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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. Mark

    If you're a senior citizen or on disability and want to lose all your benifits vote republican !!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • cor

      um – the new health bill did more cutting of medicare than anything the republicans have ever recommended... and anything they are recommending doesn't affect anyone older than 55 so that it is grandfathered in. You might get around to knowing about the cuts to the seniors when you get around to reading the bill.... geezzzzz

      June 28, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  2. FauxBachmann

    Take a good look at Bachmann's face. I believe it looks more mannish everyday

    June 28, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  3. Elliot

    michele for pres. real change to look foward to

    June 28, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Michael

      So lets list these real changes for america you are so for...

      ... more tax breaks for the wealthiest, as the middle class vanishes and the gap between the rich and poor explodes even further...

      .. more religion in government, schools, politics, etc

      .. a balance budget in the sense that programs for the most at risk and neediest are gutted, while the rich get even richer while paying less into the very systems that allow them to become rich...

      .. yeah I cant go any further, Im getting sick just thinking about it. Thank god this nutcase will never become president. All her opponents will have to do is just play a few clips her her speaking her filth and bam! shes gone.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:48 am |
  4. Air Force Guy

    I hate her politics but I'd hit it. The crazy ones are always more fun.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Samuel

      Are you sure about that? And air force guys don't get wet in the rain?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  5. wial

    no.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  6. Popcorn

    Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Michele Bachmann tried to become the first female president of the united states and make it history; They wanted to be popular in history books in schools. I don't know which is best female. They seem to be intelligent and conservative.

    What kind of president we should be looking for? President who have skills in foreign policy, understanding economics, reduce unemployment rates, deficits, bad spending, etc. Look at america future. it's broke. People are fighting for same ideas but can't get along. Conflict of interests.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • pn

      We should have a president who believes in scientific methodology.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Samuel

      It is no more dangerous than going shopping for groceries in a buffalo herd. Selecting a candidate to run is like herding cats.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  7. BL

    She has a BA and JD.. What lies has she told? All I see on here are insults that have no basis in fact: liar, stupid, etc.

    Seems the leftists just grow more stupid and hateful each day.

    You went after SP and some even called her the "C" word. We are on to your tactics. It's not going to work.

    Cowards: afraid of a woman.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:37 am |
    • Michael

      Im not afraid of women... Im afraid of a deranged, selfish, religious fanatic who wants to shove her god down my throat while screwing over the middle class. Thats what Im afraid of.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:50 am |
    • Samuel

      And why not be afraid. Be very afraid . If elected she will have more power than Catherine The Great. If her social policies come down to "Let them eat cake." I fear for her.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:01 am |
  8. Daniel

    Bachmann is determined. Bachmann is even more vengeful than Sarah and she won't even apologize for her mistakes or recant her lies when she is caught red-handed and challenged about them. She also represents Christianity as a religion, which it is not. She is too rigid and shows little of the loving-kindness that Jesus taught. Her teeth are set in her jaw in such a way that I believe she will be able to take a punch. But when suitably for the highest office in the land, the possibility of her becoming the leader of the free world comes up for discussion the air will be sucked right out of her campaign. She has made many unguarded comments and issued some harebrained proclamations as well as baseless accusations against potential rivals that will all add up to "crackpot". Obama would beat her by 100 electoral votes, by 200 if the economy heats up just 2%.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:36 am |
    • Samuel

      The Queen of England is the leader of the free world. All the rest are impostors.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  9. usatruth

    Michelle Bachman should marry to Glenn Bucks. Liar match in God Heaven.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  10. rose

    she's going to finish what bush son start , I mean she's going to destroy USA!!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:29 am |
  11. Can U Imagine

    I am wondering if that is all the USA has to offer, a lieing Christian. This women is just as bad as Miss Alaska. Boy can she sling the BS. If that gets into anything involving the government look out. Food stamps wont be a problem because every farm will have new cadilacs and golden crops.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  12. Troy Linck

    Ba Bye Palin... She is the new Crazy... circa 2011! She ain't white trash... but she is still crazy! We in Minnesota are more than happy to get rid of this nut!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  13. jose salazar

    michele bachman looks like she just snorted a half pound of fluffy powder, with those wild ,evil looking eyes.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:25 am |
    • Samuel

      The candidate that can hypnotize the masses wins, big eyes and all. Remember Medusa. Do not look into her eyes. We have enough statues in this land. They do not move and they do not do anything but remind us of the fact that someone once filled that form as a living being. Yes, do not look into her eyes.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  14. Olindi

    CNN, please don't degrade women by saying Michele Bachmann is a feminist icon.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:25 am |
    • Billy Nguyen

      Michelle Bachmann for president. You must be JOKING. I mean it. We are 300 million strong and MB is the one to represent 300 million strong. Any woman who would like to be presidential candidate must pass Hillary Clinton yardstick. Bachmann is an average everything person. She cannot represent us all. Next please...

      June 28, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  15. mnguest

    i am Michele Bachman please vote for me. and I am smart

    June 28, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • mnguest

      and pkease buy my flowers (Bachmanns)

      June 28, 2011 at 1:25 am |
    • Willis

      Her actions will speak louder than her words. What president just talks via a TelePrompTer, and says so much yet does so little? It may even bother feminists lol that it may take a Woman to be more of a man in the white house. And by "man" I have to mention I mean more assertive. I need to clarify this meaning for the children (libbies)! Feminists don't like her because she is conservative and loves family and family values, whereas feminists typically love women and degenerative family values that pose as fem-empowering "alternate lifestyles". Eeegggh! Liberals are funny !!!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  16. midleclssfan

    Quite frankly what ever label you associate with MB or SP it does change the fact that neither are unelectable. Both are a bit wacky and seem to have problems telling the truth. They're almost laughable. Neither have the appeal, the class nor intelligence of a Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama for that matter.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:22 am |
  17. Dave

    I suspect Bachmann couldn't spell evangelical or feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Ashrakay

      or Bachmann

      June 28, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  18. Jeff

    I'm done with minority-hating, rich, white Republicans. I wish the rest of America was too.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  19. Ashrakay

    Just what we need... another christian president. How exciting!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  20. M&Ms Red

    Bachmann is Christine O'Donnell version 2.0.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:17 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.