Can A Christian Lovingly Use The Slippery Slope Argument?

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“That’s a slippery slope.” Have you ever heard that phrase used in an argument before? A slippery-slope argument is one in which it’s assumed that holding Position A leads inevitably to Position B, then Position C, then to D, and on down the line. The assumption is that no one wants to hold Positions B, C, and D, so therefore Position A is discredited. Usually the person holding to Position A responds that the slippery slope argument is a way to obscure the issue by smuggling in other topics, while the Slipper Sloper thinks his logical links are unassailable.

It’s worth thinking about the slippery slope argument because it’s in the headlines a lot these days in connection with debates on same-sex marriage and gender/transgender issues. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that legalizing it would start the slippery slope towards crossing other sexual boundaries such as polygamy, pedophilia, or incest. The other side responds by saying the slippery slope argument is nonsense and an attempt to make anyone supporting same-sex marriage look bad. So my question is: can a Christian use the slippery-slope argument? And if so, how do we do it in a way that honors the commands to love our neighbor, and to be quick to hear, slow to speak?

I’m going to suggest two answers to that question, especially with regards to gender and sexuality debates. But first, in the interest of full disclosure, let me state where I stand. I think legalizing same-sex marriage would be wrong from a Scriptural standpoint and would ultimately be very harmful to our society. I also think the slippery slope argument has considerable force in this debate. (See the recent headlines about incest laws in Germany and polygamy laws in Utah.) But I’m also convinced that in this discussion, as in any other, those biblical commands still apply. So how can we love our neighbors while disagreeing with them?

Don’t assume that this person accepts Position B because they believe in Position A.

This is simply an application of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” You’ve probably had, or at least heard, someone say, “Oh, you’re a Christian, you guys believe ______” with the blank filled in with an outright distortion of Christianity that neither you nor anyone you know actually believes. You would like that person to actually ask you what you believe rather than write you off as ignorant, bigoted, or outdated based on a false assumption about what Christians are like. We owe that same respect to anyone we disagree with. You might be convinced it’s a slippery slope between A and B, but don’t assume the person you’re talking to sees it exactly as you do. Which leads to my second suggestion:

Ask the person to explain why they believe Position A doesn’t lead to Position B.

Questions are always better than assumptions. Use them. “In my mind there are implications to what you’re saying that trouble me. Could you help me understand if I’m hearing you correctly?” Or: “If you believe _______, what are your thoughts about ___________?” Two things might happen. One, you may find there are valid ways to hold Position A and not Position B that you haven’t thought of. Honesty and respect require – actually, let’s rephrase that: our Lord requires – that we consider those possibilities. Two, you may discover that the person you’re talking to hasn’t actually thought through the implications of their belief. That’s not the time to do a victory dance and pound your chest for having won the argument – not if our goal is to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Instead, this is the time to gently ask the person to reconsider their beliefs, and then give them time and space to do so.

Beliefs have implications. There are slippery slopes that need to be recognized and, with love and compassion, exposed. But any debate or argument brings its own slippery slope: slipping away from love, compassion, and a desire to help people see their need for Jesus towards a miry pit of arrogance, poor listening, and hard hearts. Don’t slip down that slope!

Photo by John Haslam

What To Do When You Have An Enemy

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“O Lord, how many are my foes!” (Psalm 3:1)

Foes. Enemies. Opposition. If you read through the Psalms, you’ll find those words occur about 130 times. Apparently for the psalmists having someone out to get them wasn’t an uncommon experience.

How about you? Do you have an enemy? That probably sounds melodramatic, but it’s not. Think about it. Sin is one of the most basic themes in Scripture. “Sinners” leads inevitably to “sinned against.” That’s a biblical, realistic view of the world. Sometimes the sins committed against us are minor, and reconciliation can occur. Sometimes even major sins can be forgiven and reconciled. But not always. The sinner who sins against you may have no intention of stopping and no desire for reconciliation. In other words, you may have an enemy.

I’ll let you color in the “enemy” picture: someone in the community. Someone on the internet. A boss. A coworker. An estranged family member. The question is how do you respond when you have enemies? What’s the godly reaction? In the rest of Psalm3, David is going to tell us. First hear him describe his situation.

“O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying of my soul, there is no salvation for him in God” (Psalm 3:1-2).

He elaborates in v.6: many thousands have set themselves against him, surrounding him on all sides.

