Caleb Kaltenbach is a pastor with a unique past. When he was still a child, his mother divorced his father and married another woman. Meanwhile, his father hid his own homosexuality until Caleb was in college. He grew up completely immersed in gay culture: going to pride parades, tagging along with his mom and her partner to parties, and watching his parents maligned by 'Christians.'
One story in particular broke my heart. When he was a teenager, he went with his mom and her partner to a gay pride parade. While there, they met a group of 'Christian' hecklers waving signs that said, "Fags go away," and "Jesus has no room for you." The hecklers used water-guns to shoot them with urine. As they were being verbally and physically demeaned, Caleb looked at his mother and asked her, "Why are those people acting like that?" Her response was heartbreaking: "Well, Caleb, they're Christians, and Christians hate gay people. Christians don't like anyone who's not like them."
It would be easy for us, as Christians, to immediately object, "I don't hate gay people. I'm just speaking the truth." But what do our actions say? Are our lives proclaiming God's Gospel of love to all creation? Or, have we predetermined who is worthy of hearing God's plan to reconcile all humanity back to himself? If there's one issue that many in the Church have dropped the ball on, it's the issue of homosexuality. Most Christians simply haven't been equipped to deal with this complex and sensitive subject.
And by the way, this is a topic that isn't going away. We need to learn how to deal with this issue in a way that reflects both the truth of God's Word and his great love for every member of the human family. 'Messy Grace' is an important book for Christians to read and understand as they meet their gay friends, family members, or neighbors.
Kaltenbach is plain about his purpose for writing this book: "I wrote this book for anyone who wants to know how to relate with grace and truth toward members of the LGBT community." He delivers exactly what he hoped to.
He walks the fine line between grace and truth, never making room for sin on either side. One whole chapter is dedicated to what the Bible says about homosexuality - he even deals with some common arguments against what scripture plainly teaches (his rebuttal to the argument that "Jesus never said anything about homosexuality" is fantastic). However, he also lambasts Christians who act more like self-righteous Pharisees than Jesus - unwilling to befriend or reach out to their gay neighbors, treating them more like lepers than people who have been made in the image of God.
He tells about one of his mother's friends who got AIDs. Right before he passed away, they visited him in the hospital and watched as his family stood far away from him. Unwilling to touch their dying son and brother because of his sickness. How tragic! And what a contrast to the way Jesus was willing to touch those who society deemed unclean. Throughout this book, Kaltenbach encourages Christians to follow in the footsteps of Christ by pursuing others while they are still sinners.
Paul tells us in Romans, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). This verse followed me the whole time I was reading this book. God loved me, he pursued me, he sent his son to die for me - all while I was a sinner, despising and rejecting him. If we are truly going to be followers of Jesus, we must reenact this same pursuit of those that God loves. We ought to pursue, love, and give our lives to those that God is loving. We ought to show sacrificial love to our gay neighbors while they are yet sinners. We need to once-and-for-all do away with the notion that someone must get their moral act together before we extend grace and love.
Grace and love must be shown while they are yet sinners. Grace and love are the catalyst for life-transformation; not the reward for it.
Over the course of the book, Kaltenbach tells his own story, the story of becoming a Christian pastor despite having two very liberal, gay parents. Throughout each chapter, he draws out important lessons about how to show our gay neighbors the love of God. He includes a lot of practical information and even points a way forward for churches to help people who are experiencing homosexual temptations.
Was there anything I didn't like about it? Honestly, I had to try to find something negative to say. In the last chapter or two, he tells about how his parents finally began attending church and got saved. In his discussion on homosexuals who get saved, he makes it clear that living a homosexual lifestyle is not compatible with Christianity; however, there was a time or two that I wished he had used the word 'repent' to describe the complete turning involved in coming to faith in Jesus. I believe the idea is in the text but there was a time or two when someone reading a sentence out of context might think that he doesn't see a complete change as necessary.
But ultimately, this is a very minor issue. The book as a whole is clear that the issue of homosexuality needs to be addressed via the middle way of love, holding on to both grace and truth. It's a fantastic guide for every believer that wants to see the Kingdom advance in our culture.
We need to be equipped to talk intelligently and sensitively about this subject. This book is a great introduction for that exact purpose.
May we all learn to walk the way of grace, truth, and love.