Winter 2016

How Should Christians Respond to Gay Friends or Family Members?

Caleb Kaltenbach (M.A. ’07) is an alumnus of Biola’s Talbot School of Theology, lead pastor of a large church in Simi Valley, Calif., and a married father of two. He’s also an emerging voice in the discussion of how Christians should engage the LGBT community. That’s because Kaltenbach has an insider perspective, having been raised by a dad and mom who divorced and independently came out of the closet as a gay man and a lesbian. Raised in the midst of LGBT parties and pride parades, Kaltenbach became a Christian and a pastor as a young adult. Today, he manages the tension of holding to the traditional biblical teaching on sexuality while loving his gay parents.

Kaltenbach’s unique story is detailed in his new book Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction and landed him on the front page of the New York Times in June. Biola Magazine reached out to him to talk about his book and his perspective on how Christians can better navigate the complexities of this issue with truth and grace.

In your book you say that it’s time for Christians to own the issue of homosexuality. What do you mean by this? How would you like to see this play out?

Christians can own this issue by caring enough to get to know the whole person. If you think that identifying as LGBT is mainly about sex — that’s shallow. The theology of “whom we have sex with” might be black and white, but the person and related experiences aren’t. Once my mom told me that she and her partner hadn’t been intimate in years. I asked why she still called herself a lesbian. Her response was that she had a community filled with friends, acceptance, a cause and deep feelings. It reminded me that people have depth. Care enough about a person not to reduce them to their sexual orientation. If someone who is LGBT says that it’s not mainly about sex, why immediately throw the “homosexuality verses” their way? Talk about holy living down the road. Perhaps Christians can own this issue by being kind and making a new friend.

You challenge Christians to stop avoiding or merely “tolerating” LGBT people, but to engage in meaningful relationships with them. What should that look like?

The more Christians stop treating people in the LGBT community as “evangelistic projects” or “those people,” the more meaningful relationships will develop. Here’s the secret to engage in meaningful relationships with anyone: Treat people like actual people. Embrace the tension by developing friendships over meals, coffee and more. Engage in conversations. Try to understand who they are as a person (experiences, hopes, dreams, fears, etc.). Don’t seek to “fix” anyone, but point to Christ. Here’s a hard truth I came to learn over the years: It’s never been my job to change someone’s sexual attraction. God didn’t call me to “restore” LGBT people to a straight orientation. It’s not even my job to change lives. It’s God’s job. He has great experience in the “life change department.” My responsibility is to love people, make friends and journey with them.

You write that one definition of love is holding the tension of grace and truth. What do you mean by this and who do you think models this sort of love well?

The uncomfortable feeling in the tension of grace and truth is love. and God as well. However, love never harms. A theological conviction should never be a catalyst to treat someone poorly. We can accept the person without approving of their choice to be in (or pursue) a same-sex relationship. Love people, but remember what the Bible teaches. Deepen your relationships, but hold firm to conviction. Never give up on the person or Scripture. Love never takes sides. Love has no exception clause. I see this love lived out by some parents of gay teenagers. These parents love their kids no matter what and nothing about their relationship changes. They thank the teen for trusting them with this part of their life. At the same time, they hold true to what Scripture says not only about sexuality, but also about loving others.

What happens if our “love” is not accepted at all because we still hold to truth? What would you say to an LGBT person who argues that “acceptance but not approval” is not actually love? Isn’t that the direction society is moving, that anything short of full approval is actually bigotry?

To the LGBT person: Be careful taking a hardline stance on something that isn’t your foundational identity. Your main identity shouldn’t be defined by your sexual orientation; rather God should define it. People are entitled to their beliefs. Many examined Scripture, believe that sexual intimacy is for a man and woman in marriage, and aren’t homophobic or hateful. If these people are loved ones (being loving towards you) why shut them out? Don’t distance yourself because they don’t agree with you or the kind of relationship you might have. Don’t treat others who disagree with you the way you wouldn’t like to be treated. They might be intolerant in your mind for not agreeing with you. However, are they treating you poorly? Do they love you less? Do they not value you anymore? Don’t become intolerant by not giving them margin to have different views.

