Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach shares his story of growing up with gay parents and the hatred his family experienced from Christians. He admonishes followers of Christ to learn how to love those in the LGBT community without compromising biblical truth. (Part 1 of 2)
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John Fuller: Today on "Focus on the Family" we have an eye-opening story from our guest, Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach.
Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach: If you think about the difficulty of a gay teenager coming out to their Christian parents, I was a 16-year-old teenager coming out as a Christian to my three gay parents, one of which I did not know at the time was gay. And so, that was tough. Their feelings were betrayal. Their feelings were shock. I was seen as one of "those" people now, one of them.
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John: Well, there's so much just in that little clip and Caleb is here for the entire program, so please lean in and learn a lot from this man. Our host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim: Today we want to empower you to love those around you with grace and yes, truth and particularly when we talk about this issue of same-sex attraction, same-sex marriage, where we find ourselves in the culture today. You know, in Luke 6:35-36, Jesus tells us very specifically, "But love your enemies and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return and your reward will be great and you'll be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
And God is merciful and kind and He wants us to demonstrate that same mercy and kindness that flows from Him to everyone we connect with. And that can be difficult at times, but I think, as John said, you're gonna learn a lot from this guest today. And let me tell you, he's courageous and he has approached this controversial issue with the most loving way possible and you're gonna hear that in his remarks today.
John: Well, Caleb Kaltenbach is the lead pastor at Discovery Church in Simi Valley, California and he's written a book which captures his story. It's called Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction.
Jim: Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach, I want to say, thank you for your courage and thanks for bein' with us.
Caleb: Thank you so much for having me.
Jim: Before we delve into your story, let's set the stage. What are some of the common reasons Christians fail to engage with the LGBT community? In fact, define LGBT community.
Caleb: Yeah, I use in my book, Messy Grace, I use the acronym LGBT, which stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered.
Jim: And in that context, what are some, again, one of those common reasons Christians, we step back from engaging 'em? I think, you know, just to give you my perspective, we have the joy of the Lord. We have the Good News and that's for everybody. It doesn't matter what the verb of your life is, what you do that may separate you from God. You're made in the image of God, each and every one of us as human beings.
Caleb: Right. I think there are several reasons why. I think that some people are fearful of the LGBT community for whatever reason. They see them as a faceless enemy that is seeking to take away Christian liberties. I think they're fearful because some Christians have not really spent a long time around people who are same-sex attracted or who identify as gay or lesbian.
I think maybe there's an absence of empathy, as well, that some of the time, some Christians fail to put themselves in another person's shoes to see how they feel about life or what they've gone through. I think it could be a lack of biblical understanding to a certain degree, where some people really don't know that, you know, Jesus says, as you were talking about in Luke, chapter 6, that God is kind to the ungrateful and to the wicked.
And I'm not calling this community wicked in that sense, but what I am saying is, that if God is kind and if Romans 2:4 says that God's kindness is intended to lead us to repentance, how much more should our kindness be intended to lead others towards God?
Jim: Well, and that's a great point. That's right out of the book of Romans, 2:4, that it's God's kindness that leads one to repentance. I often use that when I speak, because I've never seen anybody beaten into the kingdom of God or insulted into the kingdom of God. It's through love and through an expression of God's truth and grace toward a person. And that's critical in today's culture, isn't it?
Caleb: Absolutely, I mean, I love what Paul says in Romans 12:18, when he says, "If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." And I look at our Christian community sometimes and we're not very good at living at peace with everyone.
Jim: In your book, Messy Grace, you tell your story, which I want to get to. It's a profound story, because you were raised in a very unique environment. Talk about it.
Caleb: Yeah, so both of my parents were university professors at the University of Missouri Columbia and in local colleges. And when I was 2-years-old, both of them got a divorce. Both of them came out of the closet. My dad never had a monogamous partner. He had different relationships. I didn't know that he was gay until right around when I graduated from college, if not after. But my mom moved to Kansas City, Missouri and started working at the University of Missouri Kansas City and she was with a woman named Vera for 22 years.
