To overcome our “unconquered past” of racism and sexism

brings us to two fundamental aspects of our problem of the consequences of religious belief:

  1. The consequences of religious belief will depend largely upon the distribution of power and whether or not the consequences are intended. If the social system is monolithic, the prevailing religious belief will have monolithic consequences. A different sort of consequence can issue only from a separation of powers that opens the space for new religious belief and for new consequences. …
  2. What we have said of the significance of the division of power for the sake of the freedom of religious belief to find new institutional incarnation, may also be said regarding the importance of this division for the sake of the criticism of ethical ideals. If no single configuration of power may be trusted, so also no single ethical idea or virtue may be adopted as final or trustworthy. William Hazlitt once said that the trouble with the man with one idea is not that he has an idea-that is rare enough. The trouble is that he has no other. That way lies demonry. “In my father’s house are many mansions.” Accordingly, the consequence of religious belief under a sovereign God must always be a rejection of idolatry before any one ethical idea and a promotion of “free trade” and tension among ideals.

Redistribution of Power

If we ask the question how we are to get out of the cages in which we live, cages that are gilded with racism and sexism, we all recognize that a crucial question is that of the redistribution of power.
James Luther Adams, “Use of Symbols,” Voluntary Association

The world has many educated people who know how to reason,

and they reason very well ; but, curiously enough, many of them fail to examine the pre-established premises from which they reason, premises that turn out on examination to be anti-social, protective camouflages of power. Where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart ·be also. And where his heart is, there will be his reason and his premises.
James Luther Adams, “Human Nature,” Voluntary Associations

“aid an excited generation to resist the temptation simply to pass from one extreme to another”

Particularly in periods of crisis, prophets always abound who take a melodramatic attitude toward history and toward their own younger selves. These melodramatic prophets urge their fellows to repudiate all the doctrines that have prevailed in the recent past…In the face of these invitations to somersault, resistance may serve a valuable purpose. It may help to give continuity and stability to the processes of history and thus aid an excited generation to resist the temptation simply to pass from one extreme to another.
James Luther Adams, “Human Nature,” Voluntary Associations

Old and encrusted forms of thought are being subjected to radical criticism.

Some of them are being broken and transformed ; some are even being replaced by new forms or by revised versions of old forms of thought. In such a situation it is inevitable that the attempted changes should encounter resistance, especially where the “established” philosophy has enjoyed a wide acceptance. For there is in every “established” historical movement a resistance to movement.
James Luther Adams, “Human Nature,” Voluntary Associations

I pressed upon myself the question,

“If Fascism should arise in the States, what in your past performance would constitute a pattern or framework of resistance?” I could give only a feeble answer to the question. My principal political activities had been the reading of the newspaper and voting. I had preached sermons on the depression or in defense of strikers. Occasionally, I uttered protests against censorship in Boston, but I had no adequate conception of citizen participation.
James Luther Adams, “My Social Concern,” Voluntary Associations

But the church is never wholly free:

 It tolerates injustice, special privilege, and indifference to suffering, as though it were not accountable to a tribunal higher than the world’s . It passes by on the other side, thus breaking the covenant . In the midst of this unfreedom the congregation comes together to adore that which is holy, to confess its own brokenness, and to renew the covenant.
JLA, “Postscript: The Church That Is Free,” The Prophethood of All Believers