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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. shamgar50

    The new TeaBagger dinner roll. Flakey Bachmann!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  2. Tom Leykis

    She's a nutjob, an idiot, an evangelical mouthbreather, intellectually challenged, an imbecile and looks distinctly like a tranny.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • petercha

      Hate much, Tom? And yet you liberals constantly preach love and tolerance. Hypocrisy at it's finest.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • effelbee

      You are so right. Simply go back and review some of the nonsense ("abortion field trips for 8th graders" etc) and anyone who supports her has to be terribly uninformed.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Phil

      Petarcha, who said Tom is a liberal? Most republicans feel the same way, like me.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      "you liberals"? This is probably one of your looney GOP trolls typing...

      June 28, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • Max

      Tom...I think so too. Maybe we should demand she get a test to prove it. Like the right did with Obama's nationality.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  3. ProudRepublican

    I hope Bachmann wins the nomination and announces that her VP candidate is Christine "I'm not a witch" O'Donnell!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Larry Flint

      I shall be willing to market their girl-girl tape for a profit. Call me!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • ProudRepublican

      HOT!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Nicole Richie

      Loves it!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  4. aug

    Evan's have ruined politics with their beliefs. I honestly don't trust them and never will.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  5. The Jackdaw

    The Evangelical churches have a major shortcoming as they are purely recruiting machines with no system for retaining members. Once you have bought into their malarkey, you become a recruiter. That is why their churches grow so large and become the mega money churches that we see on TV. They are not very interested in supporting a social movement that will not bring them money. For now, they will embrace this woman because she is drawing attention, but as soon as the media storm is over, they will ignore her. There is also the sheer contradiction of saying Church and Feminism in the same sentence. Believing that your church supports this woman’s feminist views is a bit misguided.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • effelbee

      Our founding fathers certainly understood why we had to keep the government out of religion and vice versa.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  6. USAdude

    Bachmann is just another idiot female product of the GOP... It is hard to imagine how these people like Bachmann and Palin got to where they are. It speaks very poorly for this country.

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

      Talk about speaking poorly for this country, look at who is president now.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • petercha

      Very good point, Dean.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  7. Geof

    A candidate truly in the spirit of John Wayne Gacy. I hope she gets the GOP nomination.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      I have come back from the dead to support her nomination.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Greg

      Seconded.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • John Wayne

      Well, pilgrim, I just can't get behind this nut from my home state. She doesn't know the difference between me and a serial killer so I am not going there, pilgrim.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  8. Greg

    Michelle is a flake and a whacko. I will not ever vote for anybody who espouses Evangelical credentials. People have to stop thinking that God Created America to be Christian. Our founding fathers established our country to be accepting of all and tolerance for religion. My question is in the future if a Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or other religious persuasion runs for the presidency does that mean they are automatically excluded because they don't use the buzz words that evangelicals want to hear? I think having someone who espouses faith and wears it on their sleeve as a badge that can be used as intolerance of others will only lead to a very sad state of affairs in our world. The very thing that makes this country great is the very thing that could do us in. Please Michelle Bachman get your facts straight and STAY HOME! I do not see any republican candidate at this juncture who I would ever conceive of voting for.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Founding Fathers crossed the ocean to be as far away from the Bachmann types as they could!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  9. KansasBoy

    BOB DOLE 2012!

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

      BobDole says he likes you!

      BobDole
      BobDole
      BobDole
      zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

      June 28, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Dob Bole

      yay

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Special Ed

      Yay yay, that's great!

      Time to make the doughnuts!!!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  10. Gingeet

    She prays to god to know what direction she should take? Funny how god always picks what she wants.
    The woman is a complete loon.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  11. Joseph Grey

    She is an embarrasment to politics. If people thought Sarah Palin was under educated, and Naive, Bachman is even worse. She doesnt understand civics at the highschool level, let alone at the presidential level.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  12. Mr. Patrick

    Somebody tell me this is a joke, Obama 2012 it should be easy!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Common Sense

      It won't be; without a record of showing ANY progress for America, Obama's chances of re-election are dim to say the least. At least Bachman can say she knows how to run a business, how to raise a family, how to put common-sense principles into play which will stop our country from bankrupting like it is under this worst president EVER.

      Let the loony liberal rants beging now.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      I intend to vote for her because she upholds my conservative values.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  13. Sandy

    Anyone who thinks Bachmann is a feminist needs at least three things: a dictionary, a history book, and a course in Women's Studies. She is no feminist, just someone who preaches a traditional role for women while doing something quite different herself. Ick, And to say that she might cringe at this label is an understatement. There are no feminists in Tea Party Land, just Feminazis.

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

      Feminazis are, by definition, women that hate men. I very strongly doubt there are many women like that in the Tea Party movement as they are usually extreme liberals.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      "usually extreme liberals" Son, most women who hate men are found drinking alone in cowboy bars listening to country music on the jukebox. You either don't get out much or spend way too much time listening to the tee vee.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  14. Gg_Lock

    Michele Bachmann and Sara Palin are simply distractions, they have the Rep rhetoric and christian girl next door act down but no one in their heart really wants them to run the country! Sara Palin, was simply an obvious poly to recruit more women voters. Mitt Romney seems somewhat of stong Rep Canidate and he was successful in business, but the US is not a business and principals that got them rich are not neccessarily going to translate into rebuilding the US Economy. We need to stop being selfess, we sold our quality of life to the Chinese through debt and international trade, yet neither the Reps or the Dems want to address this issue. The Reps just want to talk about helping big business, like the US is going to become a manufacturing nation again, right; and the Dems just talk non-sense about clean energy tech and jobs, which hello don't exist and even if they do, the companys will simply outsource to other countries!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  15. Jane J.

    Why, CNN, cast Michele Bachmann as 'evangelical'? Isn't Hillary Clinton a Methodist? I don't think the United States, as we know it, will survive another four years with Obama. We have to change leadership or get used to a life that none of us are prepared to face.

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

      As a moderate Republican, I would rather live the rest of my life under Barack Obama than spend 10 seconds living under the Talibangelical rule that this small minded nut bag wants to force on me.

      Can't the Republicans find a candidate that isn't crazy or dumb?

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

      The damage has already been done and it may never be the same after the first four years of Obama.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  16. Marie Kidman

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

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

      Dooshbag

      June 28, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  17. mbane18

    As aChristian, it creeps me out when I hear others refer to Evangelicals as Christian. They have their own religion. They do not live by Christian values at all and only take up passages from the bible that suits them. Christianity is a very liberal religion. Most evangelicals are ultra conservative who know nothing about the history of Christianity.

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

      AMEN!!!

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

      BS.. at the core of Christianity is the belief that if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you will go to hell. Tell me how that is tolerant?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Dean

      To USAdude – if you do not believe in Jesus Christ, tolerance doesn't matter very much.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  18. Doug

    CNN has had her pic/story plastered on the headline for two days straight now!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  19. Max

    Wow...If I had a choice between voting for her, Palin, or (insert notorious dictator name here), it would be a hard decision. Both S.P. and M.B. are hate mongers that have no real answers or an actual plan to alleviate today's problems; just criticism and false accusations toward Dems (and I'm a lifelong Republican). Of course she hasn't been in the public eye enough to be able to discount her as the buffoon she is (yet), give her time though...she's off to a good start. Just ask anyone from N.H. or look up her comments about who abolished slavery. NYET! she's going to fade fast.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  20. Jeff

    Evangelicals are the worst. Do Republicans have any serious candidates or just ones that will use the Bible to justify hating anyone that's different?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:20 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.