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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. Dan

    Liberals always hate self-actualized women when those women don't agree with their politics.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Steve

      I love Rachel Maddow.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • illtellu

      I strongly disagree with her beliefs and ideas, but do not hate her. Try to be more thoughtful and creative in your criticism of the other side.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  2. Buddy

    According current dogma, only men are allowed to be priests. Her entire platform is, in this regard, heresy! BURN THE WITCH! BURN THE WITCH!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Dan

      You single out the RCC to make a completely moronic point. Well done. Other denominations allow women to be pastors of churches.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Steve

      RCC... other denominations... it's all so confusing. Sounds like all these groups are simply bending the rules to fit their agenda. At least, that's how it sounds. Enlighten us!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Dan

      Steve: I assume then, that among your political friends and in your prefered party there are no differences of opinion. It's all so confusing the way you all can't get along.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  3. Kent Bowen

    This thread has obviously run its course. Off to save the world elsewhere, nonviolently, of course.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  4. Edward Watson

    Is there really such a thing as an evangelical feminist?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  5. Michael

    You automatically assume we hate something that has yet to be proven. You already accept that magic and invisibility is real so you find it proper when referencing said God that you reference it/him/she as it were proven scientific fact he existed. Fact is you don't have a shred of evidence for your magic claims. So of course your stupid ideas are going to be attacked and mocked, get use to it magic believer.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Mike

      See, that's the venom I'm talking about. Thanks for the example.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Jim

    Another right wing wack job who hears voices from an invisible man who loves in the sky.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • someguy

      Way to stereotype while making fun of another human being. The sad thing is, those you oppose are called bigots or judgmental the second they "nicely" speak up for God. But, when someone like you comes along, it's completely acceptable. Do you see the hypocrisy you represent?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Toots McGee

      Why is it that Nobel prize winning physicists never identify themselves as evangelical anything? Hmm. I wonder...

      June 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • someguy

      Anyone can pull a theory out of their rear, get enough people behind the idea and win a prize. They just have to convince enough people.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Dan

      Toots: It's because they wouldn't be allowed to play with the big toys and they know it. They are cowards.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Dogbert

      Lives in the sky. I agree with you but your critics will pull you apart for grammar because they have no other valid point., Cheers

      June 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  7. Mike

    I am always amazed at the venomous comments that are spewed by people in reaction to any blog post about God or prayer. Does everyone hate God that much or is the hatred directed at His followers?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • illtellu

      You can't hate something that you don't believe exists. What I find most troubling is the forced injection of God and prayer in places it doesn't belong. What believers choose to believe in the privacy of their homes and churches is their business. However, I don't want it influencing decisions that affect ALL Americans.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Free

      It is NOT hate of god. It is disgust with people that promote a political agenda based on a belief that teaching evolution is a sin, trickle down is gospel, and greed is good.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • Steve

      I don't hate the story of god. It's actually an interesting one. However, I do think a lot of people take it too far.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • someguy

      @Free: Would you be opposed to teaching of evolution be okay as long as God and Christ are also taught in the schools? After all, if what a portion of the population believes is true can be taught, then what another portion believe to be true should be, as well, if this is truly a country where we have not only freedom, but equality, correct?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Odds

      Think on this, Mike. People like Bachmann wield significant power that affects each and every one of us. Do you really want to take a chance on a person that claims to have a mandate from God? What if she's lying? What if she's just plain crazy?

      Now, take it one step further and look at it from the perspective of people who don't share her faith (basically anyone who isn't an Evangelical Christian, and probably plenty of those who are!). By definition, we don't believe she has a mandate from God. The remaining explanations for her behavior aren't very appealing. Is she lying? Is she crazy? Either way she's somebody we want to keep as far away from the White House as possible!

      Even Christians should be wary of this one. Think about how many times you've politely disagreed with someone at your church over some issue or other. We don't all think alike and that's a fact. Now imagine the person you disagreed with has more power than any other person on earth to affect the laws of our country, as they would as President. And imagine they believe themselves to be divinely inspired and therefore infallible by extension! That's an extremely dangerous scenario, don't you think? After all, what if they're wrong?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Mike

      @Odds, all the more reason to truly dig into Michelle Bachmann's platform, which doesn't necessarily happen when people are so busy trying to hurl insults at everyone and everything to do with God. Ultimately we miss the entire point of the topic because people are angry.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  8. ari

    "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?"

    no

    next question

    June 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Dan

      Actually, you are wrong, Ari. A woman can be fore women's rights and still be conservative in other matters. Just as conservatives in NY can vote for gay marriage and Blue Dogs can vote against health care. No one has to stuff themselves into your little box.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Dan: While you are correct that a label doesn't always limit one's beliefs completely, I don't see how you are actually addressing whether or not Bachmann is a feminist or refuting/debating ari's statement.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  9. Pam Kit

    It's time for religion to remember that there is SUPPOSED to be a separation between church and state. Religion and religious zealots need to keep their beliefs in their own homes and communties and out of the rest of ours.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • johnborg

      I wish more American were like you. It's funny how multiple Reublican presidential canidates would probably state that they are called by God to be president. Well, I guess that means at least someone is listenting to the wrong voice.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Dan

      So the religioous shouldn't run for office? What about how your own views and how they affect the country?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • someguy

      Separation of church and state has to do with the idea that we wouldn't want the state to become a theocracy. It has nothing to do with religious people not taking public office. A person's beliefs shape who they are, and, subsequently, what choices they make. You can't separate the two (a person and their beliefs).

