Last summer I had a very explosive fight with a friend, which effectively ended our friendship. After doing what seemed like a somewhat chauvinist thing, my friend pointed out that he was a feminist. Actually, he insisted he was a feminist. The whole thing seemed a bit rich when the argument started with a defense of the Google Manifesto. Can you argue that there is a biological basis for women not being good at coding and still call yourself a feminist?
The whole discussion became a thing that I pulled out and thought about every so often, usually in those liminal minutes between wake and sleep. Sometimes over coffee or beer with a friend. I confess I hadn’t really gotten anywhere. What do you say when Sarah Palin and Ivanka Trump call themselves a feminist? Clearly, the definition is a bit muddy.
I had dinner with a business associate last week. He voted for Trump.
(And it’s worth an aside here. Partly we stay in contact because of the exigencies of work, but also because I find it helpful to remind myself that some people who voted for Trump have redeeming qualities as human beings. When I never talk to Trump voters, it’s easy for me to cast the entire lot as racist, misogynistic halfwits. It’s a bit harder when you know one. I will never agree with his vote, but reminding myself to humanize people seems like a better path forward.)
My business associate talked about how proud he was that Trump was upholding Christian values. I was perplexed because I don’t know my associate to be a Christian. In the 8 years I’ve known him, I’ve never heard him talk about going to church, reference reading the Bible, mention prayer. Why on earth would he care that Trump called it Christmas and was a Christian? Indeed, when I made reference to the “render unto Caesar”, my associate had no idea what I was talking about. He’d literally never heard of the verse.
Mostly my liminal self-conversations have made me realize that anyone can call themselves anything. It’s not incredulity about what titles people give themselves. I’m past that.
My struggle is what to do with those titles.
It feels, well, it feels rude to look at someone and say “sorry if you don’t know basic scripture, you can’t call yourself a Christian.” More than that, it feels like a fight I can’t win. It seems like Jesus is going to be a better arbitrator of who gets to call themselves a Christian.
But I also confess to some frustration.
I used to be a Christian. I still am a feminist. Those words have meaning. They have requirements. They don’t belong to just anyone.