Loving Our Gay Friends and Neighbors
About the Guest
When Caleb Kaltenbach told his mom and dad-who had divorced when he was 2 because they discovered they were each gay-of his desire to attend Bible college, they weren't happy about it. Now a pastor, Caleb recalls the first time his mother came to hear one of his sermons when he was a young pastoral intern, much to the angst of the elders. Caleb shares how his parents eventually embraced Christ.
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.
Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach recalls the first time his gay mother came to hear one of his sermons when he was a young pastoral intern, much to the angst of the elders.
Loving Our Gay Friends and Neighbors
Bob: But their view did soften over time, because one of them helped you get a loan; didn’t they?
Caleb: Yes; my dad eventually—because he saw that I was not backing down. It’s part of my German stubbornness, I think—we don’t back down too easily. I said, “This is what I’m doing, with or without my family, because I feel like God’s call is that strong.”
I said, “I’m going forward with this.” My dad eventually helped me to get my first loan—that’s what they did for me. I spent my weekends preaching in small, country churches to earn money for college; washed dishes in the cafeteria; did everything I could; but I really cut my teeth in Bible college by preaching at a lot of small, country churches.
Dennis: How did they handle your background, or did you keep it a secret from them?
Caleb: No; because I wanted people to know what they were getting into. I remember the first church I ever preached in was in Kansas—small town. We had six people in the church—the youngest one was 60. They wanted to start a youth group—it was going to be a youth group of 40-year-olds. [Laughter] I told them about my background, and they didn’t like that too much.
The second church I was at—I was there for about 18 months. It was in Missouri, and I was near a town called Nevada—[first “a” is long]. It should be called Nevada—[same pronunciation as the state]—but everybody called it Nevada [long “a”] in Missouri. It was near Fort Scott, Kansas. I preached there for 18 months.
Twenty-five people in the church / fifty people in the town—we were the largest church, per capita, in the world at the time, at best.
Bob: Yes; right.
Caleb: I kind of eased into the conversation about my parents, then; but there was one Sunday that was very, very profound to them. I kept on asking my mom to come to church with me to hear me preach. I was only, I think, at that time, a junior or a sophomore in college. I’d only had one preaching class at my Bible college, and I just really—that’s how I learned how to preach.
My mom finally came with me. She wouldn’t come back the next Sunday; but it was a good thing because I got there—and there were two elders waiting for me on the front doorstep—they said, “Caleb, we’d like to talk to you.” They took me to the back room—there were really only two rooms / there was a front room, and there was a back room. They looked at me; and they said, “If you want to keep preaching here, don’t you ever bring somebody like your mother again.”
I was floored. I said, “Excuse you?” They basically said: “We don’t like those kinds of people. They make us feel uncomfortable.
“We are not a church that feels comfortable with these people.” So, I said, “I quit!” They said: “Well, you can’t quit today. You need to preach.” I said: “No, no, no, no. Out of all the things you want me to do today, preaching should not be one of them—trust me.” “No; we need you to preach.”
I ripped up my sermon, and I preached an evangelistic message. I walked out; I got in my car; and I drove away. I said, “Lord, if You ever give me the chance to be able to lead a church—steward it with that opportunity—I want a church that is filled with people who are broken, because that’s what the church is.” The church is really a beautiful mosaic of broken lives that God has united together to glorify Himself. Jesus did not die on the cross for a little members-only country club that’s really a Pharisee factory—that’s not what He did! He died on the cross for broken people, because only God can put broken people back together.
Dennis: I have to wonder, Caleb, what the homosexual community thinks about you when they hear these stories.
Obviously, they are going to give you more “grace” / more freedom to speak. But does this gain you favor with them?—that you are speaking of them as they ought to be spoken of—people who are made in the image of God?
Caleb: I think it does. I try to go a little bit further than that to help Christians to understand the LGBT community. I think there’s always going to be a line with me and the LGBT community; because, at the end of the day, I believe God’s Word is true. I believe in the covenant of marriage—that is always going to be there, so that’s the line that will never be crossed.
But I think there is a respect there. I’ve been told by several people in the community that my book has a very gracious tone to it, and they appreciate that. I think they can’t argue with the experience, but I try to get a lot of Christians to understand the LGBT community. I think there are some in the LGBT community that really appreciate this, because I remember a conversation I had with my mom one time.
