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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.”

ALSO:

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

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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. Julesfrog

    Just what the world needed: a Christian feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  2. Slater

    Wow!You Liberals come off as real jacka$$es.First Randy,"Rednecks?"Really?That's all you got?Shows your lack of intelligence and you just make up stats to fit your hate for someone different than you,bigot!Second.GREED?If anyone has the greed cornered it's the Dems.Just look at the bonuses given out by them compared to Reps.Almost 4 million dollars for Dems to 900,000 dollars for Repubs.Hate and racism is running rampant thru the Liberal community and they are blind to it because they hate people whom disagree with them!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Lucy

      Right on, Slater!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Julesfrog

      Intelligent people know there's a space after a punctuation mark.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • HUH?

      Blah, Blah

      June 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Adam

      Excuse me sir, do you have a mirror?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  3. Bible Clown

    So, do Conservative Feminists just call themselves "Feminazis" and eliminate the middleman?

    June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
  4. buke56

    When ignorance, hatred and manipulation of the People to vote for their worse interest become part of Christian values you can call this woman a Christian. As far as being a feminist she sold out a long time ago to the good ol boy network. If I was drunk on tequila and had a lobotomy I could see right thru this charlatan. I feel sorry for the People of Minnesota who can but were out voted by the People who cant.

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

    This is the kind of "news" the media publishes (over and over and over again). The GOP agenda to keep the government directed toward the best interests of corporations and the rich get the by-the-way treatment.
    There are only two interpretations for Republican economic policies. One, Republicans are the most economically ignorant race on the planet or two, Republicans want the country to fail in order to gain/maintain some political advantage for their rich patrons.
    Either case makes Republicans unfit to govern a democratic society committed to equality.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  6. J. Scott

    It's clear we need to vote for this woman. She is the first person to be able communicate with God. Not only does this prove the existence of God but it shows It can be reached by humans, or at least Michelle Bachmann who has been appointed by God as our next President.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Absolutely! Go right out and vote for her! God really knows how to pick 'em, boys. This one's ripe and ready to fall off the crazy tree.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • chefdugan

      If God were political She would spit on this woman.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Ben

      ...um...yeah. Whatever you say. Since it's not historical fact that nearly every single one of our presidents have been Christian. But no, this crazy woman is the only one that's been called. Yeah. Vote for her. Go right ahead. The rest of us will remain sane.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • prisha

      exactly my thoughts sir. thank you for putting them in apt words

      June 28, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  7. Antonio

    No matter how much CNN Belief wants to spin Michele Bachman, the truth is that she is backwards and hateful, now matter how much you want to squint your eyes.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Bible Clown

      No, no! She's the GOP candidate for sure! Can't you see how "presidential" she is?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Lucy

      There is not a hateful bone in her body. Your lies are getting old with the American people.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • HUH?

      @Lucy...No hate? haha...just NUTS!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  8. thedadsnitch

    If being a woman makes you a feminist, and being a conservative Christian makes you evangelical, then yeah, she's an evangelical feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  9. The Dude

    Christian Idiot maybe. A Feminist would have 23 children. And what kind of mother would se be a president? Do not vote for her, for the sake of those Children.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eqKb5ViN_Q&w=640&h=360]

    June 28, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Andy

      The Dude is a nut job.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @The Dude

      Are you an Imam?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • LadyAnon

      TheDude: Sadly, a lot of people just don't get that.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  10. Big Daddy

    This woman is an extreme right wing born again christian looney!! She and her husband took in those 23 kids so they could raise them as "christians" against there will. These people are like "cult members". NUTS. Whatever your religion is that's fine with me. I could care less. But it has NO PLACE in Government at all. NO PLACE! To think that there are people out there that actually think "GOD TALKS TO THEM" and nobody else is certifiable. Please use your brain here folks. This woman is a whack job

    June 28, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Andy

      Blah Blah Blah. Yadda Yadda Yadda. Liberal robot.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Bible Clown

      No no! She's great! She will be the GOP candidate for sure. Take that, Romney!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Gerry

      We do not leave our faith at the door! We need more Christians in politics and government to stop the decay going on in America. God does talk to her...in prayer/

      June 28, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • Wraith

      Yeah, he must be a liberal robot because he believes in seperation of church and state, right Andy? So, I guess that would make you a robot as well, eh? How so, do you ask? Well, it seems that everytime someone mentions seperation of church and state, some fundamentalist, brainwashed, uberchristian, "republicant," regurgitates some hateful rhetoric.

      Related to the story... If a person says they are doing something because the voice/voices told them to do so, they are up for psychological evaluation. But if someone says, "God," told them to do something, that's okay then.

      Church and state. They do not belong together.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • LadyAnon

      No, we don't need more Christianity in politics. We need that separation of church and state kept firmly intact. I prayed to my God and he told me that Bachmann has no understanding of the real issues facing this country or the world – no capability to be a World Leader...I prayed to my Goddess – she's annoyed that Bachmann has such a lack of compassion for humanity unless they follow her religious and social beliefs. Then my Goddess said she had to go console Jesus cause he's so incredibly depressed over the fact that people used His name for a religion and then go and hate, destroy and control the lives of others with it. Good going People.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  11. zip

    The rise of lunatic right wing filth like Palin and Bachmann is directly attributed to the Fox Fake News Channel. Do you know someone that watches and believes Fox Fake News??? It is your duty as an a American to deprogram them. Save this country. It matters.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Lucy

      Sounds like you're the one drinking the kool-aid. Zip it, zip.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Andy

      Talk about being programmed. I wish I had a nickel for every time that I heard your rant.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Adam

      Fox News is a very stupid station, but so what, thats life these people need something to watch other than american idol and. . . other stuff (I don't have a TV). I always get agitated when someone starts talking about my duty. . .

