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. Marie Kidman


    June 28, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  2. Peter E

    CNN, please stop embarrassing yourself with such ridiculous comparisons. Bachmann is not Hillary. Hillary has intelligence, ideas and a personality. Bachmann has none of that. I know you were disappointed that your pushing Palin down our throats 24/7 didn't work out, but trying again with THIS woman is just plain embarrassing. Even Palin had a personality. She still had no intelligence or ideas, but replacing her with Bachmann is downright insulting and embarrasing.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:29 am |
  3. stevie68a

    Her foster-parenting 23 children on the surface sounds noble at first. What amount of money did the state pay for each child per
    month? There are many foster parents who did this for a source of income. Just sayin'.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Tripp

      I dont beleive her that she fostered 23 kids. The facts do not add up. How did she have time to foster those kids and still work 15 hours a day for her political/religious career? I think she is caught in another lie. She lies about American history, why beleive her about fostering 23 kids?

      June 28, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  4. LeeCMH

    Onward Christian soldiers, marching right into war with your bombs for Jeeeeeeeesus killing on before.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  5. Scientific Poetry

    Hello...? republican party...? I was a republican for many years... but I've given up on you. Primarily because the religious right has taken over the party (Michelle Bachmann is a good example). I thought there was this thing called separation of church and state...? If the group of fools running for the Republican nomination is the best you can do... then the election is over before it event started.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:28 am |
  6. Maimonida

    Run Michele run. run away from us

    June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  7. Bill C

    I guess now that Sarah Palin isn't gettting into the race, the liberals at CNN have to attack someone else. I am not Ms. Bachmann's biggest supporter, but she is a brilliant woman (anathema to those on the left, I know) and very well spoken. Conservative women scare liberals because they don't fit the mold. That is why racist remarks were made against Condelezza Rice and why Elizabeth Dole was villified. After all, if you are a woman, and intelligent, you can't be a conservative. Right?

    June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Ourkie

      She is far from brilliant. She is ignorant, judgmental, hostile and in no way my ideal of a Christian. The woman is dangerous and is a prime example of the need for separation of church and state.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Neeneko

      Who said they do not fit the mold? She fits the mold of a far right conservative pretty well. I think conservatives tend to forget that liberals do not put nearly as much emphasis on gender as the do, and mostly see people like her the same way they see other far right candidates. She just isn't special, and being a woman doesn't change anything.

      Though I disagree with the whole idea that she is a feminist in the first place... just because a woman gains power does not make her a feminist. Just look at any number of Queens over the years.. powerful powerful women, but they kept the strict gender laws in place in their countries. Women can be misogynistic too, including telling other women what their place is.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • JJ

      I agree. For a liberal website, I have never seen so much bigotry and animosity towards women because their political and religious affiliation. I usually swing liberal or conservative depending on the candidates and this woman is a strong contender and I like her.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • asrael

      "She is a brilliant woman"? Now that will need some explaining, Bill...

      June 28, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  8. Greg Gilbert

    The liberals fear a woman winning the republican nomination because it will pull from their base.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Skeptic

      Thoughtful people of either party fear a leader who lies to them on a regular basis and who obviously supports a different vision of America than they do. I'm a Republican who is very adamently opposed to the current trend of Christian evangelical government. That's not what the founding fathers wanted, and for very good reason.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Greg Gilbert

      I don't believe any of it. The media always goes down harder on Conservative women. Every candidate is religious, it is up to that candidate to establish themselves as a religious candidate and not the media's job. If Bachman wants to make speech after speech about something then I'll define Bachman by the speeches she makes, but certainly not by what CNN says about her.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:36 am |
    • asrael

      Still smiling at the notion of the media "going down" on conservative women. What ...were... you thinking about, Greg?

      June 28, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  9. Robin Bray

    CNN's new pet. Suddenly no three times a day Palin stories and now this fool.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  10. Jane

    She is completely UNELECTABLE. She's a flakey cereal grain. Go away Michele Backmann, go away. I can see "God" from my porch!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  11. stevie68a

    What makes this woman so dangerous, is her latest attempt to sound normal. To go from "god told me" to " I prayed for an
    answer", is a big turn-around for this woman. Of course, if she got elected, the crazy talk would reappear, and the real
    Bachmann will turn into the destructive force that will doom this country. Make no mistake about it, religion is poised to do more
    harm than good for America. It gives new meaning to what Freud said of religion. He called it "a mental illness".
    jesus is imaginary, jesus is imaginary. Shout it from the rooftops!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • NoFluf

      All of you anti-religion folks need to read just a little bit of American history – if it wasn't for Christian religious conviction this country wouldn't even exist and neither would the concepts of inherent equality, freedom of religion, public education, etc., Quit embarrassing yourself.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Alyssa

      @NoFluf, it appears that you are the one who needs to read your American history. The one where the ideals of our government were born in the Enlightenment, which was in opposition to popularly-held religious beliefs. Religion has never been about equality, and it has certainly never been about giving the common person a voice.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Saved

      What a total load of lies from "NoFluf"!!!

