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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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. rjgar

    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

    Sounds like a one way call to me coupled with a strong dose of disillusionment. But that’s the driving force behind an evangelical, just say the words faith or belief to them and they hear the angles sing. Ask them about proof or facts and they start frothing at the mouth and quoting the bible. We've already tried the great experiment with odumma. Put Michele and sarah in the same room, I'm up for a good cat fight.
    I have nothing but admiration for a strong woman but I am getting a little tired of the fractured fairy tales.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
    • BobInIrvine

      You sure don't seem very Christian in your writings. Jesus probably didn't command thee to call the President disrespectful names, but then again, you're not a true Christian.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  2. Bill

    If women want equal rights, they will not support this sad excuse of a being.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  3. David

    Evangelical's are not haters, Evangelical's care about the poor the disadvantaged, and minority's. Please don't use that term with her.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  4. Bob

    I see we have more hate from the most tolerance loving left today.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  5. Dave

    The bible is a sham created by man...anyone who follows religion is a mindless sheep...BAAAHHH to you all.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  6. Sanity

    The link from the CNN Politics page says Bachmann is a "Faminist". Why aren't the libtards making fun of the CNN staff?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  7. noparty

    Tea party has been annoying, divisive, politics for politics sake, about control and perception, play on people's dissatisfaction in the recession (like other dictators and communists have played on people's discontent). They ruined having a better GOP candidate in DE race. The one good thing I can say now about this is (at least for today till this may get sickeningly tiring) I am just so glad to have anyone else in some of the headlines than Sarah Palin. Thank God for Michele Bachman at least taking some headlines away.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  8. Marie Kidman

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

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

      Quit posting this sh!t already. @sswipe.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  9. Nurul Aman

    The difference between Hillary Clinton and Michelle Bachmann is very straightforward. Hillary is a true feminist, a real fighter for equal rights of men and women. Michele Bachmann, on the other hand, is no feminist. A politician, who is strongly influenced by religious faith in a secular country like the USA, could not be a feminist. That would be oxymoron. Michele Bachmann has joined the Tea Party movement- an outdated, discriminatory and senseless ideology for the 21st century America. So, how could she be a feminist? She does not even know who she is and what she is up to. Her hypocritical and ignorant speeches do not represent her qualifications as presidential for this great country. Bachmann's alliance with the Tea Party is an insult to the intelligence of American Women. Seriously, one must be kidding by labeling her as a feminist. No way.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  10. samot

    why must CNN always, always, always wear their political bias so blatently on their shirt sleeve. I am a democrat who is becoming so annoyed by CNNs bias that I am actually considering voting the other way. I am not an isolated opinion; many friends, neighbors, associates are grumbling about this too. CNN just might be the biggest cause of a backlash in the 2012 election. Seriously, think about lowering your aggressive attacks against the other side.

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

      If you use the news media (and what you perceive as bias) to determine who you'll vote for, you're not a Democrat, you're a dummy.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  11. Phil in Oregon

    The true feminists have a new target, replacing Sarah Palin. There is NOTHING more dangerous to them than a conservative, anti-abortion woman.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  12. Truthteller69

    Isn't "evangelical feminism" an oxymoron?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  13. Bill

    Considering she hates 90% of Americans, she is completely unelectable. Even the fringe can't win with that loser.

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

      Just who we need... somebody even MORE DEVISIVE!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  14. Florene

    This is one of the very few women that voted to CUT funding for women's assistance funding with Planned Parenthood and other clinics across the nation. These clinics offer STD and PAP testing, birth control, and many other forms of assistance. Feminist? Only when it comes to herself and her own goals. She'll put women's rights back 100 years.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  15. Bayousara

    Neither Palin or Bachmann are close to being feminists! Where were either of them when we true feminists (religious or otherwise) were marching in the streets for women's rights concerning who decides how we use our bodies (abortion, birth control for example), child care centers so we could work and attend college, and so many other freedoms young women take for granted. And before me was my grandmother, who marched for the vote and worked in the shipyards. Palin and Bachmann are in it only for themselves! They are NOT SISTERS in the political sense.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  16. Jim, Dallas Tx

    She's a whack job and if she survives the GOP nomination she will be steamrolled by Barack Obama.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  17. Taylor3543

    She is an embarassement to American women.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  18. AndyF

    I would hope the media starts focussing on her supporters, as well as the likes of Palin supporters, as I do believe these supporters are a strong indication that there is mass mental illness behind these extremist conservatives, and I am serious. When you reinvent history, or flat out lie but sell it as truth, then repeat it and repeat it and repeat it enough times that even sane people start to question whether it is truly fictional or fact (or have supporters try and change the history of someone like Paul Revere), all in order to protect and further often outdated principles and ideals, then you are clinically psychotic, and there sure seems to be a lot of that going around. I myself would like to see the psychological community label the Tea Party as the first organized group of psychotics in American history, call them for what they are. Also slap that on Fox News, Bachmann, Palin, Bush, Glen Beck (his mental illness is perhaps the worst). Man what a list, and one that should have the rest of America fighting these selfsish, self righteous SOBs, tell them to move to a country more in line with their principles, like Iran.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • JeffS

      Ha! Typically liberal accusing the opposition of exactly the things they are!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Brian

      Wow, to see mental illness try a mirror. The Tea Party supports reducing the ridiculous size of Government. I'm not sure why you deem that such a crazy concept since everyone admits we are going bankrupt. The other labels you attach were thrown on by main stream media and liberal groups to try and dissuade gullible people {like you} into parroting these label and paying no attention to the cause the Tea Party actually supports. Smaller, less intrusive government. That is it. For the most part they are Libertarians and not evangelical by any stretch. You really should get out more and see things for yourself!

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

    I seems like she should be from deeper in the heart of the bible belt , like Mississippi or Alabama or something.

    June 28, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  20. Darwin

    BACHMANN doesn't even follow her HOLY BIBLE which commands that women should SHUT UP and be submissive: 1 Corinthians 14:34 "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says." I don't think God meant, "Be silent in church but it's OK to shout your opinions in public in a political campaign."

    June 28, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • ProudRepublican

      Right on! I am not saying I don't think women should run for president, but it is pretty hypocritical for someone to pick and choose the Bible verses that suit her.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:09 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.