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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. fedup99

    We can all re-start the MAD party and vote for Alfred E. Neman.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • post mortal design

      lets re-start the “spread the wealth around" party! it's been working great the last 3 years

      June 27, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  2. post mortal design

    "studies evangelical leaders".... seriously? I guess i study left wing journalists and "intellectuals" but I'd never phrase it that way. The arrogance never fails to amaze me.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
  3. Unknown

    Christian feminist? That's an oxymoron.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • post mortal design

      it shouldn't... christianity has done more for women's rights than any other movement in history.
      i could write a lot about the topic or refer you to a decent article... it's almost midnight so here's a decent article on the topic

      http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/charles_colson/2007/01/obviously_i_cannot_speak_for.html

      June 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • CC

      No, actually it is not. The two are not mutually exclusive.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  4. JennyTX

    How about a Bachmann + Perry ticket? That would set us back a couple of centuries, at least.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  5. The Other Ron

    CNN doesn't like her, she's history.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  6. robCM

    Another Republican clown with not much for qualification.

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

      Well, why not? We have a Democratic clown now...

      June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  7. Sandra

    There are some Democratic nut jobs in the House and Senate that have had their positions so long and are so awful that even Saturday NIght Live makes fun of them. Yet, all I ever hear about on CNN are the nutty Republicans....and of course Mr. Weiner. He did make the news all right.

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

      Your point? supporting this stupid candidate (aka evil twin sister of Palin).. then I will add you to another moron statistic.. you made a good reference to democratic nut jobs which I tend to agree but did the know it alls come up with a solution other than whining to death.. err NNOOOO.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
  8. Paul Burnett

    Michele Bachmann appeals to the folks who think that Sarah Palin is too intellectual. Her constant use of fundagelical code words appeals to the willfully ignorant. Her opposition to science, biology and evolution appeals to the scientifically illiterate. By golly, she may have a good chance of winning the presidency!

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

      By golly Paul, you're right. So smart and funny too. Could you please run? Seriously, we could use a godless, self righteous bigot like you in the Whitehouse. You would fix everyhing with Dawkins and Hitchens on your staff. You could round up all the crazy God fearing / loving folk in Middle America and fix em good. Burn their Bibles and Christmas trees - break their Easter eggs over their thick skulls. Make sure the young ones worship at the feet of your Scientist Priests and Atheist Prophets of hopelessness and despair. Sounds like a good plan to get America back on track again.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  9. ted nugget

    b()MB Itch.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  10. Lisa

    Bachmann is very egotistical - more of the cult of "me" begun by Sarah Palin. No thank you. And I don't think Loud and Angry fit with Christian values.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • post mortal design

      you haven't read the bible have you.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • CC

      Oh, I see you have to be very quiet and never angry if you are Christian? Have you ever read the account of Jesus and the temple money changers? There's both loud and angry for you. Just because one is Christian does not mean you must be milk toast.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  11. russel

    I just dont get why American people would actually vote for this woman, if you fact-check her on most of the topics you find that all she says is misleading or just a straight up lie. Sad and terrible how politics work in today's world =(

    June 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • US-First

      Wow. Must be related to Obama.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      Really Tell me 5 facts that she erred on.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Minos

      Please, of course you "don't get why Americans would vote for such a person" - Michele resonates well with people that you loathe and disagree with on the most fundamental issues facing our nation. How is this confusing to you? This is not rocket science. The fact that she invokes such a deep angst and ugly reaction from hardore liberals (based on the comments posted here) makes her all the more interesting for swing voters to track moving forward through this election cycle. Keep up the good work on behalf of Bachmann's campaign. It's working!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:56 am |
  12. ThinkAgain

    What's really sad about all this attention being given to Bachmann is that it will cause the Quitta from Wasilla to do something even more obnoxious to re-grab the headlines ...

    I'm so glad we have an adult in the White House who is busy every day working hard for the betterment of our country; all these Republican yahoos are just a bunch of loser distractions ...

