By: Michael Iafrate
The title of Diana Butler Bass’ new book, A People’s History of Christianity, immediately grabbed my attention, as I am a pretty big fan of Howard Zinn. Indeed, Bass’ book is billed as an attempt to write church history “in the same spirit” as Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. With this kind of title and marketing strategy, Bass is likely to attract a lot of readers. The difficult part, though, of modeling a book after such a classic work is that readers and reviewers have no choice but to evaluate the book in light of the original.
More specifically, Bass intends to respond to our “posttraditional” situation in which different factions of the church each suffer from their own brand of collective amnesia: conservatives have forgotten the ethical impulse of historic Christianity and progressives/liberals have forgotten the devotional roots of that ethical impulse. Each chapter, then, strives to highlight the devotional and ethical practices of various moments in the church’s history through the narration of the “subversive” and “alternative” stories of ordinary Christians, sidestepping the usual account of “Big-C” Christian history (“Christ, Constantine, Christendom, Calvin and Christian America”) in favor of a more radical, socially engaged story of what Bass calls “generative Christianity.”
If this sounds like a big job, it is. Zinn needed close to 700 pages to cover the 200 year history of the united states. The identically-titled scholarly version of A People’s History of Christianity, edited by Richard Horsley, spans seven volumes. That Bass squeezed her people’s history into 300 pages of 13-point font type made me a little skeptical of how much it could possibly cover.
In light of our recent discussions on Jesus Radicals about sexuality within the church, I’d like to discuss some thoughts I’ve had based on a conversation with a friend of mine who recently identified herself as transgendered. This conversation has lead me to think more deeply and seriously about the nature of sexuality, gender, and sin. Her experience was especially interesting to me, because it was something that I felt I could, on a small level, relate to. Before I get too far into that though, I think I need to tell you a little bit of my story in relation to these kinds of topics
As I’ve briefly mentioned in my article on female submission, my personality is not generally that of a submissive female. I tend to take on and be comfortable in more dominate roles in relationships. Growing up, I have also been chastised for being too unfeeling or harsh in disagreements, and too logical and cold in debates. I remember talking about (in the “female only” time at youth group) how women should be meek and quieter. As a result, there was always this sense that I wasn’t quite right.
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