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My Take: I could have become Michele Bachmann
Author Alisa Harris, left, and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.
August 14th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: I could have become Michele Bachmann

Editor's Note: Alisa Harris lives in New York City and is the author of the forthcoming Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From Politics.

By Alisa Harris, Special to CNN

I could have become Michele Bachmann.

Reading a recent Bachmann profile in The New Yorker felt like attending an awkward cocktail party with former best friends whom I now stalk on the internet but haven’t spoken to in years.

The story describes Bachmann’s influences - including figures like Francis Schaeffer and David Noebel, who most Americans have never heard of but who are superstars in conservative Christian circles - and I found them all familiar faces from my childhood as a culture warrior.

Bachmann wins Iowa straw poll

These are people Bachmann admires and people I once admired, too.

Bachmann has protested at abortion clinics. I was attending abortion protests when I was still too young to hold a sign or even walk.

Bachmann began trying to combat the influence of liberals and secular humanists after encountering Francis Schaeffer’s 1970s’-era video series "How Should We Then Live," a plea to reclaim Western institutions from the corruption of secularism.

I watched the series with my parents as a child

Bachmann served on the board of directors for Summit Ministries, which sponsors conferences and institutes aimed at equipping evangelicals with a Christian worldview. I attended Summit Ministries’ Student Worldview Conference as a 15-year-old.

On the first night of the program, I sat rapt through a talk about a Christian dress code that spelled out the width of the shoulder straps I was permitted to wear, which was not a problem for me because I had brought only oversized Republican campaign t-shirts and shorts that were styled for a 35-year-old mom.

They gave us a handy worldview chart that had a vertical column for every area of life - economics, politics, pyschology, law - and a horizontal column that showed how Muslims, humanists, Marxists and New-Agers were wrong on every count.

The program’s leaders said that the Bible calls for limited government, and that God’s law and nature’s law were good foundations for a legal system. The Christian believes the free enterprise system to be more compatible with his worldview than other economic systems, I learned.

One night, the Summit Ministries instructors showed us a film whose central premise was that anal sex spreads awful diseases.

Terrified of all sex, I clenched my fists and closed my eyes and pretended to fall asleep like the boy up the aisle, who nodded off every day.

I developed a trembling crush on the boy I sat next to but squelched the attraction because the Summit speakers told me it was admirable to forgo romance and holding hands until engagement. We played card games instead.

I emerged from Summit finding that my fervor to stop abortion had grown from a disagreeable duty to an outright passion. I bought pro-life t-shirts.

When I came back filled with worldview fervor, I read a book co-authored by David Noebel, the Summit Ministries leader whose writings Bachmann recommended.

It rumbled apocalyptic warnings that humanists, from the NAACP to the Rockefeller Foundation to the National Council of Churches, were conspiring to build a one-world socialist order. I began to secretly find Noebel a little bit kooky.

Still, my family purchased his curriculum and submitted our homeschool speech and debate class to a rigorous worldview training. I took worldview quizzes that graded my ability to reflexively respond to all questions with answers about the Christian worldview of limited government and free enterprise.

I aced the quizzes. I had memorized it all and could spit it back.

Bachmann worked for John Eidsmoe, a man who argued the southern states had a “constitutional right to secede,” and she admired the writing of J. Steven Wilkins, who said that slaves led a “comfortable, though — by modern standards—spare existence.”

Throughout my high school years, I soldiered along with an organization that ran religio-political boot camps populated with ardent Southerners who still possessed Confederate money and auctioned it off - to frenzied bidding - at camp auctions.

The students and staff said the same thing Eidsmoe did. The Civil War wasn’t about racism, they argued, but state’s rights and freedom.

But by the time I heard these arguments, they enraged me. While competing in a home school speech tournament during high school, I wrote a speech that called on public school students to commit acts of civil disobedience by praying in public schools.

In my research I discovered Martin Luther King, Jr., a model of nonviolent resistance and the leader of a movement that seemed to me so just and Christian in the face of laws so clearly evil.

Seeing pictures of Southern police officers using a fire hose to flay the clothes and skin off of teenage civil rights protesters, I became livid at anyone who praised the virtue of the Confederacy or of the Jim Crow South.

Over the years I began to doubt what I’d been taught — that we could find in the Bible the final answers to our questions about the minutiae of 21st century tax policy and the path to economic growth. I saw Christians yell at gay activists, obsess over sex, and enforce ideological purity instead of reducing abortions or helping the poor.

I began to think that our Christian duty was not to make our country’s laws conform to our private morality but to heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.

The political principles I now embrace - human equality, human dignity, and human rights — align less with Schaeffer and more with King, who not only marched for civil rights for African-Americans but also launched the Poor People’s Campaign and fought for the economic rights of all, black and white.

