The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege, By Ken Wytsma
The Myth of Equality
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: July 23, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4568
  • ISBN: 9780830845682

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  • 2017 Foreword INDIES Book Award Honorable Mention
  • Publishers Weekly's Five Best Religion Titles of 2017

Is privilege real or imagined?

It's clear that issues of race and equality have come to the forefront in our nation's consciousness. Every week yet another incident involving racial tension splashes across headlines and dominates our news feeds. But it's not easy to unpack the origins of these tensions, and perhaps we wonder whether any of these issues really has anything to do with us.

Ken Wytsma, founder of the Justice Conference, understands these questions. He has gone through his own journey of understanding the underpinnings of inequality and privilege. In this timely, insightful book Wytsma unpacks what we need to know to be grounded in conversations about today's race-related issues. And he helps us come to a deeper understanding of both the origins of these issues and the reconciling role we are called to play as witnesses of the gospel.

This expanded edition includes a new afterword with further reflections on race and privilege in today's cultural context

"The Myth of Equality is written so skillfully that it's easy to miss how much it accomplishes. The first part brings to light, with unflinching honesty, how deeply racism and white privilege are embedded within the founding documents and practices of the United States. The second part masterfully shows that this inequality violates the call of the gospel to justice and unity. And the third part offers some wise suggestions to those of us who are white Christians about how we can 'lay down' our white privilege. I have no doubt that some readers will be angered by the claim that they participate in and benefit from structures of racism and white privilege, well supported though that claim is. I predict that there will be more who are convinced and inspired by the patient, passionate, and nondefensive way in which Wytsma makes his case. It's a book that someone had to write."

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University, senior research fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia, honorary professor, Australian Catholic University

"With great sensitivity, wisdom, and boldness, Ken takes on the tough, often-taboo topics of privilege and race. He makes a cogent, powerful, and compelling argument for why addressing race and understanding privilege allows us to more fully live out the gospel. He boils down complicated concepts to relatable points through his interweaving of scholars' writings, activists' thinking, historical realities, and personal stories. His humility and posture of learning from others, particularly people of color, make this book an authentic, effective tool for followers of Christ taking seriously the call to pursue justice. This book is needed and timely, and it will help reshape the conversation around race in America."

Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy, World Relief

"Ken Wytsma goes where few dare to tread. He asks hard questions about race, justice, and equality and presents proven and practical solutions. Above all, Ken personifies these solutions; he is seeking to live justice, not just do it. The message in The Myth of Equality is urgent; it's a must-read."

Stephan Bauman, former president and CEO of World Relief, author of Break Open the Sky

"These are challenging times in our larger culture—and within the church. In the midst of these tensions, I'm grateful for voices like Ken Wytsma who are seeking to help the church not only to engage the various challenges but to do it from a posture of humility and deep self-reflection. In The Myth of Equality, Wytsma broaches an incredibly sensitive but pertinent conversation about equality, privilege, race, injustice, and reconciliation. But herein lies the challenge: many of us love the idea of reconciliation—until we learn that it inevitably involves the messy and arduous work of listening to others' stories, truth telling, confessing, repenting, dismantling, healing, and peacemaking. The Myth of Equality is an important and timely book that helps us dig deeper on the journey of justice and reconciliation."

Eugene Cho, pastor and humanitarian, author of Overrated

"The Myth of Equality is a book for our times. Tumultuous times do not create problems, they reveal them. Political disruption, racial division, and extreme polarization mandate that the church looks itself in the mirror. We must recognize that to whom much is given, much is expected. Privilege is not just a modern progressive agenda, it is an ancient, biblically recognized reality. Ken Wytsma has done the church a favor that can help us recapture the blessed virtue of giving. Leaders seriously interested in helping Christians navigate these important issues would be well served to engage this book."

Tyler Johnson, lead pastor, Redemption Arizona

"One of the greatest obstacles to the journey toward racial justice and reconciliation within the US church is the refusal of white Christians to confront the realities of white supremacy and white privilege. Here, Ken Wytsma comes alongside white Christians to help them tackle this issue, not from the perspective of a distant expert, but as one who continues to wrestle with how privilege and racism impact his own discipleship journey. Rooted in Scripture, history, and personal experience, The Myth of Equality is a valuable primer for anyone struggling to understand racism and privilege."

