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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. johnborg

    This is one of the reasons I am afraid of many GOPers. They're worldviews are so ideological. They don't really respect other peoples ideas or feelings. They believe in one way (for everything) and that's it. As a Christian, I am in the same boat as the author of this article. I converted into a neo-con evangelical circle, who protested abortion clinics and bashed liberals and refused to take anyone else's views or feelings into account. Then I came across a few figures who were talking about Jesus' love and my world changed. Christianity should be about love, loving your neighbor, the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the sick, etc. In Bachmann's eyes Jesus is about war, the apoclypse, government, and capitalism.... We don't follow the same Jesus.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • David Myers

      You are so right johnborg. Too bad the fundamentalists can't see it that way.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Fred1

      "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household."
      - (Matthew 10:34-36)

      August 14, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  2. GIJoe

    Bachmann is allowed her opinion, her choices (until "they take those rights away from us") but GOD gave us all free will - and I WILL NOT have her free will over-rule my free will. She is not me. I am not her. What does she want? To dictate our religion, morals, actions, rights - and to that I say NO NO NO NO NO

    August 14, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Pascal

      GIJoe. What are you smoking? Right soapbox, wrong street corner.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • John Gravel

      well, let's hope she is still in favor of don't lie and don't murder....

      August 14, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • El Kababa

      Bachman is a pathological liar. Remember the cost of Obama's trip which she asserted to be greater than the cost of both ongoing Republican wars? Remember how she ridiculed Michelle Obama and later said that questions about her husband were inappropriate? Michelle Bachman is a liar of the first order.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  3. popcorn

    how many Atheist politicians and government pretending to be Christians?

    You see MANY.... There's corruption, economic failures, unemployment, college unemployment, future turmoil, socialist party, and teaparty. Thanks alot for ruined economy.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • El Kababa

      No one "pretends" to be a Christian. It's just that not all Christians beleive the same things or believe in the same way. Christianity is a thousand religions with five thousand gods all named Yahweh, God, Jesus, Christ, and Satan. It's like knowing a hundred women named Mary Smith; same name, totally different person.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  4. Americashero

    There a lot of people on this forum that empathize with Bachmann's
    radical racist beliefs. It's a very sad thing to hear so many defend
    the undefendable. Hers is a Hijacked Christianity

    August 14, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  5. John Gravel

    Yes, and I could have been Helen Reddy. SHE recorded records while MY babysitter listened to them.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  6. Memaw

    What a strange article, Alisa. It's really not news...there's lots of left-wing haters of God and the Bible out there. And no, you could never have been Michelle Bachman. She is a woman of faith in God through Jesus Christ. Obviously, you are not. Your god is the one you have created in your own mind, and that, dear girl, is nothing new.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Fred1

      She's right, Bachmann's god is the christian god, I know because he gave us so many things
      Cancer, measles, small pox, dysentery, heart attack, flesh eating bacteria, strokes, rabies,
      Earth quakes, tornados, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, wild fire, drought,
      Mosquitoes, fleas, lice,
      Roundworm, pinworm, tape worm, whipworm

      August 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  7. Kay

    This was a strange article to appear on the front of a major news Web-site. It was difficult to read, did not flow well. I can't imagine reading an entire book written by this author. What was the purpose of this article?

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

      only one, to further its destruction from journalism to political tool

      August 14, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  8. HIH

    CNN should quit allowing its internet editors to be so blatant with their political leanings in both the articles and pictures they post.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • El Kababa

      Conservatism is the Antichrist. It opposes every traditional belief of Christianity when it comes to how we treat our brothers and sisters all over this earth.

      Christianity is selfless. Conservatism is selfish.

      Christianity is moral. Conservatism is completely without morals.

      Christianity is kind. Conservatism is cruel.

      Chrisianity preaches the golden rule.
      Conservatism values only gold.

      May God destroy Conservatism and the memory of Conservatism.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Pascal

      El Kababa
      How's that abortion position holding up for ya?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • David Myers

      El Kababa: I couldn't agree with you more! Thanks for stating what should be obvious to everyone.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Talapia

      El Kababa- add some facts or general substance to your post instead of hateful rhetoric. Your baseless attacks are what's wrong with the american political system

      August 14, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  9. FightForFreedom

    It amazes me how much the left is threatened by a strong brilliant women with good values. The left is all for women's rights, yet they tear down any women who does not agree with them. What a bunch of hypocrites. This article makes an attempt to sub consciously convince the reader that Bachmann is a victim of religion, programmed to be a nut. The author FAILS in her attempt, this article is nothing but left wing propaganda. It seems the more people that dismiss the Tea Party the stronger it gets.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Colin

      That's probably because Bacchmann is a victim of religion who has herself become a nutcase.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  10. Colin

    She has taken a huge step up out of the mindless gutter of religious dogmatism. I expect that, as she continues to question her faith and those who dogmatically believe it, she will eventually become a secular humanist and free herself once a for all from the sky-fairy, life-after-death idiocy of evangelical Christianity.

