Craig Gross: Theology around homosexuality is not black and white
As the debate opens up online about homosexual theology, and bloggers such as Rachel Held Evans and Vicky Beeching are providing a space for real dialogue to begin, American pastor and founder of XXXchurch.com Craig Gross has entered the conversation.
In a recent post for Relevant Magazine, Gross wrote of the refusal of many Christians to look beyond or question certain beliefs and traditions.
Determined to see things in a certain way we become defensive, and are often afraid to explore other viewpoints or really investigate our own theology, he believes, and this is unhelpful both in terms of our own faith journey and that of non-believers.
"Too often, those of us who are Christians find the need to dig in and prove that we're right, to the point where we get very exclusive - often to the detriment of the large part of grey around us, holding to the really important parts of black and white," he writes.
"The Church gets divided on too many grey issues, treating them like they're black and white...I get it. I understand the need to defend the faith. But I do wonder how these types of lines get drawn so definitively; why do these loud, black-and-white voices get so argumentative?" he asks.
It's an issue he picks up again in a posting to his blog called Grey God, in which he speaks about a guy called Aaron who left the church after years of attempts to cure him of being gay, all to no avail.
It's a question also asked by Beeching in the first of her LGBT theology blogs, in which she notes how quick we so often are to "draw lines in the sand, delineating 'sides'" in matters of tricky theology.
"Yes, debating doctrine is crucial. But I've seen it so often spiral straight into argumentative tribalism...We must find a way to exist within the tension of our disagreements; to dialogue without destroying one another," she asserts.
Gross has thus coined the term 'Grey God', and has begun a blog of the same name. "Christians: we don't need more statements and stances," he explains.
"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."
A particular point of concern for Gross is the way that gay people are welcomed into the Church and treated by the wider Christian community. No matter what a person's theological standpoint is, "nothing is as important as Jesus," he says, and Jesus treated everyone with grace, love and kindness.
In response to Gross' blog, another writer named only as Rachel offered her own understanding. "There is way more tension in our faith than absolutes," she writes.
"But people love cages and walls because that keeps them safe. But love is never safe. The black and white is that God is the ultimate pursuer and lover of His people, gays, women, fringe.
"Loving people means you have to get comfortable with the grey. Cause we don't always have the answers. We don't. And God is still good in that. He still speaks."
These ideas fit with those offered by Beeching and Held Evans, but are likely to cause some waves within the evangelical movement.
In 2010, ChurchSalt published an article entitled 'Have you met the grey God?' in which author Joe Hamper argues that God is clear about what is right and wrong, and Christians must be too.
"Folks, let's be clear. The God of the Bible is patient, but He is not tolerant. I know of no teachings in Scripture that show the Lord deciding certain sins are semi-okay, or that false teaching is no longer false. He may exercise patience, He may give extended calls to repentance, but never does He change His mind on what is sin and what is righteousness," Hamper contends.
"The evangelist (for that is what all believers are) must be black and white, with no sign of grey except in those few areas our Lord intentionally left without full explanation. Was Elijah grey? How about John the Baptist or Moses? The more someone is sanctified, set apart from sin as holy unto the Lord, the more they will become black and white, just like their Master.
"Great care must be taken to be sure that we are entrenched in the same positions as our black and white God, but once we are, let us never become "grey" to accommodate the comfort of the lost, or to avoid discomfort in a conversation. Should we be friendly? Yes. Generous? Yes. Patient? Yes. Grey? Never!"