"Can I genuinely care for and be committed to someone if I don't affirm an aspect of their life?"
That is one of the core questions that the California-based Eternity Bible College professor Preston Sprinkle wants to explore in his new class on homosexuality, which he describes as "not an issue to be wrestled with but a people to love."
For Sprinkle, who recently released Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence and also authored Erasing Hell with Francis Chan, says the class is the first step in putting forth material for a book that he says will fill a void of "popular-level" theologically conservative texts about homosexuality.
"There is a lot of books on the conservative side in the last 10 years and a lot of them are either political books, testimonies … or scholarly books that the average person can't understand," Sprinkle told The Christian Post. "Most of popular-level books tend to make a fairly sound argument that the Bible affirms homosexuality or at least doesn't prohibit it.
Sprinkle, who teaches at the affordable Bible College that Chan started 10 years ago, is also sharing his thoughts on the text to push back on some of the ideas and values that he was imbued with as a child.
"This question goes far, far beyond 'the Bible says it, therefore I believe it, therefore all gays go to hell,'" Sprinkle said, "which is kind of what I had grown up believing … But just the texts alone are more complex than that."
The Bible college professor, who in a promo video for the class calls homosexuality "not an issue to be wrestled with but a people to love," said that he hopes that the class and book provide a space where he can "challenge conservatives to be much more thought out, much more compassionate, and question, if we say it's wrong – then what?"
Part of the reason behind reframing the dialogue, said Sprinkle, is the human consequences that harsh and severe speech has had on members of the LGBT community.
"There's a lot of 15-year-olds with a gun to their heads because they're attracted to the same gender and keep getting yelled at by the pulpit and they're trying to figure out does God love me? Does God hate me? Am I going to hell?" he said.
Another goal, he said, is to help straight Christians empathize with Christians with same-sex attraction.
To that end, different members of the community, such as one who grew up with a gay mother and father, and an openly gay and celibate seminary student, will attend the class and share their own perspectives and stories.
For those outside of southern California interested in taking the class, Sprinkle intends to post the first round of videos in March on the Eternity Bible College website, after he is done teaching the class' first session.
Despite the dozens of books and conversations that have gone into this process for Sprinkle, he still acknowledges that the issue remains difficult for himself to internally reconcile, part of that due to the relationships he has with the community. One man whom Sprinkle said he met through his blog, acknowledged that despite the fact that the professor's tone was more moderate, because his beliefs did not validate the man's behavior, everything ultimately fell short.
"At one point, though [he told me] 'until conservative Christians change their theology there's always going to be a gap there. You are saying that a fundamental part of my personhood is from the pit of hell and living in constant sin. How can genuine love be there as long as that's still there?'" recounted Sprinkle. "I'm just really processing and thinking it through."
Acknowledging his own inner turmoil about the issue, Sprinkle still believes he must challenge his own community and offer up an "in-house critique."
"There's so many complexities that the conservative church absolutely has to wake up to and learn how to dialogue. We've taken the 'Duck Dynasty' approach far too long. We need to be much more thought out and nuanced and compassionate," he said.