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Union University Department of Political Science
Department of Political Science

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McGraw Speaks on Citizenship as Vocation

Feb 20, 2013

On Tuesday, February 19th, the Department of Political Science and the Center for Politics & Religion hosted Dr. Bryan McGraw of Wheaton College. Dr. McGraw delivered a lecture entitled “Citizenship as Vocation”. In this lecture Dr. McGraw considered the question of whether and how Christians should think about their earthly citizenship given that involvement with worldly politics necessarily means making decisions that have awful consequences. Can Christians be both faithful Christians and effective citizens? Does getting involved with politics necessarily mean compromising our witness? Or should Christians even distinguish between their civic and religious identities?

Drawing on the thought of St. Augustine, Dr. McGraw articulated a vision for Christian citizenship that would engage the messy world of politics without buying into a “anything goes”, ends-justify-the-means attitude. As such, Dr. McGraw set his own formulation against the Anabaptist approach of a John Howard Yoder and the realism of Max Weber and ultimately Niccolo Machiavlli. An Anabaptist approach calls for Christians to eschew government involvement altogether, and concentrate solely on being the Church in the world. The realist view holds that moral scruples should not restrict public officials who need to take “necessary” action. Dr. McGraw noted that both approaches assume that the political perspective completely defines the Christian. The Anabaptist does this by thinking that involvement in politics is so totalizing that it cannot help but compromise the faith of the believer; the realist sees politics as so fundamental and necessary that its needs outweigh any morality that would restrict it. McGraw’s Augustinian approach, in contrast, distinguishes between terrible things that a government may have to do with evil things that no one should ever do. For example, any criminal justice system will make mistakes and put innocent people in jail. This is a terrible but unavoidable consequence of doing politics, and the good outweighs the costs. At the same time, some might say that a government can torture and kill innocents if it would lead to a better military outcome in the War on Terror. This is beyond terrible, and falls into the realm of evil and ought not be done regardless of perceived beneficial outcomes. Distinguishing between terrible and evil things is a difficult but necessary part of thinking Christianly about politics.