The headline in the Chicago Tribune read: “‘Stun­ning change’ say local Catholics.” Pope Francis had convened an international assembly of Roman Catholic bishops and, in a preliminary report from the assembly, was calling for the church to welcome and accept gay people, unmarried couples, and those who have divorced. This marks a new, softer tone in the church’s traditional positions on sexual issues.

As expected, conservative bishops are suggesting that the report should be shredded. Along with some fellow Catholics, they insist on the importance of maintaining traditional church standards in the face of growing secularism and moral relativism. But many other faithful Catholics are embarrassed by the fact that the church’s traditional positions are increasingly removed from the way human beings actually behave.

Local Protestant and Catholic pastors have long been on the front lines of the conflict. After all, it’s in the privacy of the pastor’s study that the gap between what the church says and the way people live becomes apparent.