By Josie Bingham
NASHVILLE—Every February, America celebrates Black History Month, or National African-American History Month, to honor those who’ve achieved so much for the United States and for the world. Though the intersection of Southern Baptist history and black history has not always been amicable, there is much being done to celebrate black history and repair past hurt.
For Trillia Newbell, an African American woman and the director of community outreach for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), her position gives her a unique perspective.
The North American Mission Board sat down with Newbell to discuss the importance of Black History and how God can reconcile any heart to Himself.
Q: Every year a holiday or celebration can take on a different meaning. As a nation, we are currently celebrating Black History Month. What does that mean to you in 2018?
A: We’re celebrating the same history we’ve always had. Social media allows more of our history and celebrations to be shared and seen. In school, people may only learn bits and pieces of black history, however, social media has allowed for greater parts of history to become known. I’m excited about that. I think it’s great! My hopes and prayers are that celebrating black history is not only a one-month thing, but that everybody is always learning.
Q: How does black history and Southern Baptists intersect?
A: I didn’t grow up Southern Baptist. I’ve only just become familiar with the history, but we know that the SBC was founded on slavery and segregation. We have had a discouraging past in this situation. That’s the reality of it. However, the SBC has worked hard to rectify where possible. Black history and the SBC has matched the history of America. I think there’s a lot that can still happen where we need to grow.
Q: What is important for everyone to remember when thinking of the past?
A: I think it’s important to remember that the history of our nation wasn’t that long ago. Some hurts we see today are because they were inflicted not that long ago. We have hundreds of years to make up for. That’s really important to remember. We also need to remember that we have a God who reconciles. We can hold on to great hope and harmony in reconciliation because of who our God is. I strongly encourage those celebrating Black History Month to get to know the history of this nation. We don’t celebrate black history and our differences enough. We can’t be afraid of our differences, but we can certainly celebrate them.
Q: What verses show a biblical basis for reconciliation?
A: Oh! Genesis through Revelation hosts verse after verse about reconciliation. The Bible is filled from cover to cover with verses we can read and ascertain wisdom from. Genesis sets the foundation that we are all created equally. We also see Jesus died for every tribe, tongue and nation in the New Testament. Matthew 28:16-20 brings us the Great Commission and its call for every person to go to every nation and share the good news of Jesus Christ. Then, in the gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] there is evidence of Jesus’ multi-ethnic ministry. Ephesians 2 shares how salvation is by grace and that we can all receive it. Acts is all about going to the ends of the Earth to proclaim the good news that Jesus died for all and that the veil of hostility is torn; the temple is renewed so that all may receive grace. Scripture, throughout its entirety, is a beautiful tapestry of God’s grace.
Q: Since we are all different, how do we rejoice in that and celebrate each other’s gifts and strengths?
A: Celebrating others is important and is a conscious choice. If someone isn’t celebrating their neighbor or loving their neighbor, I’d ask, “What is keeping you from that?” “Why not celebrate their differences?” To learn how to celebrate others and rejoice in how God created us, read Scripture. Study the Bible to see how and why we can love everyone. Scripture is filled with wisdom.
Q: What would you like people to know as they celebrate Black History Month?
A: I’d love for people to just know that God has the power to unite. He has the power to do that! If we could just trust Him to do what He can do, we wouldn’t worry or be bothered by many things beyond our control. We don’t give God credit for what He can do and has already done for us in the past, especially concerning reconciliation. If God has the power to save us, then He has the power to change hearts from what’s wrong to what’s right. All we need to do is trust Him with more and ourselves with less.
Trillia Newbell is the author of the kids’ book God’s Very Good Idea, as well as Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts (2016), 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.
Josie Rabbitt Bingham writes for the North American Mission Board.