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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

Explain it to me: What's Mormonism?

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. robjones

    The conditions for equality have existed for a while now. Liberals want to force equality rather than let people earn it. They are misguided and impatient. BTW, this is a pretty thinly veiled attempt to smear another convervative woman of faith. I am not evangelist, but my early support goes to Bachman, and I have no problem with the fact that she prays. Better than the misguided conscience of a liberal like Barack Obama acting like God himself.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Phil (Feel)

      "Liberals want to force equality rather than let people earn it. They are misguided and impatient."

      LOL a typical conservatard... LOL I bet this one this wants blacks to be slaves... "misguided and impatient" LOL

      June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • charlie

      "the conditions for equality have existed for a while now" thats a very deluded statement. Favor is given to MEN who have CONNECTIONS, despite the attempts toward equality, those are still true.

      She "prays", that means rather than solve problems or try to solve problems she closes her eyes and says "will some magical being make things better". woo that makes a good president.

      You say Obama acts like god, in my opinion he hasnt done hardly a damn thing and i've gravely disappointed. Care to point out how he has acted like god? Is it trying to give healthcare to the average person? In my opinion he hasnt done it and certainly not in a godly way.

      Michelle Bachmann is a moronic fundamentalist just like sarah palin who only appeals to those who follow religion as blindly as politics.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  2. vmaxnc

    Any time a person seeks office based largely on their faith it scares me. We need real action and sensibility, not wishing something will happen based on a mythical deity. And I certainly don't want a person relying on their interpretation of a book written by men, supposedly based on the word of said mythical deity, for their decisions, which affect millions of people. It's long been time to put that fantasy to rest.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  3. Zeb

    Please let this crazy loon become the Republican nominee. That would even be better than Sarah Palin. Please please please... Bring on Condi and then I'd be afraid....very afraid... Oh, but I forgot, Republicans only put forth unintellectual women, not very intelligent ones (if you subtract the right-wing ideology bit).

    June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • tenspeed

      Zeb, I don't think you could identify an intelligent woman or man if you had the opportunity because you are so tied up in your bitterness and criticism.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  4. Johhh

    Feminist Christian is an oxymoron. Bachman is a loose cannon ready to fire at non-believers. Bachman is a hypocrite.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • NoMoreLawyersPlease

      She's a "two thumbs down." NO MORE LAWYERS to elected office. She's a lawyer. They're dishonest cretins who operate an auction house court system, enrich themselves, then by elected office to ensure court reforms NEVER occur. This is destroying our country. STOP ELECTING LAWYERS.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • Me

      I was thinking that same thing, the words feminist and Christian do not go together at all...

      June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  5. Jill American

    You can not be a feminist while believing that you are to be submissive to your husband. Come up with a different label.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • vmaxnc

      That's the great thing about the bible. it can be interpreted any way that suits a person's agenda. Parts of it can be completely ignored when useful, as your post points out. It's the greatest collection of mythical nonsense ever written.

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

      In this, we will find individuals leaving comments that are against this woman and her ambitions. Those individuals have the freedom to speak, but that does not mean that they are christians. Michelle says she is a christian and is submissive to her husband. Non believers do not understand that. Unless there is something better than this candidate, she has my vote and support. What is needed is someone that knows what they want to do and it also is in alignment with the needs of this nation. Right now we have a person that is a good speaker as president and that is all. We need a leader and Obama is not a leader.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  6. Phil (Feel)

    LOL they finally have insulted feminist around the world. Shame on you CNN... Seems your in suc-up mode to the RW socialist party.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • NoMoreLawyersPlease

      Haven't we learned? NO MORE LAWYERS to elected office. She's a lawyer. They're dishonest cretins who operate an auction house court system, enrich themselves, then by elected office to ensure court reforms NEVER occur. This is destroying our country. STOP ELECTING LAWYERS. She's a "two thumbs down."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Jill American

      Not just any lawyer tho ... a TAX attorney! Her husband told her to be one. Yeah, a real LEADER.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:36 am |
    • I agree

      I completely agree, and the worst are the ones who graduate from Columbia University and Harvard Law School and worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago. (Two thumbs down)

      June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  7. InEarnest

    I can't ignore this. Evangelicals generally don't allow women to be preachers so I am surprised that Evangelicals would back Bachman, but then they did Palin. It just goes to show that ideology is more important than gender when it comes to politics, but NOT religion! I would LOVE to see her win the nomination simply because only the extreme right would vote for her! Further, I think that even the term "Evangelical Feminism" is an oxymoron.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  8. Donna

    I am a little confused. If Michelle Bachmann is so religious, How can she not tell the truth. She says she is against federal government intervention but yet she and her family have benefited from monies received through the federal government ie. farm subsidies, SBA loan and her salary as a Representative in the House. Why are these OK for them but healthcare assistance is socialism?

    June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • NoMoreLawyersPlease

      NO MORE LAWYERS to elected office. She's a lawyer. They're dishonest cretins who operate an auction house court system, enrich themselves, then by elected office to ensure court reforms NEVER occur. This is destroying our country. STOP ELECTING LAWYERS. She's a "two thumbs down."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  9. DallasIndependent

    There is already an effort being made to characterize Bachmann as "evangelical" and comparing her to Palin in order to diminish her importance as a candidate. She has already shown that she can stand up to the fire of the media and her GOP opponents. Her platform of shrinking the federal government and its financially crippling wealth redistribution programs is gaining traction. Americans won't stand by idly as our federal government spends our way to bankruptcy and transforms America (with "hope" and "change") into a welfare state.