      Liars like you should be tossed into a boiling vat of your own lies to burn forever, but what God is going to do to you is much much worse.....

      You lie about Christianity's history. You lie about God. You will burn forever and you will have deserved it. Liar.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  12. johnborg

    Does the author even know what being a feminist means? No conservative is likely going to be a feminist. Feminism is a collection of theory and praxis that advocates individual and collective agency in regards to gender. It's foundation is a rejection of the gender binaries (male-female, man-woman). I don't think Bachmann would wish to modify binaries. It's what keeps the party alive. Afterall, what ever Obama is, the Republicans are not. If anyone wants a list of Christian feminist intellectuals, I reccomend Grace Jantzen or Rosemary Radford Ruether.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Skeptic

      I agree that she is clearly unconcerned with changing tradional gender roles in the family. Also, let's not forget reproductive freedom. Feminists endorse the idea that women, rather than the government, should make decisions about their bodies. Michele Bachmann has more in common with Phyllis Schlafly than with Gloria Steinem.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Rex Lutherin

      In reality feminism, in its clearest definition, is a movement against traditional chauvinistic values that were forced on the female gender during the heyday of the American apple-pie era. Feminism was never a theory as you say, but more a practical "hands-off" approach to demonstrating against a traditional system of values. Conservatism, in its truest and simplest definition, was and still is, based on reality. Therefore, your argument doesn't mesh, and dressing it up with over-educated words serves no justice to your argument.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  13. apocolypti


    June 28, 2011 at 8:11 am |
  14. Facepalm Generation

    ……………………………..,< `.._|_,-&"...............

    June 28, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  15. Djk007

    I don't want anybody's personal conversations with God running my country. This is why we have separation of Church and State. That's why all of the Muslim countries are so screwed up. And it's the reason that religion has caused and continues to cause all of the wars in the World.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  16. LoopsFroot

    Religion and Politics are toxic bedfellows. Don't insult voters by telling us you've been called by God. Bush said that same damn thing and look at the mess he left when his 2nd term was up. Sarah Palin is not a representative of true Christian believers and neither is Michele Bachmann. Vote either one of them in and watch USA fall completely off the map.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  17. Grumpster

    This woman is scary. Her quote about not trusting the government with healthcare, and that should be trust in god to take care of that....OMG that is scary. Magical goblins in charge of our healthcare doesn't sit well with me.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • MooseKnuckle

      Hey Grandpa, are you still drunk from last night? Does your breath smell like mansauce?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • LeeVA

      With all of the children and foster children she has had, I can guarantee you that she has not left health care solely in the hands of God. She is a typical Chirstian political candidate who is willing to sell her soul on the altar of hypocrisy.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Doctor Feelgood

      I'm prescribing Fukitol. That should help.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Skeptic

      Evangelical feminist? Isn't that rather an oxymoron? One basic tenet of the feminist movement has always been reproductive freedom, i.e. unregulated access to contraception and, if necessary, abortion. You know, letting the individual decide what's best for themselves rather than having the state make the decision for them. Nope, she's not in favor of that.

      Another basic tenet of feminism is the questioning of traditional gender roles. Michele Bachmann defines herself as a mother first and makes reference to that being the primary role of women.

      No, she's not an evangelical feminist. Just evangelical. If you want a church-led government, she's the candidate for you. If you want a strong, independent-thinking leader, keep looking.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Bannister

      Don't want to trust in government – or God – to provide your healthcare? Good!

      But you left out a third option – how about YOU are responsible for your own healthcare? That's the way it should be. Treat healthcare just like any commodity like food. You buy as much as you need and private companies complete for your business which drives down costs.

      That's a free market system and it WORKS. What we have today is NOT a free market system and it does NOT work.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Chris Meece

      Actually Skeptic, the original feminist movement was overwhelmingly pro-life. The movement was hijacked by wacko leftists who didn't want to be responsible for their actions. It was only then that the feminist movement adopted a pro-murder stance.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Ourkie

      Hey Mooseknuckle...do you find fulfillment as a troll?

      June 28, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • We The People

      Early term abortion is not murder in any sense of the word. That's why it's LEGAL and therefore we can CHOOSE IT.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Anti-Republican

      We cannot trust any Christian to do the right thing. That's why government-funded healthcare is our only option.
      What Christian is going to part with their money to help people when they don't even want to help them NOW?
      All I hear is Rushspeak from the Republicans.
      I sure as hell don't trust any of them to suddenly give when they didn't want to before. They hate the idea of their money going to the government. They hate the government. They want nothing more than to tear it to pieces and ruin everything about this whole country as long as they think they are going to be able to keep their money.
      They don't want to help people with their tax money now – why would anyone think they are going to suddenly help people with that money once they've got it in their sweaty little hands?
      They hate the government. Not the bad parts. The good parts. They hate the good parts of our government!
      Republicans are treasonous! They should be arrested and put in prison for the things they are doing!

      June 28, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • ann

      @Anti-Republican: One thing I learned from school is that each person is an individual and you shouldn't lump them together in a stereotype.

