Navigating Racial Tension in Sacramento

Editor Notes: Tim Coburm is the lead pastor at Society Church a non-denominational church in the heart of the urban center of Sacramento. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

Our beloved, diverse, beautiful, and eclectic city is in the midst of a dynamic moment. I have been doing my best to follow along with the movement of racial tension that is being experienced in our community and the frustration that is being expressed about it. It seems to have reached a boiling point since the shooting of Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard by Sacramento police on Sunday, March 18th. We have seen marches and protests for justice, and a cry rising up from our community that black lives matter. Yes, they do. Black lives matter. They matter to the future of our city, they matter to the future of our neighborhoods, our families, our kids, our schools, our local economy, our churches, our businesses, and to every aspect of our society.

As a white male, with a healthy dose of accompanying white privilege, I recognize that my perspective is limited. It is incomplete, it is not fully formed, it will not fix the problem, and to some it may seem even ignorant. My voice, like many of yours, is in the tension of transition, in a messy middle of evolution towards something better.

To my white friends—I know this is not the only audience that will read this, but it is the only audience I feel able to address—my invitation is one towards compassion, to seek to understand before being understood. Take time to hear the pain, the cries, the anger and frustration, and seek to understand it until you feel it yourself. Many white people, myself included, have a lot to learn that has never been taught to us. Oppression of the black community and other people of color has been placed upon individuals, families, and communities in our city for generations. Racial prejudice has been taught, passed down, and affirmed through people and systems of injustice for a long time. I would encourage my white friends to keep in mind that when you see and hear anger about racial tension from a person of color, know there is pain behind that anger. When you see the pain, know that some form of injustice has caused that pain. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do you know the feeling of being pulled over by a police officer because of the color of your skin?
  • Do you know the feeling of suspicious eyes on you because you don’t look the same as a present majority?
  • Do you know the feeling of trying to explain to your kid why the store doesn’t have any skin care products for people of color? Or why that movie only had white people in it?
  • Do you know the feeling of being told where you can and cannot live or go to school because of the color of your skin? There are neighborhoods in Sacramento that people of color were not allowed to live in not so long ago (until the late 1960’s).
  • Do you know the feeling of not having money to feed your kids after getting released from serving time in jail for a crime you did not commit? That kind of injustice can lead to a deep and often paralyzing frustration and rage.
  • Do you know the feeling of being pushed out of your neighborhood because of gentrification and your landlord wanting more money?

If you are anything like me, the answer is likely an astounding NO to most of these questions.

I cannot speak for the black community or people of color in Sacramento, and I would never want to assume that role, but I can say as a white, young, male pastor that we have a long way to go to be able to understand and effectively relate to the diversity of our city and nation.

Why am I writing this? To encourage us all towards mercy (an active withholding of judgement), empathy (to seek to understand before being understood), grace (giving others the benefit of the doubt), peacemaking (creating more peace than what currently exists), justice (doing the fair & right thing even when it hurts), speaking up (even when criticism is inevitable), and love (a willingness to lay down our life for the benefit of others). Let’s live in the tension, the messy middle of justice not yet realized and contend for something better—a better tomorrow, a bigger vision for hope, peace, and a brighter future. Let’s contend for a more intentional celebration of our diversity of human experiences.

As I am writing this, it is the middle of Holy Week, and it is a time where those who follow in the way of Jesus remember his revolutionary passion for reconciliation, mercy, forgiveness, grace, peace, justice, and love. This is a moment to remember that we are to love those who don’t look like us, don’t act like us, don’t live like us, don’t believe like us, to love even those that are actively against us. This is a moment to remember that love is the most powerful force in the world: it changes, transforms, inspires, motivates and brings life to people, our city, our nation, and our humanity.

“I have decided to stick with love… Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tim Coburn is the lead pastor at Society Church, a (not very diverse yet but hoping to be) non-denominational church in the heart of the urban center of Sacramento. Tim grew up in Folsom and has worked in various churches, ministries, and non-profits over the past 15 years. From Natomas, Roseville, North Sacramento (Gardenland/Northgate), and the urban city center, he has worked for and alongside reformers, conservative evangelicals, non-profit leaders, liberal progressives, women, all different types and colors of pastors, and a cross section of denominations. He and his wife Vanessa currently live in East Sacramento with their three boys.