When Caleb Kaltenbach was two years old, both his mother and father came out as gay, then got a divorce. Growing up, he absorbed their antagonism toward Christians, but went on to embrace Christianity as a teenager. In Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction (WaterBrook Press), Kaltenbach, a pastor in Southern California, charts the path to reconciling with his parents, who are now both believers. CT assistant editor Morgan Lee spoke with Kaltenbach about his experiences ministering to people with same-sex attraction.
Where did your youthful hatred of Christians come from?
My mom and her partner were active in gay-rights organizations. They took me to gay clubs, parties, and campouts. I marched in gay pride parades and went to political events. That was just my life.
I hated Christians because I saw how they treated gay people. At the end of one parade, I saw signs saying, “God hates you.” Protesters were spraying water and urine on people. I asked my mom, “Why are they acting that way?” She said, “Caleb, they’re Christians, and Christians hate gay people.”
My dad and I sometimes attended an Episcopal church, but it didn’t teach me much about God. I was an altar boy but fell asleep during most services. I learned that evangelicals were people who wouldn’t like you if you weren’t a white Republican.
How were you able to repair the relationship with your parents?
After I came to Christ, my parents were irate. My dad grounded me. He told me I was basically disowning him. My mom wouldn’t talk to me for months. When I told them I believed that God intended sexual intimacy only for one man and one woman, that created more trauma.
But I always told them that God loved them, not based on their sexuality but because of what his Son accomplished on the cross. I had to continually show them examples of people, including my friends, who were not like the Christians they had known before.
How has reconciling with your parents influenced your ministry?
After I first brought my mom to one of my former churches, two elders basically said, “If you want to keep preaching here, don’t ever bring someone like your mother again.”
That was my last Sunday there. I prayed, “Lord, if you give me the chance to lead a church, I want it to be a place for people struggling with sexual identity, for addicts or gangbangers, for people who are bankrupt, for people having affairs.”
At my current church, we absolutely believe God has expectations for sexuality. But I am not called to change anyone’s sexual orientation. My goal is to preach the gospel and to share Jesus. The LGBT people who attend know about our traditional views. That doesn’t stop us from loving and embracing them.
What can evangelicals learn from the LGBT community?
We can learn that homosexual identity goes much deeper than sexual habits. Before her partner died, my mom told me they had stopped being sexually active years ago. But she still called herself a lesbian. When gay people are invited to give up that lifestyle, they think, “You want me to give up my friends, my community, my movement, my acceptance? No, thank you”—especially when the church hasn’t offered them an alternative community.
We can also learn a lot about loving other people. Are there militant activists like my mom? Sure. There are extremists in just about every community. But for the most part, they are some of the most loving and accepting people I know. They’re not looking for the next battle to fight. They just want to live their lives.
At its best, the LGBT movement has many qualities we’d associate with the church. There’s a love for people. There’s a strong sense of justice and a commitment to a shared cause. They’re intentional about sharing their views and unashamed to be recognized for what they believe.
What do you find most frustrating about the divide between evangelicals and the LGBT community?
I see many churches digging in their heels instead of wrestling with issues of grace and truth. For example, how would you react if two men were holding hands in church? Could a lesbian couple attend a parenting class? Could they attend your small group or Bible study? What if a lesbian wants to be baptized, or an openly gay man wants to go on a men’s retreat? These questions will come up eventually.
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