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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.”

ALSO:

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

Explain it to me: What's Mormonism?

Opinion: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Joe

    Once again CNN is carrying the water for the Dem party.. As soon as a Repub gets in the race CNN attacks and the Liberals run to this site to show how scared and jealous they are of a true strong woman.. You ppl are why the country is a mess and cant get out from under its problems.. Its u who voted in the guy who cant make a decision in Washington and now is only worried about getting elected again.. As a voter I find myself pushing more and more away from everything Dem.. Sorros, Jon Steward, Accorn, Van Jones, Unions, Ill Imigration.. You have just become a party of "do anything for a vote" and not care what it will do to this great country...

    June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yeah ...but even as a Republican, you gotta admit we do the same thing over at FoxNews. I just like playing on the Democrats playground because they really are no difference than us. Lots of preaching and testifying to the choir.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Joe Mama

      Mark – Smartest thing I've heard all day. Thank you.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Joe

      I dont agree.. CNN is trying to rally the "troops" and make them hate her just like they got their koolade drinkers to hate Palin.. Cnn knows that their readers are not very smart and will follow anything they say.. They use the comparision to Clinton (Libs will attack anything compared to their heorHilary) and then CNN metions Palin (Liberals will attack at just the thought of Sarah)..

      Fox reports the news and its why they rate much higher then any other news program.. Cnn wont even report on certian stories because it may show Obama in a bad way.. Thats not the news and its not working for them based off the ratings...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • The Right Left

      The country will be just fine as soon as we get rid of the backward looking, religous, right wingnut bigots. When people hear voices in their head their thoughts and positions must be challenged. Bachman is just another snake oil merchant, no different than Huckaboo, Glenn the Becker, Sarah The Palinzer and others who are trying to worm their way into the WH brining divine rules concocted in theri head. Waht are we going to do next; Allow Abraham to slaughter his child because he hears voices in his head. We have a place for such people – The mental hospital with iron bars to keep them in.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Joe

      So all you can think to do is attach the fact she belives in god but you have nothing to say on her political views????? You really are a Dem.. Just attack and try to divide ppl... I am not a god person but I am pretty sure beliving in God is not the worst thing in the world like your making it out to be.. If she was a muslim I bet you wouldnt have the guts to attack her then... Your attack is just on Repubs and you will use anything you dont agree with as a tool... You just cant see past your party and see what might be best for this country...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • The Right Left

      78% of Faux Noise watchers have no college education. Only 6% have a 4-year college degree. CNN: 28 percent college grads, 43 percent age 50+, 31 percent high knowledge. Source PEW research. BTW. O'Reilly has the dumbest of audience. Same source.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Joe

      So now your going back to making up stats when you cant explain why everyone is not just like you.. So all the rich ppl that you claim are repubs are also dumb and never went to college??? Please dont make stuff up and just throw it out there.. Leave that up to Obama and his fantasy about how ATMs ruined the country..

      June 28, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Joe

      Obama got 95% of the black vote... Why do you libs always forget that stat???? If McCain got 95% of the white vote it would be a case of race but its ok for the blacks to do the same thing???? Please just stop because i feel your not smart enough to argue with me...

      June 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • The Right Left

      Joe: The rich REPUBS like the Koch Brothers are the real masters of your universe. They use these political hacks to rally the ignorant troops, just like they Southern land and slave owners did to the southern poor. 98% of the causalities were the southern poor who never owned any land nor slaves. Yet they died to preserve the wealth and power of the few. A few learned and selfish at the top using people like yourself to promote their agenda. You are a victim of their money and propaganda. Check the main source of funds for the TEA BAGGING movement and they lead you directly to the richest, trying to avoid paying their fair share of taxes, abolishing minimum wage, no healthcare and no consumer protection. Stop being fooled.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  2. ian

    she is hot at 56, but do i see her as prez? hehe, PLEASE! i'm peein' in my pants, i'm laffin so hard.
    there are a lot of smart repub women. how sad this is what they are offering to the american public : (

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

      I don't see any beauty, just evil.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  3. Shark

    God called her? The bible says Satan is a "God"!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  4. Ingsoc84

    Didn't she refer to Obama as the "ter******" during the 2010 election? She scares the crap out of me...

    June 28, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Ingsoc84

      I meant 2008, oops, sorry about that. Anyway, I rather take Sarah Palin over this lady.. IMHO.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Flyboy7588

      Actually Obama is more like the Manchurian candidate. Either way, Obama is a friggin' disaster.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Dennis

      Flyboy7588 – Have you met GWB?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  5. Mike

    No religious wingnut should ever be allowed to hold public office. Period. This woman is a religious wingnut to the 'nth degree.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Flyboy7588

      So Mike, it's ok to have a flaming socialist in the White House??? I'll take Bachmann over the dolt in the White House any day.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  6. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      You are such a phucking @sshole.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. tv22

    I"m amazed at the hate directed toward this woman. I may not agree with all of her positions, but she's a career businesswoman, a mom, a leader in the Congress. This is no Sarah Palin. Dismiss her at your own peril Democrats because she will be a force to be reckoned with. Imagine, instead of a law school instructor she was an actual practicing attorney!

