Neighborliness is a beautifully written book that is difficult to categorize in terms of genre. Part memoir, part social analysis, part plan of action, the book explores what happens when Christians reach across the dividing lines of race and economic class. In that sense, it is one man’s journey representing a potential destination for American churches.
David Docusen, the book’s author, is by turns a church planter, founder of a community development organization, and itinerant minister who wants to focus the American church’s attention on racism and economic inequality.
The book opens, as all good odysseys do, in the middle of the story. “We all look alike,” he said to himself tearfully as he surveyed his congregation gathered for worship one Sunday morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. Same race. Same economic status. Same stage of life.
Charlotte is a diverse city, however. Desiring to see that beautiful diversity reflected in the church that started in his living room, Docusen began a personal journey of building relationships across neighborhoods, which also meant across the lines of race and economic status.
Along the way, Docusen learned a lot about the way racism and income inequality have shaped our communities, separating us from one another. Out of a desire to help people holistically, he started a community development organization called Freedom Communities, whose motto is “Disrupting the cycle of intergenerational poverty one family at a time.”
The book’s greatest strengths are Docusen’s graceful way of telling stories that illuminate complex social and economic trends. This is where the book shines. Pastors who read the book can learn much from following Docusen’s example of building relationships with other pastors throughout the city, of listening to the needs of the poor from their own mouths, of realizing that no community — however poor it may be — lacks resources, and many other lessons.
There’s also a smack in the face to churches that want to send volunteers to city-center churches but who don’t first ask those churches what they actually need. There’s nothing worse than a church more concerned with a public pledge of volunteer hours than in helping others in terms that they understand as actually helping them.
One lacuna in the book, at least for this minister, was evangelism. Docusen is quite right that the gospel extends to all of life. Gospel-minded Christians thus must be concerned about race and income inequality. However, there’s a transformative power to evangelism that I am sure Docusen recognizes — he is a minister, after all — but doesn’t highlight in this book.
That aside, Neighborliness got me thinking that there are holes in the Christianity I practice related to race and income inequality. And these holes also exist in local churches throughout America. We should proclaim the gospel, and then demonstrate it through how we relate to others, especially those whose color and financial status are different than our own.
David Docusen, Neighborliness: Finding the Beauty of God Across Dividing Lines (Austin, TX: Fedd Books, 2020).
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