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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. Gerald

    You guys see way too much into this. Your missing out on a pretty nice American success story. She is a wife, mother, (maybe grandmother), a professional, and obviously influential enough to be in the news frequently. I probably won't vote for her. But I myself cannot deny that she has worked extremely hard over the years. Not a shabby record.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Agreed!

      June 27, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      Nice to see someone comment on facts not hate. Character destruction is slander-=- one of the worse forms of hate.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Gerald

      Sometimes I like to pause and give every candidate a moment to see them just as a person, instead of candidate.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  2. George

    Why are left wing loons afraid of Bachmann? Scared that 9% unemployment and record deficits are gonna hurt Obama?

    June 27, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Bachmann Loving Liberal

      We lovingly welcome her, or Palin, or Gingrich, or really any other of the carnival freak show you call your pool of candidates.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • Gerald

      Nobody is afraid of Bachmann. Its been a tough 11 years thats past. Trust is not easy to come by. Any conservative who is popular at the moment will be placed under the microscope.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  3. ChananMagdallen

    You can talk about evangelicals all you want but Michele Bachmann isn't evangelical – She is a Lutheran which is a far more reason based and sovereign grace-based church than evangelicals, let alone Pentecostal churches that Sarah Palin went to. Wake up Americans! You have a sickly and and sort of pansy girleeman excuse for a president while Iran is arming itself with nukes to lob over and fry you. Get over yourselves, man-up and defend your country. Kick out that America-hating Obummer and get American again...You are utterly deluded by a complete doofus who sucks up to our enemies and throws our friends under the bus...Let's love our country....we are a great country, but we need someone like Bachmann who loves America instead of Obama who secretly works for our enemies...he is advancing the cause of Islam all around the world and you don't even realise it....F.....g Wake UP!!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • JW

      Right, right, fear, fear, death is everywhere. Security is an illusion, buddy. Danger lurks in places you would never think of. Don't live life in fear, it is a miserable existence. Have a beer, relax, take some deep breaths, and enjoy life a bit. Iran isn't dumb enough to "lob" some nukes our way, just like Russia wasn't. But worrying and fearmongering just might turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you aren't careful.
      What kind of world do you want? Think anything.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • asrael

      Don't forget that the President is also the head of the Illuminati; and that your door knobs are tapped; and that the invisible volcano that was secretly moved into your backyard last night could erupt at any moment. Be afraid; be very afraid...

      June 28, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  4. DrVonBrain

    Look...she's not a witch.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  5. NoGr8rH8r

    I think Bachmann is hotter than Palin, but just as Dumb.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      She passed her law boards the first time. If she is dumb then Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama who did not passed the first time our real losers.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • JW

      The "law boards" I assume you are referring to is the bar exam? The bar exam is far from a certain thing even if you are smart. There is a certain element of chance in it as well, as you never know which questions will be on it, and you may or may not be familiar enough with the ones they ask. And your grader could be extra tough. Lots of factors. I wouldn't say passing the bar exam is indicative of being smart, even if you pass it the first time. I'm not saying she isn't smart though, don't get me wrong. Just that your standards is kind of flawed.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  6. US-First

    Lets see if if anyone understands how CNN is using the term "evangelical" in this seemingly polite article as a dagger. They know darn well framing Bachmann in a religious context in articles like this will turn off half the non-religious voters out their. Its an easy ploy. Right now they frame her as a religious leader type and soon they add some religious extremism sprinkled with Tea. Then they say, how would you like decisions in the white house based on God? Remember Bush? Same old stuff.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Seth Hill of Topanga, California

      I'm the atheist voter you're worried about. I personally admire people with strong Christian values, but I don't think they make good presidents. (Look at Jimmy Carter.) If the president is going to get anything done, he or she has to continually compromise with terrible people around the world. Just not a job for a good person.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • samantha

      She portrays herself as an evangelist...she always mentions god...that is why evangelism is in every news piece about her. The country is mostly religious...sooo....non-religious people really aren't the most targeted demographic in an election.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      And do not forget Obama. He too had national speeches about... Wait for it.... his faith. Obama was a member of a baptist church (that's evangelical church too...)

