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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. Richard Rohrmann

    Please. If we're going to destroy this woman like we did Palin, say she is an implant from some distant colony in outer space .

    June 28, 2011 at 6:47 am |
  2. Brandon

    I would love to see an Atheist, Pantheist, or Pagan run for President.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:39 am |
  3. Daws

    I guess you only have to be female to sufficiently qualify as a "feminist" these days then...

    June 28, 2011 at 6:33 am |
  4. Zelda

    It's always better if women stay at home. However, conservative women are better leaders than men with liberal agenda.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • Abbie

      That is just too funny.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • Adelina

      I'm Zelda's lesbian lover.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:29 am |
    • Auntie Grizelda

      Zelda, stop wasting time here and get to work!

      June 28, 2011 at 7:36 am |
  5. Got It Wrong

    Bachmann is neither a feminist nor a christian...

    June 28, 2011 at 6:10 am |
    • MooseKnuckle

      According to you, dumba*s*s?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • MooseKnuckle

      According to you, dumba*s*s? Shut up!

      June 28, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  6. NATHAN WIMBERLY

    Bachman said that a woman should submit to her husband. Snookie Palin wants the media attention and money that Bachmann enjoys right now. Run Snookie Palin run! Repeat 2008.

    June 28, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  7. DrMabuse

    Slightly off topic–Bachman needs to toughen up and grow a thick skin if Chris Wallace's question on whether she's a flake offends her. She should have just laughed it off and had a pointed comeback to Wallace; instead she's showing herself as thin-skinned as Obama.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:38 am |
  8. Walter

    The definition of feminism is based in women having the power to control their own lives. As such Bachman can't be a feminist as she wants women to control their lives only if they make decisions that Bachman would agree with. To be a feminist you have to be willing to support the ability of women to make decisions that you disagree with.

    With that being said the other side of the spectrum has its share of people using the label of feminist that don't deserve it either, for the same reason.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • Maire

      I just want to understand this: if I tell a feminist that I'm going to kill my abusive boyfriend/husband and she won't support me, she's not a feminist because she doesn't respect my decision to save my own life? Thousands of women's lives are in literal danger from partners who attempt or threaten to kill them if they leave. And we all know restraining orders are useless when dealing with violent, obsessive men. Does that mean we sanction cowboy justice ? And this is only the extreme end of a world of possibilities for legitimate disagreement. Of course, I know full well which "decisions" to which you are referring.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:42 am |
    • Walter

      Maire

      I think you are crying for attention but thanks for the worst case scenario and unsupported assumption. Now give yourself a hug and say 'I am worth loving even if mommy tells me otherwise'.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  9. Marian Paroo

    Give me a break. I hear this kind of waste material from fundamentalist Jewish women who call themselves feminists, too.

    Feminism and religion do not go together. Period.

    Show me a religion where women aren't considered 2nd class citizens at best, and then maybe I will consider it.

    June 28, 2011 at 5:20 am |
    • Brandon

      In most Pagan traditions, women and men are treated as equals. And since women were first seen as magical due to their ability to create life, they were often times the spiritual leaders of the tribes. It wasn't till a handfull of other religions came to be that women were treated like dirt.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:56 am |
    • Doh

      Episcopalians. Our presiding bishop (think Pope in the RCC) is female as well as several bishops and a plethora of priests. Females are highly encouraged to take active leadership roles in the church. Our church has a male and female priest, our senior warden is female, most of our vestry and outreach commissions are lead by women as well. We are very open and welcoming to all.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • Paul

      The United Church of Christ

      June 28, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • Paul

      Wicca

      June 28, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  10. KMan66

    Liberals are BY FAR the most bitter and hateful group of misinformed people that you will ever meet. They will probably have very short life spans due to all of their misguided hate. They know absolutely nothing about the core beliefs of Republicans, but try to bash them because they think it's the "cool" thing to do. Do yourself a favor, stop being mesmerized by the likes of Barrack Obama, and do some actual research on the issues. You might be surprised where your beliefs fall!

