Diana Butler Bass will be speaking this month at the Roger Williams Symposium/Contributed

Christian Author, Diana Butler Bass, to Speak at Pullman Symposium

Christian Author, Diana Butler Bass, to Speak at Pullman Symposium

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By Tracy Simmons

For the second time in three years, progressive Christian icon and best-selling author Diana Butler Bass is coming to the Palouse, this time to speak at a series of events for the 40th Roger Williams Symposium in Pullman.

Bass visited Moscow in 2019 to speak at a gratitude conference organized by Emmanuel Lutheran Church.

“That part of the country I found very compelling,” she said. “It engaged my spirit in a way that I didn’t expect.”

She was originally slated to be at the symposium in 2020, but because of COVID-19 the event was postponed until this year. The event will be March 26-28, both in-person and on Zoom.

Speakers Over the Years

The Roger Williams Symposium began in 1978 and over the years has featured notable presenters, including Walter Brueggeman, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox and Sr. Simone Campbell.

“We have a long tradition of bringing in outstanding speakers,” said Timothy Paulitz chair of the Roger Williams Symposium committee. “This year we’re lucky enough to have (Bass), who of course is well known, and has put out some recent new books.”

Things will kick off this year with a keynote talk by Bass at 7 p.m. March 26 at Community Congregational United Church of Christ, 525 NE Campus St., titled, “Freeing Jesus in Our Lives and in the Public Square.”

What Bass Will Discuss

Bass said this talk will center around her latest book, “Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way and Presence.” In the book she shares much of her own theological journey.

“I think in certain kinds of ways talking about Jesus in public has become exceedingly difficult,” she said.

She explained many conservative Christians are leaving the church, but still like Jesus and struggle to articulate that experience. On the other hand, leftist churchgoers tend to be afraid to talk about Jesus for fear of sounding exclusive and cutting off their non-Christian friends and family. Another reason why talking about Jesus is difficult, Bass said, is because the conversation is often led by a louder, white, Evangelical voice, which often includes political views that not all Christians agree with.

“So there’s a real divide around Jesus,” she said. “While one group has commandeered the conversation, many of the rest of us don’t know how to engage in theological conversations in the public square, like hey, what would Jesus say about the war in Ukraine? Or about the food programs? Or about XYZ?”

“Freeing Jesus” came out in hardback a year ago (this month in paperback) and Bass said because of the pandemic she hasn’t given many in-person public lectures on it and is eager to enter into a community conversation about it.

Other Symposium Events

Her next symposium event will be a workshop from 2-4 p.m. March 27 at St. James Episcopal Church, 1410 NE Stadium Way in Pullman. The topic is “Religion in the News: Trends Shaping Religion and Culture.”

At noon on March 28 Bass will speak at the Washington State University Foley Institute on, “The Shifting Landscape of American Religion and Politics.” It will be in the Foley Speaker’s Room, 308 Bryan Hall on the WSU campus and will be streamed on the Foley Institute YouTube Channel.

Bass said she expects the latter two events to be more open-ended. She added that she knows people are worried about what’s happening in Ukraine, so plans to address that.

She said it’s difficult to understand what’s happening between Russia and Ukraine without knowing Eastern European religious history. In recent weeks she’s written extensively on Russian Orthodoxy and has said “Kyiv is essentially Jerusalem.”

She added that although the Christian church is in decline in the United States, that’s not the case in Eastern Europe.

“I hope that the angle of religion not only helps us to see it a bit better, but might provide different doors of conversation and peacemaking,” Bass said.

The symposium is sponsored by The Common Ministry at WSU and the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Service and Public Policy.

All events are free. Those wishing to attend via Zoom are asked to register here: bit.ly/3MS9t9n.


Keynote address
WHEN: 7 p.m., March 26
TITLE: “Freeing Jesus in Our Lives and in the Public Square”
WHERE: Pullman Community Congregational UCC, 525 NE Campus St.
WHEN: 2-4 p.m., March 27
TITLE: “Religion in the News: Trends Shaping Religion and Culture”
WHERE: St. James Episcopal Church, 1410 NE Stadium Way
Thomas Foley Presentation
WHEN: Noon, March 28
TITLE: “The Shifting Landscape of American Religion and Politics”
WHERE: Foley Speaker’s Room, 308 Bryan Hall, WSU campus

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