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Sin and the Myth of the Slippery Slope

slippery slope

According to the Bible, sin is transgression of the law of God. (1 John 3:4) Evangelicals, as a general principle, believe this to be true. However, when it comes to what, exactly, is the law of God — well, let the battle begin. Every sect and every pastor has their own idea about what constitutes God’s law. None of them actually follow and practice ALL the laws found in the Bible. Every follower of Jesus picks and chooses, cafeteria-style, which laws to obey and which to ignore.

Several days ago, a local group posted on Facebook that they were having a Black Lives Matter/Pride rally this Saturday. An Evangelical woman responded by posting comments about the evil of homosexuality, complete with Bible verses. I responded, so, you believe LGBTQ people, adulterers, fornicators, non-virgins, and Mormons should be executed? After all, that’s what God commands in the Bible. Of course, she ignored my challenge to her hypocritical use of the Bible to condemn behaviors she doesn’t like, choosing, instead, to attack me personally.

This woman is not unique in any way. I don’t know of one Evangelical who believes and practices every law in the Bible. Granted, Evangelicals have all sorts of lame explanations for their duplicity, but the fact remains that Evangelicals practice pick-and-choose Christianity. (Please see Should Christians Keep the Old Testament Law?)

For the sake of this post, I am going to assume that every Evangelical extracts from the Bible certain laws, commands, and precepts to govern their lives; that transgressing these edicts are sins.

I grew up in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, attended an IFB college, and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years. Over the 50 years I spent in the Christian church, I heard a lot of preaching against sin — generally and specifically. I preached a number of sermons myself against this or that sin. Convincing people that they are sinners is the precursor to salvation. Without sin, there’s no need for salvation. Remove sin, fear, and guilt from the equation, and Evangelical churches will empty out overnight.

Once saved, Evangelicals continue to battle against indwelling sin. Surprisingly, having God as your father, Jesus as your BFF, the Holy Ghost living inside of you, and having at your fingertips the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God is not enough to keep Evangelicals from sinning daily in thought, word, and deed. In fact, it seems that Evangelicals sin just like their counterparts in the evil, Satan-controlled world. That’s why Evangelical preachers spend an inordinate amount of time preaching against sin to largely Christian crowds.

Supposedly, Evangelicals are to grow and mature in their faith. One would think that sin would become less of a problem as Evangelicals became more intimate with Jesus. However, as any honest Evangelical pastor will tell you, worldliness, carnality, and sinfulness are common among God’s chosen ones. Jesus is no cure for the human condition.

Evangelical preachers often warn congregants of the danger of the slippery slope. These so-called men of God believe that one behavior deemed sinful, if unconfessed and not forsaken, leads to more serious sinful behaviors. Let me give readers several examples.

Evangelicals believe that it is sinful to use street drugs. Marijuana is considered a gateway drug that opens people up to using harder, more addictive drugs. I came of age in the 1970s. I heard numerous sermons about the evils of drug use — especially marijuana. Numerous church teens were dope smokers. So were my classmates at Findlay High School. It was not uncommon to see people smoking marijuana is the restrooms. Anti-drug preachers posited that marijuana use led to more serious drug use. Start smoking marijuana, and down the slippery slope you will go, ending up a heroin addict. Don’t want to be a heroin addict? the thinking went, don’t smoke marijuana. Of course, few of my fellow youth group members or school classmates became mainline heroin users. I am sure more than a few of them tried LSD or or other psychedelics, but hardcore heroin users? It didn’t happen.

The IFB preachers of my youth loved to preach against sexual sin. I, of course, continued in their footsteps, spending significant time over the years condemning illicit, sinful sexual behavior. I embarrassingly told church teens in one sermon (1980s) that I never knew of a girl who got pregnant who didn’t hold hands with a boy first. The slippery slope . . .

slippery slope fallacy

When it came to sexual sin, the slippery slope argument went something like this. Couples who hold hands will tire of it and want more intimacy. Thus hand-holding leads to kissing, and kissing leads to petting, which leads to fornication. Want to avoid committing fornication? Never hold hands. (Never asked was WHY should we want to avoid fucking?) This thinking led the churches I grew up in and the college I attended to develop bizarre anti-human rules. I would later pass on those same rules to churches I pastored. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.)

A similar argument is used for pornography. People who view porn grow tired of it, seeking out more explicit content, ultimately leading to sexual assault and rape. That’s right. It is just a hop, skip, and jump from YouPorn to becoming a serial rapist.

