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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 FACE OF AMERICAN FEMINISM!! Doctorate and Post-Doctorate Degree in Tax law, a tax attorney, owns a business, creates jobs, intelligent, beautiful, been in Government since 2001(starting from state level)..etc. And some DIMWITTED LIBERALS here want to say otherwise? Please clean the Obama SPERM from your faces and see reality for what it is. BACHMANN2012

    June 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  2. BlackPowerHo

    So so moment I post a video here, CNN decidesthat this story about Bachman isn't front page-worthy anymore (means less views for the video, which is what CNN wants). Wow. I should try this more often with all the non-news headliner garbage they produce!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEb3GQqdHD4&w=640&h=360]

    June 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  3. Youdaho

    That woman is crazier than a tree full of f&#ked frogs and a bag full of adzeholes combined!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  4. rod

    While we conjecture on the role of secular perspectives in poltics, it is the spiritual convictions of a politician that distinguishes (his, her roles) in shaping up the soul of a nation and its blessings can ONLY come from God as He seess fit His children to rule in Gods righteousness!

    Ms Bachmann voices her political convictions as she acknowledges Gods leadership in her life to aspire for the presidency at a time when this country in its precipitous state before an atheistic and agnostic world!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • TheLightBearer

      I really wish god would rapture up all of you idiots already so us atheists and agnostics can have the world to live in happily already, none of you Christians truly appreciate the value of your lives, because you have this sick fantasy in your head about going somewhere better when you die! FALSE! I was raised in a very friendly baptists church, and sure everyone was good to each other, never once was there a big controversy, and you know what, all around good people, HOWEVER, when something novel, nobel, happy, loving, genuine, or caring ever happened to someone who denied your god, you people SPIT on those people, and you BITE hands that try to feed you, but you're always too blind to see universal good in humanity. MIND YOU, your religion is still responsible for more torture, burnings at the cross, stripping of the flesh with knives, and hangings, than all other religions combined, don't forget that, and MOST importantly, YOU DO NOT APPRECIATE THE VALUE AND HOW FRAGILE YOUR LIFE IS! Take it from a man who has been to 7 funerals and almost died twice, but recovered, THERE IS NOTHING POETIC ABOUTDEATH! YOU FOOL! Oh yea, and your people holocausted the indians too. And what your faith is doing to the muslim people is GENOCIDE.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • TheLightBearer

      You also have NO CLUE, how corrupt, dirty, cruel, and indifferent of emotion, the job of keeping spoiled America happy, we set up military pivot points around the world, and offer baskets of good tidings with blood covered hands, EVERYTHING American International Politics does is secretly designed to only benefit U.S. in the end and cut like a double edged sword. In fact, why don't you ATTEMPT to stop consuming foreign oil for one week, I guarantee you sir, after 7 days of total darkness, no energy, no electricity, and nothing to power the fridge that keeps your food cold at night, you might have second thoughts about who GOD really is to you. GOD is what keeps you alive and content, not some imaginary figure that you have only ever dreamed of in your mind. Clown...

      June 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • rod

      TLB... lots of vermin and putrid on your comments but is taken with prayer that you will see the light and rejoicing before a Loving Heavenly Father. May you have a personal encounter and relationship with Him!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  5. Dan Aaaaa

    The Separation of Church and State. What a mis-construed concept. It was intended to PROTECT the young USA from having religious belief "governed" by the state, (as the Church of England had abused). So now we see this "concern" raised anytime a person represents "The State" that somehow their faith is a problem. Not unlike trying to engage in a situation totally free of one's ethics. (which is impossible as these guide our thought processes). Of course, we would not want government to force religion on anyone, yet we cannot tell those who have a personal faith to, 'stay the h*** away from governance' beause they will, for some reason, violate the "separation" of church and state. That principle was NEVER intended to prevent governement, but to protect religion. Let's get the train back on the track, do what our nation does well in the amazing democracy we enjoy and not block someone from serving simply because they have a personal faith.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • BostonBill

      Religion is fine. Faith can be a very comforting influence for some. I do worry about someone in power using there religion to restrict the rights of others. I'm a Liberal so it's not likely I would vote for Michele Bachmann. It's not about her religion. It's about what I perceive to be her very narrow view. I agree that one's faith should not be a factor, it depends on whether or not their faith distorts their ability to govern fairly even if a decision may not be in line with their religious.beliefs.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  6. jessica

    To Gozar: tools have a purpose and it has accomplished getting you upset. Interesting that you post something so hateful about so many people. You need intervention asap.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  7. CNN?

