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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.”

ALSO:

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

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Opinion: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Jennifer

    Evangelical Feminist, means barefoot, knocked up, and in the kitchen..

    June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Gerald

      Now how would you feel if that standard were being applied to all females? Is that your view of feminism?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      You are right.. I was married to a woman who's family were right wing nut babtist evangelist.. they were complete nuts..
      Fortunately I did not fit in, and did not comply, we are divorced.. what a relief....

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

      Spoken like a true Progressive Democrat Obamist, honey child.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • fedup99

      Bush was an evangelical feminists. Thats why God choked him in the oval office while he was drinking that beer and eating peanuts.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • MooseKnuckle

      Oh Jennifer, you ignorant piece of white trash, dumpster diving loser.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • fedup99

      Gerald, somehow you missed the point. Im not surprised.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Nicole

      Hahaha...so true.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  2. shawn smith

    Is this woman a hermanfordike or what she can't even speak to people on national tv no doubt cannot relate to normal everyday people who are struggling she has kids of her own and raises 23 foster kids she needs to return to doing that instead of trying to run the country which would definetly be headed for civil war if she was anywhere close to being elected to president. To go on and talk about president obama which inherited her and fellow republicans problems from last administration is a the truth which any normal american who is not in the top 1 percent can see so clearly only way republicans wipe there butts is not with toilet paper but with dollar bills of the middle class and poor. I s!!t on republicans they can kiss my ass with a short straw.teabaggers

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

      yup, my but- too! republicans have created this mess and yet our stupid electorate put that idiot bush back in again. ugh, let's hope the stupids stay under their rocks and their bachmann idiot and palin idio stay where they belong...far far away.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • vic

      For God's sake, PUNCTUATE!

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

      Hey Moron. Are you retarded or do you choose to ignore grammar rules.?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Robert

      Time for the koolaide people to understand.............this is Obama's economy. Remember those shovel ready jobs that the 885 billion dollars was to go for? Oh really? You believed him? All those billions of dollars and what do we as a nation have to show for it --- not much, unless you consider that GM used some of that money from us taxpayers to help build a new plant for them in MEXICO. This is Obama's economy – and a representation of his failed economic policies. Jan 2010......State of the Union Address "Jobs are my number 1 priority"........President Barack Obama ---– so how are those jobs doing for ya?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • obamayakyak

      Shaw Smith is not a moron. He is your typical government school educated loyal Obamist. More of a half-wit than a moron. With a little domestic terrorist streak mixed in.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  3. Popcorn

    Depressed in American. Is it real?

    June 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Debbie it was all good

      Robert & Obamayakyak,
      Sorry but the bailout began with your buddy GW. OH by the way, bailing out GM- lets see paid money back with interest ahead of time, seems like it worked huh. Our current president inherited most of this crap from Bush. When Clinton left office

      June 28, 2011 at 2:48 am |
  4. Limbaugh is a liberal

    If the best thing you can say about this republican candidate is a ludicrous attempt likening her to a DEMOCRATIC icon, then the GOP is pretty desperate. LOL!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • MooseKnuckle

      Democrat icon???? No such thing. More likely a dummycrat ball sniffer.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  5. yogaenthusiast

    Totally agree with our comments. Leave god out of this. The religious right tries to cram their extreme beliefs down everyone's throats. Makes me gag. There are those, many of those out here who do not wish to have religion be a part of our politics.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Gerald

      And there are those of us who want to keep social experimentation out of politics as well. Maybe one day we shall find a happy medium. What say ye matey?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • MooseKnuckle

      Do you practice yoga so you can lick your butt?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  6. reese

    vote for ron paul

    June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Gerald

      Smartest thing I've seen posted thus far.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • free2do

      Absolutely! How many gaffes has Ron had? Bachman and every other candidate hhas had many. Ron Paul!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Peter E

      Republicans fear Ron Paul because he is an ACTUAL conservative. He wants to cut defense spending and abolish all the corporate subsidies republicans keep giving their campaign contributors.
      Republicans will oust him before he even gets to Iowa.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  7. obamayakyak

    So Barack Hussien Obama has a close pal that visits in the White House quite often, a friend he has known for 20 years, and the friend is a confessed terrorist responsible for the boming of public buildings in D.C. And you are attacking Bachman like a pack of rabid dogs and orgasming every time Mr. Obama makes a pronouncement. No wonder this country is now spinning out of control.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Lena

      Obama went Harvard. Bachmann is crazy.

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

      This country is spinning out of control from republicans and democratics alike. Pay particular credit to the republicans and their sanctomonious hypocricy and their obsession with god and the like. Leave your religious crap out of my politics.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      Michelle is a extreme right wing nut..

      June 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • fedup99

      What in the he!! are you talking about? You've lost your mind. Oh yeah, God will make it better.
      I believe in God, just that I don't believe in any religion (war and hate mongers)and I've never been happier or more successful.
      Signed; Former Catholic

      June 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      You do know even Foxnews hasn't made up conspiracy stories like yours. Have you tried reading facts before you write something as embarrassingly ludicrous as your post?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • obamayakyak

      I don't mention god, then you obamists say I did, and you don't respond to the fact that Mr. Obama runs with domestic terrorists. Mr. Obama is a vastly more dangerous person than Bachman could ever be.