The slippery slope is a tool used by Evangelical preachers to scare people into conformity. Remember, the goal is always obedience and conformity. Whatever a preacher thinks the law of God is, his goal is lock-step compliance with the teachings of the Bible.

Of course, this approach does not work. Outwardly, it does, but when Evangelicals are on their own, safe in the privacy of their homes and automobiles, no regard is paid to the slippery slope. Sure, sinning Evangelicals have to deal with fear and guilt, but these things are not enough to keep them from behaving in normal, healthy human ways. Any preacher is deluded who thinks that by railing against marijuana and hand-holding he is going to keep church teens and young adults from partying and fornication. Human want, need, and desire win every time.

But, Bruce, for some people, the slippery slope is a real problem. Yep, any of us can and do give in to excess. Most people can drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics. That some people become alcoholics is regrettable, but should we ban the sale and use of alcohol? The same can be said for drugs. Anything can be abused and misused. For example, Polly makes me an angel food cake every year for my birthday. I LOVE angel food cake. I mean really, really, really love it. I can, I kid out not, eat a whole cake by myself. And it is for that reason that Polly only makes me an angel food cake once a year.

We all have habits and desires that seem excessive to others not so inclined. When sin and the slippery slope are removed from the discussion, it becomes easier for us to understand why we do the things we do. Our three oldest sons grew up poor. Rarely, did they get new clothes or shoes. To this day, they talk of the ugly colored Converse tennis shoes I bought them on close-out at Big Lots. Virtually every bit of their clothing either came from their grandparents at Christmas, Goodwill, or hand-me-downs. The boys owned plenty of jeans adorned with iron-on patches. Such was life in the Appalachian hills of southeast Ohio. Fast forward to when the boys were older and had good jobs. Their closets were filled with expensive clothing and shoes. Why, they even had more than one pair of shoes! It’s not hard to draw a line from their upbringing to their extravagance as young adults. One of my sons refuses to let his children wear cast-off shoes to school. His ex-wife is fine with the children wearing $5 shoes from Goodwill. Not my son. It ain’t going to happen! Why? I suspect he remembers his days attending a private Christian school; how his shoes were old, cheap, and shabby compared to those worn by his classmates.

We have a new 2020 Ford Edge, by far the most expensive car we have ever owned. As I reflect on our evolving car-buying habits over the past decade or so, it is evident that decades of driving rust-buckets deeply affected our view of automobiles. We want, dare I say need, newer cars. I can give all sorts of reasons for buying newer cars, but the real reason is that we enjoy owning a new car. I suspect all of us have similar needs in our lives.

My point is this, once we are free of guilt- and fear-inducing sin, we are free to live life on our own terms. Each to his or her own, right? While I think the slippery slope argument has merit in some circumstances, for the most part it is little more than an attempt to control human behavior. Smart are those who recognize where in their life the slippery slope lurks. I am a retired professional photographer. Photographers must be aware of the slippery slope — also known as gear acquisition syndrome (GAS). Photography is not a cheap hobby. I have invested thousands of dollars in camera bodies, lenses, flashes, studio equipment, and miscellaneous equipment. It is really easy for me to want (need) new equipment. Every couple of years, Sony comes out with new camera bodies, always with higher resolution sensors and new bells and whistles. GAS really kicks in for me when they do. But I have learned to not give in to my wants, knowing that doing so sends me careening down the slippery slope that leads to a pile of debt. I know that it is the photographer, and not the equipment (generally), that makes the picture. Sometimes, I fail to reign in my desires. I suspect most of you know what I am talking about. We all have things we are passionate about, things we are willing to spend money on. Don’t get me started on my hats. God, I’m addicted.

For those of you who are ex-Evangelicals, did your pastors use the slippery slope analogy to demand obedience and conformity? Do you still have a problem with guilt and fear over human behaviors you know aren’t sinful, yet you can’t shake the voice of your pulpit-thumping preacher in your head? If you no longer buy into the Christian concept of “sin,” how do you order your life and make decisions these days? Please share your stories in the comment section.


Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar

    I’ve never really thought about it before but the slippery slope argument can work any which way you choose to direct it. If evangelicals claim that gay marriage is a step toward permitting bigamy, then isn’t it also perfectly legitimate to argue that abolishing gay marriage is a step toward abolishing marriage? The first person to use shoes, or whatever foot covering it was, acknowledged that the bare feet provided by god weren’t good enough, never mind the super duper running shoes we can now buy. It seems to me that it’s all part of a moral argument, and the foundations on which that morality is based should be firm and jealously protected. Should people be able to live their lives as they wish, in as much comfort as possible, inasmuch as their achieving this goal does not interfere with the rights of others to do the same? Should bigamy be permitted? Well why do we have marriage in the first place, and is anybody harmed by bigamy? Lots and lots of things to consider and the only answer I can provide that embraces my own view is that the bible doesn’t help. Indeed quite the reverse. One might say that the bible is the slippery slope to immorality?

