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. steelerguin

    Evangelical feminism. Hah! Sure seems to be scaring a lot of liberals.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  2. Loopa

    Usually I'm very supportive of women in politics, but I remember laughing at her years ago when she was in an audience listening to George Bush. The crazy expression she was making with her eyes made her look batsh1t. She seems mentally off.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  3. westy

    I like her! she is pretty!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  4. jramsey

    I agree that Bachmann and Palin should not be termed feminists. While they may be making progress being "out in the world", their use of call language and their dependence on their motherhood means that they only feel they can be out there because of a special exception, not a norm of equality. I would challenge you to find out what their theological stance on equality is and whether or not they would allow women to serve as ministers. A true feminist (which is a swear word in evangelical protestantism) would work towards full Biblical equality, not rest on being an exception.

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

      Spoken like a true liberal.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  5. Kelly

    Evangelical teabagger? Just what we need...another crazed zealot.

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

      Do not worry Kelly, this bimbo will never make it.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Carl Peter Klapper

      To my fellow replyer, I remember getting a lscrap of paper in my college mailbox announcing that a peanut farmer from Georgia, Jimmy Carter, was going to be talking with students in South Lounge about his campaign for President of the United States. "A peanut farmer from Georgia?" I remember thinking as I tossed the notice in the trash, "Fat chance he'll have of becoming President!"

      June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  6. jt_flyer

    The Republican party is out of control. WE NEED TO KEEP A SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. Have you people lost all sense? Has the collective brain of this great nation atrophied to such a pathetic state?

    June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • jt_flyer

      Go read your bible Bible Clown. Everything you need to know is in there. Forget politics. God hates politics.

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

      Everyone wants to take God out of everything but dont you see as we do America is faling behind. God blessed America for a long time because he was first in everything. Keep taking him out and see just how bad America gets.

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

      This is so sad: "Everyone wants to take God out of everything but dont you see as we do America is faling behind. God blessed America for a long time because he was first in everything. Keep taking him out and see just how bad America gets."

      I think you're thinking of some nafia hitman. That's that's not the God I know.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  7. Marie Kidman


    June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Please stop posting that.

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

      She's a freakin' nuisance

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  8. Bill

    I don't know what all the fuss is about, she was born in Canada and can't be president.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  9. Malkntnt

    As a member of MN who has seen better than most what Bachmann is really like, I'm going to tell you: Bachmann is a TRUE nutcase. She believes that GOD speaks directly to her. Her plans and ideas are truly frightening. She is scary in the worst ways possible. If she gets elected, even as VP, you can kiss all our butts goodbye. The rest of the world is laughing at us for our candidates. Do some research and read!!! She is even crazier than Pailin, but is a little bit smarter... she learned from the mistakes Palin made. Put a stop to this madness!!!

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

      God speaks to everyone if you listen! Most people dont because they dont put him first. Shes not saying he came down in a burning bush and called her name she is saying she has prayed on the issue and in her heart she feels this is the directin God is leading her in. Its about time we have someone who is themselves and doesnt care that people know she is a christian and that is her compass in life. Unlike most politicians who CHANGE with the wind including ou president now.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Carl Peter Klapper

      Obama doesn't think he needs to listen to God, because he believes he IS God.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  10. PHinMiami

    Michele Bachmann's distorted use of Christianity is a typical GOP front to portray themselves as Jesus Himself, all the while spewing hatred and intolerance. I'm ashamed of all Christians falling for this cheap portrayal of anything spiritual or moral. We all wondered at the charisma of Marshall Applewhite and Jim Jones, look again at this uneducated bunch of sheep. We all know why the really rich people support the GOP.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  11. eric!

    Being from Minnesota and having had to listen to her senseless lunatic rantings for the last six years, I can say one thing about Michelle Bachmann with absolute certainty: she is completely unelectable in a nationwide election

    June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Malkntnt

      Amen to that!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Carl Peter Klapper

      an Irish Catholic from a booze-smuggling family?
      the racist thug from Texas who probably had the Irish Catholic killed?
      Tricky Dick?
      Bumbling Gerald?
      a peanut farmer from Georgia?
      a B-movie actor?
      Mister "Big Mo"?
      Slick Willie?
      A community organizer from who knows where?

