Ron Mock is associate professor of political science and peace studies at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. He finished his law degree at the University of Michigan in 1982 and was founding director of the Christian Conciliation Service of Southeastern Michigan. In 1985 he returned to his undergraduate alma mater, George Fox University, where he worked in the Center for Peace Learning until 2003. In 2002 Ron joined the International Quaker Working Party on Israel and Palestine and helped write its report—When the Rain Returns—and an accompanying study guide. His latest book is Loving Without Giving In: Christian Responses to Terrorism and Tyranny. Ron has four children and is married to Melanie Mock, who is also a professor at George Fox.
Stand Alone or Come Home
by Lon Fendall
Despair stalks most evangelical Christians when we consider politics. Even in the sunniest of democracies, the political scene is generally so scarred by cynicism, distortion of the truth, corruption, and abuse of power that even voting begins to feel like a dirty job undertaken reluctantly while holding our noses and watching where we step.
Why would any Christian dive into the political cesspool and run for office? But if we leave politics to those who thrive in its ugly side, our governance will only get worse. We need political leaders with faith and integrity, even though politics seems to be hostile to those virtues. This is where our despair comes in: It is easy to believe that what we need in our politics is not possible.
Lon Fendall despairs not. He has written a series of books with a common message: It is possible to bring Christ’s love to public life. Three of his books highlight the lives of Christian leaders in places as far-flung as England, Haiti, and Burundi, dealing with challenges ranging from ending slavery, combating poverty, and healing communities riven by ethnic cleansing and genocide.
Now Fendall brings his attention closer to home, looking for evidence that American politics can be a fruitful Christian vocation, one that can be pursued while staying true to the gospel and to Jesus’ example. In his latest book, Stand Alone or Come Home, Fendall directs our attention to the life and work of retired Oregon senator Mark O. Hatfield.
Hatfield was raised by Christian parents, and was nominally a believer when he entered state politics as a young man soon after World War II. But his spiritual life blossomed in his years in the Oregon legislature and as Oregon’s secretary of state so that by the time he was elected governor in 1958 at the age of thirty-six, Hatfield’s evangelical Christian faith had moved to the center of his life. Throughout the rest of his career, spanning eight years as governor and 30 years as United States senator, Hatfield saw politics as his ministry, his attempt to live out the calling God had given him.
Did Hatfield succeed? By conventional measures of political success, Hatfield was a political star, winning every election he entered from 1948 until he retired in 1996. But winning elections is not enough. Was Hatfield able to stay true to his Christian convictions while getting things done in the political system?
Stand Alone or Come Home answers that question with a solid “yes.” On a wide range of issues—from Hatfield’s celebrated lonely early opposition to the Vietnam War through environmentalism, abortion, and capital punishment—Fendall demonstrates how Hatfield formed his political views around his Christian faith. Sometimes Hatfield’s convictions brought him into conflict with leaders in the Republican party, or the majority of Oregon voters.
The most compelling stories are about times when Hatfield’s faith brought him into conflict with his fellow evangelical Christians. For example, many believers denounced Hatfield’s stance against the Vietnam War, his opposition to capital punishment, or his readiness use government as a means of relieving poverty in the United States and around the world. Fendall gives us a backstage view of how these conflicts affected Hatfield, drawing on his years as a member of Hatfield’s Senate staff and his connections with a wide range of Hatfield’s associates.
Stand Alone or Come Home is not a biography. Readers who come to the book expecting an orderly presentation of Hatfield’s life will be frustrated. Fendall’s focus is on addressing issues and principles rather than telling a story, so he organizes his chapters thematically. For example, one chapter describes Hatfield’s incredibly wide range of relationships, including many with a strong element of spiritual nurture. Another focuses on how Hatfield tried to “walk the talk” so his personal and political life reflected his Christian commitment. Other chapters discuss Hatfield’s work on various political issues.
Even readers familiar with Hatfield and his career will find this structure confusing at times. Fendall refers in rapid succession to events scattered all over Hatfield’s lifespan. Often these events come at the reader out of chronological sequence, jumping from his years as a governor, to his later senatorial career, and then back to his days in the Navy at then end of World War II. The frustrated reader who is trying in the early chapters to grasp the flow of Hatfield’s life, or even of Fendall’s argument, can get some help from a detailed timeline provided near the front of the book. And she can take heart that things become clearer later in the book. Until then, this book is not the easy, delightful read that readers may remember from Fendall’s previous work on David Niyonzima (Unlocking Horns) or Jean Thomas (At Home With the Poor). Here Fendall’s deep familiarity with his subject may have been something of a handicap, since it may have led him to overestimate his readers’ familiarity with Hatfield’s life. So it might be best to read Stand Alone or Come Home right after finishing a good Hatfield biography.
Fendall’s background as an insider in Hatfield’s team is a mixed blessing in another way. It allows us rich access to Hatfield’s perspective on a variety of episodes which generated controversy at the time. Fendall understands Hatfield’s thinking and motives better than most of his contemporary critics did—a crucial advantage in forming a fairer understanding of how Hatfield melded his faith and his politics.
But Fendall’s lack of critical distance means we see things almost solely from Hatfield’s point of view. With only one or two exceptions, Hatfield’s justifications for his actions are accepted without reservation. Given Hatfield’s own perceptive comments about how people in power are so pampered they lose track of a realistic self-perception, readers might wish that more weight was given to the voices of those who are skeptical about Hatfield. This is another reason to treat Stand Alone or Come Home as a companion volume to other reading about Hatfield and his career.
Fendall says his purpose in writing Stand Alone or Come Home is to help us find more Mark Hatfields: evangelical Christians who would enter into the dirty work of politics. His goal is to show us it is possible to be a good Christian and a good politician, and in doing so to help both church and society grow closer to the kingdom of God. This is a noble project, and Fendall’s work gives it a significant boost.