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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. Michael

    It really scares me that this idiot is in this position. Shows you what the GOP is made of if she's tied as the front runner. The good thing is that the debate between her and Obama would fun to watch. She would just look like the most ignorant thing on the planet....oh, wait...she IS the most ignorant thing on the planet! Go to church and let God tell you what to say.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Kelly

      Define idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  2. Doug

    As you can see with Democrats if a minority or woman doesn't march lock step to their hateful ideology, they have actually gotten worse and more evil since the early days of Democrats cutting eye holes out of their white bedsheets and burning crosses.

    You can't find a single Democrat who supports or fights for anyone who doesn't fully support liberalism. In fact if you don't support liberalism then the Democrat is going to at best wish you harm or look to take your rights, at worst want to see you killed. Just read their comments, it is all here.

    Compare that to the millions of Republicans who fully support gays being able to get married, even though they will not ever get any support from gay voters and the gay community.

    I'm not religious and have a lot of issues with the religious right in this country. However, it just isn't even close. Democrats are wishing death and harm to all who disagree with them. Democrat are trying to make it a crime to wear a cross. I may not wear one but you can sure as hell bet I will fight for my fellow Americans who are Christian to be able to do so.

    Bristol Palin got over 10,000 death threats when she was on that dance show. That is you Democrat party and your Democrat voters. If it were Nanci Pelosi's daughter on that show, you could count on 1 hand the amount of death threats from Republicans.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Betty

      Really Doug? Your assumptions just make you sound like an ignorant ass........

      June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Kelly

      Typical liberal response. Hey Betty, do you eat with that mouth?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Doug

      LOL, she must be responding to a mirror, an "ignorant ass" is the definition of the Donkey party. There is a reason why this symbol is the one that represents Democrats.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Keith from Minnesota

      Your name calling embarrasses me in your attempt to represent the party. Perhaps you are just a troll getting your entertainment, sad. We need solutions not divisive rhetoric. I stopped by today to see what the national impression of Michelle Bachman is. It is much worse than I thought. I am dumfounded how people actually think Bachman would be a good president. I am a republican of over 35 years in the party and live within 40 miles of her district. In my view there are many very good republicans in the state that have served it longer and much better than Bachman. These people would make good Presidents, Bachman is not well liked or universally respected like House Rep, Jim Ramstad was, and Mr. Ramstad routinely got 65 to 70 % of the vote from 1991 to 2009. Ms. Bachman got 53% of the vote in her district in her last reelection. Ms. Bachman’s voter base elects her on her anti abortion platform. She represents a district that is strongly populated with very conservative Religious people. Anti-Abortion is their priority. This district was redrawn in a way that favors Bachman’s base with the help of Republican Gov Tim Pawlenty, who just also happens to be a presidential candidate. If Mr. Pawlenty and Michelle Bachman are my choices for president I will vote for Mr. Pawlenty, not Bachman. I have to admit Bachman does look good on TV, much better than Mr. Pawlenty. Voters in this country have voted/ supported politicians on their appearance alone, this is just another instance of that behavior in my view.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  3. ab_contador

    I base my vote on how religious a person is - the more religious, the LESS likely they are to get my vote.
    basically more religous = less intelligent.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Kelly

      you are aware that Obama goes to church, right?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  4. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      doosh nozzle

      June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • FloBot

      Yanni? Is that you?

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

    Awesome! please SNL get a move on so many laughs just waiting! Only thing better if Sarah would run, republicans
    are such a joke!

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

      But billy...they are not half as funny as your vice peep........Joe bumbling biden

      June 28, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  6. Betty

    Keep the yahoos comin GOP! You make this eaiser and eaiser for the democrats. Seriously, this is the best you got?

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

      Betty....spell check. It's "easier"

      June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  7. Roland

    Question other than Abortion can you show me where any of her policies are molded by a principle in the Bible?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  8. bachmanntwit

    I'd like to see her bump biscuits with Sarah Palin

    June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      lol! funny!

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

      Amazing how the media gives her a plus based off of not screwing up when everything is canned like in the first Republican debate, if that is what you call it! . Another Sarah. Watch when the sizzle is gone and you are left with the steak, or in her case, hamburger at best. I know there is some strong woman out there who would be strong candidates rather than the the Air Head Duo of Sarah and Michele. What in the world is this country coming to. Are these the kind of people we have as Governors (another one going to jail) and congressmen/woman!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Doug

      Dean is your average Democrat, his desire to lie and distort facts is a staple of that hate-filled ideology.

      Your proof is right there, Demobot Dean is trying to say that Blago lib who is the governor going to jail is a Republican. An obvious lie, you can just look at Blago and see the hate, dishonesty, and slimyness in his eyes as all the proof you need that he is a Democrat. They also tried to say that their lib weiner was a Republican too. As if all the lies and hate that Weiner spewed on the floor of Congress wasn't straight out of the hate-filled imagination of the Demo-bots like Dean who post their true demo colors at CNN daily.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  9. petercha

    Seems like the paid extreme liberals have taken over this comment thread.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Are you saying now we are job creators?

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

    Meet Michele Bachmann, the new Sarah Palin. On the bright side, hopefully nobody will buy into Sarah's peachy-keen world anymore so she can go find a real job.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  11. Kelly

    Hey Doug. That's it? that's your best? Her make up? Wow. So now we elect a president on looks?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  12. Overtaxed

    OMG! She doesn't have a -D after name, attack her CNN!!

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

      You have that one right. If she did have a "D" by her name, they would all be licking her feet and reporting on what a great woman she is.

