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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. tif31

    Alisa
    You said you could have become Michelle Bachman.
    The question is, why would you ever want to?

    October 1, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  2. David

    Alisa, you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire! If you think the bozos on the left are any more tolerant and broad-minded than kooks you grew up with, you are in for a big letdown, sweetheart.

    September 29, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
  3. coyote88

    Finally an objective, well written article on this subject. You are an Idealist. Hold onto it as hard as you can.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  4. Candise

    Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your personal insights. This was well written. You will grow more as you age. It will be interesting to see where you are with these thoughts after working with the disadvantaged and fighting for their very survival. It will change you.

    September 2, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  5. RightTurnClyde

    I could have been Elvis Presley but I did not have long side burns and my guitar was second hand. (so I didn't want to) Instead I did my hitch in the service and came out and got a job. ... Oh I can sing as good a Frank Sinatra but my voice is not as good and the band plays off key. I could have been Bill Gates too if only I had an operating system and IBM came and asked me.. n. I could have been General Patton or Gayle Sayres or Gene Autry or Huckleberry Hound or Snaglep*ss or Oscar or Ernie or Shanana....

    September 2, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Bill

      You're missing the point ... the author was not envying Bachman's celebrity ... she is saying she could have ventured down Bachman's same misguided path had she not been fortunate enough to jump off.

      September 5, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  6. Joe

    "You answered so many questions for me about why conservatives think the way they do."

    Harris' experience seems awfully over-dyed in fervor, if you ask me. Of course there are always die hards on the edges, but if you stomach all that unquestioningly like she seems to have, then you also will eventually over-react, I'd wager. It is Franky Schaeffer all over again, this time in cute home school Young Miss mode. Both were crusaders more than faith-followers, so driven by politics I have to laugh to think THEy think they were motivated mostly from "faith."

    August 29, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  7. b4bigbang

    @cheeseSteak and other Christian-bashers:
    1. I vote liberal
    2. I kinda support Obama but think he's gone too conservative.
    3. I agree with Alisa Harris on her progressive liberal worldview.
    4. Harris is a Christian
    5. I support cannabis law reform. I want the law to stay out of people's bedrooms too.
    6. I am a fundamentalist Christian.
    7. I suspect that there are more liberal fundamentalists in the US than many realize.
    8. I'm tolerant and polite towards others' beliefs, including athiests.
    9. Christianity is a world civilization, containing many cultures and sub-cultures.

    If more people would refrain from demonizing entire civilizations (eg., Christian, Muslim, etc.) and quit stereotyping them as each having merely one monoculture, then their comments would probably be taken more seriously by the majority of readers.
    Cheers!

    August 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  8. Beth

    This author is not correct about Bachmann. She is real and a very intelligent, level headed, christian woman who has a great world view and will lead our country in a much better direction than the current administration. She is going to be continually criticized but that is to be expected from those blinded from the truth. People are so afraid of allowing God into politics. It sure was a better more moral society when our founding fathers started government and when children were allowed to pray and worship in school. God will reign eventually and have the victory. I love that Michelle Bachmann has a moral compass and can and will lead our country in the right direction. SHE IS ANYTHING BUT A FEMALE HITLER> Marshia above you are so terribly misguided and are obviously afraid of good moral conservative values that promote love and well being,generosity and thankfulness.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • CheeseSteak

      You're high

      August 19, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • CheeseSteak

      Bachmann: Everything for CHREEEEEEESTIANS. Nothing for everyone else.

      August 19, 2011 at 3:59 am |
    • Dave

      And I can grow wings and fly.

      August 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Amused

      So, you agree with Bachman that the Renaissance was the "downfall of mankind" and that we should abolish all attempts to study math and science? You think we should return to the days of the Spanish Inquisition? Good luck with that ...

      September 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Sickofdumb

      Keep drinking the koolaid!!!

      September 19, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Alex

      The founding fathers were not all Christians. They did not found this country on the Christian religion. They founded it on morals, ethics and common sense. The First Amendment States: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." In fact, most of the founding fathers were Deists. While Thomas Jefferson believed in the man Jesus Christ, he was a Materialist. He didn't believe in redemption by repenting. In fact, the idea of separating Church from State was the original intent of the founding fathers.

      September 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  9. Hope1

    This is the best article I've read in a long time. You answered so many questions for me about why conservatives think the way they do. You've given me much to think about it terms of how to reconcile my faith and my politics, and you confirmed some things I already suspected. The best line is, "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." That's what it's all about. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    August 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Bill

      I agree.... totally.

