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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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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. wishing

    Evangelical? Perhaps, in a superficial, holier than thou way.
    Feminist? She is possibly doing more harm than good. Was Anita Bryant a feminist?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      And what's funny is that when she and Palin are criticized, the right wing evangelicals then portray them as both Joan of Arc being persecuted. Her stances on things, and her sarcastic mannerisms, are actually quite unChristian.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  2. Satan

    Hello. I welcome you to the perfect ticket for 2012. I call it the "2012 Palin/Bachmann Fall from grace reboot" Muhahahaha

    June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • LousyLay

      With a special appearance by Christine O'Donnell.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  3. Kelly

    I love how it's just assumed since she is a women that women in general will support her. It is insulting. I am more intelligent than to fall for the "Im a mother" propeganda.

    I vote based on QUALIFICATION, SANITY and POLITICAL AGENDA... All of which Bachmann does not meet my standards.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  4. FloBot

    My lord, how long does it take her to slather on that war paint? Does she keep gallons of the stuff close by for touch ups and photo ops? Not a very flattering picture. Sure don't want her running anything - that is, along with the rest of the wannbes too.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  5. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Funny that CNN again instead of reporting the news, is creating a new image for Bachman, and providing free advertising and support for her candidacy. They are going all out to polish this turd for some reason.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  6. SNAPPA

    The woman is a loon, sorry but thats's the best description I can come up with.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • bill

      wackjob evangelical also describes this woman applealing to her wackjob evangelical base.

      I wonder if she really believes what she says ... she is probably an intelligent woman.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  7. SDF

    Evangelical Feminism. Trying to get my head around that one. Sounds like an oxymoron to me.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Kinda like "a good lawyer."

      June 28, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  8. Dee

    Separation of church and state, anybody? Hello?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      These people actually want a theocracy. They want to push their "prosperity Gospel" ideology onto all of us by legislating their religion. No thanks. When we look for a president, we're not looking for a religious leader. If we wanted that, we'd move to Iran.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  9. LousyLay

    You know Obama is lighting up a fatty and quoting Charlie Sheen by saying "winning". There is no way she can take Obama so he is smiling.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
  10. Jeff

    Do Republicans only pick women who wear a ton of makeup to be their party leaders?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • LousyLay

      Yea and those that may have sever mental problems. Remember, "I am not a witch"? Thought you did!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Drew

      no, they have to be white too. duh!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  11. petercha

    I doubt VERY much that Bachman is a feminazi.

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

    I am originally from Minnesota, and used to live in her district.
    SHE IS A NUTJOB! Devoid of reality and interprets the bible for her own purposes.
    Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,nuts, nuts,!

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

    CNN please disclose how much you are being paid to run two to three Bachmann stories per day. Pease be honest the public needs to know who is paying you to be a propagandist regardless of the political party.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
  14. WooHoo!

    Sorry, Michelle, you are simply too religious and look to your religion for too much guidance. I won't even consider voting for you.

    .

    June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • petercha

      That's exactly why I WOULD vote for her. We need leaders that have more ethics, morality, loyalty to our nation, and patriotism than we have now.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • WooHoo!

      I feel sorry for you then.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • American Citizen

      @petercha
      "Leaders that have more ethics, morality, loyalty to our nation, and patriotism" are not found amongst the religious.
      There is nothing more unethical, immoral, disloyal, and unpatriotic than religion. Religion is nothing but self-loathing bigotry and hatred, it is NOT anything anyone in this day and age should be proud to display. It is the banner of ignorance and intolerance. The only true "evil" that exists in this world is religion.

      ~Peace~

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  15. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      Idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  16. CastorTroy

    This article should have been named The Face of Evangelical Fascism.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • USAdude

      Wow... you are right on!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  17. Mike

    http://www.wpray4u.com

    June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Ted M.

      Why waste your time praying? Why not get something done?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • petercha

      James 5:16
      "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective."

      June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Ted M.

