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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. JN

    Michele Bachmann is another example of the worst part of our politics. Many will follow her based on one small issue or belief and ignore the many faults she has as a potential, albeit unlikely, candidate for POTUS. This is the same kind of thinking that put us in the position we are currently in with the abomination of a president we have that is currently destroying our country. Although I myself am an evangelical Christian it was obvious in 2008 that Hilary was by far the most qualified candidate, republicans and democrats included. The sheeple that make up the voting public are the real problem since they are so easily swayed by words like change, abortion, marriage, gay, or religion. Let’s leave religion out of politics on all sides and focus on the issues.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  2. Vonteller

    LIBERALS = MISSING LINK.....LOL!!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • rich

      At this point, I think you are typing just to hear yourself type. When you can muster up more than 1 brain cell and write a complete (non-Rhetorical) sentnce, then maybe people will listen to your argument. Else have you seen Elvis or Jesus on your refrigerator yet?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  3. Amazed_By_Girls

    This makes national news just because she believes in God AND sits down to pee? Wow! Slow news day?

    June 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  4. Santanic1

    Michele, those voices in your head aren't God speaking......now be a good evangelical woman and go home and clean and take care of your kids or grand kids and have dinner ready and warm for your husband when he gets home (oh and make sure you get all the laundry done too)...

    June 28, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • R U Serious???

      WOW!!! This garbage really helps our country, right?

      June 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  5. Vonteller

    DEMOCRATS, the party of WEINERS AND TEENAGE ABUSERS. You knows they never would have let Weiner go if those pics didn't exist. They'd had defended the creep till the end. Now they want to COME AND TAKE THE MORAL HIGH-GROUND ON FEMINISM? NO WAY, CREEPS. BACHMANN'S THE NEW FACE OF FEMINISM. DEAL WITH IT!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • bachmanntwit

      Does your trailer park manager know you're playing with his computer again today ?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • rich

      Dude your med are ready!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  6. usta4545

    "How do you know you're God?"
    "Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself."
    ~ The Ruling Class

    June 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • r00zster

      @usta4545

      Very funny!! I'm posting that on my wall. lol

      June 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  7. Liberalator

    Any sentence with the word "evangelical" makes me cringe.

    Until this country learns from our founders to keep religion out of politics we will plagued by magic and mysticism by the weak minded who are easily manipulated by fear of the unknown.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • bachmanntwit

      You mean like Vonteller ?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Lee

      As a practicing Catholic that evangelical makes me cringe as well. Growing up hearing that I wasn't Christian and that I was going to hell kind of made me that way I guess. But I will have to admit, you have it backwards. The founding fathers wanted to keep politics out of religion, not the other way around. This country has a long history of religiion being involved in politics. Religious freedom in the early colonies was non existent. If you didn't belong to the Church of that particular colony your rights were limited. It was until the Catholic colony of Maryland that religion was taken out of the equation and religious tolerance was granted. I'm honestly not sure how I feel about religion in politics. I do have my blinders on I will admit. I'm sure I will get crufied on this forum. I tend to agree with the late JPII who tried to keep religion out of politics, or at least religious figures (especially in South America). People always try to use religion to their adavantage when it comes to politics and power. Kings and Queens, presidents, tyrants, whoever and religion gets a black eye for it. Excuse my rambling post. I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  8. Liberty427

    AT LEAST MICHELE IS EXPLAINING HERSELF. THAT IS A GREAT DEAL MORE THAN OBAMA HAS DONE IN TRYING TO COVER HIS NUMEROUS MISSTEPS OVER THE PAST THREE YEARS. BACHMANN'S GOT MY VOTE.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • rich

      typing in CAPS is consider "yelling" in chat talk and people who yell have very little to say that is meaningful.......

      June 28, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  9. Vonteller

    BACHMANN's THE NEW FACE OF FEMINISM!!! EAT THAT LIBERALS!! BACHMANN 2012!!!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • rich

      right along with Dewey and Willkie......

      June 28, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  10. Johnny

    The wonderful and racist Michele

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyKAbSCYG8k&w=640&h=360]

    June 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  11. rosita

    This woman CAN'T answer a direct question from a reporter............how is she going to answer the Americans' questions??
    She doesn't have any more brains that Paling does...........stop listening to this nonsense.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Word corrector

      Her name is Palin*

      June 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • mflippen

      Don't be so narrow-minded. Every politician Does that.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  12. vic

    Evangelicals are not the only Christians. There are many Chirstians who support a womens's right to choose. In other words, the article makes the dichotomy between Evangelicals and secular – but there are many in the middle who struggle with the isses and are actually liberal and progressive and Christian.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Scott L

      I just wish they'd be more vocal.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Laura

      I agree Vic – I think this is how Christians get a bad wrap – Politics & Media only tell one side of a story and label everything Christian when obviously Christians disagree on certain laws and values. I don't want a conservative Christian and I don't want a over zealous left wing democrat. I want someone who is honest, committed to the USA, and less involved with keeping up appearances. Let's bring it back to the basics and get this country back on track.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  13. s-pup