      June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Deprogram? You can't fix stupid. Get them to stop watching reality shows while you're at it. My favorite is the Star Trek reality show "Keeping Up with the Cardassians."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  12. Adam

    I guess she is an evangelical feminist if somehow being an evangelical feminist is the opposite of being an actual feminist. The truth this that it is sad that these (her and palin) are the only female candidates the republicans can find to put forward. Regardless of the job experiences they may have had, the most important thing to them is that they have had children and their families and what model mothers and wives they are, that seems to be about 80-90% of their entire campaign. Its really sad. I suppose the thought is that it is good that they aren't particularly intelligent, and have accents and big hair and large families, because the republicans think that this won't offend the backwards men who make up parts of their party, and that these women will appeal to the wives and mothers of their party.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  13. Lucy

    Finally, a strong and smart woman as a candidate. Bachmann in 2012!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      You're an idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • caw

      I'll gladly vote for a strong and smart woman, unfortunately Bachmann is neither.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Glen

      Are you kidding me? Who were the last 3 people you voted for President last?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • Marcus

      bachmantwit just made a lucid and compelling argument for his/her side. You are a shining example of the tolerant and peaceful nature of the left. Thank you.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:15 am |
    • HUH?

      The repubs have their hands full with nuts

      June 28, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • Tony

      Bachmann is smart? The faith based scientist? She who thinks Obama's "$200 million" a day trip to India is "over the top" government spending?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:17 am |
    • tifoso

      If the GOP nominates Bachmann, the party will suffer its worst defeat since 1936 when it ran Alf Landon. At least Landon won his home state of Kansas. Bachmann will be clobbered in Minnesota and will have a hard time winning in many traditional "red" states. Do not forget that she polls only 22% in Iowa. That means that 78% of the likely GOP caucus-goers do not want her to head the ticket. Personally, I hope the GOP is stupid enough to nominate such a polarizing candidate. That will lead not only to re-election of Obama but the "coat-tail effect" will sweep the GOP out of both houses of Congress.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • LngTllTxn

      I concur. And there are not enough of these people like Lucy to get Bachmann elected. Is this GOP suicide or what? It's painful to watch.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  14. El Kababa

    Bachman is mentally unstable. I'm not exaggerating for effect, like Conservatives do when they call Liberals "socialists" or when Liberals call Conservatives "fascist." I'm saying that if Bachman had a long chat with a psychiatrist, she'd leave his office with a diagnosis ranging from a severe personality disorder to a psychotic disorder. This woman is not mentally fit for office. She may be able to function as an accountant or a real estate agent, but not as an elected official.

    Her craziness spills over into her politics. As an accountant, she would have no such problems.

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

      Is that your paranoid, expert opinion?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:09 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Hey when liberals call conservatives "fascist", they are correct.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Lucy

      Guess it takes one to know one. But you are mistaken.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Jake the Snake

      You are being way too kind. I find her dangerous.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      If Fox news asks you if you are a flake, then you know you have pretty much lost it.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Expresss

      It took about 1 second for the communists to start their little personal attacks about anyone who runs against the commie party. How predictable. Next up, she's a racist.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  15. Mike

    Bachmann/Palin 2012.. A sure win for the Dems!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  16. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    "

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

    I think the proper term is 'FemeNitwit.'

    June 28, 2011 at 9:06 am |
  18. Beerzie

    CNN, Shills for Half-Wit Presidential Candidate?

    June 28, 2011 at 9:05 am |
  19. GOP = Greed Over People

    She is certainly no feminist or she would not go poking her nose into another woman's uterus. But then, she might like that.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      LOL. Nice!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • Lucy

      Let's see. It's OK to start wars and send our soldiers to kill and be killed but it's not OK to save our children in the womb?? Are you a hypocrite?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      I dont know Lucy, ask Bush, he started 2 of them, and Bachmann loves him.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • GOP = Greed Over People

      Lucy, you are confused, it is YOUR side. the GOP that starts preemptive for profit wars just to make a buck of the coffins of dead young Americans, not us liberals or "libtards". Go grab a cup of coffee and wake up.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • GOP = Greed Over People

      Just one more point Lucy, the height of "hypocrisy" is to fight for a fetus, but abandon when it draws it's first breath because you want to save money and cut such help for infants such as WIC.

      That is certainly NOT pro-life by any definition.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:24 am |
  20. Randy

    By any standard Republicans use Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and George Soros are liberals so your comment about jobs and liberals is wrong in fact liberal are more highly employeed a nd highly educated than typical southern redneck Redneck Republicans. In fact most Republicans don't believe in evolution which truly makes only employable for ignorant tasks.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      This explains why they are angry at Mexicans. They are trully "taking their jobs".

      June 28, 2011 at 9:11 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.