      Isn't it also said that there are "none righteous – not one"? No wonder prayers don't work!
      But really, it's because there is NO GOD. Nothing there. No healing. No help. Nothing anywhere. No proof of existence either.
      There is NO GOD.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  18. Ronald

    Render unto Caesar what is Caesars and render unto God what is Gods...in other words keep God and religion out of politics and government. This woman using the worst kind of Republican tactics to win votes. She using God and religion to appeal to those who don't deal with the reality of the world but seek solace in religion not facts. Don't get me wrong religion is great and everyone should have faith in their lives but it doesn't belong in governance. Trying to win supporters by appealing to their love of God or their anger at something you don't understand because you believed the lies that are put out there by the Republican spin doctors. Instead of just listening to what anybody says do some reading, research and find out the facts about the issues. Republican supporters love to say they have the facts but the reality is that it is just more of the same lies that the spin doctors put out. Now you know why Republicans never support and usually cut education funding..they know that uneducated people are more gullible.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Patrish

      Well said.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • WooHoo!

      You started out good, however, the Democrats do everything you accuse just the Republicans of doing. In fact, the Democrats lie more than the Republicans do.

      Anyway the point is anyone who is only one party or the other is never right and can have all of their comments completely dismissed as they are of no value whatsoever.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Nurul Aman

      Excellent observation, Ronald! I couldn't agree with you more. Bachmann is still so miserably delusional about her hypocritical tactics to use as if she is the only one to fool American voters. I have a message for you,Michele- American voters are too smart to be fooled by your false tactics. You are dead wrong in capitalizing the ignorance of America. America is not a nation of ignorance that you can capitalize. This is 2011, not 1950s America. You must be smarter in giving the presidential speech of 2011 for America, not of 1950s.

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

      Ronald, you are part of the partisan problem. Also, claiming that the uneducated vote Republican, so they cut funding is nothing more than partisan rubbish. The Democrats for decades have won the vote for people who drop out of high school or only have a high school degree. While the Republicans for decades have won the vote for people who have a 4 year college degree. The Democrats also win the vote for people with post graduate degrees, so it is not as if all of their votes come from the lower end of academics.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  19. Nadine

    I hope she will be able to win and bring some fresh air to the White House which has been sullied by this incompetent president who has betrayed the working class. Obama is not just incompetent but he is also a fake Black man who betrayed also the African Americans. Time for him to go and find another job or rest in a secure compound.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • bill

      you are a wackjob too, a fake black man, How dare you make judgements, who are you?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Chuck Berry

      Nadine? Honey, is that you? Seems like every time I see you, you got something else to do.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • rich

      Bigotry knows no color of the skin nor it’s gender

      June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Wait, the incompetent president who betrayed the working class was the guy before Obama. Remember him? Fake cowboy from Yankeeville? Spent all his time cutting brush at the compound? All hat and no cattle? 9-11? No Child Left Behind, Homeland Security? Any of that ring a bell?

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

      Well, he is only 50% black, so it might not be his fault. It was probably the white half of him that betrayed black people.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • Royce Irvin

      THIS WOMAN THINKS THE EARTH IS 6000 YEARS OLD. ARE YOU OF THE SAME MIND NADINE? "FAKE BLACK MAN" YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • petercha

      Amen, Nadine. Right on.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Chloe

      Nadine...how did you form your garbage opinion?!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Chris

      "fake Black man who betrayed also the African Americans."

      lol what? I'm sorry, you lost me there.

      I'm Not sure you you can be a "Fake Black man", but whatever you say....I guess.......

      June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  20. bill

    evangelicals never go away. They just persist in different forms.

    This wakjob woman wants to teach creationism. She is a wackjob, another evangelical wackjob

    June 28, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Thinking7

      If you want to believe you are related to monkeys, go ahead.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • petercha

      Thinking, creationists do NOT believe they are related to monkeys. Evolutionists do.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Jim

      Thinking7
      And I have slave owners in my family tree, but I've learned long ago that denying the reality of who you're related to is a cowards' way.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Humans aren't directly related to monkeys, but it's close enough for us to have little fingers on our feet. Monkeys are descended from some creature ancestral to all primates, but they went down the ladder while we came up. Now, I like the idea of God smoking some whacky weed and saying "I think I'll put little useless monkey-fingers on the humans' feet. Yep, that would be cool," but it's not likely.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:28 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.