Bridge Builders: Trillia Newbell

newbell“Sunday mornings at 11 am is the most segregated hour in this nation.” So said Martin Luther King Jr. That, of course, was most certainly true when he spoke it. For, at that time segregation was a recognized and often applauded reality. But, is it still true today? In many churches it is. Most churches in America do not reflect the diversity of God’s design and redemption. Trillia Newbell has an earnest desire to see the church grow in this area. We desperately need her voice and experience.

The church is in the midst of a renewed and serious conversation about race. It isn’t always going very well, and not everyone is keen to continue the conversation, but we are having it. Trillia brings a unique background, lifestyle, experience, and voice to this conversation and it’s one that we need to hear. It’s unique because of her experiences. As a black woman she brings her experiences and perspective to bear on growing up in an American culture that, while certainly not the era of the 1950s, was still wrestling with the end of “separate-but-equal.” She experienced prejudice first hand, racial stereotypes, and blatant racism. Her voice can help many of us to peak into another’s world and see things from a perspective quite foreign from our own. Add to this voice, Trillia’s interracial marriage. Her marriage adds another layer of depth and perspective. She can speak to the reality of living sometimes between worlds, of experiencing a whole new level of prejudice and criticism from multiple communities. She has peaked into the world of her white brothers and sisters in this way as well. Add, finally, her experiences as a black woman in a predominately white church. Her experiences in the church and in much of the broader Evangelical community allow her to speak to the strengths and weaknesses of the contemporary church with real insight. This is a voice we desperately need.

Her voice is also unique because of its tone. There is a racial division that exists within the church. It comes in a variety of forms, all of which matter. There is the obvious sort of racism, which hates and disregards others based on their ethnicity and the color of their skin. There is the sort of microagressions that can either over-inflate differences, and also diminish them entirely – the sorts of comments like “I don’t see color,” which are intended for good but actually make color a bad or unimportant difference. There are the church practices that assume black people will come to a white church and feel right at home, while white people would never join a predominantly black church. There is a real division that exists, even within the church. It manifests with a roll of the eyes whenever race is mentioned, or when we make “black music” a once-a-month addition to our worship set. Trillia knows about all these experiences and she is able to help us navigate them, but she does so as a bridge-builder. She cares about diversity but not at the expense of the individuals with whom she writes, speaks, and interacts. She is sensitive to our differences, our motives, and our common identity as believers. She never writes with anger – though definitely with brokenness and sorrow at times. She never writes against people. She never assumes the worst, and she readily admits that “the need for diversity and implementing the changes to make it happen can seem daunting” (United, 19). When she was recently targeted by an angry group on Twitter she asked for prayer both for her self and for those attacking her. Such a concern even for those who were against her endemic of her character. She is truly a compassionate and caring voice when speaking about a subject that has often generated even greater division than unity.

Of course Trillia writes about so many different things, not just race and diversity. She addresses issues of joy, fear of man, recreation, parenting, health, church life, the pro-life movement, and countless other topics. You should hear all that she has to say on each topic. But listen expressly when she addresses issues of race and diversity because there are so few voices like Trillia’s. She has received no small amount of criticism, backlash, and hatred for writing the way she does on the topics that she does. Twitter can be a dangerous place for some advocating diversity and unity across racial divides, and Trillia has sometimes been bombarded with online bullies and white supremacists who want to attack her and threaten her. Still she persists in speaking the truth in love. We ought to thank God for her and support her efforts. Most of all, we ought to listen.

Thank you Trillia, for your words and for all that I have learned from you and hopefully am continuing to learn. I have a long way to go in understanding and growing. Check out Trillia’s blog here, and all her books. Especially read United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.

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