Chanequa Walker-Barnes, associate professor of practical theology, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, author of Too Heavy a Yoke

"The American church stands at an important crossroads. Will we embrace God's plan for the church as revealed in Revelation 7:9, or will the church disintegrate into the chaos, confusion, and cacophony akin to the story of the Tower of Babel as we build dividing walls of hostility? In order to move into God's heart for the church, truth-telling must occur. Without truth, we simply rebuild the Tower of Babel rather than become the people of God. In this book, Ken Wytsma embraces the courage needed to speak the truth in love. Wytsma speaks the truth even at the risk of putting himself in peril. That kind of truth-telling is much needed in our turbulent world. Thank you, Ken, for the courage expressed in this book. May you who engage this book also find the similar courage to take these truths and be transformed by them."

Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary, author of The Next Evangelicalism and Prophetic Lament

"Stretching back to the earliest arrivals of Europeans on our coasts, the United States has been built on a long history of racial and ethnic injustice, and white Christians have been strikingly reticent about this history. Ken Wytsma's The Myth of Equality gently and gracefully initiates a conversation with white Christians about the racial brokenness of our land. This is a timely book that speaks bluntly about our past and in so doing orients us for the long, slow journey toward healing these wounds."

C. Christopher Smith, founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books, author of Reading For the Common Good

"Ken Wytsma is a white evangelical man from a conservative white evangelical world, and he is doing his homework on race. I've witnessed Ken's journey toward deeper understanding of the construct of race, its impact on individuals and communities of color, and what redemption requires. I've witnessed the wrestling and the transformation as aha moments have moved him into deeper love, more solid commitment, and earnest work toward the healing of our world. Through The Myth of Equality, Wytsma offers a peek at his homework. But this is no cheat sheet. It's a journal of discoveries shared with humility, grace, and unrelenting commitment to truth."

Lisa Sharon Harper, chief church engagement officer, Sojourners, author of The Very Good Gospel

"This book is truly amazing! Ken tackles the essentials of a major issue of our times with humility, honesty, intellect, and vulnerability. The result is a terrible beauty, a true invitation to come to terms with our own capacity for harm and good—leading us toward change and the hope of a generation reconciled. If you are perplexed about racial tension in this country, read this book. If you are worried about your complicity because of the color of your skin, read this book. If you feel ill equipped to speak about this issue, read this book. If you aren't sure what your faith requires of you in this space, read this book. Honestly, read this book. It's important."

Danielle Strickland, social justice secretary, The Salvation Army, USW

"White privilege is a subject that few dare to tackle. I applaud Ken for venturing into this rough terrain. Ken's historical approach to white privilege drives the conversation deeper and challenges readers to move beyond a political perspective, toward a kingdom view. His personal journey keeps it grounded in reality. A much needed book for our times."

Leroy Barber, The Voices Project

"This is an important and courageous book. At this moment of national tension around racial questions, Ken Wytsma stakes out unique territory, building the bridges necessary for many white evangelicals to grasp the core of the issue and become faithful brothers and sisters to Christians of color. I am thankful for his hard work and fearless dedication to justice."

Alexia Salvatierra, coauthor of Faith-Rooted Organizing

"It is impossible to deny that Christ is moving his church today toward racial reconciliation. It is likewise impossible to deny that many white Christians like me are not as comfortable with that movement as we say we are. In The Myth of Equality, Ken engages a visceral topic with clarity, compassion, and inspiring conviction. He prompts us to engage the deep and bitter roots of racial bias and privilege in American faith. A must-read resource for those beginning to feel that 'the way things are' is not okay. A readable, well-reasoned push toward Christ's justice."

Paul J. Pastor, author of The Face of the Deep

"We must know our past to understand our present. Racial injustice in America's history has constructed massive systemic challenges we face today. To move forward well, we need a variety of voices—especially minority voices. The conversation is further strengthened by white voices willing to own the privilege this history affords rather than ignore or deny it. In the pages that follow, Wytsma, a respected Christian leader in the justice conversation, gives a strong introduction to our country's brutal history with race, confronting the 'myth of equality' in America, joining a multiethnic chorus of voices grappling honestly and prophetically with how to best move forward."

Joshua Ryan Butler, pastor at Imago Dei Community, Portland, OR, author of The Skeletons in God's Closet and The Pursuing God

"Racism. Immigration. White supremacy. Privilege. We hear these words on the news and we see them thrown around on Facebook, but the reality is that most of us white evangelicals have a shallow understanding of their meanings, their origins, and their deep roots in our country. This is exactly why we need Ken Wytsma's brave and informative new book, The Myth of Equality—so that we may have a better understanding of our past and present and begin to truly engage in the difficult work of true reconciliation."

