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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. Biill

    Evangelicals are deluded or stupid or both; and they make America the laughing stock of the civilized world.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  2. jeff

    There is plenty to be said of Michelle. She is vapid, absurd, embarrassing and totally unqualified to be dog catcher, let alone President of the USA. She should be embarrassed to even have launched a campaign as she is wasting the hard-earned money of anyone who donates to her campaign.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  3. Jeff

    Great. Another rich, white, evangelical running for office. Just what America needs more of.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  4. Kevin B

    MIchele Bachmann = opportunist. She's an equal opportunity panderer.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  5. Mike

    Hilary Clinton is a well traveled diplomat and a statesmen. Bockman (mis-spelled on purpose to pay homage to her many flubs) is a confimed idiot.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Rajinder Goyal

      Michell B should team up with Sarah P, and they would become the laughing stock of America. They are both fit for preaching in their churches, but should stay away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Country can do without them. Their absence won't even be noticed. I n fact, it will bring some much needed peace and tranquility to the country.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  6. Horus

    Bachmann's law degree is from an unaccredited (now defunct, and reborn as Regent) school founded by Oral Roberts. It lost it's accreditation because of it's injection of Christian interpretations of common law. The school is also known for encouraging it's graduates to pursue public office positions (as Bachmann did) in order to create a Christian government. That was Oral Robert's goal, and Bachmann is nothing more than one of his misguided, illinformed crusaders. She insists, to the contrary of all credible scientists, that the earth is merely 6000 years old, and that ID is actually somehow scientifically supported rather than a re-write of creationism. This woman is driven by religion, which makes her dangerous. Even within the Christian sects there is mass difference of ideology. Religion is a personal choice, and should not dictate the laws of a free society.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  7. jimmy the freak

    This only proves that men don't have a monopoly on lunacy.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  8. Bob in Boston

    What an unfair headline. This story is a complete and hateful attempt to sear. Liberals must fear this woman more than Palin. How sad it will be that a conservitive woman is going to be hated not for her policies, but just because she is a woman and religous. Shame on all libs

    June 28, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Chris

      It has nothing to do with her being a woman, its because she is an idiot and has no business running for president. She may be even dumber than Palin and I didn't think that would be possible.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Horus

      She has no policy; it's all handed to her by her version of God. Yes, as an independent I do fear people like Bachmann. They weasle their way into power positions only to ensure their will is imposed. She is very dangerous even in congress. The only reason she's there is because the district in which she resides is full of like-minded sheep. Don't blame the media for merely bringing her bio facts to the table.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Dawn

      Bob, I live close...too close to the folks who keep electing Michele Bachmann. I have to listen to endless drivel that is wildly inaccurate. I can't watch the news without hearing her put her two cents in with misinformation. Here is a fact check on some of Michele Bachmanns recent statements: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2011/06/28/fact-check-bachmann-bomblets-raising-eyebrows/

      If Michele Bachmann becomes a serious contender for the GOP nomination, comments that she has recently made will put her out of the running. Michele Bachmann is not aware of current events, her home town history, or her own finances.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  9. Linda

    Perhaps God will call her to remove her name from the list of potential candidates because she is just not qualified, and we certainly do not need to go three steps backwards, than k you!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  10. Janine from Texas

    Feminist, seriously? Don't insult our intelligence. She is about as backwards as they get, give us a break! If it were up to women like her, the rest of us would be set back 50 yrs. This is the type of crap that really makes me think the GOP has been hijacked by idiots and right-wingers who have no interest in helping this country. They hang on their social agenda with desperate, knuckle-dragging claws.
    Most educated women are far too smart enough to cast a vote on someone based on gender alone, especially someone who doesn't represent the majority of us in this country. Actually, I do hope she gets the nomination though...a breeze for an Obama win.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Linda

      Well said! Please God, if you are speaking to this woman? Tell her to stop the madness and go home!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  11. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 10:08 am |
  12. Tim

    You gotta admit Republican women are always the tops! Show me a female democrat and you'll show me a dawg!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  13. SaintM

    We had a faith-based president in Bush, who did whatever he wanted without weighing the consequences of is actions–all because he said he did not know how long he would be on this earth because Christ is coming soon. Christ did not show up whilde Bush was predident. We do not need anther religious wack job in the highest office in the country, male or female.

    Speaking about females becoming president – Hilary Clinton gets that job first, not Bachmann or Palin. Unlike Bush, Palin, Bachmann, or any of the other republican candidates for that matter–Hilary actually QUALIFIES for the job.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:07 am |
  14. Karen L Reimer

    The news media's attempt to "legitimize" Bachmann as a viable candidate boggles the mind! Are they that desperate for a story? There is no way, shape or form that American voters, many of whom are women, would ever consider electing this person as their President. She is obviously delusional and no threat to our society. Still she is free to run.

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

    Women that support Bachman have zero dignity or self worth.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  16. TheNQ

    Bachmann was offended when Fox's Chris Wallace asked her if she was a flake. Yet, she's completely fine with the horrible things Tea Baggers say about the president.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Dave Bing

      "THeNQ – At least she has conviction....she does go around annonymously...........NQ Grow up the President is a well spoken boob..........

      June 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  17. VA_Jill

    That she knows NOTHING about American history. She can't handle it when she's called on that......or anything else. But she does have some big money behind her, and ever since the Supremes decided that corporations are persons, money rules everything.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  18. Flint Rock

    Anyone who professes to have a special relationship with God to the detriment of others is evil personified.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  19. dpktampa

    I wonder what it would be like if all you liberal socialist actually held President Obama accountable for his remarks as you do Republicans. Obama's GAFFE last week about the service man that came home alive but has actually been dead since 2006, has been completely wiped off the news by the liberal press. I can see how a remark about John Wayne would be more of a gaffe.

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

    I am so glad we may finally have a candidate that is proud of being from the same town as a serial killer! Yay America!

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

      If she doesn't know the difference between an actor and a serial killer, no way she is capable of making policy for a nation to follow. Stupid is as stupid does and she has proven to be stupid!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • dpktampa

      Proud Republican? Yeah right. Typical liberal attacks. Republicans have to be perfect. The President gets a bye. How many states are there? Oh yeah 57. How special was it to present that award to the soldier that came home alive? Oh yeah he actually was killed in 2006 but it was so moving and memorable that he could not remember he was dead. Oh yeah, that would be the staff members fault for messing up the teleprompter. The only GAFFE worth mentioning is the gaffe in the white house.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • ProudRepublican

      I don't disagree with you on that! But there's absolutely no way this lady will beat Obama in the general election, so supporting her, is essentially supporting Obama.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • JohnWayneGacy

      Well..............

      She doesn't know the difference between *giggles*

      June 28, 2011 at 10:32 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.