      September 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  10. Faith

    Alisa is wrong. It's futile to feed the poor in Sodom. The nation gets nuked next morning. America needs moral purity; it's more urgent than compassion. Morality and politics cannot be separated. No one is starving in USA thanks to Christians. Send some food to the atheistic North Korea – everyone is always starving there.

    August 17, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Aly

      1 in 6 Americans suffer from hunger, including children.

      August 18, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • CheeseSteak

      Christians are the toilet paper that block our septic system. They are the noise you hear from your washing machine. Christians are the source of all acid indigestion in the USA. Born-Agains are giving pedophiles a bad name. God is Dog spelled backward. Someday when the Sun explodes and the Earth is destroyed, Christians will think Jesus will becoming back soon.

      Christians are people that poo in the punchbowl of sanity.

      August 19, 2011 at 4:03 am |
    • Candise

      You say morality as if it is only for Christians and by Christians. Your belief may be that you would be immoral without God, but those of us living without him are finding ethics, morality or right and wrong just fine.

      September 3, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Bill

      @cheesteak .. your biggest error is assuming michelle bachman and pat robertson and others represent Christians and Christian view points. they dont. This article far more clearly outlines Christian values ... feed the hungry, clothe the poor, help widows and orphans, Non-violent conflict resolution. And true pro-life which means anti-death penalty, anti abortion, anti war. Read the sermon on the mount and you will understand what true Christian values are. If people claim to be Christians but dont practice love, mercy, grace, forgiveness adn charity ... they are not Christians ... they are lying.

      September 5, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  11. Rich

    “The political principles I now embrace – human equality, human dignity, and human rights —” are at the center of Schaeffer’s What Happened to the Human Race? film series. This author claims she grew up learning Christianity, but this article makes me wonder if she really learned anything, or did she merely regurgitate for tests without internalizing the lessons?

    I don’t see any rage in Bachmann, rather I see the rage of others projected onto Bachmann because Bachmann admits to universal truths and morality, universals that those who rage against her don’t want to admit to.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • CheeseSteak

      That's not rage, it's insanity

      August 19, 2011 at 4:04 am |
    • Bill

      Rich, the Bible clearly FORBIDS us, as Christians, from forcing our values and beliefs on non-beleivers.

      September 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  12. Jordan

    I have been to summit. I don't recall any racist teachings my friend.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • Jay

      She definitely didn't say Summit taught anything racist. Those were two different points, and she's clearly talking about two different organizations. Maybe you shouldn't comment on things you haven't read carefully.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  13. Reality

    From the previous pages, in case you missed this important information:

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs)

    August 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      am i logged in?

      August 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  14. marcia

    Bachmann is potentially a female Hitler!

    August 16, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Faith

      @Marcia: So says an air-headed American who never experienced Nazi terrors or atheists. In America no president can really make difference unless USA gets split into two nations.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • CheeseSteak

      Could be

      August 19, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  15. marcia

    Bachmann is a crazed zealot!

    August 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  16. Mark Wilson

    So, basically, this woman was raised by an overtly religious family and she rebelled. Not really unusual–just look at preachers' daughters. I don't buy her comparison to Bachmann though. She insinuates in the article that she was drinking a poisonous Christian koolaid until she starting questioning her upbringing. Fair enough–but I doubt seriously their childhood influences were identical enough to surmise that she would have turned out like Bachmann if she hadn't have starting questioning her Christian teachings/influences. This author comes off as very condescending, too. Good grief.

    August 16, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Preacher's Daughter

      I think you have watched "Footloose" too many times.

      August 16, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  17. Reader

    Michelle needs to go away – this is NOT the first woman to have as President .... she's so fake and whiny and just disgusting –

    August 16, 2011 at 7:26 am |
    • Aaron

      So tell me again about Bachmann's rage.

      August 16, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  18. me

    In this election, religion won't be an issue. It'll all boil down to jobs and the debt.

    August 16, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Pete

      You're wrong, unfortunately.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  19. Free

    Alisa Harris failed to mention that black atheists like A. Philip Randolph were with MLK.

    August 16, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Lila

      Who cares? Aren't Christians called to walk with all people? Didn't Jesus choose the worst of society to befriend?

      August 16, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  20. Reality

    From p. 24, in case you missed this important information:

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs)

    August 16, 2011 at 12:24 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.