A lot of people talk about what it means for churches to be culturally and racially diverse, but Trillia Newbell practices it every week. She grew up in the South and attends a predominately white, Southern Baptist church. In her book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, she explores the theology of diversity and encourages churches to pursue it for Christ’s sake.
In this interview, she explores some of those themes and also offers some other helpful advice.
1. You’ve written a fair amount about what it means to be an evangelical Christian who is black. What are three misunderstandings of black Americans that you’ve noticed in your white brothers and sisters?
I think one misunderstanding that I’ve noticed is an assumption that black Americans are monolithic. We are all quite different and have varying experiences. We are not the same. One might think that goes without saying, but this thinking is one I’ve seen time and time again. For example, I’ve been asked several times about the black church and my experiences with it. I’ve never belonged to a predominantly black church; therefore, I couldn’t address this topic with the robust knowledge the questioner might hope for, but it is assumed, just because I’m black. There are black Americans that would be considered elite as well as poor. There are many that have never seen the “hood.” We simply want to make sure to realize that like all Americans, the black experience can be broad.
2. As a black female in a predominately white denomination, do you sometimes struggle to forget your race when you’re at church events?
I’ve never actually attempted to forget my race. My identity is in Christ, but God has created me uniquely. We are all created in the image of God, yet we are different, and this is a good thing. As I participate and serve in my predominately white church, I do realize that I am one of few black people there. Because I’ve been in that situation so often, it doesn’t necessarily make me feel uncomfortable. When operating properly, with grace, the body can be one of the safest and most comfortable places to be. There have been times when I realize that a guest wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable, like in the past when my college ministry hosted a Cowboy Olympics, but the people were loving and kind, and that makes a difference.
3. In United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, you present a picture of an integrated church that mirrors the one that will exist in heaven. Is that realistic in a world where, depending on the racial makeup of your church, you may have music and a teaching style that is a huge turnoff to people who come from other racial backgrounds?
Absolutely. I believe it is possible, and there are churches that are doing it. It takes the willingness of the congregation to be flexible, to lay down certain preferences and love one another. Christ died and sacrificed everything on behalf of those who would curse Him. We must die to ourselves to serve one another. What a church will need, though, is a clear vision from the leadership. If the leadership is walking out the mission both in word and deed, then the congregation is likely to catch the vision. This only scratches the surface, but, yes, I do believe the Lord can do this.
4. Changing topics, we’ve got a number of single women in our audience who are committed to Christ, but they feel like they’re never going to get married. Many of them are getting more frustrated as they move into their 30s without any prospects for marriage. Should they stop looking for a man who’s seeking God as seriously as they are and just find someone who will show up to church with them?
A hope deferred truly does make the heart sick (Proverbs 13:12), but jumping into a marriage because you are weary of waiting is a dangerous and horrible idea. The Lord is faithful and good and does not withhold good things from His children. He will provide for your every need.
I’d also simply say, I’m sorry. I think us married folks are quick to shell out advice, but I’d want your readers to know that I sympathize with them. Better than I, the Lord empathizes with their weakness and says to come to His throne of grace and receive help in their time of need. He longs to comfort and encourage you. I actually address the fear of staying single in my upcoming book Fear and Faith: Find the Peace Your Heart Craves, and I would encourage your readers to check it out.
5. One more question: What is one book every evangelical should read before they turn 30?
That’s tough! Future Grace by John Piper is one of my all-time favorites and one I return to often. The subtitle is something like “the purifying power of the promises of God.” Future Grace reminds me that right now, as I fight temptation, there truly is grace available to me. I don’t fight alone. It’s not a lonely battle when we remember God’s promises.
Spiritual Depression is another wonderfully helpful book by Martyn Lloyd Jones. The Christian life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. There are times of great desperation. At some point, everyone will probably experience a dryness that they had not anticipated. This book is helpful for identifying the cause and problem and sharing solutions through God’s Word. It’s just helpful to know you aren’t alone.