    Her big hair makes it really easy to hide the horns.

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

      Reminds me of Darth Vader on Spaceb@ lls

      June 28, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Laughing

      you mean dark helmet? "Yogurt! I hate yogurt! Especially with strawberries!"

      June 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  8. autiger4

    Evangelical feminist just seems like an oxymoron to me.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  9. PauletteB

    As a prayerfully pro-choice, socially moderate Born Again Christian, I take great offense at Bachmann being portrayed as an "Evangelical." Her anti-poor, anti-"Other" politics of intolerance is as far from Christianity as you can get. Michele Bachmaan and others of her ilk wouldn't recognize Jesus Chris if He bit them in the butt!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  10. Vonteller

    LOL!! I just accuratey pointed out that most of the jobs created in the last 2 years were created primarily in Texas and Red States, and some LIBERAL RETARD named TJ said I was wrong. According to this DIMWIT, he thinks China and India are part of the United States as he goes to say most jobs were created in these places. HEY, MORON, CHINA AND INDIA AREN'T PART OF THE US, YOU STUPID VICTIM OF LIBERAL CONTROLLED PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION..LOL!!

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

      Name-calling in caps always a convincing presentation...

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

      All Democrats believe that speaking the truth and stating facts is known as a hate crime. They also believe that tolerance and open-mindedness is calling in 10,000 death threats against a 19 year old girl on a dance show because you despise her mother.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  11. lolo

    I guess she will be taking over S. Palin's place. After all they are not getting along now. This woman is a nut. She is not an icon for anything but greed. I want to her to explain how she is getting government funds for foster kids, agriculture and we the taxpayers are paying her salary. Something is wrong with this picture. Between her and her husband they are making good money. Yet and still she claims no more government handouts after she has been taking it for years. People you better wake up. This lady is no more presidential than S. Palin. Please rethugs/tea partiers stop talking about it is because of her gender. She is nothing near Hillary Clinton's status. It is because of her stupidity that no one likes her. She is talking out the side of her neck,and pandering to the poorest, racist republicans. Watch how her or any of the republicans will win the south and midwest votes. They already have their boot camps together to teach how to steal the vote if the republicans do not win. Shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  12. gozer

    A school "principal", Jessica?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  13. Doug

    So Michele answer to god, to lib lib that is worse than OBama, who answers only to George Soros.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  14. Doug

    Democrats believe it is more honorable to send picks of your weiner to young girls, than to take in 23 children who have nothing and give them a great life. They all defend the Weiner lib, and attack Michele, wishing her and her 23 foster children harm.

    Thank god for Michele, these 23 children are now not subjected to living in Democrat crime Meccas likes Chicago where the community is organized so that young honor students are beaten to death in the streets.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • AGuest9

      How much government money did she accept to care for those 23 foster children? How is that different from welfare?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  15. jd

    This article is a joke, right? Just because she has ambition and says that God called her to do the work, does that really all of a sudden make her an "Evangelical Feminist?" We should be careful about misattributing the characteristics of individuals to movement names. Michelle Bachman might be a feminist in certain (very limited) respects, who happens to be evangelical, but nothing more. After all, I doubt she'd be where she is today had it not been for the secular feminist movement. Meanwhile, I would argue that true evangelical feminists are those working their way up the ranks of the clergy. These women should quit hijacking the feminist movement and using it for their own selfish gains. That is not what it's about at all.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • zhawk88

      well said.

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

      Before making such scathing comments about a movement, perhaps you should actually research what an "evangelical feminist" is. However that would take understanding, which most people don't have time for. People, both left and right, see a term that they dislike and lash out with half truths and misinformation. Even this article is incorrect. There has been a feminist movement at work in the sectarian world of Christianity well before the modern "feminist" movement as we know it, especially in the ranks of the evangelical churches. Try learning the history of the Pentecostal movement and women in the clergy.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  16. Chris

    This is certainly disheartening to see; CNN basically helping a fringe extremist co-opt the word "feminist", a word that couldn't be further from describing someone such as Michelle Bachmann. "Evangelical" feminism? Give me a break...

