Response to Jared Farley’s 2019 JLA Forum Address

by the Reverend Judith Deutsch

Professor Farley, in his excellent address, has told us many things about Adams’ approach to religion. but Id like you to know that Adams, a Christian and a theist, said:  “… If we discover what persons really…will cling to as the principle or reality without which life would lose its meaning, we shall have discovered their religion, their god.”

And I want you to know that James Luther Adams was a not a Utopian socialist and not a Social Democrat, but that he was a Democratic Socialist  Adams disliked Utopian Socialists lack of participation in the political processes of larger communities. He maintained that by living together voluntarily in socialist communities that are outside the mainstream of society, Utopian Socialists weakened the democratic structure of, and the possibility of justice in the larger society.

And I don’t believe that I’ve ever heard or read anything Adams said about Social Democrats, although Max Stackhouse, a James Luther Adams student and scholar who is no longer alive, considered himself one.

Adams, in his Memoir, Not Without Dust and Heat, comments that he and Father Drinan, a liberal Catholic priest who served as a US Congressman for a while, remained closely associated with the Democratic Socialists of America. And also in his Memoir, Adams mentions attending meetings of the Religion and Socialism Commission of Democratic Socialists of America, and I remember attending many of those meetings with him.

Furthermore, Reverend Bob Hemstreet, founder of the UUs for Socialism Group that met at UUA General Assemblies during the 80’s, considered Adams its member #1 and Adams says that when he came upon Tillich’s Religious Socialism, “I felt that I had arrived at a new haven.”

Adams socialist ideas are clearly stated in his 1975 sermon. God and Economics, wherein he says: “Democratic Socialism…urges that the democratic principles that have obtained in politics should be applied to the economic sphere…the aim is that of combining the prophetic sense of responsibility for the character of society at large with the social ideals that came to birth in congregational polity—the consent of the governed, participation in the process of making social-institutional decisions.”

And, in that sermon, Adams derives democratic socialism partly from the Old Testament concept of covenant about which he says:
Covenant involves a deeper kind of personal relationship than a contract and should not be confused with any form of bargained pact…[it is] an agreement ostensibly entered into in voluntary consent, an agreement which forms a bond of loyalty for the sake of fellowship with God and of harmonious living — righteousness and peace.

Adams maintains : “The basis of covenant is not so much law as it … is affectionate response to liberation from bondage arousing trust and faithfulness on the part of the individual as well as of the collective and that violation of the covenant is not so much a breaking of the law as it is a betrayal of trust.”

Throughout Professor Farley’s lecture we heard the important role that power has played in Adams’ life.

And it is power with, with which Adams was ultimately concerned — the power of each individual, the power of each group in society.

And I find the following words from his 1969 sermon, “Blessed Are the Powerful” particularly significant for our times:

“Power must be newly defined as a creative, innovative relationship between those who have the freedom to participate in making social decisions, and those who do not have that freedom. …philanthropy may be a means of keeping others powerless ….  Conventional philanthropy and majority rule can be a means of still further alienating [marginal people and thus increasing their self-hatred and resentment.] There is the sense of alienation, the greater sense of hopelessness, and the more likely resort to violence.  The authenticity of power is determined by the ends it serves and the means it uses. The truly powerful are those who serve large purposes and can accomplish them. This kind of fulfillment requires power with, not power over, it requires love.”

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