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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. bozon

    This congenital idiot would never be on these pages or in the spotlight if the Koch brothers hadn't bankrolled the Tea Party.. When are these dupes going to wake up and realize they are a mouthpiece for corporate america and the strategy of focusing the electorate on social issues while high crimes and misdemeanors are perpetuated daily on the american people!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Soooooo...You are saying the current president is committing High Crimes and Misdemeanors? You libtards are the mouthpiece for NAMBLA.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Mavent

      It's a good thing that "people" (and I use the term loosely) like Moose Knuckle have cliches, insults, and name-calling to fall back on, because otherwise they'd never be able to post AT ALL.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Joe

      The contribution of the Koch brothers pales when compared to the billions that Soros spills into the system to manipulate democracy...but you don't have a problem with that do you ...hypocrite !

      June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Mavent

      @Joe: where did he say that he "didn't have a problem" with Soros, you idiot?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Moose Knuckle

      MAVENT, you frigging simpleton. You criticize me for name calling, and you call Joe an idiot. You are too dumb to be on the internet. Go away dummy.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Soupbone

      Joe is apparently posting from an Insane Asylum that caters to elderly Nazi whackjobs. The Kochs and Murdock have created the largest Media empire in history, yet here Joe is, whining about an elderly Holocaust victim who donates to NPR. And why? Because Glen Beck told him to.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Moose Knuckle

      It's Libtards, Gays, Women, and Jews that have ruined this once-great Nation for the pure Aryan races who founded it.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Mavent

      I apologize, Moose Knuckle. Had I realized you were ten years old, I would have just ignored you.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  2. Mark Williams

    Way to move "backwards" America. Although I think this fruitcake has zero chance at taking on Obama. I'm going home tonight and telling my wife to quit college and get back in the kitchen, gender roles are trending back!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Paul Ronco

      Do not underestimate this extremely dangerous politician. She is both attractive AND articulate.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Joe

      I see, traditional values = dangerous, radical big government oppression = good. Gotcha.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  3. sgrile

    She has a gay sister that she conveniently likes to leave out. She should be ashamed

    June 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  4. C

    I am somewhere in the middle when it comes to politics. Both sides have good and bad ideas. I'd heard a lot about this fiery person with convictions, so I thought she would make things interesting. Now I've seen interviews with her, even on her home turf (i.e. Fox News, which she now blames for her questionable interview skills). Wow, what a disappointment. Just another talking head. No substance. Stumbles over almost every issue that matters. if you want some one to tell you how to live instead of being able to run the government effectively, she is right up the alley with the rest of them. Once again, another election where we really don't have a true choice.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  5. Jake

    For centuries "feminist" fought for women to have the right to be in leadership positions from generals, CEO's, to senators and governors and God forbid, maybe even become the President. And what did the conservative women of those times do? They criticized the "feminists" for "disrupting the family structure" and argued that women belonged at home to raise children. Yes, todays "conservative women"....would be yesterday's liberal women. It's good to see "conservative women" taking advantage of all the "feminists" accomplished for them in the past.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  6. paul

    Just another teabagger nutter. I would vote for her if I wanted a hole in my head.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Moose Knuckle

      You seem to think about teabagging a lot, Paul. Are you needing your balloon knot stretched?

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

      It sounds as though you already have a hole in your head, and that your brains have leaked out.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Joe

      you should be teabagged for being so naive.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  7. Rob

    Quote "“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.”

    This is the exact reason I fear the faithful. By the act of closing their eyes, and talking to their God, they confuse themselves from being able to distinguish between their thoughts and the thoughts of God. Just because you pray for guidance does not mean your very next thoughts are from God. "Being called' means nothing more then they have decided to go forward with something, and have told God of their intentions and his silence has been taken as an approval. There is no pragmatic difference whatsoever from what a believer does to "Be Called" and when an atheist decides to pursue a dream.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • nowsgood

      Bush believed God wanted him to invade Iraq. She's basically admitting that she hears voices in her head. Crazy for President anyone?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • SnarkyMom

      Enough of that Satanic LOGIC, Rob.

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

      How interesting that what "God" tells them to do is exactly what they want to do anyway. Blaming God is a convenient way of shifting the blame from themselves.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Mavent

      None of this changes the basic fact that Atheists are d0uchebags.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • smallzy

      So true, people that are truly called don't preach from a pulpit BEFORE they do something worthwhile, they toil in the depths until their selflessness is noticed and then they are encouraged to share whatever it is they realized along the way, this women preaches her OPINIONS...nothing more, it is most certainly not the "word of God".

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • KENTULSA

      Rob, you are clueless on the subject you address. A "calling from God" results from a foundational faith that trusts God to lead your life. A Christians struggle is to recognize the difference between guidance from the Holy Spirit and your own desires, but knowing that God will regularly re-direct your path when you head off in your own directions.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • chuck

      So sad Rob, Need to read the bible and pray. don't try to explain something you know nothing about. I guess you want someone who makes decisions based on themselves. do you think their is someone who is motivated to do more for other people and not themselves? Hmmmmmmmmmm....You have no examples do you. Those who say they want to do good for others because they want to, only do it for selfish reasons. An atheist that does something good does it for a reward and it's not always money. A true christian does it because they want to please Jesus and no reward is expected because he already paid the price for our salvation.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  8. jaydee

    Please be the repub presidential selection, no way in hell will she win. WHAT A BIG DING-A-LING.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  9. john316

    I think the "Mama Grizzlies" should be at home taking care of the cubs.....how will she be able to devote enough time to her 300 children.....that's why she should be advocating that women stay at home cleaning and cooking and producting offspring for Daddy Grizzly......

