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. Mark

    I admire and supportboth the author's concern for the poor and her loathing of the explotative practices of the rich and powerful. However, the general tone of her article is sarcastic about her homeschooled Christian values that she grew up with. So while she still maintains that she has not abandoned her Christian faith, I wonder if she has arrived at a different understanding of "Christian faith", and thus thinks she has not abandoned it. True Christian faith absolutley is concerened for the poor, for justice, and for the oppressed. It also however, is the prophetic voice of God for the nation it is in, like John the Baptist cried out to King Herod "It is not lawful for you to take your brother's wife". So it is not either or, it's both and. It's not either care for the poor and do justice, OR speak the Word of the Lord in the public square. It is both Alisa. You may have grown up in a harsh fundamentalist atmosphere that turned you off, but the basic premises of what I mentioned is undoubtedley scriptural.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Howie76

      You need to start from page one of the Bible and read it all they way through without picking one or two sentences to back up what you are saying. The Bible is not one sentence taken out of context. You have to read the word, the paragraph, the book and whole Bible to understand. You also only have ONE book and that is the Bible. To take other books from authors with agendas and read and follow them is against the basic WORD. That is all this kid is saying. MLK followed the Bible.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:02 am |
    • Roland

      I don't believe one is the other. Her parents didn't teach her religion as the bible said other people taught her religion. She was home schooled but her parents didn't open the bible and show her beliefs from the bible. They relied on someone else. Their in lies the fundamental problem with Christians. There is a reason why in the old testament it makes father's in charge of teaching their children religion. Because men with ulterior motives will tell your child to do something because of just that its your child. The same school of thought that teaches Muslims to he terrorist and extremist and are taught by the Churches in America. This goes for Jeremiah Wright to Michele Bachman's ministries. I hate them trying to rewrite the history of slavery. Even Ben Stein tried to do it saying that Darwanism created Slavery. No EUGENICS was wide held Biblical Belief. That's why since the Mormon religion was created during a time that believed in Eugenics its written right into the tennants of the religion.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  2. Dan

    Wow, sounds like you still have some unresolved issues. It seems that you were not taught how to think, but what to think. This doesn't mean that what you were taught was all bad. You were probably too young to process what you were taught. As a pastor, I have seen this too many times in the Christian home, especially home schooling homes.

    How CNN would post this article on the "first page" is beyond me? It's kind of irrelevant that Alisa Harris's life mirrored Michele Bachmann's life. I realize that it's an editorial post, but it was really trying to slam Bachmann. The article made it seem that Bachmann is mindless just like Ms. Harris was not encouraged to use her brain. You can't connect the two. Sorry.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Frankie123

      Dan, back to school please. Cluelessness you are displaying is a sin. And yes, the populist clowns like Rick, Michele and Sarah deserve a slam for preying on the good faith of under-educated and confused citizenry of this country.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • sevres Blue

      But Dan, you see that's just the point. Of course yo can and should connect 'the two'. Most of America has no idea of the closed and manipulative role the so-called 'Christian' right over their followers' minds. Growing up Catholic (and in a very progressive Catholic school) we were taught to distrust people who used the Bible to justify everything they did, and 'Bible Thumpers' in particular, because they didn't truly think about what was right or wrong.. they decided what they wanted to do and justified it via the Bible. I no longer participate in organized religion, and the farther away from that world I get, the more I see how tactics like this girl was subjected to are abhorrent. You are too close. Step back, Dan, and open your eyes.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Scott

      sevres Blue – It's ironic that you learned so much in your progressive Catholic upbring...even to the point that you refer to what you were taught to make your point in a debate, yet, you no longer "participate in organized religion." It must be convenient to pick & choose from any source to make your case...