      June 27, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Jack

      I agree. I do not force my religious belief on others.

      I am tried of the religious right trying to drive the conservative bus. are you listening Sean Hannity, Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck and God forbid, according to him, Rush Limbaugh, the right hand of God himself.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • wwajdblogger

      Who said there is supposed to be a separation of church and state? Hasn't the U.S. been ordained by God as His Christian nation? Romans 13:1.

      http://www.whatwouldamericanjesusdo.com

      June 27, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • someguy

      You can't look at what someone claims. Look to their actions, and the good they do. Those are marks of people of God - not pompously claiming they have a superior intellect, or this or that.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Steve

      Dan, the religious shouldn't allow their religion to interfere with or influence their DUTY to uphold the separation of church and state. If you can do that while still being religious, then by all means, run for office, and enjoy your Sundays.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • tuffgong71

      I have no problem with the religious running for office. However, they would have to Govern in one chair and observe their religion from another. For example, the death penalty (which most Republicans support, haven't figured that one out yet) is wrong in every form of Christianity; Thou shalt not kill. However, the majority of Americans think it is necessary and in a democracy that should be the deciding factor, not your book. If we had a Christian President, with strong morals who understood his role as a leader of the nation and not as an agent of "the lord", that would be the best of both worlds.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  10. The Veteran

    Evangelicals align with the Pharisees more than Christ. They love to judge and condemn.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • someguy

      And, of course, there are those who have always and will always bash Christians. You know ... the ones who like to play the "judgement" card, while, themselves, judging Christians.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • Dan

      Someguy: Yes, absolutely correct.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  11. Randy

    Any politician that claims to have a "sense from God which direction I’m supposed to go" scares me...a lot!

    June 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Thomas

      Ayatollah Khomeini had the same "voice" whispering in his ear in the 1970s. Things turned out okay for Iran, didn't it? Oh, wait....

      June 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • someguy

      Well, given how corrupt, sinful, errant and utterly clueless every one of our human species is - you should be scared of anyone who makes decisions based on what they want or think vs. what our perfect God wants.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • Dan

      THomas: You're a liar. Muslims do not believe hat God speaks to humans.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Dan

      THomas: You're a liar. Muslims do not believe that God speaks to humans.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Thomas

      Dan. You're an idiot. According to Islam, Allah has spoken to hundreds of thousands of messengers throughout history. And none of them made as many spelling errors as you did with such a short statement.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • Dan

      No, Thomas. God spoke to humans through angels. Even Mohammad heard only from Jibril. Of course Mohammad was the last to hear anything, because he was teh lat of tehir prophets, so Khomeini would have heard anything, according their religion. You are still a liar.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Dan

      *would not have heard anything

      June 27, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Frogist

      @someguy: And how are you supposed to know the difference? How are you supposed to know whether Bachmann is doing what your "perfect God" thinks or doing what she wants?

      June 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  12. RicoSuave

    Viva Gorditas!
    Don't worry anyone, the world end Dec 21 2012. Oh, wait it was supposed to end last month. We better vote right!
    At this pace, we migth as well nominate Mickey Mouse.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  13. Thomas

    “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.”

    No, Michelle. Hearing voices is what schizophrenia is. There are medications to take care of that nowadays.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  14. Darryn Cooke

    If God wants her to run AND God exists then she should win.

    If she doesn't end up running BUT God wants her to run then God cannot exist?

    If she runs AND loses then God must not exist.

    If she runs AND wins then I will accept that there is a God.

    I think she should run to at least answer the question "Does God exist?"

    June 27, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Thomas

      Or maybe God is just having one big belly laugh over her "candidacy". Maybe he'll start whispering things in her ear like "Look off to the right of the camera when you're being interviewed."

      June 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  15. paraboloid

    Feminist evangelical is a contradiction of words. Really CNN? I get that 40% of America is Christian. But, for the rest of us could you try not to so blatantly insult our intelligence?
    Thanks

    June 27, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • Jared

      40 percent? Every poll I was able to find say between 75 and 80 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Try again.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • janimarie

      Here's the statistics: http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

      June 28, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  16. Let's B More Real

    Bachmann is an evangelical who happens to be a woman. that makes her an evangelical female, not a feminist.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Rennes

      Thank for catching the mistake. There is no way Bachmann could be confused with being a Feminist

      June 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  17. MartyM

    Evangelical feminist; jumbo shrimp; living dead; deafening silence; working vacation....what do these all have in common?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      Marty, you forgot Military Intelligence.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  18. Corvus1

    Bachmann is about as feminist as Fred Phelps is pro-gay rights.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  19. KentAZ

    It's amazing that anyone could take either Palin or Bachmann seriously, irrespective of their ostensible religious views.

    June 27, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Nancy

      Amazing and frightening.

      June 27, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Free

      Thinking people also thought it was silly to worry because an intellect like W could ever win the White House. The people elected him twice because they thought he would be fun to drink beer with. You will notice please, both Palin and Bachmann exceed the American standard of physical attractiveness. How many Americans would think it fun to drink beer with Bachmann? I dont really have any idea. BUT I'm confident that if unemployment continues to be the monkey on his back, fewer voters will want to drink beer with Obama than whoever carries the donkey flag

      June 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  20. Margaret

    I don't want evangelicals or any other people with strong religious ideas running my life. Keep out of my hospital room, my bedroom and my home, and I will keep out of your church. What ever happened to praying in secret?

    June 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • someguy

      Are you saying she's been praying in your hospital room, your bedroom and your home?

      June 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
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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.