Hatfield, Early Republican Critic of Religious Right,
Dead at 89

The Times obituary of former Senator Mark Hatfield notes his liberal stances and rejection of the rightward tilt of his party over his career—stances that also put him at odds with Democrats, notably his opposition to the Vietnam war. At the end of the piece, citing an interview Hatfield did with Sojourners magazine in 1996, the piece notes he found the religious right an “embarrassment” to his party, as well as his concern about its influence on Christianity, rather than politics.

In fact, Hatfield was prescient several decades earlier about the impact of the religious right. In the foreward to John Redekop’s The American Far Right: A Case Study of Billy James Hargis and the Christian Crusade, written in 1967, Hatfield blasted the anti-communist Christian crusaders of that decade:

Far right crusaders would deny that a man is Christian if he does not share their political beliefs. Their “either/or” philosphy extends into the realm of religion, and they counsel that you can accept either the welfare state or Christ—but not both. Far Righters often equate Communism with the devil and America with God. And God, to the Far Righters, is a personification of a white, Protestant, anti-Communist American. They have turned the scriptural tables and created God in their image.

This unholy marriage of religion and politics has produced a perverted Christianity based not on love but hate, not on charity but persecution. The Far Righters are definitely not practicing religious fundamentalism, as they claim, but are actually practicing a form of paganism. They worship at the idol of “country” and have substituted the gospel of anti-Communism for the gospel of Christ.

How many Republicans serving in Congress today would reach Hatfield’s final conclusion? “The long-term consequences of political extremism must be anticipated, and responsible Americans must be determined that political discussion and action be conducted on a rational, informed basis.”

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