As I shared last week, reading Trillia Newbell’s new book, United: Captured By God’s Vision for Diversity, truly blessed me. Of course, I had many questions as I worked through Trillia’s story, and today I have the privilege of sharing a Q&A with Trillia in which she takes the time to answer some of those questions.
Q: Why do you feel that diversity is so crucial to the body of Christ?
A: I think diversity is important because Scripture screams of a gospel that is for all nations. I don’t think that a church that is not diverse is necessarily doing something wrong. I want to make that clear. What I do think is that this is a matter of the heart and relationships. The pursuit of diversity is really about loving your neighbor as yourself.
Q: You write a lot in United about our natural tendency to live “comfortably” and to avoid uncomfortable relationships and situations. What would you say to women reading this interview who have never really contemplated the need for diversity within their church and friendships? What challenge would you give to someone who wouldn’t naturally pick up a book focusing on unity?
A: I have a dear friend who shared with me that he had never thought about a pursuit of diversity in friendships because he had always had the same friends. His family is white, his neighbors are predominantly white and his churches have always been homogenous. Unfortunately for him he also shared that he didn’t really care. Like so many, he assumed that because the Civil Rights Movement had ended segregation, we were past racial division or hate. Actually, he would have gone as far to say that he never even thought about it.
This, I think, could be a temptation for many. There can be apathy in regards to this pursuit. The problem is that when we segregate ourselves (even if unintentionally) we miss out on an opportunity to display the gospel of reconciliation to the world. Also, in the Great Commission Jesus commands his disciples to make disciples of all nations. Revelations we see all nations, tribes, and tongues worshipping together. I’m convinced it is important to God—that is why I think it’s important. If someone isn’t sure if this is important I would encourage them to read the Word. I would also encourage them to try to pursue a friendship with someone unlike themselves and see how the Lord uses it.
Q: One of my favorite quotes from your book is from chapter 6: “May I submit to you that our pursuit of diversity isn’t really about diversity, after all? It’s about love. To celebrate diversity in your home, you must first cultivate a love for people—a radical, whole-hearted, grace-motivated love for others.” How do you see a love for people naturally causing our relationships and churches to be diverse?
A: I don’t think it’s natural at all, I think it’s supernatural! I think it’s the power of the gospel that causes us to love those who may be different in terms of ethnicity. The truth is we are more the same than we are different. God created us all in His image. I think as we pursue loving others it will break down barriers that we’ve created. I think how it translates to diverse churches is when we invite others to our churches. One of the most loving things we can do is share the gospel. I think it starts there.
Q: I was particularly touched by the account you shared of your father being beaten and ostracized for not singing the song “Dixie” at a college football game. As someone who shares a similar respect, admiration, and deep love for my father, I couldn’t help but fume at the thought of my own dad having to go through something so humiliating. It occurred to me that something as simple as a song like “Dixie” means something completely different to you than it does to me. Honestly, I knew nothing of the history of the song—its origins or its controversial blackface performances. To me, it was just a song. Still to others, it is a cherished part of their southern cultural heritage and history—a song that celebrates the South. Do Christians have a responsibility of being sensitive to their brothers and sisters whose history and culture varies so drastically from their own?
A: I think this relates to question number two. It would serve us in the pursuit of friendships and loving others if we know and understand our history. I think that part of loving others is not assuming we know their experiences. Asking good questions is helpful. To the question about responsibility to be sensitive, I think it’s again a matter of loving others. I think that by educating ourselves we can begin to be empathic. What we want to guard against, though, is walking on eggshells. That’s not the goal and won’t build relationships. We can be open and honest with tough subjects and instead try to be understanding.
Q: I’ve been a member of two churches that were extremely white. There were literally one to two families in each of the congregations that were black. How does a congregation that is so overwhelmingly white (or black for that matter), but that wants to serve and reach out to other ethnicities around them practically do so? Where do they start?
A: This is a question that many people have and one that I’ve received often. My honest answer is, I don’t fully know. But that’s why I’m doing a series on my site (www.trillianewbell.com) asking pastors to address this. Pastors are often the ones doing the work and therefore I thought it would be important and useful to hear from them. As far as what we can do, I think we can begin by getting to know our neighbor, our grocery clerk, the ladies in our kids play groups or gymnastics classes, etc. We must make an effort to get to know others. I make a point in United to note that diversity doesn’t only have to be in ethnicity. We can be diverse in socioeconomic status, in upbringing, etc. I think sometimes for us to pursue others who are not like us, we have to step out of our bubble.
Q: How do you hope that women, specifically, will react to your book? How do you hope that women’s ministry will be impacted by what you have shared?
A: I hope women will desire to pursue other women for deeper, meaningful relationships. I hope that women will seek to love their neighbor as themselves. I hope that hospitality would explode—women inviting people into their homes who they may have never considered before. I hope that families begin to teach their children about the beauty of God’s creation—He created us all so uniquely. I hope that families will discuss what it means to be a part of God’s family. We have a colorful family!