Ken Wytsma writes about uncovering the roots of injustice and privilege in The Myth of Equality.
A recent study done by the Barna Group observes that 95% of evangelicals believe the church “plays a critical role in racial reconciliation,” a percentage certainly higher than the national average. Yet, at the same time, evangelicals rank lower than the national average when it comes to recognizing the needs and struggles of people of color.
Wytsma writes, “These findings reveal that those who believe they are most equipped to help with reconciliation actually don’t think it is needed as much as other Americans do.”
That’s part of the reason Wytsma felt compelled to write his recent work on the themes of privilege and responsibility:
“I’m hoping that this book can serve as an introduction for people who feel that something is wrong, are looking for a way to understand the roots of racism in America, or are looking for language to make sense of their experience.”
His hope is that along the way readers will “come to know ourselves better, see God more clearly, and find ourselves growing in solidarity with one another.”
Wytsma divides his book into three parts: (1) The Story of Race, (2) Equality and the Kingdom of God, and (3) The Challenge of Privilege.
Part 1 is particularly helpful for understanding how we got to where we stand today. Wytsma covers topics such as slavery, segregation, Black Codes and convict leasing, the Great Migration, redlining, and the war on drugs.
In Parts 2 and 3, Wytsma dives more into theological discussions and makes the argument that racism should be one of the central concerns of the church.
To be sure, topics of this nature have often generated much debate and controversy, but Wytsma suggests that “speaking only to safe topics, where agreement comes easily, can’t be the chief goal of faithful witness.”
For him, a misunderstanding of the gospel has resulted in believers prioritizing spiritual matters of our faith so much that we grow blind to the “material and communal dimensions that bind us to God’s creation and to our brothers and sisters made in the image of God.”
I particularly appreciated Wytsma’s emphasis on unity and affirmation that all people are created in the image of God:
“Whatever our starting point, true north for Christians is the throne in heaven where all tongues, tribes, and nations worship in solidarity—as it ought to be.”
I was also glad to see his admonition toward growth and understanding. Sometimes it’s easy to assume we understand the issues of racism, or even reduce it to a “yes” or “no” binary rather than a multi-layered concept. But, Wytsma wisely points out that when we don’t make an effort to get better at something, it often means we aren’t very good at it...because to get good at something requires practice.
But more than that, we may need to make room for more voices of wisdom:
“We tend to assume we can reshuffle the puzzle pieces that are already on the table and construct better ways of thinking and being. Often, however, such construction requires adding information, depth, and other voices to the information we already have. It is a lack of faith, and a narrow view of the depth and richness of the body of Christ, that fears there will be no trustworthy, biblically faithful, or well-motivated people who might disagree with me or who I can learn from.”
I recognize that not all good people of faith will see eye to eye on the challenges facing our communities or the best way forward, but near the end of the book Wytsma quotes a compelling line by Oscar Romero: “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
My prayer is that all believers will value every person made in the image of God, that our eyes will be opened to the pain and suffering around us, and that we will be beacons of the truest hope found only in our Savior Jesus Christ.
(As a disclaimer, I received this book from Intervarsity Press in exchange for an honest review.)
- Visit Ken Wytsma's Blog: kenwytsma.com
- Get The Myth of Equality from IVP
- Read: Racial Reconciliation and the Importance of Listening