I think I was saying something irreverant when my husband quipped, "Watch out, or you will become a 'backslider.'"
We both giggled a bit about this.
The term has fallen out of vogue lately. I haven't heard it in awhile. But it got me thinking: who came up with this phrase in the first place?
Why does it get wielded in threatening ways in some Christian circles? Or at least it used to. According to my formerly Baptist dad, this was one of the worst things you could ever call a fellow church member.
I looked up a definition of backsliding and this is what I found:
The term "backsliding" is usually used to describe believers making unrighteous choices such as excessive drinking, sexual immorality, foul language, low church attendance, or similar outward behaviors.
"Huh," I thought.
So we are doing ok when we are making "righteous choices" which, according to this definition, look like no alcohol, sexual purity (whatever that is), no swearing, and going to church.
But which of any of those behaviors have anything to do with following Jesus and loving my neighbor?
I am not advocating becoming a foul-mouthed, bar-hopping, sex addict.
But I do wonder if the whole idea of "backsliding" is way off target.
After my husband jokingly labeled me as such, I started to wonder,
What if the sliding we were worried about in backsliding was sliding away from love?
Moving away from compassion?
Slipping down the slope away from empathy and toward hard-heartedness?
Falling away from humility and landing in a pile of self-righteous arrogance?
What if backsliding was less about harmful personal behaviors and more about the ways we harm our neighbors? (Sometimes even in the name of religion.)
Or harm God's good creation?
Or harm the poor, the sick, the hungry, the lonely, the broken, the tired, the bruised, the orphan, the fatherless, the widow?
What if I was not a backslider because I said a coarse word when I dropped a plate,
but because I refused to feel sorrow and move toward right action when I saw children being ripped from their parents at the border?
What if you are not a backslider because you don't go to church as much,
but because you don't go to your neighbor's house with a pot of soup?
What if we are not backsliders because we enjoy a cold beer on a hot day,
but because we refuse to enjoy the creation God has entrusted to our gentle care and instead treat the earth as some kind of cheap, dispensable commodity?
I wonder if it might be a good idea to bring the word backslider back into vogue.
Only to be used - of course - in our own self-examination process,
and to help us see that the really dangerous slippery slope
is always the one that moves us away from love.