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.”


Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

Explain it to me: What's Mormonism?

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. Thomas

    Our Lady of Guadalupe , Joan of Arc and now Michele Bachmann.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  2. LouAz

    A vote for Bachmann is a vote for christian sharia law in the USA.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Dan

      That's why we have "checks and balances." She won't have that kind of power, so there's no reason to be so dramatic.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • The Left Sucks, But The Right Is A Nightmare Of Evil

      Yeah, just like the checks and balances stopped W from using torture and secret prisions and holding American citizens without charges or legal counsel and rendition and illegal electronics intercepts of Americans' communications and stacking the Justice Department with party zealots and going to war in a country with no terrorism and limiting free speech to free speech zones and just so much more.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  3. American Rebel

    Just another Bush... no pun intended. Wait. YES pun intended.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • Elric

      funny, you dont sound like a rebel, you sound like a socialist. nothing rebellious in that. or special. one size fits all. your name is unwashed masses and it is legion. grats

      June 28, 2011 at 3:06 am |
    • usatruth

      Elric, You must be the corporate 1% socialism, if not the 99% middle class. You must born backward. Remember everything grow from bottom up. How ironic the 1% get rich from the 99% middle class consumers without providing them jobs. How's that economy works?
      Ignorant and Hypocrite shame on you.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  4. seperation

    the reason she should never be allowed into office is right within these comments. the american people dont need to have to even think about evolution vs gods creation for a PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. that is absolutely ridiculous. we need to fix our economy, get the hell out of war and focus on getting america back on track. not about religion.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • usatruth


      June 28, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  5. ruth takahashii

    Much ado about Nothing!

    June 28, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  6. Mike H.

    The rise of Michele Bachmann should scare every American. Her only strength is in sound bites. While she publicly scorns government aid, her family has willingly accepted well more than $100,000 in government subsidies. She pretends to be pro-life but then is quick to want to deny children access to healthcare and nutrition if it means the costs are paid for by the government. (So much for "pro-life," huh? Perhaps she enjoys watching young people suffer?) She may be "evangelical" but as far as I can see...the evidence suggests she is just that in name only. Her actions show her to be very hollow when it comes to applying that label to action.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • Dan

      So you do fear her? Wow. Hence the demonizing, eh?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • someGuy

      It's not demonizing if it's true Dan.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:20 am |
  7. RayVar

    I am sure by the modern society I am way off base here but I have a question.....Wouldn't Christian Feminist in the pure definition be an oxymoron.....Wouldn't Opportunistic Non-Fundamentalist Female be more true?

    June 28, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  8. Odinate

    Evangelical... Sure... But feminist? Unless feminism has come to mean having two X chromosomes and nothing more, then sure, I suppose so.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  9. Zeus

    i'll vote democrat for the first time ever rather than vote for her -_-

    June 28, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  10. jimbo, st. louis mo

    Don't be fooled ladies. She will sell your privileges and dreams away for cheap.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • london_ink07

      You surely aren't talking about the 'privilege' of killing an unborn baby, right?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • tallulah13

      That would be the privilege of having the right to make the choices about one's own body, london, a right that every person should have.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • TheBurglar

      Of course he is! Everybody knows that pro-lifers are in the corporations' pockets just like all other GOPers! YES, EVERY GOPer IS ON THEIR PAYROLL!

      June 28, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • 12-21-12

      Bachmann would want you to have you keep your rapists baby and look into it's eyes and see the rapist staring at you for the rest of your life!

      June 28, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • london_ink07

      And...the baby's right? Oh I forgot, it is 'invading' the woman's body. We need more personal responsibility in this country. It is sickening how the child has to pay for the mother's selfish behavior.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • london_ink07

      @ 12-21-12 – Ever hear of giving a baby up for adoption? Or is that being too responsible?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Would that be the same baby that believers say has no rights when it comes to male genital mutilation?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • tallulah13

      Consider this: A nine-year-old in Brazil was ra-ped by her step father and became pregnant with twins. Doctors and the child's mother decided the 80-pound girl was too small to give birth, so she was given an abortion. The catholic church immediately excommunicated the mother and doctors, but the step father remained in good standing, because it's less a sin to ra-pe a child than it is to save that child's life.


      Which child do you think is more important? The one who was brutalized, or the ones that aren't even fully formed? Every situation where a woman might choose an abortion is unique. The decision to have an abortion is generally a difficult choice, but sometimes, it is the only sane choice.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Cheering section

      Go Tallulah13! Yay!

      June 28, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  11. usatruth

    American politics is what Republicans PROMISE and Democrat DELIVER.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • k spencer

      That's interesting since it was the swing vote of the Republicans that just allowed New York to approve gay marriage. Hmmm, I see a flaw in your logic.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Zeus

      i actually think both promise, and neither deliver.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  12. Reuel

    Bachmann and Palin are faithful American christian women.
    They both have their own loving husbands & family support to run for office. They run because they want to implement what is RIGHT and GOOD.

    They are NOT feminists – because feminism was financed/popularised by some rich evil people to destroy the "family".

    Hillary Clinton is so inferior in comparison. She was elected senator because people sympathized with her – because of Bill's many adultery and Lewinsky scandals. Of course she is capable too.

    The bible has precedent in the book of Judges. Married woman Deborah was chosen by God as judge+prophet+Commander-in-chief to liberate God's people from enemy supression.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • k spencer

      Excellent example of how God uses women to do the work of his Kingdom. If God is no respector or persons, then he doesn't see gender when it comes to choosing the best person for the job.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:01 am |
    • london_ink07

      Well said!

