On a Sunday morning in September of 2012, Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach preached a sermon on homosexuality. Not a big deal for most pastors, but both of Caleb’s parents were in church that Sunday. And both are gay (they divorced when Caleb was a toddler and starting pursuing homosexual lifestyles).
Caleb wrestled that day with the tension between grace and truth, and it’s that tension he explores in-depth is his book Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Two Gay Parents Learned How to Love Those Who are Different Without Sacrificing Conviction. In addition, he is lead pastor at Discovery Church in Simi Valley, California, and speaks widely on faith and reconciliation.
Caleb has been featured in media outlets including The New York Times, Fox and Friends and The Glenn Beck Program. And today, he talks with us about things like how he came out as a Christian to his parents, how he honors his mother and father today, and what it looks like for Christians to love those who are different.
1. Your parents identified as gay, and as a youngster, you marched in gay pride parades. What was your view of Christians? Was there anyone who made Christianity appealing or who had a positive influence on you?
Before I was in high school, only one Christian came close to having a positive influence on me. Her name was Angela, and I wrote about her in the book. We were students in a summer writing class and became friends. I thought she was pretty hot, and one day she wrote me a note. Much to my disappointment, it was a Gospel presentation. Thinking back, it was amazing that a young girl risked friendship to share Jesus — and the note wasn’t condemning.
Besides her, my view of Christians was just like my mom’s view: They were ultra conservative conformists who wanted everyone to look, act and be like them. They enjoyed holding signs on street corners, making gay jokes, using fear tactics, etc. After I studied Jesus, joined a good small group and attended a loving church, I learned not to equate the fringe of Christianity with the norm.
2. You became a Christian as a teenager. What was it like to “come out” and announce your decision to your gay parents?
I was terrified. I knew that my dad, mom and her partner would be furious. Not only did I tell them I was a Christian, but also that I wanted to be a pastor and my view on sexuality differed from their view. To them, I had become one of “those people.” Their feelings included betrayal, anger, sadness, surprise and more. They even told me that I had disowned them. In many ways, I think they disowned me. Home life was tense. Over the next few months, I spent many nights with friends to escape the drama.
I believe, in their eyes, they thought that I was going to denounce them. Actually, I told my parents that love for Jesus made me love them more than I did before. I didn’t only have my own love for them, but I was beginning to lean into God’s love for my parents.
3. It’s not uncommon for young adults to form differing beliefs from those they were raised with. It might involve a major disagreement like homosexuality, or it might be on a smaller scale, like joining a different denomination. No matter the issue, how can young adults still honor and respect their parents, even when they don’t agree with them?
Make sure Scripture supports your disagreement. One of the hardest things for me was disagreeing with my parents by changing my view of sexuality — because it was so much a part of their identity. However, my foundation in the pages of Scripture fueled my courage to move forward. If your view doesn’t align with the Bible, you might want to reconsider your shift.
There will be times when you will change your views from your upbringing. Honoring your parents doesn’t mean rolling over, staying uniform with them or enabling bad worldviews.
Realize there’s life experience and emotion behind your parents’ view. It probably took your parents a while to reach the opinion that you’re disagreeing with — that deserves respect. In other words, acknowledge their opinion, listen to their concerns and don’t bash their view. Give them margin to believe what they want as you want that same margin from them.
4. Some Christians think that loving a gay person means they are agreeing with their lifestyle. But God calls believers to love everyone. How can Christians live in the tension of grace and truth, or as you write, extend acceptance without approval?
While the act of same-sex activity is sin, we can accept the person without approving of a choice to be in a same-sex relationship. A theological conviction shouldn’t be a catalyst to treat someone less.
John 1:14 and 17 teach that Jesus was full of grace and truth. He perfectly modeled both. Jesus had incredible grace when some expected Him to be a hard-liner, and He was tough when others assumed He would be gracious. Since we aren’t perfect, there’s uncomfortable tension between grace and truth.
Embrace the tension by developing friendships over meals, coffee and more. Try to understand who they are as a person (experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, etc). Don’t try to “fix” anyone, but point to Christ. The theology of the issue might be black and white, but the person and related experiences aren’t. When “truth” conversations happen, they are best in the midst of trust and a relationship.
5. What are some other issues where the response of Christians makes you cringe? In addition to homosexuality, where else do you see Christians not responding in a Christ-like manner?
There’s no shortage of subjects and Christian responses that make me cringe. However, here’s one way the response of Christians makes me cringe — when there’s no response, when Christians are silent on issues that need to be addressed in more ways and forums than the political spectrum.
Caring for widows and orphans, supporting the importance of life, sheltering battered women — these are examples of issues that are close to the heart of God. My heart breaks over the barbarity of a government-funded organization selling baby parts — and yet so many Christians who are willing to stand for helping other countries are strangely silent.
Where’s the sense of injustice?
These topics and others have to be engaged in personal conversation, writing, study and so on. Taking stands on social media only gets you so far. Using your life and relationship with God as a model gets you further than ever.