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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. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  2. Melissa

    Bachmann is just a crazy woman. She lies every time she opens her mouth, and she disgusts me. She is an embarrassment to women everywhere. Crazy nutbag liar.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  3. Philosopher12

    Help to understand, our elected officials both parties got the American people into this depression,recession whatever name you call it!. Election time is upon us, now! All sudden, everyone can fix the problems. Obama was put in the office of president at the worse time in history of America, who did not cause the falling of America, yet everyone is blaming him. Help me to understand, Please!!!!!

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

      voters have short memories and don't understand politics or economics.

      to the average voter, the price of gas and the quality or lack thereof of their job is the primary indicator for how good a president is. it has nothing to do with macro-level issues that voters are too incompetent and naive to understand.

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

      Most of the people in this country shouldn't be allowed to breed much less vote. Most of them are so uneducated, its no wonder this country's power is slowly fading.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Addison

      I will explain it to you. The president has about 1% to do with the economy.. It is congress who makes laws and send funding bills etc for the president to sign.. now if he veto's a good bill and is not overidden then perhaps you can blame the president more. President controls foreign policy, and congress controlls domestic policy. So go back and look at when things were good and when they are bad.. and see who controlled congress. (congress being both congress and the senate) Only when a president controlls both houses can you then say the president is at fault. Obama had both houses and made some horrible decisions. Now the congress is devided.. so the status quo will remain until the senate and presidency all change or the congress gets its way.. which I cannot imagine the senate allowing that.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  4. Jean, Des Moines, Iowa.

    to Doug: Remeber the civil rights act of the 1960's that LBJ and the democrats put through? – that is when the southern and some bigoted northern democrats all went to the republican party – read history before you comment.
    Our local paper stated Bachmann had "hundreds" at her visit to Waterloo – Waterloo has a population of around 66,000 and only "hundreds" showed up??? Of course, those hundreds included the tea partiers in their 6 figure RV's, local small town people and probably a few drove down from Minnesota – not much of a showing for your so-called "hometown", is it? And the reference to John Wayne (who was a very bigoted man and also had 4 wives- great Christian model there!!) John Wayne Gacy (serial killer) was from Waterloo. John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa – 150 miles south of Waterloo. Also, notice all the white faces? There are racial and ethnic minorities in Waterloo. Anyone see any of them in the pictures?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Addison

      If I recall al gores father was against the civil rights bill.

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

      Liar, the Republicans tried to put a Civil Rights Bill through a decade earlier only to be stopped by Democrats like Kennedy and Johnson. Democrats, the party that started the klan and fought for segrigation, Republicans the party that ended slavery.

      The Civil Rights Act of 64 that you speak of, which party had a higher percentage of their congressmen vote for it Democrat or Republican? Yup Republican.

      LBJ only went for the Civil Rights Act because he knew it was only a matter of time, and found a way to negate its possitive effects on the quality of life for minorities, its called the great society. Democrats still impliment the great society today in our inner cities where they have had complete control for the last 50 years. The webster defintion of what the great society has done to poor people, mostly minorities, in these Democrat ruled Cities is known as Genocide.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Melissa

      Republicans, those that want us all to be slaves to businesses. They didn't end slavery, they just made us all slaves to their corporate partners.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  5. Harry

    CNN you can really say evangelical and feminist in the same word without cracking up? Seems to me the two are complete opposites. Both have conflicting ideologies so really you just wrote an oxymoron. Congrats... now go sit in the corner and try not to look stupid.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  6. Stephen

    So Evangelical Feminism in when you undo real feminism?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Addison

      Really.. how about you define feminism for us?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  7. Spacial

    Enough is enough already. First it was Palin connecting with "Maverick" and now it is Bachmann associating herself with "John Wayne". Can we finally have a candidate that does not need to associate with anyone? Is there someone who can stand on their own two feet???? I'm an independent and no one from either party gets my backing yet.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  8. Addison

    you know what.. I have written something without one bad word in it and tried my hardest to figure out why it is waiting moderation and retried many times and just cannot figure out what word is not acceptable. So lets see if this posts.. FU..CK the moderation system.. bet this one makes it.

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

      Amazing.. really.. amazing.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  9. Alex

    I still don't get this whole emphasis towards someone being evangelical – I thought the US governmental system was based upon the separation of church and state?

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

      Wouldn't that be nice.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  10. Midwesterner from Iowa

    She is a flake!!

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

      SO IS YOUR MOTHER CHlMP!!

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

      LOL! Yup. Agreed. That woman is a Flake! And no Vonteller, my mother is not a chimp, idiot. But Bachmann is definitely crazy, "scholarly" law degrees and all.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  11. Ken

    Hillary Clinton is a selfish manipulator: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h3G-lMZxjo
    Sarah Palin needs a course in civics 101: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rXmuhWrlj4
    Michele Bachmann is my current lady of choice.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Midwesterner from Iowa

      choice for what? sleeping with her?

