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. radicalwillie

    What part of "Separation of Church and State" does the GOP not understand?????? One of America's key fundamentals is religious freedom, not the Christian agenda being stuffed down our throats.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • El Kababa

      They don't understand any part of it. They don't believe in it. Every Christian believes that he or she is a TRUE Christian. Separation of Church and State – to them – only means that the state cannot support FALSE Christianity or any other religion because THEY are all false too.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • heyitsme

      1st – why are you on the Belief board then??? Oh, to be a troll. 2) Most Faiths believe in some type of *God* – so which God are you talking about, because to say ALL Republicans are Catholic (which I'm sure you were saying in your uneducated rant – and failing horribly) they are not......

      June 28, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • rich

      How true, I have no problem with those who wish to believe, my problem arises when it's stuffed down our thoats as some sort of truth...History has shown the results of religious haterd and with murderous results. In all of mans' recorded history have Atheist ever started a war over ideology.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  2. emma65

    This article speaks only of her religious convictions and yet says nothing of her experience or qualifications to be president: does this not matter to anyone anymore? Big deal, she's a mother: most presidents were and are fathers, whether republican or democrat: is that a qualification for higher office?
    Honestly until Americans get their priorites straight they will keep going down the tubes: socially and economically. More people are living below the poverty line and more is spent of incarceration than education; and still you take these teabaggers seriously. When has a conservative not brought you war, economic downturn [for everyone but the wealthiest] and scorn from the international community? Seems all they have to do is wave your flag and praise god and you fall for it everytime.
    God bless America: you are going to need it!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • heyitsme

      That's prob why it's filed under BELIEF BLOG.... tool.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  3. Morgana

    I'm not sure what a Christian feminist is. Any woman who believes the female is divine can't be Christian. Historically women have been second class citizens, you'd have better luck finding love in the church if you are a small boy.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  4. Anthony

    Christian idiot!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Kindasorta

      Her being an idiot has nothing to do with Christianity.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Rosemary

      Sure beats a Muslim one. LOL

      June 28, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  5. nitrous

    I wouldn't vote for her but I would do her.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • VegasRage


      June 28, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Rosemary

      Now whose the idiot? You are!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  6. Lucy

    But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:13).

    That goes for most of you on this board. Peace out.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • rich

      I love when people quote from the Bible in fact lets examine these quotes:

