My Take: I could have become Michele Bachmann
Author Alisa Harris, left, and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.
August 14th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: I could have become Michele Bachmann

Editor's Note: Alisa Harris lives in New York City and is the author of the forthcoming Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith From Politics.

By Alisa Harris, Special to CNN

I could have become Michele Bachmann.

Reading a recent Bachmann profile in The New Yorker felt like attending an awkward cocktail party with former best friends whom I now stalk on the internet but haven’t spoken to in years.

The story describes Bachmann’s influences - including figures like Francis Schaeffer and David Noebel, who most Americans have never heard of but who are superstars in conservative Christian circles - and I found them all familiar faces from my childhood as a culture warrior.

Bachmann wins Iowa straw poll

These are people Bachmann admires and people I once admired, too.

Bachmann has protested at abortion clinics. I was attending abortion protests when I was still too young to hold a sign or even walk.

Bachmann began trying to combat the influence of liberals and secular humanists after encountering Francis Schaeffer’s 1970s’-era video series "How Should We Then Live," a plea to reclaim Western institutions from the corruption of secularism.

I watched the series with my parents as a child

Bachmann served on the board of directors for Summit Ministries, which sponsors conferences and institutes aimed at equipping evangelicals with a Christian worldview. I attended Summit Ministries’ Student Worldview Conference as a 15-year-old.

On the first night of the program, I sat rapt through a talk about a Christian dress code that spelled out the width of the shoulder straps I was permitted to wear, which was not a problem for me because I had brought only oversized Republican campaign t-shirts and shorts that were styled for a 35-year-old mom.

They gave us a handy worldview chart that had a vertical column for every area of life - economics, politics, pyschology, law - and a horizontal column that showed how Muslims, humanists, Marxists and New-Agers were wrong on every count.

The program’s leaders said that the Bible calls for limited government, and that God’s law and nature’s law were good foundations for a legal system. The Christian believes the free enterprise system to be more compatible with his worldview than other economic systems, I learned.

One night, the Summit Ministries instructors showed us a film whose central premise was that anal sex spreads awful diseases.

Terrified of all sex, I clenched my fists and closed my eyes and pretended to fall asleep like the boy up the aisle, who nodded off every day.

I developed a trembling crush on the boy I sat next to but squelched the attraction because the Summit speakers told me it was admirable to forgo romance and holding hands until engagement. We played card games instead.

I emerged from Summit finding that my fervor to stop abortion had grown from a disagreeable duty to an outright passion. I bought pro-life t-shirts.

When I came back filled with worldview fervor, I read a book co-authored by David Noebel, the Summit Ministries leader whose writings Bachmann recommended.

It rumbled apocalyptic warnings that humanists, from the NAACP to the Rockefeller Foundation to the National Council of Churches, were conspiring to build a one-world socialist order. I began to secretly find Noebel a little bit kooky.

Still, my family purchased his curriculum and submitted our homeschool speech and debate class to a rigorous worldview training. I took worldview quizzes that graded my ability to reflexively respond to all questions with answers about the Christian worldview of limited government and free enterprise.

I aced the quizzes. I had memorized it all and could spit it back.

Bachmann worked for John Eidsmoe, a man who argued the southern states had a “constitutional right to secede,” and she admired the writing of J. Steven Wilkins, who said that slaves led a “comfortable, though — by modern standards—spare existence.”

Throughout my high school years, I soldiered along with an organization that ran religio-political boot camps populated with ardent Southerners who still possessed Confederate money and auctioned it off - to frenzied bidding - at camp auctions.

The students and staff said the same thing Eidsmoe did. The Civil War wasn’t about racism, they argued, but state’s rights and freedom.

But by the time I heard these arguments, they enraged me. While competing in a home school speech tournament during high school, I wrote a speech that called on public school students to commit acts of civil disobedience by praying in public schools.

In my research I discovered Martin Luther King, Jr., a model of nonviolent resistance and the leader of a movement that seemed to me so just and Christian in the face of laws so clearly evil.

Seeing pictures of Southern police officers using a fire hose to flay the clothes and skin off of teenage civil rights protesters, I became livid at anyone who praised the virtue of the Confederacy or of the Jim Crow South.

Over the years I began to doubt what I’d been taught — that we could find in the Bible the final answers to our questions about the minutiae of 21st century tax policy and the path to economic growth. I saw Christians yell at gay activists, obsess over sex, and enforce ideological purity instead of reducing abortions or helping the poor.

I began to think that our Christian duty was not to make our country’s laws conform to our private morality but to heal the broken-hearted and bind up their wounds.

The political principles I now embrace - human equality, human dignity, and human rights — align less with Schaeffer and more with King, who not only marched for civil rights for African-Americans but also launched the Poor People’s Campaign and fought for the economic rights of all, black and white.

