Trillia Newbell, author of “United: Captured By God’s Vision for Diversity”
We were honored to include a book review of African American writer, Trillia Newbell’s first book titled, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity. At UrbanFaith, we want to highlight and champion the work of African-American artists in the Christian community. However, we also want to give you the chance to know them. We are excited for the doors of opportunity we see opening for Trillia and are praying that God continues to use her as a voice of reconciliation and redemption in the church.
Natasha: You are a rising voice in evangelical leadership, writing and speaking for such organizations as The Gospel Coalition (TGC), the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) for the Southern Baptist Convention. How did you come to this place of ministry and what do you feel is your contribution to the relevant conversations of the church at this critical point in history?
Trillia: I went to the first TGC women’s conference in 2012 and met then editor, John Starke, who invited me to write for TGC. I then began working rather closely with Collin Hansen who helped guide me. From there, interactions began with other organizations like Desiring God and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics. I was invited to contribute single articles and have been writing for various organizations and publications ever since.
I was surprised to receive a note from Owen Strachan about his interest in me as lead editor for the women’s blog at CBMW, but I was happy to do it. I wanted to contribute to the conversation on womanhood and prayed I could bring varied voices together. As far as the ERLC, Phillip Bethancourt approached me about joining their team as the Consultant for Women’s Initiatives. Dr. Russell Moore, President of the ERLC, and Dr. Bethancourt were assembling a team of Christians who had strong convictions but weren’t dogmatic about it…in other words, I think they were looking for gracious, loving, thoughtful believers who could write and speak to these topics.
I imagine that one thing I bring to the table is femininity, so to speak. Traditionally, these organizations haven’t had women in leadership and so to include women in some form is phenomenal. I’d also hope to bring a fresh perspective. I am female and I am also Black and therefore, I might be able to address issues and topics from an angle they may not have previously considered. I also love the gospel. This last point isn’t new to their organizations or unique to any of their writers, yet I hope and pray that with my contributions, I can share my heart and open doors for others to know and hear the Good News in everything I do.
So, how did I come to this place of ministry? I would say the Lord. God has given me opportunities to speak in areas I wouldn’t have asked for or imagined. I am truly grateful!
You recently published your first book, United, which we reviewed on the website. What inspired you to write this book and specifically what do you want your readers to come away understanding about diversity and racial reconciliation?
The book was inspired by a rather a simple story. I wrote my pastors an email sharing my thoughts on the topic and from there I wrote a blog post. The blog post garnered so much interest that I knew that a book on the topic would be helpful and prayerfully encouraging to the many men and women who seemed to resonate with what it’s like to be the only one or one of few black members of predominantly white churches. I hoped that by writing the book people would see that they are not alone. Through my personal story, I hoped to cast a vision for the beauty of diversity in the church.
I want readers to understand that racial reconciliation takes intentionality, work, grace, and love. I think so many people believe that we have “arrived” and no longer need to discuss racial issues. But I think reality dictates that this conclusion couldn’t be further from the present need for dialog. I hope readers recognize the necessity of having a robust theology of race and adoption—as in adoption into the family of God. A theological framework of reconciliation will enable us to truly fight racial prejudice and begin the long process of living as reconciled people of God. I pray readers of United would be eager to invite diversity into their own homes and churches. Mostly, I hope that we would know that the gospel transforms lives and this conversation. We can be united because of the gospel.
In your ministry experiences, you are often one of the only or very few racial ethnic minority or woman on the platform. How do those experiences impact you? What is it like being an African-American female in male-dominated ministerial spaces?
What a great question! I have been so welcomed that, at times, I do forget. Yet, I will say that I have never felt more “black” than since writing and publishing United. I’ve never had a season where I’ve concentrated so much energy on the topic of racial reconciliation. This has been a unique season and therefore I’ve felt more self-aware, more aware of my ethnicity, more aware of my perspective. I have been loved well by the leaders I serve with and for that, I am thankful. I have also encountered more ignorance and misunderstanding than ever before. This is not by the ministries or the leaders but through ministering. We still have a ways to go in understanding one another and learning to love biblically.
You spend a lot of time ministering to women. What is your message to today’s Christian woman?
My message to women would be to get in the Word of God, study theology, and serve as unto the Lord. I believe if we can do those things, we will be doing well.
Racial and women’s issues are not the only things that you think or care about? What other concerns, questions, or messages is God speaking to your heart these days?
“Racial and women’s issues are not the only things that you think or care about.” Amen to that. I care about a lot of things and I actually touched on some of them when answering the previous questions. I care about theology. I want to know about and study about God. I love to study the Word of God. I also have a desire to see people apply the Word. I’m slowly working on my M.A. at Southern Seminary in biblical counseling. I want to encourage people where they are and help provide a biblical understanding to their circumstance. I have a desire to love, serve, and care for people.
I’m also finishing up my second book called Fear and Faith. This book explores what women fear, the potential reasons for such fear, and how we can trust God in the midst of our fears.
What is your hope for the American church?
