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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. jt_flyer

    News flash...We’re not supposed to be defining our presidential candidates by their religious beliefs. Or has the American collective brain atrophied to such a pathetic state where any idiot can be elected just by mentioning the word “abortion”?

    June 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • tomicT

      Evangelical Feminist................now, isn't that the same thing as an Anti-Semitic Nazi???

      June 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Marc

      If you don't think religious beliefs have a role in political decision making, you are extremely naive.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • Debbie

      You are correct, we are not supposed to be chosing our president based upon their religous beliefs but it seems that is how republicans get elected. "Judge me by my actions, not by my words". This country was founded on God and religous beliefs, but I take issue with fakes

      June 28, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  2. Limbaugh is a liberal

    Oh please, PLEASE republicans nominate her! It will be that much more of a landslide victory for Obama in 2012!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • RaKa

      ur funny.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • jt_flyer

      Putin vs/ Sister Barbie. Unless the topic is Jesus we're screwed!

      June 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Bobba Fett

      It's idiots like you that the Democratic strategists chuckle about.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • RoboBobo

      I agree that Obama is likely to win, but history shows whether he wins or not will almost entirely be based on the economy.

      The voters feel like they have only two choices – the two major party candidates. And they can either give Obama a 2nd term – if the approve. Or throw him out – if they want to send a 'message of change.'

      Don't hope for the republicans to nominate a bad candidate – it won't change the election except in the case of a marginal economy.

      If the economy tanks – I mean if it hits a sharp downturn – then the Republican will win – whomever they nominated will win.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • Samuel

      Limbaugh is an entertainer. If being liberal or conservative is indicated he knows how to package the talk and shape opinion. As long as you are not forgotten things are good in the entertainment industry. Marketing executives could learn from Rush.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  3. Polygamist

    Go away you bimbo. What is with this country and religion. Jesus f'ing Christ get over it already. Worry about averting the next financial disaster. I could care less about your faith.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • Samuel

      Fiscal terriforming is beyond the control of human beings even though we have our part in it. This planet is being reshaped fiscally for the emergence of new empires which themselves will be eradicated when God and the gods arrive and impose peace and prosperity. No brag just fact.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  4. Sarah

    Evangelical feminist is an oxymoron. Not possible.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  5. HHI

    If you were to compare resumes of the current occupant of the oval office and Mrs. Bachmann without knowing who they belonged to, and based your chose entirely and solely on that. I would wager that the person answering that phone in the oval office would be female.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Jake the Snake

      If so, it is a good reason not to choose a president that way.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Hmm

      The person who answers the phone at the White House probably is, and mostly has been a woman anyway.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • margot707

      You'd choose Oral Roberts University over Harvard Law School?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  6. Peter E

    Let's see, similarities between Hillary and Bachmann... Both are female American politicians...
    Let's see the differences: Hillary was intelligent, had ideas and plans, and had a personality. Bachmann has none of that.

    Sorry media, if you're going to try to push likening Bachmann to Hillary people will just laugh at you!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  7. Scott

    For a "Christian" she sure lies a lot during her media stunts.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  8. Litterboxrox

    She thinks her female ancestors were made out of a man's rib 5,000 years ago. I'm not really sensing that she's a feminist.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  9. PJ, Brookline, MA

    An "interesting feminist" who is against women's right to choose!? 🙂

    June 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • RaKa

      Nope, she's against the murder of the unborn. Huge difference.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • RoboBobo

      It's interesting PJ because in some countries where abortions are allowed – women are aborting girl babies because they have a preference for boys. So basing an abortion upon the gender of the baby has been outlawed (China, India).

      And a lot of feminists agree with this policy of limiting a woman's right to choose.

      The only reason I bring this up – is because you seem like a simpleton. The pro-lifers think abortion is murder – they aren't against choices, they are against murder.

      I don't agree with them – but can we stop the endless lying? You are tirelessly misrepresenting what they believe, because you just don't debate with any intellectual honesty.

