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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Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. ohfe777

    Why is it when I think of Michelle Bachmann I am reminded of Serena Joy from Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"?

    June 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      A little too specific for the masses...

      June 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Sanity

      That's wierd, I can't tell you why you think that since I don't see any connections. Serena's had all her power and public recognition taken away from her by the fundamentalist theocracy in the book. Maybe you should reread the book or see a doctor.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  2. KC

    Discuss USA Politics & the 2012 Presidential Race....


    June 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  3. Zaphod2011

    This is the definition of a feminist . . . . "The doctrine — and the political movement based on it — that women should have the same economic, social, and political rights as men."
    So, no, the christian/evangelical (that is scary in itself) flake doesn't get close enough to being a feminist except she thinks she is smart and sane enough to be president.
    This woman will take away a woman's rights to chose. Her ideas of what children need to learn in school is backwards.
    NO, NOT A FEMINIST JUST A FLAKE. Thank you mike wallace for giving us something to call her like Keith Olberman gave us idiot for the other one from AK.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • Sanity

      Many feminists are against abortion. Just check out this article from the Harvard Crimson http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/4/28/women-abortion-foster-children/
      Feminism isn't just one's abortion rights view, so open your mind and be a little more tolerant of others instead of so venomous.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  4. jazmin

    you don't have to be pro-choice or pro-abortion to be a feminist. Most Christians don't believe in abortion. It's courageous of her to stand up for her moral convictions. Too many people just change with the wind to get elected. It doesn't matter anyway as she would not be a Queen. The Supreme Court has the power to overturn Roe V Wade. Personally, I think it's a travesty that babies are being aborted at such late gestation and our fearless leader who is oh so pro choice and pro woman voted to uphold the barbaric practice of partial birth abortion or to anyone with a brain, baby murder. . So let me get this straight he's pro-woman but anti-baby. How does that work. Go Michele 2012!

    June 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Zaphod2011

      @jazmin – turn off faux news and stop listening to beck and tub of lard. The President HAS NEVER said anything directly about abortion.
      You, jazmin, are an idiot!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Dan

      Zaphod,,,THe whining about Fox News is just so trite. Please, let it go. SO they suck as a news organization. Don't watch. What are you afraid of? If you don't like Fox News, turn it off.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      Jazmin - Huh?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Question everything

      Why aren't unborns counted on the census? Pro lifers are only pro life before birth, after they are born... Ef em' they're on their own! As George carlin stated,"unborn babies become dead soldiers"

      June 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • scott

      Yes he has I quote "if my daughters get pregnant I do not want them to suffer through child birth"

      June 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  5. Shecky

    WOW. Someone who actually has a moral compass and religious convictions is considered "strange"??

    June 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      Moal compass that is a few degrees off center, well, maybe more than a few...

      June 27, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Debbie

      She doesn't have a moral compass or religous convictions. If she did she would care about the poor, the sick, the elderly, and children. She supports the republican agenda – Support the wealthy and forget about the working class.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • scott

      Like 23 foster kids

      June 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  6. RCinAL

    All over CNN blogs I find nothing but a misinterpretation of the separation of Church and state. Any person who governs does so, especially concerning social values, from some metaphysical position, aka an authority. In other words, ethics and morals are not grounded in themselves, but something else. For Christians, this metaphysic is God, for whom there are many more proofs for than against (25 or so to 1). For others, this metaphysic is not God, because of a misinterpretation of Church and state. However, because of the need for an authority in which to ground morals, the only choice is therefore society and culture. As we all know, the beliefs of society blow and change with the wind. Not to mention this cultural relativism can have very dangerous consequences and conclusions. An atheist firmly believes in no God (and the agnostic acts like it) and the Christian firmly believes in God. Both firmly believe, both act accordingly, but only one stream of morals blows with the wind.
    President Obama himself said that he believed that Jesus Christ died for his sins on national TV during the last election. This implies two things: 1) Obama believes that the Absolute, Transcendent God became a man, a human being, which means that he perhaps believes in the primary source for that belief, i.e., the Bible. Because Jesus Christ is God, then he must believe in the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the Ascension, etc. 2) Obama believes that he sins, meaning that he believes in the concept of sin as rejecting God. Why would any liberal want to vote for someone who believes all that? I would be much more inclined to vote for him if he actually allowed his Christianity to inform his policy and ground his morals in God. However, he speaks that way but acts the opposite, leading anyone to understand that he will say anything to get votes (I'm not saying that other candidates do not do that).

