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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. Byrd

    Evangelical feminist and complete blithering idiot.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  2. Morton

    Evangelical feminist? Barf.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  3. Thomas

    Interesting comments from Mr. Lindsay about the changing roles of women among the evangelical faiths, especially at the end. Will the rise of women evangelicals in politics eventually lead to their rise in the pulpits? I see it as inevitable that once the old guard of male evangelical leaders pass on, I think women will begin to take the leadership positions within the faiths. As Mr. Lindsay said, as many of the evangelical male leaders (political and spiritual) drop the ball on the claim to family values, the ones who actually birth the families will be the only ones with the credibility to take charge.

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

      But what if...the book they revere actually says it's fine for a woman to be President but not a Pastor. What if they actually take its teaching seriously? Maybe they actually believe this stuff – sin, redemption, salvation – the whole package. Maybe they aren't just pieces of jetsom carried in the cultural flow? And, what if, they're right, too?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  4. Charlie Sheen

    She can't be one of my goddesses, to old and too crazy. I like insane chicks but this is too much.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • 1gadawg

      ...more like to intelligent!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Charlie Sheen

      You are not winning 1gadawg. I am a total frickin' rock star from mars and you are a troll.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  5. JP

    Here we go again with another CNN article trying to disgrace candidates with Non Factual articles.

    Does this person actually get paid to wirte articles?

    Who is the real fool? The person paying or the person writing......

    June 28, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  6. Whatsupdoc

    May God help us if this woman becomes Pres....

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  7. Doug

    CNN has purposely omitted her John Wayne Gacy gaffe. It's on all the other Networks.

    John Wayne was one of the most anti-communist Americans ever. So how do you claim to have the spirit of John Wayne when you are your Republican party promote policies to close down American factories/services and move them to COMMUNIST VIETNAM and COMMUNIST CHINA? John Wayne, if alive today, would start an army and overthrow the Republican Party and anyone who supported moving American factories to COMMUNISTS. Go watch The Green Berets.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Richard

      Sorry Doug try http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/27/bachmanns-john-wayne-slip/#more-165444. As for the rest of your comment, well done.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Doug J

      I meant on this report. I think it should have been included here.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  8. Kelly

    Well Well Well...........it didn't take long for the liberal media to stop picking the bones of Palin and move on to Bachmann! Ha! So typical of the liberal media and liberals in general....ATTACK anything that moves that might be a threat to your lord and master Obumble.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • 1gadawg

      ...it's what they do when they are scared and running....

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

      But you Neanderthals make it so easy, with your mythology and the fact the GOP is now part of the white-supremacy blight in this country.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Joe

      Did you even read the article? Its full of positive coverage of Bachmann's candidacy and what it means for women. Let's not let the truth get in the way of a good tantrum, though.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • RweEqual

      @Kelly I want you to put politics aside and just listen to her speak. This has nothing to do with liberals or media just listen to her and you can't honestly say she makes since in what's she's saying. No one has ever called Obama the master or the lord and savoir. Why would they when there are still Americans probably like yourself questioning his citizenship. Why is it when someone that doesn't agree with her or palin it's liberals or liberal media. That's no difference in you call the President obummer why can you criticize but others can't if it's someone they don't agree with. If you wonder who I voted for I voted for Obama but I'm not a liberal I'm a independant voter so I can go either way not just one way. Do I agree with everything that he does, no I don't but I know he's a politician and somethings that they promise they will break every politician has one time or another. Now no other President has been scrutinize more then this one, not even Bush. This President has had his citiizenship, religion and has been called racial slurs and that was in his first year in office. Why is it that Obama had to show proof of birth certificate and no other President has had to? It's because he's a black man with a muslim name and their is no way he could be from ths country because of his name. It's one thing I'm tired of hearing is that this country is a christian nation. If you can enlighten me what is a christian nation? Because in this country we are allowed the freedom of religion to practice to be a catholic, prostestant, baptist, islam, christian, jehova and athiest. Whether you believe it or not athiest is a religion they are people that don't believe in a higher power or one GOD. I can go on we can debate back and forth and be civil about it. Let's just be fair no matter if you're a republican, liberal or democrat.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  9. John

    this lady is another Sarah Palin and we all know what we think about sarah the quitter

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • 1gadawg

      we? you mean the small minded liberal left? speak for yourself please...

      June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Fox

      Please refrain from speaking for all of us.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  10. mfhpr

    Here's what can be said...

    Bachmann will say ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to mislead the extreme right and hope any others that believe all they hear will follow. Check politifactdotcom to see her most recent nonsense...it's laughable.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  11. Frankly Speaking..

    Oh your spaghetti flying monster god, keep praying to the unseen and he sends disaster upon disaster. We atheists are perhaps the true gods of our lives and we have mastered the art of bs and blah blah blah..blah blah blah

    "Summum bukmun 'umyun fahum la_ yarji'u_n(a)" (S Baqarah, Quran), translates to "Deaf, dumb, and blind, they will not return (to the path)"

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  12. bsitz

    As soon as religion has no place in politics we will be a lot better off. Also, until the American people wake up we will have the same thing over and over. The two party system has failed us miserably.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  13. Bob

    THE WOMEN IS AN IDIOT.

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

      woman*. you're not helping anybody.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Fox

      A screaming personal insult really makes your case.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  14. JF

    Just another whack job entering the circus.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  15. Onegood1

    AH, more rants from liberal racists and misogynists. At CNN a day without hate is like a day without water.

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

      I know, right? All they do is comment insults without submitting even ONE good counter-idea. What a mob.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  16. myweightinwords

    I don't care what religion a person is, I expect anyone who wants my vote for a position like president to have more in the way of credentials than being a mother of five and a foster mom. I expect intelligence and an ability to grasp complex topics well enough to converse the finer details.

    Not someone who has trouble with basic history and understanding the names she wants to align herself with.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • 1gadawg

      before you open your yap', maybe you should do a little research, this women has accomplished a lot in her life...here, since your obviously a little 'slow', i'll help ya' –

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michele_Bachmann

      June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • email

      you realize anybody can edit that right?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Garnet_ME

      Umm... She (Ms. Bachmann is an educated woman, a tax attorney and a Congress Woman. She is not JUST a kind hearted, respectable, small business woman (family run-business) who has taken well care of her family along with her husband ( a Physcologist, also educated) of 26+ years.

      Like it or not, she is the whole package!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  17. Paulo

    What can be said of Bachmann? How about a compulsive liar who who failed Us History for starters. By the way, how does wrongfully accusing Obama of being anti american square with Christianity? Isn't there something about bearing false witness in the Ten Commandments? Like all the republicans who use religion to curry favors with voters, she is a phony Christian and needs to repent badly. First step-get out of public llife.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  18. Geof

    Headline I'd like to see:
    Candidate Wraps Herself in Corpse of American Icon, but Magical Body Liquor Fails to Turn Her into Americana Girl

    June 28, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  19. ugh

    There is absolutely no such thing as an Evangelical Feminist. The two terms completely contradict each other.

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

      Not true. The ONE church position reserved for a man is that of Pastor. Women are free to choose anything else, and are free to hold any secular position they want, even President.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Ted M.

      Guest, that's not freedom, that's religious discrimination and bigotry. Better not go there.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  20. Cclifon

    So, if Bachmann wins the presidency she will govern by listening to voices in her head, probably in the middle of the night, telling her what to do. God may have spoken to Moses, but I seriously doubt that he speaks to Ms Bachmann. I seem to recall that others have responded to voices in their heads who have gone on to become infamous based on the number of bodies they left in their wake. God help us if Bachmann wins the presidency.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:37 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.