These principles come from a Christian passion for justice but are not, like Bachmann’s worldview, exclusive to Christianity. I have abandoned neither politics nor my Christian faith but the idea of a “worldview” where all spiritual questions have political answers, and all political problems have spiritual solutions.

Newsweek’s latest cover calls Bachmann the “Queen of Rage.” I can testify to the rage her beliefs inspire, a rage that is focused inward - on protecting the sanctity of an iron-clad worldview, battling all the heretics who dare to believe something different, and seeing life from the bunker of a besieged and victimized faith.

I still have some rage, but it’s no longer focused on the secular humanists and tax-collectors. The rage exists on behalf of our wounded world, at the suffering of the poor and the exploitative practices of the rich and powerful. It’s exactly what the Old Testament prophets bellow at me to do.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alisa Harris.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Michele Bachmann • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (1,502 Responses)
  1. s t

    Now, what's the difference between a radical christian being brought up like this and a radical muslim in a madrasssa? All religions have extreme members....it seems that if M Bachmann is president then perhaps the US will really need God's help...

    August 14, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  2. Camarones

    Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda... Sure, that's fine. The only problem I have is why any woman would think that not following in the footsteps of the Queen of Rage was a missed opportunity. Michelle Bachmann is just not a good role model. Or the standard of excellence that she and her tea bag cohorts would like you to think.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  3. steve

    yep, definately proof of mainstream media taking effect. Go back four years, we'd see Obama in near-deity articles and pictures.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • PEBbles

      you're dead on Steve

      August 14, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  4. trainwreck

    im still wrapping my brain around people taking bachman as a serious and viable candidate? not only is she ignorant she also seems extreme enough to make most GOP supporters cringe

    August 14, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  5. Doug

    This is why I will not vote for someone who wears their religion on their sleeve and imply that it will play some part in governing. I understand when a President says they prayed about something. Fine. But extremists like Bachman, who think the country was founded as an absolute Christian nation have not bothered to look at history. Yes, the Puritans came here fleeing persecution in England but the founding Fathers did not wear religion on their sleeve.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  6. walter schmidt

    The article and it's author state what many of us have experienced in life. The truth of the matter is that most of us are not religious extremists. The tea party and religious right scare us. We hear and see from them the same and similar qualities of fanatical Muslims and Zionist Jews. We hold in our hearts our faith and not on our sleeve. We do not want to be manipulated by politicians with their religious banter.We do not want the world made up of extremist ideologies based on their interpretation of the Bible.This country is a democracy/republic not a theocracy. We do not wish to follow a political party that takes on similarities to Jim Jones and his cult. Believe what you want to believe but keep it out of politics.We know you want the Rapture to come and take you up to the heavens and will do anything to make it happen.These extreme religious views have caused death, destruction and war throughout time and continue to do so.For me my faith is based on loving my fellow man. I believe the meek will inherit the earth, not the rich nor the religious/political extremes. The tea party and the religious right have already hurt this country, they are the saboteurs of truth, justice and political freedom.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Confused

      Why bring the Tea Party into this? It never mentions them and they do not have religious platforms. True many of their number are religious, they also have hair, are they against bald people? There is nothing wrong with being mobilized and working within the law to bring about change you believe in. As we can see, government getting too big causes a lot of problems.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:56 am |
  7. Jennifer Bond

    Way to go Alisa dear! I have just recently gotten back into church after a many year hiatus from it. Over the years I have developed a moderate political view went a bend to the left. I discovered a local American Baptist church, which coincidentally is the same faith as Dr. Martin Luther King. I was first introduced to Christianity in the deep conservative south, aka Bible Belt, it was through a Southern Baptist Church. I am not going to slam that church, but it was a very fundamentalist church, which is what partially made me separate from them. The thing that I get from both Bible and church is "teaching", as with being a student of any other teaching I learn the basics and expand upon what I was taught keeping the most important lessons of justice and love in my heart. Fundamentalists sadly don't expand upon what they have been taught, they embrace mindsets of people that existed 1000's of years ago. This was also a time when women were possessions and leprosy was a curse from God and not a disease. Call me a progressive if you must, but unlike my brethren of a couple thousand years ago; I know now the earth is round, I am thankful for electricity, and believe God is love and not a harsh God that many conservatives embrace.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  8. T

    Looks like it's time for CNN to start attacking GOP candidates. It's funny how there are never any articles critical of Democrats yet everyone complains about Fox's bias.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • Isaac

      Go over to Faux and bay with the other sheeple then.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • PEBbles

      That right CNN's headline is about how she is so messed up nothing about her as a candidate. If you look at what they said about Barry at this point four hellish years ago it was nothing but good to say about. If the fairness in broadcasting law comes into being you're screwed JUST LIKE FOX you are no different, just the other side; the dark side

      August 14, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • dk

      Amazimg – your reaction! not the rightness of wrongness of the article, or thefcat that it provides food for thought!
      you like the so called christian right are neither christian nor right! you are foolish. you must repent. If Jesus came today you will be the first to stone him (and foxnews will be there to egg you on). Fool!