      August 14, 2011 at 8:10 am |
  3. Frankie123

    Alisa, quite refreshing what you wrote. Thank you. What this country needs real bad is quality, public education for all. Our society is gradually becoming dumber and more confused by the populist propaganda of the right wingers, the majority of whom are simply top-notch hypocrites and con-artists. They pitch "pro-lifer" ideals while supporting wars, guns for all, and denying unemployment benefits and health care for a less fortunate fellow citizen. Can it get any more ridiculous than that?

    August 14, 2011 at 7:50 am |
  4. El Kababa

    I'm sorry but my Bible doesn't mention free-enterprise or restricted government. My BIble praises monarchy and polygamy, but it is riddled with contradictions. There is only one topic on which the Bible never contradicts itself: no one should eat pork.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • moderndayjonah

      Clearly you have never read your Bible as it tells you to eat pork (per Peter's enlightenment in Acts surrounding the conversion of Cornelius and the Gentiles). As usual, the Lib-Trolls display their massive ignorance about the world as they try to pontificate on subjects they know nothing about. Please go back to playing video games and watching America's Got Talent. Your public school education has clearly failed you.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • El Kababa

      I never want to write a anything that is false. I looked up Cornelius, prepared to apologize in case I was wrong. He appears in Acts 10, but the word pork does not. Enlighten me.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  5. great insight

    Great article, I now truly have RESPECT for Ms Bachmann, diidn't know of the good moral standards she stands by.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Frankie123

      Not sure you are being sarcastic, ironic, clueless, kidding yourself or what ...

      August 14, 2011 at 7:53 am |
    • sevres Blue

      HaHa. Me too (not!)!

      August 14, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • El Kababa

      The strange thing about Conservatives is, when they express their opinion, you don't know if it is really a Conservative or a Liberal making fun of Conservatives. They both say the same things.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:15 am |
  6. e

    By making this the lead story on thier web site, CNN has made thier political stance very clear.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • El Kababa

      They will print anything that causes you to read their advertisements.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • sevres Blue

      Well, hopefully there will always be an outlet for people to print stories such as this. We do need to know the truth about the crazies among us.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:13 am |
  7. Yo

    I honestly think that religion is playing too big a role in our politics. There is supposed to be a thing called separation of church and state in this nation, and that separation is starting to get blurred.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Scott

      Lenin, Stalin, Mao and a few others agree with you.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • David Myers

      How about Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Lincoln – all of the greats. They also believed in the separation of church and state, so you just bringing up dictators dosen't cut much mustard in my book. Its just guilt by association and you're not even mentioning the Americans that agree. How come?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  8. Jacky Espriela

    As I see things going, Seems that the downfall of The UNITED States will not happen because of a foreign power, neither because of a president, whose only interests are his own, nor it will happen because of one political group views, or the other's, it will happen because of the divisions that runs through its own people!

    J. Espriella

    August 14, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  9. Jim

    Finally decided to drop all pretense of being a neutral news organization? You have now outdone anything Fox has ever done printed as "fair and balanced" . Just honestly ask yourselves "would I publish an article like this about someone like Nancy Pelosi?". From now on I will only go to CNN for the same reason that I tune into msnbc and that's for an occasional laugh.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • El Kababa

      Yes, you've finally figured it out. Time-Warner, Disney, Gannett. Sony, GE, Bertelsmann, Viacom and all the other global media corporations are part of the World-Socialist-Communist-Lesbian-Liberal conspiracy to silence truth-telling Conservatives.

      Dammit! Why are you Conservatives so smart! You see right through us Liberal-Lesbian-Socialist-Marxist-Anarchist-North Korean-Closet Muslims every time! Curses!

      August 14, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Scott

      Nancy doesn't claim to talk to God.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • DrJStrangepork

      So is CNN Atheist pigs or Progressive Pagans? Please be more specific in your vitriol.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Lindsey

      Jim: I'm getting to that point with CNN also. I used to trust these people but since they lost Lou Dobbs, fired Rick Sanchez and lost Campbell Brown to "pregnancy" I guess they have lost me.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • Jim

      So your posiItion is that CNN wouldn't have any problem leading with a story about an "escapee" from the Rev. Jeremiah's Wright church?

