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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Brian

    Wonder how many pounds of makeup she uses. Once I saw her without the makeup and she looked like a backwoods hillbilly.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Willis

      Ever see the other Michelle, you know the one in the white house today, without makeup?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  2. schwarzey


    June 28, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  3. Samuel

    Any posts from the Masculinists out there?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • Asklepios417

      The Maculinists are off on a cave-painting retreat.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  4. Donovan

    I don't care what religion the candidate likes best, just like I don't care what their favorite food, color or album is. I just want a good leader who is capable of making a lot of decisions quickly.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  5. Ronald Raygun

    they forgot crazy...

    June 28, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • Tio

      beep beep, another mental health expert in the house!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  6. Aaron

    Need to stop with the fancy labels. The woman is an idiot, plain and simple.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  7. Asklepios417

    “It’s a trend that was started by Sarah Palin,” Griffith said"

    As usual, Christian feminist pioneer Harriet Miers gets no credit.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  8. Debbie

    I don't want government in my religion and I don't want religion in my government. Bachmann is a no vote not only on her religious stances but the woman could not pass a 5th grade US History test.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Asklepios417

      Bachmann's comment that the Founding Fathers "didn't rest" until slavery was abolished, was an outstanding display of fundamental ignorance.

      She's a real fundamentalist, in that sense.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Rob

      You probably voted for Obama, so you obviously don't want any American in your government either. You should move to France, it's crappy as usual this time of year.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Observer

      Sure looks like the exposure of the sheer ignorance of the birthers didn't make it to everyone.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • usatruth

      Michelle Bachman is American Middle Class back stabber in supporting BUSH TAX CUT to trade Americans jobs with China loan to keep U.S. government running. Who benefits? Outsourcing Corporations and the Chinese workers, not Americans.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  9. Deanna

    Really? There is a) no such a thing as an Evangelical Feminist and b) if there were one, she'd be ordered to read pray and obey her husband. Michele Bachman is a tool of the teabaggers, desperate to whomp up either a woman or a black man that can pull the more conservative Dems away from the President. Newsflash: We won't be fooled. women and blacks can read and write on their own now, kthanxbai.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • MooseKnuckle

      Deanna, do you like women that are "native" or shaved?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • Jeff

      More correctly, Michele Bachmann is just a tool... It's a sad, sad day when a person of her low intelligence and obvious insanity (i.e. a belief in god, and the obvious desire to change the country to become a theocracy via Christian-centric rhetoric and dogma) is one of the top Presidential candidates American can bring forward. It's horrific she has the power she does in congress, much less the notion that she might be President. Help us all.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • LauraJT

      Jeff, I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  10. PAK

    If some years hence a New York gay husband or wife were to announce a socially conservative campaign for a presidency committed to rolling back social progress, would that be any greater an irony than today’s announcement for candidacy by Michelle Bachmann? I’m wondering how far she wants to roll it back to where evangelical Christians were on women's roles just several years ago. Or to where they were on civil rights for blacks. Or to where they were on slavery. Or to where they were on .... She, herself, now stands on the victories of social and religious progressives.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • Dearypie

      It's funny how many conservative women forget that they OWE their very rights to those LIBERAL women who fought long and hard to get them. If it were up to ANY of the major religious groups women would be relegated to the home, where they would never come out.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Tio

      can you speak more slowly and use smaller words so that us simple-minded folk can understand you.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Samuel

      Remember that the beauty pageant is about presentation and not about constructive debate. When you do coed political beauty pageants this is what you get.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  11. Howard

    Excuse my frankness but I do not want the word Evangelical anywhere near any policy making body of the Government–Especailly The Presidency!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  12. Jeepers

    She has the sunken eyes of a mentally ill person.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • Tio

      beep beep, we have a mental health doctor in the room, watch out...

      June 28, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  13. Preethi

    Greece,Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain did not have wars had liberal (read democratic and socialist) parties whose policies have pushed them in recession. Only fiscal spending discipline will pull them out. Learn from other people or countries mistakes.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • usatruth

      It's all about revenue by creating jobs which take care all problems. Stop twist your brain backward.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  14. cc123822

    I am in full support of women running for office however I believe any candidate who states that they are pursuing a government path through the guidance of god should be immediately disqualified. Religious beliefs have no business in the voting booths or in government actions.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Tio


      June 28, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • anne Stillwagon


      June 28, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • Samuel

      Read some of the Concordats from Rome and post again.

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

    The wonderful Michele in action


    June 28, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Dearypie

      Don't you love how she lumps ALL Palestinians together. Like Hamas represents ALL of the Palestinian people. Secondly, if she bothered to comprehend or even listen to Barak's speech on the matter, she would have realized that the agreement of 1967 with AGREED UPON SWAPS would be the basis of any talking point and should. God where to we find these hicks to represent us.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Ziggy

      She's right, we are like the Israelis:We did to the Native Americans what the Israelis did to the Palestinians: We stole their land and put them on reservations.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  16. JJ


    June 28, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • macjude

      No, I'll just listen to the stupidity that spews from the mouth of stooges like you.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  17. Debbie

    I have to agree with David. I am also a liberal and a christian. many in politics claim to be christians and do very un-christian like things. you are right, they bear no fruit

    June 28, 2011 at 12:25 am |
  18. Sparko

    It takes more to be a feminist than just a female politician. Bachmann is certainly reaping the rewards won by feminists that came before her but I have not heard her advocate any issues that support women. If this was the '60's and 70's our foremothers were fighting for equality, I'm pretty sure Bachmann would be one of the women condemning them, like most conservative women did. She has a lot more in common with Phyllis Schafley than Gloria Steinem.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Bobo

      In the 60's and 70's all your "foremothers" were fighting for were the right to kill babies and abolish paternal rights. They were actually pretty successful.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • Samuel

      She who rocks the cradle rules the nation. The feminists forgot the real source of power. Equality is a code word for dominion and rule.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  19. LEB

    I'm all for women leaders and proud to consider myself a feminist, but this woman is an idiot, and so is Sarah Palin. There just aren't many high-profile female candidates running for a major office right now, much less for president.

    Of course, there are plenty of idiots among the males, as well.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  20. Name*jaypayne

    all these conservative idiots seem to think obama is un american and a muslim,he has done alot to try and get the messes fixed from the previous prez,and once the recession started in bush's term everyone knew what it was coming to,and they all blame obama,wake up u crazy religious fanatics,every one of these conservatives think they have the know how to fix america and the world ,let them win and show the people what their insane ,heretic policies will do,not a damn thing but start another hate filled drive to tell people how they should live and what they can do accorrding to their beliefs which more and more people are realizing are a facade considering that most of these bible thumpers preach alot of bull that they dont even abide to but want everyone else to,they can say what they want about obama,but he is there for all americans including the ones going after him,he dosent care what people think ,he does what he really believes to be good for america but trying to fix the mess from previous 8 yrs has been a toll on everyone ,and i still think that obama has what it takes to helop smooth it out.,hey,it took bush eight yrs to screw it up,its going to take obama some time to clean it up....just my opinion

    June 28, 2011 at 12:22 am |
    • Pinewalker

      I like Obama, but seriously? He's trying to fix the mess GW got us in by forcing a health care system on an already overburdened budget for people who don't want it and then plopping us in the middle of Libya?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • retrostar1000@aol.com

      Face it, the republican party is dead and most people will never take them seriously ever again. Bachman and all these other christian nationalists need to go back to teaching sunday school where they belong. Shameful people they are and an embarassment to this great democratic society.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 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.