The argument is sometimes made that there is a “slippery slope” of “concessions” by the church to modern culture in the area of inter-personal relationships, and especially gender issues. The various stages on this slope are, perhaps:
- Abolition of slavery;
- Women in leadership in the church;
- Full acceptance of homosexuality in the church;
- The latest one I have read about: acceptance of “polyamory”.
Now to be fair by no means all of those who use the “slippery slope” argument start it with abolition of slavery. But some do. And the general argument seems to be that acceptance of one of these stages necessarily opens the way to the next stage. So, the people who argue like this position themselves with pride on a supposedly solid mountain top, often based on a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, and condemn any shift from this position as starting on the slippery slope. Perhaps they are thinking in terms of the psalmist’s image of his feet slipping in Psalm 38:16 and elsewhere.
But is the slope in fact a slippery one, or is it broken by a ledge or barrier made of solid rock, a “shelf of rocks” as Ben Witherington renders part of Matthew 16:18, of biblical truth? Can this determine how far Christians can legitimately part company from one another without betraying the gospel abandoning their faith?
This is in effect one of the issues I have been looking at in my recent posts, which are turning into an unplanned series. In particular, I wrote a few days ago about Reflecting Culture, not Changing Attitude. In this post I argued, with quotes from Gordon Fee, that there is a real distinction to be made between the arguments against a wider leadership role for women in the church and the arguments against full acceptance of homosexual practice. In brief, the former arguments are dependent on the culturally specific situations and understandings of the apostles, whereas the latter arguments are presented as issues of morality and unchanging truth. Between these two types of argument there is in principle a clearly defined boundary, a barrier across the slope defining the limits of Christian truth and stopping those who rely on the truth of the Word of God from slipping right down the slope.
Now I realise that there is room for debate on exactly where this boundary between the two kinds of arguments lies. Some of this debate has been taking place in comments on this blog. But those debating this do seem to agree that in principle there is some kind of barrier like this, somewhere lower down the slope than abolition of slavery, but above the unrestricted sexual licence which is now apparently called “polyamory”.
Or is “polyamory” in practice just a new name for unofficial polygamy? If so, it is somewhat ironic that the taboo against polygamy in western countries is much more a cultural than a biblical one.
So there is no real basis for the “slippery slope” argument, which makes sense only if it is admitted that there is no distinction between unchanging biblical truth and arguments based on cultural relativity. Instead, those presenting arguments in this area need to clearly set out their views on where the boundary lies, based on proper biblical exegesis and hermeneutics, and accept that it is OK for Christians to show some diversity as long as they remain within this boundary.