    Walking to lunch, ran into some Tea Party picketers. They were handing out pamphlets explaining how the U.N. is trying to steal your property and turn it into wildlife preserve. They are completely insane.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • vic

      We all need to study up on the large percentage of the population who live in the Conspiracy World – they now have a place on the internet whereas until 1995 or so, they had their clubs and friends and talked together. Now it is becoming more scarey and often times, we spend time trying to explain things but they will not listen or understand or want to talk because they have the only truth. And it's not a right or left political thing.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • MEEE

      they can have my property... I'm getting the he|| out of this country before it implodes on itself.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  14. Scott L

    I respect that Michele Bachmann had 23 foster children. It speaks to a compassion and morality I embrace. I can't reconcile, however, how such a "caring" person would be against a guaranteed system of healthcare; like the healthcare the state provided to her foster children. Her casuistry on this and other social issues concern me greatly. She needs to reflect on what true compassion and morality looks like.

    I also don't know what to make of a person who believes God speaks to her through prayer and that she has been called by God to run for President. Is she being dillusional or arrogant. Either way, I don't believe she displays the intellect and temperment to lead our country.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • mam

      Amen...ahem...I agree! LOL

      I vomitted a little when I read this article...

      June 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • R U Serious???

      That is misleading at best. I think that she is against the Government running our entire healthcare system. Not that the government shouldn’t take care of people that can't take care of themselves.

      As far as your other point....Perfect example of being fearful and intolerant of things you can't understand 🙂

      June 28, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Scott L

      ....and you presume to understand them. You are certain you know the unknowable. And you base your conclusions on what facts - talking snakes, burning bushes, virgin births, and invisible beings in the sky. Who is fearful and intolerant?

      June 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • R U Serious???

      I would agree with the word presume. But I don't claim to know the "unknowable". It is a matter of deduction for me. I can't find a single example in our world of information coming from non-information, so God actually makes a lot of sense. There has to be something else.

      But I don't recall being fearful or intolerant either. You can believe whatever you want. Just don't insult me..

      June 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Scott L

      I'm confused....weren't you the one who told me I was fearful and intolerant. Who insulted who?

      June 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  15. Vonteller

    LOL!! The Dimwitted liberals on this tread are STUPID ENOUGH to be EXPERIMENTED ON BY A MONKEY!! THAT's how stupid they are when they accused someone with a doctorate and a post-doctorate of not being smart

    June 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • bachmanntwit

      You're still a phucking idiot.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • DB

      getting a doctorate makes you an expert of a specific area...not everything...your an idiot!

      June 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • bpadraig

      What Monkey?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • rich

      I hope you did not breed....in fact the world hopes you can not breed!

      Bigotry knows no color or gender, only hate

      June 28, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      I'm a Republican and I can eat a whole cherry pie in under 90 seconds. I'm smart.

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

      I would ask that the moderators remove that post for it's disgustingly racist twist... but I think it should stay there as a shining example of what sort of people represent and support Bachman and the rest of the Tea Party movement.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Laura

      Education has nothing to do with Intelligence. I finished my M.S. degree @ 24, most people assume that I must be very smart, but to me my "smarts" had nothing to do with it. Having a degree (for me) says that she/he has commitment, ambition, and perseverance.

      June 28, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  16. bpadraig

    Evangelical Feminist? Like get married, have kids, worship a religion without a goddess? Oh that kind.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  17. QS

    I don't mind if she runs for President, but I wish they'd stop trying to redefine the definition of "feminist"! ;-p

    Seriously though, for what this woman stands for to call her a feminist is such a stretch of the imagination that if I allowed myself to even attempt to think of it in those terms I could quite possibly start believing in god as that's just as much of a stretch of the imagination! LOL!

    June 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Crystal

      I am a woman. I always thought that feminism was about women making their own choices. Palin & Bachmann make their own choices. I'm sorry that it doesn't fit the NOW definition of "radical" feminism.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  18. bachmanntwit

    When she's done with this gig she can go door to door demonstrating battery operated adult toys with Sarah Palin.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Be nice. That's just stupid and not related to anything either one has done. I can't stand either of them but you're just throwing poo.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • God is good

      Is that all you think about and do and dream of or what?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • God is good

      What if people made fun of you like that? Stop saying random dumb remarks towards Republicans when our democrats are all worse so that's it and have a great day sir 🙂

      June 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Moose Knuckle

      Do you need your balloon knot stretched?

      June 28, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  19. jeff

    She can't take a reporter asking if she "is a flake" but wants to be President? Really? She had better devlop a thicker skin quickly because a "flake" is the nicest thing people are going to be calling her. Personally, I think she is an idiot and an embarrassment to Americans everywhere.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      She was born in Kenya and she is a Muslim, so she can never be president. Adopting those thirty-nine kids was just a cover story.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  20. FRAN

    I can't even comment on this article other than it's just going to be a waste of money if she runs. She will never get the votes.

    June 28, 2011 at 1:26 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.