A Hopeful Journey in Racial Reconciliation and Community Renewal
Scott Roley with James Isaac Elliott
God's Neighborhood chronicles Scott Roley's journey into racial reconcilaition.
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 "reneighboring" 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 persauasion 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 scriputral. 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 a guilt of not loving, does he absolve them of the
responsibility, dignity, and inherent value of making thier 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 chuch. That book deserves thoughtful reading.
(InterVarsity Press, ISBN: 0-8308-3224-6, PB, 224 pages)
This review was originally published at ChristianBookPreviews.com
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