Thursday, February 22, 2018

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction


Rating: I don't know

I am not quite sure what I was expecting out of this one. I do know it is the first book I have ever seen in a Christian bookstore that has a pride flag on it, and that alone piqued my interest. The subtitle still made me wary, and the title downright annoyed me. The former because I thought it might end up being yet another Christian telling gay people how "wrong" they are, and the latter because grace is not messy. Grace is perfect each and every time, WE are the messy part.

The author is a pastor now, though growing up he was not a Christian and instead was on the other side of the fence, watching how so-called Christian treated his family. Kaltenbach's biological parents, who divorced when he was two, are both gay. His mother began a relationship with a woman named Vera that lasted until Vera's death many years later. His father did not come out until after Kaltenbach finished college. In high school he joined a Bible study group in order to disprove the Bible, he says, only to find himself drawn to Christ, eventually becoming a Christian.

I had to take a long pause between finishing the book (which I did in a couple hours) and writing the review. This subject is deeply personal to me because for one, I believe that love is love and God does not make mistakes. Because God does not make mistakes, He intentionally created both heterosexuals and homosexuals. So, my issue is first and foremost a from the human perspective of, "Don't be a shitty person to someone who is different from you." My second reason is because there have been several fabulous men throughout my life who have been my very best friends. Some of us have drifted apart as we grew up and moved on from college, some of us are still going strong, and some of us have come to know one another later in life. Any way you slice it, God created these men in my life, and the countless others who identify as LGBTQIA. I spent a significant amount of time texting my pastor as I was reading, bombarding him with all kinds of questions. As an aside, he and I discussed church outreach and the fact that our church needs to be better at this aspect. I actually gave him the book the next day at church, and I am really excited to be part of the future ministry involving our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters. I know my position is at odds with the official church position on gay marriage, etc, but I know this kind of ministry is also part of my purpose and God will use me in some way. I am very much looking forward to that opportunity. There is a list of questions near the end of the book that deal with a variety of scenarios and how your church might respond to any of them. Questions such as, "If a transgender woman wants to join the women's Bible study, would that be allowed?" and vice versa if the situation involved a transgender male. Of course to all of these questions I am personally saying, of course! But I know that may not be the reaction of others, and time and again I was reminded that I am not part of the author's target audience. Or, I should say that I am but in an opposite way of his main audience; I have the part where he calls all Christians to love ALL neighbors, not just some. I do not, however, necessarily agree with the theological aspects and in that way, I would be what he considers someone for his target audience because in his eyes I am not "loving with truth". 

Naturally given my stance on this issue, I did have an issue with some of the statements the author made. The first was this one:

"We can accept others as friends and family without approving of their life choices" (47%).

That's great, except being gay is no more a choice than being straight is. I never sat around thinking about it, and then chose being straight. That is just how I have always been. I am attracted to males, as a female, and that is how God made me. The same holds true for so many of my gay friends. I can not even count the number of times we've had deep conversations about a myriad of issues involving gay rights, and so many express to me that they knew very early on that they were attracted to other boys. we're talking elementary school here - and this should not be surprising, seeing as how we have all had those playground crushes, chasing the object of our affection around. The other telling piece for me is that in these same conversations, many have also expressed the sentiment that their lives would be easier if they were straight (but keep in mind, all of these conversations took place prior to the monumental Supreme Court ruling that finally said same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 States). Please genuinely think about that - so many individuals I loved and cared about, wishing they could change this huge part of who they were.

I also took issue with this one:

"Nevertheless, the account of this event back in Genesis does say that the men of Sodom were aggressively seeking to have sex with Lot's visitors (angels who had taken the appearance of human males)" (38%).

What an interesting way to describe...RAPE. Can we please stop equating sex and rape? Not the same thing.