How should and how shouldn’t Christians respond if someone in their life or church community confides in them about same sex attraction?

Christians make too many mistakes when someone comes out to them. They try to advise counseling. At some point, they will throw out Bible verses concerning homosexuality or marriage. Some Christians try to “relate” and often compare same-sex attraction to other sins like murder, theft, etc. Emotions like depression and anger will usually set in. Unfortunately, these are all the wrong things to do. Everyone needs counseling, the person coming out probably knows how you interpret the Bible regarding sexuality, and they don’t want to be compared to Hannibal Lecter or Gordon Gekko. This is a moment to listen and affirm your love for them. Think of it this way: The people coming out to you have chosen to share a very intimate and personal part of their life because you are someone they value. You can never get this moment back, and responding the wrong way is devastating.

How should a Christian respond if invited to a same-sex marriage ceremony? Is attending a gay wedding a tacit affirmation of the sacredness of the vows being exchanged?

Attending may put you in a difficult position as one who believes marriage is for a man and woman. However, you’ll have influence in your relationship with the married person. Fear shouldn’t keep you from a situation where others disagree with you. There might be a chance to share your faith with others at the wedding. Later, when the newlywed has a season of doubt or turmoil, you might be the person they turn to (giving you the chance to share Jesus). But there are also reasons why you may not want to attend. Hurt feelings may result, but God created marriage for him and the couple. You need to stand for truth, and this might be one of those times. In the end, the couple might recognize and remember your integrity. Either option could carry relational difficulty, doctrinal tension or emotional baggage. My advice: Pray about it and represent Jesus well with your decision.

If celibacy is the only option for a same-sex-attracted Christian who wants to remain biblically faithful (you argue this in the book), what can the church do to better minister to these people? Can we just casually tell them “no sex for you!” and leave it at that?

Some argue the Bible doesn’t address same-sex loving monogamous relationships, so it’s fine. However, all passages dealing with homosexuality agree that same-sex intimacy isn’t God’s design — monogamous or not. Sexual intimacy is from God for a man and woman in the covenant of marriage. Outside of marriage, there shouldn’t be any expression of sexuality. Our sex-obsessed culture makes celibacy out to be cruel, when it’s a blessing. There’s more focus on God, freedom in life, acknowledgement of attraction while still holding to biblical convictions. Intimacy isn’t only sexual; it is also experienced through lifelong friendships, supporting causes and family. The church must create an atmosphere of relational opportunities for single people. For example, if a single person is sick, hospitalized, or needs help — the church should support them through small groups, funds and other ways. Celibacy is a sacrifice for Jesus, and the church needs to prepare for that sacrifice.

What are some ways local churches can better minister to the LGBT community?

Allow people to “belong before they believe.” If you’re going to ask people not to identify with the LGBT community, you’d better have another community ready for them! Give people margin for God to work in their lives. Healing and spiritual heart surgery takes time. Help people to feel safe about admitting struggle without fear of backlash. Create an environment where it’s OK for teenagers to ask questions and be authentic. Train youth leaders to listen and ask the right questions. Create support for parents of gay teenagers. Spend time with LGBT people outside and inside your church (they are there). Listen, ask questions and learn. Don’t allow church policies to hinder needed conversations.


Caleb Kaltenbach (M.A. ’07) is the lead pastor at Discovery Church in Simi Valley, Calif., and the author of Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction.

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  • Anna December 29, 2015 at 9:25 AM

    The whole article is condescending. I'm sure it is well intended, but it certainly doesn't come out and recognize the human rights issues and the violence, intimidation, bullying, shaming, blaming, hatred which gays and transgendered have suffered and continue to suffer from the hands of some Christians, including Christian governments. It would help to have a clear 'this is wrong' instead of a sort of 'this doesn't work, afterall we want to convert them' attitude. How about, 'They are just fine as they are!'