And they were very politically active. They joined the local board of directors for GLAD in the Kansas City area. They took me with them to the activist events and parties and Pride parades and clubs and that was just the environment that I grew up in.
And my dad took me to church some of the time, but the particular church that he took me to, they really didn't talk about the Gospel. They didn't talk about the Good News. And yet, my mother, on the other hand, really educated me in some of the, I guess you would say, more politically liberal ways of life and thinking.
I remember in one Pride parade that I marched in when I was in elementary school, at the end of it, there are all these "Christians," holding up signs that are saying pretty hateful things. But then they were spraying water and urine on people at the same time.
Caleb: And I looked at my mom and I said, "Why are they acting like that?" And she said, "Well, Caleb, they're Christians. Christians hate gay people. Christians hate people that are not like them."
Jim: Caleb, can I just talk with you about that, because I think as I've gotten to know various leaders within the homosexual activist movement, I used to think in a monolithic way toward them, that they were all negative toward religious liberty, that they were all kind of thinking in one direction.
But as I've met with many of them, it's not that way. It's not monolithic. There are different factions and different ways of thinking about their rights, our rights, all those kinds of things. And in the same way, I think as I've talked with them, they tend to view us in a very monolithic way, that we're all like those people at that protest, with very hateful signs, throwing water and urine on people and tellin' 'em they're gonna burn in hell and those kinds of things. But that doesn't represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ, does it?
Caleb: No, absolutely not and I think about that time and it's almost like extremism attracted extremism. So, you know, my mother by no means represented the majority of LGBT people that I know today. But she was part of the extreme fringe and that attracted the extreme "Christian," if you want to call them that, fringe and they kinda came together in that setting.
And I think that's kinda symbolic of what we see today. Most of the LGBT people I know are not ultrapolitical. They don't want to get involved. Some of them still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and almost all of them want to just live their lives and they don't want to get involved in politics and they don't want to get involved in this.
So, when some people and especially some preachers, paint the LGBT community with a broad brush stroke, just saying this is how they are, as you said, we get the same thing applied to us and we cry foul ball when that happens, but we don't mind doing it to other people.
Jim: Continue with the story though, as you were growing up. As a little boy, were you feeling embarrassed? What kind of emotions did you deal with as a boy being raised by two moms?
Caleb: You know, it was a little bit of embarrassment. I mean, I was careful about not inviting people over for sleepovers, 'cause I didn't know how everybody would react. But at the same time, I was also very proud and again, I really grew up with a strong emotional dislike, maybe even close to hatred of Christians.
I remember there was a young man named Lewis, who was in his late 20's, early 30's, who died from AIDS and he was in my mom's community and my mom and I went to go visit him right before he died and he was literally a shell of the man that he used to be. But on the other side of the room were [sic] his family. And they were "Christians" and they had these Bibles out. They were reading them and they were lined up against the wall like they were waiting for a firing squad to come at them.
And he would ask for somethin' to drink and they would just give it to him. They didn't want to touch him. They didn't talk to us. They didn't talk to anybody. And again, I asked my mom, "Why are they acting like that?" And she said, "Well, Caleb, they're Christians and Christians hate gay people." And that phrase rang through my head over and over and over again, so much so, that when I got to high school, you can imagine that, you know, my life was pretty wild. My worldview was wild.
I got invited to this Bible study made up of high schoolers, led by a high schooler. And so, I figured, this is my opportunity to go and to pretend to be a Christian and to attack the Bible.
Jim: To confront your enemy.
Caleb: To confront my enemy.
John: Well, we're listening to Caleb Kaltenbach today on "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. He's written a book called Messy Grace, which captures some of these accounts, I'm sure much more than we can delve into today. And we've got the book and an audio CD or a download and our mobile app, as well, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor call if you have questions or we can help you. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: Caleb, some people right now may be feeling angry. They're hearing this discussion and they're thinking at least, how soft. What are these guys talkin' about? There is God's truth. I want to make sure people understand, we're all about God's truth. That is not the issue. You don't diminish God's truth in these conversations at all. But you don't have to carry a spirit of meanness or criticalness toward them. That's what the Scriptures that we refer to in Luke and Romans are talkin' about, where Jesus dealt with people very forthrightly, but very kindly.
