In today’s Washington Post, Michael Lindsay, prominent sociologist of religion and president-elect of Gordon College, discusses why Michelle Bachmann just may have a chance to win the Iowa caucuses in 2012. It all has to do with her appeal to evangelical women. Lindsay writes:
…there is one significant difference between Bachmann and many other evangelical political contenders that have come before her—her gender. Evangelicals tend to follow traditional gender roles at home, so it is unusual that Bachmann, a woman of conservative Christian faith, is not only running for the White House but also receiving considerable evangelical support for it. Observers unfamiliar with evangelicalism may wonder then how Bachmann, who couldn’t even serve in formal leadership roles in many evangelical churches, can receive evangelicals’ blessing for something much grander: the nation’s highest office.
The reality is that evangelicals today have crafted a notion of what feminist scholar Marie Griffith calls “practical Christian womanhood,” whereby adherents hold seemingly contradictory notions regarding authority and gender ideals.
Even in her bid for the Oval Office, Bachmann—who has five children of her own and has cared for twenty-three foster children—describes herself as “first and foremost a mother.” This, actually, is political genius. It humanizes her and differentiates her from the rest of the Republican field. Bachmann invokes the mothering motif all the time; she mentioned it three different times in last week’s debate alone. In fact, motherhood is what Bachmann says brought her into politics. She first sought elected office out of a desire to shape Minnesota’s education policy to be more in line with her concerns as a mother. And she often speaks of her political career as a “calling,” which provides additional justification to evangelical voters that her political ambitions merit their support.
Fair enough. But is Bachmann’s so-called “evangelical feminism” really that new to Republican politics? I seem to remember a vice-presidential candidate named Sarah Palin who was playing the evangelical feminism card well before Bachmann.