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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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Eric of Reseda

    More like, Michelle Bachman, Moron....

    June 28, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  2. Lenny Pincus

    BTW, CNN not reporting yet that Eric Cantor–the Republican twit who walked out of the debt ceiling talks last week–owns shares in a fund that will benefit from the US defaulting on its debt. Typical conservative anti-American behavior.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  3. mnguest

    they just said on cnn she answers your questions, even though shes wrong. Great.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  4. PG

    is CNN on Michelle Bachmann's payroll?

    June 28, 2011 at 1:12 am |
    • mnguest

      yesI am! (I am Michele Bachman) and I support CNN. Botx and Iowa parades. I love to wave and pretend I am a 60 yr old beauty queen

      June 28, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  5. Fedupwithwommen

    Every man should read The Manipulated Man By Esther Vilar.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  6. laura57

    I think the female is rabid...

    June 28, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  7. Kevin B

    Michele Bachman = Opportunist.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • usatruth

      Exactly !!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:31 am |
  8. Butch McSnutch

    Evangelical feminist moron.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • fred

      From your comment I can assume you are democrat running scared

      June 28, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Todd

      Yo, Fred. A woman without any intelligence who thinks the US is a Christian taliban country who hates women, gays, and non christians, Mexicans, blacks, and Jews.

      WHy no, why should I be afraid of an innocent lamb like that?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  9. RichardSRussell

    Apparently CNN hasn't yet figured out the difference between "female" and "feminist".

    June 28, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  10. Jeff G

    Another Republican nut. I am embarrassed for America.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  11. nru

    Facts, who needs them...

    June 28, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  12. Frank

    Not sure what she is. She apparently was trying to say that she shared the same values as a serial killer. At least with her muddled views, that is what it seems she was struggling so hard to communicate.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  13. TheMan

    All -isms (or -ists) are extreme social constructs, often militant, that should not be seen a positive light. Racism, nazism, feminism, audism, etc. They denote a strong separation of one from their cultural parallels and a disconnect. You cannot be for equality and be an "-ist".

    June 28, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Doug

      fingers pointing this way, then they point that way.. fingers pointing this way.. next thing you know those fingers are in her butt... She loves fingers in her butt.. this is how this beach rolls.. fingers in her butt..

      June 28, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Ashrakay

      What about autism and gynecologist?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • Void

      Yes, clearly the greatest evidence for corroded moral character lies in whether they're an "ist" or follow an "ism". For a long time I thought that you could learn more about someone's ethical capacities by observing their actions and taking note of their viewpoints, but you've really shown me the light. Judging someone based on labels is definitely the way to go.

      But I can't give you too much credit, because you're a filthy anti-ism-ist.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • Todd

      thanks for visual, Doug. Yeech.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  14. Asklepios417

    "Wrong John Wayne: Mix-up is opening day headache for Bachmann'

    On the day of her presidential announcement, Bachmann, an Iowa native, told FOX News that she and John Wayne share a hometown. “John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa,” she said. “That's the kind of spirit that I have, too."

    The problem: While actor John Wayne – the gravelly-voiced Western film star known for his characteristic walk and his conservative values– was in fact from Iowa (and, Bachmann’s campaign later pointed out, his parents briefly lived in Waterloo), he was born in Winterset, about 150 miles away.

    The famous similarly-named guy who did make his home in Waterloo: John Wayne Gacy - the serial killer known for dressing as “Pogo the Clown” who buried over two dozen of his young male victims in the crawlspace of his Illinois home."

    June 28, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • Void

      I lol'd

      June 28, 2011 at 1:23 am |
  15. Lenny Pincus

    If God is telling all these conservative weirdos to run for president, I'd say he has a wicked sense of humor.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  16. Jessi

    No thanks.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  17. mnguest

    she has benifited from govt money according to cnn and most of it went to botox and a face life, liposuction

    June 28, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • mnguest

      sorry typing too fast....now she is talking aboout limos what about your botox?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  18. Zed 0

    Being female does not make one a feminist. There is nothing about Bachmann that's remotely feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  19. norker

    She's a good, old-fashioned, conservative Iowa CORN FLAKE.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • jacxro

      Ohhh and let's emphasize FLAKE regarding that corn!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Willis

      You don't agree with her views so I can see why she must be called a corn flake. Let's not look into what she stands for at all. A country that is responsible for its spending and debts, strong economy, all the other stuff that's there for all these talented media folk to ask her about. But instead the world class crop of journalists will all ask her the same questions that a simpleton like norker would like be asked. ...drum roll please.. " are you a corn flake"? Journalistic pursuit at its liberal best. Wow. Lol!!! We can't go wrong in voting republican in 2012. It's funny to watch the ones who PREFER that we go wrong for 2 terms!!! Lol

      June 28, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  20. Enough_False_Slander

    Although I do not agree with Obama about everything, it is certainly true that Republicans are exaggerating how bad of a president he is with confirmed lies. If you are an open minded, concerned, American voter, then use the website Politifact before passing judgement. If you are a biased, gullible, pessimistic, ungrateful, bigot, then ignore the website Politifact as it will strongly contradict your beliefs (especially they are anti-Obama.

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

      So this Politifact.com site is the ONE and ONLY missing media source we've all been needing in order to enlighten us as to all the positive places Obama has pushed America into for the last 3 years?! Lol!! I'm on it! I've got to see this!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:30 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.