      June 28, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Aren't you overlooking Palin's shortcomings as a parent?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • Bob T

      I'm afraid my God, Zuess says you're all wet.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Kathleen

      The 'Belief' siite is like warehouse for the ignorant, the religious, and the severely undereducated. Does CNN really want this level of inanity associated with its brand?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:17 am |
    • tallulah13

      No. Hillary is a smart, capable woman. She is willing to get in there and get her hands dirty in order to get the job done. She doesn't quit the job, like Palin. I voted for her because it's been my experience that if you want a difficult job done, hire a strong woman.

      I would NEVER vote for Palin or Bachmann, because I don't believe either of them are capable of anything more difficult than spewing out pre-fabricated sound bites.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • someGuy

      Devised by rich and evil people to destroy the family. So if my wife works and I watch the kids then my family will be destroyed? Just doesn't work that way eh? That's right women should stay in the kitchen and just keep their mouths shut. That's real nice. Guess women shouldn't have the right to vote, or go to the same school as any man could, why would they need to? Guess if a women in the office gets grabbed she should just bear that in silence as well. This is what's RIGHT and GOOD. OPPRESSION that's the word you're looking for. Prejudice, discrimination.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:13 am |
  13. kyrunner

    I Timothy 2:11 – 2:12 something about keeping a woman in silence and all that stuff. Christian feminist is one of the biggest oxymorons to ever exist... besides liberal intellectual

    June 28, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • london_ink07

      Ha, love this!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Kathleen

      Pay attention, CNN. This is what you get when you create a site for the religious. Babbling Bible-bangers who are incapable of critical thought or of understanding anything outside of what they are told to believe.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:21 am |
    • Dan

      Yes, Kathleen. And the libs are completelly free of that, aren't they. That's why you all say the same tired old things, because you're freethinkers and intellectuals.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • someGuy

      "Christian feminist is one of the biggest oxymorons to ever exist... besides liberal intellectual"

      Explain the liberal intellectual bit, gimme something rational and well thought out.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:59 am |
  14. Misfitsoda

    This lady is bats8it crazy. It'd be so awesome to hear daily what kinda dumba22 crazy sh1t she had to say, but so terrifying she wields any kind of power. Cant we make a reality show where we just tell these people they're president? Like season 1 Bush, season 2, McCain, season 3 Palin, and then Bachman. So good. "Madam president, what are your views on the deficits faced at the state level?" "Well Brian, we have a lot of walleye in MN. And that's not going anywhere and muslims should take loyality oaths. ....I dont like gays." Oh my god, absolute best show ever.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  15. Bibletruth

    That Sinclair Lewis quote by someone.......If you only knew/ read what Sinclair Lewis read, you would be trembling

    June 28, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • usatruth

      You believe what the book tell you to believe. Are you robot?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  16. So...

    I really wish the media would stop shoving this woman into our sights. She is insignificant and just another tool.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:51 am |
  17. cor

    um... feminism... and being a feminist... two entirely different thing. This article is an absolute hoot! Wow! Talk about stretching... this author must be gumby.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:50 am |
  18. shawbrooke

    And if evangelical women were taking more jobs in their churches rather than in the secular world, then the pundits would say that evangelical women were timid, or couldn't work without the church, weak in some way. Why not just celebrate these strong women? Strong women like Bachmann and Palin and the many that I know invalidate the various rants and narratives about religion. Some people, when wrong, arrogantly seek to wound the ones that they are prejudiced about. We are not listening.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  19. vrim

    Instead of the mess that low taxes and regulation flouting under Bush has gotten us into, let's just go with Bachmann and NO taxes and NO regulation at all. NO controls on health care, either. If they've been sick before and got healed, kick 'em off the plan if they get sick with it again! Yeah, A better America!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • Bibletruth

      One wonders how honest and effective regulation in the food industry or the pharma industry and others is as one understands and researches some of the regulations and regulators, but any idea to do away with regulation,rather than streamline it and make it to be honest, is one of the scariest things imaginable, and thats not an attack on business, but a recognition of the wicked and deceitful heart of humanity, vendors and customers alike.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:59 am |
    • Samuel

      It is like herding Komodo Dragons. They all want to eat you. One nip will slow you down enough to insure that you will not escape them and that they will have fresh meat for dinner. Such are the characteristics of Healthcare Gone Wild.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:19 am |
  20. london_ink07

    Hillary Clinton has appeal & class? THAT is laughable. I would love to see a woman like Bachmann (who has real class & dignity) win. The only thing you libs can say is that she has crazy looking eyes, etc.? You're just used to judging politicians by superficial means. This is why Obama is President. Zero substance, but he looks good on the cover of Time. I hope a pro-life, military supporting, marriage protecting conservative takes his place.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:45 am |
    • Gavin Ford

      She's a myth-believing idiot...just like you.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • tallulah13

      Yes, we get that you are very conservative. That's okay. Those of us who find Hillary Clinton appealing and classy don't really expect anything from you.

      I wouldn't hold my breath for your dream president. Most Americans (despite the yapping of the Tea Partiers and the Hyper-Liberals) are moderate and don't want the government enforcing religion-based prejudicice. We just want a healthy economy and a job.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:46 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65
About this blog

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.