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 2 of 2)
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Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach: If we get to know who they are and what their dreams are and their hopes and if we just get to know them as a person, I really believe that God will give margin for us to have conversations about Christ and eventually, to have conversations about holy living.
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John Fuller: Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach reflects on the need for us to love others into the kingdom of God. And you'll be hearing more from him on today's "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, it's hard to wiggle away from Scripture and that's what I love about what Caleb has talked about last time and today. You know, you look right there in Romans 2:4 and God's Word says that it's His kindness that leads us to repentance. And we're called as Christians to show that kindness, that love to others. You can't run from it. If that's not comin' from you, I would question where things are rooted. It has to be part of our Christian expression.
Last time we started a fascinating story about Caleb's childhood. His parents divorced when he was 2, to both pursue homosexual lifestyles. That's his mom and his dad. And his family experienced tremendous hatred from Christians because of that decision. In high school he set out to disprove Christianity, but through the experience of reading the Bible, he fell in love with Jesus and gave his life to Him right there, I think at 16. He expressed the challenges of coming out as a Christian to his gay parents and how the church community eventually surrounded him and took him in.
We want to pick up today on this idea of sharing the truth in love and what that can actually look like on an individual basis and within our churches. His experience is so unique, but it is such a teaching experience. That's why we want you to hear it.
John: Yeah, it was really a great conversation last time and I'd invite you to get a CD or the download so you can listen to that and have the framework for today's discussion. You'll find those at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Caleb is the lead pastor at Discovery Church in Simi Valley, California and he's the author of the book, Messy Grace.
Jim: Caleb, it's great to welcome you back to "Focus on the Family."
Caleb: It's great to be back. I love being here.
Jim: I want to also come back to the comment you made about grace and truth. You know, my observation is, we tend to live with that tension like it's a light switch. It's either on or it's off. It's either about grace or it's about truth.
And in reality, it's both all the time. It's more like a dimmer switch. Both are present. It's just more as an intensity question. And we need to understand with wisdom when to be forceful on truth and when to be forceful with grace. But coach us in this regard. What's the way we can better understand people who are thinking differently from us. How can we approach it? How can we calm ourselves down so that we can express that grace, but also express that truth?
Caleb: I would say a few things. No. 1, we have to be committed to living in the tension of grace and truth. And when I say, we have to be committed to living in tension, I'm not asking people to do something that they don't already do, because in our theology, we have plenty of tension, right? We believe in one God, but the Trinity. We believe that Jesus is fully Man, but fully God. The Bible is written by God, but written by people. We believe that God is sovereign, but He holds us responsible.
So, if somebody's gonna say that we don't have tension in our theology, that's just not true. And if there's tension in our theology, why shouldn't there be tension in the way that we deal with people? Why shouldn't there be tension in the way that we relate to people?
Because I think we need to understand, this is the second thing, not only do we need to live in the tension, but we need to understand that people are complex. People are really a mosaic of their experiences and upbringings and hurts and pains and joys and things that they've done and things that have been done to them. And we can't reduce people down to simply black and white terms.
People are not an issue to be solved. They are people to be adored and cared for.
Jim: Let me ask you that, because it struck me over the last few months especially, we've really lost the art in our faith of walking with someone. If we don't believe like that person, they simply walk away and we do that to other people.
We have cable news set up to our bent. If we're conservative, we listen here; if we're more a progressive, liberal, you listen here to get that fed. And it's really splitting the culture in two, isn't it? We just hang out with those that think the way we do and we don't struggle through life with a neighbor or a family member who may think differently. In fact, we stop inviting 'em to the Christmas party, 'cause it's too awkward. We don't do well with awkward, do we?
Caleb: No, we don't do well with awkward, because awkward means that we have to do a lot of heavy lifting in our thinking. And we have to do a lot of struggle with that individual and we have to acknowledge that life is not black and white, that there are black and white orthodox issues that we would all agree in—one God; Jesus is the only Way; the Bible is inspired. Those are black-and-white issues.
But some of the issues that lead up to those are not black and white and people are certainly just one or the other. People are complex.