      No, these would never get in ?!?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  12. Mark from Middle River

    I hope she runs, after Obama's run I think we need another voice.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Have you actually heard her voice? It's shrill and whiny. What she says is shrill and whiny, too.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yes I have. See I have also heard ... let us say Obama speak and I can be very political and dismiss his speeches as being idiotic and base it only on my party affiliation.

      I won't but thats what most do. It all depends on the letter behind their name.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • tallulah13

      Mark: that means that the independent voter is once again the most important factor in the Presidential election. They tend to be a thoughtful bunch. Considering that the Tea Party is more vocal than they are popular, Bachmann probably wouldn't get many independent votes.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  13. Dex

    It's amazing how scared everyone is at the thought of a female president...and it is a little understandable after the first black president turned out to be an idiot, but I think this lady has substance.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      Surely you jest...

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

      Yeah, she has substance. It's a brown, moist, fecal substance. And she's bursting with it.

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

      It has nothing to do with female and has everything to do with issues. She really believes the GOD talks directly to her!!! Year ago she would have been put away and given electro-shock treatment for talking like that. She is a nutcase and only has the national stage BECAUSE she is a woman... any MAN talking like that would be laughed out of office. Give me a quality woman candidate and I'll vote for her. Bachmann is NOT it!!!

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

      If you think she has substance then you're the idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Yeah, but you also think Obama's an idiot so your opinion is worthless. He's obviously not an idiot, any more than Palin Lite© is a real candidate. Have you been snorting substance again?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  14. kris

    CNN is not about news anymore. learning from the wrong news media – faux.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yeah FoxNews and CNN... One is number two and the other has held the number one ti'tle for many years and is called FoxNews 🙂

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

      @Mark – Is that you impersonating David Johnson below?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  15. Liz

    wyllow61: education does not make someone superior to lead. There are many"highly" educated people who can't lead or think their way out of a box; nor does being a "Christian" make you more capable but it is hoped compassionate (SP). I know some very intelligent people who are "educated"; they have great ideas that work in theory but when the human factor is added they do not work in fact. There is a snob factor in your e-mail which I am sure you did not intend. A modest living wage to you might be a high life style to another. Cost of Living in NY City is far more than in my town, does that mean everyone should get the pay that NYers do? While I agree that large country wide corporations make alot of money the small business man does not. They put their own money into starting a business or get a loan against their houses to do so, they work all hours and are paid only after everyone else is (in most cases). Small business owners are the backbone of this country. I don't know much about Ms. Bachmann or her ideas, nothing in this article tells me anything other than that she is a Christian but until I hear more I will NOT eliminate her just because she is a "Christian" that would be just as bad as eliminating President Obama or anyone else because of a simple thing such as color of their skin. It is the ideas that they bring to the table that I'm concerned with not their religion, their skin tone or if they are highly "educated". Some of the smartest people I know have little more than a high school education, sometimes less than that. Keeping an open mind until all the information is in is American, deciding on one's religion, skin tone or just because they belong to a particular political party is down right stupid not to mention Un-American.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  16. Shark

    I have one question for her and one question for mormons. For her: Show me the word "Trinity" in the bible. For mormons: Show me the golden plates. Till those questions are answered no vote!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • sayagain

      Shark...not sure what your point is about "trinity." Christians often apply modern words to describe biblical concepts. The trinity is nothing more than the word we use to describe God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit–all three are clearly identified in the Bible. In fact, you won't find the word "Bible" in the Bible either! So what...its the word we use today to refer the collection of individual writings (scripture) that comprise the book we identify today as...the Bible. As for the golden tablets...I agree...show me the money!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  17. Stuart

    Do we really need an Anita Bryant for this decade? We need to vote for progress, not for some backwards thinking 50's TV mom wanna be.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Carl Peter Klapper

      The word "Trinity" and the expression "Triune God" are descriptive phrases for a concept which appears in the Great Commission, "baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost" and elsewhere. Another word that does not appear in the Bible is "monotheism", it describing the concept found in "Hear, O Israel, your Lord is One", "My Father and I are One" and "One God and Father of us all".

