In light of recent events, I felt it would be good to highlight a helpful resource that challenges the Church to view the race conflict through the lens of the gospel. United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity is written by my friend, Trillia Newbell. The first time I met her, Trillia’s broad smile (with a glint of mischievousness in her eyes) drew me in. She is warm, inviting, and intelligent. Trillia is also a lover of Christ and a gifted author, and that combination alone motivated me to pick up her book.
As I read United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, I was delighted to see that Trillia clearly articulates my own longings.
In United, Trillia invites us to consider the race question in light of the gospel. She doesn’t have an ax to grind, or attempt to burden the reader with guilt, but presents her dream of “diversity in unity through Christ” in a winsome and reasonable manner.
I appreciate that Trillia begins the book with a glimpse of her childhood as she talks about the challenges that came with growing up as a black female in the South:
I remember sitting on my dad’s lap as a young girl while he told stories about being beaten for not standing to sing “Dixie” at a sporting event and about the torture and pain that many blacks experienced in the South. He’d end his sobering stories, which never failed to rile me up, by saying, “But, Trillia, we need to love everyone regardless of race or religion.” As a result, I grew up wanting to accept everyone, despite my own rejection at times. It was how my father raised me—to love those who hate you.
Although Trillia’s advice from her father finds its source in Scripture, she wasn’t raised in church. Her family was what she calls “holiday Christians.” Trillia shares how she struggled with her personal identity before her conversion to Christ:
I suppose there was a part of me that, while thankful for being black, was at the same time still in turmoil. You see, though I am black, I wasn’t always accepted by my black peers while I was growing up. Some thought of me as a “white girl.”
Trillia came to know Christ after high school and admits that’s when “God wrecked my identity crisis.” As she grew in her faith, she began to understand that her skin color wasn’t her entire identity:
Understanding that my identity is no longer in my blackness, what I do and don’t do, or how others view me has been incredibly freeing. This knowledge allows me to enjoy my relationship with Christ and my relationships with others. It has also provided me the opportunity to enjoy my identity as a black woman in a better way.
In the Introduction to the book, Trillia describes her personal dream, and actually God’s vision, for a gospel-centered church community that is as colorful and diverse as God’s creation. At first reading, it sounds as though Trillia is a member of a thriving church that is reflective of our future community in heaven. But then it becomes apparent that Trillia’s description is not reality, but she’s sharing an imaginative description of her dream church.
Trillia’s longing for God to develop a landscape of churches that reflect His heart for diversity is the essence of United.
The Bible addresses so clearly that God saves all people regardless of ethnicity and that the last days will be filled with all the nations (Romans 3:23–24; Revelation 5:9). It makes sense that somewhere in my heart I wanted to be a part of a church that displays this beauty now. God was working in me what I believe is clearly displayed through Scripture—diversity benefits the church, displays the last days, demonstrates the power of the gospel, and glorifies God.
Trillia does not back away from the challenges that come with inspiring others to capture this vision. We are still a world filled with racial division. We are still a church divided. But, Trillia lays out the beautiful truth that—if we will embrace our God-established family relationship, we will find healing for the racial divides.
Understanding the family of God is yet another weapon against racial intolerance in the church. As we recognize, accept, and embrace our new family, the walls of hostility will crumble.
Trillia concludes United with her dream for the future and for our children. She shares her personal story of the challenges of her interracial marriage and how it “reflects the beauty and glory of the gospel.”
In the Appendix, Trillia interviews Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile on the topic of race. He provides a biblical lens for discussing race and explains how being defined by different ethnicities is a more accurate definition than “race.” He explains that understanding the origin of ethnicity is a biblical approach to this issue that “allows us to discuss difference in a less explosive way.”
Pastor Thabiti describes the healing renewal that Jesus Christ has achieved for us, and explains how that provides the way for unity, which is the only hope for the church really being the church.
Trillia’s book was released in March, 2014, months before Ferguson, Missouri, became a war zone. The conflict in Ferguson, in Dallas, and in cities across America, highlights the need for us to share Trillia’s message and God’s vision for diversity. Dallas is another of many wake-up calls for the church. We live in a broken world. Our fallen natures guarantee that the race wars will continue unabated without a gospel redeeming work.
The church can be the catalyst for lasting change. But in order to start that process, we must present God’s vision by displaying the gospel that invites all ethnicities into a diverse but unified family. Our hearts must resonate with God’s heart for the nations.
“Pray that our churches become the sort of places which testify that the kingdom of God is not united around the color of our skin, but around the red blood of Jesus Christ.” (Dr. Russell Moore)
Would you join me in asking God for this?
If you’d like to read more from Trillia, click here to check out her website.