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. Charley

    This is a woman who doesn't know the difference between John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy. A woman who confuses the number killed by Khaddafi's army and those killed by the countries aiding his opposition. That should make her the ideal Tea Party candidate – confused and proud of it!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  2. JP

    1.) Evangelist
    2.) Feminist

    Pick one.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      3. clueless twit.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  3. Nicolas D

    Palin, you're no Michele Bachmann.

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

      I'd like to see them bumping their whisker biscuits together.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Shinea

      There can't be two woman who believe in complete subservience to men.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  4. Banderman

    Define post modern feminism without revealing rabid hypocrisy; I dare ya. The hypocrisy of feminism is glaring.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Shamrock6

      I would rather play Call of Duty and record burps for You Tube while chugging Pepsi from a two liter bottle.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Shinea

      Equality with men in all things that government and society provides.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  5. Jack

    Michele Bachmann is dumber than a box of hair.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Flyboy7588

      And that is STILL smarter than Stretch Pelosi, Dingy Harry and Barry Soetoro combined.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      Don't criticize hair!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  6. Shinea

    There was a time the Republicans would field responsible, intelligent candidates that had well meaning if not exactly utopian views of what government should be doing for the citizens of America. Now they are just a bunch of American taliban who's only agenda is to emulate the talibans primitive, tribal beliefs of ignorance and intolerance. I find it odd that the harder they try to convince the rest of us to go along with their agenda, the farther they get from an agenda that the majority of Americans would consider acceptable.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Brains

      Well said!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  7. Sadie

    Bill C.–Really? The repressor is glad that his wife feels that he is superior to her? Shocking.

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

    The one thing about people like Bachmann running for the presidency makes the republicans look worst than what they are. If people can look at Newt, Pawlenty, Bachmann and the rest, so far, and say is this the best the republicans can come up with, it just shows how crazy tea bags and republicans have become.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Flyboy7588

      And Barack H. Obama is the shining knight on a white horse????? Come on Marge. No one can be as incompetent or as hell bent on destroying the USA as Barry. Are you one of the 90% of Blacks how still believe Obama is doing a good job??????

      June 28, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  9. Flyboy7588

    I'm SURE the clowns at NOW are going to be pushing hard for Michelle because they always say how much the want women to succeed, right guys??? Hey Grandy, you out there? Gloria?????

    June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  10. FloBot

    So MEEE-SHELL... What would you do about Greece and the impending US default. Oh yeah, pay only the interest on the debt I think I read. That is mathematically impossible, Dear Girl - It will never go away.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  11. Onegood1

    Women should have no more "reproductive rights" than men do. Isn't it amazing how many lies about republican candidates are spewed out here on CNN all stemming from liberal hate groups? You people must be scared about having to get a real job!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Shinea

      When men start carrying a baby in their womb for 9 months they can start talking about equal "reproductive rights".

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Daveid Johnson

      I'd rather have a real B J, please.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Flyboy7588

      ok, have all of you firured it out yet?

      After reading my post is should be obvious...I'm a teabagging moron.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  12. James

    Why is it that Obama's faith and church background was off-limits for discussion in 2008, but Bachmann's is a source of endless hateful, intolerant ridicule? I thought the Left wanted to free women from double-standards.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • TEE

      Your selective ability to remember only what you want, forces me to remind you of the Rev. Wright, Repub. misinformation campaign..

      June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • steven harnack

      Maybe because SHE constantly makes it a part of the conversation?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • JEB

      James, really? really? Republicans have frequently discuss religion, whether it was JFK's catholism or calling Barach a Muslim and talking about Rev Wright. Give me a break. As usual, do something and then blame the other side for doing it and saying your hands are clean.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  13. Chris

    No hatred for her at all. But, for the love of humanity, when are we going to stop having this religious nut jobs getting into politics.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  14. PJ

    She is a lot better than Romney!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Howard

      Gee–that just makes me feel all warm & fuzzy all ,over!!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  15. d rufus onfyre

    It's Anita Bryant, reincarnated.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  16. miic

    Her fingers gross me out

    June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  17. Mixmatch

    "evangelical feminisim" is an oxymoron.

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

    Not all religious people are crazy by any means.

    BUT, a LOT of crazy people are very religious. Bachman is an example of this. I'm not opposed to her for her religion. After all, Jimmy Carter was a fine president and he is the best Christian that has ever held that office. I would love for him to run in 2012 so I could have the pleasure of voting for him again.

    But Bachman need therapy, not the White House.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  19. Off to a great start

    Well that didn't take long: Rep. Michele Bachmann kicked off her presidential campaign on Monday in Waterloo, Iowa, and in one interview surrounding the official event she promised to mimic the spirit of Waterloo's own John Wayne. The only problem: Waterloo's John Wayne was not the beloved movie star, but rather John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  20. ModerateMan

    I'm confused. First, liberals were socialists because they wanted to share rich people's wealth. Now, they're facists because they want everybody to do what they tell them to do. I don't think it's possible to be both. I think that there are serious problems with both sides of the aisle and it looks like neither extreme really want to solve problems, just yell insults at each other.

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

      "The liberals are wealth redistributing socialists" lie is something the right uses to justify the fact that they are redistributing the wealth of blue states to prop up failed red states. This is why the blue states are struggling to pay their bills.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:43 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.