, and gods, absorbed by its system of thought, power, and life.
—Mark O. Hatfield served thirty years in the United States Senate and for two terms as Governor of Oregon. The full text of his essay is available here.
The foundational essay collection, Confessing Christ and Doing Politics, is available for a special price of $6 (includes shipping), in our online bookstore. Please note that the appearance of the text is vintage first-edition with yellowed pages. In addition to "Christ's Call to Service" by Senator Mark O. Hatfield, the collection features essays on "Public Justice and True Tolerance" and "Christian Action and the Coming of God's Kingdom" by Jim Skillen, Rockne McCarthy's essay on "American Civil Religion", Joel Nederhood on "God's Will and America's Destiny", Gordon Spykman on "Beyond Words to Action", and Bernard Zylstra on "The Bible, Justice, and the State".
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”