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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:

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. *rolls eyes*

    Ugh. Don't even get me started on these nutball Evangelists. And I wouldn't exactly call Hilary Clinton a "feminist", considering she took back her husband that was CHEATING on her. Gimme a break.

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

    don't christians realize that if jesus were alive today he'd be called a "socialist"? in smaller societies of the past, it was possible for communities to take care of their own – the limited resources they had were the same resources everyone else had (save a handful of royals or somesuch). now, we have an enormous country and most of the population is just one personal disaster away from bankruptcy or homelessness, and we have a choice to decide as a people if we want to collectively help each other via taxes and social programs, or if we think somehow, magically, private goodwill and christian kindness is going to help those in need. not that they can't help some, but to do it on a large-enough scale... it would start to look like... a government social program! maybe that's why we have those things. anybody know an elderly person who wasn't helped by the new deal? anyone ever been to a wpa project site and felt proud?

    funny how evangelicals who are supposed to love thy neighbor become corporatist, "survival of the fittest" types when they get into government positions and actually have a chance to create policies that favor something other than profit.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Jesus Marx

      Damn right Jesus was a socialist. Radical redistribution of wealth:

      "Sell your possessions and give to the poor." Luke 12:33, Luke 18:22, Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21

      June 28, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Person of Faith

      The same Bible that says "if your enemy is hungry, feed him" also says "he that doth not work shall not eat." There is a need for wisdom to know when to help someone, and when they are just taking advantage of you.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • james

      amen

      June 28, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • tmpFL47

      This is a joke that any one is giving this bimbo the time of day. We need a leader not a FOSTER MOM. What has become of the general public here? This is a pathetic joke! WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!! I am honestly thinking this woman is doing this for attention. Maybe to write a book? Get rich? Have her 15 minutes of fame? This is worse than the boy in the ballon. At least that was believable. This woman President? Running the country? WHAT?????

      June 28, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • blechmann

      yes, person of faith, that is true. but it seems most conservative politicians these days take that to mean "if you lose your job, if you don't have health insurance, if you are old and cannot work, you might not be able to eat either, sorry."

      I'm not one to say everyone should just get handouts, not at all, but when real life happens to people, in a nation like ours, we should want to help those who have been dealt a bad hand.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:11 am |
  3. Terry

    We are experiencing sad times in the Republican Party. Bachmann is hopefully not the best we have, or 2012 will be a very long year. Women comprise over 50% of the vote and Bachmann does not come across as someone who believes in a woman's rights.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Michele Bachmann is a GREAT candidate. She is the best candidate I've seen in a long time. She is a person of principle. She does the right thing because it's the right thing. She understands that the economy is broken, it needs to be fixed, and the ONLY way to fix it is to bring spending in line with revenue. Currently, the federal government borrows $.42 for every dollar it spends. This borrowed money adds to the federal debt and sinks the economy. Michele Bachmann would make a great President because she would help turn the economy around.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  4. MS

    If Michele Bachmann can be called a feminist then I can be called the Pope.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      She worked as a tax lawyer. She has quite an impressive resume. Give her some credit.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  5. Bob Dog

    Evangelist? I guess she spreads the gospel of hatre. So, ok. She's an evangelist.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Louis Jordano

      Obama is an evangelical Christian. Oops

      June 28, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Person of Faith

      I know Michele, and she doesn't spread hate. She is a kind and compassionate person. She helped raise 23 foster children.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  6. RobfromMO

    Someone who advocates that the government should force women to continue unwanted pregnancies against their will is a totalitarian not a feminist.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Unborn babies are not inanimate objects, they are human beings who ought to be treated with dignity and respect.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  7. Carol

    Although I would never, ever, EVER vote for her – I will give her props that she appears to practice what she preaches. Unlike all other Republicans.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
  8. Michelle Bachmann

    Hi! I'm Michelle Bachmann! I'm a feminist who is out to end that dirty left-wing commie socialist thing called feminism. I never would have gotten where I am now without the breakthroughs in female equality made by hippies and 60s radicals – so I hate them.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Michele Bachmann didn't write the above comment - she is much more polite, and she spells her name with one "l", not two.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Sarah Palin

      Really? That's not the real Michele Bachmann? Wow you are a genius! A real brainiac!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  9. Marie Kidman

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

    June 27, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  10. AshamedMinnesotan

    I am amazed that there are people in this country that listen to what this individual has to say. She was voted in based on fear and "change" (not kidding), has done nothing but stick her foot in her mouth at every turn, has very little of substance to say, has no qualifications, clearly little intellect, and seems to possess only the power to make people talk about here. She's a Kardashian with a bad dye job.

    What is the saddest of all is that on the whole, Minnesotans are highly educated (check the stats) but more than that, intelligent, pragmatic, practical, and hard working. She's few of these things (education does not equal intelligence). The people of her district, and Minnesota as a whole, seem embarrassed to own up to voting her in.

    Meanwhile, while she's in Iowa, the State is going broke and about to shut down on July 1. Thanks much for your contribution to your home state, Bachmann.