Jim: The other key thing is that sanctification process. I think we tend to forget. When we were newly Christian, whatever stage that happened for us—as a teenager, like you, like me, or later in life for a 30-, 40-, 50-year-old—there's a process you go through to begin to understand what the sheep and goat[s] are about. What is that talking about? What am I? Who am I? How do I think? How do I relate to God?
I know a lot of fairly new Christians that they don't have it all down. They're learning, just like we did years ago, but how do we forget? How does our memory lapse that, as if we woke up the next day after we accepted Christ and we were fully aware of everything God said, did and how He wanted us to act? It doesn't typically work that way. It takes time to work through big issues.
Caleb: Because we stop giving people margin. We stop giving God margin to work in people's lives. And I think that we've become so performance based. And I think that in a sense, there is an insider gravitational pull that happens to all of us once we get saved, that all of a sudden, whereas we remember what it was like not to be saved. There's an insider gravitational pull, where we're like, okay, I need to build up my knowledge and I need to go do this and I need to read this Christian book.
And all those things are great, but all of a sudden, we believe that God is happy with us based on the amount of conferences we go to, books that we read, Scripture that we know, when we realize that God's happiness with us is not dependent on what we know. It is dependent on His Son, who died on a cross for us. And if we know that that's where God's happiness and approval of us lies, then that should make it easier for us to go out and to reach other people and to give them margin, to give God margin to work in people's lives.
I remember a conversation I had with my mom one time and it was a very interesting conversation. She said, "You know, Caleb, Vera and I, we were not intimate the last several years of our relationship," which nobody wants to hear that from their mom.
John: It was a TMI kind of thing.
Caleb: Little TMI, mom.
Caleb: But at the same time, it was an important takeaway and it was important, because I asked her. I said, "Well, then you're not a lesbian if you haven't been sexually intimate for years." And she said, "Well, sure I am. Those are my people. That's my community. I have acceptance there. I'm part of a community. I'm part of a movement and a cause and you know, I have people that I can relate with and I have friendships."
And I said, "Well, mom, you just described the church." And she said, "No, I didn't. Why would I want to go somewhere that would make me feel less about myself?" And it really dawned on me in that moment that for her, the sexual intimacy part was not the strongest identification of being a "lesbian." It was more about the community. It was more about who she identified with.
And yet, we as Christians, when we meet somebody who's gay, we spend all this time pulling out the Romans 1 passage, 1 Corinthians, Leviticus, throw in a little bit of Genesis 19, maybe even Ephesians 5, all of which verses I believe and support. I do believe that God designed sexual intimacy for a man and a woman in the context of marriage.
But yet, we spend so much time tackling that which they say is not the biggest part of how they identify as LGBT, instead of getting to know the whole person and getting to know their hopes and their dreams and getting to know who they are.
And here's what I believe, that if we really help them to identify with Christ over another community, that He will eventually begin to impact all the different domains of their life. And as Christ impacts the different domains of their life, I believe that God gives margin for us to have difficult conversations about holy living within the context of trust and relationship.
Jim: Caleb, let me ask you this. It's again, something I fought for a long time. When I really committed my life to the Lord, I was 22, I did at 15, but I didn't have the boundaries around me to really move more quickly in that sanctification process. So, I got mired in stupid decision making as a high schooler, probably similar to you. But at 22, the Lord got ahold of me and I understood what it meant to commit my life to the Lord and to seek Him for everything, to integrate my faith into my life, Monday through the following Monday (Chuckling), right, not just on Sunday.
And I can remember, I was at a devotion. I came back from Japan. I studied in Japan. I came back. I went to work for a campus ministry, don't need to name it. We were in the middle of devotions as we started every day. I'm still finishing up some course work at the local Cal State University. A drunk walked in the door and I'll never forget for me as an early young believer, the impression I had at that moment. The table of about 12 adults that were there, the reactions were varied. One woman jumped up and kind of screamed, "Get that man outta here. Get that man outta here. He's so dirty."