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

      Midwesterner.. no your mother has done 90 percent of everyone in the midwest.. so we are satisfied.. ok?

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

      I'm not satisfied. Just why is Bachmann your "current lady of choice?" Choice for what? President? Is she your "current" choice for President? Either way, she's as crazy as a loon.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  12. Lindsay

    I consider feminists to be people who care about women's rights in general, not just their own right to get the most powerful position in the world.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  13. nomorebachmann

    Bachmann is again one of those end time cult evangelicals who has the heart cry tug for eternal wars for israel.
    Under Bachmann She will agree to 2 or more extra wars with muslim countries that have oil on their land.
    Yes that is right we are attacking in the name of israel muslim countries that just have oil. So that is the war we fight.
    NO MORE WARS FOR ISRAEL! She is an antisemite by warring for oil as if this oil is so holy for the american cause.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  14. Nacho1

    Some of these comments are stupid comments written by just as stupid people.............so now we have Michele Bachmann (alias Darth Vadar) and we have Hillary Clinton (alias Moon Maid) and we have President Obama (alias Curious George) and then we have our VP (dumb and dumber)...........so what is next? To begin with Michele Bachmann would make a good President compared to the present selection.......also Hillary Clinton would make a good President compared to the present selection............the VP would NOT be good in any capacity! George Bush was terrible and his VP Cheney should be in prison..............who we going to vote for? Ron Paul wants to put this country BACK on the gold standard so the dollar is worth a full dollar and he wants to get RID of the Federal Reserve that is screwing up the economy debt by selling off and trading our gold to places like CHINA...................OK.........there is your answer...........Ron Paul.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Dani

      Aha-ha! Ron Paul? Puleeze! Ron Paul is a religious fanatic and totally nuts! And he's too damned old. He's older than John McCain! I'll take Obama or Hiliary (if she was to run again).

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  15. live in alabama but not from here

    REMEMBER ANITA BRYANT LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE

    June 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Do you have ANYTHING important to contribute? How did Anita Bryant even enter this article? Are you insane or just totally INANE?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  16. Vonteller

    BACHMANN, THE NEW FACE OF FEMINISM!! WE DID IT KIDS!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  17. Carl_Seitan

    Calling her a feminist is a complete joke, and kind of insulting, considering that she has stated that she believes that a woman is supposed to obey and serve her husband. In fact, she went into tax law because her husband told her that was what he wanted her to do, despite her not having an interest in tax law.

    All of her other crazy beliefs aside, her subservience to her husband's command is what is most troubling. As president, would she make her own decisions or have them dictated to her by her husband? Granted, there is probably little difference between their ideological stances.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  18. jeff

    The problem I have is not her political stance, it is her ignorance. She is not smart enough to run to the bathroom on her own, let alone run for President.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Are you an authority on government or on bathrooms? Maybe you are just a cow chip looking for a place to drop in?

      June 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Ron in California

      Your guy has turned out to be brilliant.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • TJ in SC

      Clearly, intelligence is NOT required to be president....just look at our current POTUS.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  19. Doug

    Democrats defend Shia law while looking to take away each American's right to wear a cross, the symbol that Democrats have been buring for years ever since they started the klan.

    For Republicans it is about the 1st amendment right, for Democrats it is all about the religion itself.

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

      Please provide cited examples of democrats supporting Shia law.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Laughing

      Doug, you are as ignorant as you are ugly (stop breaking all my mirrors with your face!)

      First, it's Sharia law, not shia law, secondly please provide ONE example where in an American court of law we have used a different law than the code we have now. Just one please. Also please provide an example where an American has been restricted from wearing a cross?

      Next time you want to make a blanket statement that has 0 truth in it, please rethink the question and maybe say it outloud to someone first, that usually helps get rid of all the stupid before you can prove it for the rest of the world to see

      June 28, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • tb

      this is just not true, if you look at the social stances of Republicans, most of them follow Christian beliefs, not the Democrats

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

      Wear your cross. Go to church. If it brings you solace then you should follow your faith. But religion is a personal issue. It doesn't belong in government. While it's true that The Klan was probably started by Democrats about 146yrs ago. Those demographics have changed. I'll bet that most Klan members today consider themselves ultraconservative republicans. I'm guessing you know that. I'm a Liberal and I can assure you we don't support Sharia Law. We're the people that historically support woman's rights. Were the ones that like less restriction. Do you have anything to support your accusations? (Limbaugh and Beck don't count)

      June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  20. MC_in_LV

    Interesting and informative article on Bachmann:

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/michele-bachmanns-holy-war-20110622?page=1

    Read it and pass it along!

    June 28, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Ron in California

      Yes the Rollingstone is a top notch new organization with an objective point of view and no agenda.. Thanks for sharing.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:49 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.