Grace and Truth
About the Guest
Paul said that it was the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Caleb Kaltenbach can vouch for that. Caleb talks about what it was like growing up with a mom and dad who divorced each other because they realized they were both gay. He also explains how his attempt to prove the Bible was false actually started him on a walk of faith, and eventually led him into the pastorate.
Caleb KaltenbachCaleb Kaltenbach is lead pastor at Discovery Church, Simi Valley, California. The author of Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction, he speaks widely on faith, reconciliation, and sexual diversity to people on all sides of the LGBT issue. Caleb attended Talbot School of Theology (Biola University) and is currently finishing his DMin at Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Amy, have two young children.
Caleb Kaltenbach tells what it was like growing up with a gay mom and a gay dad, and how his attempt to prove that the Bible was false actually started him on a walk of faith.
Grace and Truth
Bob: How ought we live, as followers of Jesus, in a culture that is moving away from a biblical foundation for life? Caleb Kaltenbach says Jesus demonstrated what life looks like, full of grace and truth.
Caleb: I think another way to say it is that there is a big difference between acceptance and approval. I think that we have to understand that, not just with the LGBT community, but we are moving into a culture where people go with whatever they want to do. There are going to be new things that come out that just really scare Christians, and we don’t know how to handle it. We think: “Okay; do I keep my relationship with this person? Do I not?”
It’s not just the LGBT issue; there are so many issues that are going to come down the pipeline. We have to understand that we are missionaries, and there is a difference between acceptance and approval; and there’s a tension between grace and truth.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, July 3rd. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.
If you’ve found that life is getting harder to navigate, as a follower of Christ, we’ll see if we can help with some directions today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, years ago, there was a lot of controversy around a children’s book that had found its way into libraries. I think it was called Heather Has Two Mommies. It was a children’s book designed to provide a picture of normalization for a child who might be growing up in a household where there were two mommies or two daddies, trying to present that as maybe a new normal.
We have somebody with us today for whom that was the normal, growing up in a home with two mommies part of the time and with a bachelor dad the other part of the time.
Dennis: Yes; and Caleb, I just want to say, “Thanks for being on our broadcast and sharing your story.”
Caleb Kaltenbach joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Caleb, welcome back.
Caleb: It’s great to be back.
Dennis: He’s written a book called Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction. The reason I just appreciate you being on the show, talking about this, is I think there are a lot of people, like me, who may not have a lot of gay friends; or if we do, we don’t know it. We need coaching / we need understanding. We need someone to take us near and begin the journey for us. I feel like your book did that for me. I really liked being able to peer into your family, where you were raised by two moms and your dad, who later came out as a homosexual as well. You were raised in the midst of no faith / no Christian worldview.
I think we’re clueless!
Really, the Christian community’s not really wise about who our audience is, and where they are, and where they aren’t.
Caleb: No; absolutely. I think that we have come to a point in our nation where we have to realize that we are the away team. We are not the home team anymore. We realize that more than ever at our church. We firmly believe in the inerrancy of Scripture / we believe in God’s sovereignty—we believe in all these things—but we’re all very intentional in being missionaries in our context / missionaries in Southern California and understanding, as we talked about earlier, that not everybody is at the same point in the spiritual journey.
We just surveyed our church three weeks ago and found out that 42 percent of our attendants, on any given Sunday, is unchurched—meaning that we’re the first church they’ve been to or they haven’t been since they were a kid—because we’re so intentional about going after the lost sheep that Jesus talks about in Luke 15:1-7. But we do that without compromising the gospel and the message; because we have to learn where we are, and we have to understand—
—I think, specifically with this issue, or any other issue that we’re dealing with—that there’s a huge tension between grace and truth.
I think another way to say it is that there is a big difference between acceptance and approval. I think that we have to understand that, not just with the LGBT community, but we are moving into a culture where people go with whatever they want to do. There are going to be new things that come out that just really scare Christians, and we don’t know how to handle it. We think: “Okay; do I keep my relationship with this person? Do I not?”
It’s not just the LGBT issue; there are so many issues that are going to come down the pipeline. We have to understand that we are missionaries, and there is a difference between acceptance and approval; and there is a tension between grace and truth.
Bob: You’ve already shared with us that your impression of Christians, growing up, was that they were bigoted/hateful. When you were with your mom, Christians would mock, and would shout, and would be hateful toward your mom.
Less so with your dad, because he wasn’t out of the closet at this point; but your dominant thought was, “Christians are just not worth much.” You wound up at a Bible study in high school, and you went into that Bible study with the intent of wanting to undermine everything that was being taught there. Over time, something shifted in your heart and your thinking.