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

      Shut your man licker.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • tmpFL47

      This is a joke that any one is giving this bimbo the time of day. We need a leader not a FOSTER MOM. What has become of the general public here? This is a pathetic joke! WAKE UP AMERICA!!!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Person of Faith

      What do you mean she has no qualifications? She was a tax lawyer. Not just a lawyer - a tax lawyer. She is very knowledgeable about how tax laws affect businesses.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Person of Faith

      If there is a government shut-down here in Minnesota, it will be Mark Dayton's fault. Michele Bachmann has absolutely nothing to do with it.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Person of Faith

      I heard Michele Bachmann speak recently. She spoke right here in Minnesota, and got several standing ovations. Many people expressed their very strong support of her.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I bet that on occasion str!ppers get standing ovations and lots of support...

      June 28, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  11. free2do

    Bachman got all of her inspiration from the prayer tower at oral Roberts university. The same place she will require us to pilgrimage once a year. Our trip to the American mecca. Theocracy in the making.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  12. async

    Tis woman is a first class freak but I hope she wins the nomination becaue it will guarantee Obama a re-election.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  13. Greg

    Michelle Bachmann: A woman who is opposed to women's rights should fit in just right with the republican party!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  14. John

    I laugh at evangelical women considering the Bible does nothing but degrade women.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      Galatians 3:8
      “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

      June 28, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Person of Faith

      That is not true. The Bible says that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. Christ sacrificed his life for the church. This is held up as an example of how self-sacrificing a husband should be in protecting the best interests of his wife.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  15. Ron

    God gives to everyone the right to choose freely to believe in Him or not. This lady stands agains't the odds. She may not win the election, but, what really matters is to stand by what you believe.

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

      I stand by what I believe and have been told I'm going to hell.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Marnie

      @Ron... "God gives to everyone the right to choose freely to believe in Him or not"

      Or what? Hmmm... according to Bachmann's evangelical beliefs, and yours, we either believe and pray a little prayer or we will burn in hell forever. Not much of a choice, ya think? I'm fit for destruction because I reject the notion that the death of a peasant 2000 years ago "forgives" my sin in some greater way than say, I can take care of my own misdeeds by living a good life and pursuing honest, healthy relationships with other people IN THE PRESENT, in the lifetime I'm actually accountable for. Who

      June 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Marnie

      If a crazy person "stands by their belief" that he is a dog and begins to eat his own excrement, as a humane person I must stop him from harming himself.

      The ridiculous notion I'm hearing from far-right friends that standing by your belief has merits that MUST make you a good leader, etc are absolutely ludicrous and dangerous. Ideas have consequences. An unexamined idea, even when held to with great faith and tenacity and a big flashy smile, spells disaster when the believer holds power over the lives of others.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  16. thes33k3r

    She's an evangelical moron.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Capt'n Crunch

      She must be a "Sarah Palin" wanna be. Hell, Sarah Palin is a Sarah Plain wanna be. Doesn't her Bible teach that women are suppose to keep their mouths shut, sit quietly, and wait for her husband to tell her what to say and think? She's way out of line and she's in danger of hell fire judgement from her god. Someone will uncover the new of her abortion back in high school and she'll justify it somehow to make it "right."

      June 28, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  17. Henry Miller

    Why does Ms Bachmann have to have a label like "feminist?" Approve of her political positions or not, she's just another Presidential candidate.

    I do, however, take issue with the "Christian" and "evangelical" labels–they suggest that, if elected, she would insert her religion into her job, and that's highly inappropriate. The President of the US ought to be everyone's President, not just the President of evangelical Christians.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Capt'n Crunch

      No she is not "just another Presidential Candidate." She a moron just like her sister Sarah Palin.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  18. Todd

    Most feminists don't tell other women what they can, or cannot do with their bodies. Only rapists do.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  19. Sherri

    Bachmann is an embarrassment to women , and to women that have strong feelings of faith. This posturing, the facade of respectability, the embellishment of her self worth- smacks of the 'good ole boys' . When nearly every word our of her mouth is completely out of touch with reality- how can that appeal to people? It can't and it shouldn't . The GOP has long held that women belong in the home, illiterate and pregnant. Oh, and by the way, looking perfect 24/7. Bachmann states she has strong Tea Party affiliations. I would think that both the Tea Party and the GOP would run , not walk , from this woman. If she was sharp, able to answer the questions asked of her, put forth some effort to vet the accusations she tosses out that are meant to point blame and fingers at others, then maybe she could be taken seriously. To use faith , no matter which one, as proof of ability is just insane.

    June 27, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  20. Jeremy

    wth? a job of the President is NOT 'doing God's work' !! when will you heathens stop with this religious crap in our politics and laws? Bachmann is a bonafide JOKE and anyone who votes for that incompetent nutjob needs to be locked up in a psycho ward...nothing but radical hate and religious crap... your religion is NOT our law!

    June 27, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • Capt'n Crunch

      That goes double for Sarah Palin supporters.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:07 am |
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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.