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    Ah yes, the slippery slope argument was used ALL THE TIME at church and Christian school. “Give the devil an inch and he’ll take a mile.” Any form of “worldliness” fell into that slippery slope bucket – contemporary Christian music leading to rock music leading to Satan worshiping; TV watching leading to porn watching leading to rape; skipping church once leading to skipping church regularly leading to atheism.

    My Episcopalian friend told me his tradition views sin as anything that keeps you from being the best Hod wants you to be, whereas evangelicals see sin as something to be punished. Very different perspectives.

    • Avatar
      Ben Masters

      “TV watching leading to porn watching leading to rape”

      Ah, yes, it’s the slippery slope from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to Sex and the City to eventual rape– I think we’ve heard it all before; I’ve never believed a word of it.

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    Southern Lady

    I don’t remember sermon specifics. My family didn’t have rules related to avoiding sin. This gave me lots of opportunities to be with my boyfriend alone, which actually did lead to a slippery slope: getting pregnant, dropping out of high school, getting married at 16, having baby at 17, getting divorced in early 20’s, raising child as a single mother focused on a man, child having lousy childhood. And the gift goes on. So, yes, one thing did lead to another in my case. All pretty predictable, actually.

    The situation in my upbringing that did have strict rules was at church camp. There you had no holding hands, separate swimming times, curfews, etc. Oh, and my one year of Christian school in 9th grade did involve measuring skirt length, etc.

    It’s interesting to look back at all this. To see the rules or lack thereof and where they came from. I’ve always been kinda jealous of families that had more of a structure. And it does make me wonder why my parents allowed me such freedom. They weren’t dumb people. They were good parents overall. But not protective parents.

    I don’t think of a lot of this stuff as sins. I think of it as ways to increase your odds of having a good life vs. things you can do to really mess yourself up.

    And I don’t think preachers yelling about holding hands and such is a very effective method. I think having wise parents who are paying attention probably works much better.

    • Avatar
      Barbara L. Jackson

      Barbara L. Jackson
      I was not raised in a “christian only” family. However, I also started having sex with a boyfriend in high school. My parents did not say much, but I was told I should always use contraception if I did not have the financial ability to support myself and a child. You are not unique, many high school kids have sex. Contraception must be easily available. This is the only proven way to reverse the growth of teenage pregnancy. Long acting reversible contraception (:LARC) has brought the teenage pregnancy down in Colorado.

  4. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    Bruce said: “Jesus is no cure for the human condition.”
    And he ain’t no cure because the human condition is not a disease or a lack of some essential whatever. Evangelicalism is a business based on selling the idea that the human condition is flat on its face bad and needs a super-hero rescuer. Without that rescuer we jus’ ain’t in for a good end.
    The human condition is life and potential. It is worthless without ‘you-name-it’.
    I might recommend you get into selling pickup trucks (around where I live) if you want to do well but of course there is a tax-free betting game called the Baptist Chrurch that you could take up too. Just make usre you don’t drink the Kool-Aid like many of us did and keep your eyes on the prize, the prosperity prize.
    I am reading Southern Lady talking about her slippery times and admiring that she managed to pull-through and that she did not leave her child on a doorstep but loved the child as best she was able then. It must have been an incredible challenge to do that and just how we parents love a child so they do not run off to marry at 16 is a hard question.
    My wife works with children and families struggling in their various ‘human conditions’ and she always comes back to the word ‘connection’, having and maintaining connection with kids. This is not accomplished with rules, nor with lack of them. It is about being together and caring, another human condition that allows freedom of choice but informed freedom and open sharing.
    My son is in his early twenties and has a friend who is 19. She wants to be with him now and now and now and he enjoys being cared for by her but has work and interests that he wants to continue to pursue and that cannot be done if all his nows are with his friend. She tries to understand but…. Anyway, as a dad, I am afraid of him finding things slippery and discovering himself in a family-way so all I can do is talk with him about the foundational impact of being a father, what I experienced and how everything is life turns upside inside out to be ‘family’ then and families must be first and foremost. I ask him to be very careful to choose what he wants in his youth and to work hard but not let anything be somebody else’s responsibility….. like birth control!
    He endures these talks (poor fella has had at least two this year!) and always hugs me during them or just after I release him from the paternal bondage, listening.
    I could very easily have done as Southern Lady experienced and the ‘not paying attention’ certainly applied to my Christian parents. For us the extreme was not like Southern Lady but Rules all over the place and we were all islands, alone seeking whatever comfort was around or enduring isolation. I certainly don’t believe Southern Lady sinned at all; just sought connection and comfort as a youngster. Some Christians ‘care’ for their children by abdicating true parenting and copying preacher rules, becoming like cold policemen. The tough-love (sic) homes for wayward youth are torture chamber examples of Christianity at work.
    My scripture says: For all are born and strive to be just what they are, fully human. The way is together, not sold-out or mortgaged to a fantasy God. Otherwise, we will be Trumped again and again.