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

      Wonder what grades he made at Harvard ? We will never know. Every president since Kennedy as allowed grades to be released. But not this marxist dog.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      Dude, that rumor has been dispelled repeatedly back in '08 already! Check your facts before continuing to embarrass yourself. It embarrassed McCain, it will be laughed at again.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • obamayakyak

      Bill Ayers is not a rumor. He is a terrorist. A close personal friend of the Obamas. He bombed the U.S. Capital. Confessed. Refused to apologize. It tells us all we need to know about the Obamas and what they think about this country. And the fact you know about it means you follow CNN or NPR.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      I didn't say Bill Ayres wasn't real. But the facts are that Obama served on the same REPUBLICAN financed education committee along with some other REPUBLICANS as Bill Ayres. That's the only place they've interracted and there is absolutely no evidence they were 'close friends.' And those are facts from FOXNEWS, your favorite!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Limbaugh is a liberal

      And if you want to get into the whole 'who hates America' more, let us not forget all the right-wing apologists for Timothy McVeigh, a right-wing NRA extremist, and registered republican, who ended up becoming the greatest domestic terrorist this country has ever seen!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  8. Willyboy

    Oh for pity's sake, CNN get that vile creature's demented visage off your main page.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  9. pinko

    Christian evangelical feminist? Thats as absurd as a Christian male female. By nature a Christian evangelical cannot be a feminist.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  10. Euorgos

    Why does Michele Bachmann strike me as someone who really is nothing more than a modern day Anita Bryant?

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

      Because she is. Just another typical right wing Christian who is ready to ride to the top on her female organs.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    It is very dangerous to elect political leaders who claim to be led by God as it makes them overconfident in their opinions and decisions which in actuality may be detrimental to the country and to society.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • fedup99

      AaaaH! There's the rub. They must always be right in everything they do, because its Gods choice and therefore infallible.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • fusimperial

      if every american thought like you, we would be as loved as Canada all around the world, and wouldn't have to spend billions of dollars a year in the army

      June 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      Bush had his bible on his lap, and claimed god talked to him, we all know the results..

      June 27, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
  12. Noigiler

    Reasonable people can debate the positions normally taken by Democrats and Republicans. But the theocratic/fascist agenda of Bachmann and the religious right is something I hope the vast majority of Americans will reject. Not to mention the Supreme Court...

    June 27, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • fedup99

      Forget the court my friend. Its bought and paid for by the GOP.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  13. Ray

    Really? A feminist? Not quite. Crazy and lunatic evangelical christian women. Yes!

    Separation of Church and State!!!!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • fusimperial

      LIKE

      June 27, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  14. fedup99

    neither Palin or Bachman can hold a candle to Hilary. Now that lady has her sh!t together.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  15. fusimperial

    whoever brings up god(sorry, hes not great enough to have a capital g) in the PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN, with the challenges that await the american people, should not only not be taken seriously, they should be hospitilized, at the states expense of course, screw all you people who dont want medicare, your just a bunch of right hand hypocrites. btw, palins daughter had a kid, before marriage I might add, and they decided to keep it because their against abortion. Did i mention she was less than 20? plz reply if you totally agree or not

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

      They want Medicare, all right. They just don't want it for YOU–or a living wage–or even a job.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  16. James Black

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

    June 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
  17. Lena

    You should read the Chicago Tribune article about how she confused John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy being from her hometown in Iowa. Clearly, not the analogy she was looking for. It would be a laugh a minute expect that she's leading the GOP pack right now in Iowa.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • fedup99

      Yeah! Ask her what books and periodicals she reads to formulate her national and international policy. Wanna bet its the good ol'e boys of the GOP and RNC??

      June 27, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Bob from Pittsburgh

      Lena..

      that is minor compared to her real issues.. she has repetaly expressed the high spending of Obama, such in the three years in power has increased the buget for toothpics three times over what bush did, also the spending for chocolat chips cookies he is consuming after stoping smoking is horrendous, he spends five times more than bush..unbelivebable
      Michelle has a kin eye on the spending..

      June 27, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • obamayakyak

      No she didn't. The entire story is a fabriaction of CNN and other Democrat Party Media outlets. Go back and listen to her entire comments.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Robert

      WOW – talk about a gaffe............President Obama got the name of the soldier whom he was awarding the MEDAL OF HONOR – our nations highest award to military personnel. He didn't apologize but the White House admitted he mis-spoke. How is it that the President mis-speaks but others do gaffes???? President Obama SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THE NAME OF THE SOLDIER. "L"oser..........

      June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Observer

      Robert,

      Yep, Obama goofed. Want to compare his "misspeaks" to those of the last Republican president, George "Is Our Children Learning" Bush?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Robert

      Observer..........it is relevant to see that all these people are trying to nail Bachmann regarding John Waynes place of birth vs Obama (I know nothing without a teleprompter) who cannot even remember the name of the soldier being awarded the Medal of Honor. Obama is the President – I don't think it is above his paygrade to know the soldiers name. A far greater gaffe that the while house could only admit he mis-spoke???? "L"oser! Remember – this is now Obamas economy and failed economic policies -- how are those jobs going for ya? Oh ya, shovel ready – "what's that???"

      June 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  18. Kate

    I wish she would dry up and blow away. She is going to make the Republican party lose another election. As far as being a Christian.....who knows ....She sure doesn't have much in facts

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

      I forgot to mention.....has anybody seen her without makeup?

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

      Have you ever seen Obama without a teleprompt? Whats your point? Jeolous?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
    • Observer

      Gerald,

      Speaking of teleprompters, Palin not only uses them, they have to have words phonetically spelled for her. When teleprompters fail, she still has words written on her hands. LOL.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  19. Rock God

    If she's a "feminist," then so is Miss April. She doesn't support a women's reproductive rights. That makes her an anti-feminist. She's a patriarchal tool of corporate elites. Any woman that votes for her is voting against her own interests.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  20. Nocordoba

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0fQd858cRc&w=640&h=360]

    '

    June 27, 2011 at 11:04 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.