      This should be of little concern, however, since the word that is most descriptive of the Christian faith does appear in the Bible, repeatedly. That word is "love".

      June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  18. Daveid Johnson

    She is what she is: a goofball right-wing, un-informed, clueless twit.


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

      She also thinks American has 57 states!! .... Oh Wait!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • palintwit

      Hey ! I'm the clueless twit around here !

      June 28, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  19. Diggit

    The SECOND paragraph states – Bachmann is seldom described in those terms – Then why right an entire article saying she is? And make it the top news story of the day???

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


      June 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      . . . .becuase CNN has become the new FOX news.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      . . . .because CNN has become the new FOX news.

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

      @Daveid Johnson
      Why impersonate David Johnson? Why not act in the open. Be yourself. Quit trying to hijack the names of other people.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  20. Reality

    The education of Michele B. continues:

    Part III-

    1. origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482

    "New Torah For Modern Minds

    Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions – the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years – have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity – until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine docu-ment. "

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.

    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    Current RCC problems:

    Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!

    3. Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    4. Mohammed was an illiterate, womanizing, lust and greed-driven, warmongering, hallucinating Arab, who also had embellishing/hallucinating/plagiarizing scribal biographers who not only added "angels" and flying chariots to the koran but also a militaristic agenda to support the plundering and looting of the lands of non-believers.

    This agenda continues as shown by the ma-ssacre in Mumbai, the as-sas-sinations of Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh, the conduct of the seven Muslim doctors in the UK, the 9/11 terrorists, the 24/7 Sunni suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the 24/7 Shiite suicide/roadside/market/mosque bombers, the Islamic bombers of the trains in the UK and Spain, the Bali crazies, the Kenya crazies, the Pakistani “koranics”, the Palestine suicide bombers/rocketeers, the Lebanese nutcases, the Taliban nut jobs, the Ft. Hood follower of the koran, and the Filipino “koranics”.

    And who funds this muck and stench of terror? The warmongering, Islamic, Shiite terror and torture theocracy of Iran aka the Third Axis of Evil and also the Sunni "Wannabees" of Saudi Arabia.

    Current crises:

    The Sunni-Shiite blood feud and the warmongering, womanizing (11 wives), hallucinating founder.

    5. Hinduism (from an online Hindu site) – "Hinduism cannot be described as an organized religion. It is not founded by any individual. Hinduism is God centered and therefore one can call Hinduism as founded by God, because the answer to the question ‘Who is behind the eternal principles and who makes them work?’ will have to be ‘Cosmic power, Divine power, God’."

    The caste/laborer system, reincarnation and cow worship/reverence are problems when saying a fair and rational God founded Hinduism."

    Current crises:

    The caste system and cow worship/reverence.

    6. Buddhism- "Buddhism began in India about 500 years before the birth of Christ. The people living at that time had become disillusioned with certain beliefs of Hinduism including the caste system, which had grown extremely complex. The number of outcasts (those who did not belong to any particular caste) was continuing to grow."

    "However, in Buddhism, like so many other religions, fanciful stories arose concerning events in the life of the founder, Siddhartha Gautama (fifth century B.C.):"

    Archaeological discoveries have proved, beyond a doubt, his historical character, but apart from the legends we know very little about the circu-mstances of his life. e.g. Buddha by one legend was supposedly talking when he came out of his mother's womb.

    Bottom line: There are many good ways of living but be aware of the hallucinations, embellishments, lies, and myths surrounding the founders and foundations of said rules of life.

    Then, apply the Five F rule: "First Find the Flaws, then Fix the Foundations". And finally there will be religious peace and religious awareness in the world!!!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      blah blah blah. Nice novel!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Buddhism is not a religion.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Ted M.

      Actually Buddhism IS a religion. Look up the definition of religion instead of confusing it with "theism".

      June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Carl Peter Klapper

      Read "Historical Doubts Relative to Napoleon"

      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 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.