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. David, CA

    The latest from this twit: Bachmann, points out that John Wayne, the actor, was from Waterloo. “That’s the kind of spirit I have, too,” Bachmann said. Small problem: John Wayne didn’t hail from Waterloo. The most famous John Wayne from Waterloo is John Wayne Gacy, the infamous serial “killer clown” of Chicago, who was convicted of killing more than 30 young men in the 1970s.

    Is Michelle telling us she's a serial killer? Or just a clown?

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

    Well, honestly, I haven't bothered to get to know this candidate in depth yet, but I think, as a Democratic leaning person, her candidacy is good news. The more the Tea Party gets what they want in a presidential candidate, the more votes they will leech from the Republican box. Yes, some conservative leaning Democrats may do the same, but there can be no doubt to whom the Tea Party's ultra-conservative message will appeal more. Her hypocritical views on socialism in light of her acceptance of huge amounts of federal subsidies for her pork farm, the height of socialistic practice, will become a big issue later on, and she hasn't even been under the national spotlight for very long. Initial conclusion: This dog won't hunt.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  3. Tom

    There's no such thing as "evangelical feminism." You're either a feminist and believe in equal rights for all, or you believe in the Bible which is full of language that suppresses women, minorities, and animals.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • PA Resident


      June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  4. Kathryn

    Dear CNN,

    Please do not tear another political woman apart. Please stop comparing her to CNN. What is going on with this fact checker of yours. I get it, she is a Tea Party candidate so she should know her history. I believe she does, she wasn't far off on her John Wayne comment, after all his parents lived there, and the John Quincy Adams remark that he was a founding father, as she explained, is somewhat true. He was John Adams son! Okay, we will just call him the founding son.
    My point is get off her CNN. Quit attacking female politicians. Oh and Mr. Religious man, please start talking about Romney and him being a Mormon. Pick that apart!!!

    Build this woman up! Not put her down. For shame CNN.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • tallulah13

      Why should CNN "build up" any candidate? Who cares what her gender is? We need an informed, capable president who is willing to put aside their personal faith and start working to help ALL Americans. We need jobs, not prayers. We need a balanced budget, not greater division in this country. Until Americans put aside their personal beliefs and greed for the greater good, we will continue to have increasing crime and homelessness, a crumbling infrastructure and a dying nation.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • skytag

      This woman is an idiot whose primary talent is playing a crowd. What thinking person cares if she's from the same town or even state as John Wayne, for God's sake? She's just like Palin, a master at playing people with comments that evoke emotional responses to claims of patriotism. And half the time she does it she gets her facts wrong, just like Palin. What a couple of frauds.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • hippie power 69

      kathryn, get your head out of your azz. bachmann is crazy. she is no feminist either. if she were she would believe in equal rights for all, women, men and gays. she is a stupid hater. i hope she is the repug candidate, i could only pray. it is not cnn's responsibility to "build up" any candidate, she should be doing that herself. if she wants to be president she better get her american history correct. she makes herself look stupid, no one has to do that for her.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  5. AMSP

    Google her prayer for a "controversial ministry" on Youtube... you will not believe your ears. She is very confused about the world around her. I would be scared to live to somebody like that and I sure as heck can't imagine her running the country the size of the US. Can you picture somebody like Michelle Bachman trying to find a common denominator with the president of Russia, China or any EU country? We would not have any allies left if she wins.

    It's not even funny that she is nominated to run.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  6. yep

    Nothing new here. Same old right wing politics....

    June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  7. Johnny

    Join Michael Moore on his cruzade to save American citizens.

    Call Hillary at 202 647-4000 and
    Ask Her to Care Whether U.S. Citizens Live or Die

    Follow the Freedom Flotilla on Twitter
    @USBoatToGaza | #Flotilla2 | #FreedomFlotilla2

    June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
    • 1gadawg

      time to get of the computer, your 'short' bus is coming...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  8. Maine Liberal

    Evangelical Luthern - a church that supports civil unions, gay ministers ...

    June 28, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  9. shadysider

    Look at her eyes. There is a whole bag of crazy in them.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Bible Clown

      They are like black holes opening into an alternate universe where everyone is evil.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  10. Kald

    There is no such thing as "Evangelical Feminism". It is an oxymoron. In fact, putting those words together in full seriousness in a headline like CNN does here is a bad mistake.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Legal Eagle

      I was going to say the same thing. It's like they want the general public to believe that there could be such a thing. You can't be subjugated by a religion on the one hand, while pushing against the dogma of that religion on the other. It's simply not possible.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  11. Jomomma

    Wait...evangelical feminism? Isn't that an oxymoron? It's like saying someone is the face of National-Socialist Judaism...or African-American Klansman-ism...or...well, you get the picture...

