Joel Goza’s new book pulls back the curtain on the roots of America’s race problem
Joel Goza is never one to shrink from a difficult conversation. Joel comes by this honestly. He was raised by an incredible family who taught him the value of clear communication. He was educated in top tier institutions (Wheaton and Duke). He is a man of character and integrity.
But his willingness to jump into a difficult conversation comes straight from what may be his most formative experience — living and ministering in the predominately black Fifth Ward of Houston for most of his professional career. While living in the Fifth Ward, Joel has lived in and studied the roots and effects of racism in our city in a way many of us will never do.
After a decade of this ministry with his lovely wife, Sarah, Joel decided to research and write on the origins of racism in the United States in a way that — to my knowledge — has never been attempted. Joel’s book, America’s Unholy Ghosts: The Racist Roots of Our Faith and Politics, explores the very political and philosophical voices that shaped the founding of our nation. By diving deep into their writings, Joel demonstrates how much of the often latent racism in our nation was baked into the cake from the beginning, using government and economics to position wealthy landowners (almost exclusively white) over those who would be either cheap labor or forced into slavery (the majority of whom were black).
Joel’s job is not easy, but he does it convincingly: He shows us how many of the ways that our nation operates and thinks was founded on — what was at the time — openly racist ideas and concepts.
In his journey, Joel plunges into the work of three thinkers whose work and words shaped the formation of the United States: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith. As Joel says, “Hobbes provided a modern imagination formed by the slave master’s myth. Locke provided a tangible way for government and religion to partner in institutionalizing that imagination in democratic and religiously ‘tolerant’ societies. And Adam Smith articulated a morality of indifference to the gross inequalities our institutions fostered, ingraining the slave master’s myth into society’s soul.”
Along the way, Goza hit me between the eyes with the fact that I have often bought into the mindset prevalent in American thought — that government and economics are morality-free zones. In both economics and government, we tend to operate with a “live and let live” mentality which promises eventual flourishing. To be fair, there is much flourishing in America. But to also be fair, there is a host of community and economic brokenness that goes along with this flourishing. Joel does a masterful job of exposing how the church is often complicit in operating as if the public square is free from the bounds of morality and responsibility for the other. He calls to mind the timeless question from Genesis: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer — both then and now — is yes. And, tragically, we have not often kept up our end of the bargain.
Joel calls us to look to the beauty and power of the Prophetic Black Church with her call to use love as a guiding force — not only in our pulpits and Bible studies but also in our embodiment and enactment of politics. It is a compelling and convicting call. And it is the call I hope I can lead towards, both individually and congregationally. As Joel argues: It is only a voice of prophetic love that can bring us towards healing. I agree.
I heartily recommend you read America’s Unholy Ghosts and consider how you might begin enacting the power of loving change.