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What to Do When Johnny Has Two Moms 

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Do you have children in your ministry with gay parents? Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach explains how we can best serve children of LGBT parents. “What to Do When Johnny Has Two Moms” was published in the May/June 2017 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine to help children’s ministry leaders minister to kids whose parents are LGBT.

Caleb Kaltenbach is the lead pastor for Discovery Church in Simi Valley, California, where Disneyland and the Pacific Ocean are nearby. He took the position after serving for more than a decade at churches in Missouri, Kansas, Texas, and California. Caleb became a pastor after graduation from the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. His passion for full-time ministry ignited after he joined a high school Bible study.

It’s a pretty impressive resume. But there’s an astounding back story here, and it’s one of significance to children’s ministers serving kids today. The truth is, Caleb originally joined that high school Bible study because, fed up with how Christians had treated his family for years, he was hoping to disprove the Bible to his peers. Up to that point in his life, Caleb’s experience with Christianity had been unpleasant—to say the least.

Caleb’s parents divorced when he was just 2. “I was raised by two lesbians and a gay man,” he says, matter-of-factly.

He grew up in the midst of repeated conflict with Christians because his parents were gay. It’s why he wrote his book Messy Grace: How a Pastor With Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction. While Caleb’s experience gives us insights, the topic for this article isn’t about gay marriage or same-sex relationships. It’s about how we can minister to children who come from households with same-sex parents, because these children require special awareness and sensitivities regardless of what a church teaches about homosexuality.

Growing Up on the Outside

When Caleb’s parents divorced, his mother moved out and fell in love with another woman. (His father kept his sexual identity a secret until Caleb was in college.) Caleb shuttled between his mother’s and father’s homes weekly. He attended church sporadically with his father, who was embittered by the divorce. His mother became a vocal supporter of gay rights and involved her young son in her activism.

“I marched in a lot of gay pride parades with my mom when I was in elementary school,” says Caleb. “I remember in one particular parade there were all these Christians on the street corner holding signs that said things like, ‘God hates you’ and ‘Turn or burn.’ And if that wasn’t offensive enough, they were spraying water and urine on everybody. I was with my mom, and I asked, ‘Why are they acting like this?’ She said, ‘Well, Caleb, they’re Christians. Christians hate gay people.’ ”

Despite having a typical—but mostly “boring”—experience at the church he attended with his father, it was this display of behavior that first hardened Caleb’s heart toward Christians.

In his book, Messy Grace, he writes:

Anger and bitterness started welling up in my young heart. I could not believe the way my friends from the parade were being treated. The church I attended infrequently with my father wasn’t big on using the Bible, but I knew enough about Jesus to know that he would not act like that. I knew that I never wanted to be a Christian.

Though the parade was an extreme example, Caleb says it wasn’t the last time he and his parents were treated so poorly by Christians. The result was that by the time Caleb was in high school, he had no use for Christians and felt tremendous rancor for the people who’d hurt his mother over the years in the name of their faith.

He joined a Bible study to disprove the Bible; what he wasn’t expecting was for his faith to be awakened during that study. And he certainly wasn’t expecting God to work through him in his ministry to shine a light on what LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) families experience.

“One of my goals for writing [Messy Grace] is for you to feel what it is like for gay men and lesbians to be the subject of abuse by Christians,” Caleb wrote in the early chapters of his book. When asked about the title Messy Grace, Caleb says he named it that “because God’s grace is perfect, but our lives are messy. And one of the biggest problems people have is that when God chooses to have grace on messy people, God’s grace looks messy. And people get bothered by that. I’m reminded of Jonah and how he sat on the hill and sulked when God chose to be merciful. Jonah didn’t understand—and I often don’t think we do—the magnitude of God’s grace. And that’s why I called it Messy Grace.”

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About Author

Jennifer Hooks

Jennifer Hooks is managing editor for Children's Ministry Magazine and a contributing author to Sunday School That Works (Group).

9 Comments

  1. This is an excellent article, but it does not address the topic. How to respond in a Children’s ministry setting when “Jonny has two mommies” It tells us what Christians did wrong, but does not address what Christians need to be doing. I do see that Love is the theme here. We need to Love Love Love people and leave the ‘Judging’ to God, but it doesn’t address ideas on how to deal with, or give ideas on how to Love and still maintain convictions. We are left hanging. I see the problem, but what is the solution. This article doesn’t seem ‘finished’ to me.

    • Christine Yount Jones
      Christine Yount Jones on

      Sandra, thanks for your comment and we’re glad you see “love” in this article. We’d recommend reading Caleb’s book “Messy Grace” for more practical ideas to love and still maintain convictions. It’s available at amazon.

  2. Oops!! I thought the article stopped on page one. Then I went to read it again and saw page two. Now I have read the whole article I want to apologize for my comment. No wonder I felt the article didn’t give ideas to minister to these kids, I had not read page two. I enjoyed the information and will be Sharing the WHOLE article Sunday with our teachers and helpers. Please forgive me for not reading the whole article before posting a comment.

    • Christine Yount Jones
      Christine Yount Jones on

      Denise, thanks for your feedback. Don’t worry about that page 2 thing; it happens a lot! Blessings!

  3. I support the ideas of love and grace in this article, but the underlying message of this article seems to be one of judgement — that LGBTQ people are not all right with God. Point #4 says, “Don’t explain what’s wrong with the parent….Our role is to minister to children, not point out family flaws and sins.” I’m glad the author states that it is not our place to point out family flaws and sins, but I would go a step further and say it’s not our role to even identify what a “family flaw” is. Regardless of how loving and accepting a church tries to be, if the underlying message still boils down to same sex relationships are inherently flawed, then that church is not really extending God’s grace to everyone. LGBTQ people will pick up on that subliminal message and not feel welcome.

      • Lynda Minger on

        That it is a fact does not change the point that we need to handle the issue in a way Jesus did. He did tell the woman at the well to go and sin no more, God’s Grace is to encourage forgiveness and repentance, but he does not extend that grace to blatantly ignoring His commands. Otherwise you are changing the whole Christian doctrine. Just because a man and woman are not married does not make their union right in God’s eyes either. If a congregation member is having an affair, the bible tells us exactly what to do, but it doesn’t tell us to change the church to make them comfortable.
        It is a very slippery slope that we tread on right now.

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