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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.”

ALSO:

Understanding Jon Huntsman's distinct brand of Mormonism

Explain it to me: What's Mormonism?

Opinion: For Huntsman, a little faith could go a long way

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (3,401 Responses)
  1. HM

    "My concern is that there are too many men (and even women) in our nation who aren't ready to vote for a female president."
    No, more likely that the average American will be scared of her extremist religious views. That's why she is unelectable.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • CM

      I would like to see a female president someday, but not her as she is anti-feminist! As an intelligent woman, I do not support her.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  2. Brandon

    I totally want to pound this chick.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Bring out the Clown Hammer.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  3. JHaas

    Just feminist, as opposed to the left-wing fascists parading as feminists.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • CM

      You don't know what a real feminist is, woman hater!

      June 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  4. BroNate

    I like to try to stick to constructive criticism, but the premise of this article – "evangelical feminism" – doesn't hold water, and I'm not sure how I'd improve the presentation of the idea short of just junking the text and starting from scratch. Michele Bachmann doesn't have any philosophical or practical connection with feminism. Try a different word.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • jazmin

      Why wouldn't Michelle Bachmann be a feminist. She's a successful accomplished woman with a loving family and obviously a generous heart. She is the absolute definition of a feminist.

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

      Jazmin

      She isn't a feminist because wouldn't support a woman's right to make a decision outside of what she considers right/wrong. This isn't just an abortion issue either.

      She may be successful but she isn't feminist.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • shawn

      I"m pretty sure she doesn't fit the modern and current definition of a feminist. Plus an evangelical feminist is simply contradictory statement. An evangelical follows the testaments as a letter of a law more then other variations on the christian faith...and the horrible book is clearly against women. Uber social conservatism and fundementalist religious views doesn't make a feminist by most modern definitions. Using that term is like stating intelligent design.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • jazmin

      Sorry Nathan L, she definitely is a feminist. If she isn't a feminist than who is? Being pro-life disqualifies her from being a feminist. Are you serious? Michele Bachmann personifies feminism. Absolutely

      June 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Nathan L

      This isn't exclusively an abortion issue. That isn't the definition of feminism. I qualified my previous statement because I knew that some people automatically jump to that as the litmus test. You assume I do but I don't. If you want to head in that general direction though what is Bachman's stance on funding Planned Parenthood if none of the funding goes to abortion related services? A true feminist would support funding the other services, Bachman doesn't. Has Bachman declared her support for the ERA? No.

      She is a successful politician and a woman but that doesn't make her a feminist.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Jazmin: Do you believe that "the big thing we are working on now is the global warming hoax"?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Jazmin: Do you believe that "it's all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax"?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Jazmin: Do you believe the "founding fathers" ended slavery in the United States?

      June 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Jazmin: If so, please add a disclaimer onto all of your silly posts.

      June 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  5. ClamLover

    William Demuth,

    You weak old grizzled goat. Does your boyfriend vomit when he looks at you winking, blinking, brown eye? Do you self flagellate to Hog Hunter Magazine?

    June 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • CM

      Lovely!

      June 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  6. CopOnTheBeat

    Evangelical feminist is an OXYMORON. An female evangelical is submissive, and obeys her male owner - like a DOG. A feminist has a backbone, and thinks and talks for herself. Bachman is a dog, waiting for her husband to give her permission to speak - or let her out for a pee. Sheesh!

    June 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • mickeymo

      As crazy as she looks out of the eyes, I'd be afraid to put anything in her mouth that she might could chomp off.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • jazmin

      You don't know what you're talking about.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Actually it sounds like her husband has a lot of household chores to keep up with while she's working.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  7. mickeymo

    This yo-yo is truly dangerous.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Ummmm ok?

      can't do much worse than what's in office now.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The yo-yo in office now has us still in every single war that GW Bush had us in and has added Libya to the mix. Signed things like the Patriot Act....

      June 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  8. Em in Minnesota

    And how does being a foster parent make her qualified to run the country??? It appears to me th at she's using that to make herself look altruistic and like such a caring person...I have a lot more faith in people who do their "good works" in silence! One of these days she'll say something dumb enough that at least most people will see her for what she is...there are some people who will never get it.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      I guess just like being a community organizer does.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Todd

      She has already said numerous incredibly dumb things. Google Michele Bachmann quotes, it doesnt take long to figure out this woman is one of the dumbest people in history.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Nathan L

      Kathy

      Being a community organizer is very good experience for being in elected office. We tend to have some negative association with the phrase 'community organizer' based on some myth of radicalism. However, Obama's career as a community organizer was spent focusing on setting up a job training program and trying to get landlords to fulfill their obligation to meet minimum state and city laws regarding safety (fire codes for example). That doesn't sound that radical to be honest. Seems rather moderate to me.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Linda

      she got money from the state for every one of those kids – ask her about that! While she says she wants no government that helps the poor, sick, aged or very young, she took it her whole life! what a loser and how can anyone even think of voting for her?

