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“Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water.”
Scott Roney, a 60-year-old self-proclaimed dis
His face is well known on Auburn’s campus, but his pastime is controversial. If students don’t recognize his voice from their walk to class, they may know him from his day job as a maintenance man.
Some of the names on the aged Mustang belong to those who stopped to contest his faith-driven efforts. Others stopped to ask for prayer, their requests are made physical in his dimly lit barn.
Roney often takes his whispered prayers to Auburn University’s free-speech zone where he fittingly stands between two pillars marking an entrance to the campus. He works to be the man standing in the gap — standing firm where he felt others had not.
Testimony and interpretations of biblical passages flow up from Roney’s gut and roll down the open concourse. Indifferent students scurry past him as he stands like Samson holding up the walls, wanting to keep his faith alive.
"I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.”
His passion was born from what he said were days of sin and from his desire to be unlike other street preachers. In his younger years, he would walk past as their fire-and-brimstone messages attempted to penetrate his covered ears, rushing away from them and further from the God he said speaks through him now.
“We are all white sheep that have gone astray,” Roney said as a woman walked past, her eyes glancing toward his booming presence and her head pointed down.
He never had any motive of his own to be a fool for God, he explained to students. He worshiped under stadium lights like everyone else. His only concern was sports — the fame and fortune that comes with it. Roney was indifferent toward his sin through high school and college. Rolling with a group that christened themselves “The Hellraisers” at Auburn High, he found satisfaction in his secular lifestyle.
“I was drinkin’ and druggin’ and partyin’ and chasing women,” Roney said.
He wasn’t always a hellraiser, though. As a younger boy, he was fascinated by the Gospel and those who sowed its wisdom in other’s lives. Roney sat in a stuffy church hall listening to his small group leader read through biblical passages.
Talk of disciples — the followers of Jesus — excited young Roney. With a hand in the air and curiosity running through his impressionable mind, he asked the teacher what he had to give to be a disciple.
“Disciples like those don’t exist anymore,” the teacher said.
Roney slammed his Bible shut and swore he was done. He saw no point in faith without radical dedication. His hope for more than a life stuck between strangers on red velvet pews was crushed.
Then he saw a man standing outside of the Haley Center — screaming about hell and drawing a crowd. He knew what the man was saying was wrong, but he said it struck a chord in him. As he ran away from the threatening voice, he thought about the preacher’s weekends.
“When I saw that man I thought, ‘Now, he isn’t lighting candles on Sunday morning and getting drunk on Saturday night like most of the people I know around here,’” Roney said.
As he walked away, he wondered whether there might be disciples after all. Maybe people did love radically enough to devote a life to God, he thought. That man didn’t help save him, though.
Roney was saved in 1986 when what he considered his life flipped on its side. The shame from the memories of his time in Auburn — a place he said resembled Gomorrah, a city of sin referenced in the Bible — drove him further from sinful acts and closer to being “a fool for Christ.”
He feared the city where he lost his footing, and he feared the campus that pulled him away from God. Nevertheless, he returned to Auburn.
Holed up with his wife in a motel, Roney began looking for work while planning a future of discipleship.
The phone rang one day. An old friend called to invite him to a class reunion at the Supper Club — an iconic spot for drinking, partying and a past Roney didn’t want to remember.
“It reminded me of that hypocrisy,” Roney said. “I am going to go to that reunion and talk about all the things I used to do while telling them about how I have changed. I struggled with that thought.”
He said the Lord told him to go downtown and stand on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and College Street preaching the Gospel.
He invited all who called about the reunion. They all promised they would come. The night of the reunion, he parked his father’s pickup truck in front of Toomer’s Drugs and hopped into the bed.
“I was nervous as can be, and I thought all of these people were going to come,” Roney said.
He raised his voice into the dark of the night surrounded by intoxicated college students stumbling to their next venture. He preached the graphic truth of his past life — a life of drinks and bright stage lights on that very strip.
He kept waiting for people to come — waiting and waiting as the lists of sins he had to confess to the world decreased. After an hour, he knew they weren’t coming. The friends he had taken on the world with as a student left him standing on the streets they used to walk together.
“I started winding down my message, and I looked up, and stragglin’ across the street was a classmate of mine that was unpopular and wasn’t invited to the reunion. He knew nothing about the reunion. He was an outcast,” Roney said.
Roney choked back tears as he remembered seeing that first face he remembered, a face he used to shun.
The man walked up to the edge of the truck bed and looked up into the preacher’s eyes.
“Scott, everybody around here thinks you are crazy, but I think you are doing the right thing. Tell me how I can know the Lord,” the man said.
Roney ministered to him that night.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?”
Very few people mute the music in their ears when they see Roney positioned in the campus free-speech zone. Overcoming the reputation of being a condemning fire-and-brim
He leaned forward in the living room where he hosts small groups and picked up one of four Bibles. A little less tattered than the others, that particular Bible holds the names of those who have stopped to chat.
