Love Has No Exception Clauses
When Caleb Kaltenbach was a child, both his parents came out as gay. He describes the childhood experience of marching in a gay pride parade, being sprayed with urine by protesting Christians. He was taught that Christians were identified by their hate for homosexuals and anyone different from them. In this talk, Caleb presents a vision of Christian love that has no exception clauses.
Wanna thank Biola university president Corey for having me here. Thank you so much, I’m glad to be here with all of you. I wanna start out by letting you know just a little bit about me if that’s okay. I am a Coca cola person. Anybody resonate? You’re gonna choose Coca cola over Pepsi because that’s an absolute truth right there. Coca cola is the best.
What a lot of people don’t know is that there’s really been a rivalry throughout the years between Coca cola and between Pepsi. For many years especially up until about World War II and after, Coca cola was americana itself. Dwight Eisenhower would take bottles and send it over to his troops just so they had a little bit of America back over there. And at that time Pepsi was just a little fledgling company wanting to make their mark in the world. And so they started a new campaign called The Pepsi Generation.
Because here was their thinking. Their thinking was, okay Coca cola, they’ve got the old guys, we want the new generation. And so they started that in the 1960s and then in the early 1970s when Coca cola stock was going down and that kind of a thing, they started this commercial where it was very famous. The song, I’d like to teach and I’m not gonna sing it because we want you to stay here, we don’t want you to leave.
But this commercial was just a phenomenal success in the 1970s. And so Pepsi struck back in the early 1980s with The Pepsi Taste Challenge. I don’t know if anybody remembers that, and you may not wanna own that if you do but in the 1980s they went along sidewalks and had people taste unmarked cups Coca cola and Pepsi. And the amazing miraculous thing was, everybody chose Pepsi in the commercials.
I have no idea how that happened but it did. Now, this is the point. Where Coca cola will admit this, Coca cola workers and executives at that time let their extreme dislike of Pepsi cause them to make one of the biggest blunders of all time. They changed the formula. Anybody remember new Coke?
It had tasted suspiciously like Pepsi. Again miracle of God, I don’t know how that happened. But they tasted the same and everybody was so upset and they raged back in the 1980s. Not through social media but through telegrams and rotary phones and 8-tracks and actually writing letters on paper to people. That’s what they did.
And Coca cola soon switched back. Now, there are many applications that we can make from a story like this. One of the biggest that has always struck me about this story because I’m a Coca cola fan is this. If we’re not careful, no matter who we dislike, no matter who doesn’t like us, no matter who we may have a difficult time with, those who might be different from us, those who may not like us. If we allow our feelings about them to treat them differently, no matter what happens we are in the wrong.
And it’s dangerous ground when you allow your dislike of people who are difficult, whether the way you talk about them in front of other people, whoever, that is dangerous ground. And if you claim Christ, it is a quick way to show that you and I are not Christ-like. And I’m speaking from experience. My parents were both professors in the University of Missouri, go Tigers. [someone shouts] [audience laughs] y’all need to come down, okay? They divorced when I was two and both of them went into same-sex relationships.
My mother was in a 22 year relationship with a psychologist named Vera. Both very intelligent people. My dad was very sharp, very sharp people. They actually raised me in the LGBT community in the 1980s. My mom was an activist. She joined board directors for GLAD, she took me with her to activist events and parties and camp-outs.
And I remember being in parades and seeing Christians spray water and urine on people while they were holding up signs saying God hates you, there’s no room for you. It’s amazing how our treatment of other people really causes them to associate God with that, right? And I remember specifically my mom would say this to me over and over again, she would say this, “Christians hate gay people, Christians hate people who are different from them, Christians will always treat you different unless you look like them, think like them, talk like them.” and I was like, man I don’t wanna be Christian.
I saw this repeated again and again and again. I remember seeing my mom’s friends who were dying of AIDS. Seeing their families who were Christian reading their Bibles but would not even want to talk to them. Christians hate gay people. So by the time I get to high school, my world view is out of whack and I just figured, I hated Christians. I got invited to this high school Bible study led by a high schooler and I thought, this is my great chance.