    A heavy-handed federal government is not the way for America. Freedom and liberty will prevail in 2012.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • Horus

      Realizing of course that Bachmann worked as a revenue collector, and still receives government subsidies....yep she's for limiting government to her control and benefit; that's all. Even tea party leaders have called her out.

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

      I love how people bandy the term "heavy-handed government" around. You want less government ONLY in those areas that don't concern you. You want traffic lights, good roads, good schools, laws, clean and safe food, safe travel, parks, police protection, courts, etc. and yet you claim that less government is the way to go. Get real. You're just repeating talking points and you're being manipulated by a group that just wants to gain power by using scare tactics and propaganda.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • ztank

      Um...thats because Palin actually took her Death Panels line from Bachmann, Bachmann shoots off the same negative rhetoric at Obama exactly like what Palin does, Bachmann like Palin is very interested in looking good for the cameras and being in high fashion, etc, etc. The media is simply reporting what she is.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  10. trigtwit...tard baby deluxe

    She's a bigger retard than my mother. And when it comes to retards, I know what I'm talking about.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • robjones

      You must have real issues to come on a public formum to express this anger at your mother. I have a feeling she is probably in the right on most things.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  11. MeggieKat

    She is ANYTHING but a feminist! If CNN wants to profile another conservative leader, I have no problem with that. This woman, however, will be the death of any form of feminism or social equality in this country.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  12. Squeaky Voice

    Religion is the gateway to corruption. It's used to justify forcing your agenda on others even if it means bending the rules because you can always say "But God told me so and because it's God he's over everyone so there, nanny nanny boo boo". And has anyone ever admitted "God told me to STFU?" Cuz I'm sure he has at least told Pat Robertson that.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  13. Aarrgghh

    Bat$4it crazy

    June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Craig

      Amen and hallelujah!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  14. Barry

    It amazes me that she would even consider running for office, there are only 2 people nuttier than and both come from the same Palin family, Sarah and Bristol. People in Minnesota should hang their collective heads in shame, knowing that this idiot thinks she can be president. If she ran for Governor she couldn't win her own state. She reminds me of a radical Islamist, she's the type of person that would launch a nucclear attack because God told her to!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  15. Horus

    She is a sly hypocrite that lives in her own mind. How can one be for individual rights over big government, yet claim the government should control even the most personal of decisions. It seems, like many deluded crusaders, that Bachmann feels legit in demanding legislation that supports her little world, regardless of trumping on other's rights; but absolutely no legislation that (even when supported by the real majority) would infringe on her minority fringe group. This is a woman that wants to end all welfare, yet receives subsidies herself. A woman that obtained a law degree from a subsidiary of Oral Roberts U, which encourages it's graduates to embark on political activism careers, and teaches law from a biblical perspective. More than 60% of it's graduates fail the bar. This is a woman that believes the earth is only 6000 years old, and that man walked with dinosaurs like the Flinstones. She is a dangerous activist, seeking to impose her groups beliefs on a free society. I have to believe that the true majority of Americans will prevail.

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

    Simply being a famous female does not make one a feminist. No, Ms. Bachmann's conservative fundamentalist views and continued stream of inaccuracy mixed with bigotry certainly does not qualify her as a feminist.

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

    Michelle Bachmann: evil hate monger.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  18. Sarah S in TN

    I'd love to see Bachman as a Veep candidate. I agree with what she stands for and admire her greatly, but I don't believe she can win an election. My concern is that there are too many men (and even women) in our nation who aren't ready to vote for a female president.

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

      It's got nothing to do with her being a woman and everything to do with her being an ignorant hypocrite.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Aarrgghh

      please explain, in detain, exactly what this misinformed windbag "stands for"...

      June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • rizzo

      I'd love to see Bachmann as a candidate for any executive position, it would ensure a Democratic win!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Craig

      I honestly don't think it's the fact that she's a female that's the problem. It's that she's so radically and drastically conservative, religious, and so blatantly for just one segment of the "United" States.

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

      Please actually do some research prior to voting. If you still believe Bachmann legit, by all means vote for her. She has zero chance of winning a general presidential election.

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

      Just like it's not about race when someone dislikes Obama.

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

      Sarah S in Tn your right about not ready for a woman president ditto to that

      June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  19. MT

    @Objective Thinker "Liberals scream every day about how open minded, non-judgemental and inclusive they are ..."

    It's OK to reject people who are your polar opposite. In fact, if open-mindedness and nonjudgment are important to you, it's mandatory you oppose people who would deprive us of those very freedoms. To do otherwise is moral cowardice. Do not mistake open-mindedness for acceptance of all traits, no matter how vile or offensive. It's a common mistake ... this black-and-white view of tolerance ... but perhaps on reflection, you'll come to see the error in that approach.

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

      Haven't we learned? NO MORE LAWYERS to elected office. She's a lawyer. They're dishonest cretins who operate an auction house court system, enrich themselves, then by elected office to ensure court reforms NEVER occur. This is destroying our country. STOP ELECTING LAWYERS. She's a "two thumbs down."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Aarrgghh

      one starts out open minded and non judgmental, and then they listen to the person's viewpoints in order to make a judgment of their capabilities or beliefs. That is exactly what has lead to people to call this woman an ill informed hate monger.. Just the facts

      June 28, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  20. KansasBoy

    So, having 28 kids made you miserable and now you are running for president to get out of your responsibility as a mother?

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

      umm, i rlly don't think thats the case here. they were simply stating that she is very passionate about motherhood, & family? your an idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • KansasBoy

      That may be, but at least I can spell "you're"

      June 28, 2011 at 10:24 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.