The woman caught in adultery, I mean, what an amazing story, where legally and rightfully, Jesus should have allowed them to stone her, but He stepped into that moment and He said, "Wait a minute. Whoever's without sin, you go ahead and cast the first stone." And they all dropped their rocks and walked away. And then He turned to the woman and said, "Go and sin no more." So, it wasn't too soft. It wasn't too harsh. It was an amazing illustration of God's grace, wasn't it?
Caleb: No, absolutely, I mean, don't you think that there is a tension of grace and truth? And John 1:14 and 17 say that Jesus came full of both grace and truth. And for Jesus, He's God. I mean, He's got a corner market of understanding. But for us, there's a tension there and we feel that tension when, you know, somebody we love is doing something outside of God's design and we're like, I love that person, but God's Word says that I love that person. And you feel that tension and I think there's a name for that tension and I think it's "love." I think that love is the tension of grace and truth. And I think that for most people, we side either on grace or truth. And I think that if we commit to living in the tension, which is what you're talking about, it pulls the grace people closer to truth and it pulls the truth people closer to grace. And you're not denying either one of them, but you're saying, I am for both and you can't have one without the other.
Jim: I do want to loop back, Caleb, because we haven't really heard how that moment occurred for you, how the Lord reached into your heart, being raised in a same-sex household with two moms in essence—your biological mom and then her partner.
You went into this Bible study class in high school with the mind-set you were gonna disprove all these people and you were gonna show them how the world really operates. What happened?
Caleb: Well, I remember it is in the basement of one of the high schooler's homes and so we went there. And I had never really been in a conservative, Evangelical Christian's home. And so, I remember I walked through the front door and the first thing I noticed, I look on the walls and I'm thinkin' to myself, why are there framed pictures of sheep and lions with Scripture verses all over the house. Because, I mean, if you think about it, that's just how awkward it is to people who aren't used to, you know—
Caleb: --the Christianity or our beliefs. And so, I went downstairs and I had grabbed my dad's dusty old New Revised Standard Version and I didn't even know what that stood for. I guess I figured they revised something in there. And I had never owned a Bible and so, everybody was going around, you know, at one section, you know, of the Bible study, reading a verse from 1 Corinthians and I was in 1 Chronicles. And they get to me and everybody's been reading about Paul and I read about somebody getting impaled with a sword or something like that. And they said, "Where are you?" I said, "I'm in 1 Chronicles." They said, "Oh, you're in the Old Testament." I said, "So, is there a new one?" I guess there's upgraded 2.0. I had no clue.
Jim: I mean, you were that no new to everything.
Caleb: Oh, I was that new. I had no clue and I was so embarrassed. But I kept on goin' back, because I really wanted to dismantle Christianity. But what I came to realize was, that God was actually dismantling my worldview without my knowing it and that Jesus was not like the people on the street corners, that He was not like the family backed up against the wall like they were waiting for a firing squad, that He touched lepers, that He reached out to people that nobody else would, that He spent time at tax collector parties, that He actually took time to talk with Roman centurions and all these different people and He washed feet.
And then I learned about Paul and I read verses like Romans 2:4, what we talked about earlier. It is God's kindness that is intended to lead us to repentance. And I'm thinking to myself, man, I can get on board with Paul. I can get on board with Jesus. I can't get on board with all these other Christians, but I can get on board with these guys.
And I so remember the day that, you know, I got baptized. I didn't want my parents to know about it and so, I went and had a friend baptize me. It was like a CIA covert operation. And I told my dad and he grounded me. I didn't know at the time he was gay, but you know, that was an offense to him.
Then a week later I was at a Christ in Youth conference, a CIY conference and I stepped forward to give my life to the ministry—a week to the day that I was baptized. And I went home and told my parents and they basically disowned me for a while.
Caleb: And I spent nights in other people's houses and you know, it was a very hard time, but for me, I really didn't care, because I spent so much time when I got home from school just reading the Bible.
Jim: You were hungry for the Word of God.