My mom—I don’t know how we got in this conversation—but she said, “You know, Caleb, in the last several years in my relationship with Vera, we were not intimate at all.”
You know, first of all, gross! I mean, I don’t want to hear that from my mom; but I immediately looked at her and I said: “So, you’re not a lesbian anymore. You haven’t been intimate for years.” And she said: “Well, sure I am! Those are my people. I have relationships there. I’m part of a community. I’m part of a cause and a movement. I have grace there.” I said, “Well, Mom, you just described the church.” And she said: “No, I didn’t. Why would I go somewhere that would make me feel less about myself?”
It really dawned on me that, for my mom—she never identified as a lesbian or with the LGBT community because of who she wanted to be intimate with. I mean, even in the ever-growing acronym of the LGBTQQIIAA—I think the last “A” now stands for ally, where you can identify with the LGBT community and still be straight at the same time—
—because I think the primary thing there for a lot of people is no longer: “This is whom I want to have sex with,”—now, it is: “Who are the people that I identify with?” It really has become more of a philosophy and an ideology.
Here’s where a lot of Christians will misstep—I want to be careful not to say, “mistake,”— but they will do things out of order. Somebody named Joe will meet somebody in their workplace, who identifies as LGBT—like a gay a man. Joe becomes his friend. Joe thinks that, you know, he has to, at some point, let him know about Leviticus, and Genesis 19, and Ephesians 5, and Romans 1—and we’ll throw in 1 Corinthians 6—which, I believe all those chapters, completely / I believe them, word for word—I believe they are true.
But without building a relationship and getting to know him, all of a sudden, he will throw all these verses at this man. This gay man over here, who thought he was getting a new friend, now, realized he has been treated like a project; and he walks away, rejecting everything / feeling wounded. Joe walks away, feeling like some kind of accomplished martyr; but really, what Joe has done is—
—he has pushed this man further away from God.
Caleb: Here is the other thing—Joe is telling him, “Hey, do not define yourself by your sexual orientation.” But when Joe thinks, “Hey, the most important thing I’ve got to address first is ‘Who you want to be intimate with?’”—you have just reduced them down to their sexual orientation. The irony is—you have done to them what you’ve asked them not to do to themselves.
I think that, as we get to know people—no matter who they are / no matter what kind of life choice they might be in—when we get to know them—and I believe that God gives opportunity for us to have difficult conversations in the context of trust and relationship—I really believe that. I believe that, if we think deeper about LGBT community / if we think deeper about this—to where, for them, it is an identity—and we say: “Okay; instead of trying to fix you—I’ll leave that up to God—I’ll point you to the cross, and tell you the truth; but I’m going to help you identify with Jesus, first and foremost.”
He’s pretty good at life change.
Dennis: And you are going to offer a community to them.
Caleb: Absolutely; because we have to bring them over to our community, because nobody is going to leave one community if they don’t feel like another community is safe.
Dennis: Yes; it truly is an alternative lifestyle that is worth it though.
Caleb: Yes; it is.
Bob: When you brought your mom to church and she heard you preach, what was the conversation like after that on the way home?
Caleb: She was very affirming. My mom has always been affirming of me—she’s always been a big fan of me. So—
Bob: “You’re a good speaker.”
Caleb: Yes; “You’re a good speaker.” I think she looks at me as some kind of civil rights leader or something like that; you know?
Bob: You’ve got good things to say / you’re calling people to justice—that kind of thing?
Bob: There did come a time, though, where she started to soften to the message that you were preaching; right?
Caleb: Yes; well, actually, there were two times. The first time was when I eventually graduated from Bible college.
I moved to Southern California; I lived out there for 11 years and worked at a church called Shepherd Church / Shepherd of the Hill Church. She came out, and she visited our multi-site campus one Sunday.
When she heard the message, afterwards—it was funny—we were driving down [Hwy.] 101. We were almost—both of us a fatality; because she said, “I think I might be closer to accepting Christ.” When she said that, I just—I don’t know what happened—I just lost control of the steering wheel. We went into the other lane. People started honking. I led my mom to cuss, at that point, by accident because she was afraid; but it was just such a unique experience. [Laughter]
That was not the point that she accepted Christ; but she was softening, and she was getting to the point at that juncture in her life.
