A Grace called Mess

Perhaps the most interesting book I’ve read in a long time about the LGBTQ community is Caleb Kaltenbach‘s Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others without Sacrificing Conviction. He opens — and then suspends the conclusion — with a sermon he was about to preach on homosexuality but the whole emerges out of his unique story:

I first need to tell you about some of the formative events I experienced over the many years leading up to one of the most nerve-racking sermons of my life. In this book I’m going to tell you my story of having a mom who was a lesbian and a dad who was gay, of growing up in the LGBT community with my mom and her partner, and of finding Christ and eventually becoming a pastor.4

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 7.55.10 AMHis passion is single-minded: God is love, Christians have experienced God’s grace and that grace is both transformative and a summons to enter into God’s kind of love:

I’ll give you a hint of what I said in my sermon that Sunday in September a few years ago: being unloving to gay people in your life is a sin. Also, it’s a crying shame because it puts a barrier between people and the gospel. It’s the I opposite of being Christlike. I don’t see Jesus acting like that anywhere in the Gospels. 5

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There is no script and there is no conveyer belt program to loving others — no matter who the person is you love that person is unique and will love you back in a unique way and call forth nothing less than a unique relationship between you and that person. Loving others is rarely smooth; it is often messy.

Is it easy? Will we always know what to say and do? Will we never be uncomfortable? Of course not. Even when Christians want to be gracious and kind to members of the LGBT community, we’re not necessarily very good at it. Even when we do our best, others don’t always react in a way we would desire. Sometimes relationships start at a low point and go down from there. So let’s admit it—it’s going to be messy at times. Messiness is what happens when you try to live out God’s perfect grace as a flawed person in a flawed world. 5

For Caleb, the big issue here is (1) God loves all humans and (2) as Christians we are called to love all humans. At a deeper level, we are not called to love people when they become like us, or worse yet worthy of our love, but like God we are to love people as they are and where they are because they are. God loves us, the Bible says, when we were sinners — not when we got our acts together. Yes, that analogy makes some assumptions, but Caleb’s thesis is not dependent upon anything other than loving as God loves. Caleb is what I would call compassionately traditional in his understanding of what the Bible says about homosexuality, and he knows the marriage of truth and grace is no simplistic formula. But people are worth all the struggle.

Caleb:

Please get this: People are not the enemy. They are the mission. When I say that people are the mission, I’m not saying they are objects or pet projects. Rather, we need to value people and let them know how much God loves them. No matter what kinds of people you are talking about, regardless of anything (gender, ethnicity, sexuality, work, and so forth), people are always the mission. We need to figure out how to find connecting links with them. 60

The core of the reality then is that this kind of love is messy. Why? Because, as quoted above, we are cracked Eikons (my expression) loving other cracked Eikons with a less than complete gracious love of God we are seeking to embody. Which means then that we will not be perfect in our love and others will not be perfect in their love or in their response to our cracked Eikon love.

What does this look like? I’ll ask this a different way: What does it look like for you? Do you know what it is like to love someone who is gay or lesbian?

In my A Fellowship of Differents I have a chapter that defines love in four elements: (1) Love is a rugged commitment to another person, (2) which means making a commitment to be present or “with” that person in a way that embodies (3) advocacy for that person, and (4) all of this as we together journey into Christlikeness. To love gays and lesbians as persons means nothing less: a rugged commitment to be with, to be for, and a commitment to journey together into Christlikeness.

Along the way, Caleb has some advice, none better than five things not to say when someone comes out to you:

1. Don’t Look Disappointed
2. Don’t Get Mad
3. Don’t Throw Out Bible Verses
4. Don’t Compare
5. Don’t Try to Get Them Counseling

6. And Do Reaffirm Your Relationship

Of course, as a compassionate traditionalist Caleb affirms both the goodness of marriage and of celibacy. How to proceed? He has three expressions for those facing decision about homosexuality:

1. Put God’s Call Above Your Own Preference
2. Don’t Base Your Decision on Feelings Alone
3. Be Gracious in Your Decision, Whatever It Is

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.


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