At about 5:40pm pacific time on Monday, July 29, a young white man opened fire at the annual garlic festival in Gilroy, California. At about 10:40am mountain time on Saturday, August 3, a young white man opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. At about 1:20am eastern time on Sunday, August 4, another young white man opened fire in a popular nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio.
On Saturday afternoon—or, maybe, on Sunday morning—a lot of pastors rewrote their sermons so that they could address the issues of gun violence, white supremacy, and toxic masculinity that these shootings raised. And on Sunday afternoon, there were a lot of posts asking people whether their pastors had addressed the shootings in sermons, in prayers, or in other parts of the liturgy.
And I was troubled.
Before I go further, I need to preface this. I did mention gun violence in my sermon, though my sermon was focused on youth, so I brought it up in the context of school shootings. I also mentioned family separation and global warming. I talk about these and similar topics a lot. They make regular appearances in my sermons. And we prayed about the shootings on Saturday and Sunday in the prayers of the people.
But I was troubled by the number of colleagues who have never visited my community or met the people in my congregation who felt confident enough to post about what I—or any other pastor who is a stranger to them—should have preached about.
And while I didn’t see one, I’m sure that, somewhere, there was the standard post-tragedy post: “If you’re pastor doesn’t preach about [atrocity of the week] this morning, leave that church and never go back.”
And all of this got me thinking about something that my wife, Mariah, has been thinking about. When tragedy strikes, some of us are on the Orange Team, some of us are on the Turquoise Team, and some of us are on the Purple Team. These teams overlap in some ways. And there are probably other teams, too. And, really, we’re on these teams all the time. But the differences are important, because each team plays a vital role in making the world better.
The Orange Team are the first responders. When there is a problem, they respond right away. They rewrite their sermons on Saturday night and craft new liturgies in the wee small hours of Sunday morning. They are the ones who show up as the floods begin and heave sandbags into place.
And because they are first responders, there is a shadow side. The Orange Team tends to be reactive and impulsive. Especially in this day and age, they move quickly from one atrocity to the next, responding to what’s in the news at the moment and letting last week’s tragedy fall off the radar.
The Turquoise Team are the long-term workers. They think about how to address each problem over the long term, how to rebuild after each tragedy, and how to prevent the next one from happening through projects that may take months or years to produce results. They write sermons about pressing issues that haven’t been covered on the evening news in a while and craft liturgies for the anniversary of an event. They are the ones who show up after the floods has subsided to muck our basements, rebuild homes, and put permanent flood walls into place.
And because they are working on a longer timeframe, there is a shadow side. The Turquoise Team tends to wait to act. They can end up missing the window when their message would have the most emotional impact, and do too little, too late.
The Purple Team is a different animal, and many people on the Orange or Turquoise teams also play for the Purple one. These are the specialists. They are deeply knowledgeable and absolutely passionate about the one or two issues that they are focused on. When someone from the Purple Team rises to speak, you know what they’re going to talk about, you know what they’re going to say, and you know that you’re probably going to learn something. These are people who have been talking about flooding risks and plans to avoid it for years, and who will continue to talk about it even after the Turquoise Team has moved on to something else.
And because they are specialists, there is a shadow side. The Purple Team tends to make one or two issues their whole world, and they may not see how other issues are connected. They may not even see how other issues are important.
Each of these teams is important. Each of these teams has strengths. Each of these teams has weaknesses. And there are pastors—and politicians and celebrities and thought leaders and everything else—on every team.
Which brings me back to those folks who post confidently on Sunday afternoon that if your pastor didn’t preach about what happened Saturday night on Sunday morning, then you should ask why that person is your pastor and why that church is your church.
We need all of these teams (and probably more). If I can switch metaphors for a moment: we need the EMTS and ER nurses and trauma surgeons who will provide emergency care (Orange Team); we need the physical and occupational therapists who will hold us up on the long road to recovery (Turquoise Team); and we need the general practitioners who have been telling us how to care for ourselves and who will continue to do so (Purple Team).
Everyone has a role to play. Everyone matters.
And that means that we need to make room for each other.
The folks on Orange Team are important. We need them to keep on top of the latest issues, and to help us address Saturday night on Sunday morning. But the demands to know who did or did not preach about Saturday night on Sunday morning—or, worse, telling people that their pastor is a problem if they didn’t preach about Saturday night on Sunday morning—devalues the contributions of the people who are on the Turquoise and Purple Teams. And we need them, too; because they are the ones who will be talking about Saturday night next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that, until whatever sparked Saturday night is solved.
So, yes, if your pastor or your church never addresses issues like gun violence, racism, or white supremacism (or mass incarceration, or global warming, or family separation, or economic inequality, or… or… or…) then there is a problem. But if your pastor isn’t in sync with the news cycle, or is working on one or two issues, that’s okay. That still might not be the pastor or the church for you, but important work is being done (and maybe you need to be the representative from the Orange Team there).
And if you’re a pastor—or celebrity or politician or thought leader or whatever—no matter what team you’re on, make room for your colleagues on those other teams. In fact, support your colleagues on other teams.
We’re all in this together.