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. Thinkman

    Moderate this!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Helpful Hints by Harry

      bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN "awaiting moderation" filter:
      Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
      You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
      ar-se.....as in spa-rse, pa-rse, ar-senic, etc.
      ba-stard..as in who killed Kenny.
      co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
      co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
      cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cucu-mber, etc.
      ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
      ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
      ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
      hoo-ters...hoot, hootie, and hooter is okay. More than one hooter is bad.
      ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
      jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
      ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
      koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
      pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
      pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
      ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
      se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
      sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
      sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
      ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, anti-thesis (any anti-"t" word),beat-itude, etc.
      tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
      va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
      who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

      There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.

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

    Don't know a thing about her, but anyone who shuts Sarah Palin up is ok by me.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  3. JOE

    Have you seen the article aired by CNN of an apartment complex in NH requiring residents to submit pet DNA samples to determine if waste on the premises belong to their pet? Songs like the waste Michele Bachmann and the GOP have left at the White House door steps for president Obama to clean up. But unfortunately as if that is not enough crap, she wants to add insult to injury by asking for the opportunity to stink up the White House some more. Now that is real sh-t.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  4. L.A. Johnson

    I'm amazed that you people have time to post more than two comments on this site. Oh..yes...of course...I forgot...you are liberals.None of you have jobs. You are waiting for the rest of us to pay your bills and give you free healthcare while you sit home trying to prove to the world that you are intellectuals. Learn how to spell, learn how to put an intelligent sentence together and GO GET A JOB!!!!!!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • VinoBianco

      Of all the insults against liberals I've never heard the "none of them have jobs" one.

      I cringe at the thought of anyone associated with evalgelical christianity like Bachmann holding such a powerful position.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Seattle Sue

      So Mister L.A. Johnson, are you posting from your job? If so knock it off and work harder as stealing time from an employer is the same as stealing anything else.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • RetardedTeabaggers

      Are you Ok, i see a lot of frustration on your post...

      June 28, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • PA Resident

      I have worked since the age of 14 – full-time for the past 41 years. I pay taxes – lots of them – it's part of the social contract in the US despite the fact that I have no children and am a minimal user of public services. I am also a liberal Democrat. Crawl back under your rock where you can play with yourself unobserved while you salivate over other mental midgets like Bachmann.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • Jim L

      You mean you want us to leave our salaried jobs and suddenly become workers at McDonalds, right?
      What a joke. I don't work by the hour, stupid. And I don't work every second of the day, either.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Bob T

      In today's America, I guess I am very liberal. Socially, I've made it up to the 1980's, and I have no desire to go back to 1950's. And I actually do work, and I live in a blue state. I have to pay my taxes, because as we all know, the blue states have to carry a lot of the red states.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • Fred Evil

      LOL at LA Johnson – Schmuck, I pay more in taxes than you earn, and I'm a FLAMING liberal. Thanks for demonstrating the mass ignorance shared on the right!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:08 am |
    • pprty

      Hardy Har Har! How many comments have you posted when you're supposed to be working?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  5. David

    CNN, maybe some real news articles some day? How about a story on how Obama is releasing millions of barrels of oil strictly for political gain? Or how every significant economic indicator has gotten worse since Obama took office? You know, stuff that actually matters.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:51 am |
  6. Tim

    When liberals feel threatened, they haul out their 'experts' to try and deconstruct that threat. Amusing. Pathetic, but amusing.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • rich

      Good eh? You know it sound better than the conservative/religious "Simon Say's".

      June 28, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Threatened by whom? Bachmann? You know we have been hoping she would declare right? Now we just want Palin to join in the circus as well.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:11 am |
  7. JOE

    So she had five kids with two ex cons. Does that make her presidential material? And of course, she claimed to have raised 23 foster kids. So is that Michele Bachmann's new definition of "A Nanny State" or is that her version of a community organizer?