Lindsey Nobles, chief operating officer and strategist, IF:Gathering

"White progressives, evangelical and not, seem to enjoy feeling bad about racial injustice and wagging self-righteous fingers at others, but they often exacerbate the injustices of racism by hardening the lines of defense. Far too often the only solutions proposed are more laws, tightening existing laws, and social engineering through public education. What we need are not resolutions but solutions—solutions emerging from real people in real settings, with leaders who have discovered the long, painful path that leads from white privilege and white invisibility to social integration, racial reconciliation, and churches abounding in fellowship across racial lines and celebrating the glories of ethnicities. Ken Wytsma is the kind of leader who offers real solutions toward social integration and racial reconciliation, and he comes from that kind of community and church. The Myth of Equality is a genuine contribution for those of us looking for ways forward."

Scot McKnight, Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary

"Wytsma has a gift for persuasive argument, well displayed in his deployment of history, biblical theology, and current affairs to demonstrate the subtle and unsubtle ways that white dominance shapes American culture and conversations about race. He does so from the perspective of a passionately committed evangelical Christian calling prophetically for justice for those who have been consistently disadvantaged by a system and culture built on what 'a white normative standard' that shapes perceptions and judgments. Wytsma makes his points without accusation, the better to address an audience of white readers who may be unaccustomed to looking beneath the surface of attitudes about race or unaware of the history of Jim Crow laws and other forces that drove racial segregation. . . . This book should be a wake-up call to Christian communities nationwide."

Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW, April 10, 2017

"Wytsma presents a challenge, particularly to Evangelicals, to step outside their comfort zone and work toward a more inclusive and just society."

Library Journal, June 1, 2017

"The Myth of Equality is, in fact, mostly aimed at Christian readers. However, this atheist appreciated the entire book’s contents because the scriptural parts and the rest complemented each other and both point to one end: A just culture where the ‘different’ are not diminished, but celebrated. It can’t come too soon, and the author’s efforts will surely help.”

Norman West, Portland Book Review

"In this timely, insightful book, Wytsma . . . unpacks what we need to know to be grounded in conversations about today’s race-related issues. And he helps us come to a deeper understanding both of the origins of these issues and of the reconciling role we are called to play as ministers of the gospel."

Biola Magazine

"This is simply stunning in its insight, its power, its significance. . . . I want to say that this is the most significant Christian book on racism published this year. Or, in many a year. It's that good."

Hearts & Minds Bookstore, Best Books of 2017

Read an Excerpt



Part I: The Story of Race
1. America's White Standard: A Nation of (European) Immigrants
2. When the World Became Racist: Color in the Western Tradition
3. Stolen Labor
4. How Our Cities Got Their Shape: The Great Migration, Redlining, and the Roots of Modern Segregation

Part II: Equality and The Kingdom of God
5. The Aristocratic Itch
6. Does Justice Belong in Our Gospel Conversation?
7. The Salvation Industrial Complex
8. A Short Look at American Individualism

Part III: The Challenge of Privilege
9. When Racism Went Underground: Implicit Racial Bias and the Stories That Hide Within Us
10. The Voice of Justice
11. Finding Ourselves in the Other

Afterword: We Become the Stories We Tell
Appendix: Recommended Reading


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Ken Wytsma

Ken Wytsma is a leader and innovator whose work takes him around the world as an international speaker on justice, theology, and culture. Publishers Weekly called Ken "one of the new breed of evangelical Christians returning to scripture to redeem justice as a central tenet of faith."

Ken is the lead pastor of Village Church in Beaverton, Oregon—a multicultural community in Christ known as the most ethnically diverse church in the most diverse county of Oregon. Ken also helped found Antioch Church in Bend, Oregon, Kilns College, and The Justice Conference—an annual international conference introducing men and women to a wide range of organizations and conversations related to biblical justice, which has reached over thirty-five thousand people with conferences in eight countries. Ken also served as the executive director of a creative office for World Relief.

Ken is the author of The Myth of Equality, Pursuing Justice, The Grand Paradox, and Create vs. Copy, and he is the coauthor of Redeeming How We Talk. He has written widely, with articles appearing in Relevant, Huffington Post, Church Leaders, Worship Magazine, and more.

Ken lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife, Tamara, and their four daughters.