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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. Joe C

    Those questioning the appropriateness of this article should realize that it is in the Belief Blog section. Then take the time to read the "About this blog" notice on the side of the page.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • mpouxesas

      absolutely right, and also, remember, beliefs and what you beLIEve is very subjective....

      August 14, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  2. Happyfrenchman

    Glad you woke up Alisa. I can somewhat relate to what you are saying. My awakening came later than yours but better to wake up later than never. Some maybe don't. I am sure the right wingers will trash this but they must know in their heart of hearts that there is truth in what you are saying. Congrats to you for awakening despite all those influences wanting to push you the other way.i

    August 14, 2011 at 7:20 am |
    • El Kababa

      Many of us, me included, have awakened from fundamentalist and Evangelical Christianity as if from a nightmare. We shake our heads and say, "Thank God that wasn't real!"

      August 14, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • 40acres

      Unfortunately El Kababa, it is real. And it spreads at the exact same rate as fear (fear that they may be losing power) and avarice. Ironically, these are the same people who brag that they give themselves over to God while they actually pull away in order to take that power for themselves.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  3. Paul

    In the picture above, Bachmann looks crazy!

    August 14, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • El Kababa

      And is that her natural hair color? It makes you wonder about her sincerity, doesn't it?

      August 14, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • ProgramU

      Paul, you need to know the definition of propaganda and yellow journalism. This 'hit' piece on Bachmann is designed to be an objective story but slanders her character. The pictures above are manipulated to make Harris look 'angelic' and Bachmann look demonic. Thank God for new media. We can no longer rely on mainstream news...

      August 14, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      Indeed, because the Right NEVER uses propaganda and exaggerated images to score points. *epic eyeroll*

      This is not a “hit piece”, no matter how many times you say it. It does not slander anyone. The essay itself has a woman telling her story, knowing what the indoctrination from Bachmann’s side is like. It matters because it’s this extremist agenda that drives Bachmann. And agenda that does not belong in government office.

      Just because you adore Bachmann and your fee-fees were hurt by anyone else not abjectly adoring her as well does not mean this was character assassination. It just means you have really thin skin.

      August 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  4. Mrs W

    Many "conservative Christians" use the Bible to support their SEPARATIST views. They believe that life would only be bliss if only people like THEM were in charge of everything and they could rule over THOSE people.

    But this is (unfortunately) akin to slavery – regardless of whether the slaves are liberal, muslim or whatever.....

    The true teachings of the BIBLE do NOT support the LIES that many fundamental/evangelica/right-wing loonies want you to believe.

    The groups of people represented by Bachmann and those like her are simply TERRIFIED that their ability to rule and reign and control all things government and commerce is in the hands of people who don't look like or believe like they do.

    Fortunately – they are right. Give me a Governor Chris Christie and I can support REPUBS.....until then...Bachmann and her ilk will never get my vote.

    As a matter of fact, if Bachmann was really a Christian conservative – she would be at home raising her kids...not running for President – that is a man's job.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • mb2010a

      And if she were a true Republican, she would get her butt back in the kitchen where she belongs and leave all the "political stuff" for the men...

      August 14, 2011 at 7:25 am |
  5. BarryT

    What a joke...once again CNN trying to influence thought. I seriously doubt most of what this pawn wrote is actually based in truth.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • TeaBaggersLoveWitchiepoo

      ...you prefer your brain be impregnated with a lower intelligence factor from Fox Gnus?

      August 14, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • jason

      Of course, the implication of the article is that Bachmann's a bitter, hateful, evil, crazy woman who hasn't awakened out of the darkness of her ignorance, unlike the author's phony claims of coming to "see the light."
      This article is unbelievably biased, presumptuous and beyond unprofessional.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:23 am |
    • Chris

      Actually, this article is trying to encourage thought, instead of blindly following an ideology.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Niclas Holm

      Jason, you're right on the money. The author herself is a a marrow-minded, liberal neo-com, that'a neo-COM for neo-communist.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      jason and Niclas Holm, can you post pieces of the essay that says anything like what you say it says. I've read it twice and I see no bashing.

      Then again, I'm a *GASP* Liberal.