    June 27, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • travel


      June 27, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • MoreChoices

      It does appear on the surface that President Obama is too intelligent to be a Christian. I sometimes wonder if he's faking it, knowing that he has to claim to be a member of one of the Christian denominations in order to win the presidency.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Kent Bowen

      I love America...every flake has his say.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Donodron

      Wow, the ad hominem attacks are coming out in force here. Try debating content instead of baseless opinions of another poster's character.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • RCinAL

      If you want to debate content, you have to ultimately ground it in something, whether it's culture, God, the Democratic or Republican party, etc. All I'm saying is that to require that a candidate reject the notion of God as the basis, the grounding, the metaphysic for their content represents a false understanding of the separation of Church and state. Additionally, that is the only grounding of content that does not blow and change with the wind. That is the point that I am making about content.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • RCinAL

      Not to mention this entire article and pretty much all of the blog posts are ad hominem arguments, especially people saying "flake."

      June 28, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • tuffgong71

      Only athiest/agnostic morals "blow with the wind"? So, as a Christian who's morals have been an unmoving rock since Jesus, why are you not advocating that the Christians take back the holy lands through violent means? Why are you not stoning your neighbor who drew the Sunday shift at work? Are you wearing two different types of fabric right now?
      A President (or any politician) can be religious and Christian and use those morals in his/her everyday life. However, when governing a politician MUST seperate church and state. The death penalty, abortion, stem cell research(?), gay marriage are all anti-christian but the majority of Americans approve them. Would a President "of faith" govern based on what most Americans want or what "the good book" tells them?

      June 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  7. lovethedifferentcommentsystemsCNN

    Michelle Bachmann: Flake

    June 27, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  8. BenOT

    Anyone who claims to be guided by an invisible spirit is scary. To have one of these people in the White House (again) is even more scary. Enough with this "God made me do it" stuff.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Sanity

      Obama says he prays to God for guidance, does your viewpoint apply to him?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • jazmin

      Anyone without the moral compass that comes with believing in something greater than themselves particularly in a position of world power is scary

      June 27, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • janimarie

      Another way of looking at it, for those of you who don't believe in God, is that the little voice in your head is your conscience speaking to you. Unless of course you don't have one.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • Frogist

      @janimarie: Yes, you can make that comparison but it's not completely accurate in a lot of cases where people specifically point to god for guiding their actions. It is less about following that little voice than really thinking some supreme all-knowing being has put a thought in your head that is absolutely the perfect choice to make. Even people who listen to their conscience, can admit that they might be wrong. Not so for the person who thinks they have a direct line to the infallible they call God.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  9. MoreChoices

    In the 21st century a person who claims to have conversations with a supernatural being whom they believe is the creator of the universe is supposedely a contender for the job of POTUS? Seriously? That's ridiculous.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Sanity

      President Obama says he prays to God for guidance, does your viewpoint apply to him?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
    • MoreChoices

      Not entirely. I suspect Obama is only faking being a Christian. I think Bachmann might actually believe that nonsense.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  10. R in Ohio ... GIVE CHRISTIANS A CHANCE!!

    Tom, you don't have anything to fear. I wonder if I ran for a political post if people would be afraid of me? Here's my platform: Devout Christian, Good IQ (straight A's in a decent college), Does not hate gays or aetheists or science. Want to vote for me Tom????

    June 27, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • Gerry0625

      if you mention god while running you lost my vote. this is Americas problem so god has nothing to do with it.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Zaphod2011


      June 27, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • Frogist

      @R in Ohio: Devout or not, I think it's what your positions are that are important. If you are going to use your presidential position to enforce your particular brand of morality on the rest of the country, then I would not vote for you. But if you can recognise that you were not voted in to be the morality czar, then I might.

      June 28, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  11. schmit

    oh look, another belief blog for the atheist congregation to come out and cram their gospel down people's throats. Yay.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • JT

      No...it's for the silent educated masses to come out and try and educated those of you who believe people (or one man) can come back to life after being dead for several days, all living organisims lived on a creaky boat and that snakes can talk. We are in great fear that you Taliban Americans will take control and force us into a theocracy one day.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • schmit

      oh, so you bow down to yourself in the mirror too? wow.. ur so awesome. pfft. you're so full of yourself, you're bleeding feces.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  12. Sanity

    Hey Toots McGee

    Here are the Nobel physicists that believe in God since you asked.