    June 28, 2011 at 4:58 am |
    • Rosemary

      Well said!! I couldn't agree with you more!!

      June 28, 2011 at 5:15 am |
    • Peter

      Next time someone proposes intelligent design as a curriculum in a local school I may paraphrase that last part.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • Sevinthseal

      The fact that you categorize people into "liberals" exposes you as a part-time intellectual. Not all "liberals" hate "conservatives" as though they were some kind of college football rivalry. This may surprise you, but some of us actually believe, as Voltaire did, that "I may hate everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." Sadly, you appear to be one of those who silently profess "I will defend your right to say what you feel, until you say something that I don't like and then you can get out of my country because it's mine, no yours."

      June 28, 2011 at 5:40 am |
    • FrankM

      I know that the greatest Republican Christian belief is thou shall not tax the wealthy ever. For the Lord saith blessed are the wealthy and more blessed stil are the super rich. Or something like that. Christian Conservates are an oxymoron and Republicans are just regular morons.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:48 am |
    • gs051

      Unfortunately things are not so black and white... don't lump anyone with liberal leanings into one bucket... there's a whole range, same with conservatives.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:00 am |
    • Daws

      I feel like I've slipped into a bizarro world where the words liberal and republican have switched places >.< The irony of projecting..

      June 28, 2011 at 6:31 am |
    • asrael

      And the KMan, who cannot spell the first name of the president, recommends "actual research" to others...

      June 28, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  11. Mary

    You can't debate whether she's a feminist or not without considering her views on abortion. Women having autonomy over their own bodies is a valid feminist issue, I'm sorry, but anyone who doesn't support that isn't one.

    June 28, 2011 at 4:39 am |
    • c

      Blessings Mary, If I have a van full of soccer players, am I allowed to drive off a cliff, it is MY van after all, I should be able to do what I please with MY van

      June 28, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • Reggie

      c
      You can indeed drive your van over the cliff. That is already in your hands. The only problem is whether or not the soccer players death's were ethically taken care of, say if it was in defense of self or others or something. Otherwise you'd be breaking the law, which also wouldn't mean much at that point as death is the end of it.
      So technically you are free to drive your van off a cliff regardless of who else is in the car with you, unless they are likely to restrict your freedom in some way, say by grabbing the wheel or you not wanting to kill them. Their mere presence can influence your actions regardless of the level of freedom you actually have in terms of controlling parts of the equation.
      These life and death questions are fun, but too convoluted for most who come here.
      So what is YOUR answer to your own question?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Tamerlane

      No, that's a crappy analogy. Abortion is nothing like driving a van over a cliff with other people inside. That's just stupid.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  12. peakarach

    Has anyone in the history of mankind ever met god personally?

    June 28, 2011 at 4:30 am |
    • Edward

      Too many actually. Read the bible to find out who and who.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • joepa

      Do you mean God with a capital G? As in God the Creator? To many secular non believers their god is money so the answer to your question the way it is worded is yes.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • Brandon

      That would depend on your definition of God. I meet and see God everytime I walk out of my house, but I'm a Pantheist. I have a non-theistic, yet strong reverence and spiritual connection with Nature and the greater Universe. Many Pantheist refer to Nature and the Universe as God although they do not believe in God as He is portrayed in other religions. So again, it all depends.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:11 am |
    • c

      You can, if you honestly seek HIm. Why do non believers, in anything, trust a science that doesnt have the answers, but, cant bear the thought of trusting a Being that may have created all of this. It makes no sense to me