      August 14, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  9. Susan

    Good for you Ms. Harris. If only more "escapees" from the christianist movement would speak up....these people are angry, mean and looking to bring down our country.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  10. Sphinx

    coulda woulda SHOULDa

    August 14, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  11. jlacke

    Thou shalt not steal.

    Taking the property of another is theft. Even if that property is money, and it is taken through government sanctioned means, and used to help the poor; it is still theft. If you vote for policies through which money is taken from someone, against his will, and given to another, you are an accessory to theft.

    God commands each of us to help those less fortunate, but he also commands us not to take from others. If someone refuses to assist the poor, I have no right to force him to do so – and it is between him and God.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • William

      Jesus said something like: "Give to Ceasar that which is Ceasars" and this refers to taxes according to one transcript (Luke 20:25) and "To god that which is Gods". Soldiers have died for this country on top of paying taxes so as a veteran When I hear comments like yours I infer that you do not love our country. Countries, governments are ordained by God(Romans 13:1). Christian's mostly claim being something they do not mirror and it sounds like you are someone who has made up your own God. When you refuse Jesus you get a Barabbas a murderer. A true Christian has died to Christ and taxes or any other issue they face even terrorist have no sway on worrying about their life. Go ahead try to hold on to any possession and you will lose it. Give your life to God as Jesus did and you have eternity and peace. Looks like you haven't even given to God that which is God's. We need separation of Church and State to separate us from these WACHO Christian wanabees...

      August 14, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  12. Front Page News?

    OK – Just wanted to be sure I read the whole article to see if I missed something. So, this was a Bachmann faith bashing article written by who? Never mind. Whoever the author is she ought to reconsider her idolatry (again). Perhaps she could ask one of the great MLK's many women from his past – and I didn't mean his wife. Never mind, at this rate infidelity will soon be a human right.

    CNN – I humbly request the next time you would like to have a feature story on a non-liberal, consider writing about the actual person.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • The Beagle

      >> ...the author...out to reconsider her idolatry...

      What do you mean by that?

      August 14, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • veripath

      If what Alisa Harris writes in World Magazine is any indication, she is a very intensely Christian woman.

      An example: In Europe, both the church and the state have responded better to the Catholic abuse scandal than they did in America, but big problems remain | Alisa Harris

      Miss Harris's eyes are indeed seeing, and her mind responding to the needs of Christians in America.

      HEr Beliefs article in no way states that she is better than Bachmann, only that she has been there, done that and can understand Bachmann's position - though it is not truly Christian.

      August 14, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  13. rand

    CNN has reached a new low...........THIS is journalism???

    August 14, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • HIH

      Yep ..they have traded journalism for this

      August 14, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      Since Ms. Harris is not a journalist but an author, and since this is the OPINION section, then no, this would not be journalism. Pay attention.

      August 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  14. Isaac

    you could have become an ignorant nutbag crazy person pandering to other ignorant nutbags but you didn't.... congrats

    August 14, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • Fred1

      Whick in some ways is a shame because it pays very well

      August 14, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  15. HHI

    Silly girl, silly head line. ..What could have been a well written article, about the young woman developing her own views regarding spirituality? Seems she clenched her fist and became anal-retentive projecting what she believes are Mrs. Bachmann’s views.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  16. MollyBee

    This lady is right on target....Michelle Bachman is scary. Newsweek had it right.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  17. Rick

    Guess I would give CNN credit if they had had the nerver to out Obama's religious ties. But, guess what? They conveniently ignored it all to promote their guy. Disgusting. I am thoroughly impressed with Bachman and her moral fiber.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  18. Matt

    You could have been Adolph Hitler or Indera Ghandi too. What's the point? This is a headline story? Really?

    August 14, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  19. peggy

    I am very disappointed. What does this article have to do with the politics of the situation except to slam Michele. I am an independent and do not think I would vote for her...but this is so unprofessional...and silly.....love the comments about would you do this on Obama...or any other man I would add...we all form who we are from our background we either embrace it or rebel it...I would be just as concerned about this authors teenage rebellon

    August 14, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • The Beagle

      What does this article have to do with the politics of the situation? It explains quite well the culture from which Bachmann thinks and speaks. I was a conservative Evangelical for 40 years and can testify that the author is right on the money about all the worldview-checking, etc.

      The reason articles like this are not written about Obama is that he is not as extreme as Bachmann.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  20. Don G

    No, you couldn't have been a Michelle Bachmann. But maybe you can be a Nancy Pelosi.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:37 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.