Caleb Kaltenbach, the senior pastor at Discovery Church in Simi Valley, California, has a pedigree unlike most pastors: He was raised in the LGBT community by his mother and her partner and a gay father.
In that world, Christians were the enemy—haters at gay pride parades who spit at marchers, picketed, shouted and held signs that said, “God hates you. You’ll burn in hell. Jesus has no room for you.”
“That was just my life,” Kaltenbach said. “When I asked my mom about those people, she said, ‘Caleb, they’re Christians, and Christians hate gay people … Christians don’t like anyone who’s not like them.’ I knew I never wanted to be a Christian.”
In high school, Kaltenbach began attending a Bible study hoping to amass ammunition to prove the Bible wrong.
Along the way, he experienced an unexpected outcome. He found that he believed the Bible and began to experience the tension that came with trying to love his parents while staying true to God’s Word. He loved them and he loved God.
A new book, “Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others without Sacrificing Conviction,” is his story.
It is at times shocking—not so much for the window it provides into the gay community, but because of how Kaltenbach’s parents and friends were treated by people who claimed to serve Jesus.
What Kaltenbach learned through his experiences has far bigger implications than reaching out to gays and lesbians. It is about reaching family members, neighbors, coworkers and friends in the middle of what is happening in their sometimes messy lives.
It is, as Kaltenbach points out, what Jesus did.
“If Jesus calls us to be fishers of people and get involved in the lives of others, we’re going to get messy,” he said. “Jesus pursued people whose lives were messy and whose hearts were far from God, but who were open to hearing about Him. He went to places no religious leaders were willing to go.”
“Messy Grace” is a must-read for difficult times.
Southeast Christian Church Teaching Pastor Kyle Idleman urged Kaltenbach, whom he met while the two attended Ozark Christian College, to write the book. Idleman wrote the foreword. It is endorsed by Jud Wilhite, senior pastor at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas; Focus on the Family President Jim Daly; Darrell Bock, senior research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, and a long list of prominent pastors and leaders. Kaltenbach also gives a nod to Southeast’s retired Senior Minister Bob Russell and Patrick Garcia, a pastor who grew up at Southeast. Louisville-based City on a Hill Productions is filming a companion Bible study series for “Messy Grace.”
Kaltenbach is a popular speaker at churches across the country.
“After a service so many come up to talk,” he said. “They are struggling with teenagers who come out as gay, with teens struggling with sexuality, with other issues in life. People want to know how to have conversations, how to love and not compromise what they believe.”
In college, Kaltenbach spent much time processing Biblical passages that address the subject of homosexuality and came to the conclusion that he could hold on to what the Bible says about sexuality and still be gracious to those in the lifestyle.
He convinced his mother to come hear him preach at a small church near campus.
“I was so excited! I was so proud to preach before her, and I hoped the experience would be a step in moving her toward Jesus,” he said. “We drove to church together. I had talked about my mom in my sermons, so they knew who she was and the fact she was a lesbian.”
His excitement was short-lived. The next Sunday, two elders were waiting when he pulled up to the church.
One said, “If you ever want to preach at this church, don’t you ever bring anyone else like that again!”
That’s when he began to dream of a church that welcomed alcoholics, drug users, gang members, people who are bankrupt, the unemployed, those having marital problems, people who are struggling with sexuality and those who are gay.
“If our churches are places where people can’t be honest, we are creating sanctuaries for fake people,” Kaltenbach said. “Ultimately, our churches become Pharisee factories. Jesus did not die on the cross to create a little country club where we could have weekly gatherings, pat ourselves on the back for our good behavior (while hiding bad behavior) and meet in clusters during the week but do nothing to reach out to the community. That’s not the kind of church Jesus wants to build on earth.”
Kaltenbach was preaching in Dallas when his parents separately moved to town and began attending church together. But this congregation welcomed them, helped them move in, invited them to small groups and Sunday morning Bible classes.
They sat in their usual pew the Sunday morning he preached about homosexuality, and they thanked him for the sermon afterward.
After attending that church for three years, both came to a place where they believed in Jesus.
Kaltenbach urges people to love those who are outcast or different.
“Don’t fear, avoid or push away those who aren’t like you,” he said. “Love people as God has loved you. Jesus loved people but still held to His beliefs. He didn’t try to align His beliefs with what the world believed. Nor did He give up on people who were far from God. He continued to love and pursue them.”
It happened with those who were demon-possessed, with Samaritans like the woman at the well, the outcasts of Jesus’s day, with tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes.
“Knowing and embracing Biblical truth about same-sex issues should make us more loving toward the LGBT community than ever,” he said. “We should be gracious to them all the more because we know that not only are they sinners but God loves them.”
Kaltenbach encourages Christians to spend time with people who are different than them, to go to lunch with people with different lifestyles, to invite people with different religious backgrounds to their homes for dinner, to go to get-togethers with people who don’t believe in God, to get out of their comfort zones and pursue others.
Caleb Kaltenbach’s book, “Messy Grace” is available in The Living Word bookstore on Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.