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. Christopher C. Currie

    Politicians should be evaluated based on their actions rather than their words. If you examine Michele Bachmann's voting record, you will see that in fact she is neither or Christian or a feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Guest

      Really? LIke what?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  2. RG

    I'm pretty sure she has testicles, some very large ones.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  3. bill Bill

    Apparently Ms Bachmann has forced the geniuses,and psychologist
    out of the woodwork,as they have made some strong remarks. My question is how can one be so intelligent and sprew out inuendos as well as B---. Bless the girl,shame I can't say the same for some of the commentators.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Dennis

      Blah, Blah...Blahblah blah. You didn't actually say anything nice about her that you couldn't have said about a little kid boarding a short bus.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • American Citizen

      We don't need nor desire your pathetic "blessings".
      If you cannot see that this woman is out-of-her-mind perhaps it's time you sought some professional psychological help as well.
      Do your country a huge favor, stay out of politics.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Guest

      American Citizen – YOU do us a favor: run for politics and show us how your ideologies are so much greater than the current candidates. Or, if you can't do it and you don't have any good ideas, try being quiet.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  4. RealCandidatePlease

    You realize the Obama News Network (CNN) is just pimping Bachmann so that Obama will win the election hands down, right?

    June 28, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Dennis

      Oh come on? Where is there a real challenger?
      All of them are so bad you should really try to understand why President Obama is so good.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • LousyLay

      Yes, but why not laugh at the process.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  5. Not laughing....

    Matt Taibbi advises you "not to laugh".....
    But don't laugh. Don't do it. And don't look her in the eyes; don't let her smile at you. Michele Bachmann, when she turns her head toward the cameras and brandishes her pearls and her ageless, unblemished neckline and her perfect suburban orthodontics in an attempt to reassure the unbeliever of her non-threateningness, is one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau. She's trying to look like June Cleaver, but she actually looks like the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo. You will want to laugh, but don't, because the secret of Bachmann's success is that every time you laugh at her, she gets stronger.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  6. jrm03063

    Evangelical Feminism is to Feminism as Uncle Tom is to Racial Civil Rights.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  7. Jim Ryan

    CNN, what a sad piece of journalism. What a sad case of reporting news with responsible commentary. No wonder your ratings are in the tank. You love to frame your very own, unique characterizations of the right. No one wants to read your book any longer.

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

      But... you read it. AND commented on it.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  8. SandroBulloc

    As soon as I saw the word 'evangelical,' I thought, 'Oh god...'

    June 28, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  9. Hypnotic Element

    Whoever brings religion to politics should be automatically excluded from it. It's a disgrace that political/public decisions made by an individual are driven by some religious fanaticism.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  10. joplinaire

    PLEASE don't use Hillary's name in the same sentence with this nut.

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

      You're a nut. Let me guess: athiest, right?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Dennis

      Guest – I'd have spelled it correctly.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Guest

      Dennis – Touche'. Atheist. My bad.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • joplinaire

      No, I'm not an "Athiest" or an Atheist. Just smart. 🙂

      June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  11. jeannette

    You cannot be a feminist and believe that women are incapable and/or unworthy of the freedom to have control over their reproductive organs.

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

      How does 'control of your reproductive organ' mean it is right to kill an unborn child? Even humanists believe 'do no harm', yet you are okay with killing concieved children by the millions as a form of irresponsible birth control?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Billy

      Sure you can, you can be a woman that believes that responsibility comes with reproductive organs.

      It does not make sense to me that Hillary is considered a feminist, she speaks out against forced abortion in China, and then makes sure that China keeps receiving the funds for forced abortions. How feminist is that?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  12. TY

    CNN..... could you please stop giving this woman publicity. I swear, CNN, is just trying to keep her in the news so she will win the nomination and lose to Oby. ENOUGH ABOUT BACHMANN, as a republican, I'm embarrassed she's even running.

