McGary believes in grace, but sees the state as agency of transformation

Andrae McGary, a Chattanooga city councilman, is seeking to be elected state senator. He is optimistic about the uses of the state in transforming society in keeping with Catholic social teachings that he says favor a “community-centric approach” to solving social problems.

In an interview Oct. 12, Mr. McGary explores several religious and political ideas likely to be heard favorably by free market libertarians and conservative Christians.

Andae McGary, a Chattanooga city councilman, is seeking the office of state senator.

He graduated from a conservative Presbyterian seminary in St. Louis but converted with his wife, Cheryl, to Roman Catholicism, influenced by the claims of Mother Teresa that people find their salvation in the poor. He has favorable views of local economy, local self-help and the importance of individual and family. These views don’t create within his mind a sense of conflict with other notions that favor the power of the state and the use of law.

He is a father of five young children, and has a stake in the future. The couple are homeschoolers who refuse to separate knowledge from God and transcendence. People who home educate have made an important break from the day’s political establishment and moral anarchism.

He has read into the literature of liberty by such writers as Ludwig von Mises. His background in the Presbyterian Church of America gives him a solid basis for understanding God’s sovereignty and grace, teachings at the foundations of Protestantism. The Reformation of the 1500s brought into the Western tradition the concept of divided government and sphere jurisdiction giving distinct authority among individual, family, church and state.

Further, Mr. McGary’s work for Christian charities and as a youth minister at the interracial New City Fellowship give him ample experience in the long work of cultural transformation through the gospel and works of private mercy.

Much in Catholic social teaching would seem to favor self-determination and self-help that make for a productive and peaceful society as espoused by libertarians. He tells about the doctrine of subsidiarity, which holds that a problem is best handled by the smallest, nearest and least centralized authority capable of handling it — an idea that would seem to favor local economy and a decentralized social order.

BUT THERE ARE OTHER elements in Mr. McGary’s philosophy that would alarm a free marketer — and please any supporter of state-enforced fraternity and equality.

To return to the idea of subsidiarity. In it Mr. McGary connects with the popular 20th century “it takes a village” claim that makes Mr. McGary his brother’s keeper. He has a sense of private duty shared by followers of Judaism and Roman Catholicism — one seized and twisted into tyranny by the followers of Karl Marx. Namely: From each according to his means, and to each according to his needs.

Now, Mr. McGary does not use this expression. But believers in the democratic welfare state take the duty one member of a family might owe to another and extend it — project it — upon the civil magistrate, the bearer of the sword. They expect the state to act in tender mercy to the needy and the fallen, as would a mother to a child.

Mr. McGary develops the argument in terms of grace. “Why am I Democrat? Because when I believe it comes toward loving your neighbor,” he says, “when it comes toward the principles I just described — solidarity, subsidiarity — I believe those principles have been better fleshed out from the Democratic standpoint.”

Christianity intends to transform society, and Mr. McGary sees no halting of that work in his case just because he holds city or state office. “And transforming society I think is a reorganization of community.” This transformation starts locally, and ripples outwardly. He grants that these changes come from the people themselves, are “organic and free” and that this transformation “doesn’t happen in a traditional hierarchical authoritarian type of forum. It comes in a more organic — it comes in a community-centric approach to our problem solving.”

Still, he has a high view of the state and declares it as benevolent, loving and caring, an extension of family. It’s not enough that law should be just; it must be philanthropic. The state is not a mismanaged monopoly on violence, a commercial cartel that depersonalizes man and despoils private institutions and families. The law, rather, should extend welfare, education and good morals throughout the population.

Mr. McGary likes diversity for his children — they are in a co-op with Presbyterians. But doesn’t favor diversity among states when it comes to public schooling. He supports the U.S. Race to the Top program, akin to a race to sameness under federal control. He favors federal school standards.

I ask him whether Tennesseans are a free people, and he says they are. But our definitions are at odds. Liberty is the absence of external constraint. For the Senate candidate, freedom is the freedom to do good, “the ability to do what I ought.” Mr. McGary is uneasy with libertarian concerns about legal plunder and coercion, warning that antipathy to tyranny plays on people’s emotions and draws them toward rebellion and revolution, clearly “a step in the wrong direction” and “a very inappropriate view of government.”

Law should not be viewed with such hostility, Mr. McGary suggests. “The goal of government is to create those structures which encourage the development of human potential and dignity. As such, I believe we should be looking at government from that standpoint, how does this, in the full definition of man, which again starts with what you think man is and what you think man’s destiny is — what sort of government action should be taken that is beneficial to that developmental process?”

After making this statement he says he will be careful in crafting bills and will listen to advice from all sides. He proposes creating citizens advisory councils so common people can feel ownership in legislation and “investment” of tax dollars in schools and programs. But in a discussion about lousy voter turnout he seems to recognize the exhaustion of the American experiment in salvation by legislation.

— David Tulis, married and the father of four homeschooled children, is a deacon at Brainerd Hills Presbytrian Church. This essay first appeared at

Source: Frederic Bastiat, The Law