Caleb: I was. I felt like I had, you know, I was young still, like 16, but I felt like I had 16 years to make up for of learning about Christ.
Jim: Caleb, in fact, in your book, Messy Grace, you refer to that moment when you talked to your mom particularly, that she … you termed it as a "coming out," you know. That's what many talk about in the homosexual community when they "come out of the closet," they talk about it in that way. And your mom referred to you coming out to be a Christian, that you came out of the closet to be a Christian—
Jim: --and how awkward that must have felt. I mean, again, what emotions were you feeling, like your betrayal of your mom and Vera, her partner and then your father. I mean, what were some of those discussions like?
Caleb: No, absolutely, I mean, again like you said, I mean,if you think about the difficulty of a gay teenager coming up to their Christian parents, I was a 16-year-old teenager coming out as a Christian to my three gay parents, one of which I did not know at the time was gay.
And so, that was tough. Their feelings were betrayal. I'll tell you about my feelings in a minute, but their feelings were betrayal. Their feelings were shock. I was seen as one of those people now, one of them.
Jim: So, now you're in the mold of the haters.
Caleb: Yeah and it's funny. The rejection that they feared from the people on the street corners, the irony is, they were giving that same rejection to me.
Jim: What did they fear? We talked about what Christians fear, but what do your parents fear when it comes to the Christian message?
Caleb: I think being confined to a lifetime of loneliness, rejection, not being understood, not having anybody to relate with, not being accepted. I think those are their fears.Rosaria Butterfield, if you know her, she—
Jim: We had her on the program not long ago.
Caleb: --she's a friend and she actually reviewed Messy Grace for the Gospel Coalition.
Jim: Now for people, she was the head of women's studies at Syracuse. She was a devout lesbian and ended up encountering a pastor and giving her life to the Lord and it changed her life.
Caleb: And now she's a pastor's wife—
Caleb: --out of all things. And she writes for the Gospel Coalition. She reviewed it and gave it a positive review and it was really interesting. She opened up her review basically saying that, "I feel like Caleb and I are family." And she said, "If my partner and I had, had a son, we would've done the same things with our son that Caleb's mother and Vera did with him, instilled in him our way of thinking," and so on and so forth. "And if he had come out," I remember she wrote, "that we would've reacted much the same way."
Jim: Caleb, let me pull you back. How were you feeling? I can understand the way you described how your parents are feeling in terms of betrayal, but what were you feeling?
Caleb: I was feeling betrayal, as well. I felt that my parents, who were supposed to be unconditional and how they felt about me and all of a sudden, I felt like that had conditions. And the condition was, I agree with them and was on board with everything that they believed. And the fact that I had come to the point in my life where I believed that God designed sexual intimacy to be expressed between a man and a woman, that had broken a condition of their love and acceptance.
And I felt alienated. It was interesting that again, my parents were wanting me to be tolerant and they preached tolerance, but they were not tolerant of my new belief system. I felt alone for a brief period and then I really started getting plugged into a student ministry at a church. And I didn't feel that alone, but at the same time, it's still your mom and dad or in my case, your moms and dad. And what they say and their presence really has a lot of influence over you.
And so, there was an aspect of loneliness. But at the same time, there was an aspect of excitement, because I felt like I had a new Father that I didn't even know. And I felt like I had a Father that had always been there in the background of my life and even when I didn't realize it.
And I felt like I had a new Father that I really needed to get to know.
And so, there's a verse I can't remember where in the Bible, where it says that God is the Father to the fatherless. And in that season of my life, I really hung onto that verse and another verse, I think it is Mark 10, where Jesus says, that anybody who, you know, leaves family for Me and the Gospel, will never fail to receive 100 times as much in this life and in the next and I just saw that played out in my life.
Jim: How long, you know, how many years has that been now and where are you at in the process?
Caleb: Well, not to jump the gun, but that was back in 1994, so almost 22 years now that I became a Christian. I ended up going to Bible college in Southern Missouri and went on staff at a large church in Los Angeles for 11 years as an associate pastor. And then wanted to preach in Dallas, Texas at a church and would preach there for 3 ½ years, before returning back to Discovery Church (FYI: Simi Valley, CA) in September of 2013.
