If the religious right and the left want to get the target of their hermeneutic correct, they need to understand that the commands of Scripture in the Old Testament are, by and large, directed toward the people of God Israel, and in the New Testament it is the church. It is the people of God that is to embody the prophets' concern for justice and the Torah's concern for morality and purity. And it is by that biblically based way of life that the church engages in the politics of witness that it is God and not the nations who rules the world. The church by its example bears witness to the nations what God wants of them as well. The church by its witness is not a prop for the state, but its alternative.
Once the nation becomes the primary hermeneutical target of Scripture, the primary community of faith becomes the state. The church is eclipsed in this world and so is the kingdom of God. And once the state becomes the primary community of faith because the Scriptures are applied primarily to the state, civil religion is at hand; and such a hermeneutic is promoted by both the religious right and the religious left. The church no longer plays the role of prophet to the nation; it becomes a puppet of the state.
This is not to say that God will not hold the nations accountable and that there are some harsh words from God to them (Amos 1:2-2:3). But when admonitions, which are clearly directed to God's people, are interpreted primarily as referring to the nations, one cannot avoid the conclusion that such a hermeneutic assumes the nation state to be primarily God's people, while the true people of God, the church, are left as nothing more than cheerleaders to support the state's agenda with the goal of being power-brokers on Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill.
Thus, the hermeneutical posture the church must take is to understand that the admonitions of the prophets and the Sermon on the Mount (just two examples) are directed to the people of God and we the church must embody in our corporate worship and service and in our individual discipleship, lives that witness to the nations what God wants. In other words, the church's first task is not to work to coerce the state to take care of the poor. The church's first task is to live lives of simplicity and generosity and take care of the poor ourselves. In so doing we will be witnessing to the nation that it would be a better state if it took care of the poor as well. The church's first task is not to coerce the state into outlawing abortions. The church's first task is to reject abortion as a Christian option and live in such a way that we welcome all children into the world. In so doing we will be witnessing to the nation (as Tertullian stated to the Roman Empire) that it would be a better state if it didn't kill its children.
"If my people, which are called by my name" should not be read in church on the Fourth of July; it should be referred to instead on Ash Wednesday. "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" should not be employed when Christians argue over whom to vote for; it should be called to remind Christians of how their materialism leads to injustice for others.
If God's people can embody Scripture in their lives and avoid the faulty hermeneutic that marginalizes the church as the center of God's politics replacing it with the state, then we can recover the politics of witness to the powers that surround us.
But the politics of witness can only be recovered with a renewed and robust political ecclesiology and a hermeneutic that does justice to the place of the church in the world.
Allan R. Bevere, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World.