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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. incredulous

    Yes, this woman is dumb as a rock, a hypocrite and a liar, but should she actually make it as the republican (notice how I didn't capitalize that word, they don't deserve it anymore) candidate, Obama would be a shoe-in for re-election. That is the good news. But this is scary, folks. The new republicans cheat – never, ever forget that. Spread the word now about her shenanigans or we might suffer the consequences later.

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

      Wow – that's pretty harsh considering the shenanigans pulled by the Obama administration so far. And yes, I did vote for Obama. A fact that I rue every day. Do you actually pay attention to what's going on around you or do you just listen to one side of an argument or the select soundbites put out there by the mainstream media. Oh, silly me. It's obvious. She's not dumb as a rock. She's very intelligent. Why do people feel it so necessary to hate what threatens them? She's much more experienced than Obama was when he was elected on his charm. We all got caught up in the historical aspect of the election and didn't do the necessary research. Quit being a hater.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  2. EnglishGuy

    Someone who thinks that the world was created in 7 days could be the most powerful person on the plant.
    How worrying is that.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  3. JW

    Bachmann may win if the Republicans succeed in destroying the country before the election.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  4. RICKFROMPA

    First and more importantly is the fact that she does not have the "brain power" of a Hillary Clinton and never will. As most of you have said, you cannot equate an Evangelical and a Feminist in the same sentence. I also do not believe that the Tea Party would want her to represent her as the next President of the United States although there probably is a small minority who would.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  5. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  6. Sam

    i am an evangelical feminist. meaning: i do not like gays, muslims, mexicans, minorities, catholics, nonchristians, atheists, but i want to be the president of the united states and look after americans & god bless america. IQ test anyone??

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  7. Jimbo

    Why in the world do "experts" believe that she would be a good candidate. Exit dumb (SP) enter dumber (MB) – some sane person out there please help us!

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

    i SEE A LOT LEFTIST BUFOONS ARE SAD TO SEE THE NEW FACE OF FEMINISM. She's a whole lot better than the community organising, TECHNO-PHOBE in the white house that laugh at the unemployment his socialist policies have caused. Thank God for BACHMANN

    June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • George Guadiane Austerlitz, NY

      YIKES!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Dennis

      I think you just used a whole bunch of words you don't understand.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Jimbo

      You idiot!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • incredulous

      Maybe you should stop using words you cannot spell, you unorganized buffoon. That's one thing you evangelical republicans have in common: Very low intellects. I think you're all stuck in kindergarten drinking the same kool-aid.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  9. NorCalMojo

    Hillary is a doormat who's riding her husbands coattails. If she's a feminist, feminism is in pretty bad shape.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  10. Jim Price

    "Michelle Bachmann says she speaks to God, and Christians love her for it. If she said she spoke to God through her hair dryer, they would think she was mad. I fail to see how the addition of a hair dryer makes it any more absurd." – Sam Harris (paraphrased, his original quote was about George W. Bush)

    June 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • incredulous

      Brilliant! But I can see all the little lemmings running to get their hair dryers right now... Sigh.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  11. reg

    its there to be a separation between church and state so why are we weighing in on her moral and religious views...that a problem by its self when will we realize the more we continue to judge our leaders on there religious view the more we fall into the same mindset of the middle east who religious differences are a major reason ( if not the only reason) they have been at war for over a hundred years.....yet Americans want to keep judge our leaders through their religious views .....who cares what she is religiously what are her view on issues that affect all denominations that live in our country ..

    June 28, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Jim Price

      Her religious views matter. For example, she may think that polluting the environment is OK, because the rapture is overdue anyway. Perhaps she feels that harvesting stem cells is evil, and she would push legislation that would cripple our ability to advance this potentially life-saving research (seems unlikely, but you never know).

      June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  12. Shark

    GO SNOOKI! ....OH WAIT! This is about someone else....nevermind!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  13. Jake

    A feminist icon? Yeh, just like I'm a reknowned brain surgeon, Triathalon champ and Nobel laureate all rolled into one.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  14. Mark Michigan

    bachmann should be afraid of those lesbians trying to capture her and force her to be open minded. either that or john wayne gacy will come to 'protect' her.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  15. ProperVillain

    That's great, what are her views on foreign policy? On the role of the US in the world? What are her solutions for the current economic crisis? For our on going problem with an out of control health care industry? I really could care less what religion she is, all that is just a smokescreen to garnish votes from a section of the population that tends to choose their candidates on a few cleverly crafted "family values" sound bites. Whether or not she is or isn't a "feminist evangelical" is totally irrelevant when it comes to deciding whether or not she is qualified to be President. Lord almighty, this nation has lost its mind and focus...

    June 28, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  16. Vonteller

    Some Moron here just said Bachmann's run is a doomed case. If you want to see a doomed case, check gallup.com and see the doomed case, it's OBAMA. NOBAMA2012. REPUBLICANS WIN

    June 28, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • George Guadiane Austerlitz, NY

      If Bachmann wins the nomination, she cannot, WILL NOT win the general election... MOST Americans would never vote for her.
      Ergo, FOUR MORE YEARS – ObamaNation AGAIN!

      And that's a good thing.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • David Stone

      I get people not liking her....OK....but four more years of obama is a GOOD thing? look around you, we are in shambles...

      June 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Vigla

      Oh, boy... Just because you want him to lose doesn't make it so. In the end, most people will see that the sane candidate is already in the white house. They saw what happens when they give republicans power in the states. I will venture to say that Republicans have done nothing to help in the situation we are in except complain. Clearly they are not ready to govern and that will play itself out soon enough.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  17. AGuest9

    CNN – instead of BS "news" about the religion of politicians, can we have an update on the ISS after a debris strike was reported this AM??? The Canadians seem to be on the ball, here.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  18. bigdoglv

    Come on CNN. I don't remember your front page story running this long, ever. You don't waste much time doing a hit piece to stir up your base. Shame on you. Try being journalists for a change.

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

      Exactly, couldn't have said it better. They can't stand a women who has made it on her own and is not in any way a feminist. So they put her in a article that mentions feminism to help the feminist cause.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  19. hlub87

    That's the beauty of this country, you can vote for anyone you like. She introduced herself to me the very first time she ran for congress and man she is beautiful. It's okay to disagreed with someone but to the point of wanting to kill them or hurt them is WRONG. Whether Republican, Democrats, or liberal they got to office because they are smart then us loosers that sits behind this computer and nagged. Stop being a Monday Night quarterback. If you are smart THEN STOP beeeetching and do something. Run for office if not the shut up.

    June 28, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  20. Balls McGhee

    seriously? Clinton was (is?) a real candidate who studied politics her whole life, won a statewide election and understands how things work. This nut job is merely a backlash candidate from a hard core, out of touch district in the middle of nowhere. Bachman cant win a statewide election because she represents a small minority of clinically insane people. She is worse than Palin in that regard and she'll not even be in the top 5 for the GOP nomination.

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

      Who are you kidding?

      If she didn't marry well, you would never have heard of Hillary.

      She's successful for one reason, and that's Bill.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:07 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.