Why I Don’t Believe in the Slippery Slope

By September 3, 2015My Thoughts

*The slippery slope is an imaginary downward journey away from God one embarks on by choosing to believe the wrong things. 

More than once I have been told to be careful of advocating for the ordination of women with the warning, “You’re dangerously close to the slippery slope.”

A slippery slope where anything goes and the Bible means nothing.

A slippery slope that leads right down into whatever the culture-at-large is promoting at the moment.

A slippery slope that is like the inverse of purgatory – a slide downward rather than an ascent upward.

The problem is: I don’t believe in the slippery slope idea. At all. The slippery slope does not exist; what does exist is the fear that if you question one belief, soon you’ll throw them all out the window.

What does exist is worry about what will happen if you examine the beliefs you were taught as a child.

What does exist are systems that promote question-free acceptance rather than a faith that also loves God with our minds.

Warning people that they are near the slippery slope is a lot like saying some of these things:

Be careful with those beliefs, or pretty soon you’ll believe things that make me not want to associate with you.

Watch out, or soon you’ll believe things that will make me question your salvation.

If you aren’t careful, you’ll have believed in one too many falsehoods to be included in the conditional, only-if-you-believe-the-right-things love of God.

The problem is, Jesus never said, “Believe the right things, and you’ll be saved.”

What he does say is that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, referencing Deuteronomy 6:5). And I take that to mean that in our love for God, we are invited to learn, grow, question, and change. God is not threatened by our questions. We are not saved by our beliefs, but by the saving love of God.

The idea of a slippery slope is adiaphora, meaning it isn’t a central part of the Christian faith. You can believe in the slippery slope and be a Christian, or you can reject the idea and still be a Christian. But, the idea of a slippery slope makes some claims about God and faith that we may want to examine before we accept the idea without question.

The slippery slope makes salvation about my choices.

If faith and salvation depend upon my ability to believe an exact set of beliefs (including things that are not essentials), am I not in some way responsible for saving myself?

The slippery slope demands static belief rather than dynamic faith.

People change. We have experiences. We read Scripture and see it with new eyes. We pray, discern, wrestle, and sometimes we come out on the other side with different thoughts and beliefs. Change isn’t all bad, nor is it always wrong.

The Bible is filled with horticultural metaphors that describe the Christian life as growing and bearing fruit. That growth includes change. St. Gregory of Nyssa once contended that “sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.” And, if that’s the case, refusing to allow our brothers and sisters to change means we are intent on quelling the movement of the Holy Spirit.

The slippery slope warns against change, but ultimately sometimes faithfulness requires change.

The slippery slope is subjective – is a certain choice a slide down or a step up?

Depending on what side of things you find yourself, a choice might look like a slide down or a step up. Churches rejoice over changes, while others lament. Who is right, especially when both sides seem equally convinced?

Sometimes it takes a lot of time before we can tell whether a change was for good or for ill. It’s much easier to be on the right side of history after the conflict is decades in the rear-view mirror than it is to discern whether a change is a step up or a step down as it is happening.

The slippery slope confuses religion with politics.

“She’s becoming more liberal.”

“I don’t know what changed, but he’s become so much more conservative.”

Liberal and conservative are concepts that smack more of the political realm than the theological one. Paul says that we are the body of Christ, and the body has many members. Not every one of us will see things the same way, have the same gifts, be moved to work for change in the same areas of life. What if, instead of condemning part of our body as having lost salvation, we saw our brothers and sisters as having unique gifts and perspectives?

The slippery slope seems more fitting for a capricious god. 

Step wrong, and you’re out.

Do the right things, and maybe I’ll love you.

Think you’re making the right choices? Are you sure? Because, if not…

If God only loves us when we are doing and saying exactly the right things, what does that say about God? Do we believe in a God that is waiting for the opportune time to strike us down with cosmic lightning bolts?

That’s not the kind of God I read about in the Bible…

I don’t believe in the slippery slope. Perhaps you do. I’d love to hear your reasons why (or why not).

About April Fiet

April is a pastor, wife, mom, and lover of words. She finds inspiration under the big Nebraska skies, in the garden, in the yarn aisle, and in the kitchen. Learn more about April here, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Jane Halton

    “The slippery slope does not exist; what does exist is the fear that if you question one belief, soon you’ll throw them all out the window.” My husband and I were just talking about this last night! It is just a way to protect ourselves for our fear of change. Oh it just drives me crazy. Thanks for this April!!

    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Jane! It’s amazing the lengths we’ll go to protect ourselves from our fear of change – even to the extent that we’ll stifle ourselves and make ourselves miserable 🙁 Change can be scary, but sometimes the end result is so much better!

  • Thanks for this article, April. I teach an online writing course and we often discuss the slippery slope as an example of faulty argumentation, but it’s so important in the context you’ve put it here, too. I especially appreciate your statement “The slippery slope seems more fitting for a capricious god,” because the need to cling to specific beliefs and shun others out of fear of what might happen is based on our view of God.

  • What an excellent post! Well said. I can’t do anything to influence my salvation for good or ill. It is a lie that I can gradually slide so far from God that it will take me time to ‘get back’. Grace is given freely, and received freely. This is the wonder of it 😀

  • Godfrey Rust

    Good post April. There’s something else: I don’t see that what we believe is a choice. Take an everyday example. I used to believe person X was trustworthy, and person Y was boring. As I’ve got to know them, I now believe person X is unreliable, and person Y is actually very sharp and with a dry sense of humor. I don’t choose to believe those things: it grows from what I learn about them, and what I learn about other people who I compare them to. It’s no different with matters of theology or faith. It’s no more a choice than our sexual orientation or our hair color (or in my case, my lack of hair to color) is.

    • That’s an excellent point! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Tim

    Slippery slope analysis comes up in law school classes as well, particularly in reading court cases. It turns out there really is no slippery slope there either because judges are adept at drawing lines rather than slipping down slopes.

    • That’s really interesting, Tim. I wonder what causes us all to be so fascinating with slippery slopes. Perhaps we’re just afraid of what we’ll do with unbridled freedom?

  • Bruce

    I admit to often having a “slippery slope” mentality. I simply cannot get passed the idea that calling parts of the Bible alagory (creation) or saying that some teachings no longer apply today (homosexuality) call in to question the validity of all of scripture.

    • There are certain foundations we may have built upon – methods of biblical interpretation, for example – that when we question those things, the foundation gets shaky. I don’t disagree with you there. Sometimes things are deconstructed, but that doesn’t have to be the end. We can be rebuilt into something stronger than we were before. Thanks for sharing honestly, Bruce!

      • Bruce

        April, Thank you for your reply. It seems to me, however, to beg the question of what portions of the Bible are foundational and what parts are available to be deconstructed, and, even more so, who decides?

      • Important questions, for sure. My thought on this, though, is that often we are the ones who have misunderstood the Scriptures, and so we are deconstructing ourselves and our previous understanding more than we are deconstructing the Bible.

  • Heather Marriage

    This is a bit of theology that I hadn’t visited in a while… and I believe mine needs a shift. One that isn’t down a slippery slope 😉 Fear. It’s a big, dumb liar.

    • It really is. When we’re afraid, we act in self-defense rather than in truth and love. It’s been a big shift for me.