Race, Injustice, Privilege and related ideas are common discussions in the political world. And that is part of the problem with discussing them inside the Christian church. Quite often our understanding of issues that have any relationship to politics are based more on our political bias and background than our Christianity. It is not that our Christianity is unimportant to our politics, but our politics matters to what we think is important within Christianity.
Ken Wytsma has a very clear purpose in writing. He is a White pastor writing primarily to White Christians about race and inequality. He is doing that because he thinks that at least some readers will listen to him in ways that they have not been listening to minority Christians talk about race and inequality.
Section one is mostly a summary of history and illustrations of why inequality exists. It is a very good summary of a numbers of issues, from government involvement in housing segregation and inequality to the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating inequality to migration patters since the civil war. Inequality is a vast and complex matter.
Wytsma is summarizing the work of others here. In a short section he can’t give the depth that books like Warmth of Other Suns or Slavery by Another Name or New Jim Crow or the host of other in books that have the space to look deeply at different aspects of history, race, inequality and injustice. As a summary, this section is one of the better looks at the variety of ways that inequality has come to be in place in just a few pages.
Section two brings theology into the conversation. That conversation then necessarily looks at what the kingdom of God understands justice to look like. Wytsma asserts that the gospel is concerned with justice and any attempt to separate justice from the gospel changes the gospel away from its inherent focus on relationship (between God and us and between communities of humans) into individualism.
Wytsma traces the theological shift from Christianity as a communal understanding to the individualism of revivalism and ‘personal relationships with Jesus’. He is not denying the importance of an actual relationship with God. He is denying that the gospel is simply a relationship with God. The gospel is more than individual ‘me and God’ and that more has to be concerned with a Kingdom understanding of what Justice is all about.
Justice within the Kingdom then moves to the third section where the understanding of privilege is explored. Wytsma talks about Implicit Racial Bias, differences in racial experience and practical ideas for how we move toward taking inequality seriously and how to reduce it.
Theologically and socially, I very much appreciate the Myth of Equality. It is brief and has a lot of good content. I agree with the how Wytsma diagnoses the theological problem and with the importance that he places on the problem. I think issues of race are one of the two or three most important issues confronting the church.
But that brings me to the main problem with the Myth of Equality. I am not sure that it will change the minds of many that do not already see race and inequality as a problem. When I glance at any of the Facebook comments on any Christianity Today article that mentions race, it is just a matter of time before someone says something like, ‘Christianity Today has gone liberal’ or ‘this is just a marxist analysis that has nothing to do with Christianity.’
Even a number of people that I know that are convinced of the reality of problems of racial bias and discrimination both inside and outside the church will view Wytsma’s embrace of the importance of justice as central to the gospel as theologically suspect. And I think many in the church talk about the problems of individualism, but view the problem as one of identity politics that other people have, but do not see how the individualism impacts their own faith.
In the end I really do recommend the Myth of Equality. I have already purchased a copy for someone and I think I will probably end up buying a couple more copies for friends. But simple knowledge is not enough. Racial isolation, bias and lack of perspective matter here. If we are biased against seeing discrimination and racism within ourselves or our society we will likely not see it. Books like this are only helpful if there is at least some opening to seeing racism within ourselves and how that then is expressed in society at large.