Political Boundaries

I have a question – and I would really appreciate your honest and tempered feedback:

Do you draw boundaries between 1) your faith and your politics, and 2) you and other people, when interacting with your family, friends, and co-workers? If so, with what criteria do you draw those boundaries?

Here’s why I ask: have you noticed the political fervor in the U.S.? It ranges from the revived dedication of some to use votes as an instrument of democratic process, to the growing misguided frustration that causes others to hatch plans of mayhem.

I have a question – and I would really appreciate your honest and tempered feedback:

Do you draw boundaries between 1) your faith and your politics, and 2) you and other people, when interacting with your family, friends, and co-workers? If so, with what criteria do you draw those boundaries?

Here’s why I ask: have you noticed the political fervor in the U.S.? It ranges from the revived dedication of some to use votes as an instrument of democratic process, to the growing misguided frustration that causes others to hatch plans of mayhem.

Sometimes, the political fervor morphs into polarization.

Recently, I have friends who have been un-friended on Facebook because they posted political views that were contrary to the views of others, and I have personally been accused of not being a Christian by people who have presumed (read: they didn’t even ask) that I chose to support or not support a particular candidate or political platform.

I have friends, saved and unsaved, who exist in all parts of the spectrum that is our United States political system, so I have chosen to keep most opinions I have to myself, in order to keep the peace.

Just because I have the freedom to speak my mind, does that mean I ought to? Or, am I being disingenuous in my silence?

I am grappling with a few passages to come up with a “theology of political debate”:

  • Luke 20:21-26 (Jesus talks about paying taxes and rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s)
  • 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 (Paul talks about how to interact with people in the matter of eating meat sacrificed to idols)
  • Romans 13:1-10 (Paul speaks of submitting to authorities because God establishes them, and because love is the ultimate law-fulfillment)

How do these passages fare against my ingrained American civil liberties/pursuit of happiness/civil disobedience mentality? Are these passages applicable to my question, or are there more appropriate ones?

So do you have political boundaries? If so, how do you set them?

Sharifa Stevens is a Manhattan-born, Bronx-raised child of the King, born to Jamaican immigrants, and currently living in Dallas. Sharifa's been singing since she was born. Her passion is to serve God's kingdom by leading His people in worship through music, speaking and writing, and relationships with people. Her heart is also unity, inspired by John. Sharifa hates exercise but likes Chipotle, bagels with a schmeer and lox, salmon sushi, chicken tikka, curried goat (yeah, it's good) with rice and peas, and chocolate lava cakes. She's been happily married to Jonathan since 2006...and he buys her Chipotle.


  • Shannon

    great question!!
    So, typically I just keep my mouth shut, because I absolutely stink at conflict… unless it’s a really safe place, like with Chris (my husband), when I know he’ll hear me, and still love me even if I disagree with him. It’s so tricky…there have been some political statements made, mainly via forwarded emails, that are just plain wrong in light of scripture (like Rom 13 above)… Is it my duty to reply in truth to a ridiculous forwarded email, or best to just ignore? I don’t know the answer, Sharifa. I wish I did, but it seems to just stir the hornet’s nest to reply to things like that, and feels useless, and just proves to frustrate me more, and make me angry, than to actually help someone else think in light of the truth of scripture. And then I have to ask myself, am I actually trying to help steer someone back to scripture, or am I just trying to make a point? Hmmmm…. Like I said, I just don’t know the answer.

    • Sharifa Stevens

      I get what you’re saying,

      I get what you’re saying, Shannon. Especially the part where I start responding not in the best interest of the other person, or to work toward mutual understanding, or to point folks toward scripture (which often both sides can do!), but to start playing the "I’m Right" game. That game never ends well.

      Loved ones are usually a safe space to talk about things…I am blessed to have a husband and friends who don’t always agree with me, but

  • Wife, Mom, Cynic

    Great post, Sharifa. I’m
    Great post, Sharifa. I’m always amazed at how certain Christians absolutely can’t handle differences other Believers may have in political leanings. Most of the time it seems best to avoid those conversations all together, lest things get really ugly! I’ve seen it happen. Personally, after studying the life and work of Jesus I find it extremely difficult to justify how one can be Christian AND Republican, but hey!? We filter scripture through our own expriences and that often determines which side of the fence we sit on. As believers, we, especially, should have an appreciation, and even seek out conversations that challenge us to gain a greater/broader understanding of God and his glorious attributes.