And another man, John, he's just like what I would envision the Apostle John being like. [He] got up from the table; walked over to this man who had stumbled through the door, smelled horribly, had not bathed, looked drunk, could not stand very well. And John put an arm around him and said, "Listen, let's get you some help. Let's get you a meal. Let me get you cleaned up. I know a place nearby that I can get you to."
And as that scene played out for me, I felt the Lord speak to my heart and say, "This is the church. That woman is part of the church. Her response is not My heart and we need to change that. And John's response was My heart." And it just gave me such a picture of what it's supposed to be like. But again, it seems to me that we're fueling the pharisaical attitudes that Jesus so aggressively went after, that when you look down at other people, you're giving yourself too much credit. How do we avoid doing that? How do we avoid that trap of becoming Caiaphas?
Caleb: Yeah. I would say two things. No. 1, I think we have to realize that a theological conviction should never be a catalyst to treat someone less, that just because we believe something theologically, does not mean that, that gives us permission to devalue a person, to think less of a person, that just because we don't vote like that individual, that we may not like them, so on and so forth. They may be different from us. That doesn't give us permission to ignore them, to treat them less, to be passive-aggressive towards them. You fill in the blank, right. That doesn't give us permission.
Caleb: I think that a lot of people today, a lot of Christians need to understand that there is a difference between acceptance and approval. I think we are called to accept everybody, but that does not mean that we approve of every life choice.
As a matter of fact, I think that Matthew 28:19, when Jesus says, "Go into all the world," go into all My nations, all the Gentile nations, go. I think that, that is almost a mandate to go and accept and relate and spend time with people.
And again, you see that modeled in Jesus's life, in the Apostle Paul's life and how they spent time with people that were not like them. You know, that they had very firm theological convictions, but they also had very deep relationships with people who are far from God and who are not like God.
And I do it every Sunday. I mean, anybody should be able to walk through our doors, you know, especially if they're a Kansas City Chief's fan. They should be able to walk through our doors.
Jim: Careful; you're in Bronco territory.
Caleb: I know; I know. That's why I had (Laughter) to throw that in there. However, that does not mean that we approve of every life choice that somebody makes that week. And I know that I shake hands almost every single Sunday with people who have made life choices that I wouldn't agree with that week, that I have no idea. But that doesn't mean that we don't accept them. That doesn't mean that they can't be part of what we're doing.
And so, I think that people who reacted as the lady that you talked about, I don't think she sees a difference between acceptance and approval. I think she sees somebody that makes her feel uncomfortable and yet, it is that very person that God says, "Hey, by being kind to this person, by loving this person, you are being more like My Son than any amount of Scripture you could ever quote." That keeping the difficult people in our life, Jim and John, that helps us live out the words of Romans 12:9 through 18, of Luke 6:35, of Matthew 5:38.
Jim: It's so true and again, I think the mistake that the Pharisees made, we've gotta be careful not to repeat them today, not to become insular, not to look down on other people. Jesus went after them and that is a big concern for me.
Let me ask you this though. It's fair to say when you're talking about grace, that can be a concern that truth is not expressed, because you can lean so far in the grace direction that truth doesn't come up, because it's uncomfortable to speak truth to somebody. How do you do it? Can you coach the listeners? Coach me on how do you get into a room with somebody who is speaking too much grace, all grace and not enough truth?
Caleb: I think that you can't have one without the other. I think that truth and grace are married. I think that grace is truth and I think that truth leads us to grace and I think that grace always takes us back to truth. It is from truth that we actually get grace. You can't have one without the other. As a matter of fact, the cross of Christ is a perfect example of grace and truth. On the one hand, you see the truth that we are sinners, that we have fallen short, that there's only one atonement for our sin and that's through the blood of Jesus Christ, that He is the only way to the Father.
And on the other side of coin, you see the grace, that God said, "Here's how much I love you. I'm willing to allow My own Son to die for you, so that you can spend eternity with Me, because when you ultimately become a follower of Me, I get all the glory."
Caleb: So, I think that the cross is the ultimate example of grace and truth.