    ROMNEY 2012

    June 28, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Hypnotic Element

      Romney, lol.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • American Citizen

      You SHOULD be ashamed ..Just for being a republican!!
      "Romney 2012"???? Gimme a break!!!!!!!!
      Mitt and his "Magic Moron Underwear" are no better than any of the other fruitcakes republicans have to offer!
      You must either be a millionaire, a Xian nutjob, or pretty darrrrn dumb to be supporting the republican party!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Guest

      American Citizen – maybe you should run for president since you're obviously so much better than all of the candidates. You can tell us all about the great ideas you have on fixing the economy and how we came from apes.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  13. Dennis

    I wouldn't consider her a feminist. Just a woman that benefited from the feminist movement.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  14. mangoz

    Matt Taibbi gets it right in his article about Bachmann............

    •"a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions"

    •"one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau"

    •"the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo"

    •"grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy"

    •"frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she's built [inside her own mind], unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies."

    And then you're past the first five paragraphs. Still, "Don't laugh," urges Taibbi.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      Hitler was elected president, too.

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

      @John Wayne Gacey – Hitler was never elected President. Ever hear of the reichstag fire? Obviously not. Study up before you go shooting off facts that are nto facts.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Guest

      There go the liberals again, name-calling. You can't seem to argue without hurling insults, as if liberals are perpetually stuck in third grade. What happened to healthy, intelligent, objective debate?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  15. Nick

    Michelle Bachmann is there to split the Ron Paul vote. She comes off as a constutionalist but does not have enough experience to show she will consistantly vote for the people over a long period of time like RP has. The same went for Obama. He heavily criticized the Iraq war and now he is ordering the bombing of Lybia without consulting congress. I just do not know what I'm getting with these candidates who throw the bomb on first down and go try to run the "so called" free world with hardly no experience. It is time us conservatives really got conservative with our votes and voted for someone with an outstanding, proven record like Ron Paul.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  16. robjones

    Hi Phil–You are wrong, I don't want blacks to be slaves. I want them to succeed. You can blame all their problems on me if you want, but that isn't ever going to help.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Horus

      Isnt' there something about "all created equal"...thus no one should have to earn equality. Bachmann isn't just a content Christian that prays....she's a fringe crusader. There is a big difference.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Guest

      Horus – are pedophiles and cannibals equals? drug dealers? is equality determined by simply being a human being, or by how we choose to live our lives?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  17. Michael in Houston

    The bottom line here is that she has ZERO appeal to anyone left of extreme right and unless the republicans can manufacture 45 million votes in addition to their own party, there is no way she can win a general election and that goes for that other creep Palin. I realize the press and media are salivating at creating a cat fight between Bachmann and Palin however, eventually, it comes down to a nominee. If republicans really want to defeat Obama they may want to try and find a candidate that has some appeal beyond the Tea party. Someone that just might appeal to the moderates and even democrats...another words...a candidate who wants to lead the Nation rather then just leading their isolated and narrow base. I realize this contradicts Rush, Sean, and the Tea bags who want to make this Nation their own private country club but nonetheless.....the majority of this Nation in a general election are going to slam and smash to bits any candidate coming from the extreme right.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  18. Craig

    Try these Bachmann quotes on for size:


    June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Dennis

      Ah ha ha ha...Her and John Wayne have the same type of humor.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  19. Mikeminnc

    How 'bout "Christian Feminist Flake"? She could even get an endorsement for a breakfast cereal as a nice tie-in to build her unique "brand".......

    June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      Christian/Feminist Flakes: "So Much Fiber, You Can't See the Nuts."

      June 28, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Guest

      and again, the liberals begin the name-calling. Way to show some maturity.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  20. snowyowl

    More like Michele Bachmann– Christian Fascist

    June 28, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      I'd vote for her. Her and Sarah Palin, driving a bus across America, making up weird stories about George Washington and John Adams, getting back to real feminist values like PTA suppers and laundry. It's a Sign of the Apocalypse.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • WHArts

      Uh, you mean self-righteous hypocrite fascist?

      June 28, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Guest

      And more liberal name-calling without any substance or intelligent argument. Why don't you tell the rest of us how you would lead the country and how you would fix the nation's problems? You MUST have some ideas since you think Bachmann can't do it. Go ahead and list them.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:05 am |
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