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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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Jim

    Oooh you lefities. You are so guilty of the intolerance that you accuse others of. You’re like the spoiled child who didn’t always get their way. You throw such tantrums and drain the world to the point of exhaustion because of your rants. Will you ever grow up? It’s funny how you judge a person based on their beliefs, yet you expect the world to tolerate yours. You shout cast “Intolerance” because that’s your only real weapon, crying and whining.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      STFU... how's that for crying and whining?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Whaaaat? I thought you had entire network for that?

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

      VERY good point, Jim.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • nowsgood

      So we're intolerant of ignorant, intolerant people? Is that your argument? Not very bright are you?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      That's all they got. That and the CAPS!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Dan Watson

      'Righties', or 'wrongies' if you will, have been chasing every race of human beings around the world since they first misinterpreted G-d's words. Claiming to be the victim of Religious intolerance would be like the KKK claiming harassment from blacks during the civil war. Religion is the foundation on which intolerance stands, which is why in this case it is A-OK to be intolerant of intolerance.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  2. Carol

    Americans should ask themselves if they want their country run as a Theocracy or if they still want to be known as the United States of America with freedom for all. Theocracy will never allow freedom for all.

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

      Michelle and the Tea Party are all about freedom for all – for all of THEM and nobody else.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Dan Watson

      Republicans should spend some time being chased around the world having their people slaughtered because they believe. Then they will know what it's like to be chased around the world because they read a different Holy Book or don't believe at all. That way they can write a new chapter in the bible called Synthesis, "How it is that we came to realize we were the enemy."

      June 28, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  3. Keith Ward

    She's rather clever in her own way She pretends to be an average American who hates gays and government (even though she's part of it) and she says stupid things in a stupid way so the other stupids out there feel a kinship with her. But underneath it all is an almost rabidly ferocious drive to become the first woman president of the U.S., and I do believe she will say or do anything to get there.

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

      And I hope she does, Keith. I hope she does.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Dan Watson

      At the very least, she's not Sara Palin. But she's still a slave to her husband.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  4. fastball

    Sorry...we need more calm, rational, intelligent discourse on issues.....not sweeping absolutes based on the Bible.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dan Watson

      You came to the CNN for intelligent discourse? Negative, this forum allows for people from all over the world to blog so we wind up with antagonistic chinese spouting off hate speech, we get Iranians carrying out sharia law by harassing Christians. There are very few people who come here to listen and discuss, they mostly come to be heard and to sow the seeds of discourse.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. george . No comment

    "Well what I want them to know is just like, John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too" -Rep. Michele Bachmann, getting her John Waynes mixed up during an interview after launching her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, where she grew up. The beloved movie star John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa, three hours away. The John Wayne that Waterloo was home to is John Wayne Gacy, a notorious serial killer. (June 2011)

    June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dan Watson

      Are you sure that waterloo wasn't chosen as foreshadowing for the Religious Right's last stand? I feel like Michelle's husband is Osama Bin Laden and he's throwing his wife in the line of fire to save himself.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Mateus

      Thanks Phil,It was great meeting so many nice peolpe who so warmly welcomed me and listened thoughtfully to my message. Regardless of what we believe about origins and destinies, we're all here together now, science shows us some of the problems we all face together, and we have a profound moral responsibility to be good stewards. I must say, I was nervous about how I'd be received. But I never thought that I could come as a secular speaker and get a standing ovation in an evangelical church. Miracles never cease. It was great meeting you. Carl

      September 9, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  6. Dan Watson

    If a woman is going to run for president, she should be a democrat. For some reason the GOP / Teaparty women just seem like brain washed zombies who have accepted their husbands assertion that they are responsible for original sin. I also don't see a bible belt wife standing up to her husband (who would be the first husband)without him beating her down with some kind of thick bible. Either way, Bachmann would be a puppet not a president.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Dan Watson

      Seriously. I would love to hear the Republicans explain how Michelle Bachmann could defy her husband's opinion on how to use presidential powers without that being a direct attack on G-d's will to leave women under men's thumbs.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  7. Roland

    Why is it everytime CNN writes an article about Republicans its attacking the Republican? I've read this 5 times and don't see 1 attack. Its more or less explaining about who she is and how comes from a long line of evangelical women who have done great things to progress this nation. THIS IS KNOCK ON SARAH PALIN AND MICHELLE BACHMAN COMING FROM ME. They do a disservice to the movement because they are not thinkers but are using the party lines and regurgitating them. AGAIN. FOR A WOMAN WHO SAYS SHE WAS CALLED BY GOD TO RUN for the president of the United States. Yet she can't show me other than Abortion where her positions are founded in the bible. SHE'S FULL OF CRAP.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  8. Doug J

    cbsnews has a great story now headlining on what the MAJORITY Americans really think about Bachmann and other political slobs.

