“Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”
Spin that one around for a moment.
Craig Gross has. A slight, somewhat-bearded 35-year-old guy whose surname is fittingly just one consonant from “Cross,” does believe that Jesus does love porn stars. And porn fans, porn producers, porn PR reps and even porn screenwriters, those who affix to their movies such titles as “Innocent Until Proven Filthy.”
Jesus would even love Dirk Diggler, if Dirk Diggler were an actual person and not a character from “Boogie Nights.” So, we expect, Jesus will love Mark Walberg. And he must love Ron Jeremy, too, and more about the vaunted Hedgehog in a few paragraphs.
In Gross’ studied theological belief system, Jesus not only loves all individuals responsible for the adult film and product industry, but He also is available to save each and every one.
“Porn is demeaning to women, and the Bible says we should not look at women with lust in our eyes, but we really just want to help people,” Gross says as he stands in front of a tall, early 1970s-style sign that reads “Jesus Loves Porn Stars.”
“But really,” he adds, “we just want to help people.”
Gross has been a fixture on the AEE convention floor for eight years promoting is online ministry, XXXChurch.com, which he formed in 2001 to help those who have fallen prey to the lust-laden world of porn find Christ.
“We want to bring the love of Jesus to anyone who wants it, and to those who don’t know where to find it,” he says.
At this moment, you might wonder how aggressive Gross is with his message, especially as it resonates from the very core of the porn industry this week at the Adult Entertainment Expo at Sands Convention Center. But Gross is not especially proactive about his message, and you’d not answer your front door one weekend morning to find him standing stoically on your front porch wearing a “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” satin jacket. No, he just sets up shop at the AEE and waits for the game to come to him, as it were. When it does, he hands out the Book of John, pocket size, with Jesus Loves Porn Stars and Jesus Loves Sin City scripted on the front cover.
“You know how casinos put up those anti-gambling fliers, ‘When the fun stops?’ That’s us,” Gross says. “We’re here if people need us. Porn can be addictive. It can be conflicting. It can be destructive.”
Gross’s online ministry is based in Las Vegas (he’s a happy Summerlin resident, married with two kids) and is an ordained pastor. Gross attends services at the Crossings. When he’s home, that is.
When Gross is not home -- which is nearly every weekend -- he debates Jeremy on college campuses. True. They got to know each other at the convention years ago and make eight to 12 appearances a year. In all, they have spoken dually at more than 60 campuses across the country.
“Ron does not have a problem with us at all, so he just defends the porn industry,” Gross says. “I’m the one who comes at it with the perspective that porn’s harmful and degrading to women. We speak for 15 minutes and open it up to Q&A.”
Seated across the hall, signing T-shirts (and, in many instances, what’s underneath), Jeremy says, “He’ll tell you he does better, but I’ll tell you I do better. But what it’s all about is getting your message out. I really like doing it.”
Some audiences do back Jeremy (he had a strong showing in Boston); many others back Gross, especially, he says, those in the advantageously named Bible Belt. But no two are alike. A visit to Yale was distinctive for the crowd’s post-debate curiosity.
“Often, you have people waiting afterward to take pictures with Ron,” Gross recalls, laughing. “But at Yale, they waited just so we could continue the debate.”
Gross has not always been popular among religious activists, either. He says he’s never had a problem with porn industry figures, especially after spending eight years at AEE, but has run afoul of those who are particularly religiously fervent and picket conventions like the AEE.
“I was almost arrested in Miami once when I lost my temper with some protesters,” he says. “I trashed their megaphone and took a sign and broke it, from someone who thought I was a sinner for being around the porn industry.”
Though Gross lives in Las Vegas, he’s not debated at UNLV.
“I’d like to, though,” he says, a concept that might well work at Ham Hall, slotted between L.V. Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theater performances.
The two men enjoy a symbiotic relationship, Gross says.
“As Ron says, they need him to draw the crowd, but they need me to get the event booked,” he says, laughing. “We need each other.”
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.