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.”