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. Sensible_Centrist

    Read my lips... independent voters are NOT gonna vote for Michele "Far Right Wingnut" Bachmann. INDEPENDENTS decide who goes to the White House, NOT the far right. This woman is NOT electable. Period.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  2. Civilguy

    Not for or against Bachman, too early to hate or love a canidate! Just hate the way the left commentors will spew lies about someone they have no clue about!
    Just funny how the trolls will come out from under thier rocks and spew hate....... then climb back under when someone tells the trueth about the Mesiah that they don't want to believe.....

    June 28, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • LasVegasAW

      "truth about the messiah..." Keep drinking the juice, and believing in ridiculous stories meant to keep the weak minded, like yourself in line. not to mention she's an absolute idiot, so I guess you actually have two things in common withe this dingbat...

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

      So what is your definition of an "idiot"? Someone that knows how many states there are? (BHO)Someone that reconginizes his wife's voice when she calls into a radio station to talk? (Gore) Someone that walk around with his mouth constantly in his mouth? (Bidin) Soneone that was a Community Organizer? ( I hope you know who this was)
      Or someone that has actually held a real job(s).....farming.....laywer.....foster parent.... etc..... Someone that actually writes checks and pay bills..... So who really is an idiot?

      Who is the Male chauvinist......YOU ARE! I guess that is our card to throw.........PIG.......oink........

      Can you just imagine the hate if we end up with a Palin/Bachman ticket or a Bachman/Romney or a Palin/Romney...... OMG the Left will just freek! Heads will be popping......planes/trains and automibiles will be shipping them to Canada in droves.......... CAN"T WAIT! They want a Socialist society......they can have it! Nothing but a bunch of haters!
      WHile you're in Canada I hope they run out of housing and you have to live in a Tent in the woods with bears and skeeters! Man I would pay to watch that show.......

      June 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  3. Karen

    This country has seen better days. There's nothing more "inside the box" than religious people.
    The United States is the country that rescued the world from the dark ages. Let's keep it that way.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  4. Onegood1

    What an odd article to start with, two lies: she is neither "evangelical" nor is she a "feminist."

    And yes, regardless of the fact that women carry the baby for nine months (men have to hear about it), they should have no more rights, reproductive or otherwise, than men do.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Dennis

      Because this "Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod" isn't evangelical enough for you?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  5. Diggit

    The very second paragraph states – Bachmann is seldom described in those terms – THEN WHY WRITE AN ARTICLE SAYING THIS. AND MAKING IT THE TOP NEWS STORY OF THE DAY? Come on CNN. "Most trusted name in news"

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Dennis

      because the those were the points the writer was going to argue for.

      Writing 101

      June 28, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  6. Andrew

    Michele Bachmann is a self made women. Liberals hate that.
    People may disagree with her politics, but she has made it further than Hilary Clinton by not having a president for a husband, Hilary Clinton, a women who got where she is because of her husbands position in life. Bachmann got to this level on her own, but since she's a republican liberals will not recognize her accomplishments because she doesn't spew feminist hatred toward the rights of men.
    Bachmann did not need a husband as president to get where she is, something not ever mentioned by liberals at CNN.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Civilguy

      We have a BINGO!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • bobby


      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Dennis

      Condoleezza Rice...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • tallulah13

      No. Actually, that's the only thing that admirable about her. Most people don't take her seriously because we don't think her personal religious views have a place in public policy. Also, she has no viable answers to the problems facing America today, i.e. poverty, lack of jobs, failing infrastructure.

      But if you want to vote for her because you think she's hot, or because she has the same belief system as you, that is your right as an American.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Doug

      Andrew understands Democrats perfectly. You must live in a blue area, you gain a lot from the web and media, but true insight into who Democrats are only comes from interacting with 'dem in the ultra blue.

      Jersey Shore puts them in a positive light, they are much worse. Face it a Snooki can only survive in its natural blue habitat.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  7. Obamican

    A black man becomes President now they all think they can be President. I'm happy he inspired you. Yes you can also. 🙂

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • GOP hypocrisy


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

      That's what happens when one sticks to sybols and parties instead of ideas. The first black man president, the first woman president, I am Democrat or Republican no matter what. This is a real country with real people.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  8. Wadhams

    So typical of CNN to use a headline like this... The moment someone conservative with a prayer at being a contender shows up, CNN is there to spin it their way. Talk about the real issues. If she is something less than what she needs to be as a candidate, it will surface, but stop trying to paint people with your liberal brush from day one.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  9. Howard

