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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. Nate

    The media needs to stop giving so much attention to these women. It's the media that's upsetting everybody by shoving people like Bachmann and Palin in our faces.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  2. SoSad

    She is a racist, bigoted, female, who twists facts around. Oh yeah and she's an idiot!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yeah... ask H.Clinton about what really happened to Vince Foster and get back to us.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  3. misterfatcat

    fool for christ...or just plain fool
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l0rUBomKvY0&w=640&h=360]
    a sad indictment on us that we take people like bachmann seriously
    no wonder we're going in the toilet
    swirl, my lovelies...

    June 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  4. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  5. james

    Hillary Clinton is a very articulate, intelligent and experienced public servant. I do not personally like her, but I recognize the respect she has earned. Michele Bachmann is a very inarticulate, inexperienced, and apparently closed-minded religious zealot, who frequently tells outright lies and gross exaggerations for political gain. The fact that they are both female is perhaps the only similarity one could cite.

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

      heyJames: i am a fan of Hillary............othewise i agree with everthing you say about Michelle Bachman she is one of the most mean sprited 'Wicked'! Female politicians that's in this campagin (more so than Palin) I think she's STUPID & egotistcal it would be a big SCARY disaster if someone like her was running this country!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  6. Scheer

    Only liberals would support a woman who 'stood by her man' even though he cheated on her and lied to the public. What nerve you all have measuring how much of a feminist Ms. Bachmann really is. A woman who actually DID something on her own, is educated, is a mother, and can still be a successful woman, and yet liberal continue to make fun of her and bring her down in the most mean vindictive way. Liberalism, to me, is pure phoniness. If CNN did the kind of reporting on Obama that they do on Palin and Bachmann, only the losers of the losers would've voted for that fraud.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • nerve9

      So what, exactly, has Michelle Bachman "done" besides spread lies?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  7. tallulah13

    I honestly don't care what a candidate looks like, as long as they are less interested in religion than they are in creating jobs, improving the economy and fixing our failing infrastructure.. That's the problem with these religious conservatives: They seem to care more about their personal wealth and enforcing their personal beliefs than they do about people losing jobs, families losing homes and children going hungry.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • mhcoolm

      *like*

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  8. Darwin

    If Bachmann is a devout Evangelical Christian, then she has to 1) believe in talking snakes and donkeys 2) drink blood every Sunday 3) reject modern geology and believe that the earth is only 6000 years old 4) believe that some bimbo 6000 years ago ate a piece of fruit for which transgression each of us carries "original sin" 5) reject modern science and Darwinian evolution because it conflicts with the Bible. HEY! – Just who we need in the WHITE HOUSE!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      She has to .... It always makes me laugh when folks say that folks must be this or that. If you are a Liberal does that mean that the person "has to support" Gay marriage... we can see from the Prop 8 vote that there are libs that do not agree with Gay marriage. They did a poll and there were Democrats that doubt if Obama was a Christian or a Muslim.

      But still we have fools that say if you are this you "must" believe in this or that.

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

      It's funny how little you understand about religion.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  9. Floyd Robare

    All the men has not done a good job so why not give a woman a change i would vote for her.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  10. Diggit

    The very 2nd paragraph states – Bachmann is seldom described in those terms – Then why write an an entire article saying she is? And make it the top news story of the day?? CNN you're making it hard to be here todaywith this ridiculous bs article in our face.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  11. JoJo

    Another one to whom God speaks. Another "Christian" who enthusiastically supports massive unnecessary violence and callousness towards the poor.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  12. yeah

    The world is becoming more connected and ignorance is under attack. This is an example of that ignorance fighting back to the threat it's facing from rational thinking. 50 or 100 years ago in this country these type of people would have been the norm in American politics, now they are coming to be considered extremist. The best thing we can do is to allow them to participate on the national stage. Theocrats and their followers will be brought out into the open to be picked apart by reason and truth.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  13. lolsigh

    Hilary was an ICON for feminists but was not one, Michele is a feminist therefore she would not be a good candidate for anything. Would be like electing a KKK member into office, a feminist will simply create a biased system for men as feminists "equal rights" are simple reverse opression.

