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. Marie Kidman


    June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  2. Aces

    What a horribly written article.
    First of all, let's begin with Susan B. Anthony not Sarah Palin.
    This article is only designed to discredit faith. Written by someone with little knowledge of personal faith.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  3. Jonathan

    Whatever brand of feminism Bachman represents she's set the clock back 2,000 years. She's an insult to all of the hard working, intelligent women who've advanced the status of women.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  4. Kristin

    Hillary Clinton was intelligent and actually understood policy, history, economics. Feminists need to look for someone who actually understands the issues, including the complications, and can weigh those in making decisions. Someone positive about the US place in the world. Disagree with the opposition on intelligent terms, making fact-based arguments. When you compare 1960s prices with current day prices without adjusting for inflation – even the most low-level policy person would know to adjust for inflation (I mean to you compare what your parents made with your current salary – of course not, its apples and oranges), it tells me she is not capable of making well-thought out decisions. Feminism? Come-on we deserve better!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Brian

      Ya... she was so intelligent she thought that she was named after Sir Edmund Hilary, who didn't climb Mt Everest until 2 years after she was born

      June 28, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  5. Andrew

    Jane Fonda really has her claws in deep at CNN now.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  6. Brian

    She's not a feminist... she's just in touch with her femininity, something that liberals hate. They prefer all women should be like Rachael Maddow where you can't really tell the difference

    June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  7. MTATL67

    She is no icon and she most defiantly is not on the same level as Sec. Hillary Clinton. This is a person who wants to take rights away from Americans. Rep. Bachman said, "The Lord says, 'Wives, be submissive to your husbands.'" Rep. Bachman was not happy with John McCain. Evidently, he is not "Christian" enough. Could you imagine the attacks she would launch against gender equality and religious freedoms. On the pedestal of Lady Liberty it says "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." It does not include the words "only as long as you think and believe as I do"

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

      Oh please, because you disagree with her politics she's not as iconic as Hilary, a women who got where she is because of her husbands position in life. Bachmann got to this level on her own, but since she's a republican liberals will not recognize her accomplishments because she doesn't spew feminist hatred toward the rights of men.
      Bachmann did not need a husband as president to get where she is, something not ever mentioned by liberals at CNN.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  8. Anchorite

    Sure, she can be the new face of evangelical feminism. As long as the Tea Party keeps slinging bags of nuts, we don't have to worry about any of them ever winning. Most Republicans and all Democrats are just fine with their Christianity and really think electing crazy hate mongering holy warriors (or people who simply lie and pander to them, which amounts to the same thing) is a bad idea.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  9. State of Tennessee

    I see the bigoted liberals who frequent the CNN now have another intelligent female to express their jealousy of. Compared to Hillary "vast right-wing conspiracy" Clinton and Miclelle "I'm proud to be be an American because I get unlimited free vacations for four years" Obama, Michelle Bachman is a true leader. The fact she is actually attractive is a plus. (Not to be confused with plus-size as in HC or MO)

    June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Where is this "intelligent female"? Oh, you must mean Bigfoot sightings in Tennessee?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      George W. Bush holds the record for the amount of vacation days for any sitting president. Fully one third of his two terms.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Fiona

      "Intelligent"? "Attractive"? Are you posting on the wrong story? You can't be talking about Bachmann the Flake.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Fiona, he is from Tennessee. As compared to his cousins, Bachmann is HOT

      June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • MTATL67

      It is not jealousy is a matter of being qualified. The President is sworn to defend those that do not believe or think as you do. Rep. Bachmann she said, "The Lord says, 'Wives, be submissive to your husbands.'". Rep. Bachmann was not happy with John McCain. Evidently, he is not "Christian" enough. How can she defend and support someone who she feels is not Christian enough or even Christian at all. Looks are not one of the qualifications to be President and she is just not qualified.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    I am beginning to see comparisons, between the religious right of the GOP, and Germany, in the 1930's. Exremism, has a way, of taking advantage, at certain times in history, and it becomes easy for extremism to seize control, and become a dictatorship.

    All we need do, to see the dangers of religion in government, is to look at Iran. There is no more perfect example, of what can happen, when religion is allowed to dominate a government.

    What we now have, is a time in history, when the wealthy of both of our political parties, are able to exercise dictatorial operation of our government, through their abilities to ignore the wishes of the people, and do what they will, with our country. We are in a very dangerous time, in our history, and indeed in the history of the world, in America.

    I could not support Bachmann, in any way, for President of this country, because I view her as a religious extremist, who is dangerous to a free people.

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

      Have you any understanding of history at all! What is happening in the U.S. today with the religious or extreme right or the extreme left can in know way be compared to Germany in the 1930's. Are you even at all educated?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  11. Michael

    "Feminist Icon"?????????? I think that you have just completely insulted the entire women's movement of the 60's and 70's. This "evangelical" is a freak who will take women's rights and just throw them in the gutter. Right wing, ultra conservative ultra Christian phony who lies every time she opens her ignorant mouth. Big deal she had 5 kids....so did my neighbor and she is anything but qualifies to be president let alone be in congress. Truly the dumbing down of America is at it's peak. I thought that it was bad when Bush had Pat Robertson at the Oval Office for advice, but this loon gets her info directly from God (?) Isn't that what Muslims do? She's a dangerous moron who has out of sheer luck positioned herself where the retarded of the country can see her at a time when the Fox agenda is working and the Tea Party racists actually have a say. Sad to see and a very scary thought. Keep YOUR religious Bull sh it out of MY politics!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      ^ this