      June 28, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  7. samantha

    just because you are a woman and in a powerful position does not make you a feminist. And evangelical feminism is an oxymoron, Bacman has no plans to try and get women and men equal pay...nothing to help women gain equal footing.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  8. martyelm

    Ok I had to reply because this is such a silly article. I'd call Palin a feminist before I'd call Bachmann a feminist.
    Watch this clip: http://youtu.be/TKP71pL-tfY?t=1m46s

    June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  9. Everything You Ever Needed To Know About Michelle Bachmann

    Unelectable.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • samantha

      Agreed! At leas she has learned to look directly into a camera.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  10. NoGr8rH8r

    Stick Religion were the Sun doesn't shine!!!!!!!!! Remember, separation of church and state!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      Make sure you tell this to Obama, Clinton, Carter, Pelosi, Harry. (all of them have openly declared their religions...) but is guess only republicans can not be of any religion. Oh and I almost forgot, the Kennedy family.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  11. DrVonBrain

    Interesting how these humble, down to earth, wholesome Christian religious types of the Republican party represent the corporate elite and the wealthiest percentile of society. God must have blessed them.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      Oh, but the rich dems who are also religious, they are OK? Pelosi, Clinton, even Obama is worth millions... Double standard? Yup.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  12. brown

    I am honored to be in a position where I can help Israel. I have a tremendous love for Israel, and great admiration for the Israeli people. I am a Christian, but I consider my heritage Jewish, because it is the foundation, the roots of my faith as a Christian.

    - Michelle Bachmann

    Another AIPAC warrior!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
  13. Scott

    More like: Michele Bachmann, evangelical idiot.

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

      Scott: more like complete retard.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  14. MooseKnuckle

    Michelle Bachmann is not a feminist. She is not an ugly, flannel wearing, strap on carrying, carpet cleaner. She does not have a pair of testicles in a jar, nor does she dive for bearded clams.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  15. Marie Kidman

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

    June 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  16. shamgar50

    If you ever wondered how stupid TeaBaggers were, now you know.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      Most of the tea baggers I know are very smart. They can add and even believe you can't borrow your way forever to create prosperity. Even wonder why gold if ~1500. The government is lying. Just like before the crash in 2008 when Bernacke stated is was all contained. Wait until we get the second act.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  17. Ricke1949

    Hey she actually passed her law boards the first time around. Hillary and Michelle Obama didn't.
    She had 26 foster children so she knows how to manage time. She is honest and proud of this country.
    I suspect she will be VP with Perry for president. We need someone in office who knows how to get things done.
    I am starving on hope and change.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Observer

      Bachmann is to be praised for raising all the girls, but how often does she give the government credit for all the money it gave her to raise the kids?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
    • shamgar50

      I’m betting your brain is dying from loneliness.

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

    The education of Michele begins now:

    Part 1 starts with a prayer-

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

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

      Have fun in Hell, Idiot.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      Hey you think the universe just popped out of no where? Just came into being. Something from nothing. ( Sounds like a liberal chant. ) Even atheist don't believe in evolution a 1 x 10 to the 54th power.

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

      Ricke1949,
      "Hey you think the universe just popped out of no where?"

      So please tell us how God just popped out of "no where".

      June 27, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      Dont gate him....this rant Is his own little Eucharist that he tells himself daily and keeps the seeds of doubt out of his mind

      June 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Ricke1949

      God is not limited by time. Open your eyes. Even the most detailed computer programs does not compare to the intricacies of life. That is why a number of atheist do not believe in evolution. Hoyle not a religious person stated in the 1970's that evolution was not possible.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • adam

      Your understanding of early Christianity is apparently nil.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Observer

      Ricke1949,

      Typical faulty logic of some believers:
      Believers say atheists are wrong because if something exists, something must have created it.
      Believers say God exists. Nothing created him.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • adam

      It's hard to understand why atheists have such a problem with the answer "God is eternal". It's as if they just simply refuse to even grapple with the possibility.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • adam

      Observer,

      Theists state that everything that has a BEGINNING has a cause. God is eternal, hence no beginning.

      Next.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Observer

      It's hard to understand how some believers have such trouble understanding astronomy, biology, mathematics, geology, physics, logic, etc.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • adam

      Observer,

      Which one of us is stating that something came from nothing, uncaused? Now who's being unscientific?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Observer

      Adam,

      Pretending that God was not created is not based on one SINGLE verifiable fact.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • adam

      Observer,

      God being eternal is completely logical. If you can find a good argument against it, please do tell. You'd be the first in the history of humanity.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Reality

      What we know for certain:

      1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

      2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

      3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

      4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

      5. Most contemporary NT scholars do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

      6. All stars will eventually extinguish as there is a limit to the amount of hydrogen in the universe. When this happens (100 billion years?), the universe will go dark. If it does not collapse and recycle, the universe will end.

      Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE. The universe apocalypse, 100 billion years?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:14 am |
  19. brown

    Americans need to get rid of all of the career politicians. Look at what they have done to your country!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      Amen!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  20. John Marshall

    Which is worse? To be a religious extremist? Or to pretend you are religious just to get elected to public office (Clintons)? At least the Bushes and the Obamas have some integrity.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • The Lowdown on the Lowbrow

      W Bush had the absolute least integrity of an American president since Nixon. Were you totally unconscious during the torture/secret prisons/illegal electronic eavesdropping years?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • shamgar50

      Yet Clinton spends most of his time helping people, and W does nothing.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:47 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.