    June 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      I'm actually a Republicsn that likes Obama but he's said some stupid stuff too like the time I heard him pronounce Corpsman like a dead corps man 3 times in one speech or my favorite whe trying to say govt run healthcare us better than private: "UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? It's the Post Office that's always having problems". I'm yeah EXACTLY, thank you Mr President!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  13. John Steel

    What is really sad is that the women candidates who are emerging are polarizing figures from the extreme fringes of either party....oh, now that I think about it, that describes all the male candidates too. I may start believing in God, because he/she is the best hope we have of rescuing this world from the stupidity of mankind.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  14. SpudAZ

    First she didn't know where the revolutionary war began and now she doesn't know where John Wayne was born. She'll probably rub our noses in this too. No respect for this Country or it's History. Is the only pre-requisite for a tea party candidate spontaneous respiration? I wouldn't vote this village idiot dog catcher.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
    • Bob Loblaw

      Is the only pre-requisite for a tea party candidate spontaneous respiration? I wouldn't vote this village idiot dog catcher.

      The only prerequisite for a tea party candidate are an extreme lack of intelligence and reason, oh, and their love of guns. Reviewing the official Republican candidates they don't stand a chance!! OBAMA 2012!!!!! 5TFU republitards!!!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  15. free2do

    Go Ron Paul! Keep tellin it like it is. You are the only one who will take on the establishment. My vote is with you wasted or not.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • fedup99

      A vote is never really wasted. You do know Ron is a conspiracy theorist and will spend billions proving it don't you?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • free2do

      Is the failure of the war on drugs a conspiracy theory? Is being the world police a conspiracy theory? The fed ruling economic policy a conspiracy theory?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  16. Richard Cheese

    Ol' Crazy Eyes doesn't deserve the attention she's getting. To her credit, she actually did her homework, something Sarah Palin can't seem to accomplish.

    We already made a huge mistake electing Bush; one that is going to take America decades to recover from. And he wasn't nearly "evangelical" as this Bachmann. I'd rather not hand the reigns of the country over to someone who has a "personal relationship" with a figment of their imagination.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  17. Brandon Comer

    Women are inferior to men: "A man is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man." (1 Cor. 11:7)

    Women must not have authority over men: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man." (1 Tim. 2:12-14)

    Women must cut their hair off if they don't cover it: "If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off." (1 Cor. 11:6)

    An evangelical female Christian running for President is the mother of all hypocrisy.

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

      Another "red necker" or simply pulling our chains?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • MFL

      My thoughts exactly. The idea of a Christian Feminist might be fine depending on what you mean by "Christian" and "Feminist" but if you are the sort of Christian who believes in the literal truth of the Bible, you should probably read it again before you call yourself a feminist.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • asrael

      Someone ought to buy Brandon a ticket to the next Bachmann rally, so that he can yell out those Bible quotations to the candidate's face; wouldn't that be a fun moment...

      June 27, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  18. Gene

    Small wonder she's known on Capital Hill as the' Thorazine Queen'

    June 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  19. fedup99

    Religion is religion is religion.......

    June 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      You guys understand that Obama is also evangelical Christian, right? And his former church is not extreme?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  20. Ron

    This is a country built over biblical orientation ever sinse its foundation. Our nation needs to meet God. If you dare to live without God, that is your personal business.

    God Bless America

    June 27, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
    • fedup99

      You're full of crap. This country was built on murder, war, and slavery. At least get the facts straight. This country was specifically built on absolutely NO religion.

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

      Yeah the Pilgrims didn't believe in God and want religious freedom I forgot. Our country was built on people wanting to worship freely as they wished ...which includes nothing at all if you wish as well. I

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

      The British who fled England to the US were fleeing religious persecution; this lesson was not lost on the founders of our country who specifically listed religious freedom as a guaranteed right and EXPLICITLY stated that "government shall establish religion."

      Where people and whole countries get lost is when tyrants rule – be they religious or otherwise.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • The Lowdown on the Lowbrow

      Not so.

      Thomas Jefferson saw religion as a source of tyrrany: "The clergy...believe that any portion of power confided to me [as President] will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

      James Madison, who wrote the Consti-tution, also stood against the intrusion of religion into the government: "Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and & Gov't in the Consti-tution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history"

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

      This country was founded on religious tolerance and freedom, and the separation of church and state

      June 27, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • The Lowdown on the Lowbrow

      Uh, the same people who "fled religious persecution" shortly thereafter seized control of the British Govenment and made it a dreary theocracy under Oliver Cromwell (after much bloodshed, of course). I guarantee that was in the minds of the Founding Fathers, as was the 300 years of intersectarion war that had plagued Europe.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:39 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.