Bob: So, what was the second time?
Caleb: I got married in 2004—a beautiful Latina woman—she is this gorgeous lady. [Laughter]
Finally, I wanted to preach after 11 years. We moved to Dallas, Texas, to go pastor a church. When we moved there, both of my parents, separately of one another, moved there to be closer to our family. I had never really lived in like a five-mile radius of my parents since I was two; but then, my parents floored me when they said, “Can we start attending your church?”
Dennis: independent of each other.
Caleb: Yes; independent! They both started attending my church, and it was fascinating. What was even more annoying is that my church treated them better than I did—they loved my parents. This was a catalyst for my parents to come closer to Jesus, because they finally were around a group of people that treated them like people and not like evangelistic projects—it was huge.
Dennis: I want to stop there because we had Rosaria Butterfield on FamilyLife Today, and she instructed our listeners, as well as Bob and me, how important hospitality is to the homosexual community.
That sounds like what happened in your church in Dallas—how they invited your mom and dad into community and into their homes to be able to relate to them and get to know them.
Caleb: Absolutely, and I think that we should do that with everybody, period, in our churches. I mean, if you invite somebody over to your house, you know what? You’re going to treat them like a guest—you’re going to extend hospitality to them. At our church, every Sunday, we’re always expecting guests from all walks of life; and we have people from all walks of life.
You know, not everybody at my church in Dallas was excited about it, but there were quite a few who were; so, the summer of 2013, we had an opportunity to move back to Simi Valley—it was my wife’s hometown; she loves it there; we have a lot of friends there. We love Southern California. My wife loves Disneyland—loves Disneyland. So, we moved back.
Two weeks before we moved back, both my parents gave their lives to the Lord—both of them—
Bob: —independent of one another?
Caleb: —independent of one another.
Dennis: You’ve got to share how that happened. I mean, there is too much of a drama here and too much of a history—not to just say: “Here’s what my mom did,” “Here’s what my dad did.”
Caleb: I remember talking with my mom; and she had been in a hospital, because she was having some health issues. She had been praying with a lot of people. She said, “Caleb, I believe that I’m a Christian.” We talked about it, and I talked to her about what she believed. I really believe, with all my heart, that she was and that she still is a Christian.
Now, does she believe everything that I believe, theologically? No; she doesn’t. Does she believe the fundamentals—the orthodoxy? Yes; she does. Is she still working out her salvation with fear and trembling / the sanctification process?—absolutely. God is working that in her. There is a lot of emotional hurt and pain, throughout the years, that she has to tread through; but I truly believe that she is saved.
Bob: I think you raise an important point, which is:
“When somebody comes to faith, and when they do affirm the essentials of the faith, they come in with a background / with a story—with a lot of things that may have to get worked through. We need to be patient, and let people process, and let them learn from the Word of God / by the Spirit of God things that it may have taken us a while to learn.”
Caleb: I tell our congregation all the time—and actually, I had a meeting with different leaders the weekend before my book released, Messy Grace. I remember in this meeting, I told our volunteers, and our leaders, and our staff, and our elder team the same thing that I say on Sunday morning—I said: “Hey, at this church, we give people margin in their lives to experience God. We don’t expect people to automatically get their act together when they start attending after the third week, or the fourth week, or the fifth week.
“We need to give that margin, not only for them, but also for God; because here’s the deal—salvation is instantaneous; but usually, it’s a process for people to get to that point; and sanctification is a process—
Caleb: —“of God tearing down our prideful walls and making us more into His image. So, we give God margin to work His process.”
It’s not that we don’t have tough conversations; it’s not that we don’t do church discipline when that has to be done; but there’s—everybody in our church is taking their next step with Jesus somewhere.
Bob: What about your dad? What was his story?
Caleb: I was over at his house—his apartment, actually—and I remember I was helping him sort through some books. Unfortunately, now, my dad has Alzheimer’s. He actually lives closer with us in Simi Valley; but back then, Alzheimer’s was setting in, but I hadn’t seen it yet. My dad has always been a little disorganized, but I was helping sort through some books.
