O’Donovan writes that during the modern era (think the 1700s on) all attempts to apply the Bible to politics have been sabotaged by suspicion – two suspicions, actually.
The first is the suspicion that politics might corrupt religion. Whenever we wonder whether a presidential candidate is going to church just to look good, this suspicion is at work. It is also at work in the attempt of many young evangelical Christians to “stay out of politics,” usually in reaction to the political activism of the Christian right in the 1990s.
The second is the suspicion that religion might corrupt politics. When a candidate’s religion is viewed as a liability, this suspicion is at work. This happened (but was overcome) with JFK. This happened with Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It continues to happen among the “Obama is a Muslim” crowd. In each case, people are worried that the leader’s religious commitments might lead them to do wrong.
Suspicion, in politics and just about all of life, has reached a fever pitch in our day. It comes into play when we think that we can learn some things about a person’s background and explain everything about them based on that background. Have you ever thought someone held an opinion because of their race, or whether they were rich and poor? We often hold that someone believes something because it will benefit them. We wonder if a wealthy Republican really thinks tax cuts are good for the nation, or if he just knows that they’re good for him.
We suspect, in other words, the people simply work for their own advantage, without real interest in truth. We wind up suspicious even of the idea of truth. And when the concept of truth is under fire we have very big problems indeed.
Lots of philosophers and theologians have worked to get around this suspicion and come back to truth. The central question is, “How do we know what is true?” This applies in all areas of life, including politics. Where will we get true political concepts, enabling us to obey God and do what is right in the world?