“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 You would like that person to actually ask you what you believe rather than write you off as ignorant, bigoted, or outdated based on a false assumption about what Christians are like.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