This interview was published in Faithfully Magazine No. 2 (Fall 2017).
Trillia Newbell is an author, speaker and the Director of Community Outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (ERLC), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Newbell is passionate about God’s heart for diversity and often speaks and writes about race.
In this Q&A, Newbell explains why she believes talking about race is inseparable from the gospel, and encourages others to speak out about the topic as well.
You have blogged about choosing to speak and write about race against the advice of publishers who warned that doing so might harm your platform. Why is it important that you continue to write and speak about race, even amid pushback?
I just think that race has been politicized, but it really is a church topic. We need to take it from politics, and it needs to be a part of the language of the church because God has created people (from) all nations.
For me, not to talk about it seems that I would be bowing to fear, specifically in the area of politics, when this is something that God addresses throughout His Word. It’s important to me because I believe it’s important to the Lord. Otherwise, He could’ve created us without any distinctions. But He didn’t, and He said it’s good. So I think it’s something we have to address.
Another reason we have to address it is because we have a sin struggle in our hearts and racism has, again, been politicized rather than talked about in the church. So we need to talk about our hearts and how we treat our fellow neighbor. If we’re supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves and we are continually divided in this area, it must be talked about because it divides the church. It doesn’t just divide the nation or countries; it divides the church so we need to talk about it.
Christians who talk about race are sometimes called divisive or complaintive. How would you respond to such accusations?
I’ve heard those comments. I’ve been told, “Well, we can just ignore it.” Again, I would say that if God celebrates the nations—if every tribe, tongue and nation will be together worshipping in heaven—then we should be able to talk about this without it being a topic that we assume is either political or that we are bringing up to divide. It should be something that unites us.
In Ephesians 2, we see that Jesus tore the veil of hostility—abolished in his body—and we are one new man. So this has gospel implications to talk about race and ethnicity.
Secondly, I think I would probably go back and ask, “Well why wouldn’t we? Is this something you struggle with and, therefore, you don’t want to address? You don’t want to face your own sin?”
Do we realize that racism—any kind of pride against another person—is actually sin? We need to name it as such. If we believe that lust and self- righteousness are sins and we address those things, we should also talk about the sin and pride of believing that you— one person—are greater than another person in the kingdom based on skin. We’ve got to talk about those things because they have great implications in the church.
So me bringing up something like “racism is a sin” is only to the benefit of other believers because it’s a way of loving our neighbor. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” [Proverbs 27:6]. So if I pretend like these things are not real, then I am not loving my neighbor.
Another thing is that we see throughout the history of the world that people have been divided based on skin and based on culture. It’s something that we just cannot ignore; otherwise, we are ignoring, to be frank, that we are assisting people into hell by ignoring these very real and deep and troubling sins.
Someone left racist comments on one of your blog posts, and you drew attention to them on Twitter. What goes on in your head and heart when you receive racist comments? How do you process and respond to them?
I typically don’t respond to racist comments from strangers who clearly don’t truly care about me or Black people in general. This particular commenter, I don’t think, was really willing to engage in a conversation.
It’s different, though, when I receive a question or a comment from either someone that I know or someone who sincerely lacks understanding. There’s a difference there, and I have received racist comments that were unintentional. They didn’t realize that what they were actually saying was racially insensitive.
When I am handling people like the alt-right or white supremacists, I don’t comment back to them because there’s no use. I will pray because God can do great things. That’s my first line of defense: prayer.
If it’s someone I know, I’ll ask more questions just to make sure I know where they’re coming from, and then I am just not afraid to help correct. If they are going to come to me or make a comment, then I am going to try to help and correct their error. But there is a difference there.