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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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. puzzled

    "Many ... talk of being called by God to pursue professional careers."

    I'd say that's more a sign of insanity than a sign of leadership.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  2. Johnny

    The wonderful, racist Michele Bachmann

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyKAbSCYG8k&w=640&h=360]

    June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Wow... so the Palestinians are now a race? When did that happen?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  3. Lisa

    Modern Evangelicals are a far cry from real Christianity. The first Evangelicals wanted to spread the "good news." Today's Evangelicals want to dictate morality for the rest of us while picking and choosing the rules they follow themselves. Bachmann is a particularly repulsive example of the breed.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Chris

      you are 100% correct. That's why there is so much negativity and animosity towards the right from the left these days. When I think of the right, I think of the group who you've described. Right or wrong, that's the result that all the holier than thou rebel rousers have created.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  4. Shark

    God called her and W. The bible says Satan is the "God" of this system of things, and after W won he started wars that killed thousands of innocent people. I guess he was right "God" really did call him, and is now calling her.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  5. Laura

    No suprise all the hatred being spewed from the left. Do any of you get tired of the same, lame tired attacks. Try to be a little more unique with your posts. She is a bigot, hateful yada yada.... with nothing of any substance to support you moronic claims. She protects and stands up for the right of the uborn and actually has put her money where her mouth is by aopting ...Yes, oh she is so hateful!! eye rolls

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

      She's a liar, she's been called on her lies many times, and she has shown no remorse or even embarrassment. If that's what you call a good Christian quality and a desirable quality in a President, please stay far away from the polls next November.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • El Kababa

      The characteristic response of a pathological liar when one of their lies is uncovered is rage.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Well, she actually is a hateful bigot. Are you saying you'd like to see her accused of more imaginative things, things that aren't true but that would be funny? I can do that: She smokes rolled-up pancakes. She wears a squirrel on her head like Trump. She was born in Kenya. She's a man in drag, a Chinese man. She adopted 23 illegal Mexicans. She is a convicted arsonist. She paints swastikas on schoolchildren. Can I stop now?
      But she really is stupid, hateful and bigoted. Let's stick to facts.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • WC

      It is Bachmann herself that lacks substance. If raising a large pack of kids somehow qualifies her as the chief executive, then I suppose that Ocomom would make a great VP.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  6. Ted Oldham

    A trend started by Palin? What happened to Ferraro or any other woman who ever tried to throw in her hat?Palin? ha!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  7. hopeful

    MICHELLE BACHMAN IS THE BOMB, IF BARACK IS PRESIDENT WHY CANT SHE BE THE NEXT PRESIDENT.....YOU GO MICHELLE DO YOUR THING, THEY ARE JUST JEALOUS OF YOU . I AM BLACK AND DEMOCRAT AND I WOULD VOTE FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU MAKE A LOT OF GOOD SENSE AND YOU ARE CLASSY. YOU WILL BE THE 1st FEMALE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES BECAUSE YOU ARE REAL !!!!!!!! LOVE YOU 111

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

      You are a shill.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Ted Oldham

      Keep dreaming,never happen.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Chris

      I'm a white repulican read neck and I think she's an idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Bible Clown

      The Bomb? You mean we will have to hide in shelters for 5 years after she goes off? She'll destroy everything and leave behind a devastated wasteland crawling with multi-legged mutant scorpions? Gawd help us all!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Really?

      You are no more black than you are a democrat. I am a black independent and I think you are as looney as the woman you support.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  8. WC

    Bachmann is not a feminist; she is a token woman offered as a reaction to feminism. If you don't understand this, then you really know nothing of the movement. Domitila she certainly is not.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  9. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Bible Clown

      quit that

      June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  10. marblefinger

    I see for a second day CNN is stirring the pot with this non-story. Being from MN, I can tell you most of us outside of her district were tired of her years ago. At some point you'll wise up and notice how she never answers a question, and usually what she says is either a flat out lie or based on ignorance – her own reality.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  11. Krista

    There's no such thing as an Evangelical conservative feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Bill C

      Because you say so. Right?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • El Kababa

      An evangelical feminist is like a meat-eating vegetarian or a patriotic traitor or a communistic capitalist. You can't just glue two words together and pretend they make sense.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Bill C

      El Kababa: Like gay marriage?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      She is Tealiban Feminist!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      You can slap her, just not with a closed fist! Womens rights and all...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Bill, there IS gay marriage. Read the papers. There aren't Capitalist Communists.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  12. Cthulhu rules

    "Evangelical feminism?" Isn't that an oxymoron? Like "Islamic feminism?"

    June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  13. Vonteller

    Who are the morons insulting Bachmann here? She's a tax attorney, has a doctorate degree and a post doctorate degree on tax law, has spent years working in the US tax courts, owns a small business and is a job created, worked on tax reform..etc. Which one of you SIMPLETONS has accomplished what she has? She's spent years in congress. Obama spent 2 years in the senate, was a communitiy organizer, and now he's the President messing up the economy and blaming it on ATM's, and yet you MORONS don't see it fit to ask if Obama is MENTALLY COMPETENT?