      June 28, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Em in Minnesota

      Hey -Em...

      Most, if not all presidential candidates like to show that they are in sync with what 'overall' America believes to be the 'right' values. As far as discussing and showing they are 'family' oriented this happens on both the 'left' and the 'right.'

      There is often additional focus on the 'right' to garner votes from the 'religious right.' As, showing you are married with a family–often a large one, implies you are hetero, (not gay–which is not o.k.) pro-creation(not abortion), bible believing, etc...etc... This speaks to the 'religious/christian right.'

      As for doing good works "in silence"... that's part of the whole process of attempting to get your vote is by showing/telling you what they have done. Just part of the process.

      You are correct, there is (as far as I know), -0- evidence to suggest that having a big family= qualified to be president of the U.S.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      June 28, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "I guess just like being a community organizer does." Palin dropped out again anyway, so her job isn't an issue now.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  9. izhar syed

    I cannot say anything good or bad about Michelle B but here is the kicker. She came into politics based on ANTI-Current establishment platform. Please look at the facts and check to see if she is now part of that same establishment. All the tea party candidates won the election base on the above observation yet wonce elected hired all of there staff from the powers of washington. Either they were forced to do so or just fooling the average joe voter, they are all the same. Forget religeon at this point look at the facts, WE ARE BIENG PLAYED BY THESE POLITICIANS REGARDLESS OF THE PARTY.....

    June 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Linda

      The tea Party is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers who use them like puppets! Its all about the donations to their campaigns,- that is all they care about

      June 28, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Troy

    More like "Face of Madness."

    June 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  11. Andrea Garcia

    Religion and feminism are separate, they should not even be in the same sentence if only to prove the other wrong. Religion is never focused on women's rights and feminism is the break of old religious ways. There is no feminism I'm religion.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Andrea Garcia

      Excuse me autocorrect has stuck again

      *In religion.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Truth

      Yes, Andrea Garcia..you're absolutely correct! The two, do not and shall NEVER mix....one is either evangelical or a feminist!

      I hope Dan Gilgoff/CNN understands this...do not confuse the younger generation any further..please!!

      June 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  12. Righton

    I'm sorry to say it, but there's a tad of bias showing on the part of screeners. Some very uncontroversial (but bluntly written) posts appear to be getting "censored out". They have to do with the fact that political candidates who happen to be female have an immense amount of attention being focused on their gender by posters who oppose any particular female candidate, and by most media outlets. This is simply the unfortunate truth, and mentioning it is apparently forbidden by some screeners who do not want it talked about. Hopefully, this post will not be previewed by one of those screeners.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      As others have noted, this forum is CLBUTTIC. Google it. Certain keywords are auto-censored and help for human attention. Also, if you start that stuff about Kenyan birth certificates, we will all click 'Report Abuse' and get you removed. You probably just used a clbuttic word and they buttbuttinated you.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Righton

      To clown... Actually, the content of the posts to which I referred have very benign language, and are merely critical of the fact that a lot more media attention is focused on any female candidate's gender than anything else. It tends to be topic #1 for some very good candidates of both major parties, and it resultingly tends to fog the critical issues.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      It will clip you for the weirdest things, like if a word has tee eye tee in it. Or ten people may have reported you, who knows? But I don't think any live moderator is acting here.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  13. Kathy from No. VA

    You guys just want to hate her but you have no specific reasons why. "Republican – oh no"! "Conservative – evil"! She seems like a good person who has morals and walks the walk. How many of you have foster cared for over 20 kids?

