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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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Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Upperhand9978

    Bachmann is a religious zealot, a nut job not too much unlike David Koresh and his crazy followers that all set themselves on fire after holing themselves into some compound for weeks on end. Bachmann is full of extreme and dangerous fascist ideologies that would set this Country back 150+ years, she's blinded by her own ignorance, quite typical of a tea bagger. The Tea baggers started out of hatred toward a black president, she represents a hateful group of crazies. Hopefully she's snuffed out before the primaries, every time she opens her mouth she spews her brainwashed ideologies, anti-Evolution, anti-Science BS, she'll provide several months of material for various comedians before she fades back into the idiocracy called the Tea party.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • Gerald

      Dude we ain't gotta wait for her to be elected to go back 150 years. Way things are going, with those we have thus far chosen to run this country, we'll be third world soon enough.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Upperhand9978

      Can't argue there, Gerald, unfortunately this country is filled with ignoramus crazies like Bachmann, the scary thing is that she's not alone. The fact that someone like her can get elected into a political office of power is case & point of why this country is headed for 3rd world.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  2. Robble

    Anyone who hears God talking to them should cover their head in foil and sign up for thorazine injections.
    Get this psychotic moron out of our faces!

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

    Hey everyone... Is "domestic terrorists" the term of the day, and I wasn't informed?

    June 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  4. Stop

    A feminist believes women have the right to choose... therefore, Bachmann is not a feminist. Story done.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • fedup99

      God! (or whoever) sure hope it works.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  5. Ritt Momney

    The liberal media is too scared that Romney might beat Obama in '12. Therefore, they are trying so hard to anoint Michele Bachmann.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • fsmgroupie

      how can romney possibly lose - he does wear the magical mormon underwear - just ask him

      June 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • asrael

      Didn't see that theory coming; thanks for the chuckle opportunity...

      June 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  6. JennyTX

    Condoleeza Rice is Presbyterian, not evangelical.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      they are considered part of the Evangelical generalization....along with Pentecostal, baptist, Lutheran, etc

      June 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  7. ThinkAgain

    Bachmann's idea of "feminism" is for a woman to "submit" to her husband. My idea of feminism is the radical idea that women are people, too – which means we are equals and partners, not required to automatically submit to someone just because their genitalia differs from ours.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  8. Pinewalker

    WOW! As an evangelical woman, I was impressed at how straightforward this article was and didn't veer off into the normal spin factory. Almost dead on!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  9. teamtrek

    This is someone who wants to lead our country, but she thinks it was our founding fathers who worked tirelessly to end slavery. She blames FDR for causing the Depression by signing the Hoot-Smalley Tariff Act – she should know who Herbert Hoover is, the actual signer, since she keeps citing her Iowa roots. This is like Sarah Palin 2.0. Here's a solution: Every candidate should appear on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader." Only those that actually win can move forward with their campaign.

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

      Excellent idea!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  10. Metta World Peace

    I guess I wouldn't have a problem with an evangelical president as long as they didn't make me pray and stayed the **** out of my business...

    June 27, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  11. surfs-up-charlie

    Where did cnn find that picture of Ms. Bachmann (isn't this a German word)?; whats up with that, anyway?) Oh Whatever.
    It certainly is not an very appealing snapshot of Ms. Bachmann, now is it? Her head looks too small with that puffed-out thing some of you may call 'hair,,helmet! And Stop! your public braying about religion . Its embarrassingly. Stop pretending there is a god above us who gives a crap about our little planet but more importantly about.you . And on a completely non-related issue, people, please stop Capitalizing words that you (alone) find Important. What? You think we can't figure that out on our own? You think we can't see what you think about your audience?

    June 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • Bob Loblaw

      Take your shoes off and get back in the kitchen BIIIOOOOCCCHHHHH.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      Your embarrassing! Quit the whine feat!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  12. snowyowl

    Quoting Miguel: "Bachmann is at least as accomplished `, if not more so than Obama was when he ran for president.... and no one can contest that"

    You're right Miguel, she's accomplished all right: She has made quite a name for herself as a religious bigot, proud ignoramus, and mouthpiece for the the corporate overclass. No contest. But what I can't figure is how any of this makes her a Christian.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Upperhand9978

      Right on, owl, couldn't have said it better myself. Bachmann represents everything that is wrong with this Country. She should adopt a slogan similar to that of Palin: "Bringing Stupid Back."