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

      All that and she still believes in fairy stories...

      I DON'T, YOU DON't and WE DON'T need ANY people in office who will base their decisions on FAITH!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Brains

      You conveniently forgot to add that President Obama graduated top of his class from Yale, and then pursued a Law Degree from Harvard (just in case you do not know, law degrees are doctorates!) and graduated top of his class and was appointed the editor of the Harvard Law Review.

      Misinformation is is perfidy!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • NoReDumdlicans

      Take a look at your history sweetie.....you don't have to look too far.....Bush was the one who messed up the economy, not Obama. He has worked harder than any other president to clean up the mess left behind by the one who came before him. Bush was riding the surplus wave created by Clinton. And regardless of her personal accomplishments, I find it hard to vote for someone who looks to receive signs from an imaginary person before making a decision. I don't want a country run by religious idiots anymore!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Bill C

      blahblahblah: Um, didn't both Obama and Clinton say they did? Obama put a piece of paper in the Waling Wall exclaiming "not my will Father, but yours." So by your standards pretty much every president we have ever had is disqualified.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      Tax layer? You mean the bottom feeding parasite that helps the already insanely rich not pay any taxes?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Bible Clown

      I don't think Vonteller is mentally competent, based on that idiotic post. but maybe he or she was just drunk when they posted it. V, if degrees are your thing then Jimmy Carter's your man. He was a Ph. D in physics, an actual rocket scientist. Based on your post he ought to have been the best president ever.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Bible Clown

      blahblah, Obama is shutting down the space program and handing the solar system over to the Chinese because he thinks we are shooting rockets at God, so I'd vote for an atheist next time. I'd vote for a Retardican if he wanted the space program back.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  14. SurelyUjest

    So a regular Carrie Nation...right....persuing passionately.....policies that will fade because they do not account for ALL Americans values. They only push the 20% that need the crutch of religion to know how to behave and how to treat themselves and their childern. I can imagine the likes of Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin without the Bible to help them they would most likely be living on welfare doing drugs and turning tricks because they have no moral compass without the Bible to TELL them what is right. BTW folks Bachmann and Palin's kids are no shinning examples of how to raise kids. I really wonder how their kids are going to turn out with absentee mother/father/home values.....being raised in the spot light and on the road rarely works out for other professions.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Bill C

      I would love to debate your points but your failure to put together a complete sentence with proper grammar and syntax makes that impossible.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Bible Clown

      Bill, I can't make heads or tails of it. Pro-Bible, anti-Bible? Confused? Sleepy?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  15. Joshua

    The true christianity is foun in hebrews 4 rev 14:12 and ephesius 4&5&6. Anything else must check if they are following God.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • El Kababa

      Every Christian believes that he and only he understands TRUE Christianity, but no two Christians can agree on the meaning of any verse in the Bible.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • El Kababa

      Rev 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.

      That means very little because neither Christians nor scholars can agree on what the Commandments of God are or what the faith of Jesus is.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  16. Nicolas D

    Dan Quayle, you're no Jack Kennedy.
    Michele Bachmann, you're no Hilary Clinton.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Bill C

      And I for one am grateful.

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

      Not even close to being as smart as Hillary. Not even close to having standards or values that Hilary has, Not even close to representing what "normal" women can achieve without a church to prop them up.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  17. Krista

    She tells lie after lie. These can't just be mistakes, unless she's just too stupid to run for office. We don't need another liar in the White House.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  18. Jeff

    She's evangelical, she hates gays, she accuses anyone who disagrees with her of being anti-American, she makes dumb comments, and she has boobs. Perfect Republican candidate.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Brew987

      Perfect idiot making a stupid statement.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Bill C

      She hates gays? Where in the world do you get such an absurd statement? Show me one piece of paper, one comment from her, that would substantiate your vitriolic comment? All because she opposes gay marriage she hates gay people? Here's a clue: I don't think people should be allowed to marry sheep. Does that mean I hate sheep? What a ridiculous statement.

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

      VERY good point, Bill C.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  19. Mavent

    Stay classy, Moose Knuckle. BTW, what does your screen name refer to again?

    June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  20. Sadie

    Shelby–What century do you live in? Motherhood makes women important? That's it? I promise, you are more than a baby vessel. Feminism is about *equality.* Period. Women are equal to men and deserve the same treatment. Is that really so complicated? The fact that you've bought into your own repression (and the deliberate misunderstanding of the movement), doesn't make us selfish, it makes you ignorant and repressed. That makes me sad.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Bill C

      My wife and I are grateful that women are not equal to men: There are many areas in which she is better suited, and many areas in which I am better suited (although I am the first to admit that her strong points outnumber mine.) We are not equal, and I am glad.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:37 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.