    • Sharifa Stevens

      I realized – after I posted
      I realized – after I posted – that ironically, the most difficult thing might be actually *receiving*

  • Terri D. Moore

    I’m with Shannon, in that I
    I’m with Shannon, in that I tend to keep my mouth shut except around a small few with whom I know I am “safe.” At the core, most of the time I just don’t think expressing myself is worth it because no progress is going to be made. The down side of course is what you mentioned, feeling disingenuous; but there also the result of being un-known. It often seems like I’m stuck between 1) keeping quiet and feeling disingenuous/unknown and 2) speaking up only to be shouted down and demonized. I wonder what is the answer? You’re surely right to note that the political atmosphere has become so polarized as to leave little hope for honest but civil conversation and that leaves little room for finding middle ground and workable solutions.

    • Sharifa Stevens

      Terri – you can talk to me.
      Terri – you can talk to me. We can be a safe places for each other, sis. We have to practice this to live out the mandate of Christ to be unified. I’d be happy to obey the Lord with you. :o)

  • Maria

    Fantastic questions,
    Fantastic questions, Sharifa! Good on you for opening the discussion! I’ve thought about this quite a bit over the years… and have just finished a couple of great books by Robert Harris on the rise and fall of Cicero in Ancient Rome. Lots of discussion of law, politics, morality and their interaction.

    One thing that strikes me is that the right-left dichotomy must be quite difficult to countenance from the Christian poiint of view, in that the cleavages themselves don’t make sense… Surely a Christian would lean towards being both (so-called) “liberal” on economic issues and (so-calledl) “conservative” on social issues at the same time? Is that just me?

    • Sharifa Stevens

      Maria, what conclusions did

      Maria, what conclusions did you draw from your Harris readings? I would love it if you could share any insights that you have had.

      I think it’s interesting that you see the right-left dichotomy as difficult to countenance, because it seems like the entirely opposite phenomenon has arisen in the U.S.: severe polarization. Most (and this is a broad generalization) ‘conservatives’ in the U.S. are especially so when it comes to economic issues or the depth of involvement of federal government. Most ‘liberals’ tend toward more socio-governmental involvement.

      But, I think that part of this polarization is not just a result of political differences amongst Christians, but also a failure to talk about points of deep divide along geographical/historical, socio-economic, and racial lines.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know enough about US
        I don’t know enough about US political life to comment on this; I take your word for it. And I think you’re right as you imply that the left-right thing very much gets conditioned by the particular political culture in which it’s being understood/mis-understood!

        My conclusions from the Harris readings – and it did seem to me that his writing was historical accurate, although I am by no means an expert in Ancient Roman history – were principally (1) that politics is always compromise; ideals have to be surrendered to – or perhaps more correctly, conditioned by – the process of making decisions in common. This, it seems, is not only because power corrupts but because of the very nature of the process. Not very remarkable, or novel conclusion; also not even very inspiring (if one is an idealist) and (2) that there is some nobility and virtue in sticking with this process, being as honest as you can, doing your best to compromise only when necessary and to compromise with good intentions. I can’t help empathising, and even liking and admiring the Cicero that is portrayed, even when he makes decisions that I would rather not be made. It’s obvious, though, that he’s also making these decisions on the basis of a least-worst-alternative analysis. So basically, I understood here that it is possible to stay clean, even if you’re down and dirty in the “muck” of politics, provided you make the effort every day to cleanse yourself; not easy, but possible! and finally (3) I realised that to be working for good in this world, you have to be smarter than smart about the choices you make: from choosing the battles you want to fight, to making alliances, to your tactics, to being aware of the “optics” of what course of action you choose, and so on. If (as it is presented in this book) evil is promoted by power/greed/wealth, and good is promoted by appeal to reason , then the reason also has to come with great slickness! In Irish language, the word we have for this is very cool, I think; we say that you have to be as ‘glic’ as a fox (sortta like sneaky, but not with the connotations of greed/self-servingness etc).

