My friend Trillia Newbell has just released a book titled United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. Trillia’s writings on issues of faith, family, and diversity have been published at Desiring God, True Woman, The Resurgence, The Gospel Coalition, and more.
Trillia is currently the consultant on Women’s Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Newbell is also the Lead Editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
United is going to be a helpful book for the life of the church. Once you hear Trillia’s heart you will see why…
Is racism still a problem in this country in 2014?
To be honest, it’s easy to feel discouraged about where we’re at today, and—in those moments—I have to remind myself about the progress that has been made, most especially in broader society. We know that civil rights leaders of fifty years ago fought hard, risking life and limb, to overturn the “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws. Those leaders hoped that blacks and whites would enjoy life together and that blacks would no longer be subjected to discrimination and hate crimes. This was the dream for the entire nation. Martin Luther King Jr. famously shared his dream that “one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” America has clearly come a long way since the 1960s. Our public facilities, parks, pools, and educational facilities—once segregated—are now filled with a variety of ethnic groups enjoying the benefits of their liberties. Yet our churches too often remain separate but equal.
After so much progress in society, why does the church remain relatively unmoved?
Perhaps we are all tired of the conversation about race. It doesn’t take much to recognize that our country continues to be divided along racial lines. Perhaps it seems that the country is moving toward unity, but it’s a façade—just check your local news. And though our society may want to move on, we can’t, and neither can or should the church. Maybe our churches remain segregated simply because it’s comfortable. There’s nothing malicious to it; we are just more comfortable with “our own.” But also, it might be because diversity and racial issues are scary. Talking about race and racial reconciliation can be downright terrifying. No one wants to offend, and in our politically correct society, who would blame you? If you say the wrong thing, ask the wrong question, or call someone by the wrong name, will they be angry? Are you black or African-American? Chinese or Asian? Hispanic, Latino, or Mexican? This is an explosive topic, and sometimes it seems that the wisest course of action is to avoid it at all costs.
You believe it’s vitally important to fight through the risks and the discomfort in order to fully live out the Gospel of Christ.
Yes. We can so clearly see throughout Scripture that God celebrates the diversity of His creation. He does not distinguish between races: He created man in His own image, sent His Son to save the world, and saves anyone who believes. God calls Christians to be imitators of Christ and to walk in love. If He doesn’t show partiality, neither should we. The problem with the current church model and experience for most of us is that while we affirm these truths with our lips, Sunday morning reveals a different story.
Your father played a big part in shaping your desire to embrace diversity.
Absolutely. I remember sitting on my Dad’s lap as a young girl while he told stories about being beaten for not standing to sing “Dixie” at a sporting event and about the torture and pain that many blacks experienced in the South. He’d end his sobering stories, which never failed to rile me up, by saying, “But, Trillia, we need to love everyone regardless of race or religion.” As a result, I grew up wanting to accept everyone, despite my own rejection at times. It was how my father raised me—to love those who hate you.
How did becoming a Christian shortly after high school change your perspective on identity?
What I discovered as I grew in my Christian faith was that my identity is not solely that I am a black female, nor is it dependent on what others think of me. My identity is in Christ. When I find my identity in Christ and not in outward appearance, there’s satisfaction. I’m satisfied in Him because He loves me. I finally understood that my identity is not my own—my identity isn’t about me. But it’s one thing to know this truth; it’s another to understand it and have opportunities to apply it. I am thankful that I have found those opportunities within my church and throughout my walk with Christ. Understanding that my identity is no longer in my blackness, what I do and don’t do, or how others view me has been incredibly freeing. This knowledge allows me to enjoy my relationship with Christ and my relationships with others. It has also provided me the opportunity to enjoy my identity as a black woman in a better way. Being black is a part of my identity. But it isn’t my entire identity.
What would you say is the clear benefit of diversity?
By building into diverse relationships, we display the reconciliation and redemption of Christ to a world that is broken and divided. True unity is found first through being reconciled to God and then to each