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

      Good points, Overtaxed and Kelly.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      How exactly has CNN attacked her? I see nothing in this article that could be considered an attack.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  13. Roland

    Oh and please don't bring Christianity into it. Because their is nothing Christian in the republicans views. Other than abortion they are not christlike at all. Even on Taxes. What did Jesus say about Taxes? Why did Israel have a welfare system called gleaning? Regulations on how to treat animals? Regulations on how to DEBY Amnesty? In fact debt amnesty was directly taken from the bible's Jubilee year and Republicans BASTIONS of christianity that they are MADE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO CLAIM BANKRUPTCY. CHRISTIANITY IS MORE THAN ABORTION RIGHTS AND ADOPTING CHILDREN TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE YOUR SO ABOUT CHILDREN. Christianity shold reflect a mold your ideas and policies. The prosperity gospel isn't included in the real gospels.

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

      Standing up for true Christians now? I'm pretty sure it isn't the republicans who want the Ten Commandments removed from courthouses, under God removed from the Pledge, tax payer funded baby killing, etc, etc.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • petercha

      Good points, Overtaxed.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Ancient Curse

      Yes, Overtaxed, the GOP is great about holding on to Christian symbolism, but they're horrible about actually following Christ's teachings. Try being less Christian, and more Christ-like. Jesus loved the peace-makers, loved the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. What does the GOP do for those folks?? Shame. "What you do to the least of these, you do to me." Remember that stuff? Dear Lord, save us from these hypocrites...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  14. Jim in Florida

    This is one reason that Bachmann strikes abject fear into the Democrats"

    "In the 2009-2010 election cycle, Bachmann's campaign raised over $13.4 million for her re-election; the average House member raised about $1 million over the same election cycle. Roughly 96% of her contributions came from individual contributors, and of those, 56% were from small individual contributions and 40% were from large individual contributions.[158] Additionally, 3% came from PAC contributions and less than 1% from other sources" Wilkipedia

    The attacks on Bachmann will grow in number, in lies and in vulgarity.

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

      Obviousy Jim. After all it is hate, dishonesty, a lack of morals, and a desire to see those disagree with you harm or killed that defines one as a Democrat.

      Amazing that the Democrat of today are even more evil than their Demorat Forefathers who cut out eye holes in their while bedsheets and burned crosses.

      The dems went from burning crosses to wanting it to be a crime to wear one. They call this evolution of their hate progressive.

      I may support gay marriage, a woman's right to choose, and putting an end to victimless crimes, but more than all of these I could never wish harm or death on a fellow American soley because I disagree with their politics. That means the last thing I could ever do is vote Democrat. I have a moral obligation to vote Republican.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  15. jdgo

    "evangelical feminism......"

    well that's a new one....seems to be a contradiction in terms

    June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  16. J

    Bachmann is the new Palin.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • CrackHead Bob

      Only hotter and crazier.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  17. Kelly

    It looks as though CNN has a new woman to pick on and pick apart...Bachmann. I suppose the stories on Palin will now go on Page Two and be replaced by Bachmann! Typical of you CNN. So typical.

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

      The parade of GOP flakes make it too easy.

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

      Hey "J". Really? What about that clown of a Vice President you've got?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      A better VP from what was offered! HA!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Keith from Minnesota

      I live in twin city area of Minnesota, and have been a republican for 35 plus years. I have come face to face with Michelle Bachman twice, once at a parade and once at the State fair. In both meetings she would not make eye contact or make any attempt to shake my hand and ask for support like other politicians. I have attempted to locate a town hall meeting so that I could meet her, but she does most of these via teleconference, unlike her counterparts that really do hold meetings. She has been a foster mother to 20 some young girls. She does not seem to have an interest in being a foster parent for young boys, not sure why?? She was compensated for her foster care through government money’s She could only have up to 3 foster children at a time, plus her 5 children. Most families of that size have to rely on the children doing a lot of work, mentoring etc, parents just do not have the time. I had three kids and at times my wife and I struggled to provide all the attention they needed, I can’t imagine up to 8 at a time??? She started a charter school but left after a dispute about too much religion in the school. Ms Bachman does not like to answer direct questions about what she will do to correct a problem, but prefers to attack what ever is currently being done. I find her evasive, deluded, self serving, and a religious extremist. I do not think she has a firm grasp of complex economic problems. She is an attorney and should have a firm grasp of legal concepts. I am not in her district so I cannot vote for her. I do plan to work on her defeat when she comes up for reelection. Her district is only about a half hours drive from where I live. Bachman won house rep reelection with 53% of the vote. She has a majority and respectfully earned her seat. She is not universally respect like Minnesota house rep Jim Ramstad was, and Mr. Ramstad routinely got 65 to 70 % of the vote from 1991 to 2009. I have looked him in the eye and shook his hand, Jim should be running for president, not Ms Bachman. If we loved her here she would have won with 70 or 80 % of the vote. I doubt she would carry the state in a presidential race. A lot of my republican friends roll their eye’s when her name comes up. The republican Governor Tim Pawlenty 2002 to 20010 was instrumental in redrawing her district to favor election of Republicans, not too sure how much that helped her but the district is chopped up in a weird county configuration. My friends and I are hopeful that she moves back to IOWA where she was born.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  18. rod

    Bachmann is a fresh blood for the USA... for the American spirit to survive the onslaught of political mediocrity and sensual media!

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

      Do you really think so? I think she'll be great for comic relief except that none of it is funny. And, I am not a lefty! Sad indeed.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  19. Doug

    The picture she has on CNN's main page looks like she's wearing clown paint. That would be more fitting than any other label I've seen for her thus far...Clown!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      It's Jesus powder!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  20. Kelly

    Oh Yippee! CNN has a new woman to pick on and pick apart...Bachmann. I suppose the stories on Palin will now go on Page Two and be replaced by Bachmann! Typical of you CNN. So typical.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:48 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.