Perhaps my biggest issue of all is the choices that the author presents as viable alternatives to people of the LGBTQIA community. In order to stay true and faithful to God, he says that there are one of two choices:

1. Be celibate

2. Marry someone of the opposite sex

"Since God designed sexual intimacy for a man and a woman, I believe celibacy is the right choice for people with same-sex attraction. In fact, it's not only the right choice, but it's a good choice for them, one they can embrace with gratitude" (60%).

I just can't believe that this is the best option, and one they should be grateful for. I struggle to reconcile the fact that God did create us as sexual beings, and He created ALL of us, yet one of those groups He created is to either remain celibate or enter into a heterosexual marriage. Why would God create such a scenario? 

One thing I truly did appreciate about this book is the author's attempt to tear down this barrier and do away with the mentality of an "us vs them" kind of situation. You have "Christians" like those fools from Westboro who spew venom about God hating gay people, and then everyone wonders why an LGBTQIA person might be wary of church in general. Plus you have all the additional crap spewed  but those who are not remotely connected to Westboro also being really awful, so basically no one should really wonder why he also uses his own situation as an example, stating how when he decided to become a Christian, and told his parents, they both reacted very negatively. In fact, his "coming out" Christian to them, reads very much like an LGBTQIA person coming out to their family and receiving a negative response. I feel that due to the author's own experience of being rejected in a way, that he understands how those on the other side feel and that is why he repeatedly says Christians must be gracious and compassionate.

Still, this book is tough for me in many ways, but it all ultimately comes back to the two choices presented as the only viable options: celibacy or heterosexual marriage. Even while the author states time and again that Christians must look at how they treat others who are different, and must be compassionate, loving, and kind, it doesn't seem real. Or, maybe real is not the right word, and I do not for a moment doubt the author's sincerity, but I am not even quite sure what word I am looking for. I also appreciate the author's honesty is stating that the reader may disagree with some parts of the book while whole-heartedly agreeing with others, and that is okay because he is not a theologian and does not ever claim to be. He too is still learning and figuring things out for himself. But time and again he calls for Christians to be gracious. Not in a patronizing kind of way, but a true and gracious way of loving others as Jesus commanded and loved us.

One important point to make is that this text does not discuss why people are gay. He does not even attempt to argue for or against anything related to that aspect. He also does not even really go into detail about how the Bible discusses homosexuality. There is a chapter that does relate the Bible's teachings, but that is not the focus or the purpose of the text. His aim is to get Christians to understand why they must do as Christ said and really truly be that loving and kind person. It is really not that hard and personally I have always found the "Don't be a douche" approach to be fantastic - and it really works for any situation. Then again, my views on homosexuality differ greatly from official position of many denominations at this point, so I can not really be of much help in that area.

I have now spent the last three nights trying to write this review and I am pretty sure it is one of the worst reviews I have ever written. I have been half-tempted to delete it at least six times now. I think because this topic is so deeply personal to me it really is hard for me to be objective. But I know this about myself, so perhaps I will just end here with whatever haphazard arguments I may have made and leave you to make up your own mind. While I feel the book made some good points - especially in the whole 'be kind' department (which should be common sense for Christians, but isn't, because we are humans, and pretty awful), it still felt like the undercurrent was a little darker. There is no real answer for what the future will hold for someone who both commits to being a follower of Jesus, yet identifies with the LGBTQIA community. The whole celibacy/hetero marriage thing seems overly simple and also more than a bit hypocritical. After all, there are plenty of things we were not supposed to do, according to the Bible, and a lot of those things are set aside. However, the bottom line is what I have been stating time and again as it relates to the author's point of view - there is no reason to treat someone poorly because they are different from you. This is not confined to only interactions with LGBTQIA, so keep that in mind also.


  1. That's one *heck* of a review. No wonder you nearly deleted it a few times. Sounds like the book was quite an emotional roller-coaster ride!

    1. Thank you, it was one of the ones I dreaded writing most. Who knows, I may still end up deleting, haha. It was a rough one for sure.


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