Book Review: ‘America’s Unholy Ghosts: the Racist Roots of Our Faith and Politics’ by Joel Edward Goza

America’s Unholy Ghosts and Joel Goza

Review by David Gushee. Gushee is past president of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Christian Ethics and teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


Joel Goza’s debut book contributes significantly to the searching examination of Ameri­can and Christian racism that is developing in our apocalyptic time.

Goza is a young white pastor from an evangelical background (Wheaton Col­lege and more) who has chosen to settle with his family in Houston’s black- and Latino-dominated, deeply impoverished Fifth Ward. There he has had the opportunity to observe white America’s historical and daily decision simply to throw away many black and brown people’s lives as if they don’t matter.

He is focused not just on America’s “addiction” to racism but also its addiction to economic inequality tied to race; that is, “racialized poverty.” Goza’s book emerges from a fully disillusioned quest to understand how it is that our country got to this evil place. He urgently seeks to discover what went wrong in both politics and religion.

In this endeavor Goza reflects our country’s current moment, in which the enduring diabolical power of white American racism has been unveiled and in which many (mainly white) people’s long-maintained illusions about Ameri­can virtue have come crashing to the ground. Part of this particular moment is the emergence of an unflinching resistance, especially on the part of those on the underside of President Trump’s project #MakeAmericaGreatAgain. Among the transformed resisters is a small number of white ex-evangelicals who, looking around them at their coreligionists—Trump’s most loyal base—have moved to a place of appalled, repentant renunciation.

The current moment is also creating a dramatic change in what 50 years ago was called the Christian “race relations” conversation and 20 years ago was called the “racial reconciliation” conversation. Today it is the “white supremacism” conversation. The time in which black and brown Christian people went soft on white Christian people in order not to bruise our feelings, too quickly puncture our illusions about ourselves, or make prayer breakfast conversations uncomfortable—those days are so over. And some small number of white people are ready for it. Goza, for one, wants the truth straight.

Goza undertakes his quest primarily through careful reading in the works of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith, which he contrasts with the claims of what he calls the “Prophetic Black Church.” Goza does not come to the study with any particular academic background in Enlightenment philosophy. He just reads everything he can get his hands on from this trinity of the founders of Western political philosophy and reports what they say. His overall conclusion is that racism was embedded in their philosophies and that this racism was transmitted in full into America’s founding practices and principles, as well as into the very marrow of white American religion.

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Source: The Christian Century