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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. Vonteller

    BACHMANN is the NEW FEMINIST. Unlike that lying PELOSI (PIGLOSI) that lied that the CIA lied to her about enhanced interogation and looked like a F00L saying it. BACHMANN IS WELL EDUCATED, a doctorate degree and post doctorate degree in tax law, a law attorney, a small business owner, and a JOB CREATOR. The neadnerthal in the white house can't claim any of these. MOST JOBS CREATED IN THE LAST 2 YEARS WERE CREATED IN TEXAS AND MOSTLY RED STATES..LOL!!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • TJ

      Think again. Most jobs created in the last two years were created in China, India, Singapore and the like. Also, Bachmann is not the new feminist. She isn't a feminist at all. You might try looking up the word before attempting to apply the label. It has nothing to do with education and has to do with ideology. Just because someone attempted to hijack it and apply it to her doesn't mean it's correct. It's like calling Limbaugh a new liberal.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Addison

      TJ you must be a hammer in a shed of sharp tools. Fact is Texas has created more jobs than more than half the other states combined.. person was not speaking about China... So the point is what is texas doing right ??? Sorry that you are not smart enough to understand that.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  2. Rick

    I think she is a loose cannon... time will tell... Her and Palin almost GUARANTEE another 4 years of Obama.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  3. Bill

    what if, after praying for guidance, god instructs president Bachmann to nuke some country. Surely she must obey god. woh is the world with this kind of president. very scary.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • R U Serious???

      Well considering that would contradict what is Biblical, I wouldn't worry about that. I would be more worried about a nation turning out like Russia, North Korea, ect...
      Most "Active" Christians are generous and place a very high value on other people's lives.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  4. MIM

    Simple question – What happens to your consciousness after you die? Can non-belief explain this? Many people don't care because they are absorbed with conducting their lives in the ephemeral period associated with the human life cycle. I believe this is the question we are placed on this Earth to come to terms with through the experiences in our lifetime. I choose to care about what happens to me after I die and there is nothing crazy, overzealous, or irrational about that. I practice the religion that I believe answers this question, for which non-faith based understanding is utterly silent.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Addison

      If you are religious you believe in some pearly gates and heaven or hell.. I personally believe when you die, you rot and disentegrate.. if you live on it is only due to the hearts you touched while alive here on earth..

      June 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Laughing

      You seem to think that something HAS to happen after you die and that you aren't crazy for believing that after your body dies you drift up to heaven (or down depending on if you telepathically communicated with the right god or not) and that you get to spend eternity with everyone you love and la la la everything is happy and perfect.

      It's a nice bedtime story but I strongly urge you to think critically for a minute and realize that however much you think you are not crazy or irrational, the very idea of your beliefs is based on fallacy

      June 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • d rufus onfyre

      When it comes to running a country, the afterlife doesn't matter. When a president dies, all we need to know is that the VP is prepared to step in.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Mr Mark

      You prefer a fairy tale "answer" to an honest "who knows?" answer. THAT is the problem with religious belief like yours – you require an answer for everything, even if the answer is make believe. How childish is that?

      Question: what happens to sick pets? Religious mindset answer: they end up at a farm where they have plenty of room to run around and be happy all day. Rational answer: they are put down by the local vet.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Sam

    That lady is a pure nut job....Visions from god? really? Thats just an excuse for when she makes bad decisions....

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

      If Bachmann is a nut job because she prays to GOD, then that means, Obama is a nutjob, Pelosi is a nutjob, Jimmy Carter is a nutjob(that's true), Bono is a nutjob, Jesse Jackson is a nutjob, Al sharpton is a nutjob, Martin Luther King is a nutjob..etc. Isn't that the case, NUTJOB?!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Mr Mark

      You're right, Vonteller. All the people you mention are nutty to some extent for having religious beliefs, as religious beliefs are not based in reality. What they are based in is probably equal parts ego and fear. Religious belief is perhaps the most self-serving aspect of human existence that man has ever devised for himself.

      It really is is a matter of extent – is your religious belief a safe, non-threatening "whatever, I'm OK, you're OK" kind of belief, or is it the dangerous "god told me to do this thing that effects everyone else" kind of belief of the zealot?

      Let's also not forget the political benefit one accrues in this country for saying they are a Xian. There's not benefit to an American politician to say they're an Atheist. Last I looked, there was only ONE declared atheist in the whole of Congress. Yet, 16% of Americans identify as non-believers. Does it make sense to imagine that that number wouldn't holdtrue in Congress, rather than the .001% of Congress critters who currently identify as Atheists?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  6. jessica

    I pray she will restore our nation back to its roots of a God fearing and God loving nation. We are so far from this now with the very liberal views in the White House.

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

      Look up the separation of Church and State. Understand why our founding fathers thought it was so important. THIS is why our nation was founded.

      Then get over yourself.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Jim M

      I suppose your God hates all the same people you do?

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

      I agree with you praying but she is not a true Christian. She belongs by here husband's side. The bible talks of this.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • JW

      I am a Christian and I am glad we have freedom of religion. It forces me to learn more about my own faith as well as the beliefs of others.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • gozer

      Since prayer has never done anything other than waste time and effort, we are pretty safe from having what you desire actually happen.

      Bachmann is an ignorant twit who gets both basic science and American history wrong (check out what she says about slavery and the founding fathers, as one of many examples). It would be a disaster and an embarrassment to America if she became POTUS.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • jessica

      I think you need to read more books and look at the lives of our founding fathers. They lived out what they believed and lead our nation following those same principals. I think you need a true reality check yourself. As least I have read the facts and can speak truth.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • gozer

      Zelda's place is in a home. Same for Bachmann, or maybe a zoo in both cases.