      August 14, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Mike in VA

      Has Nancy Pelosi made her political career about her religion in a country that is very consciously and intentionally founded and designed as a secular state? If politicians want to come in and force their personal religious beliefs on the people, then it should be called out.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Jim

      If CNN wants to remain (or perhaps become) a fair provider of news and political commentary they need to present something like this as a point counterpoint with perhaps an "escapee" from the Rev, Jeremiah Wrights church, perhaps someone who had regularly attended services there for years.... dunno just brainstorming here.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • sevres Blue

      Are you denying one thing that this girl writes about? I doubt it. I only think you are horrified that she shines a light on what is festering in the dark, under the psuedo-Christian cloak. FOX would NEVER run this article. Go back to them.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Katie

      Perhaps you don't fully understand the meaning of the word "editorial"?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:18 am |
    • Mike in VA

      Jim, how do you not see the difference? If Michelle Bachman did not push her religious beliefs on other people and attempt to write them into law, a piece like this would be way out of bounds. However, she has clearly decided to attempt to oppress people based upon her personal beliefs and would like to take it to the next level. If President Obama ran a campaign and business based upon Rev. Wright's nonsense, then you would be on to something. So long as politicians keep their personal beliefs separate from their governmental duties, as is prescribed by the Bill of Rights and majority of Founding Fathers, and do not show that they are looking to deny certain segments of society rights, then it is a non-issue. Seriously, how do you not understand the difference?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      Jim, I think you missed the part where this is the OPINION section. You know, for opinions, not news (although some opinions are about the news). Ever heard of an editorial or an op-ed piece? Those are in the opinion section of news sites and newspapers. Just like here. Loosen the tin foil hat a bit.

      August 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  10. jojobo44

    Wow!!! Excellant article Alisa Harris. A Christian like phrase I love that helps me with my political decision making; "what would Jesus do?"

    August 14, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • sevres Blue

      I know it's become trite, but really, if you are a true Christian, as in a 'follower of Christ' you'd ask yourself that in every situation. We'd have a very peaceful world... and Michelle B would have no place in it...

      August 14, 2011 at 8:09 am |
  11. M.A.

    The devil has become so powerful the devil even judges God....

    August 14, 2011 at 7:45 am |
    • El Kababa

      Well, God has been a bit of an underachiever so far. He said he'd be right back, and we've been waiting for 2100 years. I'm beginning the think that He was lying to us.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  12. Scott

    You think you have a relationship with the creator of the whole freakin universe........you are psychotic! It's a power trip. It always has been, and you don't have to be Freud to see it.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  13. Dsopinion

    "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."

    Scary to think that children are being trained to mindlessly answer any question with religious rhetoric. Personally I can't believe that more people aren't concerned that a lot of our politicians spout the same dogma reflexively. Religion is like a virus, it replicates in people that don't have a strong enough "immunity" in the form of well reasoned thought processes.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  14. Erik-the-Red

    But instead, you became Michelle Bachmann, representing the great state that gave us Susan Lamb, poor civil engineering, and bad fish recipes. The GOP is probably as behind you as they are Ross Perot, but only because you agreed to do a Penthouse (the only "'house" you'll ever get in) spread featuring cougars and their real desires. Good luck to you.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  15. Anthony

    Important article and should be a good "warning" to evangelicals that "the world is watching". Obviously the article is on CNN because it takes on their liberal perspective. The only GOP candidate running that has a Christian worldview and still doesn't push the "Evangelical Christian Agenda" is Ron Paul and I support him. BTW I am an "evangelical christian" and I sympathize with the authors issues on this topic.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:44 am |
  16. El Kababa

