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. Lenny Pincus

    The media is completely aware of how dumb this woman is, just as they knew how dumb Bush was.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Gerald

      Probably aware by now how much a jive a$$ this new dude is as well.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • Gedwards

      But give VP Biden a free pass because he's a Democrat.

      June 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
  2. Nathan J Hamilton

    Michelle Bachmann couldn't even win a state-wide office in her own state if she chose to run for one simple reason: they see her as the ideological right-wing parrot that she really is. She's new to the national stage, give it time and she'll expose herself as the same generic GOP ballot option with nothing more than an extra X chromosome to distance her from anyone else in the field. At least Newt Gingrich has his own, original bad ideas.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  3. Adam

    It is funny to see this rendering of GOP women:
    Sarah Palin – social conservative
    Michele Bachmann – christian/evangelical feminist
    What about a real picture of both? – right wing demagogues

    June 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Gerald

      Ever thought about how bad things are really going right now Adam? Do you honestly with a straight face say Obama and his policies are precidesly what we need? Not suggesting that Bachmann or any conservative would be better. But what we have now indeed simply ain't working.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Adam

      Gerald, Things are not going as well as many wanted but be careful what you wish for. In 20th century things did not go well in Tsar's Russia, in post- War I Germany and people made desperate changes. I am not saying that any of GOP candidates have a capacity of Lenin, Stalin or Hitler, but I would be highly apprehensive seeing hands of these ladies on nuclear fuses. Palin's crosshairs on Tucson was enough for me. And their views on economy is a separate topic......

      June 27, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  4. Marc

    A very informative, and in my opinion, very scary article from this month's Rolling Stone on Michele:

    June 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  5. jt_flyer

    And look at her hands in that picture. Clearly she's trying to add 1+1.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  6. Marie Kidman


    June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  7. Gedwards

    Secretary Clinton is the type of feminist that is an equal to men by trying to emulate men.
    Gov Palin and Rep Bachmann are the type of feminists that are equals to men by being themselves.

    Not fitting a pre-defined stereotype of a feminist challenges the left's stereotype and forces them to attack.

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


      June 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  8. mike

    We love to yell at Iran and many other nations for having theocracies when in fact Christianity controls so many of our politics. I'm sorry I'm not anti christian, but does anyone else not see the hypocracy and stupidity of our politics. I actually had an argument with some guy the other day that our nation is not a democracy and he just called me unamerican...

    June 27, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  9. Gerald

    Why do people take the opportunity to "raise-up" Hillary Clinton simply by reading this article? Hillary was completely rejected by her party while Bachmann appears on several CNN articles and is considered a legitimate candidate. Like her or not, tell me how successful we've been in the past 11 years with foreign and domestic policies.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Scared of satans

      Looks like a Dracula is going to take over USA. May God help USA.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • xrk9854

      You might want to check your history. Hillary was not "completely rejected" by her party. She came very close to the presidential nomination. Not to mention the fact she is Secretary of State.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
    • Gerald

      She was made Secretary of State to "ease" Party tensions.

      So we elected a bumbler from Texas, a jive a$$ from Chicago. Whats the big deal? Got any better suggestions?

      June 27, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  10. Doug

    This woman is running for president of the U.S.... And you churchies decide it's all about you.. Here's how I vote, if religion is your number one thing, I won't vote for you.. If you are muslim, well , your crazy, no vote here.. if you are born again christian, same as the muslims.. I want a president that can serve the people.. The people, not his church, the people.. Can we please have someone like that come forward !!!

    June 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • Nocordoba

      Last century was the bloodiest in history because of the pitiful try at man made peace. It failed utterly God will beat swords into plowshares not the U.N. that is what people like that give us wars for vengeance which is Gods do you like that huh? Or what about the french revolution? That was the worst failure of all the attempts to do what you (replace God with the god of reason) want the country's who try this fail. Someone for the people sounds like Lenin.

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


      June 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Nocordoba


      June 27, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  11. hustlenflo

    Do we really have to do this?? Are we going to be bombarded by phony Bachmann "news" stories for the next 18 months ???? Is this going to be the sequel to "Sarah Palin – Invasion of the Right Wing Bimbo."