I hope the church would grow in unity and gospel-focus. As far as my book United, I dedicated it to my kids and one of the things I hope is when they become adults, they would think it strange that their mom needed to write a book about diversity. I hope that racial and ethnic diversity within relationships and worship in the American church becomes so broad and commonplace that it would seem silly to have a book dedicated to the topic.
Dear Mason Betha aka Murder Ma$e aka S.A.N.E. Minister Mason Betha aka Pastor Betha of El Elyon International Church,
I’m trying so hard not to judge you right now, but what is you doin’ man? (I’m sayin’ this Atlanta style since that is where you have lived since 1999.) I just read on TMZ that you, the pastor of El Elyon International Church, up and dipped on your congregation and returned to the “rap game full time.” Where they do that at? I knew something was up when, while flipping through television channels last week, I saw you rappin’ on some video and cheesin’ it up with your infectious smile like you did before you left Bad Boy for the ministry back in the day. And I wasn’t the only one that was confused. In a recent interview with The Breakfast Club, rapper Ja Rule—who seems to be finding his own way to faith–was asked about your return to the rap industry. According to a Madame Noire post of that interview he said, “I’m very confused by what Mase is doing. I don’t know if that’s cool or not. I wouldn’t play with the Lord like that.” Say that!
You may not care what I’m sayin’ since we’ve never met, but I want you to know I’ve been a fan of yours since “Feel So Good” was released in 1998. I still love that video! You and Puff Daddy–as he was known back then–made living in the lap of luxury look so doggone cool with your shiny silver suits, stacks of flying money and that Bad Boy braggadocio. Not to mention Kelly Price singing the hook which was obviously a sample of Kool & the Gang’s “Hollywood Swinging.” But I digress.
Let me start at the beginning of the story. My fascination with you happened because of my love for Bad Boy. Puff’s “rag to riches” story still goes down as one of the best of all time. From college dropout to creating a record label in 1994 that provided a soundtrack for the ‘90s from The Notorious B.I.G. to Mary J. Blige to Faith Evans to Atlanta’s own 112 and more. It was obvious why Puff was always saying “Take that, take that.” He was servin’ up hits like he was a chef. So when I graduated from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree in 1996, I was ready to jump in and chronicle the urban music industry explosion as an entertainment journalist. Back then, everyone from Bad Boy was always in the A. I guess that’s one reason why Puffy opened up the now defunct restaurant Justin’s back in 1998. I remember clubbin’ with Puffy, Faith, and 112 pretending that I was poppin’ bottles and tryin’ to look like a model. At the time LaFace Records, which was headquartered in Atlanta, was also blowin’ up so I didn’t even have to leave my hometown. In fact, anyone who was anyone seemed to be moving here, it was like entertainment heaven!
And then I found God.
I didn’t mean to even though my father is a pastor. Actually, He found me and my lifestyle had to change. One of the drastic changes I made was transferring my love for secular urban music to the Christian hip-hop game—which is a whole other story in itself, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was still checkin’ for what was going on in secular urban music.
So when I heard that you, one of the latter artists to bask in the Bad Boy light, was jumping ship for Christian ministry, I was initially skeptical and then encouraged. It was difficult for me to turn my back on secular urban music at the time, but for you it must have been a seismic shift! So when I read the Atlanta Journal Constitution article “From Hip-Hop to God” in which Sonia Murray interviewed you in 2000, I saved it. (I still have it, it’s right beside me on my desk as I write.) In the article, you explained why you left Bad Boy and the rap industry in 1999 and moved to Atlanta.
“I mean, I was corrupting young people’s minds to get that money. I was telling guys things like, ‘If you don’t have sex with at least five women a day, you’re nobody.’ Leading millions of people astray. Imagine how much more I can have doing the right thing, and serving God.”
The same day the article was released, I saw you preach the message “Hell Is Not Full” at an auditorium in East Point. As they say, seeing is believing and after I saw you, I believed your conversion was real. According to the same AJC article, you were ordained as a minister at Siloam Baptist Church in East Point in 1999 and you were starting S.A.N.E. (Saving A Nation Endangered) Ministries. But not everybody supported your decision. “Friends, family – everybody besides Puff- didn’t get behind me,” you said. And I got that because some of my friendships were irreparably damaged after I decided to stop being all up in the club and all up in church instead.
Although I didn’t follow you all around town or anything, you were on my radar because I felt we were fellow sojourners. I remember when I heard you got married in 2001, I wondered why God hadn’t brought my husband into my life yet, but that is also another story for another day. One day I saw Twyla Betha, who is now your ex-wife, at a salon getting her eyebrows done and I checked her out. She seemed nice from my brief encounter with her. After hearing that you and your wife started a new church which met in an elementary school on Peachtree Street, I decided to visit one Sunday, and everything still seemed all good with you. Nicole Symmonds, the current UrbanFaith.com editor who was then a contributing writer to the site, visited El Elyon International Church and also had a good opinion of your ministry. I think I even bought your book “Revelations: There’s a Light After the Lime” and gave it to my younger brother.
