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Michele Bachmann, evangelical feminist?
June 27th, 2011
06:09 PM ET

Michele Bachmann, evangelical feminist?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - If Hillary Clinton, the woman who came closest to becoming a major party presidential nominee, is a feminist icon, could something similar be said of Michele Bachmann, who officially launched her presidential campaign on Monday?

Bachmann is seldom described in those terms; the conservative Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party darling might cringe at the feminist label.

But some religion and politics experts say that she exemplifies an evangelical feminism that is producing more female leaders in Christian nonprofits, businesses, and education and politics, even as more traditional gender roles prevail in evangelical homes and churches.

“It’s not that evangelical feminism is entirely new,” says R. Marie Griffith, director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. “But this lack of fear going into top positions of power is new and astonishing and exciting for this segment of the population.”

Though evangelical women have long been involved in political activism, including helping to lead the temperance movement and campaigning for and against women's right to vote, seeking the White House is a more recent and dramatic step.

“It’s a trend that was started by Sarah Palin,” Griffith said, referring to the former Alaska governor, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008.

D. Michael Lindsay, a scholar who has studied evangelical leaders, says that evangelical feminism largely followed the trend in secular feminism, even if it was delayed by a decade or so.

“Evangelicals are not traditionally the innovators in gender roles, so they’re not going to be at the vanguard,” says Lindsay, who was recently appointed president at Gordon College and who wrote the book Faith in the Halls of Power. “But they also don’t trail too far behind.”

Lindsay says that evangelical feminism took off in the 1980s, pointing to Ronald Reagan tapping Elizabeth Dole, a Christian with strong connections in the evangelical world, to be his secretary of transportation as one example.

George W. Bush, meanwhile, appointed evangelical women to top roles in his presidential administration, including Karen Hughes as a top adviser and Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state.

At the same time, there are distinctions between evangelical and secular feminism. Many female evangelical leaders, for instance, talk of being called by God to pursue professional careers.

“This idea of women being out in the world when they’re doing God’s work – that’s the key,” says Griffith, who is author of God's Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission. “You have to be called.”

Bachmann, an evangelical Lutheran, has talked of being called to run for president.

“When I pray, I pray believing that God will speak to me and give me an answer to that prayer, and so that’s what a calling is,” she told CBS News on Sunday, explaining that she had prayed about her decision to seek the presidency. “If I pray, a calling means that I have a sense from God which direction I’m supposed to go.”

Another difference between some evangelical and secular feminists is a public emphasis on motherhood. Bachmann’s political identity is constructed largely around her role as a mother of five kids and her experience of taking in 23 foster children.

Palin, who was raised in the Pentecostal tradition, has also emphasized her role as mother, frequently discussing her children and famously using the term “mama grizzlies” to describe female political candidates for whom she campaigns.

Lindsay says that the motherhood angle could be refreshing to evangelical voters, who constitute a majority of the Republican electorate in early states like Iowa and South Carolina.

“A lot of male evangelical politicians have trumpeted family values, but we’ve seen time after time how many break their marriage vows and have tense relationships with their kids,” he says.

“When you’re the mother of four or five kids up there talking about how their commitment to politics stems from your commitment to kids, which is true for both Palin and Bachmann, that resonates with people who are skeptical of American politics.”

The emphasis that some women evangelical leaders place on motherhood appears to be connected to women taking on more prominent roles in the antiabortion movement, which is closely tied to the evangelical subculture.

“There were a lot of women who were representing the old guard abortion center feminism and there were very few pro-life women who were credentialed in state legislatures and running at the federal level,” says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List, describing the organization’s founding 20 years ago.

Dannenfelser’s group works to elect women candidates who oppose abortion rights, raising roughly $11 million in the 2010 election cycle.

“The constant line from Jane Fonda and Barbara Boxer on abortion was ‘You can’t possibly know how a woman feels - how dare you speak on an issue you have no knowledge of,'” says Dannenfelser, referring to the pro-abortion rights actress and U.S. senator.

“Now we have women communicating the truth of the matter, which is that abortion is really destroying a lot of women,” she says.

Though Bachmann is widely considered to be a long shot for the GOP nomination, a weekend poll from The Des Moines Register had her running second only to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among likely Republican caucus-goers, with 22% support.

Even as more evangelical women pursue top jobs in politics, there is little sign that they will be invited into similar roles in evangelical churches, which continue to be led by men, with some exceptions. Some evangelical denominations, including Southern Baptists, have recently moved to put more restrictions on women serving as pastors.

“It seems to me that most evangelical congregations make a sharp divide between the sacred and secular realms,” says Lindsay, “so that church is the last context where you’ll see women in ordained roles.”

