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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. Ken

    I am also disappointed in CNN. The headline shouldn't be so slanted -"Michele Bachman as Evangelical Feminist", really? that is the best that CNN can do??. There is so much more to her as noted on the post.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      You want objective news, don't look to CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc. I go to PBS.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  2. JW

    Jesus was one of the biggest liberals in history.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Dan

      Citation?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • JW

      Jesus had characteristics which are considered liberal today, such as caring for the poor, non-violence and acceptance of others

      June 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • tuffgong71

      Exactly! He certainly wasn't about "preemptive strikes"!

      June 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  3. Kent Bowen

    Isn't evangelical feminist an oxymoron?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Joshua

      Wow... No.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Dan

      Not at all. I am an evangelical Christian who lived in the Middle East and would regard myself as a feminist - especially for the sake of the oppressed women over there.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  4. Tom L.

    Why isn't the media talking about this HISTORIC run for president in the same way they spoke of Hillary Clinton's attempt. But the media isn't biased at all...

    June 27, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • IanMaxwelle

      Because Hillary Clinton was qualified and had a chance. This nutcase has no substance, she just blathers and regurgitates insane stupidity.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      I think it's historic when it's the first. Ferraro was historic, Palin an after thought. Et al...

      June 27, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Joshua

      Great Point!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Joshua

      Great Point Tom!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Margaret

      It becomes historic is a woman actually gets elected. Lots of women have and are running. Hillary and Ferraro had the closest chance.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      Darn, Josh, thought you meant me...

      June 27, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  5. MrHanson

    Watch it Ms. Bechmann. The libtards are out in full force.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • FOX NEWS TO COVER IT LIVE

      This election is already over.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • PR

      Its Bachmann, not beckmann-and you call us liberals retards

      June 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  6. Tom L.

    I love how liberals say that evangelicals treat women in a subserviant manner yet remain absolutely silent when it comes to Islam and their treatment of women. In fact, they support and do everything to defend Muslims here in America and their religion .

    June 27, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • John Richardson

      I recall leftist feminists criticism of the treatment of women in Islam back in the 90s, long before 9/11. It's the conservative who are the cole latelies on this issue.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      Tom, you have to be kidding or have your head in the sand. The human rights argument BELONGS to the Democrats, the GOP doesn't have the term in its vocabulary.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  7. JW

    I hope that Michelle Bachmann gets nominated for president. She is kinda hot plus that would mean an easy win for the democrats.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  8. Jango

    In what alternate universe are bachman and clinton feminists?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Haven't you heard of the parallel-universe interpretation of quantum mechanics, where many universes simply self-destruct in ignorance?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Rob

      @Atheist, possibly all of them except one. Hope we're in the right one.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  9. David

    Don't let her fool you. Family value trumps family values....

    June 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  10. Kerry Berger

    Bachman as an Evangelist feminist is an oxymoron. If you accept the Evangelist's notion of women, they are stay at home Moms who are subservient to their husbands and children. This is so ludicrous as to be laughable.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      I should have looked further into the thread before I commented. You "nailed it", as earlier stated.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Dan

      She wouldn't be working if she were a stay-at-home mom, now would she?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  11. Tom L.

    Another typical effort to demonize a woman who dares to be conservative. Here is her background:
    – State Senator
    – Helped to build charter schools for at risk youths
    – Attorney for 30 years
    – Built her own business and acually MET a payroll
    – 5 children of her own and 23 foster children
    – Representative for 5 years
    – True fiscal conservative

    I love it when liberals try to say that she is not qualified and has no experience while strongly supporting Obama and his "experience"

    June 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Dan

      Agreed.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • BibleThumper

      1 Timothy 2:12

      June 27, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • News Flash

      60 % of the children in her district live in poverty in single family homes.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Debbie

      Tom L,
      I am a nurse and also soon to be a teacher.
      I own my own Child Care center ( caring for 62 children every day)
      I MEET every one of my payrolls.
      I have been a host parent for 8 foreign exchange students .
      All this doesn't qualify me to be POTUS

      June 28, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Bibletruth

      She is a very accomplished person...a leader without doubt. And when folks go after her, they should honestly recognize her worthy accomplishments. I guess worthy accomplishments are not what people want , or at least core political affiliation or tendency seems to bring out the demon in many ....isnt it the way of demons to demonize? Cant folks just be against voting for this or that candidate because they dont go for their policies re economics, natonal security, various social issues, etc. and at the same time realize they could be very comfortable, even enjoy having the person for lunch or as a neighbor. It is the accord with Satan that brings such satanic feelings out ..this satanic penchant to crucify a person for every word...to seek for and put the worst possible construction on every word, look, etc. of the one you dont agree with politically.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Rob

      @BibleTruth, You just described humans, not Satan. I don't think it's very healthy to project issues onto invisible beings. Probably better that we face them head on, admit that their our own faults, and our own responsibility to fix.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. Ken

    So here we go again. The left must be really scared of smart conservative women. Bummer has had for 20 years Jerimiah Wright as his preacher saying " its not God bless America but GD America " and you call HER a religious wacko. After the NYT asked for help to read Palins e-mails. Which after 24,000 emails they found nothing. I would like to see the Bummer exposed with his czars, executive orders, oh and that "transparent" administration he has. He has such nice friends-Van Jones, John Holdren, Cass Sunstein, and all the rest of Barry Soetoros' buddies. Give her a chance!