But then out of nowhere you decided to rap again and released “Welcome Back” in 2004. But you assured us all was well in a 2005 TBN interview. “Why is it Christians are more confident in the Devil taking me more than Christ keeping me. What I have inside of me is more powerful than anything the world could ever offer me,” you said according to The Christian Post. However, you also pointed out that you regret abruptly leaving hip hop for ministry. “I didn’t give myself any room to grow, I went from one extreme to another extreme. I was just so gung-ho about what I was learning, that’s all I wanted.” I was giving you the side-eye a little bit, but I was hoping for the best. And then you started hanging with the G-Unit, and I was like, ‘What the what?’ But then you seemed to retreat back to the church although I got wind of some developments that made it seem like you joined the prosperity gospel movement.
I read various TMZ articles that you and your wife were having issues. You filed for divorce then reneged on the petition and then the divorce was back on again. And even while you were separated for two years, you and your now ex-wife were selling books about marriage. But Christians and non-Christians alike “wile” out behind marriage issues so I was still hoping (although a little less enthusiastically) that you were on the narrow highway to heaven instead of the broad road that “leads to destruction.” (Matthew 7:13)
And so all of that brings to where I am today – just downright disappointed that you seem have turned your back on your church (hopefully not THE church). More than anything, though, I hope you have not turned your back on God too. But below are some scriptures that I hope are helpful for you as you seem to be at yet another crossroads in your life. Do with them what you will…Hopefully, I will see you down the road…
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3-9.
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come. If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 6:4-6
“As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Proverbs 26:11
It’s not easy for anyone to be a Christian, and I suspect that it may be even harder for you. You were exposed to the “best” of what the world has to offer from riches to fame and on your worst days, the ministry may have seemed decidedly less shiny in comparison. I get that. But dude, keep it all in perspective. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36. I’ll be praying for you…
In Christian Love With a Church Hug,
At this point the conversation on technology in the church is almost as old as time, highly technological time that is. If you attend church with any frequency you’ve probably sat next to someone who was reading the Bible on an iPhone or Andriod or have seen your pastor scrolling through his or her sermon on an iPad or other tablet device. Long gone are the days when you were asked to turn off your cell phone before service begun. Nowadays you are strongly encouraged to keep them on and maybe even tweet something to the world outside of the church’s four walls. The latter is what Jason Caston and AT&T’s Inspired Mobility campaign are banking on.
Caston, author of the “iChurch Method,” and manager of Digital Platforms and Innovation for T.D. Jakes Ministries is also a consultant for AT&T and a lead on Inspired Mobility, a national conversation that highlights how people use technology to find inspiration and connect with others in the faith. Through the use of the hashtag #inspiredmobility people can connect with one another and share their faith. Of this Caston says, “We are evolving from the typical ‘tell your neighbor’ on the left model to making that experience global. We believe that technology has a place inside of the worship experience.” Through the #inspiredmobility campaign Caston is hoping to educate church leadership on how to connect with the congregation and help them come to the realization that they need technology to connect and meet people where they are.
It should come as no surprise that the early launch stories on the campaign came from black media outlets and black churches given that the particular demographic are early adopters of technology, particularly smartphones. According to the 2013 Consumer Report, “African Americans outpace the population with smartphone ownership. Seventy-one perfect of African-Americans own smartphones, compared to 62% of the total population. Most African-Americans use Androids (73%) versus iPhones (27%).” But #inspiredmobility isn’t just about the black church it’s about the global church, and Caston suggests that churches must understand that as soon as they go online they become an international entity that impacts more than their local areas. “The content they [churches] have is life changing and all people are asking for is access to it. We, the people, want more access to what churches already know is life-changing content,” he says.
Concord Church–highlighted in the video below–is bringing Inspired Mobility to life through a number of methods such as streaming of services, mobile giving, Hot Spots around campus and even selfie encouragement–encouragement of taking selfies in church.
But there is something else to campaigns such as #inspiredmobility that we must pay attention to, the issue of quality of connection over quantity. Technology allows churches to increase their exposure to people and vice versa, but what of the quality of people’s connection to God? It is easy to encourage people to tweet during service–and for them to comply–but we must also encourage them to cultivate their soil so that the seed of the Word may fall upon it and grow. This is a challenging task in a world that is very reactive and, arguably, sometimes distracted by technology. To this Caston offers up an example of a church that is bridging the quality over quantity gap, the Potter’s House Internet Church Campus. The church boasts 20,000 e-members, a staff of over 20 people, and over 40 elders and ministers who connect with, disciple, and build relationships with people virtually. “We are taking everything we do offline and mimicking it online,” Caston says of the internet campus. This is all in the name of proving that technology not only has the capability to reach as many people as possible but it can also foster solid, life-giving relationships between people and God. The point is to work the technology instead of letting the technology work us, a delicate balance that Caston seems to be taking on in his work for the Potter’s House and AT&T.
Inspired Mobility is a continuous campaign that will grow as people’s participation in it grow, so share your stories using the #inspiredmobility hashtag and help this campaign reach true universal status.