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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.”

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. dabein marga

    Joke! I'm amazed she's wasting the money to bother running. NEVER HAPPEN!

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

      What waste? She gets to funnel money to her friends. donate today!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  2. Bible Clown

    "whenever responding to people they disagree with, they degrade, invalidate or most often, disrespect them by hurling insults." This would be a lot more convincing if it wasn't followed by "You are too intolerant, closed-minded and uncivilized." Tsk, tsk, name-calling. Generally I refrain from personal attacks, but you're nuts. Get help.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  3. TheFatherofLies

    Feminism has a distinctly liberal roots and (more popularly significant) connotation. She stands against virtually everything feminists have traditionally fought for, but she's more than happy to use their achievements as a stepping stool. 100 years ago or 100 seconds ago she would have dismissed feminism. But her platform today depends on the past success of said movement.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Isn't she a witch?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • Dolce21

      She does not offend me as a woman, its thoughts of those women that get offended so easily, makes us look like we are pmsing all the time. Get it together.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  4. Mawenzi

    I didn't realize that belonging to a party that kills hundreds of thousands of innocent women in Iraq and Afghanistan qualifies you as a feminist...

    June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  5. EddyL

    another nutbag who thinks we should all be christians like her.... NO WAY, BABE.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  6. Stuart

    Doesn't it say in the bible that we should not be involved with worldly ways? Why then do we have so many religious politicians claiming to be religious just to get into office? There is a god but I think she hates religion!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
  7. Atul

    if you want to understand the motive of this article, please count the number of times "evangelical" is used. I rest my case

    June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Dennis

      or woman!

      If there was an Elephant in the room we shouldn't talk about that either.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  8. Hank

    I could never picture as President a person who plucks out their eyebrows and then paints wavy, weird lines on where they used to exist...you have to wonder what is going on in their mind to do something as unnatural as that....

    June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      "I'm sorry, sir, the President is douching. Come back in thirty minutes."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  9. Glades2

    There's a great deal of confusion when it comes to the definition of a feminist, and it always makes me worry when a woman says that she's both a Christian and a feminist, since being a true Christian means being obident to God in every aspect of life, including one's gender, unlike the pro-abortion or pro-NOW feminist who is disobedient morally and often selfishly chooses her own path in life – in time we'll see which person this woman chooses to be, since she can't be both...

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

      So you can't support other rights and choices but make your own when you're a xtian. Interesting.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  10. RealCandidatePlease

    Unfortunately, if she does become the nominee, then Obama is a shoe-in. What about Ron Paul? He is the only candidate that has talked about reducing debt, ending the endless wars to strengthen our national defense, and decreasing federal power. We are Republicans right?

    June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  11. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  12. rhumba

    I don't think that a feminist is allowed to be so anti-female reproductive freedom.

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

      Actually a "christian feminist" would have to be pro-life. A secular feminist would be pro-abortion.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  13. CB002

    What is with those false eyelashes? Where does she think she is, Broadway? That looks like stage makeup to me and she seems to wear it even when not on stage. Looking nice is one thing, looking fake is another & makes me wonder what else about her is false.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      Her album with Lady GaGa will be out soon now that she's a "feminist."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  14. Stuck@Work

    Is this the only type of women the GOP can come up with?? I mean i use to say that ANYTHING is better than Palin... but this now? Come on, just don't add any females, makes us look rediculous!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  15. Katmoan

    The words Christian and feminist do not belong together. Christian leader would be more appropriate in my opinion.

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

      Exactly! If you can't follow the religion for what it is, DON'T FOLLOW IT. Instead they claim to have "different interpretations" of the Bible. Give me a break woman! The reason why people have stopped believing in the Easter Bunny is because it's nonsense.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • sistaelle

      "Christian feminist" does well to describe a person who is for women's rights and also pro-life. Nothing contradictory there.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  16. Joseph Carr

    This woman probably spends five hours a day on make-up, has five children, and provides foster car for 23. She also memorizes all her speeches. Why on earth would anybody vote for her to be the country's commander-in-chief? Nevertheless, America is full of surprises. They voted twice for a an idiot immediately prior to Obama, and currently we have another idiot.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  17. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    can you spell SEE YOU N TEE

    June 28, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  18. Not having it

    Why is CNN obsessed with this woman? When you begin to read the absolutely crazy things she has said and believes in... it is scary.

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

      Palin's luster is starting to fade.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • DwayneL

      What about the crazy and moronic things that your president has done to destroy this country and it's economy in the last 2 years?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • sistaelle

      Because Palin is the real contender and the media hates that.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      We want her to run on a platform of making everyone's job disappear, thus re-electing the President easily.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  19. Jean

    Please don't insult feminists by calling Bachmann one.

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

    Bachmann and her husband are entreprenuers. They own two mental health clinics. It's like the Hair Club for Men-she's not just an owner–she's a patient ! And probably collecting tax payer dollars in the form of Medicaid.

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

      entreMANURES

      June 28, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Bat @#$ Crazy

      They also received over $30,000 in government funds form the State of Minnesota. And part of their therapy involves trying to convert gay people into being straight. Google it.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      I'd like to try her patients.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:43 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.