    June 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Go Habs Go

      If she stands on high moral ground, she is to be applauded. If she stands on high moral ground and suggests that those that do not follow God are morally bankrupt, then she is not fit to run for president.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Laughing

      Contrary to what you think, even if a person fosters 100 children that doesn't immediately make them eligable to become president. There's also the little fact that she's for states rights (because she's a republican) but against gay marriage ie gay rights (because she's a christian republican.....her words, not mine). You want a reason why she's a terrible candidate, look at her track record, her gaffes and then try to explain to me why she would make a good president in any way

      June 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • CM

      How does raising foster kids qualify her to be president? And how can someone be a feminist and support women's rights and not support birth control and women's health? The ideal of feminism is independence not overly oppressive religious ideology.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Linda

      She got state funding for every one of those kids – are you sure of her good deeds or is it just good greed

      June 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • SDCyclist

      Have you heard or read anything she's said? After hearing even one of her truly ignorant statements I have no idea how anyone could possibly think she's fit for any public office. She thinks CO2 is a harmless gas? Really? She thinks maybe slavery never happened? Really? Yes... these are things she's publically stated. Read about her life story. It's filled with contradictions galore, back-peddling on issues, idealogy changes, and rampant with her hypocrisy. She owns shares in a farm that receives subsidies (welfare) from the government but believes people shouldn't received subsidies (welfare). Really?

      June 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Being a good parent doesn't mean you qualify as a great leader. Reagan was practically a moron, but he was able to put together a good team to run the country(short-term anyway). Jimmy Carter was brilliant, but kept trusting people who weren't up to the task or just plain shady. Bush was just lost and Cheney built him a team, and it didn't work very well. It's not the president as much as it is the cabinet, and Bachmann is not only crazy and contentious but surrounds herself with far-right nuts who would make a horrible cabinet. If she was a raving loony with a great team behind her, she could still have a chance.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Peabody

      OMG, that looks like a real live instance of a non sequitur ad hominem straw man!!! Remarkable!

      June 28, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  14. kyrunner

    Evangelical feminist? I guess she missed the part of I Timothy 2:11-2:12 saying to keep a woman in silence and all that. And Im a republican. This dingbats just as bad as 0bama, hillary... Both sides are screwing us!

    June 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      women and men are different and God gave them different rolls. in Christ's example, everyone should respect and love each other. I don't see this as a put down but it could be confused.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • CM

      Get back in your kitchen Kathy! You're husband will be home soon and his dinner better be ready or else!

      June 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Scarlett

      What kind of rolls did God give? I'm rather partial to sourdough myself, but I could use extra fiber so maybe God wants me to have whole wheat. Maybe I should ask my pastor what kind of roll is best for a woman ...

      June 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "God gave them different rolls" And then He sent His Pillsbury Doughboy to preheat their ovens?

      June 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Peabody

      What's the first thing a battered woman does when discharged from the hospital?

      The dishes, if she knows what's good for her.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  15. Jeff

    She looks crazy.

    June 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • William Demuth

      What she is is foxy, and that is BAD news.

      You see rednecks and Christians vote with their genitialia

      June 28, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • rob

      She's nothing but a WICKED CURSE from HELL!

      June 28, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • ClamLover

      Get back in the dumpster, moron.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • MrHanson

      No Bill, It's liberals who vote with their genitals. Especially anyone who supports abortion and gay marriage.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      MrHanson, I actually use my genitals to vote. I use them to pull the handle when I'm through voting, too.

      June 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  16. GOP hypocrisy

    In your guts you know she is nuts

    June 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • ClamLover

      In your nuts you know you are a tool.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • GOP hypocrisy

      What was in my nuts is now in your guts?

      June 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  17. kd

    Evangelical feminism?!? That must be the most current definition for 'oxymoron' in the dictionary.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • nancheska

      Yup. SOunds like a contradiction in terms.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Bermille

      They were saying the same thing about Palin. It makes as much sense as she does.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  18. scott

    evangelical feminist is what we call an oxymoron like military intelligence or hot water heater

    June 28, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Jumbo Shrimp.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  19. Palin is Fake and so is Bachmann

    This woman is just as fake as Palin only with fewer screw ups to date. Don't worry, they will come as does any political campaign based on not on intelligence, or new/better ideas but based on what God tells her to say and do. I wonder if God is speaking through her during her speeches? Nope...that's just a teleprompter she is reading from and that machine is based on science.

    June 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  20. bluemax77

    Completely Nuts....!

    June 28, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Kathy from No. VA

      can you give some specifics? you just want to make a blanket statement. and don't try to connect her to Bush.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Bachmann's Bush

      I'm not against nuts right now, but I have been.

      June 28, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • ClamLover

      What's up ball sniffer? How are you man licker?

      June 28, 2011 at 3:39 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.