Unexpected Destinations

Unexpected Destinations

We were saddened this morning to hear of the death of former Oregon senator Mark Hatfield. By way of remembrance, we offer this excerpt from Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s recent memoir, Unexpected Destinations. Granberg-Michaelson, who recently retired from his long tenure as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, served with Senator Hatfield for several years during the 1960s and 70s, first as an intern and later as a staff member. Here he recalls the encounter that began his long friendship with Senator Hatfield.

The Vietnam War overshadowed seminary life in 1967-68. Antiwar sentiment was growing. Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the New Hampshire primary, and McCarthy buttons were seen on many seminarians. In dorms or over pizza and beer at the King’s Inn, we’d struggle with the ethics of the war and the draft. We had seminary deferments; yet, I knew that if drafted, I could not in good conscience obey and go.

Taking another course at the Woodrow Wilson School, this time from Richard Falk, a well-known expert in international law, I focused more on Vietnam. My antiwar convictions deepened, while in seminary classrooms I focused on theology and ethics, continuing to relate my political convictions to my understandings of faith. I felt like asking, “How would Jesus vote?”

Then I received an invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. As a student leader at Hope, I had in previous years been invited to this annual event, held each February. It was originated by the “fellowship movement” and brings together the president, many members of Congress, governmental officials, and public leaders to affirm the role of prayer and the guidance of God in the affairs of the nation. Prayer groups meet weekly in both the House and the Senate, and Doug Coe, the quiet leader (with a Young Life connection), worked to extend this model in other countries around the world.

A separate program during the day was scheduled for student leaders, and Senator Mark O. Hatfield would be speaking at a student luncheon. Hatfield was well known as a dove on Vietnam, casting the sole vote against the war at the 1965 and 1966 national governors’ conferences. In 1967 he began serving as Oregon’s junior senator, and he was an evangelical. I wanted to meet him — again.

As he finished his luncheon remarks to the student group, I waited to speak with him as others left.

“Senator Hatfield,” I began. “I want you to know how much I respect your views opposing the war in Vietnam. And I also know you’re an evangelical Christian. I’m also an evangelical, and I’m deeply opposed to the war. I’m studying at Princeton Seminary.”

The senator was intrigued. His luncheon talk hadn’t focused on Vietnam. It was about leadership, fellowship, and faith. But he wanted to know more about my views. The fact was that in 1968, the number of evangelicals who were clearly and publicly opposed to the Vietnam War was minuscule. He didn’t meet many.

Mark Hatfield

Mark Hatfield

“Where are you going from here?” Hatfield eventually asked.

“Over to Capitol Hill,” I said. We were at the Washington Hilton.

“Would you like a ride?” he asked.

I could hardly believe it. We went to the parking lot and got into his red Mustang. His car had a phone in it — something I had never seen — and he called his secretary, Marilyn Fernandez, to say he was on his way back.

Then we talked more about the war, Christian faith, and my own journey. By the time we got to the parking lot of what is now called the Dirksen Senate Office Building and started toward his office, I bravely asked a question that had just been formulating in my mind.

“Do you ever accept any interns from a seminary to work with you for a year?”

“Well, that might be possible. Why don’t you write me a letter? And also get in touch with Eric Lindauer on my staff.”

I got back to Princeton and immediately found John Mulder, my best friend there — we had been at Hope together — to share the news. I could hardly believe it. So I worked on the letter, sending it to Senator Hatfield and Eric, and enclosing, as I remember, one of the papers I had written on Vietnam.

Eric invited me back for a visit. We talked over the arrangements; they could provide just a small stipend but would welcome my coming. I met other staff, and didn’t even see the senator again. But the offer was set, and I would show up in the fall of 1968.

At Princeton I talked to President James McCord. He looked and talked like Broderick Crawford, the cop on the TV program Highway Patrol — a large body, a direct, no-nonsense manner, and a gravelly voice. But he was enthused, and arranged to give me $500 of support from some fund.

More important, I talked to the Field Education Department. I wanted to know whether this could meet the requirement of an intern year for my field education. Normally that happens in a church. But in the late 1960s, the whole definition of ministry was up for grabs. Anything seemed to qualify — including work in a senator’s office. That meant I could keep my student deferment, and not be drafted. I was headed for Washington, D.C.

UPDATE: Click here to read Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s tribute to Mark Hatfield on the God’s Politics blog at Sojourners.net.

Click here to read more about former senator Mark Hatfield’s life and legacy.

Click here to order Wesley Granberg-Michaelson’s Unexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity, read a review, get an editorial perspective on the book, or watch an interview with the author.