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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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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. S

    why do morans like m bachman feel the need to be inflammatory to make up for the fact that no one cares about her substance

    June 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Kindasorta

      Leave the Morans out of this. They're nice people from around the block. But the MORONs like Ms. Bachmann, they're ok, too, when they don't think they're smart and behave obnoxiously. Oh, that describes Ms. Bachmann, doesn't it?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Mimmo

      You think that's bad?What about Pope Pitbull Benedict saying there's no place for a mislum Turkey in a Christian EEC?Obama is a secular leader gently touching on religion. Benedict is a religious icon blasting his way into politics where he should have no place.Do you really think religion has no role in politics?

      September 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm |
  2. Ethan Reynodls

    Hillary Clinton is a thoughtful, respectable politician who has pertinent and considered positions on the issues of our time.

    Michelle Bachmann is a fruit loop.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  3. huh

    Michele Bachmann can't run for president; she was born in CANADA!! If she was really born in Iowa, why is she afraid to show us her birth certificate? WHAT IS SHE HIDING??!?!?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Debbie

      Her political party made the president show his birth certificate, where's hers.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  4. JT

    Crazy Jesus fanatics are the ones who are sending us all back to the dark ages. We can't afford these mentally challenged individuales to be in office in any capacity.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • David, CA

      Amen to that (pardon the pun)

      June 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Mahmoud El-Darwish

      Plus one on that bro.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Kindasorta

      Politics just comes down to giving the electorate what it wants. Bachmann may call herself a Christian, but she's just using that as her brand to market herself. If she gets enough people buying that brand, she'll be nominated. But that ain't a gonna happen. Real Christians resent these false prophets like Bachmann or Palin.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Frogist

      @Kindasorta: The poll numbers from the article states she is second only to Romney. If you're waiting on the "true" christians to stand against her, you might be in for a wait.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  5. DE

    If you are a democrat, and a non-christian, you are a hypocrite by definition. (This comment board has declined to nonsense)

    June 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • mop

      so only Democrats can be Christians? You make no sense

      June 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  6. Raven in Or.

    "Evangelical Feminist" is an oxymoron.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Kindasorta

      "Oxymoron?" Is that what Bachmann puts on a blemish?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  7. Pyrrho

    I often feel the "call" of nature. Does that mean that god is talking to me?

    June 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • gozer

      just as much as it does for anyone else.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  8. Barking Alien

    We don't need a femi-nutzi in chief. I don't care about her gender or religious convictions. What I care about is can she lead this nation and the answer is no!

    June 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  9. Seeya Tomara

    arguing about religion or god is stupid from both sides. do the arguing after your dead.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • gozer

      Wrong. Religion unfortuntely impacts policy and law in real life. Fighting it tooth and nail is the right course.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • mop

      Why is it stupid? Some people vote and want the governments policies to be in-line with their religious beliefs, I think it matters if one believes is is actually correct

      June 27, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  10. awdam

    So ...Obammy is a socialist with terrorist buddies. Whats the big deal?

    June 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  11. JW

    I would like to see Michelle Bachmann in a bikini

    June 27, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Dogbert

      No way, after 5 kids popped out of her can you imagine the awful stretch marks, yuck.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  12. DE

    If she is a republican, and she is, and says she a christian, which she does, she is a hypocrite by definition.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • 99indinf

      ...and your another idiotic left wing liberal bent on ruining whats left of this country.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  13. R in Ohio ... GIVE CHRISTIANS A CHANCE!!

    I don't know where the line of demarcation is for being right wing and I don't know why an intelligent and educated Christian is horrible for being "Evangelical". What is the political definition of Evangelical? I surmise from the comments posted that many CNN readers believe Evangelicals are ignorant and awful people. Huh. Well, I hate to break your heart, but I don't hate gays, I've never protested aboriton clinics, don't hate immigrants, I don't disavoy science. Yes, I vote Republican, Love The Lord, I am educated and successful. It does make me uncomfortable to think that my act of being a "Christian" is coming under attack by others. I just want to live a normal life!!

