American pastor and founder of XXXChurch.com Craig Gross has criticised Christians who subscribe to 'black and white' theology, arguing that it is "arrogant" to think that we have all the answers and in doing so we alienate those outside the Church.
"Christians: we don't need more statements and stances," he wrote in an opening article on his blog, Grey God, which has highlighted the issue of homosexuality in particular as one which has the capacity to divide and disengage.
"You know what we need? More people who are willing to see that this is not about morality or culture wars or doctrinal differences. It's about people.
"Most people and companies issuing statements and talking about a definitive black and white God have never sat and listened to the people and lives on the other end of their statements. That takes a little work...You have to blow past the black-and-white rhetoric of the establishment and get down in the grey dirt with the outcasts. You know. What Jesus did."
Christian Today caught up with Craig to find out more about his journey into the grey.
CT: What do you mean by 'Grey God'?
CG: I mean that idea that maybe not everything is black and white; our perceptions or interpretations might need to be a bit grey. God might be black and white on some of these issues but that's the debate; what's grey and what's not.
When it comes to reaching out to people and trying to win and love people, the importance we place on these isolating issues is dumb. I'm not saying every issue is grey, but I guess we go so strong on some of our beliefs that it sometimes becomes more about the issues than it does the person, and that's where I say we're not going to have a success, and we're not going to get anywhere that's going to be productive with people if we're always looking for arguments.
It seems that it's resonating with people, and they're interested in the concept, which took me by surprise! I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I knew I wanted to do something.
CT: What are you hoping to achieve with your blog?
CG: There might potentially be something for a book; I'm just asking who has thoughts and posting it in a conversation online. I feel like there aren't a lot of places for these kinds of conversations, because I don't know anyone that's saying, "I'll post your thoughts and we'll chew on it". Everybody's got their slant, and give just their side of the story.
The thing is, I'm not normally a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I've got opinions, and I'm usually the first one to give them! For me I guess when it comes to loving people and reaching out, it's better not to lead with those things. I think we camp out a lot on these [big issues], but we've done Christianity a disservice, because all anyone knows is what we're against.
CT: What has the reaction been like? There has been a lot of harsh criticism for people like yourself, Vicky Beeching and Rachel Held Evans who are trying to open up conversation.
CG: I get critics, it's crazy; you can't win. Once again, two worlds believing in the same God won't even talk to somebody on the other side of the issue. With Grey God the idea is that both sides are shown and listen to one another. I think I have thoughts that fall on both sides on different subjects, and the idea of Grey God is that maybe it's not about God being grey but about our views being grey. Christians are so often black and white, and are fighting constantly, so what if we can just get along and not let our view points on a few issues divide us? There's no point to that.
CT: Obviously the very nature of XXXchurch [which helps those with porn addictions] is to be open about tricky subjects. Why is so important that we tackle these issues?
CG: These issues are definitely not going to go away if we don't talk about them. We've been at the forefront of talking about these things for years, trying to raise awareness; I deal with those touchy subjects that no one else wants to talk about.
The Church is such an odd group - if we can't get along with our own people, and all we do is scream at each other, how are we to reach those outside? Even with the issue of homosexuality, in the end someone's right and someone's wrong - there's a winner and a loser so to speak on that topic - but is it worth all the isolation; all the fights? On something that in a sense some people say could go either way?
We're never going to get people to stop fighting, and I understand why on a lot of these issues our nature is to say no and scream, but I want people to see that behind these statements and stances there are people who will get turned off by this. I think we're dispersive when we choose some of these battles.
CT: If we don't open up dialogue, what will happen to the Church?
CG: I think that maybe there's a group of people who resonate with some of the things I'm saying as opposed to "It's this way or that way; pick a side". More people are saying that they're not as concerned with some of these things, and they're more concerned about Jesus. So I think the Church is going to continue saying we'll take sides, stances and pick a cause. But in general we're not black and white, Republican or Democrat; we're somewhere in the middle. I would say that even on that I can value both sides! In that same way I think there are a lot of people who don't fit into these boxes in the Church.
CT: Is there an arrogance with black and white theology?
CG: I think for sure. Take Rob Bell; he asks a lot of questions, and that drives some people nuts because he throws out things and maybe doesn't provide enough answers in some peoples' opinion. But then there's Mark Driscoll, and that guy has an answer to every question!
So many people love Driscoll's style because he's convinced you that he's right and he's got answers. Then there are people who are loose; like "Man, I don't know, is Jesus really Jesus?" They won't say yes or no to anything. There's value in questioning like Rob [Bell] does, and there's value in having some black and white. But to be black and white in everything all the time – that's extreme arrogance.
CT: What's been picked up most is your thoughts on homosexuality. What have you got to say about that?
CG: There's not enough room inside the Church to just be, without being labelled. Not to have all the answers and to be okay with that. With homosexuality; I've talked to enough people who are gay who've said that they don't want to be, to be able to honestly say in my heart that it isn't a choice. I used to think that, and I was taught that, but have lunch with ten people who are gay and you won't come away with that same message.
Do I still wrestle with a lot of things within that? Yes. But I don't subscribe to the "you can choose this and can easily walk away" [line of thought].
Whether Craig Gross thinks homosexuality is right or wrong is not the question, the question is what's the response to the kid who says "Where's God in all of this? What do I do now with my faith? Do I abandon it, or is there some place still for me with God?"
To follow the conversation on Craig's blog, click here.
For XXXChurch, click here.