Getting Past our Differences
About the Guest
When it comes to love, are you colorblind? Dennis Rainey talks with African American author Trillia Newbell about cultural diversity.
Trillia NewbellTrillia Newbell is the author of Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves (2015) and United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (2014). Her writings on issues of faith, family, and diversity have been published in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Desiring God, True Woman, Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, and more. She has spoken at numerous conferences, churches, women’s retreats, colleges...more
When it comes to love, are you colorblind? Dennis Rainey talks with African American author Trillia Newbell about cultural diversity.
Getting Past our Differences
Bob: You probably heard it said that the most segregated hour in America is Sunday mornings at 11 o’clock when everybody goes to their own church. Trillia Newbell says instead of a church pursuing diversity, a church needs to make sure it is an open and accepting community.
Trillia: And that’s really the issue: “Would someone be accepted?” They may not feel comfortable, but would they be accepted? Would they be loved? Would they hear the good news? And if they chose to stay, then, how would they feel? What would they experience in terms of the love of the people—the hearts of the people? That’s what really matters.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, February 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We all think that the churches we attend are open and accepting; right? But the question is:
“Are they open and accepting of people like us and not anybody else?” We’re going to discuss that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We’re tackling a subject today, Dennis, that—it’s challenging for all of us. In fact, I’m really glad that a number of our friends have taken some steps to try to address the issue of racial tension and racial prejudice because of recent events in our culture.
Folks like Bryan Loritts, who is a pastor in Memphis, put together a conference on this subject. Our friend, Russell Moore, is going to be addressing this with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission—a special event that they are hosting. I mean, we have seen that race relations and racial prejudice—
—may not be what it was when you and I were growing up—
Dennis: Oh my goodness!—absolutely.
Bob: —but we still have a long way to go on this issue.
Dennis: I know it’s one of the things that—it really—from time to time, when I really see it occurring, makes me sad. You hear about on the news of racial hatred—one race against another. It’s like, “There is a heaven, and it’s not here; but there is a gospel, and it does call us to love all people.” And we have a friend with us—a new friend.
Dennis: Bob was bragging on you, Trillia, about your giftedness and how you’re a great spokesperson for Jesus Christ.
Trillia: That’s encouraging.
Dennis: I just want to welcome you to the broadcast.
Trillia: Thank you.
Dennis: Welcome back.
Trillia: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Dennis: She and her husband have been married since 2003. They have two children, and she is a writer for numerous blogs, and newspapers, and ministries around the country. And she’s written a book called United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity.
I asked you, before we came on the air, if you felt like there was an anchor passage for this issue of diversity; and I really liked your answer. I want our listeners to hear what you said. Where in the Scriptures do think it just, rock-solid, calls us?
Trillia: Sure. I would say Matthew 28, where Jesus says to His disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations teaching them and baptizing them in the name of the Father…” And I think that that is where we can understand that the gospel is for all nations and that that’s His great command—is His Great Commission to His disciples.
Dennis: And we’ve got to train our children in the Great Commission, and that begins at home. That doesn’t begin in going to another country. That starts, right here, with loving all people. I want to ask you: “What’s the biggest misconception the white community has about the African-American community?”
Trillia: That’s a great question. I don’t know about misconception, but I could say that there are probably a lot of stereotypes. Unfortunately, I think we get a lot of our information from the television—
Trillia: —bad place to go!
Trillia: So, we are sports people. So, we are all—we can all dance. So, there are just a lot of misconceptions that I think that we get from the media and that’s just—aren’t true.
Dennis: Let me ask the question a different way: “What would you want the white community to know, in terms of what they need to do, to do a better job at raising the next generation of followers of Christ to have a healthy approach toward diversity?”
Trillia: I would say that we—not just white people but all people—need to, first, look to the Scriptures. Diversity isn’t about just people—it’s about love. Diversity is about loving your neighbor as yourself.
So, what does the Scripture say about people? We are made in the image of God. We are created equally. We are fallen equally. We need Jesus equally.
Trillia: So, that’s where I would start. Then, from there, I would say, “Invite people into our homes.” That’s the only real way that we’re going to be able to build diversity in the church—is to really start at our tables. Invite people—who are not like you—to your table / and that’s all people. We need to be doing this. We need to be thinking, outwardly—how to reach, in love, the lost, first of all, and those who are not like us.