      August 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Jameson

    I thought CNN meant Cable NEWS Network, So why is it this opinion piece, which is not news, is front and center and in far larger type than Bachmann's important win in Iowa, which is news? Shouldn't we all be honest and rename it the Cable Opinion Network, or CON?

    August 14, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • TeaBaggersLoveWitchiepoo

      waaaa, waaaa, waaa.....

      August 14, 2011 at 7:18 am |
    • Paul

      Faux News was taken.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:21 am |
    • Chris

      Name a single news source that does not have an opinion page. Comic pages are not news either, but you will find them in most newspapers.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  7. BellaTerra66

    I wish that the news woud just present the factual news and stop trying to tell us how and what to think about every single thing.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • TeaBaggersLoveWitchiepoo

      ...like "fair and balance" Fox Gnus

      August 14, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • Chris

      Someone writing about their personal experience with faith is not telling you how to think. Nothing in this article is telling you to do anything, and if you read it that way that says a lot about you.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      BellaTerra66, I think you missed the part where this is the OPINION section. Not the news section. This is where people write opinion pieces. No one is trying to tell you what to think. They are simply offering their opinions on certain subjects.

      August 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  8. brad

    The difference between muslim extremism and christian extremism is???

    August 14, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • yannaes

      Perception!

      August 14, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Mrs W

      There is no difference whatsoever.....extremism is exactly that. Jesus NEVER forced others to believe in Him and didn't threaten them with punishment if they chose otherwise. He acknowledged that all people have a free will to choose. Extremists – want to take that away – be they muslim or Christian.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:22 am |
    • jason

      There's a big difference. When muslims go extreme, people die. When Christians go extreme, people hear some preaching and then CNN and liberals go on a hit-piece tear against them.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • peg645

      Exactly.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • peg645

      Exactly...in response to Brad's observation. No difference whatsover. Try living as a Westerner in a Middle Eastern country where Wahhabism is taught. The hatred is palpable. What would be next for us if this spread. But then again, one can sense the hatred just listening to our brand of fundamentalists.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • ProgramU

      Mrs. W your right Jesus didn't force anyone to believe. But He also said '
      Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6) Your choices have consequences.

      But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Luke 12:5

      August 14, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  9. Gpenn

    I love it when people get so twisted over an opinion piece. It's her opinion and nothing more. CNN is not trying to pass this off as news.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • Pipergym

      Not sure if Rev Wright was explained with so much vigor; total double standard.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:27 am |
  10. Creepy

    If Michelle Bachmann is your idol, then you've got some problems, sweetie.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • gs081

      Maybe you need to read the article again...

      August 14, 2011 at 7:23 am |
  11. Stymie99

    As Fox News is to conservatives, CNN is to liberals. It's official: there are no unbiased media outlets. Maybe I'll start my own.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:10 am |
    • El Kababa

      I'm a Liberal. Trust me, CNN is not Liberal. CNN is a media corporation that is in the business of selling advertising. They publish the articles that will generate the largest number of clicks. Nothing more, nothing less.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • FamilyDoc

      I agree, ElKababa. As she states in the article, the Christian right cannot tolerate any alternate views, and essentially defines them as blasphemy. That also means there is no room for compromise, as in the recent Congressional inaction on the budjet deficit and national debt; how can you compromise with the devil? I do not find CNN to be liberal or conservative, but Fox clearly supports conservative views, and has the right to do so under the First Amendment's Freedom of the Press provisions. And people have the right to say that CNN is biased toward liberals, Stymie99, but that doesn't make it true.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:31 am |
    • Niclas Holm

      Stymie – except the liberals/socialists also have ABC, MSNBC, CNBC, C-SPAN, CNBC, PBS, all local versions of PBS, etc., etc., and a plethora of New York Times' and Los Angeles Times' wannabies.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Niclas Holm

      Ek Kababa – you're not a liberal, you're a communist. Try Pravda, it might be to your liking. or maybe Pyong Yang Daily would be more appropriate.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  12. Josie

    You are what and how we should all strive to be.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:09 am |
    • TeaBaggersLoveWitchiepoo

      self righteous and judgemental

      August 14, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  13. jason

    According to the logic of this hit piece, Obama must share the same exact mind of Al Qaeda, then, because he too supports the building of the mosque at ground zero. This is how silly and biased this article is.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:09 am |
    • El Kababa

