Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How I Responded to the Stephon Clark Shooting

Written by: on March 29, 2018

Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind lays forth a convincing argument for why people choose emotional heart decision or judgments, and then quickly use their head and reasoning to back up what they’ve already decided. This has been written about before within other topics such as Emotional Intelligence and Begin with Why, but Haidt applies this principle on a larger scale. He shows how people are making moral judgments not just in the interpersonal communications of everyday life, but also with the macro-political core values. Because people now have moral and emotional ties to their political ideas, it can polarize them by causing them to see the other side as the devil, and themselves as righteous.

Where this is problematic.

This suggests that we can’t always trust our own logic because we might actually be using our emotional brain and simply acting out of moral convictions. And even when I am using logic, I wonder if I’m just finding fancy footwork to explain my way around difficult contradictions. You might even think an argument is true because a very intelligent person believes this, but the truth is that the smarter person has a greater likelihood to find more “evidence” to back up their pre-conceived emotional conclusions. This brings up a big predicament for people. This could very easily stunt the progress of all people if we continue to use our brain to figure out all the reasons we should not change.

Before I jumped into political implications my first thought goes to how can we use this as Christians? This Righteous Mind tendency is problematic for Christianity because it is one of the barriers that those who don’t know Christ or don’t believe in God have to break through to make a decision for Christ. This gives further explanation for why it is difficult for people to submit their hearts to Christ when the heart is already convinced He is not real, or that they themselves are the most important thing in their universe. This reinforces what many have already shown; that most people become Christians before they are 18.

This principle is also problematic because many people have placed their communities, both imagined and real, at the very top their heart, and begin to send out preconceived ideas based on that.

Where this is helpful.

We should be intentional about speaking to the emotional brain or moral convictions first when trying to be persuasive or influential. Whether this is leading an altar call, pitching a program to your board, or presenting a dissertation we should speak to the emotional brain first because that’s just how the brain works. Once you have the heart of the other person convinced, their own brain will begin to help them argue the point for you. This explains why you see more emotionally persuasive commercials for fundraising for charities.

For everybody, I think this book is immensely important as the five moral foundations values that Haidt identifies are all virtues in themselves. No one would say that they are against Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Respect, or Sanctity (or a possible sixth foundation, Liberty). However, some people value freedom over fairness and there will be inherent conflict when valuing the other one more. When our core values are threatened and we see people attacking our core values, we are only able to see them as monsters. We can begin by being aware of these core values and realizing that the other person is not the devil but they simply just value something a little bit less than you.

How I used this. The Stephon Clark Shooting.

This concept of the Moral Foundations Theory became suddenly very important to me this last week as I had to address the shooting of Stephon Clark to the small church I am helping revitalize in the Sacramento. Clark was shot 8.8 miles from the church, and protests followed throughout that next week. I had to address this situation which was so close to our home. But I knew as soon as I stood up and the topic was clear, I was going to be judged. Some people might be dismissing immediately based on what I look like, others might dismiss because of my assumed political persuasion.

In the group that I would be addressing this Sunday there was going to be a young Korean man on a student visa for college, a woman who grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa, a Fijian woman, a white pastor in training, his African-American wife, their half-black daughter, two white men released from prison within the last two years, half a Chinese church, and a handful of Caucasians. How could I speak in such a way that would unify our church of fewer than 30 people?

Here is a rough script of what I was able to say because of The Righteous Mind, Imagined Communities, To Change the World, and all of our conversations have been refining me this year.


“Our city of Sacramento had a national spotlight this week. I sense God’s providence in some of this though. I sense God preparing a way for our corner of Sacramento to be shepherded in a complex time.” 

“Consider this…

Right now I’ve shared with you that we are in the process of placing a couple, Grant & Tiffany as the teaching pastors here at Sacramento Christ Fellowship.” They have always told me from the beginning, ‘we are called to share our testimony and we are called to racial reconciliation.’”  (Grant is white and his wife is African-American.)

“The same day that we had Grant shared for the first time at SCF, that night Stephon Clark was shot and killed by police. 8 miles away from this church a grandma had the worst day of her life. And this week there are multiple protests in Sacramento.”