As we were just sitting there, talking and sorting through books, my dad said: “Caleb, I know I would go to church every now and then”—at the Episcopal Church—“but more than ever, now, I think I see that Jesus really does love me.
“I just feel that I have a different relationship with Him. I honestly believe that I believe in Him, and my whole relationship is at another level. I really believe that I’m saved.”
I remember hearing that from my dad, again, and thinking to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I mean, this is the guy that grounded me when I got baptized / that kicked me out of the house. This is the guy that made fun of me for believing in Christianity because it was illogical—it was not rational; it did not fit his materialistic/physical-focused worldview—and now, completely shift.
Here is a big lesson I learned from that, guys. I learned that people base so much of their view of who God is and who Jesus is off how we treat them. I learned that because, when my parents were around people who treated them like people and not like projects—
—and really lived out what Jesus says in Matthew 5:46—and actually, 43-48—and what Jesus said in Luke 6:35, when He says: “Hey, love your enemies. Do good. Lend to them, because God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
You know, I’m thinking about that. It’s in those moments—when people experience God working through us—they see maybe Jesus is different. If I’m going to be honest—when I was sitting in that Bible study in high school, and sitting around and engaging, and when they really knew that I was not saved, their tone changed with me. When their tone changed with me, they became more caring; and when they became more caring and treated me differently, something happened in my heart—something happened.
Bob: Can I just read the verses that you referenced?—Matthew, Chapter 5, starting in verse 43—
—Jesus says: “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good; sends the rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
That’s strong stuff for all of us to hear, but that’s what God’s calling us to; isn’t it?
Caleb: Especially when you think of the first century—that Jesus was probably referring to Roman soldiers when He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”—
—“Love the people who have killed your family. Love the people who have killed your brother, and love the occupying force.” We have trouble loving other politicians in this country.
Dennis: Caleb, we’re going to come back after Bob tells listeners how they can get a copy of the book, but here is your assignment—I’m going to ask you to seat your mom and your dad across the table from you and to fulfil the Fifth Commandment. I’m going to ask you to honor and speak a tribute to both of them for what they did do right. Are you willing to do that?
Caleb: Absolutely, because they did do a lot right.
Bob: Let me just mention that the book that you’ve written, Caleb, is called Messy Grace. It tells your story of growing up in the family you grew up in and how you Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction—that’s the subtitle of the book. I think it’s a helpful book for all of us. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to order a copy. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis: Well, Caleb, you’ve had a few minutes to think about addressing your mom and your dad and giving them both a tribute.
Speak to them both, if you would please, in the first person.
Mom and Dad, I would not be who I am without you. You’ve instilled in me a sense of justice / a pursuit of those who are different and not like me. You’ve instilled in me a love of academics, education, logical thinking. You’ve instilled in me love. Even through the tough moments, there was never a moment when I ever doubted that you loved me. Even through the tough moments of moving from house to house, I never doubted for a second that you loved me. I know that you love me, still, to this day.
I know that God, in His sovereignty, allowed all of this to happen; and I know that this can be the best season of all three of our lives if we trust God in whatever season that we are in.
I want you to know that, despite what you may feel that you have done wrong or I have, I’m extremely proud / enormously proud to be your son.
I also want you to know that for any pain, throughout the years, that I may have caused you, especially in my religious fervor when I first came to Christ, I apologize for that. As I process through the emotions of learning what it is to follow Christ, and trying to love you, and walking this delicate balance between grace and truth and this tension, I’m sorry if you ever got hurt. I’m sorry for the times that I didn’t know how to handle my emotions correctly, because I am not a perfect person; but I know that Satan meant to disrupt and destroy our lives / God allowed it to happen to save lives.
I truly believe that through both of your lives—even though both of them were painful, even from childhood to now—I truly believe that God is using your lives and this story—which is not just mine / it’s yours—to help people for such a time as this because people need help. With the suicide rate of gay teenagers rising, parents need to know how to love; teenagers need to know truth. You have become a clay pot that God is using and shining light on.
Thank you for being you and loving me. I love you so much.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife® of Little Rock, Arkansas;
A Cru® Ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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