Jim: Caleb, one of the things and again, you 're writing Messy Grace from a perspective, being raised in a same-sex household, your mom and her partner, Vera and accepting Christ as a teenager, coming out, as you described it in your book, as a Christian to gay parents, not Christian parents with a gay son. I mean, it's quite a twist.
But in that environment, did you have moments of doubt? Did you think, well, maybe I've got it wrong, even as a believer? Or were you pretty steady through that 20-year desert in relationship with your mom and her partner and your father, who also came out as gay? Did you ever just kind of roll up in a ball and not want to deal with it?
Caleb: Absolutely, I mean, do I ever have doubts? Yes, I still have doubts some of the times. I think that if I were to say I didn't have doubt, I wouldn't be a human being. And do I believe that I'm right? Yes. Is doubt symbolic of lack of faith in that sense? I don't think so. I don't think it's the same thing as Peter's sinking in the water and Jesus saying, "Oh, ye of little faith; why did you doubt?"
I think that our community and the church has got to be a safe place to ask questions. We have to create safe environments for people to be able to express doubt, because unfortunately, in some churches and some ministries, if you express doubt, that's a sign in their eyes of immaturity, a huge immaturity.
And as a sign of huge immaturity, it's a sign that, you know, you're not somebody that's supposed to be in leadership and you're not somebody that's trustworthy. But you know, at our church, specifically we try to create an environment where people can ask questions, where people can express doubt.
We try to create an environment where people can come and hear the Gospel while carrying a difficult burden, where people can come in with whatever they're struggling with or even if they don't think they're struggling and they're not even sure if they have it all together or if they believe in God. We try to create an environment where people have margin and God has margin to be able to work in their lives.
Because I had a lot of people when I was first coming to Christ, give me that same margin, give me that same grace and that same experience. And so, that's why we work so hard in our church to craft that, 'cause I want people to have that same experience. I want people to know that it is safe, absolutely safe to ask questions.
Jim: You know, some people might be hearing you and you're really disturbing them, because of what you're saying. Let's be honest. It's unsettling, but again, your experience is what it is and you have a Master's of Theology from Talbot. You're working on your doctorate of ministry. I mean, those are good background for what you're trying to say. You know the Word of God and talk to that person who is not hearing you. They hear what you're saying, but they're not agreeing with you. They're saying, no. These people are evil. These people are wicked. We have to deal with them, almost out of an Old Testament context, not a New Testament context.
Caleb: Right, I would say, No. 1, I believe in the full inerrancy of Scripture. I completely believe in that. I believe in the orthodox doctrines of the faith. But at the same time, I also believe that people are complex and we cannot just lump people in and just say, well, everybody's like this.
At our church, we believe that conversations are so important. As a matter of fact, conversations are extremely important. Now do we have guidelines or policies at our church about different things? Absolutely, but we also want to have conversations, especially when it comes to something like somebody serving at our church.
You know, a lot of churches just want to roll out the policy and we would rather say, "Hey, you know, you want to serve here. Let's have a conversation," because when you have a conversation with somebody, you find out that they're not the stereotype, that they're not as bad as what you think, that it seems like whereas, you have this image in your head of what they are like, especially if they're gay or lesbian. Maybe they're not like that.
Like I remember one couple I sat down with. It was an older "lesbian" couple that was attending our church and they wanted to serve. But when I was talking with them, I found out that they have been together almost 30 years. They lived in the same house. They weren't sexually intimate and they slept in separate bedrooms.
So, what do you do with that? Are they "sinning?" And so, the bigger conversation I had with them is, why do you identify as a lesbian over as a follower of Jesus? Identifying as a follower of Jesus, you know, and as a daughter of the king should be the most important thing in your life. And yet, if we had just thrown up a policy and if we had made a huge assumption about them, we would've missed out on a very important conversation with that individual.
Jim: Did they grab that and understand it?
Caleb: Uh-huh, yeah, they did.
Jim: How did they change?