“And now people are arguing everywhere. People are arguing what should have been done, if they were they right, should there be protests, how should they protest, how it should be handled now, and on and on. People are becoming more and more polarized and more and more separated… or they become more quiet and withdrawn staying out of the whole discussion for fear of saying the wrong thing and being called racist.” 

“This is our reality in Sacramento.”

What will we do to love and serve the needs represented here? Many people here don’t know how to respond to something like this. What can you expect from us? The pastors here, we will lead.” 

“I believe this is providential not because we will be the new activist church that will change all of Sacramento. It’s providential because God sent the right person to shepherd this congregation to lead us in right the way in this complex and unsettled time.”

“So what do we do? What can do we do today.” 

“Today what we need to do is pray for his grandma, Sequita. I imagine his grandma is suffering today. The whole family is having a bad day.” 

“Grant would you please lead us in prayer for Grandma.”


I’m sure you can see in this brief address before I started my sermon, some of the different influences the last year of our learning had on my life.

  1. I was courageous enough to address a racial issue because of Capetown. Now, what will I say?
  2. I knew people were drawing lines because of Imagined Communities. Would they feel community with me?
  3. I knew Idealism was not enough because of To Change The World. So, what were we to do?
  4. I knew why people were being more and more polarized over this issue because of The Righteous Mind. Now, how do I unify?

How do you think I handled this situation? What would you have done differently?

About the Author

Kyle Chalko

6 responses to “How I Responded to the Stephon Clark Shooting”

  1. M Webb says:

    Thanks for the post and transparent though process and review of your sermon introduction after the tragic shooting in Sacramento.
    I think Haidt is a pretty good writer, but a bad theologian who does not have the Christian writer’s advantage of spiritual wisdom and discernment. Haidt is like the evil person who knows how to “give good gifts” (Mat. 7:11, Luke 11:13) to his readers and challenges them to just get along. He unfortunately fails to grasp, nor could he, how much more God is willing to give good things to children who ask.
    I commend you for leading through a lose-lose scenario. Sometimes we are called to do that, and I believe the ministry of presence, God with you, fills in the gaps and helps you find the way to connect in ways that are good for the people and still glorify God.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hey Kyle!

    So thankful for your personal writing. I think this is your best one yet. Loved how you connected our Cape Town trip and our prior readings to your current situation. And to be where you are in Sacramento “for such a time as this” near the Stephon Clark shooting. I want to hear from a guy like you, instead of someone who lives 2000 miles away who has not a clue about the actual community involved. Well done!

  3. Well done Kyle, well done! I wouldn’t have changed a thing, you responded with love towards the hurting, which is exactly what Jesus would do in this situation. Great job bringing all the learning together and applying it to your real life situation. That church you are helping with sounds like quite the interesting group of people. Can’t wait to hear more stories that come out of that place.

  4. Greg says:

    “people to submit their hearts to Christ when the heart is already convinced He is not real, …” it breaks my heart when people see and know the truth have convinced themselves that Christ is not for them. We’ve seen this when people when their family are Buddhist say “ I think God is real but we are Buddhist”. Breaks my heart.

    Kyle your vulnerability with your people ( and with us) was appreciated and moving. I too have seen how this program has begun to shape my thinking. I like how you spelled it out.

  5. Kyle,

    Thank you for inviting us into your space as you struggled to carve a way forward as a pastor in your community.

    This highlights why the church, as the most diverse imagined community on the planet, must lead the way forward in our polarized world. Grant and Tiffany, in their marriage vows, have chosen at the micro level to push against division and model a new way forward. All of us, at the micro level, must choose love and unity, forgiveness and reconciliation, to begin to challenge the vast forces that threaten to divide us further. We will pray for them, and all of you, as you advance in love.

    May God draw near to Stephon Clark, his grandmother, and family, and the community of Sacramento.

  6. Jason Turbeville says:

    I felt your heart in your post. It is a difficult thing to try to walk through a tragedy with a community. While you may feel like there was something else you could do, I imagine you did the right thing. Be upfront and lift up Christ. This is the best way to lead as a pastor. Never try to sugar coat. Great job.


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