      Note the use of the indefinite article.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • gozer

      Jessica is an ignorant tool.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • R U Serious???

      You misinterperet what seperation of church and state was intended for. Thomas Jefferson had no intention of allowing the government to limit, restrict, regulate, or interfere with public religious practices. He believed, along with the other Founders, that the First Amendment had been enacted only to prevent the federal establishment of a national denomination – a fact he made clear in a letter to fellow-signer of the Declaration of Independence Benjamin Rush:

      June 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • AGuest9

      I guess. If you NEED the Scary Shadown-man in the Sky.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • Carolyn

      Hmmmm.... unless I missed an amendment to the Ten Commandments, I am pretty sure bearing false witness was still one of the Ten Commandments.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Carolyn

      Sure, that's why Obama repeatedly tries to meet the Republicans half way. Oh Jessica Jessica Jessica, you cute but silly little girl. I will bet that when in real life when you open your mouth, people just smile kindly at you, the way they do at great grandma when she says it's 1941 and thinks your grandfather is still an infant.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  7. BULLDIKE

    I have more hair between my cheeks than most men have on their chests....for I am...BULLDIKE!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  8. Vonteller

    9.1% unemployment, 18% underemployment, over 14 trillion dollar deficit, more jobs leaving the US, Obama at war with ATM's..LOL!!!! We win 2012. BACHMANN KICKS OBAMORON OUT 2012!! GO BACHMANN!!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  9. TJ

    That word feminist, I don't think it means what you think it means.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Carolyn

      "Invonceivable!" 😉

      June 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Laughing

      Stop that rhyming now, I mean it!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Laughing

      Would anybody like a peanut?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  10. chris

    Any presidential candidate that references their religious beliefs should NOT be allow to run for the Oval Office. This country was founded on the separation of Church and State. It's fine to follow your faith BUT "check it" at the door when you want to run for president.

    I doubt this hypocritical religious zealot will win....she'll probably score some good "points" but she wont make it to the White House.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • jessica

      Great. Please inform our current president to stop reciting Islam in his speeches.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Carolyn

      You hit the nail on the head when you used the word "zealot"!!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  11. jed

    It seems like CNN suddenly that Sara Palin wasn't a real threat against the presidency and they have now in a major panic halted their continued attack against palin in order to begin work on dismantling this bachman person. They'll probably find out soon enough that she isn't a threat to the white house either.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  12. TJ

    "including helping to lead the temperance movement and campaigning for and against women's right to vote, "

    How can you have this quote in an article and say these people are feminists?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  13. BULLDIKE

    I can kick any man's A**....for I am....BULLDIKE!!!

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

    Whatever. She's still a nutjob.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Reagan

    Rather have an Evangelical then a mus lim like we have now...

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

      you sir is a R_Acist & an ignoramus.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  16. bb

    Bachman, a feminist? Ha! Anything but...

    Just ask women.

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

    i wonder what she'll say about this:
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXut97F2Qew&w=640&h=360]

    June 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  18. volksmaniac

    Bulldike ; you have a much bigger problem that that !

    June 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  19. Zelda

    She cannot be a true Christian because she does not know her place. The bible talks of this. Her place is below and beside her husband.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • JW

      OK Zelda be honest. Are you really an atheist trying to make Christians look bad? If you are a Christian I think you have a lot to learn.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • jessica

      Sometimes as in the time of the Judges, when there were no godly man who would rise up, God used a powerful women named Deborah. We should not judge what the Lord might be doing. Our nation is headed in the wrong direction now. We need a true believer to be willing to stand up to wickedness and walk in righteousness. King Josiah was a powerful king who was willing to do a lot of work to make things right.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • JW

      In biblical times the culture was different. Most of the men were more educated than the women. This is no longer the case.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Laughing

      @JW Hello sir! Glad to see you again. Aside from Zelda's clear trolling, you mention that in the biblical times the culture was different and so now that women are more educated the old rules in the bible don't really apply any more. Could you go a little further? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on why there are some things that people stick to in the bible no matter the time period and other things that need to be updated.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • JW

      @ Laughing Well I think that the culture used to be different and things have changed in today's society. Other examples that some still practice today are that women should always wear dresses and men should never shave. Tatoos were considered immoral in biblical times because many people got tattoos to worship other gods, but that is not necessarily the case today. We no longer sacrifice animals as was done in biblical times. Some issues such as abortion was not really directly mentioned in the Bible, but biblical references have been used for or against it. I am sure there are others examples. It is hard to think of everything right off the top of my head. But I do not believe that the Bible should be taken so literally. We need to learn to apply it as the world changes.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Laughing

      @JW Interesting concept and examples, though the sacrificing thing is actually because god only commanded that sacrifices can only happen in the Temple of Solomon and after that was destroyed (twice) there was no where to go to make sacrifices, so they made up an alternative until the temple could be rebuilt and we could start the sacrificing thing again. I guess my next quetion would be, why apply a book to our current lives if some of needs to be updated. Why has the canon closed and why is it that only the Mormans have since tried to update it (albeit through a completely ridiculous fashion). I'm honestly just trying to understand and you have expressed your want to rationally discuss it without name calling and what not so I thought I would ask you.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  20. BULLDIKE

    Maybe she really did mean John Wayne gacy!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:10 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.