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Trillia Newbell is the author of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody Publishers, March 2014). Her writings on issues of faith, family, and diversity have been published in the Knoxville News-SentinelDesiring GodTrue WomanThe Resurgance, The Gospel Coalition, and more. She currently is the consultant on Women’s Initiatives for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Newbelll is the Lead Editor of Karis, the women’s channel for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. In November 2011, she launched a Christian women’s blog-style e-zine, Women of God Magazine, where she was the managing editor.

In addition to her first book, United, Newbell has a second book with Moody Publishers slated for 2015 on the topic of fear and faith. Her greatest love besides God is her family. She is married to her best friend and love, Thern. They reside with their two children near Nashville, TN.

You can find United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity available for order on Amazon here.

Q: Is racism still a problem in this country in 2014?

A. 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.

Q: After so much progress in society, why does the church remain relatively unmoved?

A: 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.

Q: You believe it’s vitally important to fight through the risks and the discomfort in order to fully
live out the Gospel of Christ.

A: 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.

Q: Your father played a big part in shaping your desire to embrace diversity.

A: 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.

Q: How did becoming a Christian shortly after high school change your perspective on identity?

A: 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.

Q: What would you say is the clear benefit of diversity?

A: 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 other. To walk in that unity arm in arm with people of every tribe and race is to declare to the world that
Christ’s blood is enough for the fight for racial reconciliation. Additionally, diversity displays a true
understanding of the grace of God. Personally, God was working in me what I believe is clearly displayed
through Scripture—diversity benefits the church, displays the last days, demonstrates the power of the
gospel, and glorifies God.

Q: Friendships with women who were different than you were instrumental in living out your
desire for diversity.

A: Yes. My longing for diversity was being fulfilled not because God had brought in more black people
(though I would have been thrilled if that had been the case), but because He had united me with people
who were unlike me. God knew my desire for diversity and graciously provided Lillian (Chinese) and Amy
(white). Lillian grew up in the United States with Chinese missionary parents. Amy grew up outside of
Chicago in a Christian home. And then there was me, a black girl from the South. Amy, Lillian, and I got
to know each other deeply. We became friends. Our differences didn’t pull us farther from each other;
rather, they united us. God employed our differences for our benefit and mutual encouragement.

Q: To a church that desires to have increased diversity, what suggestions would you offer?

A: I was taught by leaders whom I respect that it is okay to have a desire for diversity in music, activities,
and the general environment. It is okay to think that, overall, the music, activities, and general
environment should consider the entire congregation. Did you catch that? I’m not just saying music; it’s
the activities as well. My church had wonderful events, but they were often geared toward one audience.
If your church is truly seeking diversity (in any way), your activities must be diverse. This includes the
activities for women. As we begin to view members of our churches as members of God’s family and thus
as members of our family, our prejudices begin to crumble. Racial reconciliation is not only possible; it’s a
must because we are the very family of God. That’s astounding. We are created equally. When Christ
calls us to himself, He does not look at who we are in terms of ethnicity, nor does He call us because of
who we are in any other way except that we are dead and in need of new life. We are equally saved. As a
result, our churches should be the most gracious environments on the planet. More than any other place,
the church should be more open to and excited about having people unlike themselves. This gracious
environment must begin in our hearts. We have to look to Jesus and ask for grace to emulate His grace.

Q: What about building diversity within your own family?

A: A practical way to begin building diversity in your church is to build it within your family through
teaching and learning about different cultures and ethnicities throughout the year. Learning the history of
other cultures can assist you in understanding the perspective of other cultures. As you learn with your
children, don’t limit your knowledge to textbooks and mini-biographies. Get creative and cook a new meal.
Or introduce your family to the culture and music of those who are different from you. Invite other
Christians into your home for lunches, dinners, or parties. Include members of your church or your
neighbors. Find those who are different from you, take an interest in their lives, and invite them over for a
meal.

Q: But the importance of diversity ultimately goes back to the Bible.

A: Yes. Seeing the importance of diversity in Scripture should make us want to explore how we can
emulate this today. Ultimately it’s all about His glory on this earth and reflecting Him to a broken world. I
hope you’ll also be captured by what I believe is God’s vision for diversity. Again, for me it goes back to
God’s Word. I find that the picture given for churches seems to be one made up of multiethnic,
multicultural, and economically varying individuals. Diversity is worth having, because diversity is about
people, and people are worth fighting for. If God is mindful of man, shouldn’t we be (Psalm 8:3–4)?

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