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Somebody please stop this insanity! I can't stop laughing! Bachmann 2012? ROTFLMAO!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  2. NYCMovieFan

    Please don't compare this sad excuse for a person with Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton has earned her place in history, Bachman is trying to invent enough lies to be a footnote to a footnote in history. Shame on Bachman, shame on her for being a know nothing whose only goal is self glorification at the expense of others. God forgive her.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      God has nothing to do with it. Heaven help us if the electorate doesn't figure it out.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  3. obamayakyak

    I would vote for Bachman over Barack Hussien Obama. Bachman may be weird, but Obama is a marxist thug and a friend and supporter of domestic terrorists.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      Huh?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • fedup99

      It would be great if you would cite some of the reasons for this absurd remark, along with a few facts might actually make people take you seriously. Anything will do.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • will

      You are a moron.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Wackadoo

      You fit right in with Bachmann you loon. A punch of fire breathing bigots for Christ. If the white man can't have tell American what to do than no one can!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Debbie

      Obomayakyak,
      There is nobody more marxist than the republican party.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  4. fedup99

    What crap! Her reasons for running for the presidency is the same as any others.
    Its power, fame, and money and thats the only criteria that they make their decisions by.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  5. Sally

    Michele is not a freminist as long as she is anti-choice

    June 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  6. Jatodog

    She has no hope of winning but as long as she serves as a bug light for stupid voters and dividing the GOP, I say "go for it Michele."

    June 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  7. James Lupton

    Why is the media even taking this woman seriously. Why are they not rolling over laughing? What is wrong with them? And what is wrong with the Republican party if they actually end up nominating her?

    June 27, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      You sort of answered your own question. If she (somehow) gets nominated (or even if she somehow becomes a serious candidate) then the media has to consider her a serious candidate. Maybe she'll be the Jimmy Carter of this election (heaven help us). The election "season" has been so extended by the media that all options have to be considered.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  8. Nathan

    like "mama grizzlies", Sarah Palin needs to be in a zoo.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  9. bailoutsos

    Listened to a part of her speech and it was intriguing how she threw god's name in there with all the rest. Sounded like an Oscar winner's speech.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Lena

      Hey, remember when Christine O'Donnell claimed that God told her to run after video surfaced in which she said she dabbled in witchcraft? Didn't work for her as she waited too long. Crazy Michelle got on the boat early. (BTW–I'm a Christian who never votes GOP).

      June 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Debbie

      That's what bothers me. Mentioning God just to get votes

      June 28, 2011 at 2:21 am |
  10. Roberto

    Dear "jazmin", "WDinDallas", "Nocordoba"...

    "jazmin"... it's BONA FIDE, not "BONO" Fide, YOU IDIOT. Learn English and learn how to spell, YOU IDIOT!...See Spot Run!. Start from there. I'm thinking, maybe, 1958 forward. Oooh! Ooooh! What's this coming in on my smart phone? Jeezus! Life's fun when your not in touch with reality, isn't it?

    "WDinDallas"... so, does that mean you're from Dallas? That explains a WHOLE LOT! You're from the BIBLE BELT! When's the last time you read any ancient history? "Uhhhhh, Ah don't thank ah done evver red no ANKCHENT histry." There. I put in your response for you, dumb****!

    "Nocordoba"... Please refer to the above.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Martin

      Your sentence structure is reprehensible.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  11. Willyboy

    Christian Feminist? Nope... Psychotic Christofascist? You betcha...

    June 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  12. bill

    is this the wack job who wants to teach creationism in schools?

    These evangelicals reappear in different forms, but they never go away

    June 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • zabazoom

      Ya she's the same FLAKE that when on the school board started a charter school that had to have it's charter revoked over teaching fundamentalist curriculum. The same Flake that implies she has a PHD when in reality it is just a JD. That she raised 23 foster kids when she had most of them for a few days. The one who's followers see themselves in her distorted refection. The loony that started rewriting science, then history, and now social studies. Bottom line from someone who's from the Mn6th and on first name basses with Shelly , unlike the people she seems to have fooled here I 'can tell you certainty she's no feminist.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  13. NewGeneration

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    June 27, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Lena

      New Generation, I love it. But, seriously. Bachmann is NO kind of feminist because feminists don't believe they have to submit and strictly obey their husbands-as Bachmann has indicated. Palin is a bigger joke as she "preaches" that women shouldn't be paid equally for the same work. (Although I'm sure she doesn't want that rule applied to her.) To clarify for CNN: Palin is a token and Bachmann is a nut case.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  14. Terrie Hurt

    What Bachman and women like her are doing is not feminism at all, but rather a perverse kind of fascism. They want to control women's lives, instead of liberating them. So please do not appropriate the language of feminism to serve their agenda!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  15. Randy, San Francisco

    The term Evangelical Christian Feminist is an oxymoron. Conservative Evangelical Christian Churches believe wives should be subservient to their husbands or men.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Jsaltz

      Can someone please get rid of this lady?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  16. brian

    will stalin's tanks fit in the white house driveway?

    June 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  17. Karen

    I would love to see a woman president. However, I want an intelligent, educatedwoman. Bachman is neither.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • Clavigne

      You may not agree with her policies but unintelligent and uneducated she is not. She's an attorney with an advanced degree.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  18. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    ..

    June 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Debbie

      So what, she's an attorney with an dvanced degree. That doesn't make her presidential material. The say GWB alo had a degree, look where he led us.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:25 am |
  19. Jason Glugla

    She is a very Christian woman, wants to give the wealthy and corporations more tax breaks while reducing the minimum wage.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Debbie

      Can someone explain to me why the wealthiest people are paying 18% in taxes while the middle class and those making minimum wage are paying i think about 33% taxes. How does the GOP sleep at night. The wealthy tax cuts did not net us new jobs, we actually lost 600,000 jobs since giving them the tax break.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  20. Oldie in TampaBay

    ROFLMAO!

    PALIN/BACHMANN 2012

    June 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Karen

      Great material for saturday night live.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
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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.