    June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Joe

      so only liberal women should have rights ? That's very open-minded of you.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Mavent

      @Joe: Why not? After all, they're the ones who FOUGHT for Rights, as opposed to Conservatives, who fought against them.

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

      oh, they "fought" for the rights...like the right to ignore damaging actions against a woman if they disagree with their politics. The feminist movement in this country is the height of hypocrisy.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  10. nowsgood

    This woman is just one of many daily illustrations of how rabid and absolutely insane the right wing has become in this country.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  11. HAHAHAHAHAHA

    She opened her presidential campaign by saying she had the spirit of a serial killer...this campaign is really going places.

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

      no she didn't but you drink the liberal media kool-aid so you want to believe that.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  12. GOP hypocrisy

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9HvHQJYVrk&w=640&h=390]

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

      Too funny. But seriously, people actually fall for this garbage. She sounds so phoney. Religion and politics should never be combined because we end up with nutcases like this, and vulnerable people seem to gravitate toward religion.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      "...Alpha and Omega...and Lambda" she is either a sorority girl, or promoting AOL?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  13. SnarkyMom

    Yes, as a progressive woman I would definitely describe Bachmann (someone who is eager to take away my reproductive freedom) as a feminist. I hope my daughter's will follow her example. More women should rise up with their male counterparts and oppress their own gender.

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

      I see all of the usual progressive types are on here providing their uninformed opinions. Your clown in the White House is causing this country to go down the drain but you press on with your blind loyalty. I have news for you, not everyone agrees that abortion should be the law, that gay marriage is good, and that the white man is the cause of all that is evil. In fact, I venture to say that the opinions expressed on this site represent the deviants in society.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • S.

      Right? I'm tired of these right wing women labeling themselves as feminists. Newsflash: Words mean things. You can not call yourself a feminist if you support the ideology that teaches women are required to pump out babies every time an egg happens to be fertilized in their womb. You can not call yourself a feminist if you support the political party that wants to cut funding to organizations that provide health care, food, clothing, and shelter for low income women and their children. You can not call yourself a feminist if you actively participate in the oppression of women.

      Palin, Bachmann, and all these other so called "Evangelical feminists" need to stop trying to hijack the feminist movement. They are NOT feminists.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • Joe

      I see, so using your logic only a liberal who believes in abortion is a "feminist". Republicans and conservative women who are self-made, successful, and seek to impact society fall short because only liberals know what "real" women want. Right...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Laughing

      @ Joe

      I was hoping that someone who shared my name would make better comments, us Joe's have to stick together! However its sad that you believe when someone goes against your point of view they're just typical liberal elitists, but when someone agrees with you it's fair and unbiased. Kind of crazy really, but let me be the first to tell you, Michele Bachman (regardless of other liberal or conservative candidates) is a nutjob and should never, ever be allowed into office.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  14. smallzy

    Great, just what we need, another loudmouth that speaks for the blowhard minority...evangelical feminist? what does she do for fun, preach to groups of women in pantsuits?

    June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  15. Paul Ronco

    “Now we have women communicating the truth of the matter, which is that abortion is really destroying a lot of women,” she says.

    Abortion may in fact be destroying a lot of women. So do cigarettes. It's not a justification for criminalizing either.

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

      I wouldn't believe a word that dropped from her mouth unless I verified it with John Wayne first.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  16. Marie Kidman

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

    .

    June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  17. SV

    Amen! You go sister!

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

      Yes, go. And don't let the door hit your nasty butt on the way out. Just go.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  18. Dennis

    She looks like a Senior member of the ruling council in "A boy and his dog"

    June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  19. shadysider

    Michelle has mistaken her conscience as God. Too bad her 'God' has skewed her conscience. Fire and brimstone should have been put forth towards Wall Street Investment bankers and those who lied to get us into wars. It isn't the gays or NPR who destroyed our economy, Michelle.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • ft7350

      Yes it is this administration that is destroying the economy. The massive borrowing, spending and printing of $'s that this administration has driven is unbelievable. There are basic economic principles that are being put aside for this radical liberal agenda. As Rome burns, Nero is playing golf.

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

      ft7350 – The morass into which the economy resides was inherited from W Bush. And, since you probably do not comprehend it, the govt does not "print" more money when it lends or borrows. Something like 99% of the total of money is in patterns of magnetism or light or a similar medium on computers. As to the lending, that was a Bush program from which the govt has reaped a significant profit.

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

      another lecture courtesy of the Democrat talking points. Yep, you are officially a mindless zombie now.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  20. nowsgood

    Since G.W. wrecked the country, the teabaggers have been searching for someone dumber than him. I believe they've got a bumper crop of stupid and crazy in the the GOP primary. They should be really excited about this.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Charles

      I don't like her either, but sorry, she is 50 times more intelligent than GW who makes her look like Einstein, albeit a moral bully Einstein who can't pin the blame on the right party, but alas, I don't think she'll be becoming "the decider" any time soon

      June 28, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      It's ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU....GOP STYLE

      June 28, 2011 at 11:09 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.