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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.”

ALSO:

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

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Opinion: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Sadie

    Calling women like Bachman and Palin feminists is an insult to the entire history of feminism. As long as they support policies designed to repress and destroy women, they will never be feminists! Feminism is about equality, which is not something supported by evangelicals.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • tom

      For feminism equality means fathers have no rights - if a woman doesn't feel like carrying a human fetus nine months a man loses a child – if a woman feels like carrying it, the man is trapped for 18 years - that is what equal rights means to feminists

      June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  2. Regnad Kcin

    Dog is my co-pilot!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  3. penny

    i would NEVER vote for a red head!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • mike

      Why does she try to look like "Howdy-Doody"? Is it a "family values" thing?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  4. teena

    Evangelical women do not have a corner on MOTHERHOOD as center focus–so please do not sanctify ths woman.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  5. Jim in Florida

    evangelical feminist? you have to be joking. Had to tag her didn't you CNN? As opposed to "secular feminist"...goodness

    Wilkipedia
    Bachmann's background – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michele_Bachmann

    I support Romney since I really believe that Romney will go toe to toe with Obama and can beat him.

    But let me tell you that Bachmann will be the real deal.

    My proof? Well, just read the article above and stand by for the virtual deluige of journalisticm vulgarity that we haven't seen since the beginning of the MSM's daily infatuation with all things Palin.

    Gosh, got enough hate for conservative Christian women to spare political left?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Regnad Kcin

      Hate to break this to you, but just because something is in Wikipedia doesn't mean it's proof.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Ben

      Jim, the MSM created Sarah Palin... they are the only reason she has a career at this point. You can vilify them all you want, but it's only because they obsess on that train-wreck of a woman that she's even considering running for President. They report on her tweets and Facebook updates like they actually matter and this facination with her has somehow given her legitimacy in some people's eyes.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • petercha

      "Gosh, got enough hate for conservative Christian women to spare, political left?" VERY good point, Jim. And yet they constantly preach against hate. Hypocrisy at it's finest.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  6. missPWNAGE

    Evangelical feminist? Isn't that an oxymoron?

    ...If any of these crazy right wing super religious crackheads get into office, I'm out of here... That's not what this country is about, quite the opposite of why we're here to begin with.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Tonys

      Adios.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Guest

      Bye!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Don't forget to take a friend.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  7. Martin Korvak

    What can be said of Bachmann? She's Palin with slightly different facial characteristics.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  8. JEN

    I WOULD NEVER VOTE FOR RELIGIOUS. INSTEAD DOING THEIR JOB, THEY PREFER MIRACLE FROM THEIR GOD. REMEMBER GEORGE BUSH KEPT MENTIONING GOD TO SAVE OUR COUNTRY BUT HIS GOD MAKE OUR COUNTRY INTO RECESSION.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  9. Scott

    Oh give me a break....The face of a MILF in a party full of older white males on Viagra. Sorry, but that's the truth.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      LOL...on the photo she is showing the "right size"

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  10. tom

    Can you put some more labels in the story – I like labels, then I do not have to read or think.

    Looking for the silver lining, I have to admire the foster children thing. She puts her money and time where her mouth is regarding unwanted children. I always found it hard to believe that "terminated" was better than "unwanted". Demorat

    June 28, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Ted M.

      All that welfare money given to her for each of those kids went to pay for her expensive college expenses.
      She made a lot of money off of having foster kids troop through her house. Not all that self-less, is it?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • tom

      Ted M -- I believe foster parents have to feed clothe and shelter their foster children - that is were the foster child money goes

      June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Ted M.

      tom, you are so simple-minded I feel sorry for you. You must be very young and ignorant. Or just ignorant.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • tom

      Ted M – do you insult people to their faces or are you just a p*s sy that does it on the internet?

      She got all her degrees before she had any foster children. Her foster children all had special needs. regardless of her politics she did a good thing. What have you done for anyone? Not much if i can believe what your mother said last night. by the way, I would like to see her again, do you have change for a quarter?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  11. KinNYC

    All you Democrats, Republicans, Tea Baggers, Liberals, Conservative, Atheists and Christian: If you want the facts go to Politifacts.com. This is a Pulitzer Prize website that checks fact. Or you can put your head in the sand, rant and rave, call each other names without really knowing who you are speaking to. What are you afraid of? That your favorite newscaster or politician didn't quite tell the truth? Be proactive! Educate yourselves! Stop the insanity! You're all are starting to sound like Archie Bunker! We need to work together people and this blog just proves why we can't. Because neither side will listen to the FACTS! Is any one group right or wrong? No. Will anyone we choose be perfect. NO. Politics are about making tough choices. Lets go back to our grass roots and remember what the founding fathers proposed.