      June 28, 2011 at 6:49 am |
    • Brandon

      @ c – Believe what you want...and I respect your beliefs, but how can you not understand why people look to science, facts, and evidence? It's just as easy for people of science to wonder why you believe in an invisible guy in the sky who requires his followers to fear him and do his bidding. I'm not saying that you or science is wrong or right, but it is possible for science and spirituality to coexist if you let it. If God is that which nothing greater can be conceived and the Universe is the totality of everything known to man, then would it be so hard to believe that what you believe is God could also been seen as the Universe to others? God and the Universe are both seen as the creators, so why not accept that? You don't have to let it affect your faith in anyway, but if people like you could at least accept that fact that the rest of us have decided to take our chances with science (or other spiritual beliefs), then the world would be a better place.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  13. joey

    this woman is an idiot and a liar. goto politifact com truthometer

    June 28, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Rosemary

      LOL And Obama isn't? LOL

      June 28, 2011 at 5:19 am |
    • DrMabuse

      @rosemary–You're reaching again.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:29 am |
    • c

      This woman, raised 5 kids and opened her heart and home to many more foster kids. Are you actually going to bash this woman for wanting to maintain a free country with morals and values. And what specifically did she lie about Joey?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  14. Just Asking

    So in that picture, is Bachmann demonstrating her upcoming ni-pple-extension surgery?

    June 28, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • Tamerlane

      rofl !!!

      June 28, 2011 at 7:59 am |
  15. James

    “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Has she not read this passage, or does she just seem to ignore it? Just like most followers, they like to nit pick from the Bible what to follow and what not to follow. This is just another reason why I can't take religious people seriously.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • Abbie

      And from which Bible do they nitpick? So many versions. I guess it's permissible in Christianity to tailor your reading of the holy book to serve your personal agenda.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • c

      James, like many before you, you selectively chose your scripture verse.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:51 am |
  16. stormsun

    It appears that the GOP has no leaders with the credentials, the vision, and the ability to inspire others that will be necessary to win the presidency back in 2012. If this is the best the party can put forth, if it has learned nothing about broadening its appeal to the moderates and centrists that comprise the majority of American voters, they will deserve the loss they are engineering. Maybe at some point, the well-meaning folks who are trying to guide the GOP into an evangelical role, instead of a secular business-like political party, will go back to their regular jobs of trying to recruit new church members and the Republican party can get back to the business of counter-balancing the overzealous liberals who lean a bit too far toward the Karl Marx school of thought.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:29 am |
  17. Ghân-buri-Ghân

    She should have a giant fat man sit on her face and fart repeatedly. I would do it but I'm not a giant fat man.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:26 am |
    • gary davis

      now thats a good idea . LOL I like that all day long . she is a freak nut tea party anti american will take womens rights back 100 years or so . that can not happen . need to remove all repubs from the planet

      June 28, 2011 at 4:49 am |
  18. CommonSense

    She is an idiot. Period.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:14 am |
    • Rosemary

      LOL Then I guess you think Obama isn't. LOL

      June 28, 2011 at 5:21 am |
    • DrMabuse

      @rosemary: How did you glean that from that one short statement? Oy vey....

      June 28, 2011 at 5:28 am |
    • c

      Examples?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:52 am |
  19. GABRIEL

    Feminism is sister to satanism.
    Simple as that.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Don't get lost in the dark woods of religion

      I'll take a Church of Satan member to an evangelical Christian anyday. They are much smarter and nicer people.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • Aine57

      Satanism is a Christian heresy.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:19 am |
  20. Aaron

    The republicans lost the last bid for the White House because of Palin. They will lose it again if they pick Bachmann. No one on the left or from the middle wants a shrieking evangelical hussy running the show.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:07 am |
    • Abbie

      I love that – "a shrieking evangelical hussy." Honestly, where do the Republican Party and the Tea Baggers find these uninformed shrews? I, for one, get soooo tired of having this born-again Christian crap shoved in my face. This is not, repeat not, a Christian nation – it is a democracy that allows many religions.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:18 am |
    • duke13

      The Couric interview killed Palin. Bachmann in one step above Palin, but still astoundingly stupid.

      June 28, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • Leydy

      I wasn't sure what it meant myself i guess i meant that evngaelism by phone puts at least some distance between religion and government.There's no place for religion in government policy making.That's my view, however clouded it might be by dust .Perhaps my vision is currently being affected by something else.

      September 6, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
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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.