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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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. fedup99

    Can you imagine if she were elected and she got tired and picked up her Barbies and quit?
    Palin and Bachman cant hold a candle to Clinton. Now that lady has her sh!t together

    June 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  2. kevin

    a.k.a hypocrite

    June 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
    • Gerald

      Who? Hillary? CNN? Take your pick. Plenty of hypocrits to chose from. Just close your eyes and point.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  3. icedawg

    What a typical media spin, especially CNN. Feminism and politics. Gender roles. What if she is just a woman who sensed a call to serve in the area of politics? Forget the popular media made categories. Creative reporting I guess. What smoke!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  4. Nocordoba

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfR8hSHQHD8&w=640&h=360]

    '

    June 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  5. eliot simon temple

    ewe!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:04 pm |
  6. James Black

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

    June 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  7. Popcorn

    Does anyone have CLUE where is AMERICA HEADING?

    you know information age is getting boring. I tried to find an answer and being patient. Spending time playing game online. No. It's not this type of future.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  8. Soccer Mom

    Elect her! She is the chosen one. "Called" to lead the lost...Our second hockey mom shall save us all.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • sugarmama

      No, no! The prophesy clearly states it is the THIRD B@tsh-t Crazy Right-Wing Soccer Mom who will save us! Definitely not the second.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Gerald

      Yea! Maybe she'll even make a "Change". Oh, wait a minute...

      June 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  9. Nocordoba

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0fQd858cRc For those who really don't believe our country was founded by christian men.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Observer

      Leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were Deists, which means they were NOT Christians.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Nocordoba

      George Washington was not a deist. Thomas Jefferson it is doubtful considering he said on slavery "I Tremble for my country when i reflect that God is just and that his justice cannot sleep forever" this is against what deists believe to say this.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Chaz

      You really don't know your history, do you? The Star-Spangled Banner was written A GENERATION after the Founding Fathers, during the time that the myth of America being Christian nation was being spread throughout the U.S. Of course it means nothing that John Adams specifically stated that America WAS NOT a Christian nation in the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796-7.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Observer

      Jefferson thought that the Bible was so full of nonsense that he edited his own version down to less than 50 pages. Look up Jefferson Bible.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • The Lowdown on the Lowbrow

      Jefferson took the bible and cut out everything he thought was supernatural or a misinterpretation of the gospels. No angels, no miracles, no prophecy, no ressurection.

      Any president who did that today would be burned at the stake.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
  10. ufadoof

    Comparing Clinton with Bachmann? The only thing these two women have in common is their gender.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  11. Rich

    Bachmann is the best thing to happen to the Democratic party in a long time.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • Gerald

      What about the Wiener? Really showed what dems were made of.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      It's spelled Weiner. And Weiner's texted pix are not one-hundreth's as embarrassing as any single clip of Bachmann's speech.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • StormeeATL

      Ankeney, Gingrich, Barr, Bena, Calvert, Foley, Schwarznegger, Libby, Limbaugh, Packwood, Haggard, Craig, Allen...come on Rich, yes, Dems are not perfect but you either have your head in the sand or are a hypocrite if you think this doesn't show what the Republicans are like

      June 27, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • StormeeATL

      Sorry Rich, that was meant for Gerald

      June 27, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Gerald

      No doubt there are alot of skeletons in many closets.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  12. Peter E

    CNN, please stop embarrassing yourself. Bachmann is no Hillary. Hillary is an intelligent person who has ideas and a personality. Bachmann has none of that. I know you got disappointed that your pushing Palin down our throats 24/7 didn't pan out, but trying again with THIS woman is just plain embarrassing. At least Palin had a personality. She still had no intelligence or ideas, but replacing her with Bachmann is downright insulting.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  13. The Real Candidate

    There is no point discussing the individual candidates: the real candidate is the economy. Barring a major screw-up by one or the other final candidate (certainly possible), the presidential election will be decided by whether the economy improves or not. The Republicans could field Hitler/Himmler as their ticket, and they'd win if the economy sucks. Obama could announce that Joseph Stalin is his Vice President and he'd win if the economy is noticably improving.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  14. Russell Hammond, Hollywood

    I could never vote for anyone who insists that "hundreds and hundreds" of "scientists" (and Nobel Laureates) dispute evolution. I want to see that list. Here's a hint – Bachmann pulled that figure right out of her ass. But I love her because she's on the Democrat's payroll. Obvious, right?

    June 27, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
    • The Lowdown on the Lowbrow

      This comes from the fact that over 500 scientists signed a Statement Skeptical of Evolution.