    So here's my round-up of candidates’ debate in Iowa.
    Bachman held her place as Queen of the Crazies, but landed no real punches.
    Romney and Huntsman are still Mormons so they don't count.
    The Pizza Guy is still a Black man, so he doesn't count.
    Pawlenty positioned himself again as the Man Who Is Intimidated by Michelle Bachman.
    Ron Paul came across as The Man Whose Philosophy We Really Don't Want To Hear Again.
    Newt Gingrich is the befuddled old Professor of Evil who, as President, we can imagine invading Iran and maybe Columbia while tripling the National Debt.
    While the debate was ongoing, two non-candidates played the role of Lurking Monsters.
    Sarah Palin is playing the role of The Scorpion Queen whose powerful stinger can punch a six-inch hole in anyone's chest. She can really dish is out, but when you turn to confront her she shrinks to the size of a mouse and scuttles back behind the baseboards.
    Rick Perry is Godzilla, and not the re-make. I'm talking about Raymond Burr's friend Godzilla. You can hear him coming. He's not here yet, but those footsteps are getting louder and louder and louder, Oh My GOD, he's HHHHHHHHEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRREEEEEEE! Look at the SIZE of him. OH MY GOD!

    And the clammy corpses of Bush and Cheney stalked the auditorium like lurching Zombies, whispering to the whole audience, "Remember, YOU created me. YOU let me add $5.5 trillion to the National Debt. YOU cheered as I sent thousands of soldiers to meaningless deaths in pointless wars. YOU said nothing as jobs were outsourced and the middle class gutted. It was YOU, not me, who did these things. Remember, YOU created me. None of it was MY fault. Remember that."

    August 14, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • Roland


      August 14, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • sevres Blue


      August 14, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • El Kababa

      I humbly agree with you Roland. You are brilliant!

      August 14, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Katie

      A fabulous summary of the GOP attempt to reclaim the White House! Thank you so much for renewing my hope that there are REASONABLE Americans somewhere out there!
      On a side note, as a Christian myself, who recognizes that "abortion" and "gay marriage" are personal choices and used by the GOP as smoke screens to reel in fanatics' votes, I hope the people of the world realize that many of us who follow the gospel of Christ know that his message is one of LOVE not hate. (i.e. "Liberal Christians")

      August 14, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Midwest

      Wow, I agree completely. When did people stop using their brains and only repeat what was told them on FoxNews? It seems to me that the country is economicaly, politically and socially in the same place we were prior to the Civil War. Scary!

      August 14, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  17. Dress Code

    Let's see among other issue this writer has against conservatives is the dress code???
    Grow up woman we live in a civilized society and we all understand the purpose of a dress code.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • El Kababa

      Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians, who want to be the censors of fashion, literature, and morals. They feel marginalized and ridiculed – and they have been marginized and ridiculed. What they don’t realize is that the other groups in the Conservtive coalition hold them in complete contempt on every day but election day.

      August 14, 2011 at 7:46 am |
    • sevres Blue

      Well, welcome to the USA. While there are different types of dress appropriate for different occasions I think the author was trying to comment that this religion (I refuse to call it 'Christian', but it is the opposite of what Christ preached! He's probably horrified that they use His name!) tries to manipulate and regulate all areas of personal choice.

      August 14, 2011 at 8:04 am |
  18. AC

    I WILL VOTE OBAMA if even the second coming or non-coming of JESUS depended on it.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  19. AC

    And, JESUS will be landing in Beijing (on a white horse ofcourse)

    August 14, 2011 at 7:41 am |
  20. Dick Dover

    You could have been Barack Obama too if you associated with Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright Trinity United Church of Christ.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • sevres Blue

      Hey, Dick.... have you ever heard of the 'six degrees of separation?' I know it's just a concept but really, every last one of us has known a 'crazy'. I went to church for a couple of years with a priest who turned out to be a raving lunatic, and if you tried to pin his crazy right wing agenda on me I'd take you on. Grow up, would you?

      August 14, 2011 at 8:07 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.