      They believe its murder – I don't think its murder. WOW, is that so hard to admit the truth about the positions?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  10. Sybaris

    Religion and believing in old myths and legends, it's just weird.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • RaKa

      Wow what an original comment...oh wait that's the same old useless comment atheist come up with. Totally meaningless. Hmmm, kinda like atheism.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • nodak25

      I agree, I don't want my President to make decisions based on on angles, demons or fairy tales.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Samuel

      If you have time, read Female Rage by Mary Valentis, Ph.D. & Anne Devane, Ph.D. It will give you a better understanding of how knowledge is passed from generation to generation. There is clear understanding that is translated with clarity down through the ages. America is ripe for its first female head of state and female rage will sweep her into office.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  11. Joseph R Loehering

    This woman and her Fascist Right wing Nazis need to sit in prison for their crimes against humanity because I am not the only one these cold blooded lying murders did this to, and they deliberately will not have anyone obey Court Orders and get me Medical Records together, and get me Medical Doctors to address my Medical Concerns, and get all my Doctors on the same page, because they intended all along on messing up my Medical records while causing me serious medical harm, and then letting me die from Medical Neglect so that they could falsely blame me or environmental factors and they even have the Police deliberate to refuse to investigate why they removed Tests from my Medical Records that showed the harm that they caused.

    It is that Corn Syrup & High Fructose Corn Syrup & Cornstarch & Sugar Alcohol Sorbitol & Cellulose Beta-Gucans that they put in everything and which they make so many additives out of. These Doctors could not even understand these things mess up my Immune system & cause blood sugar spikes & crashes and puts protein and blood in my Urine, & they falsely called me delusional about the adverse reactions & they kept forcing them thing on me against my will, in one medication after another till my Guts and Kidneys severely bleed & I still cannot get my records straightened out or get the right kind of Doctors that I need.

    If it were an accident, the first time it caused rashes and or nose bleeds and diarrhea, they would have written what caused it in my Medical Records to stop others from causing the adverse reactions, but no, they have to try to prevent a Law Suit and write that I am delusional about the adverse reactions so every Doctor after that forced the adverse reactions on me and or refused to give me the Medical Treatment actually need, while they make money off charging the government for the Toxic Harmful Drugs that a Judge ordered them not to give me, tut they just falsely called me delusional about the Court Orders, to made money poisoning me with Toxic Drugs and Rash Creams, but normally they do that to their suspecting Victims to make money off doing Kidney transplants like they did to my Uncle, but they will not replace mine, because that is what they planned to do to kill me , just ask their associate assassin Dr Kanter of the Minneapolis VA, of course he will say I am delusional after he assaulted me saying the other Hospital Labs were wrong about that Blood Test that show the harm they caused.
    tinyurlDOTcom/3pmk6un

    June 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Doug

      Are you kidding me here.. We are having a discussion about this woman running for president.. and suddenly it's all about you.. You are what this country does not need.. And I am certain, you won't get it !

      June 27, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • Jay Simon

      You are insane.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • Jay Simon

      You are insane
      .

      June 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • RaKa

      Boy someone likes to hear themselves talk. Sorry didn't finish reading your post. I got lost in the blizzard of words.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • Samuel

      Thank you for sharing. From what you posted you have the knowledge to eliminate the cause of you medical problem. I fear that you learned too late that doctors guess and do trial and error. They will neither confirm or deny that they knew that they were harming you. You are what is called a free radical which is a person who discusses what is on their mind.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  12. RoboBobo

    It depends upon what you mean by feminist – if you mean that women can be leaders – then we are all feminists.