    To suggest that gays are being intolerant if they don't want to engage with people who invalidate their identity and have decided (for them!) that they should be celebate is ludicrous. This is an example of projection. Let's say that you are being very critical, you flip it and make the other person the critical one. That way you don't have to be aware of what you yourself are doing.

    Homophobia and prejudice and hatred towards those who are different in their sexual identity is fading, I think in time the majority of churches will be 'gay friendly' you might say. I can't say that a church who still looks at them as being unaccaptable as they are is 'gay friendly'. There are plenty of churches who are no longer practice prejudice.

    All you have to do is look at the hypocracy involved in the strong negative reaction to gay people compared to that of , say, divorced people. Jesus talked a great deal about divorce. You don't really see people getting all worked up about having divorced people in their churches, or people who are living together. That's because we don't have a societal prejudice against such. When society changes, the churches will follow. Too bad that the right wing churches couldn't lead-they always seem to be a decade or so behind. I went to Biola long long ago and they were always behind the times. I remember this one poor professor who got fired for being gay. How sad is that?

  • Caleb December 30, 2015 at 6:41 PM

    Anna,

    I'm the author of the book "Messy Grace" and the interviewee of this article, I would love to discuss your thoughts with you. I'm truly sorry if you were offended. That was not the intent in the least.

    As one who was raised in the LGBT community and has many friends who identify as LGBT in some way (as well as my parents)---my goal isn't to condescend at all. I've had many LGBT people review the book (and articles like this one) and while they haven't agreed with me on all points, they haven't had the same reaction.

    Please go to www.discoverychurch.com and email me. I would really love the chance to dialogue with you.

    God bless and have a Happy New Year!
    Caleb

  • etseq April 21, 2016 at 1:33 AM

    Anna is spot on - evangelical passive aggressive "love the sinner hate the sin" with an extra layer of deception. This entire approach is so manipulative that it would be insulting if tt wasn't so transparently absurd. There is the standard line about "belonging before believing" which boils down to - lure them in without fully disclosing that extent of just how incompatible being an out, non-self loathing gay person is with the hopes that they can be convinced to "give up the gay lifestyle" in order to be saved, which means total emotional and physical celibacy or marriage to a woman (and we know well those turn out). Even better, if the gay person is married, then divorce is required in order to be saved - talk about family values! I almost laughed when I read the advice about attending the wedding - I quote: .
    "There might be a chance to share your faith with others at the wedding. Later, when the newlywed has a season of doubt or turmoil, you might be the person they turn to (giving you the chance to share Jesus"
    This is almost creepy - attend a gay wedding where lots of other gays will be in the hopes that you can witness to them and convince them to again "abandon that gay lifestyle" or even better, the implication being that the gay couples marriage is doomed to fail so be there to swoop in when they are most vulnerable in the hopes that you can "sway" one or both of them to becoming a self-loathing re-closet case. Christians - you shall know them by their love!!! Man that is some twisted love...

  • teco May 12, 2016 at 9:12 AM

    I'm saddened by what I read in etseq's comments. I have a dear friend who's daughter has decided she was really meant to be a boy. My friend has elected to facilitate transgender transformation for her daughter in full force and has chosen to remove anyone from her life that doesn't support her "son's" decision. I have struggled to present the truth of God's word without acting in a quasi-enforcer role. I too sin and would not condemn my loved ones because of their sin. I don't approach the subject with her.... I don't "brow beat" her with the Bible. I nod compassionately as the struggles their family encounters are real... and painful. But when asked what I think... I speak the truth of Christ which defines LGBT sexuality as sin. Because I have held firm that God's word is the truth, I am seeing... and mourning the dwindling of a decades long friendship. Etseq's comments discourage me further.... because they underscore what I observe in my friend and her daughter (son)... their view is anything short of complete and utter acceptance that LGBT sexuality and lifestyle is fine and absolutely completely ok....equates to hate and judgement. There is no middle ground. Etseq's remarks mirror that of the LGBT community that I have met through my friend. Unless you're "for" LGBT.... you are the enemy. Sharing God's word.... if that word speaks against LGBT sexuality.... is hate. No exceptions. Speaking God's word equates to hate. With that mentality.... how does a Christian who hates sin but loves sinners (in no small part because I happen to BE one)... find middle ground, commonality, and exchange of lovingness with others who are in the LGBT community? It's truly sad.