      Here are examples of these inconsistencies found in your Bible. Pick one (anyone) and please explain to the reader how this is the word of GOD and therefore extant.
      Who incited David to count the fighting men of Israel?
      (a) God did (2 Samuel 24: 1)
      (b) Satan did (I Chronicles 2 1:1)
      In that count how many fighting men were found in Israel?
      (a) Eight hundred thousand (2 Samuel 24:9)
      (b) One million, one hundred thousand (IChronicles 21:5)
      How many fighting men were found in Judah?
      (a) Five hundred thousand (2 Samuel 24:9)
      (b) Four hundred and seventy thousand (I Chronicles 21:5)
      God sent his prophet to threaten David with how many years of famine?
      (a) Seven (2 Samuel 24:13)
      (b) Three (I Chronicles 21:12)
      How old was Ahaziah when he began to rule over Jerusalem?
      (a) Twenty-two (2 Kings 8:26)
      (b) Forty-two (2 Chronicles 22:2)
      How old was Jehoiachin when he became king of Jerusalem?
      (a) Eighteen (2 Kings 24:8)
      (b) Eight (2 Chronicles 36:9)
      How long did he rule over Jerusalem?
      (a) Three months (2 Kings 24:8)
      (b) Three months and ten days (2 Chronicles 36:9)
      The chief of the mighty men of David lifted up his spear and killed how many men at one time?
      (a) Eight hundred (2 Samuel 23:8)
      (b) Three hundred (I Chronicles 11: 11)
      When did David bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem? Before defeating the Philistines or after?
      (a) After (2 Samuel 5 and 6)
      (b) Before (I Chronicles 13 and 14)
      How many pairs of clean animals did God tell Noah to take into the Ark?
      (a) Two (Genesis 6:19, 20)
      (b) Seven (Genesis 7:2). But despite this last instruction only two pairs went into the ark (Genesis 7:8-9)
      When David defeated the King of Zobah, how many horsemen did he capture?
      (a) One thousand and seven hundred (2 Samuel 8:4)
      (b) Seven thousand (I Chronicles 18:4)
      How many stalls for horses did Solomon have?
      (a) Forty thousand (I Kings 4:26)
      (b) Four thousand (2 chronicles 9:25)
      In what year of King Asa's reign did Baasha, King of Israel die?
      (a) Twenty-sixth year (I Kings 15:33 – 16:8)
      (b) Still alive in the thirty-sixth year (2 Chronicles 16:1)
      How many overseers did Solomon appoint for the work of building the temple?
      (a) Three thousand six hundred (2 Chronicles 2:2)
      (b) Three thousand three hundred (I Kings 5:16)
      Solomon built a facility containing how many baths?
      (a) Two thousand (1 Kings 7:26)
      (b) Over three thousand (2 Chronicles 4:5)
      Of the Israelites who were freed from the Babylonian captivity, how many were the children of Pahrath-Moab?
      (a) Two thousand eight hundred and twelve (Ezra 2:6)
      (b) Two thousand eight hundred and eighteen (Nehemiah 7:11)
      How many were the children of Zattu?
      (a) Nine hundred and forty-five (Ezra 2:8)
      (b) Eight hundred and forty-five (Nehemiah 7:13)
      How many were the children of Azgad?
      (a) One thousand two hundred and twenty-two (Ezra 2:12)
      (b) Two thousand three hundred and twenty-two (Nehemiah 7:17)
      How many were the children of Adin?
      (a) Four hundred and fifty-four (Ezra 2:15)
      (b) Six hundred and fifty-five (Nehemiah 7:20)
      How many were the children of Hashum?
      (a) Two hundred and twenty-three (Ezra 2:19)
      (b) Three hundred and twenty-eight (Nehemiah 7:22)
      How many were the children of Bethel and Ai?
      (a) Two hundred and twenty-three (Ezra 2:28)
      (b) One hundred and twenty-three (Nehemiah 7:32)
      Ezra 2:64 and Nehemiah 7:66 agree that the total number of the whole assembly was 42,360. Yet the numbers do not add up to anything close. The totals obtained from each book is as follows:
      (a) 29,818 (Ezra)
      (b) 31,089 (Nehemiah)
      How many singers accompanied the assembly?
      (a) Two hundred (Ezra 2:65)
      (b) Two hundred and forty-five (Nehemiah 7:67)

      “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      Atheism is not a religion nor is it a belief.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • heyitsme

      you cannot take a literal quote from the bible and apply it.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • rich

      Basic understanding, any part of a story is deemed not true or in question, then the WHOLE story is now in question. With that said the Bible becomes in question as the reader does not know what is true and what is false.

      Argument from authority (also known as appeal to authority) is a fallacy of defective induction, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative. The most general structure of this argument is:

      Source A says that p is true.
      Source A is authoritative.
      Therefore, p is true.

      “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      Atheism is not a religion nor is it a belief.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  7. S~

    Let the labeling of conservatives begin.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Ronald Raygun

      they label themselves, we just point it out to them...