Caleb: Yes; because I saw that Jesus was not representative of how people on the street corners were acting. I think today we would say Jesus is not representative of how some Christians act on Facebook®, social media, or Twitter®, Snapchat, Periscope, or whatever—that Jesus is not reflective of that.
When I think about the people who are on the street corners, I think to myself, “What about what Paul said in Romans 2:4, when he says, ‘Don’t you know that it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance?’ What about what Paul said in
Romans 12:18: ‘Live at peace with everyone’?” That doesn’t mean that we agree with everybody, but that means that we’re not going to belittle people.
What about what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48?—you know: “…love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you”—and by the way—“if you only love those who love you, what reward are you going to get?”
I look at the people on the street corners, and really, in my life too—for me, messy grace is ultra-legalistic, fundamentalist Christians. You know, that’s my version of messy grace that I have to love and be mindful about. Am I exemplifying what Paul says in Romans 2 and 12? Am I exemplifying what Jesus says: “If you only love those who love you, what reward will you get?”
Dennis: I’m glad I had a man in my life who called me to love / he called me to truth too; but he said: “The preeminence of love—it is the banner of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes; we do stand for the truth.” I’ll tell you why that was important in my life, Caleb. You can comment on this, because you’ve undoubtedly run into quite a few guys like me.
I think I, like a lot of other Christians, have a high need to be right. I don’t think we have a high need to make sure we’re loving.
That, for me, has helped me move from pressing the point of the gospel—which is the truth / it is right—but it’s pressed me back to going, “How do I show love to other people who are broken?” We’re all broken—not just them—I am too.
I think, for the most part, we in the Christian community really don’t know how to love people who aren’t like us, and who don’t love us, and who don’t think like us and believe like us.
Caleb: I think the reason is that it is much easier to make a point / it is much harder to love somebody. When you make a point, you can be right. The woman caught in adultery in John, Chapter 8—and the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who placed her before Jesus after humiliating her, they did not care about her life—restoring her/reconciliation. They were willing for her to die for them to be right. In other words, they believed that their theological conviction was a catalyst to allow them to mistreat other people.
Our theological convictions must never be catalysts to mistreat others. If anything, our theology should drive us to love people and treat them well.
I think about Jesus, and here’s what Jesus did—here’s what Jesus did—Jesus called the disciples into a discipleship relationship before they even believed He was the Son of God. I’m willing to bet—I don’t know, but I’m willing to bet—that Matthew was not a good synagogue-going boy, in Matthew 9; and yet Jesus still looked at him, despite all that, and said: “Hey, you’re coming with Me. Follow Me. I want you to be a part of what I’m doing.”
Jesus regularly spent time with people, and here’s where I think He models the difference between acceptance and approval. Jesus loved people where they were / Jesus loved them for who they were, but Jesus was not content to leave them where they were. He said, “God has something greater embedded in you that only His sovereignty can bring out.” I think about that and I think to myself: “We need to do the same thing.
“We have to love people where they’re at.” That doesn’t mean we approve of every life choice that somebody makes.
Dennis: Right; right.
Bob: You began to get a picture of who the real Jesus was as you were going to this Bible study in high school; but it had to dawn on you pretty quickly that, if this was true and if you were going to buy into this idea that the Jesus presented in the Bible is who He says He is—that He’s God / that Christianity is true—that’s going to put you at odds with your mom, with your dad, with your mom’s partner. This is going to turn your whole world upside down.
Caleb: Absolutely. I spent so much time studying what the Bible had to say about marriage relationships, gender, sexuality, intimacy—everything. I came to this conclusion, the one that I still hold today, that God designed sexual intimacy for the expression in marriage between one man and one woman—I believe that today. I believe anything outside of that is a sin.
That it is between a man and a woman in marriage—that’s what God designed intimacy for.
Now, I also believe, to reinforce what I said earlier, that our biblical beliefs should not allow us to berate anyone. Our biblical beliefs should build us up to the point, where we are willing to love people; because the more that we love God, He gives us margin to love people who seem to be unlovable to us. I think the real mark of Christian maturity is: “How well can you love those whom you disagree with, don’t like / don’t like you, are difficult, or are just plain different than you are?”
Bob: I’m trying to imagine you coming to this conclusion / this understanding of what the Bible has to say about gender, and marriage, and sexuality, and going back to your mom and having the conversation—or to your dad—and saying, “You know, I’ve come to believe something different.”
Caleb: Imagine how a young teenager, who is gay or same-sex attracted, feels when they come out to their conservative Christian parents.
