Skiing The Slippery Slope

Anyone who has read much of this blog knows how I feel about the slippery slope. I believe that the very concept has damaged us theologically, politically and personally beyond anything good that could come out of it. The very concept that everything we believe about a subject becomes worthless if we come to believe that any small part of it is questionable.

Here is what Tony Jones says about the slippery slope in his book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier:

That theology is local, conversational, and temporary does not mean that we must hold our beliefs without conviction. This is a charge often thrown at emergent Christians, but it’s false. As a society, we’ve been wrong about all sorts of things in the past, like slavery. And not letting women vote. And not letting nonwhites drink from the same water fountains as whites. I could go on and on. Our forebears held positions on these issues with deep conviction, but they were wrong. And I can say that unequivocally. At least, I can say that from my vantage point-as one who came after them-they were wrong. What I cannot say is which side of those issues I would have been on a century or two ago. Nor can I say which issues I’m mistaken on today….

Unlike Mr. Jones I “did” live through many of the issues he discussed here. I have to admit that I was wrong to have such a non-committal  attitude toward many of them when they were happening. Since I was a white kid growing up in rural America I, at least initially, didn’t think they had anything to do with me. In college in the 1960s I finally had some direct encounters and conversations with my first African-Americans. From conversations with them I came to understand that I too had a stake in these matters.  It was not until my local circumstance changed that I knew how critical the civil rights demonstrations of the time actually were.

Dispatch 11: Emergents believe that awareness of our relative position-to God, to one another, and to history – breeds biblical humility, not relativistic apathy

Our understanding that throughout history the theologians in particular and the church in general has both evolved and devolved. To deny that fact is to deny history itself. We can’t just ignore the fact that during the period quoted above many Christian denomination claimed that segregation and denying people of color their God given rights  was biblical. Among other things they pointed out the various reference to slaves in the Bible.  We are all relativists to one degree or another. When we recognize that fact it frees us to look for further understanding of God’s infinitely complicated words to us. When we lock onto one version of our choosing we lock out further revelations from God or Scripture.

The concept of the slippery slope is a dangerous one but not from the fact that we look at things differently but from the fact that we refuse to do so…..

The Practice of Exclusion…

I have been thinking lately about the words of Jesus and how he interacted with those he came across. Except for some of those in the religious establishment I couldn’t find any instance where he chose to automatically exclude from his saving grace or the wisdom of his teachings. He treated men and women pretty much the same; he welcomed all to his ministry. The poor and marginalized seemed to be special targets for him to reach out. He just wasn’t one to exclude anyone, even tax collectors and Roman soldiers. The sick and the lame were often the center of his attention.

Fast forward to today and there seems to be a common thread in almost all the religious establishments who call themselves Christian. They in one form or another seem to be more inclined to exclude people from membership in their organizations as they are to include them.  If you can manage to jump through all the many hoops that they require and keep your mouth shut in regards to questions you might have of their doctrine and practices then you are welcome as a member. Just don’t ever step over the line.

This is especially true for those who have chosen to be ministers in their organizations.  Tow the line or else be called a heretic. Almost all of these groups  seem to be convinced that if they allow any level of dissent they are opening themselves up to falling down a slippery slope into Satan’s domain.  They, for the most part, view the world as completely dominated by the evil one and therefore everything and everyone outside their personal groups are to be viewed with skepticism at the least and evil at the worst.

I know from personal experience of perhaps the most moving Christian minister I have ever encountered who was personally chastised for joining those outside his denomination in a prayer situation. He was stripped of his preaching duties for a year; his sermons were by far his most dominant God-given ability.

I know from personal experiences that when I questioned the claim that the Bible was 100% literally true and without error a process was started where I was to lose my membership of almost ten years and thousands of hours of volunteer work for the group. When I professed that I believed that the earth is more than 7,000 years old the process was begun to exclude me. I am no longer part of that organization.

Jesus was all about inclusion. He went out of his way to bring in all those around him. Sadly today’s churches, almost all 39,000 versions of them, are  constantly looking for ways to exclude people.  I am greatly saddened by this ever-present practice and I’m sure Jesus is devastated by it.  What happened to his church of the first two hundred years? I will have some thoughts about that in a future post here.