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

      "Lets go back to our grass roots and remember what the founding fathers proposed." -Yes, that religion be left out of politics!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • tom

      Please, can you put some more labels in the story – I like labels, then I do not have to read or think.

      Look for the silver lining, I have to admire the foster children thing. She puts her money and time where her mouth is regarding unwanted children. I always found it hard to believe that "terminated" was better than "unwanted". Demorat

      June 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  12. bnakka

    "Evangelical Faminist" thats a first how do you become a faminist?

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

      When you refuse to support school lunch programs like Bachmann did.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Hey Rebecca, try feedin' your own kids.

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

      I did – even when I was making so little that I qualified for free lunches for my son. Some people live below the poverty line even though they are fully employeed. Hunger is a true problem in America. Kids should not go hungry...just sayin'...

      June 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Rebecca, now try talking some of your liberal pals into taking the same responsibility you did and the problem will be solved.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  13. Just sayin'

    Conservative woman running for President... let the Palin style smash and destroy liberal attack machine commence... but libs support women... as long as they toe the liberal line.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      As long as they don't say they are women who are against womens rights....

      June 28, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Yeah, let's ask her some Palin-style "gotcha questions" and see if we can confuse her:
      Do you read newspapers? Was Paul Revere British? What did you see today? What's for lunch? How far is up? Is Puerto Rico a state? What color shoes are you wearing? Don't peek!
      Yeah, the liberal attack machine is going to have to really work to tear her down, I'm sure. Ten days and she'll quit like Palin did.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Women's Rights.... liberal code for killing their unwanted children.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Just sayin'

      Hey Bible Clown, let's not forget you elected a man who believes there are 57 states.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  14. petercha

    Amazing all the hate for Bachman or Evangelicals I see being posted in here. And yet liberals constantly preach love and tolerance. Hypocrisy at it's finest.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • xrk9854

      Yeah, just like Bachmann wants to outlaw marriage equality. Isn't that a fine, loving Christian? NOT. The Teabaggers are modern day fascists bent on destroying America's middle class. I'm sorry, but I'm not tolerant of anyone who's sole goal is destroying the middle class. You destroy the middle class and you destroy America.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      You rip what you saw, or something like that?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • real_personn

      Really? Have they copied the "cross-hair" tactics the other haters use like Palin and Cheney?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Bible Clown

      That's a lie, but hardly surprising from one of you bearers of false witness.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  15. andrew.peter

    I am an "evangelical" Christian, believer in the Lord and disciple of Christ... but I don't want my mother to be president! If I have to listen to the shrill of a banshee for 4 years, I'll go nuts.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • mjts993

      oh please ... you're happy with your Big Brother?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  16. Jedu

    Since when is Condoleezza Rice considered an evangelical? She's hardly on the Bachmann train. Dr. Rice is a Presbyterian– definitely on the progressive spectrum of American Christianity. Her father was a Presbyterian minister, and she continues that discernment of faith today.

    For that matter, there is a big difference between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and "evangelicals." This entire article is baiting.

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

      I would put to you that a black, Presbyterian church in the South is.... just perhaps.... a little different from your mainstream, Presbyterian churches.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  17. Baruch

    "If Hillary Clinton, who came closest to being a major party presidential nominee, is a feminist icon, what can be said of Michele Bachmann?"

    She's psychotic, out of touch, mean, stupid, a sociopath, a hypocrite, a liar...these are a few of the things that can be said of Bachmann.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • mjts993

      Wow ... fairly harsh assessment. I have assuming you have facts to support all of your statements. Or, as I suspect, you are a typical liberal you prefers to rely on baseless name calling.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • noteabags

      I agree. "Feminist" isn't in my top 50 adjectives to describe her.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Tonys

      U B and idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Walt

      Liberals: argue with feelings.
      Republicans: Argue with facts.

      It's a fact.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  18. Don

    More like the face of the anti-christ.

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

      Why do you say that, Don? She's not liberal.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • mjts993

      that coming from a liberal who is in all probability not a Christian and has no clue who or what the anti-Christ really is.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Bible Clown

      She looks nothing like G.W. Bush to me. We all know he was the Antichrist, and that he failed in his mission to turn Christians from the true Christ to the worship of his party. Well, mostly he failed. He still has a lot of followers.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  19. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  20. sam

    Clinton is a war MONGER

    June 28, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Old School Republican

      Certainly you meant:

      Clinton is a W*ORE MONGER

      June 28, 2011 at 11:33 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.