I was a 16-year-old teenager coming out as a Christian to my three gay parents. You would expect love and tolerance; because that’s what my mother, and her partner, and my dad, in his own way, always preached. But I got the opposite—they kicked me out.
I went back, eventually, kind of slowly built up that relationship. Again, I realized that the more I loved God, the more margin He gave me to love people who were difficult in my life—I had to forgive.
Bob: That love was tested; because as you attended the Bible study, you decided to go to church. You went to your dad’s church, and that turned out to be a bit of a surprise to you as well.
Caleb: Yes; I went to my dad’s church and—you know, I’d gone off and on. They really didn’t teach the Bible.
Then I got invited by a friend of mine, who was a Christian, and his dad was a pastor at a church. I got invited to go to his church. I went, and I found Jesus was preached and talked about much differently.
I found a group of individuals who firmly believed what Jesus said and what Scripture claimed, but also believed that that should never compromise our love for other people. We can’t compromise conviction or love whatsoever. I remember being in this group and seeing them and thinking to myself, “This is something I could get onboard with.” God just began to develop in me this passion to be able to tell people about the Jesus I discovered.
Bob: I want you to take me, if you can / if you remember it, to the first conversation you had with your mom or with your dad, where you said, “I’ve started to change my thinking.”
Caleb: My dad told me that I had spit in the eyes of God, because he had me baptized Episcopalian/Anglican when I was a kid/baby. I remember, when I told him, he was so reactionary and angry. I didn’t understand why then. I know now—because he was in the closet, and he was hiding it.
When I told my mom, on the other hand—I mean, my mom—I love her to death; but drama, drama, drama. My mom—we were driving from Concordia, Missouri—that’s where my parents would meet / in Concordia, Missouri, at McDonald’s® in between Columbia and Kansas City—my dad dropped me off and looked at my mom and said: “Well, good luck, Mary Lou. You’re going to love this.”
I got in and I told my mom. She started crying—just crying, crying, crying. My mom, when we got home, went in; and I stayed in the car, because I didn’t want to go in yet. I waited about 15 minutes, and she told Vera by then. As I said, Vera didn’t get along with me / I didn’t get along with her. She was a PhD psychologist, who had a very liberal view, not only on psychology but on everything. I sat down; and I remember she asked me, “So you’re a Christian now, Caleb?” I said, “Yes.”
It was just very contentious—again, to the point where my mom said, “Hey, you’re not going to come back for a while,”—basically kicked me out. My dad had told me the same thing at his house, and it was very difficult.
Bob: So you called friends and said, “Can I crash at your house?”
Dennis: You were 16?
Dennis: Not long after that, someone invited you to a Youth for Christ conference?
Caleb: Youth for Christ, also known as CIY, Christ in Youth. It was a great conference, but I had never been to a Christian conference. It was so great being with other high schoolers, who were my own age, and getting to know them.
I remember, again, one morning, I woke up and I just couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else other than telling other people about this Jesus whom I had learned about. I mean, I figured I had lived 16 years of my life away from Jesus / I want to spend the rest of my life telling other people about Jesus and saying, again: “He’s not like the people on the street corners!”
A week to the day that I was baptized, I said, “I want to give my life to full-time Christian vocational ministry.”
Bob: A week after you were baptized?
Bob: Okay; there are folks, who are listening, who are going: “Well, there’s a pattern here. I mean, this guy grows up and he has two moms. One of them doesn’t like him and doesn’t like men in general, and his dad’s in the closet. He’s just looking for a way out of the trauma that he’s been in for 16 years. He’s easy pickings for this kind of stuff.”
Caleb: But it wasn’t trauma for me. I didn’t want people to know about my mom.
Dennis: It was your normal.
Caleb: It was my normal! Absolutely! I knew—it was different enough, where I didn’t want to broadcast it in the school—but in no way, shape, or form was I walking around saying, “Woe is me.” I’ll be honest—my mom and her friends were fun. They were fun people to be around! There were some things that I saw that I shouldn’t have seen; but back in my day, when I would go to somebody’s house for a house party with my mom, I would take my Atari®, or Commodore 64, or Nintendo® / original Nintendo Duck Hunt™, and I would go find a room.
I still saw things that were inappropriate, but I did not have this—at that point—this scarred idea of my life. It wasn’t until after I saw Jesus, and how He set things up, and how He originally created things to be until Adam and Eve rebelled / until sin entered the world, that I realized, at that point: “This was not right. This is not how God designed—this is not God’s best. You cannot have a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church in any relationship other than a heterosexual relationship.”