These principles come from a Christian passion for justice but are not, like Bachmann’s worldview, exclusive to Christianity. I have abandoned neither politics nor my Christian faith but the idea of a “worldview” where all spiritual questions have political answers, and all political problems have spiritual solutions.

Newsweek’s latest cover calls Bachmann the “Queen of Rage.” I can testify to the rage her beliefs inspire, a rage that is focused inward - on protecting the sanctity of an iron-clad worldview, battling all the heretics who dare to believe something different, and seeing life from the bunker of a besieged and victimized faith.

I still have some rage, but it’s no longer focused on the secular humanists and tax-collectors. The rage exists on behalf of our wounded world, at the suffering of the poor and the exploitative practices of the rich and powerful. It’s exactly what the Old Testament prophets bellow at me to do.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alisa Harris.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Michele Bachmann • Opinion • Politics

soundoff (1,502 Responses)
  1. Russ139

    We all know people that lean toward that extreme religious right side. They may be Protestant, or Catholic, or even Jewish in their faith. The point is, religion doesn't shape their views... their views shape their religion. They then use their religion to further their views (both internally and externally.). Thus,the religious indocrination"camps' like the one described in the article.

    Some people move away from the indoctrination, because their internasl makeup simply sees through it. That's what happened to this author. However, other people don't have that internal makeup, and find comfort and purpose in their beliefs.

    This will always be the case in our society.

    August 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  2. bigwilliestyles

    @ stymie99: don't know how many gaffes equals stupid, but I'm pretty sure bachmann has exceeded her allotment. @ jason: you're just another garden variety racist; stfu.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  3. Brittgirl

    Rest of the demeaning article aside, she got the worldview chart wrong- the vertical columns gave the beliefs of the different worldviews and the horizontal rows listed the areas of life that your worldview affects.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  4. Rory

    Sorry Alisa,
    You can't be Michele. As much as you aspire to have a principabled opinion, you fall into the shallowness of "humanism". Self ingrandure is not a virtue, your ideals can't be found in the bible only in your missguided "research'. The empty promises of healing the "broken hearted" are all consuming in there age old grand desception.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Jorge

      Rory, you do realize that in your antisocial minimalistic way, you are as full of it as Alisa is, don't you?

      August 16, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  5. Byron Borger

    I am really looking forward to Alisa Harris' soon to be released memoir; the parts I've seen are insightful and entertaining and well written. It is a story that needs to be told, as she summarizes here. However, I think it is nearly irresponsible of her to put David Noeble and Francis Schaeffer in the same sentence, suggesting to CNN that they were similiar! Of course, this further reminds us that the mature Schaeffer vision got co-opted by the narrow and ideological Christian right, and Harris should by now know this. Francis Schaeffer studied with people who were reading Dutch philosopher of juridprudence Hermann Dooyeweerd and the "common good" theologian Abraham Kuyper, as Nancy Pearcey often explains, and was taught well by his friend the art historian and jazz man, Hans Rookmaaker. The grace and artfulness of Edith tempered Francis and they took in hippies and the hurting, and wrote books against racism, and authored an early evangelical call to care for the creation. I do not know if Summitt teaches environmental care and an artful worldviewish take on culturally winsome Christian living, but Harris's piece, and others who have been through there, sure make me doubt it. I wish those that read her would distinguish between those who use the word "worldview" as a weapon, and those that live deeply out of a vision of goodness and grace, integrated and whole, but not ideologically driven. Those who most deeply drank of Schaeffer's worldview believe, as he taught us, in pluralism and justice and the common good. I don't know what Ms Harris learned at Summitt, but it wasn't Schaeffer-esque.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  6. HillBilly Clinton

    Perry/Bachmann 2012.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • xrk9854

      I hope so because Obama will win in a landslide.

      August 16, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  7. MaryAnne

    The likes of Michelle Bachmann means the Chritian Taliban is already among us. Beware! Then be kind and tolerant, like Christ.

    August 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Maureen

      That statement is so true – those people scare me – believe what you believe, but don't shove it down my throat this country is founded on free rights

      my question is what happened to the Separation of Church and State – that line has been getting way too faint for my liking – it's scary

      August 16, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • David Johnson

      Bachmann and Perry both represent the Christian Right.

      Better be careful with these religious nuts. They are fun to poke fun at, for sure. But they have a terrifying "wishlist".

      The Texas history books are rewriting history to give the conservative slant. The objective of this effort, is to create a Christian Nation, a theocracy with Jesus as Head of State.

      A huge campaign is underway, to convince the American people, the founding fathers never intended a separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson's role as a founding father is played down. In some cases Jefferson is smudged.

      Expect an attack on the 1st and 14th Amendments. The founding fathers will weep.

      Most of the Tea Party are for a Christian Theocracy. The Tea Party is in bed with the Christian Right. A vote for any Tea Party candidate, is a vote for Christian Right domination.