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

      5 minutes on goo-gle and you can see that you are wrong.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      Attorneys are a dime a dozen. Pick up any yellow pages. And most of them aren't worth a sn!t.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Joe Mama

      She's also a certifiable nutcase trying to shove her nutcase viewpoints down the throats of the masses.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • The Right Left

      When people hear voices in their head their thoughts and positions must be challenged. Bachman is just another snake oil merchant, no different than Huckaboo, Glenn the Becker, Sarah The Palinzer and others who are trying to worm their way into the WH brining divine rules concocted in theri head. Waht are we going to do next; Allow Abraham to slaughter his child because he hears voices in his head. We have a place for such people – The mental hospital with iron bars to keep them in. Need serious leaders from GOP to consider voting for them.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  8. Shark

    What god called her? Just like bush was called, funny thing is, in the bible Satan is called a god....hmmmm.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  9. nsmith

    “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.”

    I am a Christian and I take no offense to the "calling" BUT do you suppose when God called her to run For POTUS, he also said she could LIE if it would further her cause.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Joe Mama

      It's just like how 'ol G dubyah prayed to God who told him to invade Iraq. I'm all for freedom of religion but let's keep the church separate from the state please.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • The Right Left

      When people hear voices in their head their thoughts and positions must be challenged. Bachman is just another snake oil merchant, no different than Huckaboo, Glenn the Becker, Sarah The Palinzer and others who are trying to worm their way into the WH brining divine rules concocted in theri head. Waht are we going to do next; Allow Abraham to slaughter his child because he hears voices in his head. We have a place for such people – The mental hospital with iron bars to keep them in.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  10. tj

    I do not know too much about Michelle Bachmann yet but I'm sure the coming days will enlighten me. My only comments is that over the past few days I have seen her participate in two interviews, one on Good Morning America and another that I don't remember the program. Both times she was asked direct questions about statements she has made, one about how eliminating the minimum wage would wipe out unemployment and the other about how she believed our founding fathers worked tirelessly to rid the country of slavery. On both responses she did not answer the questions She completely skirted the issues. When George Stephanopolous asked again, she went off on a tangent about how she is taking her Iowa voice all the way to the White House. It was almost embarassing however it goes to show that she is no different than most of the others. She will say anything or not say anything depending on the situation in order to remain popular.Very disappointing.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • tv22

      Did they ask the President if he really believes there are 57 states? Can we replay the clip of Joe Biden telling his "friend" in a wheelchair to "stand up"? People make mistakes. Until recently you could actually make mistakes without it making the evening news.

      By the way, how are those "not as shovel ready as we thought" projects going?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Dissapointing? What did you expect from an "evangelical"?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      @TV22. Yes, compare some minor and very inconsequential errors with stated opinion. Obama does not believe there are 57 states, Bachmann believes the Earth is 5,000 years old. But you are unable see the difference, she IS your candidate! Mentally handicapped people deserve to be heard!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • tv22

      @GOPHypocrisy – need a link on that one. She did mention something about 5000 years of recorded history. Do you have records going back further?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  11. Warren Zunino

    I would like my president to know a little about America – that the founding fathers did not work, "tirelessly to end slavery" and when confronted with that, not try to wiggle out of it. This is just like Palin and her Paul Revere nonsense. At a minimum, ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG.

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

      Our current President doesn't even know how many states we have. He said he has been to 57 and has one more left to visit.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  12. Dump Article Police

    Ms. Bachmann is the ongoing face of hatred, bigotry, and pandering (to the ignorant, angry, and vile among us) in this country.

    To imply she is a feminist is to imply she has a thread of integrity. This woman is disgusting in dozens of ways.

    Please don't deface quality women everywhere by calling her a feminist. As a republican man, I have to reluctantly admit she isn't worthy of shining Hillary's shoes.

    Michelle Bachman is nothing but an "Bachmannist."

    To end on a positive note, best of luck in the primary, Michelle!

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

      Wow!!! You sound pretty much full of hatred and all you accuse her of yourself!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep..

      June 28, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • tv22

      List some of those dozens of ways please, or is it just that you think people who have well thought out political positions that differ from your own are evil somehow? Successful career as an attorney? Leader in Congress? Adopted mother of 23? Oh, so offensive, she actually works to represent people and she walks the talk.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Ed

      Please remember that she is a Law school instructor. She knows the law. So call her names and slander her at your own risk.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  13. bexum

    People like her scare me. People who claim to be Christians who are always trying to shove thier beliefs or religon down someone else throat. I am a Christians but I do not believe in pushing what I believe in down anyone`s throat. Jesus preached and spread the word of God he did force it on anyone. Give unto ceasar what is ceasars and give onto God what is Gods. Do I believe in abortion? No. At the same time it`s not my right or place to push my beliefs onto others either. I have enough stuff I have done that I will be judged on by God. I will let him do the judging and these so called Christians need to keep that in mind or they will be ask this question from God. Who told you to judge anyone?

