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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. WWRRD

    CNN and author needs to do more research on the Evengelical Lutheran church . If CNN is referring to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Bachman is indeed part of the ELCA then there are problems wiuth the characterizaions drawn in the article. They are very liberal regarding women in the clergy. There are no restrictions. The Evangelical Luthern Church is quite different from Southern Baptist and the Pentacostal traditions cited by the author.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • jkress

      Who cares? It's all BS.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I always get a kick out of the Jesus freaks, who think their church is normal, but still realize the others are fruit loops.

      If you believe in an imaginary sky freind, then you are either lying to take advantage of idiots, or you are an idiot yourself.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  2. Den

    This wackadoo is going to make some totally irrelevant candidates look pretty good. How did she ever get elected to any position in the first place?

    June 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • William Demuth

      She is hot, and rednecks vote with their genitalia

      June 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  3. Johnny

    Israel promised to use snipers and attack dogs on the Americans peace activists in the US boat.
    Join Michael Moore on his cruzade to help fellow citizens.

    From michaelmoore.com
    DO SOMETHING:
    Call Hillary at 202 647-4000 and
    Ask Her to Care Whether U.S. Citizens Live or Die

    Follow the Freedom Flotilla on Twitter
    @USBoatToGaza | #Flotilla2 | #FreedomFlotilla2
    http://www.facebook.com/#!/USBOATTOGAZA

    June 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • jkress

      Wrong forum Johnny.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Jews kill Christians, Christians kill Muslims, and the Muslims kill EVERYBODY.

      Just your standard civil war between the children of Abraham

      I look forward to ALL of your deaths, so perhaps the survivors might put aside the fake Gods they have invented to justify their attrocities.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  4. angrysmell

    i had a dream the other night. in it, michelle bachmann was elected president. a few months into her presidency she is put in the position of having to decide whether or not to finally start ww3. everyone is telling her why its a bad idea, and she finally says: "all the facts tell me we shouldn't go to war, but my heart tells me we should," then she hits the big red button and all the ICBMs launch...or maybe that's the plot from The Dead Zone. either way im sure this woman should not be president.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I have dreams about Palin all the time, but lets just say the plot is a little different!

      Maybe if I am lucky, Bachman will make a cameo tonight!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  5. cliff

    CNN is now no longer a news organization...why bother pretending and simply join fox "news" as entertainment, or news-lite, or whatever you want to call it. They now just spit out anything, regardless of the facts, evidence, or basic definition of words like "feminist".

    June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  6. Adelina

    Zelda, I love you.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  7. TamarS

    Bachmann reminds me waaaaay too much of Anita Bryant. She seems to think because something is right for her it is right for everyone. It isn't. It's only right for her. She scares me more than Palin – didn't think that could happen in the same period of time!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Vonteller

      Really, DIMWIT? What does she think is right for her that is right for others? Please, do tell

      June 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Tamara, when you burp and pass gas, does it smell like semen?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  8. William Demuth

    Evangelical Feminist?

    Don't make me pee myself!

    Redneck stoneage belief systems are NOT compatible with feminisim, or ANY form of enlightened thought.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Are you a card carrying member of Nambla?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Moose.

      I support gassing all people who bugger children.

      Lets start with the clergy!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  9. Mike

    Michelle is a FLAKE!!! As far as thinking, she doesn't!!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Vonteller

      And neither do you when you accuse a person with a doctorate and a post-doctorate of not being able to think, MORON!!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      You sir, are too freaking stupid to bother with.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • jkress

      Vonteller, a college degree is no longer a litmus test for intelligence. If you got the cash they'll give you a diploma.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • GodPot

      She's a flake AND has crazy eyes, and you don't want to date a girl with crazy eyes and most certainly don't elect them president.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  10. Faqi

    There is no God, sure religion has given the world fancy buildings,art etc., but there just isn't evidence of God. Religion came about when people didn't understand the world around them properly and a God seemed a sensible choice. But when people started asking questions like Galileo he was maligned and demonized. Thankfully we understand the Earth and our place in the Universe a lot better and these days religion just seems to create problems and conflicts and not much else.
    Science is the only way we can derive real knowledge about the natural world and our place in it. Religious faith simply confuses and divides.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Go play in the road imbecile.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Karl

      Faqi – explain this. And just for the record, I haven't attended a church in years.