        They are fantastic books (Imperium and Lustrum), I think, and the third one is coming out next year (although I’m seriously considering writing to him directly and asking for a draft to tide me over in the mean-time!!)

        I’m so glad, by the way, that you have this forum in which you help us all to address important issues and bring your light to the world!

        • Sharifa Stevens

          Thank you, Anonymous, for

          Thank you, Anonymous, for your excellent and insightful post. You have taught us all. I'm sorry that it took so long for me to SEE it!

  • Julie

    I say what I think
    I typically say what I think, and inevitably get the response that I’m not a follower of Christ. I like the approach Paul took at Mars Hill: affirm truth and gently and kindly state your thoughts. Doesn’t seem to happen that often among Christians, and I’m dismayed by that. If not first with us, then where?

    One woman once called me a socialist baby-killer to my face. If she feels free to say that, why can’t I voice my opinion that everyone deserves medical care? Especially after I have been in places where children eat out of city trash dumps and go to lie down in their “beds” in the same refuse. I have a unique set of experiences that inform my position–and ones that she could have learned from had she listened or cared enough to know.

    In general, I avoid discussing politics with other believers. I like discussing it with people who don’t follow Christ because I’ve had better interactions with them than most of my god-fearing brothers and sisters.


    • Sharifa Stevens

      Julie, wow. The way that

      Julie, wow. The way that woman responded to you just sound plain hurtful. I think one good indicator of whether a conversation is headed south FAST is when people resort to name-calling. BAD sign. How do you handle when someone calls you a name?

      I grieve with you that it’s so difficult at times to talk safely with brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re supposed to be the vanguard of this kind of loving communication.

  • haydensfunkymom

    I tend to meet people where
    I tend to meet people where they’re at in life, instead of expecting them to believe the same things I do. I rarely take anything that’s said at face value, and instead, try to figure out why a particular view is expressed.

    I’m like you, I don’t try to start heated conversations, but there are some issues that I feel strongly about( political or not) , and I will try to engage in a dialogue, because sometimes there is so much to be learned from a good stimulating conversation. It’s just the delivery of the message that gets tricky. I became a Christian 3 years ago, and being in my mid-twenties, it’s been a difficult transition for sure. But my convictions on my morals/ values come from God, not from a “Welcome to Christianity, and Republicanism 101” Handbook :). We are all in different places in our walk, and to expect everyone to be on the same page all at once is just not reasonable.

    • Sharifa Stevens

      Good Points!

      Hayden’s Funky Mom,

      I think that you make really good points about 1) message delivery being
      just as important as the message, and 2) receiving Jesus doesn’t
      always equate to the same worldview.

  • Anonymous

    See, now, all I get from
    See, now, all I get from your questions is more questions! And deep curiosity about some of the other comments made. And deep fear that should I ask the questions in my head, it will reveal my perspective, and I will be judged for lack of agreement.

    I don’t know if people are really so heated…or if getting my information and hearing others opinions in the media vs. in-person have made me believe that everyone on the other side wants my head on a platter. So I remain silent, fearful, and feeling very alone.

    And I remain anonomously yours, 🙂

  • Lisa Robinson

    Sharifa, I think the biggest
    Sharifa, I think the biggest problem is that we have so intertwined our Christianity with politics that its tough to know where one ends and the other begins. Somehow we’ve bought into the myth that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation and therefore must uphold a Christian worldview. Therefore, anything, or anyone, that does not align is automatically worthy of denigration.

    Yet, in Scripture I see a different scenario where government was to be respected even though it did not align with Christian beliefs. That is not to say that we align ourselves with contradictory values. But even more acrocious is when we let political differences destroy the mandate to let brotherly love continue. Jesus said they’ll know we are disciples not by what side of the political fence we fall on, but who and what are to one another in identification of Him.

    I wrote a similar piece here you might be interested in called A Theology of Fear and Government Mistrust, here


  • JPW

    Sharifa, I truly believe
    Sharifa, I truly believe that Satan is using politics (especially, but not exclusively, in the USA) to detract Christians from their real mission. I think it is important to have convictions and to properly use the tremendous privilege we’ve been given to vote for those in office, but I also think many people let it consume their life and ruin friendships, along with our witness.