    It's a question of whether you believe in Religion or Science. I tend to believe in Science as opposed to Fables and Fairy Tales!!!!!!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Andrew

      As a scientist, I tend to believe in both. They are not incompatible as most liberals suggest, the problem, liberals all have liberal arts degrees and know absolutely nothing about science unless it's Al Gore, who is also not a scientist. I am a professor of Anthropology at U Of T. There is no reason that evolution should have to be at odds with the bible. The bible just has to be taken metaphorically, it still has more wisdom than any other book ever printed.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Tony

      Religion is based on faith. Science is based on fact.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Civilguy

      There are a lot of things that just can't be explain with science........so explain them please? Why is it that all is just so perfect enough here on Earth that there is life but as of now no where else? There are an infanite amount of stars (and growing as we speak/write) and planets but as of today no one has come a knockin.....to say hi! Come on dude explain it too us all?

      June 28, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • C

      So, you believe people came from rocks by random chance? Requires more faith than believing humans were created by God. I know for darn certain a complex biomechanical system like the human body cannot be accidentally made by random elements in a premordial goo. If there was a God, he could sure create a human being.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Tim

      This is to CivilGuy:
      Civil Guy Says: There are a lot of things that just can't be explain with science........so explain them please? Why is it that all is just so perfect enough here on Earth that there is life but as of now no where else? There are an infanite amount of stars (and growing as we speak/write) and planets but as of today no one has come a knockin.....to say hi! Come on dude explain it too us all?
      The more science explains, the smaller your gods get.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Civilguy

      @ Tim.......Not sure about you but I only believe in one GOD! I also happen to be Engineer, we pretty much believe in the Yes or No ..... black and white.. zeros and ones.......but when it comes to God.....there is only One God........ sorry if that offends you and you just can't quit grasp it....but I can.... Faith......I pray that some day so do you....

      June 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  10. Marie Kidman


    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  11. rooooo

    Michele is just an embarrassment to us all. I would love to have a female president, ANYONE but her.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Tony

      Unn..not Sarah either.

      June 28, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  12. hopeful


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

      wait 10 years from now she'll be doing playboy spreads and doing the same thing.

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

      If this blatant liar religious bigot and all-around fruit-cake is the GOP's presidential candidate, Obama will win in a landslide in 2012. Just sayin'

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


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


      June 28, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • tallulah13

      I think your caps-lock is stuck.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  13. justice3688

    what i really wish would happen is that people would stop calling all these crazy people "Evangelical' seriously.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • TEE

      I second that emotion...

      June 28, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  14. Vonteller

    Guess there are a lot of BUFFOONS here that say praying to God and listening to him here is a sympton of MADNESS! By their STUPID definition, that means Obama is a moron, bono is a moron, Pelosi is a moron, Martin Luther king is a moron, george washington is moron, Jimmy Carter is a moron (that's true), Jane Fonda is a moron, Jesse Jackson is a moron, Al Sharpton is a Moron..etc, is that so, MORONS?!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • MoronProver


      June 28, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  15. Randall12

    Not many books out there expose the basic theology of evangelicals. Perceptional Threshold, although a work of fiction covers the topic well. It's doubtful most evangelicals understand their basic theology. If they practiced their theology it would be a strong separation of church and state.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  16. Mr Mark

    “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,” says Bachmann.

    Translation for the rational world: "when I talk to myself – imagining that I'm talking to some invisible supernatural being that doesn't exist – I always convince myself that whatever my ego demands that I do is sanctioned by some higher power. That's what we Xians cal having a calling. it's what psychiatrists call being self-centered and self-absorbed."

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

      Absolutely agree!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Glades2

      Perhaps you should ask the other Mark – St. Mark – to pray for the eyes of your soul to be opened before your life is over...

      June 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  17. Sal1943

    It's unflippinbelievable. All these evangelists hate middle eastern people from the core of their hearts; yet they sing praises of a guy born in the Gaza neighborhood from a middle eastern mother. Unless of course they think, the guy they call Jesus(anglicised name ) was born in Texas.

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

      Soo True!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  18. Kevin from Boston

    She is qualified to run for President of the USA (or so say some), but not qualified to run her own local church, according to evangelical principles. Yea, that makes sense.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  19. Sam

    evangelical feminist. that is oxymoron. how about humanist? that would be a good thing but will be too much to ask from an evangelical feminist.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  20. GOP hypocrisy


    June 28, 2011 at 11:43 am |
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