      The Republicans are the puppets of the Christian Right and the Rich.

      You will see an amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. The repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", will be in grave jeopardy. Gay rights will dwindle and die.
      Roe Vs. Wade will be reversed. Women will once again be forced to seek back alley remedies. Men will be forced to buy condoms on the black market.

      Stem cell research will stagnate. The hopes of damaged and sick people will be dashed.
      All scientific research will be scrutinized by the Christian Right. "If a theory is in agreement with Scripture ", will be the new metric. Get use to hearing "God Did It". No one will dare question otherwise.

      P_ornography will be illegal. The Religious Right will decide what is p_ornographic , as well as what is art. You will watch television programs approved by the Evangelicals. Lots of reruns of "Growing Pains", starring that Evangelical darling Kirk Cameron. Thank you Jesus!

      Creationism will be taught in public school, most likely alongside evolution rather than instead of, but no guarantees.
      Vouchers will enable parents to send their child to religious schools. Funds to public schools will dwindle. Quality education will be out of reach for the masses. The finite amount of money, will be spread too thin. But what does it matter? It is the will of God.

      Little Johnny will believe in talking snakes and Zombie Messiahs. The rest of the world is spending their time learning real science and math. Good luck Johnny. Can you say: "Would you like fries with that?"

      State-sanctioned Prayer will be in our schools. The Christian Right think they know better than the Founding Fathers and want to tamper with the Bill of Rights. They want to amend the U.S. Const_itution, so that the Government would legally sponsor and take over the activity of prayer. Only the one true god, the Christian god, will be given homage. The non-Christians will be allowed to put their heads down on their desks, during the morning worship. They can contemplate their damnation, for not accepting Jesus.

      $ex education will consist of abstinence only. Studies have shown it is a worthless concept. But, it will please Jesus.

      The war against unions, commenced during the Bush administration, will continue.

      Jesus will be the Head of State! He will be represented by an empty chair at the head of the leadership table. Only the Evangelicals will be able to hear His voice. They will tell the rest of us His will. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

      We will be slaves to a make believe god. If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny.


      August 16, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  8. shinden58

    At least some of the young brainwashed woke up and flung off the yoke of intolerance that the religious right dishes to it's followers. Alisa congratulations on walking away from that crowd. I am sure that your life is more fulfilling now than when it had all those limits placed on it. Best of luck in the future.

    August 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
  9. Liutgard

    Sadly, I could have written this article. I had an eerily similar experience and spent the 80s chasing those same ideals. It was a long process, but I am now an active liberal, and instead of spending my time angrily demanding rigid adherence to that narrow worldview, I'm spending time doing the things that Jesus told me to do- feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and the poor, etc. And I think I'm on the right track.

    August 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Whatever path you're on, you have become a good person. Congratulations.

      August 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Joe

      "you" are not taking care of others as a liberal. You are voting to take money from others to care for them. It's called theft. If "you" want to help others, it must come from "you."

      August 16, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  10. johnjohninla

    There's only one thing missing in the authors total recovery: renounce complete all of christianity. Period.

    Get away from any church of worship of any kind shape or form. Get away and stay away.

    Religion is pure evil.

    Those who see it for what it is are free. Those who do not see religion for what it is are weak.

    August 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  11. BL

    One of the few Christians I've ever encountered who seem to have the slightest clue as to what Jesus was teaching, and actually practices it. It's beautiful to sense a spiritual awakening.

    August 15, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
  12. God

    Thanks, Alisa, you are on the right track.

    August 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  13. The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

    Sorry CNN but I am rewriting a post for edifiaction on clarity's sake.

    What if and I do mean what if,,,someone running to be President would run on the following,,,,,,

    1. Tax the churches and wrangle in their unabated uses of money here and money there and their results of such follies are they a detrimant to our nation's wholesome visions of righteousness unbecoming the churches' passivities?

    2. Make our country a retreatest mation via calling home all but a simple minority of troops hither and thereto for the sakes of de-agression principles not withstanding what other nations/countries would say or label our nation as being a "Recluse country which we would not be for such actions would be Acts of De-Agressives and not Acts of reclusiveness or even cowardism.( The Money saved in doing such an Act would be at least in the hundreds of billions perhaps even in the trillions of dollars saved)
    3. Pull all the stops out regarding all forms of self-medicating one's self be it legality or as is now the case illegally for such a move would free up the federal and state and county jails giving room for the real convicts, you know the types, thiefs of all characters from the least theivery to the high0society theiverists. Can't forget the rapists and murderers and even the pedophiles.

    It's as easy as 1-2-3 baby you and me can't ya see?

    August 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • JWB

      Regarding taxing churches: Fine, but in order to maintain tax exempt status, churches are forbidden from supporting political candidates. By taking away tax exempt status, you thereby allow them to directly enter the political sphere. Are you sure you want to do that?

