The word politics comes from the Greek word Polis which in the early stages of its etymology meant “fortified city.” For Plato however the word took on a much more rich meaning. For Plato the polis was the city state which reflected an ideal way of human living; even the architecture of the polis reflected for him and his philosophical school the forms of heaven. For those of you who know a little of Platonic thought, you’ll remember that his philosophy held that all visible forms of earth were but reflections of eternal forms of the divine realm. (one can readily see in Christian lore that the idea that Jesus was God in earth has its roots to a great extent in Platonic thought) So the polis was an outward and visible sign in earth of how the very gods themselves lived in harmony. This philosophy is delineated in Plato’s masterwork, The Republic, whose original title was Justice. Plato’s work was a treatise and reflection on the question: How then shall we live together justly? For the Greeks, this required lifelong study and discourse towards an enlightened practice of living as community into our God-likeness. So to be human is to be political, that our lives’ work is to live ideally and practically for the good of the whole.
Michelle Obama raised eyebrows at a recent conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church when she stated that there is no better place to discuss the political issues of our day than in the church, of course raising the hackles of the doctrine of the separation of church and state; but the doctrine of church and state has to do not with influence, but with intrusive control. The doctrine states that government cannot exert control of churches, and that churches cannot exercise institutional control of government. So to say that the church has nothing to say about the political issues that face the common good of our society is I think an abdication of our responsibility as people of faith. In that regard I agree with Mrs. Obama….as people of faith we should be studious and enlightened concerning the issues of the day….and vocal….and involved…We are the ones who are charged with changing the world for the better…that’s political, just as the gospels have a decided political edge…The gist of her speech largely challenged her audience to be engaged and involved, and for goodness’ sake…to vote.
Being political as church people, however, doesn’t mean that the church is to be partisan. Because of the rich diversity of our faith communities across denominational lines, it means that we respect a person’s right to vote their conscience for the candidate of their choice. The rub for us, of course, is deciding which candidate or party, or independent for that matter, represents best the vision of the teachings of Jesus, and all candidates to some extent always fall short of that ideal, and to complicate matters that ideal requires constant interpretation. So we respect differing opinions as to the means towards gospel ends. The point I want to make is this: that the nation’s business, the world’s business, and such business is best described as political in the Platonic sense of the word….that the business of the greater good has everything to do with our enlightened knowledge, discourse and influence as to the well being and dignity of the human community…the gospels compel us to such a noble vocation, just as Plato compelled the citizenry of ancient Greece. As unseemly as the partisan discourse is these days…the attack ads…the vast power of corporate influence….the skirting of real, present issues….Ours is still to be an intelligent, gracious and enlightened voice for the good….and that takes hard work, humility and respect….so be involved; your work and your voice may ramify more than you know.