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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. Kevin

    An evangelical feminist? Isn't that sort of like being a african american Klu Klux Klansman?
    (Oxymoron much?)

    June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  2. Neil00

    Why are Liberals so afraid of strong Christian woman? Is it because you still refuse to understand that your actions will have consequences?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Kevin

      "Afraid"=nope...
      "laughing at the sheer moronic hypocrisy"= absolutely!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • American Citizen

      #1. Derisively labeling those who oppose bronze-age death-cult(s) clearly demonstrates your hatred and bigotry of others. #2. Your expressed religious belief(s) regarding actions and consequences clearly demonstrates you're a religious fanatic pushing religious fanaticism.

      People with 'beliefs' such as yours are as unamerican as an American can probably get. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  3. Rabbi David

    Ya know it seems there should be an end to arguement at some point-there are those on the left that blindly refuse to comment when the President does not know WHO he pinned a Congressional Medal of Honor on,thinks there are 57 States,has his grand daddy liberating Auschwitz-a historic impossibility and babbles away in a protocol breech in from of the Queen of England, the likes of which has never been seen previously. But ALL of that is OK, because he is YOUR tool.But reality is REAL change is on its way.The media and the left will not like the future,because it will never belong to the liars and culture distorters that make up the Media,Hollywood,and the Left. Toss your best trash at Bachmann,but carry the stink of what you sow home to your family.Your true colors always show and America IS awake to your ways,don't doubt it for a second.So I say don't engage in ANY debate with those on the other side.Their views are SO far from what we will accept talking is done,VOTING is the only solution to liberal pollution of the body politic.No quarter,No retreat and No compromise-VOTE to liberate the nation from those bent on its destruction.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Drew

      i'd put money on you having high blood pressure

      June 28, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • American Citizen

      "Rabbi" (LOL!!!!) Your babbling foolishness exposes your woeful lack of intellect!
      Please, do this country a huge favor and just STFU. Thank you!! 🙂

      June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  4. Drew

    i think if george carlin was still alive he'd tell you that the term "christian feminist" is a contradiction of terms.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  5. Jeff

    So like all other evangelicals, her platform is making the rich richer, attacking gays & minorities, and starting wars.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Neil00

      Sorry Jeff, Christians still know that we are to love the sinner, but not the sin.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Ted M.

      Then why do so many Christian do the exact opposite?

      Christianity makes no sense and it always makes people act insane.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  6. SaintM

    Tim:

    All I can say to your comment is experience and brains outweigh beauty by significant caliber. I'd rather have a plain female democratic president–like Hilary Clinton, than a painted, plastic wind-up doll like Bachmann or Palin. No Stepford predidents, I say.

    Also, class will tell–you-know-what will smell......

    June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  7. JFast

    What can be said of Michele Bachmann? How about MRS. President Bachmann.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • American Citizen

      Nahhh, but, how 'bout "stupid"? or better yet, "goodbye"?!!
      Personally, I hope she wins the repugnican nomination! It'll be a lot of laughs, and make it very easy for President Obama (one of the most intelligent men ever to hold the presidency) to remain where this country needs him the most, the White House!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  8. roadrunner

    Anytime I hear that word "evangelical", I run the other way.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • American Citizen

      Please stop running the other way! Turn and take a stand and fight them instead!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  9. Goat of Evil

    Anyone who thinks the government should have sovereignty over the wombs of its citizens is not a feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  10. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      I asked you to quit posting this crap. People find it annoying.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  11. fidgetwidget

    Dayum! I hoped that women had come out of the dark ages. God knows we worked hard enough and Bachmann throws our efforts back in our faces.....I burned my bra for nothing....

    June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  12. Mike

    C Walace was corrrect, she is a flake with flaky ideas. This woman is a menace to society. My grandest hope if that she will be the republicant's nominee. That would be the greatest gift to democrats that the right can give.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  13. Veritas48

    You have been brainwashed by Satan.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • American Citizen

      That, is just not possible. Because "Satan" is merely an imaginary scapegoat.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  14. JayKay

    The face of evangelical feminism is painted, powdered and phony.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  15. barb

    Anyone who thinks that women should not have control over their bodies or their reproductive rights is not a feminist. Being a woman does not make you a feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Veritas48

      Any person who believes he/she is God and has no responsibility to live according to moral standards is a fool.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Ted M.

