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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.”

ALSO:

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

Explain it to me: What's Mormonism?

Opinion: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. Joe citizen abroad

    From the people who gave you Governor Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  2. Nancy

    No matter who we get there is no way they would be more embarrassing, appeasing, bowing or more weak then obama...in all my life I have never seen America so weak and meek then under obama......Iran with backing from Russia and China are taking all kinds of liberties and arming to destroy America.....at least under Bush these despotic fanatic rulers were scared....but knowing how weak obama is even Bashar Assad is making fun of him....slaughtering their own people while obama hangs with oprah....

    June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Lub

      It's "Obama". With a capitol "O".

      June 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • TRIGonometry

      funny, I thought we were attacked by terrorists under almighty king george.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  3. Thor

    Just not sure which "christian" religion I am yet to back for the "official" religion of these United States of America. Perhaps we should go with the original pilgrims' faith of the Puritans, or the Quakers? Perhaps the Amish religion should be more suitable. I am sure that Amish thing is the best, since, it is the closest to the original Puritan religious orders of those who really landed here and established Northern Europeans' religions as the "official" white North American religions. Yes, definitely the Amish. I am sure that those robust people can give us the "right" way to treat our lady religious zealots!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  4. speedro

    I threw up a little in my mouth when I read this article.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Thor

      ... I just emptied the whole stomach. Lunch time has to happen again now.... darned!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  5. Rosa

    Move over Palin, it's now Bachmann's turn.....

    June 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  6. Vonteller

    I see leftist trash is being directed at me. Wow, I'm happy. So here it goes again, BACHMANN IS MORE QUALIFIED TO BE PRESIDENT THAN THE TECHNO-PHOBE NEANDERTHAL CURRENTLY OCCUPYING THE WHITE HOUSE! 9.1% means nothing to his BRAINDEAD supporters on this tread, but luckily, it'll get the DIMWIT out in 2012. BACHMANN2012

    June 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Lub

      only guys with little ones use all caps

      June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      We definitely will keep the nitwits like Bachmann and Palin and Romney out of the White House. Obama will defeat (in a landslide) any of these idiots, and we, the American people, will rightfully re-elect Obama.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Laughing

      Let me guess.....you don't like liberals? Thanks for helping to tear this country apart, your words are truly inspiring

      June 28, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • John

      The first word in a sentence begins with a capital letter – just pointing it out to you....perhaps you have none at all......

      June 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  7. Lub

    Tell us more about John Wayne, dummy.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • John

      How many states did Obama tell us there were in the US? Dummy?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  8. moiaussi

    Yawn** Boring article. *switches to casey anthony trial**

    June 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  9. BULLDIKE

    I'm a bulldike and I have a mullet! I am often described as "The husband"! I also have B.O and I smoke. Im a real catch!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  10. Bill

    New face? Because its obviously not her old one...

    June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  11. Stinks

    I know that separation of church and state has been somewhat moved aside and forgotten but seriously, this women scares me more than Palin because of her evangelical views and 23 or so children. The last thing the US needs right now is a women like that in the white house. I'm all for gender equality, in fact I believe that if a women was president we wouldn't have any more wars, just severe negotiations every 30 days. I will move to the Arctic if she gets elected as a president

    June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • John

      "just severe negotiations every 30 days" Let me guess, you're a liberal. You guys had better be more careful, people are begining to figure out what hypocrites you are.....

      June 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • Thor

      ... oh no! Absolutely let's get her in. Perhaps SHE will be the one to make the AMISH religion our "First Faith" ! See how they set the standard for their women-folk behavior in public. I am absolutely sure that we need the ORIGINAL religions of our forefathers/mothers established. Anything akin to the original Puritans', Quakers', etc.... I think the Amish are the closest to that so,......

      June 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  12. RichieP

    Oh, so she's not running for President because it's what she wants, it's what God wants. How conveeeeeeeeeeenient.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  13. Sottovoce

    Bachmann is not a feminist because she does not believe in choice. She is a woman in the shape of Phylis Schaffley, who does one thing and talks another; the worst kind of hypocrite. She's ignorant and ill informed. She's also a bigot.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • John

      "Bachmann is not a feminist because she does not believe in choice" Sorry, didn't know that there was a test for being a feminist. You can't be a human being because you support murdering children.....how does that sound to you?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  14. dee

    gross

    June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  15. wilbur

    please, why does any leader need to be "evangelical". That is using the power of the government in violation of the 1st Amendment. It is illegal.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  16. vincent

    Well, I m a firm beleiver that no matter if ur man, woman, black, white, as long as u were born in the USA, that if u have values n do more things then u talk about doing then I will open my ears n hear what u have to say. Maybe its best she doesn't talk about thigs so much. Maybe she is a doer n not a talker. Hmmm. I m interested...I would like to see her vs h. Clinton...

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

      Annoying post. Is it that hard to use all of the letters?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Dennis

      Wow...I think you spelled a word or two there correctly by accident.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • RichieP

      I can tel frum ur post, u agree with tha repubs on educashun

      June 28, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • speedro

      Dude, learn how to write if you would like to be taken seriously.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Jimbo

      You are a terrific example of what kind of person would vote for the dumbest candidate to come around since Sarah.
      Move to Texas and help the fight to make Texas their own country (elect M.B. as president)

      June 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  17. BULLDIKE

    I like being "The husband!!!" in our relationship....

    June 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  18. Vonteller

    Like I said earlier, a lot of BUFFOONS (braindead leftists) 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 12:05 pm |
    • Thor

      Oh you are so right. Praying is the answer for EVERYTHING! That's why I tout the AMISH religion!

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

      Praying only works if you are Christian.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • jamesquall

      actually the majority of the people you listed are morons.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  19. Marie Kidman

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    4

    June 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  20. BULLDIKE

    I have a mullet!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:03 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.