Bob: Let me ask you about that because you’ve heard the old expression that: “The most segregated hour in America is Sunday morning at 11 o’clock,”—
Bob: —that when we all go to our churches, we all segregate. Black people go to their black churches. White people go to their white churches. We don’t worship together. We hear that and we think, “Okay, so…”—but what are we supposed to do?
Honestly, there—I have black friends who—they’d come to our church and they’d go, “It was fine, but it didn’t really—I wasn’t inspired or moved the way I am at my church.” And I go to their church, and I’d go, “It was okay; but it was different, culturally, than I’m used to.” Are we supposed to just get over that and start worshipping together on Sunday morning or—how’s that supposed to work?
Trillia: Sure. Well, there are a few things. I’m really thankful that there are ministries that are starting out with the focus and the goal of bringing diversity, but you are not talking about church plants. You are talking about established churches.
Trillia: And that’s really the issue: “Would someone be accepted? They may not feel comfortable—
Dennis: There you go.
Trillia: —but would they be accepted? Would they be loved? Would they hear the good news?” And so, in terms of culture and things, I personally believe that the ideal church—that looks like what we see in Revelation—
—all nations, tribes, tongues worshipping together will happen. “Let’s do it now!”—that’s what I, personally, think would be just a delight. But the reality is—it’s not where we are. So, I think we can begin to build that way—invite people to your church, invite people to your home, and share the good news and see what the Lord can do.
Dennis: I’ve got two points I want to make here. One is—and it takes me back to a church service I went to in Harlem.
Trillia: That’s fun.
Dennis: Oh, it was—[Laughter]—one of the greatest privileges of my life. We did a Weekend to Remember® type of conference in Harlem. It was in a former public school that the school system had allowed to become empty and gave to a church. They turned it into a lighthouse, and it was fantastic.
But here is what hit me, when I was there—I was going: “Man! Are our church services, by comparison, boring?”
Dennis: Music, preaching, offering—it didn’t matter—length of time. I really get it why an African-American person would come to a white church and he would go: “Man, oh, man! They put me to sleep over there. Our church knows how to truly celebrate.” And I talked to my friend, Crawford Loritts, about this.
Dennis: And Crawford said: “There’s a reason, Dennis. Back in the times of slavery, Sunday was the one time of the week when we got to celebrate—
Dennis: —“and we got to truly worship God and celebrate who we were.” And he said, “For you, it’s not that cultural stake in the ground—but for us and our heritage—it was.”
Dennis: I think the average white person doesn’t understand that at all.
Trillia: No, I think you are right, and that’s important to remember. I think it’s important for us not to forget our history.
I think that’s how we are going to understand and, again, love—I keep speaking of it—but I really think that’s how we will love each other—if we understand why someone feels or thinks a certain way.
Dennis: And I look back on my life—and my friendship with Crawford has probably done more to help me understand a cultural divide/—
Dennis: —a racial divide between black and white that I wouldn’t have understood had I not had a friend who was of a different ethnicity. I think that’s where we have to start, and it’s not going to occur instantly.
Trillia: I agree.
Dennis: It has to occur over a lifetime—our friendship goes all the way back to the early 80s—and basically, within the honesty of a friendship, where two people love each other, they can begin to coach one another in better understanding one another and our approach to the different races.
Bob: As we are talking about racial diversity and racism, I’m reminded of a message that I heard a decade ago—and you may have heard this as well.
It was preached by the, then, pastor of the First Baptist Church in the Cayman Islands, Thabiti Anyabwile, who has now moved up to Washington, DC—but I remember the message that he preached was all about the fact that, when we talk about racism, he said, “We need to keep in mind there is only one race”—right—“We have a bunch of ethnicities”—
Dennis: Chosen race; is that it?
Bob: The human race! He said, “There is one race.” And he said, “We have to recognize we are all human beings—we are all of one race. We may have different ethnicities, but…” There was something fundamental in what he was saying there. We have to—when we talk about different races, it’s almost as if we are talking about different kinds of people.
Bob: We’re not talking about different kinds of people—we are all one kind of person; right?
Trillia: Yes, I actually interviewed Thabiti. He—we go through there, and we talk about this—talk about: “Is there even—is race a thing? Does it even exist?” And I love it! He’s in the business, right now, to eradicate race. [Laughter]
He wants to get rid of the term altogether, and I think it’s going to take some time. I used the word, often, “ethnicity,” because I agree with him; but I think it’s going to take some time for us to get there. But if we did think that way, it would transform this conversation. It would transform the way that we related to one another.
