As racial tensions have come more and more to light in the U.S. in the last few years, it’s become increasingly important for churches to address theses issues.
Conversations about race care often touchy, but we have to keep having them. However, just talking about racial injustice isn’t enough. Christians need to be taking action, as well.
We talked to Trillia Newbell, a speaker and author whose books include United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity, about how Christians can have productive conversations and take action on issues of racial injustice.
What do you see as some of the issues in the American church when it comes to race?
What I see often in the Church is apathy toward this issue. People are kind of tired of it. The unfortunate reality though is that we need to continue to talk about it, because there continue to be things in our society that reveal that we’re still divided, that there’s still racism, that there’s still confusion.
It’s essential to the Gospel that we have this conversation. We have to fight against apathy so we can actually have a conversation about it and it not be something that is just on Black History Month or just when shootings happen, but something that is a part of the fabric of the church.
How do we make it part of the fabric of the Church?
If you’re preaching the whole word of God, if the pastor is preaching from Genesis to Revelation, you’re going to talk about ethnicities, you’re going to talk about tribes, you’re going to talk about tongues, because it’s all throughout the Scriptures. You’re going to talk about the image of God—that we’re all created in the image of God. You’re going to talk about how Jesus died for every tribe, tongue and nation. You’re going to talk about how we’re supposed to go and make disciples of all nations and then in Revelation that we’re going to be worshipping together. In Ephesians 2, that the wall of hostility has been torn—the wall of hostility first between us and God and then between our brothers and sisters.
There is the potential for unity in Christ. Within the Scriptures, you can’t miss it unless you try and miss it. It has to be something that is important. And then within the body of the church, we want to look around and ask ourselves, “Are we OK with status quo? Are we being apathetic? Are we OK with everyone looking the same? Are we engaging in other cultures and asking God to bring heaven to earth?” Because one day, we will see all nations worshipping together. Are we working against that in our apathy?
Have you seen progress in the church in talking about these issues?
I’ve seen progress in that I’ve seen an increased amount of conversations. I am mostly involved the evangelical world, so I can’t speak for the whole Church, but in what I’m exposed to, I see an increase in conversation.
We must remember that conversation is good, but conversation without action is not good. We want to have these conversations, but don’t bring in a speaker, hear what they say, and then not actually do anything. We want to put our faith into action. That’s really important.
What does putting your faith into action look like in these cases?
It depends on what aspect of the issue. It’s broader than just race. Within the church, putting our faith into action could look like evangelism—going and making disciples of all nations, bringing people into our homes that are not like us.
In our communities, it could be going to town hall meetings and listening to the grievances of our neighbors that are being wrongfully pursued in various ways within law enforcement. I support our law enforcement, but we can’t deny what we’ve seen over the last couple of years, so we must engage those topics and engage the communities.
Putting our faith into action looks like loving our neighbor, serving, stepping out of our “comfort zone” to serve those who are not like us. It also requires listening. We want to be slow to speak, and I think what is hard in this topic is to listen. So we want to be good listeners so we can enter into the pain of others, so we can be empathetic of others. We want to really love people. Part of loving people is to listen, to listen to their sorrows. God says we “mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Part of acting is to mourn. Physically mourn, pray and really engage with those who are struggling in this area.
Race can be such a touchy subject. On all sides, there’s fear of not being heard or being misunderstood or offending someone. How do you think we can navigate those conversations?
You’re right, and increasingly, I think we are on edge. When race comes up, we can get defensive, or we can be on the offense, we can be ready to be in conflict with one another. I think if we understand what the Scriptures say, we want to be slow to speak, slow to anger, we want to make sure that when we speak truth we speak it in love.
And then we must recognize that racism still exists, and when someone is trying to discuss race, that does not equate that they are accusing you of racism. I think that is why people are so fearful. They don’t want to be accused of being a racist, and so instead of engaging the conversation openly, there is a defense that immediately goes up. But we also need to realize that there is sin in our hearts and racism can be because of pride and arrogance and self-righteous and all sorts of roots.
We need to be able to speak about this freely. If we can talk about sexual immorality, then we should be able to talk about racism. If we can talk about pride, we should be able to talk about racism. We need to be able to engage these conversations so we can find healing and grace and mercy in our time of need.
I believe wholeheartedly in the power of the Word and the power of the Gospel and I think it takes a lot of work. If we understand the Gospel, then we understand that we can engage in this conversation and that there is the chance for forgiveness and grace and unity.