  • Linda Brown May 19, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    Caleb Kaltenbach is correct that it is God who changes anyone's heart, but his claim that his responsibility is therefore to just "love people, make friends and journey with them" really appalled me. Mr. Kaltenbach seems to have forgotten that Jesus' last command to his believers was to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples." His entire interview was geared to the same "Just love us!" line that I and many other believers received when testifying at our state legislature's committee hearing on LGBT issues last year. In between their screaming for us to show more love and acceptance, they exhibited plenty of gross intolerance and hatred for those sharing opposing views on the decision to be made by the committee. However well Mr. Kaltenbach has learned to deal with his unusual family background, he's incredibly wrong on several other key points as well. I won't be able to recommend his book, but I know that God will use him as he strives to help other believers on this very difficult issue.

  • Caleb Kaltenbach July 26, 2016 at 2:39 AM

    Linda
    Have you read my book? I'm guessing you haven't so how could you not recommend it? I take an orthodox stance on sexuality throughout the book. It's endorsed by many including profs from Talbot, Dallas Seminary, the Gospel Coalition, SBC, etc.

    But if you're that quick to judge I can see why you wouldn't like my book.

    There's a difference between acceptance and approval--
    -Acceptance: loving a person where they are (Matt 5:46-47; Lk 6:35)
    -Approval: you can't support every life choice a person makes.

    Praying for your tone & graciousness.

  • pat rojas August 31, 2016 at 9:05 AM

    A lesbian couple asked me this question. Would God send someone to hell because they loved someone .My answer was no.They would wind up in hell because they rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior.With 1/2 of one percent of the body of Christ involved in evangelism the chances of most of America winding up in hell are grave.Read Ezek.9,13,Is.30,Gal1:8-9,1Pet.4:17.With some 70-80% of attendees of evangelical church's not BornAgain it's no wonder books written are soft on sin,huge on false teaching.Emergent church movement is flagrant rejection of the Word of God.Many emergent will hear these words Depart from me I never knew you.Matt 7:14-23

  • Bev February 12, 2017 at 10:09 AM

    My daughter is gay and has a gay partner. My daughter in law makes the sign of the cross every time she walks by them and also won't allow her children to sit by or talk to them at our family gatherings. I asked her to leave our house last night because she was being rude, judgmental and unloving. She said she did not want her children around these people and took each child out of the house to tell them her thoughts on this. Her husband, my son also does not agree with her stance on this issue. I don't know how to deal with this in a way that won't negatively affect my 3 grandchildren, 3 boys, age 7, 10 and 14. Any thoughts and or scripture recommendations? My daughter in law goes to a Greek Orthadox Church and the rest of our family go to a non denomination Christian church

  • Rev Clyde Baker April 10, 2017 at 7:17 PM

    Thank you Rev Kaltenbach for responding to some comments. You're making a good start. But I encourage you to do some deeper thinking. Sin, for example. What sin in today's world is not directly connected to harm? We do ourselves and our faith an injustice when we insist on calling something sinful which does no harm to anyone. Remember long hair? Rock and roll? So also, the Christ-centered, life-time commitment of two mature adults to honor, fidelity and support does no harm to anyone--in fact it strengthens the walk of faith for the couple and brings blessings to the community in which they live and serve. We only harm ourselves and grieve the Holy Spirit when we call that sin.
    There are several other aspects where you seem to be selling our faith short. I would hope you would be willing to wrestle with this. I am willing to listen. I would love to correspond.

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