Does it feel that way with your enemy? Maybe not. You might read David’s words and think your situation is miniscule by comparison. That’s okay. David will teach us in the extreme how we should respond to opposition in every circumstance, great or small. It’s the same kind of situation. No matter who it is, no matter how large or small the attacks are, simply having someone doggedly against you wears you down. You feel either a burning desire to take control, justify yourself, and silence your enemy – or you feel helpless, out of control, and despondent. Both of those feelings have a centrifugal power. They draw you in, consuming more and more of your inner world. But there’s a way out.

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3)

Now there are three parties involved: you, your enemies, and your God. And God’s is the decisive word. Do you hear who God is in this verse?

God is your protector. A shield takes the blows instead of you. God is your shield. No, it may not always feel that way – your enemy’s words and deeds may still hurt, and hurt deeply. But if you’re a child of God, here’s the promise: they won’t destroy you. They don’t define you. And they cannot derail God’s plan for you.

God is your glory. Wait. Glory? Yes, glory. Worth. Honor. Perhaps it feels like, through slander or accusations, your enemy has stolen that from you. Not if you’re God’s. He is your glory. You call him Abba, Father. You wear his colors. He smiles – even sings – over you. Your glory, your honor and significance, is beyond the reach of your enemies.

God is your vindication. An implacable enemy makes you long for vindication. You want it known that they are in the wrong and you are in the right. You can try to make that happen in your own power, but it’s a dangerous road. You become like the one you oppose. Here’s a different way. Wait, on bended knee, until God lifts your head. He will.

A God like this completely alters the experience of being sinned against, of having an enemy. And if you’re convinced this God is your God, you can respond in a new way. Look what David says and does. He talks to God: “I cried aloud to the LORD” (v.4). He rests in dependent trust: “I lay down and slept.” He makes resolutions: “I will not be afraid” (v.6). He cries out, passionately, for deliverance: “Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God!” (v.7). And he ends with the ultimate hope for all of God’s people: “Salvation belongs to the LORD; your blessing be on your people” (v.8). Isn’t this exactly what you need when you have enemies? Salvation. Deliverance. Rescue. It’s a straight line from this verse to the cross and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. He defeated his enemies and turned us, his one-time enemies, into friends. Salvation belongs to him. And not even our enemies can stop his blessing from flowing to us.

Photo by Ms Sara Kelly

The Laziness of Againstness

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Some time back I wrote this article for WorldMag.com about defining yourself or your organization by what you are for rather than what you are against.  After considering being against (or “againstness” as I’ll call it) here are some further thoughts.

Againstness is lazy. It’s the easiest way to give a label to yourself or to your organization.  It’s the easiest way to position yourself. Except that it isn’t truly positioning yourself at all. It’s just floating off the shore of whatever you are against.  It doesn’t land anywhere it just avoids certain people/causes/attitudes/etc.  It is a pretend label that reveals very little and gives no direction as to what you are trying to be.

It is lazy because it doesn’t require work, just a little observation. All you need to do to be against something is keep an eye out for it and separate yourself from it while declaiming it as loudly as you please. This is true unless, of course, you are the more militant type of againster, in which case you follow the object of your ire around and attack whenever possible. This is no less lazy because you aren’t deciding what to do or where to go, you’re just being an unwitting follower of something or someone you reject.

It is much harder to pursue something, to set a goal and go after it. It requires serious thought to define the goal. It requires constant vigilance and judgment to determine if you are on the right course in the pursuit. It requires regular status checks to see what kind of progress is being made. It is constant motion, constant consideration, constant vigilance to be sure that nothing which you are against is deflecting you off course.

In my own life this is a constant effort. I find it so easy to just try not to be something – not be a legalist, not be a blowhard, not to be too conservative, not to be too liberal, not to be sectarian, and so on. But what am I after all that not being stuff? I need an aim to figure that out, a standard to which I can hold myself. Am I honoring Jesus? Do I love others? Am I doing good and not harm? Am I producing quality work that benefits others?

Pursuing a goal necessitates being against certain things, or at least having no part in them. But being against something does not need to be antagonistic or combative unless these things they threaten your pursuit of your goal. Even then to stand against doesn’t have to mean to tear down as much as it does to stand firm. And we must always remember that  these things which we are against are not what primarily defines us.

Lastly, againstness is equally as lazy and unhelpful in a work place as it is in a home or a relationship or a church or a school.  If I define my parenting by what I do not want to be I will be so much less of a father than if I aim at raising my children to be something great. It is easy to think “I will not make the same mistakes my parents did”, but if we don’t aim at something we will simply drift as parents. If I seek out a church primarily because of what it’s not I have settled lazily into the same parasitic pattern of againstness. Instead of being part of building God’s kingdom up we will be party to tearing it down.