And my parents, actually both, ended up moving to Dallas separate of one another, to be closer to our family when we moved there. And my mother's partner had died many years earlier and so, my mom felt very, very alone and when they moved to Dallas, Texas, they both started attending the church that I was preaching at.
And I write about one of those instances in the very first chapter and I remember when they first said, "Hey, we want to attend your church," I'm like, "You want to attend my church out of all the churches that you could attend." And two weeks before we left to come to Discovery Church, in the summer of 2013, both my parents gave their lives to the Lord.
Jim: I mean, that's an amazing story and I love … I love God's expression toward you and toward your family. Nobody is beyond the reach of God and oftentimes in the Christian community, we act as if that person could no way be reached by the Father, but it's not true, is it?
Caleb: No, absolutely not. I mean, good night, I mean, you look at some of the people that became leaders in the Bible, like the Apostle Paul. I mean, if there was anybody that was beyond reach, I mean, when he first became a Christian, what does the book of Acts say? That people were terrified of him, because they thought that, hey, here is the old Paul. It wasn't.
Even King Manasseh, who some people say was responsible for the death of the prophet Isaiah, ended up coming to the Lord and here's a guy that, you know, they said that every day he was a king, blood hit the streets of Jerusalem, blood of the righteous. And yet, here he is and he comes to the Lord and he tears down all of his idols and everything like that. So, nobody is beyond the reach of the Lord.
Jim: Well, and sometimes we act the other way though, don't we? We act as if that person's so bad, that politician is so horrible that there's no way God can reach them, but it's simply not true and your testimony is evidence of that.
Caleb, 20 years is a long time to wonder what the Lord is gonna do with your family relationships, with your mom, her partner, with your dad. How did you get through that desert of family relationship? You know, how often did you talk? Was there a lot of angst? Was it difficult?
Caleb: It was difficult, but I got through it by having some really good friends, surrounding myself with a good community. I had men in my life who exemplified what it meant to be a good father, what it meant to be a good husband. God always put people in my life who were like family in a sense. And so, having a community to rely on meant a lot and it really helped me get through the hard times in life.
Jim: I mean, that role of community is so important. I want to talk more about how churches can come alongside unbelievers and create a welcoming environment and if we can, I'd also want to talk about how we can find that balance and truth in how we relate to one another. Caleb Kaltenbach, author of the book, Messy Grace, can you be with us next time?
Caleb: Absolutely, looking forward to it.
Jim: And let me turn to you and say that today's broadcast highlights why Focus on the Family exists. We want to help you learn what it means to love God and to love others, as Caleb shared today. And you know what? Every day we do hear how our ministry is impacting people. A woman named Allie shared this with us via e-mail. She said, "God has been trying to reach me for a long time, but I've always maintained a distance. In the past two weeks I've started listening to your broadcast and God has been giving me peace that I've never had before or even realized I needed. And with that I can go home to my family and love them in a better way. So, thank you for being His voice to me so I could listen." And I think she means, listen to Him.
John, man, that is exactly what we want to do each and every day. We want to continue to reach people like Allie with hope, peace and the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we can only do that because of your generous financial support. And frankly, we can't do it at all if we do not have partners. So, can I ask you to donate today so that we can reach people and equip them to live a life that is connected to the Lord Jesus and that exemplifies His character? That's what we're trying to accomplish each and every day, in marriage, in parenting, in the Christian walk as you walk through this culture. We want to be there for you. Can you be there for us? I hope so.
John: Well, make a generous donation right now at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us and contribute to the work here, 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459. And when you support the work of Focus on the Family to help so many people around the world come to a faith in Christ or to grow in their spiritual walk, we'll say thank you for that support by sending a copy of Caleb's book to you.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time when you'll hear more from Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach.
Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach: If we're living a life where we're not being criticized for the things that Jesus was, maybe it's time to re-examine what we're doing in life.
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John: Some time for introspection and to learn more about living out your faith in an authentic way, as we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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