I’m gonna go in there, pretend to be a Christian I’m gonna discredit the Bible. And I’d never owned a Bible so I grabbed my dad’s old Revised Standard version, they revised something. I don’t know what they did but they, took that with me and you gotta understand I had never been in a Christian household, evangelical Christian household, conservative Christian household. And the first thing when I walked in, these people were super Christian, Bible bookstore super Christians, funded Bible bookstores.
I walked in and I thought to myself, why do these people have framed pictures of sheep and lions and scripture verses and a kid holding a lamb? And I looked at my friend, I said, “So if I turn Christian do I have to get a sheep picture? “Is that part of the deal? “Is that what I have to do?” and I learned something, I learned something about Jesus. I learned that Jesus was very different than the people in the street corners.
So Jesus had very deep convictions theologically even convictions about how you and I should live our lives and treat other people. But He also spent His time with people who were not like Him, the marginalized people, the outcasts, the ones that religious culture wanted nothing to do with. He actually ran counter-card not only with government but He also ran counter-card with religious culture and with secular society, everything.
He was His own breed. He did not try to make Christianity fit in because His kingdom was not of his world. And I gave my life to Christ and when I told my parents I was a Christian. My parents kicked me out. The same intolerance they feared from people in the street corner, they returned back to me. And you know what was really funny is you would think, Caleb that must have been hard. It was hard but let me tell you something.
Studying Jesus, man it made me love my parents all the more because the more that you love God, the more grasp He gives you to love people who are difficult, who aren’t like you, who you may not like, who may not like you, right? I remember one of the first passages that I read was Matthew 5:43 when Jesus had just gotten done saying, hey if you go one mile with somebody, go two. Which He is talking about an occupying Roman force in His land during that day and He says you’re supposed to love this people you don’t like who are persecuting you, who are treating you poorly. Love them. That’s how you run counter-cultural.
And I remember reading His words and I never heard this before. It’s so cool when you come to Christ later on in life and you read the Bible for the first time and it comes alive. You’re not used to it. And He says in Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy but I tell you, “love your enemies and you pray for those who persecute you.” now, if there’s any line I could erase out of the Bible, it would be this one right here.
If God gave me an infallible eraser and said just erase I would because, or at least I would edit it and say, but I tell you tolerate your enemies, put up with them, put up with the annoying people, put up with one person. No, He says, “Love your enemies, “pray for those who persecute you “that you may be children of your Father in heaven. “He calls His sun to rise on the evil and the good “and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” then this verse stuck out to me in verse 46.
He says, “If you love those who love you “what reward will you get? “Are not even the tax collectors doing that? “And if you greet only your own people, “what are you doing more than others? “Do not even pagans do that? “Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.” if I can sum up what Jesus is saying in my own words, my own opinion. This could be wrong, my wife tells me I’m wrong I’m used to that by the way.
Here’s what I think Jesus is saying, love has no exception clause. Love has no exception clause. When you and I decide to follow Jesus, we give up our rights to be unforgiving. We give up our rights to treat people poorly. We give up our rights to be prejudice. We give up our rights to judge people. We give up our rights to treat people poorly based on their behavior. We give up our rights to trash people. That’s what we do. We give up our rights. Why? Because Jesus said if you only love those who love you what reward will you get?
We’re talking about the same guy who when He was singing on the cross being crucified, what did He say? “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Love has absolutely positively no exception clause. And it just resonated with me. And I tried to tell that to my mom. I said, “Mom listen, you’re the one “that has told me about tolerance my whole life, “love has no exception clause. “You should get onboard with this.” but again when we allow our dislike in people, people we don’t like, people who we’re prejudice against, people who we’re racist against, people we don’t understand so we treat them shallowly. When we categorize people or slap labels on them, in these moments when we do that, we’re marginalizing somebody that Jesus died for.
