As we usher in the Lenten season, I've been reflecting on how traditional Catholic theology has slammed into some painful walls of the modern world.
First, the letter of resignation from Pope Benedict XVI earlier this month, where he acknowledged his lack of strength of mind and body to lead in a rapidly changing society. Then, the U.S. immigration debate, which has queued up opposition from the nation's Roman Catholic bishops as it pertains to protections of same-sex couples.
In both cases, Catholic leadership is challenged to examine their conscience before God in order to fulfill the ministry entrusted to them.
But what does it say about the conscience of church leadership when it does not support and uphold LGBT families?
Don't get me wrong; Catholics are one of the most supportive religious communities on this issue. But as the policy discussions expand, the disconnect between the church leadership and the people has become sharper. On one hand many faithful Catholics are constantly interacting with their LGBT neighbors, workmates, children and parents; and on the other, the church's leaders struggle to understand the human stories of inequality--stories like that of Kori and Becky Ashtons.
As Kori shared recently, her life was never the same after she stood at the alter and said two life-changing words to her fiancee: "I do."
Kori and Becky were legally married in the state of Iowa, which recognizes same-sex marriages. But their marriage license was void the moment they set foot in Texas, where they live now. Like many same-sex couples, Kori and Becky know just how relative equality can be.
Each state can legally choose how to define marriage -- nine states recognize same-sex marriages, while 41 don't. Texas is also one of 29 states where employers are legally allowed to fire gay and lesbian employees on the basis of their sexual orientation; and one of 34 states where an employee can lose their job because they are transgender.
As a Christian community we have to ask ourselves: how can we live in a country that does not protect and defend LGBT families? How do some call themselves "Christian" and at the same time advocate for this blatant inequality?
As Rev. Nancy Wilson recently shared in the immigration debate, "people of faith are called to mercy, compassion, justice and love for the sojourner. These core values call us to greatness, as both citizens and believers."
Many Christians see the effects of exclusionary policies as they play out in their neighbor's lives. Maybe it's the gay couple denied a marriage license in Tennessee, or the pregnant wife who cannot sponsor her spouse for a green card because the federal government does not recognize their marriage.
As gay, lesbian and transgender people emerge, we see how the very policies created to "defend" marriage deny this sacrament to loving, committed couples.
Christians around the country are tired of watching their friends and families struggle. They're tired of a culture war that demands a separate but equal framework, and pained by bearing witness to the daily consequences it has on the lives of hard-working Americans.
They see how these couples struggle to find stability without the rights and protections granted to their heterosexual counterparts. Christians who were once conflicted are becoming new allies in the fight for equality knowing the radical love in the Gospels cannot allow them, in good conscience, to treat LGBT families as anything less than equal (Matthew 7:12).
As the public rallies behind initiatives like the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, comprehensive immigration reform, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and other reforms that will strengthen American families, Christians who are still conflicted have a unique opportunity to re-examine their own definition of love.
We, the LGBT community and our allies, must also extend the same Christian hospitality to our neighbors as they struggle to understand God's will for our LGBT families.
It is a long road ahead, but we can find new meaning in our beliefs as we read scripture, interact with the diversity of our world, and learn. "Love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8).
JOSEPH WARD is the director of Believe Out Loud. This op-ed was originally published on BelieveOutLoud.com.