    June 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • tuffgong71

      I am not afraid of smart, conservative women. I just have never met one.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  13. Ronen

    I hope Michelle Bachmann wipes the floor with Obama. She's a genuine politician who has genuine heart for her country. Definitely not a community organizer winning elections with Oprah's money.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Ed Brien

      You are a MORON!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Ed Brien

      I LOVE YOU!! Either your sense of humor or stupidity has me in laughing out loud. I love it! You are either a genius or a Bumpkin idiot... Either way .. thanks..

      June 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Tom L.

      Ed,
      What a thoughtful and well conceived response. Simply brilliant and poignant

      June 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Thoughtful

      "...when fascism comes to America it will be carrying a cross wrapped in a flag."
      Sinclair Lewis

      June 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • gozer

      Ronen, you forgot the /sarcasm after your post.
      Bachmann is an ignorant twit with no grasp of modern science.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  14. H

    You have it all wrong, she is no where near being a feminist (as Angie points out). No only is she not a feminist, she is an idiot (see: God told me to run for president, global warming is not real) and I am downright offended. Not surprised this was written by a man

    June 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  15. I-I-I-ME-ME-ME-MY-MY

    She says that 'God' told her to run. Hmmmm... Doesn't mean he intends for her to win! lol

    June 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Dan

      That's actually true. He might not want her to win. He may be using her to expose the hearts of the unrighteous.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  16. Logic

    How can an evangelical be a feminist? Timothy 2:12 states that women aren't even supposed to talk. Much less be in any sort of leadership role.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Atheist2

      A woman's place is in the home, I've been instructed. Maybe an evangelical feminist is an anaerobic oxymoron.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      Atheist2,
      So if a woman’s place is in the home, it could very well be the White House for Michelle Bachmann!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  17. I Declare Shenanigans

    She is a liar and loves government money. She took subsidies and used the Johnny Roastbeef "it's under my mother's name" routine.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  18. barbara

    as a religious jew i love her she is great and i appreciate her strong support to the state of israel god bless her i hope she will be our next president

    June 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Atheist2

      I wonder about her views of using white phosphorus? Probably doesn't think it exists.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  19. Angie

    Feminism is promoting equal rights for all women. Evangelical Christians literally believe that only some women, women who believe what they believe, are saved. The two cannot exist at the same time and anyone who doffs an evangelical cap gives up the right to be called a feminist.

    Bachmann is a bad person who espouses hate and calls it free speech. She has a right to say what she wants but Americans have the right and obligation to keep her hateful beliefs out of the White House.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • vaughn

      girl, you nailed it !

      June 27, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • I Declare Shenanigans

      It's a great miscarriage of justice to make her try to appeal towards women when she is flakier than a leper colony. She spreads fear and exclusion if you're in league with her cult. She really reminds me of Dolores Umbridge!

      June 27, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • News Flash

      dons an evangelical cap

      June 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • SickandTiredOftheLies

      Wow! Angie...that is just NOT TRUE. To say they reject other women is such a misrepresentation of their beliefs and convictions. Christian women believe that men and women are different but equal. Sounds like you may have had bad experiences with Christian women that never got resolved.Why are you putting all of the blame in their court. They are human just like you. In my experience, I've discovered the opposite to be true. Secular feminist reject Christian women ALL OF THE TIME.... ALL OF THE TIME. And you know it! They call them stupid and ignorant and show no respect for the fact that that is the life they chose. I have seen so many CHRISTIAN women go into countries where they would be killed, just to take care of the women you say they hate. You were so so so wrong for your statement. I agree with Barbara 100% and yes Michele Bachmann is an Evangelical Feminist! Chew on that!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Sick And Tired of The Lies: Maybe if you're so sick and tired of lies, you shouldn't be spreading them. "Different but equal" in religious terms is the same as "biology is destiny", and it is absolutely not a feminist principle. If you consider that to be part of Bachmann's position then she is not a feminist. As for all that rot about secular feminists rejecting christian women "ALL OF THE TIME" it is absolutely false. I should know. I am a secular feminist. Calling anyone stupid or ignorant purely on religious vs non-religious grounds is simply bias. Sadly, your post reflects the bias in your own heart against women who reject religion. I hope one day you can put that bias past you to accept your non-religious sisters.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  20. S

    another female conservative with no GRAVITAS

    June 27, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
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