    If we look at Christ, he called to Himself not only a political radical (Simon the Zealot – think Tea party to the max) but also a member of the “establishment” (Matthew, Zaccheus). Does that mean Christ agreed with those political leanings? That would be impossible since they are on separate ends of the spectrum. Instead He called them, and us, to rise above those differences and become engaged in the ONLY cause with truly eternal importance – making disciples.

    So, with that in mind I don’t try to be overly involved politically, though I have my very strong opinions. I don’t hide my views, but they are not the banner I wave either.

  • JS

    I saw a bumper sticker the
    I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “True Christians don’t vote Democrat.” I was amused (my warped sense of humor) but also stunned at the same time. As much as I try, I can’t help but think of Paul’s comments in Acts 20:17-31 where he said “… chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” I have shortened the passage for posting purposes but please read the context to get an even better sense of Paul’s focus and passion–Jew or Gentile didn’t matter–only the “gospel of the grace of God.” When I get caught up in the whole political morass, I am drawn back to Paul’s words: “But none of these things move me.” It’s doubtful that we’ll be judged by our leanings be they left or right. I wonder though about the judgment we’ll face for the time we’ve spent bloviating about our piety and party while ignoring the gospel of the grace of God. Republican or Democrat, Independent or Libertarian–we all have acute need of the grace of God. Without it, we can argue our way to Hell.

  • Anonymous

    No Boundaries
    I don’t have any boundaries about talking to people, and I tend to be able to talk with a very wide variety of people without giving too much offense. Not to say that I’ve never had any run-ins. I have–but the majority of interactions have been positive. A few people have been offended by me in recent times but I feel the offense was unavoidable. I posted an article on my FB and someone was mortally offended that I would even post such an article. No real discussion took place and that person simply choose to defriend me.

  • Anonymous

    Jesus wasn’t a politician,
    Jesus wasn’t a politician, he just told us to pray for Sadducees, Pharisees and Caesar…I think it starts there.

  • Rob Mezger

    What a great

    What a great thread, way to bring it up in a fruitful way.
    Here are a few things I (try to) go by:
    1. When discussing politics with somebody, I think it’s important to deal with fact over emotion. (I’m not saying that I’m good at it by any means).I think proper research is due when discussing politics–voting records, historical precedent, ideological trends, etc. There’s nothing worse than bringing up somebody’s senatorial voting record and being called a name in response, for example. If I get the sense that documented, historical facts aren’t being discussed, I (try to) get out of the conversation. Too I find myself involved in the “emotional” side of debate, in which case I always feel like a bully pulpiteer (is that a word?) inside. When emotion takes over in political debate, too many facts go out the window.
    2. I draw a major boundary on issues regarding the life of the unborn. Single issue voter? Perhaps, but I will stand on that issue as one that bleeds into others. It’s up there at the top.
    3. I cannot trust my fingers any longer, or many others’. Cyber debate is never fruitful. Ever. Let’s bring it back to face-to-face. I’m a big fan of the Lewis/Tolkein “Inklings” group who seemed to have found a way to sharpen each other with their differences.

  • Katy

    my thoughts
    I ran into this in yet another big way this past week. I remember your comments on Facebook the other week- and I keep running into this issue…..so I thought I would comment on this to help me think….thanks for opening the conversation to all of us.
    I think that the thing that frustrates me the most is the idea that we have to all think alike on politics or many other issues within the Church (there is little idea of what is orthodox and must be kept….and what we can discuss) But also, there is a prevailing idea that the “other” is stupid and therefore can be treated as stupid. I must confess that I fall into this trap quiet easily- not thinking of the other side as thinking people who disagree with me. I think that when I take a step back and think “ok-these are people who have thought about these issues and have just come out on the other side……and that it is ok if we think differently” maybe then, I can give a little space for them to see the same.
    but honestly that is just really hard and I would rather just pretend to listen while cussing them inside……..
    glad there is grace for me too.