      June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • jd

      they label themselves as better than everyone that thinks differently than them

      June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  8. John

    At least she's not a freaking mormon. I plan to vote for Michelle if she wins the nomination. A few months having her as president should cure us of Republicanism permanently. It would also be wonderful entertainment. Not to worry though, as she would be impeached almost immediately.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • rich

      So what is the difference then?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • VegasRage

      Politics aside she's bat sh** crazy, what the hell is wrong you?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  9. Kindasorta

    What a joke. Palin and Bachmann-the the Daffy and Donald Ducks of American politics. Listen as Bachmann speaks...very...slowly...as...if that....lends importance...to the....balderdash...that comes out of her mouth.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  10. John Wayne Gacy

    She stands up for my values, and that's all I need to know.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Ben

      So clever

      June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Kindasorta

      Said the crazed murdering clown–John Wayne Gacy.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Josh

      So how good of a leader, how intelligent she is and what she'll do to the country aren't a factor to you?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  11. Bus2

    I'd be more impressed with Bachmann if she could go 10 seconds without mentioning her foster kids. Good deeds lose some of their charm when you brag about them constantly.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  12. Sean T

    as Taibbi said "Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. "

    June 28, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      It's like I have a twin!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:26 am |
  13. mangoz


    June 28, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  14. Ben

    She's also insane. But as usual, the GOP ignores that fact.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      I'd vote for her.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • George Guadiane Austerlitz, NY

      I think it would be more accurate to say that they identify with and agree with that insanity rather than that they are ignoring it.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
  15. JG

    How could this idiot even really be in the consideration to be any sort of official? Much less president?!

    Have you watched any of her interviews? She's positively brainless.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      She's a double-bagger: you put a bag over your own head in case the one over hers falls off.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Rosemary

      LOL Have you ever listened and watched Obama's interviews? They can be quite brainless, too.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Rosemary

      Name calling instead of look at the issues ... So typical. LOL

      June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  16. Doug

    So getting advice from an imaginary being is OK, but this evolution thing is just ridiculous? It looks like Repubs are going for the "dumb as rocks" vote. Pathetic!

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

      This tyof arguement is lossing ground dude.... simply because you have to see something to believe in it, doesn't make it any less real. Please stop.... I get it, you don't believe in God. So?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  17. mwells219

    Way to do another right wing puff piece CNN. Why don't you talk about the fact that this is a woman who believes that getting rid of the minimum wage would be a way to reduce unemployment.

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

      I don't think I would call Bachman a feminist. It's true that Paul in the Bible teaches that women should not be in authority. The reason for this is because God created men to lead. With that God-given ability comes a lot of responsibility. The sad truth is that a lot of men are not good leaders. Just look at the personal lives of many of the candidates. In times like these, when men have failed to lead well, it's okay for a godly woman to step up for the greater good. Take Deborah, for example, in the Bible. She stepped up to be a judge for the nation because there was a need, and men weren't filling it. The men wouldn't even go to war without her. She led them well, and I think Bachman could do that for our country.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  18. jane

    JIM JONES reincarnated.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  19. Stuart

    We don't need anymore evangelical religious politicians. We have seen what these so called do-gooders have done to our country. All the backroom deals, the affairs and the general lack of real careing for fellow human beings when no one is looking. Don't tell me how god like you are show me......I haven't seen it yet!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • heyitsme

      I do not see any person running that doesn't believe in something. Because the arguement could really be made that if you do not believe could be said that this person does not believe in Hope – why follow that person at all? I'd rather follow the Mormon – which is a reglion I honestly don't understand 100% then the person that believes in NOTHING.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  20. MAngeline

    I could call Ms. Bachmann alot of things, but never a feminist. As its basic belief, a feminist believes in a woman's right to choose. Hopefuly, her campaign will be shortlived.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Ben

      Only so long as its a choice the mainstream agrees with...

      June 28, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Dave

      "a feminist believes in a woman's right to choose"

      So being a 'feminist' all has to do with the ability to abort a baby? Interesting.
      Originally it only meant woman who want total equality for both genders.

      I guess Bachman's "right to choose" abortion is not the answer and her right to choose anything else you disagree with makes her the enemy?

      Typical intolerant left.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • Jen

      Feminism was not originally about the right to choose. It was about women being afforded the same opportunities as men in the workplace. Read a history book or Camille Paglia.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:32 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.