    June 27, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • sanity

      Yes, it is all the Democrats have because they can't run on their own record of failure.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  12. Karen

    Please do not compare Bachmann to Hillary Clinton. Most important FACT is Clinton is intelligent, and did not get her Law Degree at "ORAL ROBERTS' so called university.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • sanity

      Bachmann got a law degree from William and Mary, also. I guess that factoid is beyond your comprehension and DEm talking points.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Matthew

      Let's see your Harvard Law diploma, and then we'll care what you think about anyone else's law credentials.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • wayzatalaawstar

      No, there is a difference in law schools. At Oral Roberts they actually submit their students to testing whereas at Hillary's effete intellectual law school, Yale, they do not. Bachman actually practiced as a tax attorney. Hillary was hired by the only big time law firm in Little Rock because her husband was big in politics. No caomparison.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • Gerald

      Hillary is successful via association with one pretty crafty politician. Thats the difference.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  13. Trib

    Orange is an unnatural skin colour. It hurts my eyes.

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


    June 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  15. Peter

    she is the anti christ why can't anyone else see it! pure evil!

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

      That would be nice. We need some satanism in government.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  16. Jennifer

    I love it when liberals try to explain why strong Republican women cannot be feminists.

    The feminist movement originally encompassed many walks of life. The overriding mantra was that women can be as good as, or better than men. That women have as much right to a separate life as men. That women have every right to speak out their own mind on every issue under the sun. That women have every right that men have.

    Now, according to liberals, feminism simply means that you parrot liberal talking points. If you're a strong woman saying what you believe, living as you believe, and proving yourself every bit as good as anyone around you – but you don't parrot those specific liberal talking points – then liberals use as much vitriol and spite to tear you down as they can bring to bear.

    Women in the new liberal order, you see, can only be "feminists" if they bow down before the liberal cause and do as they're told.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • gil oberdas

      I think she really is a evangelical fascist!

      June 27, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Karen

      Honey, why don't you try reading some of her statements of her beliefs? She is NOT a FEMINIST. Read and learn. I would say the same to her.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
    • jason fischer

      She was a tax attorney that was foster mother for 23 teenagers. Think maybe she found some good tax breaks there.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Jennifer

      See? This is exactly what I'm talking about.

      "She doesn't agree with me, so she can't be feminist!"
      "She's not a feminist, she's a fascist!"

      Don't bother to accept that she has her own beliefs – that would probably strain your brain a bit too much. Don't accept that everyone has the right to think what they want and speak how they want – even Republican women. Just use nasty labels and faulty reasoning to prove your point.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Ah yes, "She had foster kids and got money from the state!"

      If a liberal woman had done this, you'd be hailing her as kind and loving and exactly the sort of feminist we need more of in this world.

      Please point me to one statement where she's decried foster parents receiving tax breaks. Not even all conservatives think this is a bad thing, you know – I'm fairly conservative, but I do understand that children abandoned by their parents need homes. If it takes giving a few tax breaks to people to give them homes, so be it. And since that's one of the issues very near and dear to the liberal heart, you should appreciate her willingness to help out these children.

      But, since she's Republican, and thinks (rightly) that the government is spending too much money on things we SHOULD not be spending money on (and foster children are not one of the things she's denounced) you automatically attack her.

      June 27, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • Kempo99

      Republicans can be, religious woman can't, unless they choose to ignore history, which they usually do...

      June 27, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  17. RixR

    Sigh. A different iteration of Sarah Palin in sheep's clothing. If people like Bachmann had their way, the world of "The Handmaid's Tale" would be reality, not scary fiction. Except, of course, she wouldn't be in charge.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  18. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Religious Right???? That's an oxymoron. Everyone knows that republicans don't believe in the teachings of Jesus. You know....The part about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, helping the elderly, and giving to the poor.

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

      Jesus didn't tell Rome to feed the poor. He didn't tell the Sanhedrin to cloth them. The story of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus used for instruction, tells of one individual taking care of another when he was in need. But do Christians (republican or democrat) help as much as we should in giving our money, time and resources we have been blessed with, as the Bible teaches?

      June 27, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Always Right

      Jesus might give a man a fish to eat then teach the man to fish to be self sustained. Democrats and liberals (one in the same) just want the fish.

      June 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  19. jason fischer

    This woman represents all that is wrong with America, but she is funny. I can't wait for her to just keep on flappin' them gums. Dumb Dumb dumb

    June 27, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  20. Scott A

    Oh I remember this game....it's been a while, but here's my try...

    Michelle Bachman is a Christian Feminist like Ronald Reagan was an economic genius. Or Michelle Bachman is a Christian Feminist like John Wayne was born in Waterloo, Iowa. And I thought the "Guess the opposite role for the right-winger" game had been retired. What next Religious editor Dan? Next time you decide to have a game on CNN, try using actual humans as the game tokens and not these neo-conservative monsters.

    June 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
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