Wineskins Archive

February 4, 2014

Relocating Like Jesus Did (May-Jun 2005)

Filed under: — @ 7:09 pm and

by Greg Taylor
May – June, 2005

Greg Taylor spoke with Scott Roley about his reversal of the “upwardly mobile” model of progress that pervades even Christian circles and about Roley’s relocation to a neighborhood much different from the wealthy one in which he grew up, and about the adoption of three children of different ethnic background from him and his wife.

NW: What are the turning points in your life story?

Scott Roley: My father worked for the social revolution, for the Kennedy administration’s desire to see the civil rights legislation go through, as a government lawyer who was intent on working through that, but at the same time protected me from the emerging integration and kind of held us in a segregated place. So at one moment he was a hero to me, but at the same moment now I would wonder if he was too protective in the way he approached things.

As a 13-year-old, this looks like (segregation) doesn’t work. Those were pivotal moments, and I think mainly King’s speech—the march for jobs in August of 1963—gave me a … it was a stunning thing to see that many African American people in one spot. I certainly had never seen anything like that. And my father did have the winsome ability to correct my bad thinking about that—to point toward the goodness that could come in our country if we were to work together more and more, so he did encourage that.

NW: What else was a tipping point?

Scott Roley: One of my buddies who was wealthy—his maid—carried us to a church service in Detroit. We were newly converted Christians through a teen ministry. It was a Black Baptist church and it just stunned us to hear the worship, to see the vitality and joy of Christ.

Gods NeighborhoodNW: Your early experiences in the African-American community seem important in your early life.

Scott Roley: That’s right—that’s why Denny Denson and I have become friends. He’s the pastor at the First Missionary Baptist Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Denny is a former Black Panther, South side of Chicago, so (me) as a northern Virginia country club kid, we were exact opposite people, we could not have been further away from each other’s worlds growing up. He pastors the First Missionary Baptist Church that we would pass by on our day to day work in the Natchez community (housing rehabs, tutoring of children, painting, working on medical needs, camp, basketball tournaments), anything we were about we’d pass his church and I remember for eight years thinking, I want to get to know the guy that’s the pastor here. But even so, I still—this is well before we had learned anything about strategies for community development (this is late 80s), and I just didn’t ever take the time to step up and invite him into the process.

He noticed this as well: as he would say, ‘when kids were sick or family was in trouble at two in the morning, they didn’t call us, they’d call him and we need to do this together.’ He had the relationships. We just gave the money and did the work. This is really a top down problem. We’ve learned our lesson now. But what happened was, I was meeting with Hewitt Sawyers, who was someone I’d been introduced through the culture of Franklin and we were meeting for prayer, and I said ‘don’t you think we should expand pastors and what do you think of inviting Denny?’

NW: This had been tugging on you for years?

Scott Roley: Yes, (Hewitt) said, “Well Denny is not very impressed with you, Scott.” The first time I’d actually heard an open sense of what Denny was feeling, and I was just so hurt. I just felt so ashamed. I couldn’t begin to describe my feelings. I got up right where we were and I went to him and walked right down the aisle of the church, and he came up the aisle and embraced me, and I just kind of blurted out, “I am so sorry, I don’t even know where to start with my shame and failure.” He rescued the moment, loved me and said, “I’ve sinned in this too. Let’s repent and start in a fresh way.” We’ve met every Wednesday for fellowship and Thursday for prayer since 1994, so it’s been a wonderful journey into each other’s lives and each other’s churches. How that all stays segregated is just the depth of how tenacious racism and culture is.

NW: Brokenness …

Scott Roley: For me the brokenness came recognizing that I belonged to Christ, because of his work in my life and not because I had earned or deserved it. His grace just overwhelmed me. The desperation was real. Being desperate for Him was really the response of once I understood he was also desperate for me. How could it be? His pursuing heart, his love for me, his tenacity of Spirit, he chased me down and now I think that desperation has been changed to a desperation not only for him, loving him, relating with him but also for others, that the gospel is in word and deed, that is does spill out into the way you live toward others around us.

Desperation goes both ways. Desperate for God’s people—what is he desperate over? The poor, the lost. The church has taught us that, hey, you don’t have to be desperate for anything but your own needs. It isn’t about you. That happens when we preach a gospel that grace is about you getting saved rather than loving God and loving others. This is about changing hearts. It’s a whole world view that’s changing.