    Albert Einstein Nobel Laureate in Physics Jewish
    Max Planck Nobel Laureate in Physics Protestant
    Erwin Schrodinger Nobel Laureate in Physics Catholic
    Werner Heisenberg Nobel Laureate in Physics Lutheran
    Robert Millikan Nobel Laureate in Physics probably Congregationalist
    Charles Hard Townes Nobel Laureate in Physics United Church of Christ (raised Baptist)
    Arthur Schawlow Nobel Laureate in Physics Methodist
    William D. Phillips Nobel Laureate in Physics Methodist
    William H. Bragg Nobel Laureate in Physics Anglican
    Guglielmo Marconi Nobel Laureate in Physics Catholic and Anglican
    Arthur Compton Nobel Laureate in Physics Presbyterian
    Arno Penzias Nobel Laureate in Physics Jewish
    Nevill Mott Nobel Laureate in Physics Anglican
    Isidor Isaac Rabi Nobel Laureate in Physics Jewish
    Abdus Salam Nobel Laureate in Physics Muslim
    Antony Hewish Nobel Laureate in Physics Christian (denomination?)
    Joseph H. Taylor, Jr. Nobel Laureate in Physics Quaker

    June 27, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • dina

      It seems that except for a few of them, most of these believers are Jewish as are most of the Noble Prize winners.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Sanity

      4 of the 17 listed are Jewish, not "most", but I don't really get what your saying.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • Mike

      Awesome list. Thanks!

      June 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • Please Wake Up

      Sanity, how many of these nobel prize winners would side with Michele Bachmann on intelligent design?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Are you sure that all on the list believe(d) in god? For example, Einstien was Jewish by birth but did not believe in god in the traditional sense. It is trivial to find actual statements by Einstien about what he believed-he was no bible thumper, of any cult.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  13. David

    Family value is more important than family values to Michele.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Gerry0625

      what? please tell me you dont vote.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  14. Scared

    Christian? I know I shouldn't cast the first stone but....since when did they do away with "thou shalt not lie"? Apparently, the truth does not seem important to her at all.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Jim

      Where did you find "thou shalt not lie" in the Bible? I don't think it's in there.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Jim

      ok, it's in there... but only in the context of lying with someone (s3x)... not in telling intentional falsehoods.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  15. D

    She's dangerous. Not because she is any threat to actually win the presidency, but because she makes Palin look sane by comparison.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Zaphod2011

      @D – a big amen to you.
      Religion (any religion) is a cult for people who need somebody to hold their hands to be a better person.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Dan

    Any woman who is a staunch Republican is a traitor. Republicans, especially of late, represent what most women should cringe... they are for women who are subservient to their men, who think that men know best when it comes to their own reproductive system, and who consistently support corporations that underpay women in every equivalent positions as the male counterpart.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • someguy

      Stereotyping a bit, aren't you? Where are the facts to support your wild claims? Do you really believe that she thinks women should always be subservient to men? How is it, then, that she's a leader over men in our U.S. Congress? Have you gone mad, man?

      June 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Sanity

      You live in a fantasy world if you truly believe this.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Dan

      Not true, Dan. No one has to fit into your little box.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • dannyno

      There are no absolutes. Yes there are some, and then some are not.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  17. Mike the plumber

    I think Bachmann and the rest of teapublicans sound like facists. I also want her and the rest of the GOP to release IQ test results since they don't understand history, I want to know what else they don't understand, if they had facists as college instructors or cheated through school.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • thedude

      Trolling much? You do realize that fascists wanted such things as state control over the economy, territorial expansion, enlargement of the military, establishment of economic corporatism, ect.? Not usually what the Tea Party goes for. Sounds like you need the history lesson. Fascist has a defined historical meaning, it is not a catchall for anyone who happens to disagree with you.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
  18. B-Dog

    Feminist?? Nope. She's VERY against abortion. She wants to change the 14th amendment to include a fetus as a person thus outlawing ALL abortion.

    June 27, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Sanity

      Many feminist are against abortion. Just check out this article from the Harvard Crimson http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2010/4/28/women-abortion-foster-children/
      Feminism isn't just one abortion rights view, so open you mind and be a little more tolerant of others instead of so venomous.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  19. Economizer

    What a hate monger... no thank you Bachmann... Just go away already...

    June 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  20. Tom

    She is an evangelical, god speaks to her. I'm not religious, never have been. If she is elected do I have to fear for my life?

    June 27, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • JT

      You might not have to fear for your life but you should fear for your liberty.

      June 27, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • parjda


      June 27, 2011 at 9:15 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.