    June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Bible Clown

      It's like saying Obama is a Communist Fascist, which I think she did say somewhere. Down the rabbit hole agan.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Jomomma

      Haha...yeah, and anyone who follows these people is showing their lack of fundamental critical thinking skills. This woman is bat-sh** crazy...period.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  12. Chas in Iowa

    Bachman is a spokesman for the Koch brothers hiding behind a Christian Evangelical facade.
    She represents marxism american style.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Chas in Iowa

      Ignore the little men behind the curtain, The great Oz has spoken".

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

      Fascism, not Marxism. She is fine with private capital, as long as it's in the "right hands".

      June 28, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Naah, marxism is generally more of a left-leaning thing. "Marxism" generally just means Marx' analysis that the rich get richer until one guy has all the money, without his stupid ideas on how to fix that. "Socialism" and "communism" are post-Marxist ideas about how to stop that guy from getting all the money(look at England and China for bad examples of both systems). "Fascism" is when you get your gang and just take over by sheer numbers united behind a strong leader, and run things the way you want without worrying much about laws, and that's what I hear Bachmann saying: "Trust me instead of Law and Order."

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

      Hey Bibleclown, a nice short summary of communism/socialism/fascism! Free education for the unwashed teabagging masses!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Chas in Iowa

      I was taught for right or wrong that Marxism was a movement to enpower the big business and corporation to influence the government to the point where they are in essance spokesman for the government without regard to the citizenry.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  13. Spacial

    Chris Wallace said it best. "Are you a flake?". Yep in my opinion she is a flake. Heaven forbid if she ever becomes President.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Crunchy Evangelical Flakes: Eat all you want because they have zero content.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  14. Rose

    She looks and acts like a Stepford wife, and I want to know who's holding her remote!

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

    Oh no, not another Palin! She's got a big mouth and no substance.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  16. Doc

    Please stop using the term "Evangelical" with someone who is a Christian. They are not necessarily one in the same and in this case I'm quite sure that this is true. Evangelical comes from one who is an Evangelist. I'm quite sure she is not.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  17. The Big Brain

    Big Brain cannot fathom this. Please help!

    June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  18. get real

    An evangelical is one who passionately spreads the word – not neccessarily Christian. There are Muslim evangelicals, atheist evangelicals, fitness evangelicals, etc. A Christian evangelical theoretically spreads the word, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Rev. Jim Wallis is a true Christian evangelical. I'll leave it up to you to determine whether Bachman, Palin etal are truly spreading the word of Jesus Christ.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  19. Rose

    Michelle Bachmann doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Hillary Clinton!

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

      Is that because she didn't ride to the top on her hubby's coattails?

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

      HC was a top lawyer who made more money than BC until he became prez, I agree no one should use the two women in the same sentence.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  20. Michael

    The irony here is that she has soooooo much makeup on that she looks "fake"...kind of like most of the women of the GOP (See Ms Gingrich, Laura Bush, etc., etc). They hate Hillary and women that are not pretty and made up like dolls (note her fake eye lashes as well). If she took all of that off...they would run from her in a second. Palin is the same thing. If she was plain they would have never looked at her. So much for Feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      No joke.

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

      Make-up really? They all wear make-up. Why is her make-up bothering you?

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

      Over 2,100 comments and still going....
      Many people have an interest in Michele Bachmann...after all, the future of this country depends on good people like Michele coming forward and speaking truth. I have great confidence in her ability to lead this country back to greatness. [She is a natural beauty besides!]

      June 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • skytag

      @CatholicMom: "the future of this country depends on good people like Michele coming forward and speaking truth"

      It's hard to believe people are actually stupid enough to be taken in by this woman. Her biggest talent is the ability to play fools like you. Tell the truth? She has the worst file of any politician on PolitiFact. Out of 26 statements they've fact-checked only one is rated True. 11 are rated False and 7 are rated Pants on Fire. 5 are rated Barely True. So more than 75% of them are rated False or Pants on Fire. Yeah, she's really speaking the truth, in Right-wing Bizarro World.

      Only a complete idiot believes the nonsense Bachmann spouts.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
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