I mean, I realized so many things. And if there’s ever—listen, if there’s ever anybody who wanted to disprove, you know, what the Bible said about sexuality, it was me! I mean, even after I changed my view on sexuality, if somebody brought up a new idea, I would still look at it; because my relationship with my parents was damaged. Why would I go from an environment where I had absolute peace with my parents to now an environment where there was chaos?
Bob: Let me ask you about that; because in the last five years, there have been books published presenting an evangelical view that maybe we’ve misunderstood all the texts that you were reading in high school. They say it’s possible to be gay and to believe the Bible and to love Jesus. You’ve seen those books. You’ve read those books; right?
Caleb: Oh, absolutely. Here’s what these books do—they have no exegetical or historical ground to stand on. They have to do fancy exegetical footwork / they have to do fancy footwork with a background narrative and the backgrounds of the New Testament, especially with Romans 1 and so on and so forth.
They have to do an argument of silence, where they say something like, “Hey, Jesus never said anything about same-sex relationships, so that makes it okay.” Well, there are a lot of things that Jesus didn’t say anything about, so “Let me get my list ready,”—you can’t make that argument. I remember, after I came to Christ, having a conversation with a lady who was a dean at a liberal seminary in Kansas City.
My mom “sicced” her on me at one of her GLAD events. I still went with my mom when I was a high schooler / when I was a Christian, because I wanted an opportunity to tell people about Jesus in different conversations. She [the dean] automatically started challenging me. It really came down to the fact, where she said: “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. So that makes it okay.”
Now, we look at it—and you can even get very academic if you want—and say: “Well, Jesus was sent to Israel. In Israel, under a Pharisaical rule, they did not deal with homosexuality like Paul did when he was sent to the Gentiles / to the Roman Empire.” That’s another whole ball of wax. If you really want to get exegetical, let’s look at Matthew 19, when Jesus has an opportunity to define marriage as anything other than a man and a woman; and does he? No; He affirms what God says in Genesis 2.
Dennis: So, here you are. You’re this on-fire 16-year-old, who now has been baptized. You’ve been to a conference and surrendered to God’s call on your life to move into full-time Christian ministry. I can only imagine—when you went back to Columbia—
Bob: Yes—how that news went; yes.
Dennis: —and back to where your two moms lived in Kansas City, how did those conversations go down?
Caleb: Well, it went down just about like a lead balloon would. Have you ever ridden a lead balloon before?
Bob: Just crashed.
Caleb: It crashed. It wouldn’t get up off the air. I mean, I had committed the unpardonable sin; right?
Bob: Becoming a Christian’s one thing / now, saying, “I want to be a pastor.”
Dennis: “I’m all in.”
Caleb: Well, and you throw on top of that, “Hey, I’ve changed my view of sexuality.”
Caleb: You know—I mean, now I’m one of them in their eyes. The people who were supposed to show me tolerance—they were showing my anything but tolerance.
Dennis: How did you do, loving your mom in that situation?
Caleb: It was difficult at first; but I got encouragement from my friends, saying, “Caleb, you need to love her no matter what.” I started reading the New Testament.
Whenever I had free time, I was reading, reading, reading, reading—especially the words of Jesus—and then moving on to Romans, so on and so forth. I really latched onto what Jesus said there and the mercy that He said, even in the beatitudes, when Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
I cannot own how my mother treats me / I cannot own how somebody else reacts to me—what I can own is my own reactions—how I respond and what I do. That is what God holds me accountable to. I can own how I’m going to love people, no matter what / follow the example of Jesus, when He was hanging on the cross and He said: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” Now, if the Son of God, who is innocent, could say that, after everything He was through, I’m pretty sure I could look at my mom and say: “I forgive you. I’m choosing every day not to hold this against you.”
Dennis: I think you’re ministering to some parents, who have children, who’ve come out and who have said, “I think I’m gay.”
I think you’re also ministering to some family members, who may have been invited to a wedding of a relative in their family, where they’re struggling with, “What’s our response to be?” I think you’re also ministering to folks, Caleb, who work in places, where they have close associates, whose lifestyles are different than theirs. You’re exhorting all of us, regardless, to go back to the Book / back to the life of Christ and love others the way He loved us.
Bob: Well, and I think your example helps there, too, and what you’ve shared with us of your own story, and what you share in your book, Messy Grace. I think that gives us a blueprint / a living illustration that we can follow and know how to engage with our friends or our family members. We have copies of Caleb’s book, Messy Grace, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online to request your copy; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order a copy of the book, Messy Grace.
Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you can join us back tomorrow when Caleb Kaltenbach will be here again. We’re going to talk about how we should interact with friends, coworkers, neighbors—people who we know who identify as LGBT. How do we let them know who we are, and what we believe, and how do we build a relationship there? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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