Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann today announced that she would not be seeking re-election to her seat in 2014. While partisans on both sides of the left-right divide can speculate on why she has chosen to do this, I think it’s important to take a quick look at the legacy left by her somewhat unorthodox and highly effective mixture of (politically and socially) conservative Christian populism. Specifically, I think it’s important to showcase how religious minorities (including modern Pagans) were made increasingly anxious by the affiliations she celebrated and stances she took.
“We’re in a state of crisis where our nation is literally ripping apart at the seams right now, and lawlessness is occurring from one ocean to the other. And we’re seeing the fulfillment of the Book of Judges here in our own time, where every man doing that which is right in his own eyes—in other words, anarchy.” – Michele Bachmann
- Her Endorsement of Christian Propaganda While Running For President: For a brief time, Bachmann was considered a serious contender for the Republican Party’s 2012 Presidential nomination. At a campaign stop Bachmann told an audience in Iowa how the 1970s evangelical Christian documentary “How Should We Then Live” had a “profound influence” on her life. This documentary showcased the ideas of influential evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer, a man whom Bachmann calls “very inspirational” and “a tremendous philosopher.” These opinions aren’t that controversial within evangelical circles, where Schaeffer is widely credited as inspiring the politically engaged “Religious Right,” but I think few outside evangelical and conservative Christian circles know or understand the message Schaeffer was sending. In short, Schaeffer peddled misinformation about ancient paganism, and spun fear-mongering conspiracy theories about the present (and future). He railed against pluralism, secular humanism, and advocates for Christian civil disobedience in the face of secular “tyranny.” In a sermon he gave Schaeffer said that “we must absolutely set out to smash the lie of the new and novel concept of the separation of religion from the state.” Obviously, we can’t absolutely equate Bachmann with Schaeffer, but her full-throated endorsement of his work alarmed those already concerned by the politician’s blurring of church and state.
- Her Uncomfortable Friendship With Bradlee Dean: I suppose it’s a testament to Bachmann that she stands by her supporters, no matter what they do, but her alliance with Christian activist/radio show host Bradlee Dean had many concerned. According to Mother Jones Magazine Bachmann quote“helped raise money for Dean’s traveling youth ministry, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International; guest-starred in his television series; and prayed for his ministry to multiply 10-fold.” This friendship/alliance became increasingly uncomfortable when Dean started receiving increased scrutiny for his various extreme comments, mostly regarding gay people. Though their alliance soured a bit during Bachmann’s presidential run, they still attend events where the other is on the bill. Bachmann’s strength in courting conservative Christians often meant that she was effectively limited in how much she could distance herself from a cadre of extremists, Dean included. Though as we’ll see, sometimes she had no problem furthering the career of anti-Pagan ideologues.
- Her Support for the Career of “Historian” David Barton: In 2010 Bachmann noted that she’d love to have David Barton, a Christian activist/historian, teach freshmen Republicans about the U.S. Constitution. The problem with that? Barton believes the First Amendment applies only to monotheists. In an Amicus Brief filed by Barton in a case involving a Pagan chaplain, Barton claimed that “the true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses …” Barton and Bachmann have a long history together, and though Barton’s star has tarnished a bit thanks to his revisionist overreach, their chummy partnership was chilling to those who worried that Bachmann might one day attain a more powerful political position.
- Her Funneling of Tainted Campaign Cash Into An Anti-Pagan Christian Organization: The very first story I ever wrote about Bachmann was in regards to what she did with money given to her campaign by a disgraced donor. The money went to Minnesota Teen Challenge, a controversial Christian organization that treats substance abuse (though they returned the money due to the scrutiny). The problem critics have with the group is that they have an agenda, and that includes anti-Pagan propaganda. Minnesota Teen Challenge are old-school in their methods, and by that I mean exorcism and casting out demons. It was this incident that made me take notice, and since then I haven’t been enthused by what I saw.
Whatever Bachmann’s plans are in the future, I’d prefer they be outside of a political office. It’s easy to make a “greatest hits” of Bachmann’s various comments, but I was always more concerned by her unwavering allegiance to inserting a very particular kind of Christianity into our political discourse. It’s easy to paint Bachmann as “kooky” but I think few people took her as seriously as they should have. Whatever one’s opinion of her, Bachmann was effective at winning elections and influencing the discourse, and considering her religious views that rightfully made a lot of religious minorities very nervous.