Dennis: So, what would happen to the term African-American, for instance?
Trillia: Well, right—good question. African-American—I think, a lot of people want to identify with Africa. So, they call themselves African-American. I, personally—I was born in America—I’m American. So, I just call myself black because that’s what I identify with; but that’s why I think it would be good—especially in the church—if we could refer to each other, “You’re my brother, and I’m your sister.”
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: And we’re to have compassion for one another. I read a book, a number of years ago, by John Perkins.
John wrote me and said he was a listener to FamilyLife Today—loved our broadcast. I was tremendously honored that he would listen.
But in his book, he talks about some of the atrocities that were done to people of color. And I’ve got to tell you, I wept—I really wept. I mean, that human beings would treat other human beings in such inhumane ways; and it helped me to understand, “Everybody has got a context.” If you see somebody get ticked off about something that may seem insignificant to you, they’ve got a context.
Dennis: You don’t know—it may have not been exactly what you said—but just who they are, where they’ve come from, their history/their hurts—as you referred to—add to our sensitivity to one another.
Trillia: Absolutely. And I think, as believers/as Christians, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and just as human beings—
—if we can remember that, we can really love and serve one another in this conversation. So, we just need to understand that. We are growing, and this conversation helps it. It helps us to grow so that we can love each other and serve each other.
Bob: You had a point in your life where you prayed—you asked God to help you become more diverse. God answered your prayer with a couple of new friends; right?
Trillia: Yes—God is so good! He gave me friends, and they—in that friendship, they were diverse. So, I had a friendship—and I continue to have this friendship—with a Chinese girl named Lillian and Amy, my white girlfriend. We grew up together, if you want to call it that—we were in our 20s—but we were in each other’s weddings, and we continue—
Bob: I grew up in my 20s. Yes—I’m with you. [Laughter]
Trillia: Yes. Yes. And we just loved one another; but we met together, and we did accountability. We poured out our hearts to one another, and we prayed together. We loved each other. They were my sisters.
So, that’s how God answered my prayer. He gave me friendships. That’s really what United is about. It’s about building friendships—inviting people into your life—and watching how the Lord will transform your mind, and your thinking, and relationships that way.
Dennis: I want you to comment on something that happened to me, but I’ve got to set a bit of context—
Dennis: —for it. When Barbara and I first got married, I don’t remember exactly when this dialogue started, but we started talking with one another how we both, individually, brought to our marriage a burden for African-American families. Back in the 70s and 80s, we saw the breakdown in the family in all segments of society; but for some reason, we just developed a burden to want to help the African-American community. That led me, ultimately, on one occasion, to decide to mentor an African-American young man.
I mentioned that on the radio, here, one time.
Trillia: Yes; yes.
Dennis: I got an email from a listener, who was offended that I would identify the young man that I was mentoring by identifying his race.
Bob: This person thought you should just ignore it—be color-blind?
Dennis: Exactly. And just say: “He’s a young man—you’re mentoring him.” God knows my motives, at this point. My statement was not motivated by racism. My statement of identifying him was a desire to set a positive example—
Dennis: —because I think we could, perhaps, send some young men on a right course. Now, I wrote her back and very kindly said: “You know, I really appreciate you writing. I’m glad you shared how that hurt you. I didn’t want to hurt you. That was not my desire—and God be my witness—my desire was to try to be a positive example, at that point.”
Bob: But don’t you think part of what she may have been reacting to is the idea that you were mentoring a young African-American man—and so, the thought is you are the superior / he’s the inferior—he needs mentoring—the white person needs to mentor the black person. You know, I’m just sitting here thinking, “Crawford Loritts has helped mentored me.”
Dennis: He’s mentored me as well.
Bob: Yes. So, it wasn’t a statement, on your part, to say:
Bob: —“As a white person, I can now mentor black people.”
Bob: You were just saying, “As an older man, I can mentor a younger man.”
Dennis: Yes, and I look at it as a privilege. Now, I just want you to comment on it. What are your thoughts about this?
Trillia: Yes. Well, I’m really glad that Bob stepped in because I think that that is probably what she was thinking. I imagine she was thinking: “Well, wait a minute! Are you trying to be the savior—the white man savior—of the black community?”