      Of course, Project Steve found 1166 scientists named Steve who would sign the countering statement below. They are generally far more prestigeous scientists than the 500, and include people like Stephen Hawking. Steves are 1% of the scientific community, so a little simple math will show you the reality that it's 500 to 116600. So, Michelle Bachmann is deceiving you with a number that is apparently large but is actually very very small.

      The statement: "Evolution is a vital, well-supported, unifying principle of the biological sciences, and the scientific evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that all living things share a common ancestry. Although there are legitimate debates about the patterns and processes of evolution, there is no serious scientific doubt that evolution occurred or that natural selection is a major mechanism in its occurrence. It is scientifically inappropriate and pedagogically irresponsible for creationist pseudoscience, including but not limited to "intelligent design," to be introduced into the science curricula of our nation's public schools."

      June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      She is correct. Many scientists are against evolution, but dare not speak. I doubt Rep. Bachmann would reply to your post. So in interest of your knowledge and personal growth, just google it. Perhaps you will learn something before you post next time!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • The Lowdown on the Lowbrow

      Louis, your "many" is 1 scientist in 200. That's not many; that's nothing.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  15. katahdin

    She against equal political, social and economic rights for women. She wants women to have no control over their own bodies. She thinks women should be under male control.
    She's no feminist.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  16. Samuel

    Okay, so I will attempt to express my disgust in a way that prevents me from doing some "mansplaning"

    Feminists come in many different forms, from the GSM community, men, and all stripes of women, however, the core tenant of feminist ideology in this era is that women are equal to men. They are as intelligent, are as strong, can do the same things as men can. The other central idea is that no one, man or woman, can tell a woman what to do with her life or body.

    So, if you sum all of that up, throwing in the trans* community, is Michele Bachmann an "evangelical feminist"? No.

    She is a powerful woman to be sure, and indeed there are many conservative feminists in regards to economic policy and the like. However, autonomy for women's bodies? no. Equality? no. The idea of Bachmann being a feminist is a joke. There is such a thing as internal misogyny.

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

    I have thought of a way that will win you Progressive Obamists over to Bachman. If she has a good friend of hers detonate a bomb in the U.S. Capital, the Pentagon, and other public places, you would fall in love with her.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Debbie

      You are very sick

      June 28, 2011 at 2:38 am |
  18. Nocordoba

    To whoever doesn't believe our country was founded on Christianity http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfR8hSHQHD8

    June 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  19. Miguel

    I always laugh when I see those groups of self proclaimed "feminists" putting down a woman who is strong, capable, charismatic, and displays intelligence and abilities to lead, BUT that woman does not have the more liberal or left of center viewpoint that they do. These are not femininsts – these are hypocrites, who are really just following one political doctrine and not the least bit interested in seeing all women advance, only those women who agree with their politics.

    These so called "feminists" are of the same mold as people of ethnic or racial groups who put down another member of their racial or ethnic group, saying he or she is not a true (fill in your favorite racial or ethnic group) because he or she does not agree with their point of view.

    Same verse, different group – attack the person as not being true – only so the ones who are criticizing can maintain their power base by spewing inflammatory and discriminatory rhetoric that has truly kept the people they are saying they are helping down/poor and dependent.

    A true feminist would embrace women of other political views ascending to positions of authority, and would not be afraid, as ultimately there would a balance – one that slides left and right over time – but at least one that would bring more women into those positions more rapidly.

    By the way, I do not necessarily endorse any evangelical – or fundamentalist point of view, although I have both conservative and some more liberal views. I find that people who are extremists (left or right) have one major goal in life – to convert you to their cause or kill you. I think many of these politicians are not extremists, but are appealing to a particular group or theme. I am pointing out that many feminists who proclaim to be for women's rights etc are anything but femininists. Bachmann if she really turned out the be electable, might turn out to be a good thing for the women of the US... I personally thought Hillary was far more capable and accomplished than Obama, and I recall how fiercely she was turned upon... not only by many in the party but by the media.... Bachmann is at least as accomplished `, if not more so than Obama was when he ran for president.... and no one can contest that.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  20. Ray

    Is this the same Michele Bachmann who suggested abolishing the minimum wage as an answer to unemployment? Christianity is not a "lifestyle brand" like Whole Foods or something. The callous politics of the Tea Party has nothing in common with the compassionate teachings of Jesus Christ.

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

      Killing babies has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ either, but the anti-Bachmanites seem to derive great joy in the idea that babies can be killed randomly.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
    • MikeyZ

      Obviously, you haven't been paying attention to Christianity for the last forty-plus years.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:06 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.