    If you mean she dehumanizes men, domineers and abuses the men in her life, and doesn't believe in equality when it comes to child custody cases – unfortunately you may still be right.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  13. tom

    Screw god!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • mickey1313

      agreed, this crap has no reason to be in the american political system. I will not suport thiests in any capacity.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  14. Henry

    Evangelicalism can't be feminist in its current form. One of the tenants of American evangelicalism is the submission of women to men based on a misinterpretation of the Bible.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • girlene

      the correct word is "tenets" not "tenants"

      June 27, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • responseBot

      Why not just say you don't believe in the bible. Because the bible actually says some things – that went over well 2000 years ago, but we don't believe any more. It's really, really clear on the subject that you think is 'misinterpreted.'

      June 27, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
    • God

      There is no misinterpretation. Words are powerful and clear. The bible is not the word of god, because god does not exist. It is words of men, nothing more, and flawed men they were, and are, and ever will be.

      Consider the premise: god is perfect.

      Would a perfect being create words which would require interpretation and revision? Absolutely not.

      A perfect being would have prescience, and would devise perfect words which would transcend time and societal change.

      I do not exist, except here, now, in masquerade.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • mickey1313

      it is not a mis anything. The cults of abraham (christianity, jewism, and islam) are all founded in the princaples that men are dominat and superior to women. It is one reason i will not suport any thiests in any way.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Samuel

      The destroyer has many forms in many cultures and most of them are female. Oh did I mention that they are worshiped? The church is female. The feminist agenda falls in line with, in spirit, the imposing of yin and yang. When the two cannot agree and assert the 50/50 equality the two spin around each other careening through the universe without clear direction. Anyone they collide with will be destroyed. In our nation the divorce rate and the rise of youth gangs are the evidence of this.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  15. Glen

    Understand that religion doesn't matter, when you're a mindless idiot, and running for president.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Christian

      Well, religion does kind of matter. Anyone who lives their life around a concept with as much proof as unicorns is not worthy of my vote. These idiots are just people who grew up and didn't stop believing in Santa Claus.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  16. Dobro

    Shouldn't she be home with the kids?

    June 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Nocordoba

      Yep that is what I believe, it is why I am Ron Paul supporting.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Larry

      That is exactly what i am thinking every time I see her on TV. IMHO Having 25+/- kids at home (foster or not) should not give her time on the big stage in front of the American people to run for President as this would be child neglect or borders on tax payer fraud through the foster care system payments she receives for each child which is about $650/Month.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  17. David

    Nocordoba, being a Christian myself but also a historian.. You are incorrect in your statement.. Most of them were Free Masons who believed in separation of Church and State in some degree... They are the very people who voted for a strong central government and not the grassroot of the Tea Party.. Lastly, they were the ones who wanted free of religion which did not mean just Christianity.. SO again, that is a bit of a myth and folklore of the GOP

    June 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Nocordoba

      I have heard the free mason response several times David but that simply is not logical. They were very Christian and John Quincy Adams was assuredly the most so. I do know some were Deist (such as Ben) Many others though were Masons but definitely didn't take it that seriously compared to there belief in Christ. Yes separation of church and state is good but asking God for guidance is not wrong since if you are Christian your life is changed by your belief. Also wanting to have more leaders from a specific group of people because of the good that came from them is not wrong either.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • mickey1313

      thanks for that cocor is just being a foolish small minded GOPer

      June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  18. Nancy

    get the religion out of our government they can have their agenda in church I'm tired of letting them get off tax free when all they are is a big business. If christ was to come backand walk this earth he'd kick their asses out of those churches quicker thanhe did the last time. Between the crooks and the religious nuts in washington they have about striiped this country to the bone.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • Samuel

      Follow the money and see what it has done. Wow Nancy great post.

      June 28, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  19. Robin Ramon

    Christian? So unclear on the concept!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  20. PondHawk

    Ironically, many evangelical men and women will not vote for her because she is female. A good deal of evangelicals, including some of my family members, believe that ONLY men should lead the family, the business, the country, and the world. "Evangelical Feminist" is, as some have already pointed out, a bit of a contradiction.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      "President Bachmann" is a contradiction (let us pray)

      June 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • margot707

      True feminists won't vote for her either.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:48 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.