      Then Jesus was a fool. He thought he was god and didn't want to be held accountable for his actions.
      Sounds pretty crazy too.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • American Citizen

      @Veritas48
      Anyone who vociferously claims to have "moral standards" is lacking any morals whatsoever.
      Hate much???

      June 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  16. Fiona

    Congratulations, CNN, you've run the two worst photos I've ever seen of Bachmann. Nice example of fair journalism...

    June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • American Citizen

      There are no "good" photos of her. She's a very ugly woman inside and out.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  17. Fred

    What the heck does her religion have to do with anything? I wish CNN would stop pandering to the religious right, and focus on reality rather than mythology,

    June 28, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • American Citizen

      It clearly demonstrates a candidates mentality and motivations.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  18. Veritas48

    “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.”

    Simple according to Biblical text, the leaders are to be male (elders). Women are not to be ruling over men. However, in practice, most churches cannot function without women in real leadership...Christian education, women's ministries, children's ministries, some counselling, financial affairs, music, hospitality etc. And in all of those areas women are not limited in expressing their leadership skills in program design etc. The secular world is different. It follows cultural standards which can change. Since our culture has decided that women deserve to be in leadership in all areas of life, then they are welcome. It is up to the Christian woman to try to evaluate the secular demands of society within the context of Biblical standards. And the same applies to the male...such as honoring God and family before the secular demands of career.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • American Citizen

      Why not "honor" humanity for a change instead of yet another bogus non-existent deity?
      You owe your existence to humanity, not a myth.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  19. wyllow61

    I do not understand the support for poorly educated, narrow-minded people (no matter their faith). Do we really want stupid people running our government? This cultural shift that idolizes stupidity is quite alarming. Look what has happened to our country during Bush. I never thought I would live to see a day when teachers (and policemen and firefighters) were attacked for making a modest, middle-class wage! Really?? What I call the "Darwinian Christians" do not support freedom at all. They love telling others how to live. Totally unAmerican. And they will allow corporations to bankrupt this country in order for their rich friends to get richer. Honestly, if businesses want those big Bush-era corporate welfare handouts, then why don't they give American's jobs?? Lord save us from stupidity. It will be the death of this once great nation.....

    June 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Biill

      Support for "poorly educated, narrow-minded people" comes from poorly educated, narrow-minded people.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  20. Brian

    The only goal of the Tea Party is to reduce the ridiculous size of government and keep the USA from bankruptcy. The other labels attached were pout there by main stream media and liberal groups who want to dissuade others from joining their just and reasonable cause. There is nothing racist about the organization. Many support Herman Cain, Aleen West and many other minority candidates. Don't believe the lie, find out for yourself. The Tea Party wants what most fair minded Americans want. A smaller less intrusive Federal Government

    June 28, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • cecilia

      then can you explain to me, if you want a small less intrusive government why you guys spend so much time on a woman's reproductive rights – and... which parts of the government do you want to give up – food and drug – FBI – the only thing you guys want to give up is an government help to starving families

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

      You may *think* that the Tea Party's only goal is smaller government, but the signs at the rallies over the last two years belie your words. The Tea Party is all about an ultra-conservative agenda, with a generous dose of racism and misogyny thrown in. Include this American OUT.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • American Citizen

      That, is pure B.S. Brian!
      Clearly the goal of the Teabaggers is to sickeningly and perversely "Teabag" the victims of Wall Street, and spread bigotry, racism,and hatred ..from Sea To Shining Sea!!!! The most incredibly disturbing part of it all though is how the Tea Party is bought, paid for, and run by the wealthy elite who are laughing their asses off all-the-way-to-the-banks while they kick their mindless supporters teeth in!!!!!!
      Wake up and smell the Chicory fools, it aint Coffee!!!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Teabagging is poor man's Anarchy. Teabags have a convenient blind spot when it comes to multinational corporations and Wall Street thugs taking over this country. Not a word on this from the teabags. Yeah, let's downsize the government, so we could live as Koch brothers serfs.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:45 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.