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. Michelle Bachmann is Serena Joy

    Do yourselves a favor and read Margaret Atwood's The Hand Maid's Tale and you will see a disturbing resemblance between Bachmann and the character Serena Joy – A woman who advocates that all forms of S*x be banned unless it is pro-creative. Bachmann wants Government to downsize, but not when it comes to the most personal arenas of your intimate life. Ladies, beware...

    June 28, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  2. HS

    I would love to see Michelle Bachman vs, Obama presidential election...

    June 28, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  3. bachmanntwit

    Big teabagger rally tonight at the nascar track. Plenty of trailer parking available.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Kristine

      She only Botoxes her forehead. Should do those crows feet too if she's going to do it anyway...
      Oh. On the God thing. Anyone who would vote for her is as crazy as she is.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  4. Lynn

    Bachman prays to her God and expects to hear an answer sounds delusional. If one hears voices that only means one thing, their ready for the prozac. Religion will do that to someone who is pliable, they lose all ability to use their own thought processes. "Please tell me" isn't the same as "Please tell me what you think".

    June 28, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  5. Marie Kidman


    June 28, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  6. Pastor1950

    Be afraid of her!!! This country HAS gone that nuts to give this any time at all. If she get selected, we are done as a nation for good. This is an evil nut case. When Hitler came into power, many people thougtht the same thing, that he was too extreme and mean to ever succeed. Well he did. So Ameirca, her hair hides her horns. I am not a liberal. Just an independant who just listens. She is one mean scary individual. Her makeup hides her scales.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  7. blf83

    I think she is far closer to theocratic fascism than evangelical feminism.

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

      She's a flake.

      June 28, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  8. angie

    There's no such thing as a Republican feminist...HA!

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

      Susan B. Anthony was a Republican. The Equal Rights Amendment was originally part of the Republican platform. Learn your history. It wasn't until the Religious Right hijacked the Republican party that it went to heck.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  9. Shamrock6

    As a democrat I think she would be WONDERFUL for the GOP. Please make her your candidate. She'll do perfectly.

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

      When people hear more from Michele Bachmann, they will realize that she has no real grasp of the issues and lacks a basic understanding of historical facts. One liners can only take her so far. She is a lot like Sarah Palin.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  10. Julia Native American

    This woman is no feminist. Womens' rights that were so difficult to obtain, will be set back 100 years. This woman is crazy as a peach orchard boar.

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

      Totally agree!

      June 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  11. JOE

    I wonder what the bit-h looks like withou makeup. What a horror story that might be.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  12. Stacy

    Please don't confuse this ideologue right wing anti-women's rights person as a feminist! She does nothing to advance the rights or causes of women. She is merely a misogynist in a dress!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  13. RG

    I hope we can draft Bernie Saunders to run as an Independent!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  14. Happy

    I think Bachman and Palin are worlds apart. Palin has degeneerated into the little brat sister showing up at announcements and doing her little thing – whatever that is. Bachman is the first person I've seen come out of the Republican party with some presence and decent thoughts. Let' see where she goes. I predict she'll go far.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      I predict you're wrong.

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

      In the words of Mcenroe " You cannot be serious ".....

      June 28, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • blf83

      She is as shrill and as prone to mis-statements as Palin.

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

      Unfortunately you won't convince anyone. She is Republican and religious and unless you are a Liberal you will not have any sympathisers here. It is a shame because it only proves how biased people are.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  15. Jerry Senzee

    Who cares about this woman. She is no more relevant than what's her name ...Palin.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  16. Catherine in Tulsa

    Again, another tea bagger who thinks this country was founded on the Bible and ignorant of US history.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Jerry Senzee

      There must be a serious shortage of news right now. Damn, where is Charlie Sheen or a tornado or something.

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

      maybe,but better than Democrats and Republicans that destroyed a semi-capitalist success. I heard you might get a cheap one way flight to Greece

      June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  17. Damian

    The only thing I know she is SCARY!! Waaaaaaaaaay tooo conoservative socially!! Yuck!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  18. Ronald

    Render unto Caesar what is Caesars and unto God what is Gods...in other words keep you religion out of politics and government. Using God and Religion to gain voters is a mistake and doesn't belong in this arena. You show your true colors when you use this tactic which is a typical Republican strategy. Preying on those that don't know any better, using God or their misplaced anger or racist tactics to stir up those with little or no education against those they are told are the enemy. What have Republicans done for this country...nothing except a huge deficit, two wars, tax breaks for the rich and no jobs.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  19. aaron


    June 28, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  20. Ruderalis

    This is exactly what we need. A hypocritical religious leader. If you can't follow the religion for what it is, DON'T FOLLOW IT. Instead Christians claim to have "different interpretations" of the Bible. Give me a break woman! If you don't like how women are treated religiously, don't follow religion. The reason why people don't believe in the Easter Bunny is because it's nonsense. Wake up!

    June 28, 2011 at 9:51 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.