      June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  12. Bucktooth

    We have to remember that the Gop are remnants from the Roman Empire! Genghis Khan has approximately 16 million descendants on the Earth today. Hitler, Juluis Ceaser, and a host of other Psychopaths/Sociopaths have descendants! Bachman is no different. There are so many of these clowns today, fed by GMO's, prescription drugs, and who knows what else? And these people are trying to take back Their country? They stole that too, just like they stole our money, and are slowly taking away our rights! Medicare, Unions, and your food is contaminated! Pay Attention! Or is it too late??? Big Picture..everything is connected!! Game Over!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • MARCAMP2

      Obviously your nickname was earned because someone took quite the offensive to your broad sweeping rhetoric

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  13. TommyTT

    I can't imagine America benefitting from someone whose message is, in part, "My religion is right and yours is wrong, so you should change."

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

      Well said.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • MARCAMP2

      Why not? We've been listening to it from a political standpoint from decades from the likes of the National Organization of Women, who only believe that democratic party principles "best serve" the interest of the American female...it's wrong for anyone to say it, but it's been around for decades, whether in the form of religion, politics or social strategies...both parties are guilty of the same thing, sad but true...

      June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |

    Wow so it turns out the people at CNN dont know there history either. Read a book stop taking ques from your producers.
    The founding father most certainly fought over slavary. Slavary is a product of the south. If John Adams and Ben Franklin hadnt given in on the subject we wouldnt have a union.

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

      what history book are you reading?...lol

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Michael

      You're as stupid as she is. Jefferson and Washington both HAD slaves you moron. Then there was about 100 years that went by before a little thing called the Civil War came along....that was fought over slavery and Lincoln abolished it.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |

      Sry hit enter to quick. I forgot to mention that i think Mechelle Bachman would be a terrible president. Her disbeleif in everything will destroy the country one element at a time.

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

      ...aaaaannnnddd....it turns out that you cannot use the correct "their".

      June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • bcrane1

      Are you commenting on the Michelle Bachmann story? The one that did NOT mention slavery or the founding fathers.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Gells

      In no way do I or can I ever support Bachmann. She's worse than Palin, and Palin was among the worse women American politics has seen.

      However, when you intend to insult someone's (e.g., CNN) education, you might want to use proper spelling. "Slavery" – not "slavary." Well done.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |

      Lol stop acting like a troll. I dont care how i spell it so suck it.

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

      When you learn to spell and punctuate properly, that is the time to go public with your writing. You're a bit premature.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:07 am |

      It was the Declaration of Independence when the first arguements went down over the right of slavary. The lines that abolished slavary from dec of independece were stricken due to the unwillingness of southern states to agree. Without the hundred years on slavary we would never have founded the Union we all know and forget about.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:07 am |

      So the only thing ppl have to say is my spelling. If yall wonder why this country is failing my look at how easily you are dragged off topic. slavary slavary slavary look i spelled it wrong 3 times fast.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:10 am |

      lol im out my attention wavers and im listening to baby killer trial.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |

      Sorry all i am a terrible typist.

      "If fighting against slavary mean fighting with guns to all of you are incompitent." what i meant to type was

      If fighting against slavery means fighting with guns to all. You are incompitent.
      Lots of ppl fought slavary without violence but ppl only remeber the violence of the past. Sad

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  15. Roland

    I never met people who get so much press and followers. Who are just regurgitating what you want to hear. She hasn't even outlined a plan beyond the party outline. You can cookie cut all of the GOP candidates. Dems I believe are center with their policies because they are being pulled like a magnet into being more right leaning than they normally would be. I believe the DEMS have far better plans for America because of it. Particularly on raising taxes to cut the deficit.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  16. jane

    Does anyone truly believe this woman could actually lead the United State of America? NOT. Make her go away. This is just a way for her to gain publicity.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  17. Kelly

    Hey CNN. Will you be putting all the nonsense and gaffes that Joe "nincompoop" Biden has said? And put his on the front page? Nah, I didn't think so.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  18. Liberal Hollywood Insider

    One has to wonder what kind of underwear she wears. I would say panties are in a bunch but seeing as she is trying to get the old guys going thong?


    June 28, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Old School Republican Represent

      Definitely couldn't fit those balls in a thong!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Victoria's Secret

      She always buys thongs when at my place. Says it helps keep the "Republican end up." I am not sure what she means as I have a feeling her "end" is sagging a bit much for thongs :'(

      June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Panty Raid

      I know but I'm not telling!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Michele Bachmann's Dity Laundry


      June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  19. eldo hill

    Michele Bachmann is an evangelical hypocritical witch who is doing the devils work and would do grave harm to this country if she became president, she is guided by hate the same as McConnell and the rest of the gop and tea party for President Obama and it is not about his policies or politics its about race he being an African American in all of their speeches they all say take back their country, from what or who? I have never heard those comments from any politician until Barack Obama became President of the United something no white person thought would ever happen.

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

      Wow, hate much, Eldo? And yet you liberals constantly preach love. Hypocrisy at it's finest.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  20. Mark

    Go Michele !!!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • AKSean

      ...And don't let the door hit you on the way out. Good riddance.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:47 am |
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About this blog

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.