    June 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • 1atheist

      Great for you!!! Now you just need to convince the rest of your fellow believers to leave the rest of us alone and move on with their own lives also.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Adam

      Ok well just because you are a Christian does not make you an Evangelical, there is actually quite a large difference. Also you say you don't hate gays, but are you in favor of gay marriage?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Atheist2

      You're atypical. But are you? For example, what do you think about what you would call offering your children a "choice" between the facts of evolution or intelligent design? What do you think the theories of relativity and evolution have in common?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Ethan Reynodls

      If you "Love the Lord" and you vote R, isn't that a bit self-defeating?

      The Lord tended the poor, the afflicted, and the needy. The Lord gave humans stewardship of the earth. The Lord tried to provide healing and understanding to those in trouble. The Lord knows of no national boundaries, differences of race, ethnicity, and other divisions as The Lord created them all.

      The R's govern only for the wealthy, the well-to-do and the interests of business. The R's govern to diminish the power of the people and give as much as possible to the already powerful.

      How can you possibly vote R and be a Christian?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • tuffgong71

      Then you are one of millions of beautiful Christians and are welcome in my country anytime! Religion has a place. When families are in crisis, when people are trying to clean up their lives few things work as well as religion. However, religion and politics DO NOT mix. If you change the laws to fit your personal belief system (even if your belief system is shared by many) where does that leave the rest of us. Shouldn't we be free to practice our own belief system as we see fit (provided it infringes on no one else.) Isn't that the whole point of America? If you do not believe in abortion or gay marriage I respect that. Teach your children, preach in your church, shout it from the rooftops if you wish, that is your right as an American. But, keep your moral code out of my law book.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  14. Leewei

    She's a well-intentioned but undereducated and radical nut. The brand of nihilism she represents would wreck everything good about our government. Deficit hawkishness is laudable, but taxation must be considered as a tool to bring this under control. Reduction of military spending as well as reform of Medicare and Social Security are also necessary. Every other aspect of federal spending is tiny by comparison.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  15. runner305

    To "JesusisLord": 1) not everyone believes the way you do, 2) not everyone cares to hear you quote Jesus, 3)YOU are the one who is filled with hate, if you are so narrow-minded to think that all people who don't believe what you do, will go "down South"

    June 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • 99indinf

      I am sure you have a front row seat reserved for you.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  16. Soccer Mom

    The other Hockey Mom has arrived! Beware, this one has been "called" to lead.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  17. hustlenflo

    I have always been in favor of giving the mentally challenged every chance to improve their lives, but I don't think
    electing a whackdoodle like Michelle Bachmann to the presidency is a good idea.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  18. JesusisLord

    Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 3:10,11). Don't blow your one and only chance to receive forgiveness for your sins. Jesus offers salvation to anybody who's willing to confess their sin, repent, and follow Him. Don't let your pride get between you and your savior.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • 1atheist

      Unbelievable how this woman brings out the right wing retarded religious zealots in this country. Please just go away and leave the rest of us alone. We don't buy your crap, never did, and never will.

      Simply astounding...

      June 27, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • 99indinf

      1atheist God have mercy on you and others like you.

      June 27, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Pyrrho

      "Don't let your pride get between you and your savior". It's not my pride that gets in the way it's my unbrainwashed mind.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Well, since not every knee so bows, so much for that silly hypothesis! Who is so fearful of death that they would follow someOne who DEMANDS you love Him OR ELSE? BTW, I've experienced two atheist foxhole deaths first-hand.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  19. maxdenn

    Michele Bachmann is the "darling of the Tea Party". Most folks who think rationally and say rational things would take that as an insult.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  20. Ray

    Hmmm? There's that seperation of church and state again. Pretty soon everyone will be taught that evolution was a hoax and they'll be rounding up all the science books and burning them. I'll rush right out and vote for her – she's just what the country needs!!! If all you good Christians are thinking I am scared of you – you're right. A fatally flawed way of thinking based on emotion can't lead to anything good.

    June 27, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • JW

      I dont know why alot of people cite evolution as disproving the Bible. If evolution is fact then why is it still called a theory?

      June 27, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • gozer

      JW failed basic science. What a tool.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • JW

      I guess you can think that if you would like but I am right.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Atheist2

      JW, what do you call relativity?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • JT

      @JW....I'm surprised you're not also asking why there are still monkeys. If anyone needed evidence why evangelicals are uneducated and illiterate then here's your proof.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • tuffgong71

      JW, take a sec....google this: theory definition.....it's okay....we will wait for you to catch up. We have been for a hundred years.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
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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.