Trillia: And reacted, responded, and thought, “Do you feel like you are the savior of the black community?”
Bob: Or superior in some way.
Trillia: Or superior—yes.
Bob: And here is where I do think we have to give one another the judgment of charity—
Bob: —the benefit of the doubt—be gracious / assume the best about one another’s motives. And honestly, one of the reasons we don’t assume the best is because we’ve met people, who don’t have the best motives; right?
Trillia: Absolutely. For her, she may not have known that you have been mentored by Crawford Loritts or that you just love people. And so, who knows what she was thinking, but you can be encouraged that you are mentoring—and yes, I hope that more people will step up and mentor young people who may not have adult supervision or adult influence in their lives because it’s Titus 2—the older man mentoring the younger. So, we hope that happens.
Dennis: Yes, and I want to be clear—there is only one Savior.
Dennis: Yes. There is only One who can redeem the world and truly save human kind.
But a second thing I’d say is—as these situations occur in our lives, where our motives are questioned and even when we did something or said something that wasn’t motivated out of wanting to hurt somebody or out of any racism—we need to hear what people have to say, listen carefully, ask the Lord what lesson we need to learn in the midst of that; but we need to be careful that that doesn’t take away our courage—
Dennis: —and discourage us from continuing to try to be a difference-maker.
Trillia: Absolutely. I have had people say things to me—that their desire was to help—but they hurt because they said something that was racially-insensitive, which is most of the time what happens. It’s not necessarily that it’s completely racist, but it’s insensitive.
They are not thinking, “Okay, how can this affect her?”
I just recently had something that happened. Someone had just communicated to me that certain segments of the blogging world—there is real lack of diversity, which would have been fine if it had ended there—but it continued just basically with that and also told me, “Oh, and by the way, you are probably not going to be accepted.” So, I was just really discouraged.
What I needed to hear was: “Hey, there is a segment of the population in the writing/blogging world that needs to hear about racial diversity; and the gospel frees us to do that. Let’s do it!”
Bob: But instead, it’s like what you heard was: “Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget that you’re a black woman, and don’t try to get…”—I mean, there was almost a kind of “Don’t get too uppity, sister.”
Trillia: Well, no!
What it did, I think, is—it highlighted that I was black. It made me feel different. It reminded me: “Oh, I am different. I am a black writer;” instead of: “No, I have the gospel. I can share the gospel with anyone, and I have good news to share!” It highlighted for me that I was, yet again—like I felt in my white church—different.
Dennis: And what I want to remind our listeners is—if you want to enter into and engage the discussion around diversity, it’s risky.
Trillia: It is.
Dennis: It’s really risky. And you know what? This is what I want you to hear—the easiest thing to do is nothing.
Dennis: And that’s what I think the devil of hell wants the Christian community to do—
Dennis: —is to just pull in its head, like a turtle, and not try to mix it up and somehow introduce family members to people of other ethnicities/other cultures and let them grow and have a better perspective of the Great Commission, which is how we started our broadcast.
We are called to present the gospel to all nations/all peoples.
Dennis: And I want to thank you, Trillia, for being on the broadcast and for your gift of writing.
Trillia: Thank you.
Dennis: Hey, I didn’t notice you were a woman. [Laughter]
Bob: Just completely slipped your mind! [Laughter]
Dennis: No—thanks for being on the broadcast. You are a great writer—
Trillia: Thank you.
Dennis: —and a great communicator. I just want to encourage you, “Don’t lose heart in well doing; for in due time, we shall also reap.”
Trillia: Thank you. That’s very encouraging.
Bob: And let’s hope that a book like this can create some dialogue on this subject in homes, in families, and in churches.
We’ve got copies of Trillia’s book, which is called United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about how to get a copy of the book. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper left-hand corner, where it says, “GO DEEPER.” Trillia’s book is right there. You can order from us, online; or if you’d prefer, call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” And we’ll get a copy of Trillia’s book sent to you.
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And we hope you have a great weekend.
Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. It’s going to feel like you are in the middle of the Caribbean—well, not exactly—but you are going to get a chance to hear some of the messages, next week, that we recently heard onboard our FamilyLife Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise just a couple of weeks ago. So, I hope you can tune in for that. Some great messages—it really was a great week.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next week for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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