      One night while soundly asleep, I was startled out of my sleep by some kind of eerie presence in my bedroom. I quickly set-up, and as I did so, a white light quickly left my bedroom through a closed window. This really scared me and I had a hard time falling back to sleep. When I did eventually go back to sleep, it seemed morning arrived almost immediately. At the time, I was young man who had just finished college and was living with my cousin in an apartment. He had a job that required him to get up earlier than me and he was in the shower when I awoke. I was so disturbed by the event that happened during the night that I got up so I could tell him about it. As I was waiting for him to get out of the shower, the telephone rang. I answered and it was my cousins girlfriend. She asked for my cousin and I told her he was in the shower and asked her if he could call her when he got out. She asked me to get him right away. My cousin came to the phone, spoke to his girlfriend, and the got off and proceeded to tell me that the girl I was dating committed sucide during the night last night. At that point, I was sure it was her presence in my room that I had startled me awake during the night. To me, this is absolutely proof that there is some kind of exisitence after life on earth, and there is a God.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Karl, you can't be serious right?

      I explain that by the dirt weed you have been smoking.

      Dead is dead, and it is forever and always. Besides if she whacked herself while she was dating you, it proves nothing more than you are a loser, who comes up a bit short in his ability to make women happy.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Karl

      I fail to see where in that story there is proof of a god or being or any of that. You swear you saw a white light leave a closed window right as you woke up (This was how long ago to boot?). What does seeing something while you're in a semi-dream state have anything to do with anything else? I truly am sorry for your loss, but it sounds to me like your grasping at straws so you can have one last connection with this lost person.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  11. Vonteller

    BACHMANN IS THE NEW FACES OF FEMINISM..EAT THAT LIBERALS!!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Mike

      Now that is what I call a good joke!! I am sure that Liberals are not afraid of Michelle, who knows nothing!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • jkress

      She could use a new face.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • bachmanntwit

      I'd like to see Bachmann bumping whisker biscuits with Palin.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Ha Ha

      I suppose you want the Ayatollah for your Cub Scout leader?

      Bachman is hot, so she gets air time (which is exteremly mysoginistic). Do you REALLY imagine her with her finger on the button? A woman who is indoctrinated into believeing the world MUST end with Armagedeon?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • angrysmell

      ...or maybe shes the new face of fascism. oh well. at least men and women can join hands and celebrate the fact that both start with the letter "f".

      June 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • WANDERLUST

      VONTELLER: YOU NEED TO TAKE YOUR VITAMIN B

      June 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  12. jkress

    Do you really want a President that thinks the earth is only 10,000 years old and man walked with dinosaurs? Religious Fundamentalism is the reason the Middle East is such a mess.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Are you really this much of a dumba**?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  13. ron

    How does Mrs.Bachmann intend to properly raise all the kids she has took on herself to do. I don't think
    being POTUS is the answer. A nanny can be great but she certainly can't replace a mother. She will have her
    hands full with the 5 of her own much less the 20 she is fostering. I admire her wanting to help all these kids, but
    I don't think being president will help any.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  14. Barking Alien

    She is more like the face for mental illness. As a tax attorney she worked for tax breaks for the top 2%. Show where this "compassion christian" has championed any causes for the poor or middle class. She just reeks of phoney.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  15. juskishi

    Colin

    Please, please, anything but an evangelical Christian. They take ignorance and stupidity to a new level.

    ----

    i second that! and this is the last person i'd want representing me. she makes palin look like a rhodes scholar.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  16. jkress

    Evangelical Christian = Nutjob

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

      Says the NEATHERTHAL that ATTACKED AN ATM LAST NIGHT ON ORDERS FROM THE FUHRER OBAMA!!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • jkress

      Vonteller – You okay?!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Vonteller

      Meds are wearing off again!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  17. Abortionkillshumans

    I think the difference is that Secular feminists leave no room for God's will in their decision making – it's all about them. Evangelical feminists are pro-woman, but take into consideration God and family in their decision-making.
    Secular feminists are the ones with the tunnel vision, IMO.

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

      Are you on drugs?! This is a country of democracy. Don't try to throw your beliefs on me..keep that mess to yourself!!!!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Mike, you are retarded. This is a republic.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Thank God for abortion.

      Fastest way to get rid of Christians!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  18. Christian

    CNN has sunk to a new low.
    Now they just throw words and labels around, with no regard to their meaning.
    Michele Bachmann has absolutely nothing to do with feminism.
    What an ignorant, irresponsible piece of journalism

    June 28, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  19. Colin

    Please, please, anything but an evangelical Christian. They take ignorance and stupidity to a new level.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  20. Marie Kidman

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

    June 28, 2011 at 1:11 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.