      June 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  13. Steve

    Being a feminist isn't the same thing as being a militant female with a forceful personality. If Michele Bachmann wants to ride under the banner of feminism, she needs to proactively promote women's issues in her platform.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  14. Mandy

    Please stop making Bachmann appear to be news-worthy. She isn't. I live in her district. I know what a complete fabrication she is. Feminist? You have to be joking. She stood on the Minnesota capitol steps and proclaimed that the Minnesota public schools were "godless", as if they were supposed to be something else. She lies about where she lives. She recently moved from a modest home very near me to a multi-million dollar estate in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota. How she could afford this place on a House of Representative's salary is a mistery to all of us. Her husband is a minister and does some counseling. This deserves CNN's attention and is news-worthy. Wheather she is a feminist is offensive to feminists.

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

      Part of the money has come from government funds supporting her husband's business: "Bachmann and Associates, Inc., a Christian mental health clinic founded and run by Rep. Michele Bachmann’s husband, has been taking money from Minnesota’s coffers since it was founded in 2003."

      Just google "Bachmann husband business" and you'll begin to get an idea of just what a huge hypocrite this woman is!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Upperhand9978

      No doubt the media should jump on this self-proclaimed feminazi's financial background. She's accepted a lot of gov't handouts, taxpayers put her in that multi-million dollar McMansion. Bachmann is a vile disgrace to Americans, she represents all that's wrong with this Country. Hopefully she'll be snuffed out so we don't have to listen to or see any more of her BS in the media.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  15. GloSeattle

    Kinda makes you sick what's running for President lately

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

      So true. We have losers right and left. I think I could throw a rock at a pick-up basketball game and get two better candidates. Or throw a banana in a grocery store.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  16. Jane Doe

    Michel;e doesnt have the cahonies for that job (shes too femine, dainty and fragile and that will not work well in that position. Hillary did tho.

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

      I always thought Hillary had cahones.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • alexander price

      lol @ gerald

      June 27, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • JennyTX

      It's spelled "cojones".

      June 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Gerald

      What are you Jenny, a dictionary?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  17. Rolph

    What the hell ever happenned to "Separation of Church and State"
    is this a country or a biblical gathering?

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

      Ever read about the IRS in the Consitution? Or that the government provides this rate of spending? We all have a "definition" of what govt. is.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Jane Doe

      I agree.. religion of any kind shouldnt even be a factor. They dont let it in schools, they dont let it in courts of law, and it need to stay out of the white house. Thats all we need is some feminie bible thumper up there and when push comes to shove, she wont take any military action against anyone if need be because the "bible says its wrong" lol

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

      Are you an idiot look up seperation of church and state. Its to keep the state of religion. Not religion out of the state

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

      John
      The mostly religious leaders who founded our nation had the freedom to try to create the best possible nation. They decided on one that kept religion out of government.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Wait a sec

      Joh, separation of church and state is about keeping the state from siding with one religion over the others. Not keeping the state of religion, whatever that is. And Bachmann tried to push Christian beliefs into a publicly funded charter school – until the parents got fed up and kicked her out. That is a classic violation of the separation of church and state.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • asrael

      Anybody tossing "idiot" at someone else had better get the basic words – in this case, separation – spelled correctly. That means you, John. Here's a helper I learned years ago: there's "a rat" in separation. Works every time. And go easy on the name-calling...

      June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  18. GeorgeBos95

    Bachmann is a ... flake. Although she may see herself as a "serious" candidate, she'll get no further than Palin.

    If either of those two make any real headway in the primaries, the Republicans are sunk.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Tante Waileka

      And aren't you a male chauvinist pig. Another reason I say 'men-can't shoot em, can't stab em, CAN verbally castrate 'em, that's easy, most of them are quite stupid anyway.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • rigel54

      Tante, it's not because she's a woman, it's because she's a moron.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  19. James Black

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

    June 27, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  20. yeah...

    Well I'm glad CNN is fair and impartial and not about LABELING candidates on their headline.....

    June 27, 2011 at 11:14 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.