Trillia Newbell is the director of community outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention. Newbell is the author of many books, including “United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.” She and her husband, Thern, have two children and live near Nashville, Tennessee.
Why is racism still a problem in today’s culture?
“The root problem is Genesis 3,” Newbell said. “We are a sinful people. We’re still having these conversations about racism because we Band-Aid things. We think because our laws have changed, things have changed. We need to rip open the Band-Aid and get inside that wound to actually do some work of healing, which we haven’t done. Now I believe we’re trying, but there are still a lot of places to go.”
Are we simply supposed to look past each other’s skin color?
Newbell said racial reconciliation is more than being oblivious to the color of someone’s skin.
“The conversation seems to be maturing,” Newbell said. “We’re moving beyond a color-blind ideology and into a realization of what God’s Word actually says. How can we celebrate our differences? What is systemic injustice? There are songs in the early ’80s and ’90s that say, ‘be color-blind’—we all just need to accept one another and pretend like we don’t see the color of each other’s skins. Here’s the thing. No one is really color-blind unless you’re medically color-blind. Pretending that we don’t see it is not actually honoring the image of God in people. It’s ignoring the reality of something good God did.”
Newbell added that we can’t just glance past racial injustice.
“The ultimate goal for the Christian is to love God … and to love your neighbor as yourself,” Newbell added. “If we don’t understand injustice, we’re going to have a real hard time loving our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot love our neighbor if we’re not trying to actually understand their plight, sorrow and what’s actually going on with them.”
In what ways, intentionally or unintentionally, do we fall short when it comes to interacting with people of different races?
“We assume because we’re not racist, we have no problem in this area whatsoever,” Newbell said. “Because we don’t outright hate people who are not like us, we don’t have any bias or preference and then won’t engage in this conversation because we think we’re OK. But whether it be educational level, fear of someone’s cultural attire, like a Middle Eastern man walking on a plane, or socioeconomic status—what is your response? What happens when your child brings someone of another ethnicity and says, ‘I want to marry this black man.’ That will reveal a lot about where you stand.”
While the steps to racial reconciliation are anything but simple, Newbell shared a few ideas.
>Reach out to those of other races. “The right way is just to be normal,” she said. “How do you get to know anyone? You ask questions, spend time, learn about them, listen to their interests; you don’t make assumptions as if you know. We are so funny about people. We just need to engage them and think beyond the awkward. If we’re brothers or sisters in Christ, that changes everything. We’re family. As we continue to press into one another, we’ll learn to love each other better.”
>Read history books to learn more about America’s past.
>Read the Bible. “We don’t approach things like the world,” Newbell added. “We don’t look to statistics first; we look to Jesus first.”
What does diversity teach us about God?
Our world is beautifully diverse in its cultural tastes, landscapes and countless other things.
Newbell said as people made in God’s image, we are all equal, yet unique.
“He is a good, gracious, generous and loving God,” Newbell said. “He could have created people and shown partiality Himself. Or Jesus could have died for a certain group of people … He could have said, ‘No, your mission is only to the Jews, not to the Gentiles.’ In Revelation, when He says, ‘Every tribe, tongue and nation will be worshiping together,’ He could’ve have said, ‘No, we’re all going to be worshiping together as one, unique race.’ He continues to identify those differences. He’s so creative, and I think it’s so beautiful He has created people so unique for His glory. He is a diverse God in and of Himself—the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching, how has King influenced your life?
Newbell said King was consistent in His love, bravery and approach to nonviolence.
“I saw the beauty of peaceful protest and trusting God in it,” Newbell said. “He was so forgiving. It’s a good reminder that this is hard, and it’s a hard-fought road that people have been on that we don’t want to assume we are past.”