Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Don’t Be Color Blind: An Interview with Trillia Newbell

My friend Trillia Newbell knows the term “color blind” is well intentioned, but it might cause us to miss out on the beauty of our differences. She’s written about that beauty in her newly released book, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. Shannon and I are looking forward to getting our own copy.

If you care about diversity in the church—or especially if you don't—you could benefit from reading this book. To help motivate you toward that end, I asked Trillia to talk with me about the book and how she hopes it will serve the body of Christ.

Q: There are many in our Western culture who would say, “I’m not prejudiced. Our church may be predominantly one race, but we love everyone. I don’t see a need for reading something like this.” What would you say to encourage someone like that to read your book?

A: A lot of people are thinking we’re post racial, but until Jesus comes back we’re going to struggle with racism. Until then, you should want to know about your brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a way to learn about others’ perspectives. Now, I’m speaking from my own perspective and not from every African American’s perspective in the church. But I think it would be good to open a book by someone who’s different from you because, really, it’s about loving people. What you want to know is, “How can I serve and love people and learn about different experiences?” We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, and if something’s important to one person, it’s important to all of us.

Q: What are some ways we in the church display or harbor prejudice—or just apathy toward diversity—that we might not be aware of?

A: I think one area it’s easy to slip in but hard to see is the sin of partiality. James talks about it—where the Christians were preferring the rich—and I think that’s a temptation. We can prefer those who either can give us something or who are more like us. How that looks in the church is either you’re giving select people certain privileges, or every time you get together for lunch it’s with the same group.

We can isolate ourselves from people. Being partial to what you think is your “own time” can be divisive and can be a form of…not necessarily racism, but maybe a slight form of discrimination. You may not hate that person, but you’re separating yourself from them. It takes effort. It takes a lot of effort to step out of your comfort zone and invite someone who is not like you to lunch.

We can think that we’re innocent in this area, but this can be a huge blind spot. We just think, “I don’t hate anyone. I’m not going to invite anyone to my house who’s different, but I don’t hate them.” I think the sin of partiality is probably where discrimination in the church shows up often.
                                                
Q: What beauties and truths and joys are we missing out on by not being more diverse in our churches?

A: At the end of the day, in Revelation, God talks about us all worshiping together—every tongue, tribe, and nation. I think a benefit is that we experience a taste of it now—a taste of heaven, a taste of that last day. We’re going to be rejoicing together anyway, so let’s do it now.

Also, God has made us all in His image. We’re all made equally. But He’s made us unique, right? We’re different. We’re the same in terms of creation. He’s created us all: man and woman in His own image. But we’re different. And we can really learn from each other. It’s like Paul in Corinthians talking about how we don’t want a bunch of hands in the body of Christ, we want hands and feet and eyes and noses.

We have different experiences also. My history and my perspective will be different from my sister who is from Georgia and lives in a rural area, or my brother from New York who’s adopted. By getting to know different people of different backgrounds, you’re going to be encouraged and built up.

Another benefit is that diversity—racial reconciliation—reflects the gospel to a dying world. Have you seen all the news stories about the “stand your ground” laws? There’s just one story after another and people are getting fired up about this. There’s a lot of fear. Church members that are linking arms with one another can really display the love of Christ, which can overcome this division and this fear. A church that reflects this diversity really tells the world, “Oh wait. Jesus is enough. Christ’s blood is enough for this. We can overcome this because of Jesus. We love each other!”

Q: There’s so much talk about “equality” that we may be trying to paint everyone with the same broad brush. There’s room for discussing equality, but we might be losing some of the beautiful nuances of people being different. Does your book speak to that?

A: The book is about celebrating diversity. If you’re going to celebrate diversity, you’re going to celebrate differences. We were made men and women. He has made us these colors and put us in these cultures and given us our history. I mean, I didn’t ask God, “Hey God, when I am born, can I be brown?” No, He created me. He knit me in my mother’s womb.

So for the equality, what I focus on is that we are equal in creation, we are equal in our fall, and we are equal in redemption. But that doesn’t mean distinctions don’t go away. We are still men and women. I’m still black. We’re still different. There should be a celebration of differences. I don’t want to be thought of as a white woman, you know? I don’t want to be thought of as a man.

Q:  On the tail end of your experience with publishing this book, what advice would you give to other writers who desire to share the truths they've learned with the world around them?

A: I would encourage them to just write and be faithful. Just be faithful to write when they can. God gives grace for today, so we don’t want to worry about the future that we don’t even know.

I hate the term, “God will take care of the rest,” but He really will, because He’s faithful. He’s going to put you in the place where He believes you should be. He will shut it down if He thinks it’s not the best. And so there’s a comfort in that. It’s freeing to realize that and not just feel like you have to know every step of the way.

Just start somewhere. It’s probably going to be small, like a blog, and don’t despise the days of small beginnings. And just write. Let the Lord do His work, and for the longest time you might simply be writing for your family, and that’s okay.

Q: Any final thoughts?

When we think of diversity, we think of politics and affirmative action. But the diversity I’m thinking of is really what God has envisioned—it’s His heart for all people worshipping together. We are reconciled to God first. This book isn’t about how we have so far to go. No, let’s celebrate what the Lord has done and can do. It’s a very optimistic book.

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Trillia, thank you so much for making room in your hectic schedule to grant me an interview! I’m excited to read the book—and review it here at Happier Far. In the meantime, to all my readers: I recommend picking up a copy of United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.

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