    June 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  17. Fred Goepfert

    Dan is a religion editor and write a ridiculous column like this? If he read the New Testament, he would see Paul saying in Romans: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me" That meant the woman Phoebe was an equal with a leadership position.". I belong to an evangelical church.. A husband and wife are equal co-Pastors. Leftist Liberals like to pretend that they have a knowledgeable logical humanist position on the Bible. The truth is, since they shun it and God, they have no understanding or knowledge.

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

      Sorry Fred but you are wrong. Your wife does not know her proper place. You are no head of the household and a weak man and Christian. You are a porr example to all.

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

      So Zelda are you trying to say the Bible is wrong?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  18. Carolyn

    This woman is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs and makes me embarrassed to be from Minnesota. Even that little fat orange girl from Jersey Shore is smarter.

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

      You know what makes me a ashamed of being from Minnesota? Governor Dayton, it is too bad he couldnt of been on the same plane that crashed with Wellstone.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  19. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  20. Addison

    I am pro choice and moderate/conservative... I am not religous, and I do not understand why so many of you feel so threatened. The abortion issue is a court decision. If she wins the presidency she cannot change it, so what is the fuss? I do not fear her or any other very conservative person. What I seek and I think most Americans seek is someone who can get the economy going and is a no nonsense person on foreign policy. We can clearly see that Obama is as pro muslim president ever and we are still the enemy.. and the only way to change that is to give up our western values and all covert to Islam and join them. Obama does not realize that and I do not know if Michelle does either. My vote is not determned by her religion, or her anit abortion etc.. my vote is determined by who will keep us a strong economic power and most all of us working, and also who will keep us safe. That is the presidents job.. and I do not care about all the other crap.. I will vote for who I feel will do that job ONLY...

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

      Addison..you sound like a reasonable person, but to say that you have no fear of this lady or any other cnnservative is really placing your head in the sand and hoping for the best???
      Michelle Bachmann is the least likely person to defeat President Barak Obama. That you can take to th bank and cash the check.
      But with all that aside, are you serious to even imply that you would be comfortable with this "Flake" as the Teapublican nominee??

      June 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • CatholicMom

      It is wonderful that we have at least two presidential nomination hopefuls from the state of Minnesota. We are a forward moving state with a concern for the whole country. Both Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty have what it takes to be our next President!

      June 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Carolyn

      You can thank the president from keeping us from going into a depression.

      I don't see how it is the president's fault that so many irresponsible people were allowed by greedy banks to obtain home mortgages which split the value of our homes in half.

      The world is not what it used to be and never will be what it was; many jobs are no longer needed because of advances in technology. Our economy depends on the economic status or political status in other countries and everything is in an upheaval right now. I'm not sure how any one person or party can control that.

      I just know that someone who thinks that when it came to immigrants in the late 1800s/early 1900s i"it didn't matter the color of their skin...their language...their economic status...once you got here, we were all the same.", makes up lies about the cost of the president's trip to India, confuses John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, is not fit to lead nor be any kind of moral leader for anyone.

      And enough of these ridiculous conservative women who would vote for her (or Palin) because she is a woman and mother and that somehow makes her qualified. I remember back in the early 80s, Whoopi Goldberg (when she was still funny) included Jesse Jackson's possible White House run as part of her stand-up routine: "ya got these people goin; 'oooh, we're gonna have a black president!!!!"" and then got very serious and said how that's not a reason to put someone into office, the right person needs to be in the position, they need to be qualified. I am not a fan of the Secretary of State, but Hilary Clinton is at least a highly intelligent person. Michelle Bachmann could not pass a citizenship test (well,she probably could NOW because her people probably made her study some of the basic facts of American history).

      Michelle Bachmann appeals to people who are made about the economy and want to blame it on a single person or party. She takes advantage of that the same way Hitler got everyone riled up - and there are a lot of stupid people in this country - A LOT, because few people can think for themselves anymore. Everyone treats their smartphone/computer. ipad.TV as if it were life support. They read and gulp it down, they never really THINK beyond some headline or inflammatory accusation, it's just a mob mentality nowadays. People rarely have face to face discussions anymore where they seriously talk about their views with others and try to see the other side.

      This is the way the world ends
      This is the way the world ends
      This is the way the world ends
      Not with a bang but a whimper.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:50 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.