“You are the reason I hate Christianity,” Roney recalled a
He said they may not have listened to a single word he had spoken, but as they approach him they have assumed he believes they are hell’s next guest.
“This is one of the most offensive people I have ever met,” said Streetninja909 on a video of Roney preaching. “The man is not a Christian, but a mentally deficient human who yells at people for seemingly no reason. He has no respect for any person.”
With radical churches like Westboro Baptist Church making news and enemies, Roney said he is not surprised by the assumptions and anger cast toward him while in his makeshift pulpit.
He said the motive behind hateful speech and fire-and-brimstone preaching is often not to save. It is for
“Sometimes we can say something right in the wrong spirit, and it has no effect, but if you have the right spirit, then people will receive the message,” Roney said.
Roney found that Jesus preached about hell more than anyone in the Bible.
“It was and is a real place, and Jesus wanted nothing more than to keep his children from falling into sin,” Roney said with the voice of a passionate father.
His vulnerability — the tears that fall from his eyes — come from a place of compassion. Roney said he thinks of his daughter as young adults pass him — a fear of losing one more soul to sin.
He said he sees himself as a substitute father for those who pass him. With tears in his eyes, he said their Father in heaven cares just as much about them as Roney cares about his.
He does not purposely offend those who hear him.
“The Gospel itself is offensive; it is a stumbling block to people,” Roney said. “We don’t have to offend people or condemn people when they are already under condemnation.”
“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Roney took note of Christ’s drastic measures and said they resembled what misread preachers on the steps of Haley believed
“[Christ] always spoke with gracious lips, and I have had a hard time doing that because
The stereotype is hard to fight, and there is no formula for ensuring his words don’t repel.
When thoughts of doubt creep into his mind, he thinks of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed to his Father, begging Him to take the sin away before Judas, the Pharisees and their soldiers came and captured him.
Roney said God has placed a mission in his heart. He believes in the power of the Lord’s words but understands that it may be rejected.
“I have to become a vessel and not let it personally distract me,” Roney said.
Roney is a maintenance man. He fixes leaky sinks, rusty doorknobs
Before being welcomed in as a handyman, he tried to be welcomed through door-to-door evangelism. Roney began to expect a slammed door or an excuse pulled out of a place of stereotypical wariness for those practices.
“Something is burning in the oven.”
“I am sick and terribly contagious.”
“I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”
Door-to-door evangelism wasn’t effective. While radical and bold, it had no grip.
His role as a maintenance man, however, was effective.
“They invited me in, and there are no de
Roney lies on the floor looking up into the bottom of a rusty sink and ends up having a conversation about Jesus. He said his whole life is about spreading the Gospel, and those conversations are not held under a steeple.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
The “sitting in a pew” lifestyle is not for Roney. It’s easy to fall into a rhythm of singing one thing with a choir and doing the exact opposite on weekdays.
“I think there is a problem with American Christianity,” Roney said. “It divides time. I can be who I want to be, and sometimes I can serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Roney looked down at the Bible in his lap and paused for thought.
“I believe that there’s more power in living the Gospel than preaching the Gospel,” Roney said with a deep exhale.
A member of Roney’s small group, Arlene Hadley, agrees and said they believe in total commitment to the Lord. When Hadley and her husband were saved, it was a total turn around from a worldly lifestyle to being “on fire for God.”
The Hadleys are originally from Canada and lived in China and Indiana for a time. Hadley said Roney had an integral part in their move to Alabama.
“We are free to discuss things [at Roney’s],” Hadley said. “We don’t get preached at. Yes, Scott shares the word, but we don’t all sit there. We comment, and we enter in, and we interact. It’s a group. We are a part of each others’ lives all week.”
Praise for God — limited to one day a week — catches no one off guard, Roney said. He said it creates a stale understanding of what living a life for God truly means.
Roney’s wife stopped her husband mid-sentence and said the dedication and the thought he puts into his sermons is far more than he thinks it is. She looked into his eyes with love and awe of his passion.
She said the bar’s lights were gleaming on a Saturday night, and the sound of Bible passages rivaled the bass drum from the nearby bar. Roney stood under the lights, praying for those who passed him and reciting verses from memory.
“Hey, that’s my maintenance guy! He’s cool, guys. He’s
“For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”
The maintenance guy treats preaching on campus like any other day, but his wife sees the preparation. Standing behind the hand-made lectern given to him by a young boy in the small group he leads, Roney asks for prayer.
He wakes up with the sun and walks from the back door of his little white house, past the hanging plaque that says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”
He’s followed by a spunky golden retriever to a chain-link fence. Through the fence and toward a white barn, he walked into his prayer room. Roney said the Devil starts fighting him with tasks and responsibilities to derail his train of thought.
He moves further into prayer, fighting back with the words of God and his heart for the students. He said his controversial approach to radical religion is not a special act to him. Standing in the gap is the least he can do.
“We think that we have to turn it on or put on a superhero suit. It’s just me, preaching until it’s time to go back to work, and then I go back to work.”
Gannon Padgett contributed to the research and reporting for this story.