    "Americans see their leaders in Washington as overpaid agents of wealthy individuals and corporations who are largely disconnected from the concerns of average Americans."

    June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  9. Rachel Piazza

    While it is important to the feminist movement that women are equally represented in government, (and this will necessarily include conservative women), women like Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin are not feminists. There may be many different definitions of feminism, but as far as I'm concerned, none of them include efforts to limit women's rights. However, while they are not themselves feminists, it may be argued that they are by-products of a feminist effort to increase women's leadership, and hence are serving that specific cause... (while simultaneously undercutting a vast majority of other feminist causes).

    rachelpiazza.tumblr.com

    June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      ...so....like a Taliban burqa lovin kind of feminist? Makes sense. Sure.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  10. Andrew

    Whatever happened ti separation of church and state?

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

      no crap... the last thing I want associated with my candidate is religion...
      I'm not an atheist, but I would love if my candidate is. I'd rather not have religious beliefs clouding their judgement or driving their agendas.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • Miso Moses

      Andrew! The big legal battle of protections in the NY STATE Gay Marriage thing was that "Faith-based" organizations get taxpayer money to run their programs. Tax money is going to CHURCHES, SYNAGOGUES AND MOSQUES and who knows what!!!!! The religious organizations would have lost their money – your money if the republicans hadn't put protections in!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  11. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    Hopefully, she is an historical trivia question in the making.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  12. Steve

    Evangelical feminist?!? This woman will set women back 30 years.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Miso Moses

      Don't underestimate her. Does her sect stone witches in Africa like Sarah Palin's does?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  13. Steve

    It does not matter to me who the GOP gets. President Obama is good for the country and our future. He got a country left behind by 8 years of bad policy in a mess and has done a good a job as one could. This currant crop of GOP is far worse than Bush was so imagine what they would do in the name of freedom should they get back in.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Ituri

      Agreed. I'm disappointed with Obama, but I'm also realistic enough to remember he himself said it would take several terms to solve the problems Bush left behind.

      She would just be a female Bush, a zealot with a religious drive and nothing more. She'll create religiously inspired laws and further cement the US as the 2nd class theocracy they're trying to turn it into.

      NO MORE EVANGELICALS as president. We've seen what they do when they get power, and it CANNOT happen again. I'm so sick of the religious hordes voting in their religious companions and ignoring leadership potential entirely. And I'd be ashamed if THIS was the first woman president.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Fresno

      "This currant crop of GOP is far worse" Are they raisin hell?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  14. Miso Moses

    Michele Bachmann has more integrity and is smarter than Sarah Palin. I will say that . . . but its like saying that Stalin was better than Hitler . . . its relative . . .

    June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      Hitler was elected President of Germany. Michele is the president of my clown club.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Miso Moses

      I would love to visit her "community" just for fun, John! I would like to see who or what votes for her.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  15. nowsgood

    Bachmann is just the new face of crazy and stupid. Why can't the teabaggers come up with an intelligent, sane candidate?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Miso Moses

      Its hard to find not stupid and crazy when the whole platform is stupid and crazy. Conservatives sounding smart died with Wm. F. Buckley.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • John Wayne Gacy

      Because they are teabaggers. Duh!

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Miso Moses

      You didn't notice half the teabaggers leaving the Crazy Train after they started picking on Unions?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Because they are teabaggers!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  16. Spacial

    Sorry and this will probably not pass CNNs muster for posting but this woman is not qualified to be President. In all honesty everyone running so far is useless. America is really in a decline with the calibur of people in office. We deserve to have the Chinese take us over.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • The Chinese

      We're not interested. Solve your own problems.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  17. Steve

    She's as dumb as a stump.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • A Stump

      I wouldn't vote for her. Do you think I'm dumb?

      June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  18. Billy

    HahahahahahHahaha!

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

    Is this a bad comedy or what?

    June 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Comedians for Bachmann: It's Comedy Gold! You can't make this stuff up.

      June 28, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  20. hayfield

    I would vote for her if she was new blood. But she is already a politician...nah.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:54 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.