It really has been my joy to serve in the African American church, and the black evangelical church in America is thriving; unfortunately I’m in a white church and he’s in a black church, and outside of Empty Hands Fellowship we don’t really come together. We’ll do certain things—we’ll have harmony concerts or gatherings. We have something called The Gathering (racially integrated worship held in Franklin annually), but it’s not every Sunday and that’s why we’re still battling. Every year they have a march to remember Martin Luther King, Jr. in January and Cinco De Mayo in the Spring.

NW: Did you find Jesus in church as a young man?

Scott Roley: He was obviously present in his body, so it was my problem, my short-sightedness, my bad eyes. There were a lot of loving people in my life. It really wasn’t Jesus I was pursuing; it was really more of a religious life versus the person of Jesus. So once someone said to me, “You don’t really have to recite prayers, etc. to be a Christian…” He’s interested in your heart, in a relationship. How could you shut up about a love so compelling as Christ’s!? That is the motivation behind adoptions, moving into a neighborhood (Hard Bargain) or working with these societies. So that ultimately is still the motivation that overcame my lack of courage to walk up those steps (to Denny’s church) . . .

NW: Tell us about your family, adoptions you referred to … How has your family background and your ministry experiences and choices influenced your family life today?

Scott Roley: Once I discovered the grace of God, the action side of it, I do think marrying my wife, Linda, that there’s this covenantal idea—that community really did revolve around this covenantal family, that Christ cares about the family. So then we build a family, not only having two of our own children but adding three special needs kids through adoption. That was all a response to this gospel.

I saw providentially all the way back to my parents in those early years the Lord was leading toward care for the poor and racial reconciliation. So that was reflected in the adoption as well. Two of the three adopted children are ethnically, racially different than ours, and from there we ask how do we really impact this culture. One of the reasons I’ve gone to Africa is because I’m now African in my—I look at my history as an African because my sons are from there. They’ve not visited there yet—but they will.

You do sense this calling to fulfill your family’s obligations to carry forward the gospel into their culture as well and to embrace that, so the adoptions and the move ultimately—even in the music industry—I began to sing and write out of my own passion—care for the poor and racial reconciliation. I saw myself working with the poor. When you drive through our neighborhood you will see a parallel of the John Perkins ministry in Mississippi that I visited with Michael Card.

My long-time best friend, Scotty Smith, gave the two of us (Michael Card and me) a vision, a sense of ‘this is the community I long for.’ Where would a church be that would give us that kind of vision and support? We moved out of the downtown—which was a struggle for me, because I’ve always longed to be at the heart of whatever salient conflict there is.

NW: You moved into a neighborhood in Franklin called “Hard Bargain.” Tell us more about that conflict, about your neighborhood.

Scott Roley: In my neighborhood I watch the license tags (from Davidson county) and their either buying drugs or bringing meals on wheels . . . both are driving out, they leave. People sometimes don’t realize why the poor just don’t rise up and thank the wealthy who are do-gooders who give them food, because it’s a very nice thing and I’m not down on people driving through the neighborhood giving out food, but if we relate to that individual, how long will it be before that person really is involved in my life and I’m not just driving in and out—literally into their stuff to where I’m taking care of all sorts of, and they are giving back to me, my spouse, my children. I do take with seriousness the complaint of the underserved . . .

NW: You talk about “Re-neighboring” and connect this with the idea of “God’s Neighborhood” in your book.

Scott Roley: We all know that the American Dream is not to move into places that are less safe, it’s to move into places that are more safe. It’s not to move into a place that will have less infrastructure and economic support, it’s to move into a place that has more economic structure and support. And every year you look and see if you are at the highest level of that! We are just so funny—it’s not funny, it’s tragic, and I’m talking about good believers, and mean these people love Christ and walk into this system. I began hearing people like Ron Sider … he started out with this idea of the graduated tithe and living below your means and increasing our giving percentage when our income increases. We took Sider’s concept seriously.

That’s the kind of thinking the body of Christ needs. The picture of Christ re-locating from heaven. New Wineskins


GOD’S NEIGHBORHOOD: A hopeful journey in racial reconciliation and community renewal by Scott Roley with James Isaac Elliott and Foreword by Michael Card (InterVarsity Press 2004).

Scott RoleyScott Roley is minister for missions and outreach at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, and oversees the many activities of Franklin Community Ministries. He was a contemporary Christian recording artist through the 70s and 80s, releasing eight albums.

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