I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: sometimes, when I sit down to write on a topic, and in doing my research to prepare for that topic, I find that someone has spoken to it finer than I could. When this happens, I feel compelled to share those words and lift up the voice of someone else rather than amplify my own out of my own sense of ego. The Rev. Jake Morrill is one of the many people who work on our theme ministry each month. I was so moved by his words on our March theme of Evil, and those of the Rev. James Luther Adams, that I felt the need to share them with you all:
In the 1930s, the Unitarian minister and theologian, James Luther Adams, visited Nazi Germany, and came away changed. As a liberal minister and theologian, Adams had been very much taken with German theologians and practice, which were, in a way, the seedbed of liberal religious thought. But what he observed was that, as the liberal church had not foreseen the rise of Nazism, neither did it seem to be equipped to confront it. Instead, it was the Confessing Church—made up of neo-orthodox faithful—that seemed more willing to confront human evil. Was the inability to identify and confront evil endemic to liberal faith? Adams wondered this himself. He said:
“Let me put it autobiographically and say that in Nazi Germany I soon came to the question, ‘What is it in my preaching and my political action that would stop this?’ . . . It is a liberal attitude to say that we keep ourselves informed and read the best papers on these matters, and perhaps join a voluntary association now and then. But to be involved with other people so that it costs and so that one exposes the evils of society . . . requires something like conversion, something more than an attitude. It requires a sense that there’s something wrong and I must be different from the way I have been.”
In other words, it was insufficient for the promise of faith to be that religion would provide merely an interesting perspective. Instead, it must promise transformation. It must exact great cost. And that cost and that promise required of a person deeper engagement than liberal religion often did. The capacity of liberal religion to engage evil, and to form a power for good, became a focal concern of Adams’s work for the rest of his days. And it is, of course, bracingly relevant today, in our times of rising fascism. We can shake our heads. We can bemoan the state of things. But is our faith equipping us to effectively resist evil? Are we preparing ourselves for the cost to our comfort and our lives it might require? Can we, as people of a congenitally optimistic world-view, oriented toward kindness and goodness, comprehend evil? This is a month in which we will be meditating on evil—not only on its reality in our world, but also on our ability to confront it, and to vanquish it.
Rev. Meghann here again. Revs. Jake and JLA offer up a perspective for us to consider. It’s also important to recognize that the word “evil” conjures up different meanings and references for different people. I would invite you this month to think about what the word brings up for you — things from your past, the places and situations you’ve heard it used and how. Like all important words, it has been used to harm as much as it’s been used as a helpful framework for digging into what it means to be human. What can we learn from these conversations with each other, and with ourselves, in order to offer transformation and healing to world?
In gratitude and faith,