      There are plenty of Christians who give money to help the poor etc and would and do give a lot more than what is governmentally skimmed out of their paychecks. You aren't likely to be aware of this giving due to the fact that some of us prefer to give quietly because we do not think we should be getting a public pat on the back for doing so because that isn't our goal. We just want to see people not starve and children to have school supplies, jackets to keep warm, etc. And it isn't even always given to religious based groups either. Plenty of people I know regularly give to the local food bank, red cross, doctors without borders, habitat for humanity, st. jude's etc.

      A lot of us are appalled at what the government on occasion (corruption, ignoring people, etc) does are looking to see if there is a better way. Some people are smoking crack though if they think moving it to a voluntary thing would work because there are many religious and non-religious people who would never give a dime to anyone ever.

      All sides should be brainstorming on how to make things better, not pointing at the person across the table and saying, "oooh you are a terrible human being". I will never even get to know you nor learn to work with you.

      How sad.

      I can empathize with you for there are some people I would be appalled to see in power. However I don't think you can just point at a random stereotypical blob of people and say, "they are the problem" When you don't really know what each individual has done or will do or what we think could help.

      I myself made a mistake in helping elect someone who in restrospect I wish I had done more research about. People should be elected based off of as much info you can gather on them such as their prior voting record, their current stated platform, etc. Just looking at their party affiliation doesn't mean a hill of beans if they turn out to be a punk.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  18. LeeVA

    The problem with many Christian voters is that they feel the top criterion for a candidate is that they be a Christian. Once is office, however, most candidates claiming to be Christians have failed in their works. Faith without works is dead, especially in politics. What works am I talking about? Caring for the poor and needy. Visting the sick and imprisoned. Welcoming the outcast of society. Waging righteous wars, rather than self-righteous wars. Sorry, but Christian ideals are actually liberal ideals. Conservative ideals tend to be selfish and slef-centered, not Christian at all. Yes, Christians are expected to work hard and do their best to take care of thesmelves. But being a Christian is more about how you treat other people, and less about how you wish to be treated.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Free

      Good post!

      Yes, it should be visiting the sick and imprisoned, not blocking health care and executing the imprisoned.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • KinNYC

      Well said LeeVA

      June 28, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Alyssa

      I'm an atheist, have little tolerance for any religion's attempt to control public life. But your version of Christianity is probably one I could support, even if I still don't believe there's any god behind it.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  19. JOE

    So is Michele Bachmann really presidential material or just a flake? For two and a half years Ms. Bachmann and her Tea Party organization and her Republican friends have had no problem slandering, disrespecting and insulting president Obama and they have enjoyed doing so without restraint, calling the president all sorts of derogatory and outrageous names. And of course, these senseless attacks followed the president even when he was a candidate for higher office. But now that Ms. Bachmann is running for higher office, she is offended and outraged by a phrase Mickey Mouse wouldn't have been offended by to say the least. But despite the insults, the disrespect and derogatory name calling, candidate Obama and president Obama never lashed back at his critics or show any emotion. No, he kept his cool as always and he has continued to demonstrate the class and professionalism he has always known to have possessed.

    So how in the world is Ms. Bachmann going to handle higher office if she can't handle the name calling that is customery with politics? And if she is referred to by another flakey name, is she going to start crying like John Boehner? Ms. Bachmann you're not presidential material.

    June 28, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Bill C

      Please back up your accusations. Please quote me anywhere that Ms. Bachmann has done what you claim. It is easy to throw around such hyperbole, but it isn't true.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:21 am |
    • maggie

      Then, Bill C., you must not have watched the debate in New Hampshire a few weeks ago. Given how little time each candidate had to introduce themselves and their ideas to potential voters, I was taken by how much time they preferred to spend bashing Obama. And just this morning, CNN challenged her in an interview about the fact that 27 of the last 28 statements she made were patently untrue - a fact she didn't deny but rather, tried to cover by saying "we all make mistakes." I expect politicians to challenge one another, their records and their ideas; I don't expect this pro forma name calling that has been going on such as "unpatriotic" "unAmerican" and a "failure" for having been unable to turn around the mess that the last Republican left behind. Tell me why you want me to vote for you; otherwise, just go away and stop wasting my time listening to the bluster.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • independent

      Go to politidfac.com look her up.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • KinNYC

      Thank you Maggie.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  20. George

    Michele will destroy our enemies in a nuclear holocaust the likes of which cannot be imagined if you considered it for a thousand years. Michele and Jesus all the way 2012 !!

    June 28, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • D. Allen Snively

      What ever happened to Separation of Church and State???? It seems to me it is sad that a candidate can not be elected unless he/she shows how Christian they have become. This women is a presidential candidate...Wow...
      God is talking to her....telling her how to make decisions that will govern the most powerful nation in the world. How does god answer her.. in a record played backwards????

      I am sorry but Minnesota wake up... please don't drink the Kool-Aid.
      Well if Sarah can do it why not some other FLAKE..

      June 28, 2011 at 8:09 am |
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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.