  5. Avatar
    Southern Lady

    ”we were all islands” That’s a good way to express it.

    Connection is key, yes. And attention. And true affection.

    And thanks for your kind words. I think my parents were just busy being themselves and were good at some aspects of parenting and not so great at others. The same with me with my own children.

    I think churches can add either good or harm.

  6. Avatar

    One thing I noticed was, if I accepted my humanity and flaws, it was easier to deal with said flaws. Christianity is about making us focus on the bad things we do, and focus on trying to fix (after being “born again.”) Even when I was a dedicated Christian I found that if I wanted to, for example, live more healthfully, I did better ADDING good habits than looking at my bad habits. Focusing on the positive really helped. I should’ve realized when I left the church “temporarily” to deal with my mental health, that THAT was a good reason to never go back. (And I never did.)

  7. Avatar

    And in regards to the slippery slope thing: if I accepted certain things as normal in my brain, then I didn’t have a desire to go crazier or fall down any slippery slope. For example: thoughts in our heads are not evil. If we have no desire to act on negative, harmful thoughts, that is good. The problem is our ACTIONS. If I have a racist thought (UGH), I find it quite upsetting. But I have no desire to act on said thought, and only a desire to be an even better ally. Suppressing my thoughts doesn’t achieve a desired goal, but instead makes it harder.

  8. Avatar

    (Bruce, you can make both comments into one post, and delete this one. But I”m leaving it because I wanted to follow this post.)

  9. Avatar

    Southern Lady

    I enjoyed your comment. Daniel Siegel actually talks about a river with chaos and rigidity as opposite banks. Here is an example from him: .

    Too often individuals and organizations (churches), careen from bank to bank when the only real place of psychological safety is right in the middle. Thus my friend in Christian school growing up who had parents in total chaos until they got saved into a very rigid church. So the family careened into rigidity. So she got so out of control she went to live with her, with at least some degree of chaos.

    As a Christian I’m often grieved as I read this blog, because I believe much as your Episcopalian friend. It appears that at least in this area, he is in the middle of the river, the safe place. The Christianity I grew up was definitely not in the middle of the river. Even so my parents forbade me to go to certain Christian colleges, especially Bob Jones.

    • Avatar
      Southern Lady

      That river idea is a great analogy. I’ve done a lot of careening from bank to bank with habits, finding I can do either extreme for awhile, but never moderate. Moderate is the key, usually.

  10. Avatar
    Richard Thomas

    There is a joking belief here in Scotland that the Wee Frees (The Free Presbyterian Kirk) are strongly opposed to sex standing up because it might lead to dancing.

  11. Avatar
    Sue Burnam

    “I responded, so, you believe LGBTQ people, adulterers, fornicators, non-virgins, and Mormons should be executed? After all, that’s what God commands in the Bible.” There’s a way to get to executing Mormons in the Bible? I suppose it is an instance of “I can do anything with a verse taken out of context.”

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Not taken out of context at all. Evangelicals don’t believe Mormons are Christians. Thus, God’s commands to execute (murder) worshippers of false Gods, false prophets, e tal applies. One need only to look at God’s genocidal behavior, and that of the Israelites, in the OT to see how God views anyone who doesn’t worship him. Jehovah is certainly a blood thirsty, narcissistic deity. No surprise that many Evangelicals either ignore the OT or explain it away. (Not that the NT is any better. God’s blood thirst is clearly shown in the execution of Jesus and his worldwide slaughter of unbelievers in the book of Revelation.)

      So, by all means show me how I’ve taken the Bible out of context. ?

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Bruce Gerencser