Againstness is an easy place to land, and an easy thing to rationalize because there is much in this fallen world to be against. But it aims at nothing, takes us nowhere, and gains us little.  So aim at what is good, and don’t fall into the trap of just being against againstness

When In Conflict, Realize That There’s Another Side to That Coin

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It seems most people function under the assumption that everything in life is a zero sum game. Basically (extremely basically) that means that everything equals out to zero in the end. Imagine having 10 dollars. If I took ten you would have zero, if two people took 5 you would have zero, and so on. The sum would always end up so that the gains by some leave others with nothing. In areas of life that aren’t quite so numbers oriented it looks more like “I am right and you are wrong” or “If this is true then that is not.”

Whether or not we realize it, it is this sort of black and white mindset that causes all sorts of conflict. For example, my wife and I were recently going out on a date. She walked into the room ready to go and I complimented her hair. Her immediate response? “Oh, you don’t like my outfit?” I had not realized that the total number of compliments allowed was one and I had brought sum to zero by using it on her hair. Such a light-hearted example still shows the mentality to think in stark terms about subtle or complex issues. I actually loved her outfit, but by emphasizing my appreciation for her hair I had left the door open for her to misunderstand me.

Many of the instances when this happens aren’t nearly so trivial. They lead to arguments, even animosity. Think of the divisions in the church over theology. God is loving and gentle vs. God is just and firm. God is sovereign vs. man having free will. God desires action vs. God desires study. And so on. All zero sum arguments; if one is right the other is wrong

Such thinking is a logical failure and faulty reasoning. It stems from a lack of thoughtfulness and willingness to listen and consider all sides of an issue. Just recently I saw somebody tweet something to the effect of “The gospel is about how we live this life not where we go in the next.” Really? The gospel is not about where we go when we die? Nonsense. The gospel is about both! The argument is about which side of a coin is the “true” side without ever realizing it’s the same blasted coin.

Such argumentation leads to side-taking and false conflicts. It fabricates opposition out of what is really a discussion of emphasis and priority. (Of course, if the conversation is about what is best or of utmost importance, it is different; that is a zero sum game because there is only one “best.”) The vast majority of issues are not right vs. wrong or true vs. false. Most issues are questions of how things fit together and what is the point of emphasis. If you love a good argument you’ll still find plenty there, but you won’t win by painting another person as an idiot or a liar.

Life is complex. Truth is complex. God is complex. It’s almost never as simple as a zero sum game. To treat it that way is to undermine what is true and hurt those who are trying to represent it. We must put in the work to understand, to consider, and to turn the coin over to see the other side.

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

6 Questions To Ask Ourselves In Conflict

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In this fallen world, conflict is inevitable. Husbands and wives, parents and children/teens/adult kids, roommates, co-workers, brothers and sisters in Christ, believers and non-believers – we all sin against each other at times – at times intentionally but many times unintentionally. We have misunderstandings, fail to keep promises, do things that annoy or even hurt others. Sometimes we can overlook others’ sins. At other times we must address them. Sometimes we are the ones who are confronted.

Here are 6 questions I have found helpful to ask myself when I find myself in conflict:

1.  Am I trying to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry? (James 1:19)

Am I really trying to hear what the other person has to say? Really trying to see their viewpoint?  Or am I defending myself or thinking of my next answer before they are finished speaking? Am I feeling angry? Is there anything that I really need to see here, even if we’re talking about something the other person did?

2.  Have I considered that I may have a log in my eye? (MT 7:3)

We all have blind spots – things about ourselves we can’t see. Could I be perceiving things wrongly? Am I being humble? None of us has God’s perfect wisdom and insight into every situation.

3.  Am I doing this for the glory of God? (1 CO 10:31)

Do I want this person to change so they will bring God glory? Or because I’m bugged, or to prove I’m right, or get my way?

4.  Am I trying to speak the truth in love? (EPH 4:15)

Do I genuinely love this person and care about their well-being? Do I want the best for them? Do I hope God blesses them?

5.  Am I trusting God to convince this person?

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 2 Ti 2:24-25

Only God can change someone’s heart. We can’t, no matter how convincing or forceful we try to be. Have I asked God to help them see what he would have them see?

6.  Is there any middle ground or alternative solution we haven’t considered?

We can get locked into thinking that our way is the only way.  In the heat of conflict it’s hard to consider other possible options.  Sometimes if we take a step back or give it a little time God can show us a solution we haven’t yet considered.

Remember, it’s not about winning or being right; it’s about God’s glory.  Hope these are helpful.