    I intend sending her The God Delusion, God is Not Great and a couple of Carl sagan books to help her up to the secular humanists level. She sounds like she is smart enough to get their message.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Manderly

      Not necessarily. I too emerged from a childhood immersed in a dogmatic Christianity and conservative politics. 20 years after rejecting fundamentalism and conservative politics, However, I am still a Christian. Fundamentalism is the religious form of materialism, and neither are for me. Some of us who leave fundamentalism discover a more interior spirituality, rather than embracing atheism, which in its most ardent advocates is a kind of dogma, complete with the urge to evangelize.

      August 19, 2011 at 5:26 am |
  11. massa

    all political problems have spiritual solutions. UGH. Go away!

    August 14, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  12. John

    this article is simply anti-conservative garbage. how about CNN writes a substantive unbiased article about the candidates' (including Obama) views and their results, rather than bash a political party and a religion.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • jesus's friend

      but not anti-christian. they aren't the same thing.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  13. Rob

    What a load of crap this whole article is. Just another smear piece from this liberal rag.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  14. Raul

    USA law is secular.
    No religious person should be allowed to hold a public office.
    Ether you serve to your God's laws or to our laws. You can NOT do both.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  15. James

    Jesus taught us that Christianity is not about following a set of rules. Its about faith. Faith in something so beautiful, so noble, so incredible that it is beyond the realm of logical thought. Read the bible and dare to believe...Grace will follow and provide truth, joy and a sense of purpose in your lives.

    signed,

    s believer and a scientist

    August 14, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  16. Pascal

    Subtle as a heart attack CNN! So the Christian Pro-life movement is the OPPOSITE of the Civil Rights movement. And Michelle BAchman is driven by RAGE because the author saw a film that described the dangers of sodomy. Got it. Make that front and center on the home page. Important and deep stuff.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  17. Mary

    @alisaharris go ahead and tweet her to ask these questions!

    August 14, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  18. megan

    I admit, I haven't done my homework yet on any of the GOP hopefuls, BUT, after reading this article, I came away feeling that this was very blatantly left-sided and that this girl's message was that anyone who calls themselves a "Christian" and has a similar faith-based life like Bachmann, that means you A) are not concerned with social injustices B) are racist and C) must be one of those aweful "rich, greedy americans". I am CATHOLIC, and I'm sorry Ms. Harris, while your personal attestation to your Christian background was very interesting, it does not represent all Chrsitians and I hope Michele Bachmann has the cojones to stand by her beliefs... which is EXACTLY what we need in our next president.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • El Kababa

      Megan, Evangelicals are unanimous in believing that Catholics are not Christians. There are Evangelical orphanages that will not allow Catholics to adopt any Christian children.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • massa

      El Kababa. you are El Full of It!

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

      I actually came away with a total different take on Harris' article. I'm not religious. I am a spiritual manifestation on a journey in a physical body – and Harris is a Christian I like. I admire and follow many tenets of Jesus' teachings. Like many – I don't have an issue with Jesus but I don't care for Christians.
      Thank you Harris for a look into your experience – an experience I too encountered growing up as a Catholic.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • Fred1

      I too hope “Michele Bachmann has the cojones to stand by her beliefs” and share them with everyone because then (just like Pat Robertson) she will be completely unelectable

      August 14, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  19. sheila

    this girl embraced 'Christ's teachings', whereas many Christians have embraced – something else. I am 100% in favor of separation of Church and State and that is why, in part, politicians like Bachmann and Santorum in my view; would make Terrible presidents.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Pascal

      Exactly. I would much rather have someone who attended Reverend Wrights church for 20 years. That's the seperation I like.

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

      current president doesn't govern by what his 'god' tells him; or if he does he keeps it very hidden.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Pascal

      Sheila, Yea. Hidden is good.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  20. D Frost

    Who are you and who cares who you could have been? Quit being gutless and start off by saying what you really mean and just get right into slamming the religious right. To pretend that you have transcended above and beyond the best of us since you "used to be like her" is wishful thinking. All you've done is descended to the murky depths of political correctness; "all about me" self-centered, self-absorbed egoism; and completely abandoned your moral compass. You are not superior now, you are inferior.

    August 14, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Huh....

      Wow. In one small-minded, hate-filled rant, you fully affirmed her ideas.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • STUCARIUS

      You miss the point completely because you are to busy looking at the moral compass of others and not Jesus Christ. When she finally looked at the compass of Christ she found her way. Right now at this moment our nation is suffering from years of policies based on the greed of me first Republican ideals. What we desperately need is to return to the ideals of Christ. Not the political and moral compasses of false profits from the right. You have become the very thing you claim to fear and fight against.

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

      She's not bashing anyone... she's sharing her experience. This is a candid article on the experience many people have encountered in various religious faiths. Organizations stand behind a tenet of faith on a foundation of fear and arrogance. Bravo to Harris for speaking up. And no... this is not left wing rhetoric.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Pascal

      DFrost, Stu and Huh must be here to screen out the opposing view. I hear no hate in your comment. I hear sterotyping and censorship in theirs.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • ryanrory

      D frost..... I feel u just re enforced the authors's point with your closing inference. I do see this a left leaning perspective but am not educated enough to counter her experiences with an about face contrary mudslinging of who she is and what she has taken from the experiences similar to bachman. Cnn succeeded in getting you to bite.....

      August 14, 2011 at 9:12 am |
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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.