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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. Helena22

    Could the media make it any less obvious who they favor for the GOP nod? I've seen her name like 5 times today on CNN already! Sheesh!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  2. Citizen John

    I've said it a hundred time, "News stories that have a question as a headline is NOT news." Report some news and stop trying to bash people your leftist media swamp doesn't like.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  3. Carolyn

    Please, do tell us the supplier of the splendid psychotropic drugs you are on.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  4. Jacob

    evangelical feminist? the two labels together are a gross contradiction!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Vonteller

      The same way OBAMA and SMART contradict each other. You have to be a PRETTY DUMB President to blame unemployment of ATM's

      June 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  5. Vonteller

    A LIBTARD RETARD, named bachmanntwit, wrote "you are a phucking". Please DIMWIT, what is "phucking"? Can't even spell, MORON. DUMB VICTIM OF LIBERAL CONTROLLED PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM!!! LOL!!!

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

      I guess not everyone can afford a private school, vonteller. Maybe it's those darn vouchers you rich folks pilferred (did I spell that right?) from the public education system to pay for your rich christian schools. I mean, who the heck cares if poor kids get educated! They're nothing but leaches to the welfare system. We should just let them keep popping out babies because I don't believe in funding Planned Parenthood, but man I don't want to educate them or feed them either, little brats!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  6. johnnyO

    deal with it,, most of the presidential nominee will get weeded out in the end.. at this time anyone can do or say what they want...

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

    I am Canadian and have been very proud to be a neighbor of the once greatest nation on earth.

    But there are some things in American politics I do not understand:
    1) Why does the Religous Right cherry pick their issues, ie Abortion, Gay Rights? Don't disagree, but why are they ignoring efforts to help the lest fortunate by taxing the poor, giving all breaks to the rich, reducing medicare, medicaid. It's not what I learned in Sunday school.
    2) Forbes Magazine published a law going thru congress to eliminate corporation taxes on overseas profit, but keeping 38% tax for profits made in US. There will be a mass exedous of business in the US. Why would Congress do this?
    3) Why does the US allow massive trade deficits?
    4) Why does the US import so much oil? There are untapped reserves in Alaska, untapped natural gas capability that will supply all automotive needs and eliminate our dependance on offshore delivery and will prevent continued USD discounting.
    5) Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, every great nation, every great military power has been powerful because of their manufacuring base. Through concerted effort the US manufacturing has decreased their manufacuring from 50% to less than 10% of GDP. Why does the US desire to give up this strength? Why does the US not make effort to retain their greatness?

    It is so sad to see the once greatest nation strive to become something less. It is time that every leader of your country – political, business, & church get together and make decisions to stop this downward spiral to third world status.

    It is sad to see the political leadership of the the last 30 years become so short sighted and self-centered?

    Where is Ronald Reagan when you need him the most?

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

      Ronald Reagan is the one that started all of the things in your list.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • CM

      Because the corporate owned politicians cover up their agendas by manipulating the low intelligence population with religious and idealogical progaganda.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • CM

      "propaganda" sorry!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  8. Nnona ijomah

    It does not matter ur faith or believe, it is God alone that knows the begining and the end and those he called (elected) to serve. Let's watch and pray.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Mr Mark

      Yes, let's wait until Zeus has weighed in. That is the god you're talking about, is it not?

      Religion. Yawn!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  9. chris

    leave it to CNN to paint a religious picture for the brainwashed followers. if Hillary was a republican she would have been chased out of the grand political stage a decade ago. instead, being a liberal, she gets a pass for being on of the most ruthless politicians in the last 20 years. buried are all those shady money schemes her and Bill were in. buried are all the personal attacks she's made. Bachmann on the other hand. Can't sneeze without being ridiculed by the liberal media. such resounding hypocrisy we face today.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  10. Andy

    See if you can spot the bias: Start with associating a woman with the temperance movement and women's rights to vote - both movements out of the 1800's - and then re-phrase her support of life for the unborn to one who is part of a campaign against "abortion rights." Mix in labels of feminism and evangelical Christianity, have her stand next to Sarah Palin, and it's already impossible to know who she is. It'll be a miracle if we ever find out through media coverage like this. This article is a mess.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  11. Billy Jr

    Love Bachmann! Obama is the flake, the phony, and the charlatan! Anybody but Bam 2012! Liberalism is the largest problem we face as a nation. It is all simply a matter of common-sense. Every Lib I know either demonstrates stupidity, ignorance (sometimes of the enlightened type), or envy as the basis for their false premises.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Laughing

      You should probably get more friends than just your hand

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • CM

      Another woman hating nutjob!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  12. Vonteller

    Stefanie, the chimp, do you think OBAMA is a nutjob for blaming unemployment on ATM's?

    Stefanie: No! Them ATM's be bad. I think they are evangelical republicans. I hate them. Obama told me to

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

      You're a phucking idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  13. Marie Kidman

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

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

      And you're another phucking idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  14. BULLDIKE

    She says god called her! Funny thing, the bible says Satan is the "God" of this system...so...maybe she is right!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  15. CM

    Abortion rights are women's rights! These women are anti-feminists. They are eroding women's right to choose based on an idealogical standpoint perpetuated for centuries by men who wished to control women and keep them in their place. They buy into the guilt that evangelical men impose on them for "not being good mothers". A good mother is a woman who chooses when to have children when she can take care of them. A good mother doesn't bring a child into the world addicted to drugs or into a dysfunctional situation when she's not old enough to take care of them. A good mother doesn't bring a child into a poverty stricken situation or abandon them. Women should have access to Planned Parenthood which provides birth control, exams, prenatal care, STD tests, and yes even abortions (small percentage). Children need to be taken care of not popped out like rabbits. Women need to have options to escape poverty, dysfunction, and abuse. We can see what happens in other countries (like India and Mexico) where women don't have these options. Those children suffer. Palin and Bachmann are traitors to women's rights. They are rich white women who know nothing about what poor women deal with or the choices they have to make.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  16. NastyBuzzard

    Jesus was a liberal. So I do not understand why evangelical people would be republicans. Duh???? Some one please explain.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Billy Jr

      God is liberal, huh? Yeah, I guess you are right. And most especially in the Islamic faith that you Libs are so fond of defending! Think again!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Capitalism

      You are an ignoramus. Like Jesus would support the killing of unborn children. It will be interesting to see how you respond come judgment day. Might be difficult trying to weasel your way out of that one.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • NastyBuzzard

      No Jesus would not want to kill unborn children. But you do realize, Jesus supports a woman's right to choose. It is called "freedom of will". Of course Jesus was a liberal and you know it and that irks you so called evangelical christians.

      Now that you have raised one issue that Jesus would not like, do you have another liberal issue that is at odds with Jesus. That is the only one yet the entire republican agenda is anti-Jesus. Take from the poor and middle class and give to the rich. How is that a virtue Jesus would like?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  17. BULLDIKE

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

    June 28, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  18. BULLDIKE

    Nachos

    June 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  19. Alex T. Brane

    Isn't "evangelical feminist" an oxymoron?

    June 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  20. Ron in California

    Funny, I never once thought of Conde Rice or karen Hughes as Evangelical feminist. They never portrayed themselves that way either. As far as the difference between Evangelical Feminists and Secular feminists I believe that Evangelicals consider families while Secularists consider only themselves.

    June 28, 2011 at 12:56 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.