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

      We're the people that have to live in reality.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • tv22

      Though shall not kill – do you agree with that one? How about adultery? How about honoring your parents? I'm wondering which part of Christianity you don't want to "force" on people. I have yet to see her try to convert a single soul as part of her political career though.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Ed

      Hate to break the news to you but... America IS a Christian nation. It was founded by Christian men and our laws are based on Christian values. Don't like it? bye-bye!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  14. Steve

    Jim. Then why is it why us "lefties" are always on the side of positive change. Rants? The far right has that crown easy.

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

      It's funny how the various right nuts wouldn't recognize LIBERTY if they tripped over it.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  15. Guy

    Try new face of white supremacy......

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

      Considering Whites are THE most discriminated against group....not a bad idea.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  16. Joe Mama

    She's nothing more than a pure dimwit with a pulpit. She's dangerous to society as a whole and should be ignored at all costs.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  17. Emily Reed

    Palin and Bachmann – Dumb and dumber

    June 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Ed

      Obama – dumbest
      You socialists are so creative. And why are you all terrified of women?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  18. FDAD

    SHE FARTS

    June 28, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • bachmanntwit

      And she likes the smell of her own

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  19. Doug

    The Demobot talking points that have been posted a million times by their little eichmen is to attack those who are pro life by saying that if they want these women to have their babies that they should step up and abopt the children.

    Bachmann adopted 23 of them 23!!!!! Yet here are the Demobots attacking her for doing what the liberal said she must do if she is pro life.

    I'm pro choice but this is a wonderful example of what it means to be a Democrat, and how evil they are. It doesn't matter what any American who is not a lib does. Do what libs says you should and they still attack and hate. Unless you voted Obama, the Democrat is going to wish you harm and attack your actions, even if those actions are what Democrat said you must do. This proves that Democrats are only two things, liars and haters, they offer nothing else.

    It really is the Hypocrat Party, since to truly be a hypocrite one has to be a Democrat, the facts clearly show this here, all over the web and every media medium, on our college campuses, and anytime you engage in a conversation with a Democrat.

    Lib lib screams while their Moore-on double chin jiggles "if you want these women to have thier babies then you better be ready to adopt them". Bachmann did, 23 kids, and yet lib libs attacks her for doing what they said she has to do. This makes it easy for the Republicans, since Democrat is the way it is, the Republicans are the default party for morals, values, decency, integrity, fairness, compassion, and tolerance.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      so, basically Gawd did not want her to reproduce? He may have had a point, she is a sinner now!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • anthony

      maybe we should burn gays at the stake too

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Shamrock6

      Hey, at least us Demobots can spell properly and create lucid, coherent sentences.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Man, this is all screaming hysteria and mostly lies anyway. She has had a lot of FOSTER CHILDREN, not adopted children. There's a difference. You always come on here and say everyone who votes a certain way is evil, criminal, deserving of death. Since you mention Adolf Eichmann, notice that you are demonizing and criminalizing your opponents in the same way he did the German Jews. Your whole post is just hate speech, and most reasonable people in your party would reject it in horror. Do you really believe all this crazy stuff, or are you just hoping to scare people into voting your way? You may actually have early signs of schizophrenia which could be controlled by medication.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • AllReligionIsEvilYouKnowItsTrue

      Oh PUHLEEEZE. I'm a "lib" and I have absolutely no problem with Bachman taking in foster kids (not "adopting" them, btw, which you stated erroneously). Kudos to her. My objection to her has to do with her desire to do absolutely insane things in this country – such as get rid of the minimum wage altogether (yes! Wages aren't low enough!), attack women's rights, cut taxes for the wealthy even further, and do godknowswhat with foreign policy.

      For the record, I can't stand Obama – I think he's a huge liar and hasn't done squat for most of the people in this country. But electing someone worse than George Bush isn't the answer. Criminy.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Dennis

      She didn't adopt them. She took foster care children in. They are still wards of the State.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Quiche

      Umm, Doug, Michelle Bachmann did not adopt those 23 children. She was a FOSTER parent. Totally different thing.
      And, please review your post for fairness, compassion, tolerance, etc. Sorely lacking. I think you could look in the mirror for the definition of hypocrite.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Ed

      "Shamrock6
      Hey, at least us Demobots can spell properly and create lucid, coherent sentences."

      And what a sense of humor you have. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA good drugs man. You mayu want to lay off the LSD.
      (Liberal Socialist Democrat)

      June 28, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  20. senior 74

    The 2012 election is l a continuation of the 2010 election and it seems that the result will be similar.As obama said "shellacking "

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

      Not likely.

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

      Obama's going to face opponents who are really unfit to lead a girl scout troop through a WalMart and he will win again easily.

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

      Sure....why not. Did your pet unicorn tell you this or maybe a leprechaun? Just curious as you seem to live in a different world than the rest of us.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:35 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.