Somebody that Jesus created. I remember I ended up going to Bible college in Southern Missouri. And I had to get out of Southern Missouri soon as possible ’cause, has anybody ever been to Southern Missouri and those of you watching online? It’s really interesting, it’s like the family tree just grows straight up they don’t branch out whatsoever, it’s just a straight line up, ain’t nobody got time for that. [audience laughs]
I remember preaching in this one church and I tried to get my mom to come to church for years and said you gotta come with me, you gotta come to church and finally one day she came. We had a big church attendance bump. We were in a town of 50, 25 people in the town, largest church per capita in the world at that time. When my mom came, it was the biggest church attendance month ever. We went up to 26, it was one for the books. It was great. [audience laughs] and the next Sunday when I showed up, there were two elders waiting for me.
And they said, “Caleb, we’d like to talk to you.” and they took me to the backroom. We had two rooms, one room and the backroom. [audience laughs] And they said, “If you wanna keep preaching here, don’t you ever bring somebody like your mother again. We don’t like those people.” I looked at them, I said, “I quit, I quit.” they were like, “No, you can’t quit today, “we need you to preach.” “I said, “No, trust me, you do not want that.” [audience laughs] “Out of all the things you may want in life, that is not one thing.” They said, “No, we need you to.”
And so I got up there and I ripped up my notes and I preached just the hugest summon on loving God and loving people and quote and quote evangelism. And I threw my ninja moves at ’em with evangelism and I walked out of there and said, “Lord if you ever give me the chance to pastor a church, “I want a church that believes love has no exception clause. “I want a church filled with people who are broken, “filled with people who are hurting, “filled with people who are outcasts, “filled with Pharisees who think “that they have it altogether because that is “the church that Jesus Christ came for, lived for, “died for, and is coming back for.” that is the real church people.
You see, here’s the deal. I don’t believe for one second that Jesus ever came to die on the cross for a little members-only country club that produces Pharisees. I think that Jesus came to produce a church that says, love has no exception clause.
Because whatever you believe theologically is what you believe theologically but your theological convictions must never be a catalyst to devalue people, treat people less, marginalize people. And so I went out to Los Angeles and got married to this beautiful tall Latina woman. In her wildest dreams she had no idea that her knight in shining armor would look like a cross between Dr. Evil and Fester. [audience laughs] You’re a lucky lady, this is the eye candy she wakes up to every morning, let me tell you right here, okay? And so we moved to Dallas, Texas. And then we left Dallas, Texas as soon as possible. We got out of purgatory. [audience laughs]
We were there for three and a half years, we preached at a church. It was a phenomenal time but something amazing happened. Both my parents moved there separately of one another to be closer to our family. And when they moved there, they said, “Can we start coming to your church?” I said, “You want to come to my church.” and these are people that could not stand to be in church.
They started coming to my church. It was incredible. They were nicer to my parents than I was. Do you know how annoying it is, when people are nicer to your parents than you are? [audience laughs] And they came. And people didn’t treat them like projects, they treated them like human beings, they’re living. Because these people believed that love had no exception clause. And I remember in summer 2013, two weeks before we left to come back to Simi Valley, Souther California, to pastor Discovery Church, both my parents gave their lives to the Lord. Both of them. And I remember, [audience claps] asking them, “What was it? “What did it?” Expecting some kind of fancy philosophical apologetic argument which I love philosophy religion, I love apologetics, it’s great stuff.
Here’s what they said, “People treated us like people. “We ran into people that didn’t believe “that love had an exception clause.” It’s amazing when you treat people well. How you just pave the way for them to experience God in a way that they’ve never experienced before. You see, love has no exception clause. You do not know what hangs in the balance of loving people that are difficult for you to love.
Because when you love somebody, it’s difficult for you. It makes you more like Jesus, right? The same one who said Matthew 5:46 “If you love only those who love you, “what reward will you get?” See, theological conviction must never be a catalyst to treat someone less. Love has no exception clause and yes, God loves messy people like you and me. Thank you. [upbeat music]