      Obama simply said that if the folks builiding that mosque have a legal right to do so, then there is nothing more to say.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:17 am |
    • Chris

      She is telling a personal story, how can you read this as a "hit piece," or worse, extrapolate that to how Obama thinks? Where is the "logic" you are following? Honestly, your post shows how silly and biased you are, nothing more.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  14. jason

    Hmmm. So, in other words CNN, I have a white mother just like Obama, so I must understand how Obama's brain works, too, right? CNN is doing it again– trying to take a random person and then smear someone by making very generalized statements to tie them into it. Not all Christians believe the same things on absolutely EVERY issue. Usually when you generalize like that, you condemn it as racist if it is done to blacks, right? But everyone else is fair game– even when the connection is far looser and more invalid.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:07 am |
    • TeaBaggersLoveWitchiepoo

      ...teabaggerly comment

      August 14, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  15. Stymie99

    I'm sorry, but any "insight" story provided by an author who works for CNN is not going to be accurate. If you want to form an accurate opinion about Bachmann, form it for yourself. You will need to view live (or video footage of) speeches, debates, and interviews. I'm not talking a gaffe reel either. All politicians commit gaffes. I'm talking about actual speeches, interviews and debates. If you are forming your opinion based on anything other than live or video evidence, it's probably been filtered or distorted by the liberal media. This story is a good example.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  16. Dakota

    Alisa, Excellent article! To many Christians have developed false ideologies. They misinterpret the bible the same way that they misinterpret history. As your article points out, Who do we know that has done that? They do so to achieve their own agendas, bringing Christianity into politics in order to play to the naive. They define Christian values as aligning with Ayn Rand (a lady whose teachings have been embraced by a political party in the United States) rather that with Martin Luther King. And yet Ayn Rand detested Christianity and true Christian values. She had no sympathy for the poor.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:05 am |
  17. blackbear701

    I was blown away by this article. I wish that our government was filled with people like Alisa Harris; if it were, we would be so much better off. I'd vote for her in a heartbeat, no matter what her political association is.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • jimjoe

      Please no. then we would have more manipulative partisan hatemongers.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:06 am |
  18. jason

    Oh okay, I see the logic here CNN. By God, if a conservative woman twenty years ago mentioned an author in passing, that defines their whole mentality right? So, god forbid, if she has loosely expressed liking for some Christian organization that condemns abortion– by god that means she's a crazy nut job, and she must agree with absolutely everything that organizations has ever taught– from stated creed down to the random statements of an individual member. I see how that works. All the while, Obama who has stated many times things similar to the racist, anti-american views of Rev Wright, we are supposed to ignore. Can't possible be true, and if you think that Obama is unamerican, you must be racist. Ridiculous.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:04 am |
    • Chris

      You have read far too much of your personal ideology into this simple article, and twisted everything it is about. You are making yourself look like a fool.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • David Myers

      Agreed. A fool who blathers.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:08 am |
  19. DK

    She could have been Michelle Bachmann???? How??? Opinions are easy...I see Rep Bachmann living her beliefs FEARLESSLY. She reminds me of another fearless woman I had the priviledge of meeting–Benazir Bhutto. I doubt that few if any of us posting have made the decision to walk-out our beliefs at the peril of our own lives. Rep. Bachmann is taking hits as a Chritsian, a woman, a legislator and a candidate. She has my admiration. Writing an article on your computer from your home-office is not the same.....sorry my dear, you are no Michelle Bachmann.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • CF

      I am not sorry at all that Alisa Harris is no Michelle Bachmann. One is quite enough. Michelle Bachmann is no Benazir Bhutto.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • James

      You compare Bachman to Bhutto? There is a million miles between the two.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • DTB

      Oh wow. You actually support Bachmann. How cute!

      August 14, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • Chris

      Jared Loughner lived his beliefs fearlessly, that is not always a good thing.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  20. El Kababa

    All of you who think this article is a plot by the world-wide-socialist-media conspiracy are as crazy as Bachman.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:01 am |
    • Niclas Holm

      You're a radical communist so what do you know??

      August 14, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • David Myers

      Nicolas Holms (sp?): And you're a right-wing fundamentalist christian fascist. I prefer Christians to be followers of the teachings of Jesus – you know love your enemies and do unto others what thou would have them do unto you?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:11 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.