Article Categories

Onward and Upward: The LDS Church’s Parable of the Slope

by Sharon Lindbloom
5 June 2023

In late May The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new video, “The Parable of the Slope.” This video is a condensed/edited version of a General Conference talk given by LDS General Authority Seventy Clark G. Gilbert in October 2021. The church has taken the main talking points from Mr. Gilbert’s address and added music along with “hand art imagery” to create a five-and-a-half-minute inspirational video. 

“The Parable of the Slope” is unlike biblical parables — simple stories that illustrate spiritual truth (e.g., “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard…” Matthew 20:1-16). “The Parable of the Slope” is not a story; rather, it uses mathematical concepts (intercepts and slopes) to teach “that our direction we are headed and our slope matter far more than our starting point or struggles.” 

In a nutshell, Mr. Gilbert’s parable is this:

“We believe in the divine potential of all of God’s children and in our ability to become something more in Christ. In the Lord’s timing, it is not where we start, but where we are headed that matters most.” (0:23-0:45)

We all begin somewhere, Mr. Gilbert says, with “different life endowments” (i.e., advantages and disadvantages), but from our starting point 

“We then progress along a slope of personal progress. Our future will be determined far less by our starting point and much more by our slope. Jesus Christ sees divine potential no matter where we start…In the Lord’s calculus, He will do everything He can to help us turn our slopes toward heaven.” (1:23-2:30)

Interestingly, several relevant things are not addressed in this parable. What is our “divine potential”? Where are our slopes, “pointed heavenward,” meant to take us? What is required from us to move forward and “progress along the slope of personal progress”? What does it mean to “become something more in Christ”? 

In Mr. Gilbert’s full General Conference talk he speaks of becoming “better people,” but he also speaks of “growth in the gospel.” In a section that was omitted from the video he says,

“Second, involve the Lord in the process of lifting your slope…The prophet Nephi taught ‘that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.’ We must do our best, which includes repentance, but it is only through the Lord’s grace that we can realize our divine potential.”

In other words, he says, “Another way to frame the parable of the slope is to emphasize that if we do our best, we can trust God to step in and make up the difference” (footnote 10).

Mr. Gilbert is not just talking about becoming better human beings, he is talking about Mormonism’s version of eternal life – that is, becoming Gods. This is what it means in Mormonism to “become something more in Christ.”

LDS apostle Melvin Ballard (1873-1939) talked about man’s divine potential in connection with what he called a “Mormon truism”:

“Now, I would like to say a word or two about that Mormon truism, namely: ‘As man is, God once was, and as God is, man may become.’ Note that it is not to the effect that man will become, but man may become, and I wish to say that few men will become what God is. And yet, all men may become what he is if they will pay the price.” (Melvin J. Ballard, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 238)

Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th president of the LDS church, also spoke of man’s divine potential of becoming, even including an idea parallel to Mr. Gilbert’s slope:

“The whole design of the gospel is to lead us, onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follett sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342-62) and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become!” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 179. See also “Don’t Drop the Ball,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1994, 48)

An earlier president of the LDS church, 12th president Spencer W. Kimball, explained humankind’s eternal possibilities:

“Each one of you has it within the realm of his possibility to develop a kingdom over which you will preside as its king and god. You will need to develop yourself and grow in ability and power and worthiness, to govern such a world with all of its people.” (“. . . the Matter of Marriage” [address delivered at University of Utah Institute of Religion, 22 October 1976], 2)

Furthermore, President Kimball taught about what those possible kingdoms will look like. It is a teaching that has been oft repeated and utilized by LDS authorities, as in this talk by Henry B. Eyring, a member of the church’s First Presidency:

“The real life we’re preparing for is eternal life. Secular knowledge has for us eternal significance. Our conviction is that God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to live the life that He does. We learn both the spiritual things and the secular things ‘so we may one day create worlds [and] people and govern them’ (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 386).” (Henry B. Eyring, “Education for Real Life,” Ensign, October 2022)

The slope discussed by Mr. Gilbert — and alluded to by other LDS leaders – echoes what Joseph Smith talked about in his King Follett Discourse. There The Prophet said,

“Here, then, is eternal life — to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, — namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one, — from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation… When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel: you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation.”

Joseph Smith’s “degrees” and “ladders” are akin to Mr. Gilbert’s “slope.” According to both men, a person’s continuous movement heavenward on the ladder or the slope will result in the person “becoming something more in Christ.” While Joseph Smith (and other LDS leaders) have spoken plainly about what this “something more” is (i.e., exaltation to Godhood, to ‘create worlds [and] people and govern them’) and what is required to achieve it, Mr. Gilbert’s parable as presented in the LDS church’s video lacks that clarity.  

So Latter-day Saints say “The Parable of the Slope” gives them hope and encouragement. But I believe that’s only true because they don’t fully understand it. If it’s understood within the context of Mormonism, the message is actually quite hopeless. Consider a different parable, one that presents Mr. Gilbert’s teaching with more clarity and transparency within the framework of Mormon doctrine: 

The Parable of the Cliff-Climber

Realizing our divine potential and becoming “something more in Christ” is like a man who went out from his home to journey to a distant village that he planned to acquire and govern. As he drew near, he discovered that the sought-after village was on top of a steep and rocky cliff. He began to climb but soon lost his footing and slid back to his starting place. With hands torn and bloodied by his fall, he began the upward climb again; and again he tumbled back almost to the bottom of the cliff. Bruised and broken, the man tried again and again, but made little progress. He grew tired, wearier with every attempt. As he rested near the bottom of the cliff, the king of a neighboring village crossed his path. The king pointed to the top of the cliff to ensure that the man was headed in the right direction and encouraged him to keep moving. After refreshing the man with a sip of water, the king went on his way. In futility, the man continued his efforts to climb to the top of the cliff to gain his kingdom.

Listen, then, to what the parable of the cliff-climber means: The man is each of you; the king is Jesus Christ; the distant village represents eternal life in the celestial kingdom; and the cliff is the “slope” you must traverse to attain that eternal life. Therefore, keep your slope pointed heavenward and Christ will help you on your way.

Twelfth LDS president Spencer W. Kimball taught,

“Man is created in the image of God. He is a god in embryo. He has the seeds of godhood within him and he can, if he is normal, pick himself up by his bootstraps and literally move himself from where he is to where he knows he should be.” (Spencer W. Kimball, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1965, 26)

Mr. Gilbert assures his audience that Jesus “will do everything He can to help us turn our slopes toward heaven.” Nevertheless, according to Mormonism the navigation of our slope is still ours and ours alone. We must pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and move ourselves to where we need to be. This is the way it’s always been in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From 1844 to 2023, it hasn’t changed. Tragically, the LDS church continues to reject God’s free gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23) in favor of the promotion of man’s endless and futile striving for Godhood.

To see Sharon’s other news articles, click here.

Share this

Check out these related articles...