Slippery slopes don’t always go downhill

May 9, 2016 by

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Never underestimate the power of an analogy. And never simply accept it. — James K. A. Smith

I am not always the most rational of persons. I’m prone to exaggeration and catastrophizing, so it isn’t surprising that I worry about the “slippery slope” at times.

Sarah Kehrberg


When we were considering allowing our kids to buy electronic devices, I worried they’d constantly beg for screen time and soon become technological zombies unable to generate original thoughts.

When we started buying more expensive organic milk to avoid the artificial growth hormones, I was convinced it would lead to buying all organic dairy products, then all organic meat and vegetables. And then we’d go bankrupt.

I admit: To assume that making a move in one direction will start a series of events that cannot be deviated from is fatalistic to the point of dysfunction.

Still, I maintain that the basic principle of the slope argument is real. One change begets another. Taking one opportunity will most likely lead to another related opportunity.

I imagine the Pharisees considered Jesus terrifyingly slippery. Eating with sinners, disregarding purity laws, turning Jewish leaders into the bad guys — where would it end? Surely there would be insurrection, and then Rome’s wrath would rain down on the Jewish people. He had to be stopped.

For those in power, Jesus was careening downhill to moral degradation, chaos and disaster.

But Jesus was moving upward on the narrow kingdom road. His mission wasn’t to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfill them.

It is like he was moving through a cosmic to-do list.

Born of a virgin in the line of David: done. Ride into Jerusalem on a donkey: cross that off.

He also crossed off the “eye for an eye” law, food determining purity and, most notably, every sacrificial rite that had been necessary to gain God’s mercy.

The New Testament church continued in Jesus’ example. When they scratched circumcision and a kosher diet off the list, they weren’t abolishing the call to be holy and set apart. They recognized that it was Christ’s good news of freedom that made them holy.

The church of Christ continues to cross things off the list.

“Anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” “Slaves obey your masters.” “Women should remain silent in church.” And so on.

Every time some Christians cross off one of these commands, other Christians invoke the slippery slope.

Indeed, deciding that slaves shouldn’t obey their masters (because they shouldn’t have masters at all) caused many changes — some practical, most moral and ethical.

I do not deny the slope, but I deny it is always going down.

This does not mean societal changes are always right or that the Deceiver’s lies don’t corrupt segments of the church at times.

But it does mean we need not automatically fear shifts or changes in church belief and practice. If we have understood God’s will, these are triumphs, not failures. God is not angry at our weakness but rejoicing in our faithfulness. We aren’t slipping down into the Slough of Despond but moving upward into a more complete knowledge of God.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.

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