      August 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      JWB, they are already there.

      August 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • saabing


      August 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  14. Herewe Goagain

    LOL. She could have tried.

    August 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  15. TK

    Alisa, Good job! I am definitely planning to read your book. You are smart and brave; keep growing in the truth. I am also a former evangelical who left moorless megachurches and so-called Christian culture in utter disgust. I found a church and pastor who were much better trained in biblical truth and began to unlearn 30 years of false teachings. I'm still conservative, but now separate religion and politics and embrace God's gifts wherever He plants them (in all of culture and people). I'm from Mrs. Bachmann's home area and I won't vote for her for several reasons (debates in this forum are pointless and attract loonies). I truly think that the GOP dumped Tim Pawlenty in favor of Bachmann because they concluded that there is little chance to win in 2012 against President Obama. She will never win a presidency. She can probably continue to be a decent Senator, though.

    August 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  16. Jerry Miller

    Wonderful Article. I admire Dr. King as well. His principle of non-violent justice is one we should all embrace. He said all the great leaders of the world have gone to war for "peace". He said that we must find a way to have peace by peaceful means. Reverend Jerry M. Miller

    August 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      What if and I do mean what if,,,someone running to be President would run on the following,,,,,,

      1. Tax the churches and wrangle in their unabated uses of money here and money there and their results of such follies are?

      2. Make our country a retreatest country via callinh all but a simple minority of troops hither and thereto for the sakes of de-agression principles.

      3. Pull all the stops regarding all forms of self-medicating one's self be it legally or as is now the case illegally for such a move would free up the federal and state and county jails giving room for the real convicts, you knoe the types, thiefs of all characters.

      It's as easy as 1-2-3 baby you and me,,,,fa la la la la London Bridge it did fall down, ITS A JOKE CNN

      August 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  17. MC in TX

    The form of Christianity that Bachmann represents is a type of intolerance and narrow-mindedness that has appeared many times in history. In this country it had been on the decline throughout the mid 20th century but gradually began to re-emerge in the 1990s and has been on an upswing since. In truth it is in large part a response to the multi-culturalism that developed in the U.S. during the late 1900s and is similar to the rise of the KKK in the decades following the emancipation of the slaves (most of us forget how mainstream and politically influential the KKK became during the 20s and the Depression era).

    What's sad is that there are still many intelligent, tolerant, and informed people in the Republican party. But there voices are being crowded out by nuts like Bachmann.

    August 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  18. heynow

    I'm beginning to feel like the next election is just a matter of trying to vote for whoever is looking to take the fewest rights away from the people who live in this country.

    August 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      If only we had a True to Life Secularist who could debauch the unbaucherable undulations of spokeness by those who read the scripts prepared ahead of time and without preparitory wranglings whereupon they of the those are vigorously dilling and drilling themselves to the point where all answers are but flotation devices in a sea of clouted desperations. Oh the thrill of gamesmanships in the political arenas of languaged phenoms!

      August 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Sarah Palin

      Drill baby Drill

      August 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • sam

      @Lionly: totally going to find a reason to use 'debauch the unbaucherable undulations of spokeness' in a discussion. Soon.

      August 15, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  19. Antonio

    how about "courteos discussion" welcomed by CNN ? many of the comments posted are anything but courteous and

    August 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • KJB

      And CNN do nothing about them. So much for "Terms of Service."

      Then again, it is difficult to police the tongues of uncouth mobs.

      August 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • KangaBros.

      I've sneaked the vocabulary of atheists and side from God, I also don't see the word courtesy in there.

      August 17, 2011 at 3:52 am |
  20. Reality

    To: A. Harris and M. Bachmann:-–––

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs)

    August 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • AndyB

      I hardly consider 1 abortion per 150 women to be an 'epidemic'. It is a distressingly high number, but its important to put these things in perspective.

      August 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Reality

      "If the number of flu-caused deaths exceeds 7.7 percent of the total, then the United States officially has an epidemic on its hands."

      The Pill fails 8.7% of the time resulting in 1 million unplanned pregnancies. The male condom fails 17.4% of the time resulting in 1.2 million unplanned pregnancies. (Guttmacher Insti-tute data). The abortion rate, ~1 million/yr.


      "Se-xually Transmitted Diseases (or S-TDs) are at unprecedented and epidemic proportions. Thirty years of the se-xual revolution is paying an ugly dividend. While a few S-TDs can be transmitted apart from s-ex acts, all are transmissible by the exchange of bodily fluids during intimate se-xual contact. I want to discuss the severity of the problem as well as what must be done if we are to save a majority of the next generation from the shame, infertility, and sometimes death, that may result from S-TDs."

      August 16, 2011 at 12:21 am |
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About this blog

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.