    June 28, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  8. Topkatt

    You think Christians should be afraid of Muslims? I think that they should be afraid of sane American's that are going to be very upset when they realize that this Crusade that G.W., and the next Republican President (God forbid) will immediately pick up where the frat boy and Darth Cheney left off; using our children that are soooo precious in the womb, but combat expendable, if they are protecting the interest of the wealthy. Republican's are only against abortion because they know they will need cannon fodder for the next war that they inevitably will start. Christianity and Republicanism cannot co-exist in the same body. The Republican God is Mammon, and that is as dangerous as anything that Islam can throw at us, because there are Muslim's and Democrats, that are also Mammonites in reality. Mammon has become the deity of the Republican/Tea Party hypocrites. If there ever was a person such as Jesus, he would have no part of the greed and selfishness required to be a "Conservative" today. Conservative actually means; conserve what we spend in government for the white and the wealthy.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • VinoBianco

      Nicely said.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Furiously Fast

      Wow! Really?! You spout all of that religion and then say "if there was a person like Jesus" Let me guess, you are a baby killing Liberal who feels guilty for having an abortion?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  9. Rainer Braendlein

    Governors have to provide order and security in a country. Mere security is not enough, although it is yet much, because the security, we enjoy in the US and Europe, is not natural at all. Security is a precious good.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Providing order, means to provide order in all areas of life like economy, education, conservation, traffic, etc.. The area of economy seems to be treated a little wrong by all contemporary politicians.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      It is an old doctrine of economics that monopolization should be prevented. However, today companies unite to giant companies (often it is not noticed by the ordinary people, because the previous small companies keep their old names).

      June 28, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Unification has become an idol.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  10. L.A. Johnson

    Wow. I would be thrilled to know that there was a woman like this in the most powerful office in the world. Imagine having a person of character calling the rules. A person who actually prays and actually believes she will get an answer. A woman who has given her life to five children of her own and so many children who need a strong role model. I doubt any of the authors of the comments above have given any time to anything or anyone but themselves. The idea of service and selflessness is so foreign to them the only thing they can comment on is Bachman's prayer life.
    Another thing- people who continually call Christians scarey are not people that I give much credence to simply because they are always SCARED. What a bunch of babies. Their opinions on leadership SCARE ME.
    I am amazed at how opinionated supposed feminists are when it comes to women like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. All of a sudden they become High School adolescents who don't like the pretty girl at school because not only is she beautiful she is intelligent and confident !!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Skibo112

      It's not like I don't want her president because she is a woman, I don't want her president because she is a complete idiot. Most of the crap she says is a lie or fabrication. And do you know what's really "scary?" The fact that some people actually want somebody like this as the leader of our nation.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'A person who actually prays and actually believes she will get an answer.'

      If that isnt the scariest thought so far I dont know what is.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  11. HR

    Bachman is more or less proving she is a bit "flakey" with her certainly unintentional blurbs – maybe she should be using a teleprompter–she is one smart cookie, but with our "gotcha" press, she must not miss a beat.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  12. Marie Kidman


    June 28, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  13. LeeVA

    ... to see why some of my comments are awaiting moderation when there is no profane, violent, or illicit content in them.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  14. LeeVA

    Just a test.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  15. Bob in Texas

    I could never vote for any female candidate for any public office who promised to "obey" her spouse. A president, or any other public official, must be totally free from coercive influences, especially from an unelected spouse.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • El Kababa

      But Christian women are commanded to obey their husbands and to be silent in public, allowing him to speak for the entire family.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  16. Socalmamabear

    Beleive me she does not represent all women.....

    June 28, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  17. Socalmamabear

    I hope see goes all the way. Then Obama will WIN.......

    June 28, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  18. Paul R.

    Another Palin. Cover up your ignorance, with obstinance!

    June 28, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  19. susan

    God just told me to not vote for her. She evades questions by moderators, and is about on par with Palin in terms of knowledge. that's scary.

    June 28, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • Paul R.

      Agreed. Why do they think they can get away with being just plain stupid, and trying to cover it up by being evasive?

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

      Why do people think she is so stupid? She graduated from William and May Law and worked for the IRS for a number of years. She probably knows more about our tax law and similar issues than any other candidate for President.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  20. boka

    How can any man want to marry one of these feminists? How could you even consider yourself a man if you did marry a feminist?

    June 28, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Bob in Texas

      It sounds to me like you're very insecure about your manhood. There's treatment for that.

      June 28, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • asrael

      Yes, consult Bob for treatment about insecure manhood...

      June 28, 2011 at 9:19 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.