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

      "would be like electing a kkk to office"

      You are a liar or wrong. Michele is not a Democrat. Democrats elect klan members to office not Republicans. Robert Byrd DEMOCRAT SENATOR from West Virginia is the last klan member to be in elected office. He almost became President and outside of maybe Ted Kennedy, has been the face of the Democrat hate party for the past 50 years.

      Dems started the klan and have as recently as 5 years ago had a klan member in congress. That is the truth, what you posted is a lie. Republicans tell the truth, Democrats lie. Thanks for allowing for the truth to be stated!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  14. stonedwhitetrash

    my opinion is just as good as anyone else two words "Hypocritical airhead"

    June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Billie

      Airhead indeed. I suppose you have your doctorate as well as other advanced degrees. I'm sure you've started your own successful small business. I'm sure you are a tax attorney (one of the most tedious and focus-driven areas of practice). I'm sure you know best. Isn't it amazing that an accomplished woman is so quickly labeled an "airhead"? I may not agree with her on every political talking point and I'm not saying I'm going to vote for her. What I am saying is that she is a highly intelligent and successful woman. I guess that means that the liberal media will do exactly as you are doing. Pop a label on her and dismiss her as inconsequential. Sad. Do your homework.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  15. tbazz

    "The New Face of Evangelical Feminism"?? When was there anything called "evangelical feminism" and who the heck was the "old face"? What will the media think of next?

    June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Diggit

      God you got that right. Sometimes I wonder who's running this place.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  16. Shelby

    Its sad that someone will use that ugly "F......" word to describe someone who isn't acting selfishly and self centered as the "F...." word actually implies. Women who aspire to the "F...." role only promote ideals that secure lives without expectation upon themselves by society or their family through things like abortion, career orientedness, and a me me me culture. "F....." aspire to k i l l the attributes that truly make women important and needed such as, motherhood, nurturing, teaching, giving, self sacrificing and love. I was raised never to say nasty things like the "F" word, in all its forms.

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

      I noticed you excluded "Good wife" in that list of attributes that make a woman important. Good for you.

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

      I think feminism is a great quality. Sadly, this crazy prehistoric belief witch wants to revoke freedoms that other people are receiving at a much faster rate than women did. She's a lunatic,

      June 28, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  17. NSHSDad

    "evangelical feminist" is an oxymoron

    June 28, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      No, just a teabag moron...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Andrew

      Exactly what I came in to post. Feminism and Evangelical Christianity are like oil and water, one seeks to advance the rights and equality for women and the other pushes women back to pre civil rights era barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  18. Disgusted Republican

    Michele, you are just another pretty face with none of the qualifications or characteristics necessary for the office of President of the United States. If you are the best the Tea Party republicans has to offer, the Tea Party republicans are in serious trouble.

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

      Pretty face? Did I miss something?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:21 am |
  19. Civilguy

    And now the hate begins! All the people that have no clue but are scared as hell will spew hate and lies about things they have no clue about but hope others will believe!
    How sad you life is to lie about someone you have no clue about....

    Is there some Left website with a list of lies that all left blogger/posters/trolls should be leaving on any and all comment posts? Real funny how they can't get specific but they sure can get personal..... I guess that is what happens when you get backed into a corner with no way out....... whatever it takes........lies, lies and more lies.......... head in sand....

    June 28, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Epic rant. So you don't like Bachmann?

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

      I don't vote for people I have no clue about.

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

      So you voted for McCain? Bayrock definitely gave anyone enough information (the "present" voter) to make an informed decision. Bayrock wants the debt ceiling raised, yet voted against it when the junior senator because it was irresponsible.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • nerve9

      Actually, no. There is no website like you described. However, there is one for Republicans. It's called Fox News.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  20. Johnny

    Israel promised to use snipers and attack dogs against American citizens on the US boat to Gaza..

    Join Michael Moore on his cruzade to save the Americans.

    michaelmoore.com
    DO SOMETHING:
    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 11:19 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.