God's Neighborhood chronicles Scott Roley's journey into racial reconciliation. He traces his steps from the influence of Martin Luther King, Jr., and JFK during his boyhood to his adoption of biracial children and on to his efforts to work with pastors of all races in Franklin, Tennessee.
Roley's account offers many examples of what to do to bridge the racial barriers, but he does not hesitate to point out his own fears, failures, and weaknesses. A former rock musician, Roley describes himself as a rebel. However, his account avoids egocentrism.
Roley describes Christian involvement in foster care and adoption (the Roleys adopted three children in addition to their two birth children), homeschooling, and the "one child-one church" program. He reiterates the importance of prayer over programs and is involved in an interracial prayer group made up of Christian leaders in Franklin.
He lists and describes valuable ministries to the poor in his area started by various individuals and churches: a clinic, a Christian school, a legal aid society, a reference library for Christian leaders, a transitional house for the abused, aid for pregnant unwed girls, a thrift store, a mentoring program for students, a jail ministry, a woman's ministry, and several others. These would make invaluable examples for interested churches and individuals in other cities.
Perhaps the most controversial chapter in the book is chapter ten, in which he delves into the theology and philosophy behind his drive for racial reconciliation and his work among the poor. He makes some powerful arguments with scriptural passages that the church needs to overcome the sins of racial pride and divisiveness. Unfortunately, he weakens his arguments with jargon such as "re-neighboring" and "empowerment" that will scream of liberal politics to conservatives. He occasionally makes assertions, such as: "In different ways, the Lord had brought each of us to believing that indifference to the poor was not just a political persuasion but also something akin to idolatry and murder." (page 137) He frequently does not support these assertions with scripture.
Roley's two ideas that have troubled me the most are repenting for slavery and his guilt for the advantages he has enjoyed in his youth. He does not give scripture to support his call for repentance. The closest I could come to would be Daniel's confession of his nation's sins in Daniel 9. Decrying, the evil, cruelty, and injustice of slavery, past and present, and repenting of our acts and attitudes or racism or economic or social pride would be scriptural. However, I do not know of scripture supporting the repenting of a sin you have not committed. If he knew of legitimate passages, he would have helped readers by including them.
Roley mentions numerous times the benefits he received growing up in country club society and contrasting that to the hardships that the poor suffered. That he would feel increased compassion because of his background is admirable. However, at times his guilt may rob the poor of dignity by robbing them of the responsibility for some of their own decisions. For instance, he tells of meeting a drug dealer on his street. He lets the man know that he doesn't like him pushing drugs there but also tells him that he will be available to help him overcome his addictions if needed. Right after this episode, he writes, "What stirred me about the nameless man (the drug dealer), the neighborhood drug dealers, the undermanaged, underloved and underrelated, was they represented lifeless people pointing out my failure to love (page 214)." By assuming guilt of not loving, does he absolve them of the responsibility, dignity, and inherent value of making their own choices? Though Jesus showed great compassion to the poor, did He absolve them of being responsible for the choices they made?
That said, Roley describes efforts to serve the poor and to draw brethren of all races together that deserve consideration. He has written a thoughtful book on a thorny blight in the American church. That book deserves thoughtful reading. -- Debbie W. Wilson, Christian Book Previews.com
"Jesus relocated, and calls us to follow . . . his creation became his neighborhood."
Scott Roley was once an up-and-coming singer/songwriter in the contemporary Christian music scene, but then God called him to a different kind of ministry. He left his life of privilege, became a church pastor and moved into a disadvantaged neighborhood. There he began to learn hands-on what "loving your neighbor" required of him--social justice, community development and racial reconciliation.
As a youth of the '60s, Roley attended the March on Washington and was captivated by Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for societal transformation. Now, as a community leader and activist, he is embodying the ideals that are needed to forge a just society. His work demonstrates how God uses faith-based organizations to change lives. Roley's life journey, told here with James Isaac Elliott, exemplifies Christian hope in caring for the disinherited and renewing our communities--one neighborhood at a time.