Caleb: They identified themselves first and foremost as Christians and I think they're more glorified roommates than anything else. And again, if you think about it, Jim, people are complex and it's so important to have conversations, because you know what, Jim? I might be criticized for doing things like that. I might be criticized for giving people too much grace, but Jesus was criticized for the same thing. And if I'm gonna be criticized for anything, I'd rather be criticized for the things that Jesus was criticized for.
Jim: They said He was a friend of sinners in a condescending way.
Caleb: Well, and not only that, that He ate with them.
Caleb: I mean, good night, those are fightin' terms right there.
Caleb: And so, I just think it's so important and I think that if we're living a life where we're not being criticized for the things that Jesus was, maybe it's time to reexamine what we're doing in life. Otherwise, I believe that our churches and I believe that our relationships will become Pharisee factories.
And I think that to boil it down to a personal level, people need to realize that not everybody is on the same page, that we need to treat people, not like projects. People are not something that we unleash our new evangelistic Ninja moves on.
Caleb: That we need to get to know the whole person and I believe that if we get to know the whole person again, going back to what I said earlier, if we get to know who they are and what their dreams are and their hopes and if we just get to know them as a person, I really believe that God will give margin for us to have conversations about Christ and eventually, to have conversations about holy living. It is so damaging when we try to force those conversations and we don't have any emotional trust or stock with the individual.
Jim: And what you're describing there, Caleb is messy grace--
Jim: --the title of your book. I mean, it is messy to extend grace to people that don't act like you, don't think like you, that live in what I like to call, "the Judge Judy" world. (Chuckling) I mean, it's chaos.
Jim: And things aren't as smooth and they're not making wise decisions and you have really helped stretch all of our thinking in that way and I hope people will pick this up to help lift their hearts to a higher level within their walk with the Lord, to have the courage to live a truly Christian life, which means extending grace and truth to people that disagree with you. Thanks for being with us.
Caleb: Thank you so much for having me.
John: Well, we have copies of Caleb's book, Messy Grace at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio and the book is full of learning how to walk that delicate balance that we've talked about, expressing both love and truth to those around us.
Jim: Well, I think you can realize just the taste of his story through the discussion we've had. That book is an excellent read and today, Caleb expressed our entire goal here at Focus on the Family and that is to bring people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. That is ground floor, foundational, No. 1 objective here at the ministry. In the past year we have helped 575 people each and every day make that important decision to commit or recommit their lives to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And it's over 200,000 people last year alone. And we do that by sharing God's love with them and introducing them to Jesus Christ.
One mom recently shared with us this comment. She says, "Your daily broadcast has saved my life, my kids and my marriage. And on top of all that, you brought my husband to know Christ. You guys are our family heroes." I mean, that's a little funny, 'cause that's the work of the Holy Spirit. That's not us. Maybe we're faithful to express it, but what's happening there is, people are hearing the truth of the Word and the love of God and it's changing hearts.
And we can only do that because of you. You're equipping us to be able to carry that message. When you pray for this ministry and when you support us financially, we get these kinds of results. So, thank you for doing it. Thank you for doing your part is helping us reach those who need to hear that great message, the greatest message that Jesus has come and died for us--the gift of God. And I hope if you haven't had the chance to support us recently, please consider making a donation today. We're doin' this together and it's always uncomfortable to even ask, but that's the only way to make this need known to you. So, if you can help us touch the lives of others, to literally change the life of that family who is struggling, will you do that? And let me just say thank you.
John: To join in and participate in the harvest, in the 575 people every day who commit or recommit their lives to Christ, donate now at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And today when you generous contribute to the work here of Focus, we'll send a copy of Caleb's book, Messy Grace as our way of saying than you.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend and inviting you back on Monday. It'll be time for a little marriage tune up, as we talk to Gary Thomas.
Gary Thomas: We get married thinking, because I want to be fulfilled, because I want to be happy. And then all of a sudden, we have a spouse that has demands on us. And all of a sudden it's like, how did I get lured into this? Not realizing that it's one of the most glorious things; it helps us become men. It helps us become women. It helps us become who I think we want to be.
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John: Well, learn more about marriage and your expectations of it from Gary Thomas on Monday, when we once again, help you and your family thrive.
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