LYNCHBURG, Va. — Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann shared the story of her Christian roots in a speech to the student body of the Liberty University, a Christian college, on Wednesday morning.
Bachmann, a social conservative whose Christian faith has been central to her political philosophy, told the crowd about growing up in a Lutheran household without understanding the faith she’d been born into. She accepted Christ at the age of 16, and decided to start waking up at 5 each morning to read the Bible.
“As a new believer in Jesus Christ, I could not get enough of the word of God,” she said.
The theme of her speech was her campaign’s new mantra: Don’t settle. In a normal political stump speech, this message would be about choosing a committed conservative as the Republican presidential nominee. In this setting, though, Bachmann’s message was more about not settling in life.
“I charge you: Don’t settle,” she said. “Don’t settle with this gift God has given to you. Don’t settle with your personal life, don’t settle when it comes to your career, and certainly don’t settle when it comes to your relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Bachmann said that faith guided her life, from marrying her husband, Marcus, to having her children and bringing foster children into their home. The “don’t settle” attitude also inspired her to get into politics.
“I am not willing that we settle,” she said. “You deserve more than a nation that settles.”
Bachmann also laid out her political philosophy based on the quotation from the Declaration of Independence that all men are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
“It’s not government who gave us our rights; it is God who gave us our rights,” she said. “If God was our creator who gave them to us, no government can take them away from us.”
Bachmann said her favorite Bible verse is 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” That happens to be the official verse of Liberty University.
“It’s also the animating principle of this great nation, liberty” she said. “It’s the essence of our Christian life, and it’s the essence of the founding of this nation.”
Questions of faith
Bachmann’s faith has been, at times, a controversial part of her campaign. Marcus Bachmann’s religious counseling service has drawn fire for its use of so-called reparative therapy for homosexuals, and Bachmann’s admission that she follows the Bible’s advice by submitting to her husband even came up during a presidential debate.
During a question-and-answer session with law and government students, someone asked her what she meant by that.
“It means respect, and it’s mutual respect … I think the scripture really teaches that husbands are supposed to lay their lives down for their wives, so women actually have a better part of this bargain,” she joked.
Bachmann said she respects Marcus’ “headship of our home, and he respects me in our marriage and our relationship.” She told a story about Marcus’s decision to go into ministry even as she wanted to go into law school.
“God had called him into ministry, so I had to step back from law school and move with him so that we could go into ministry,” she said. “There were nights that I cried and I just said, ‘Lord, I don’t understand this, why do I have to put my dream on the shelf?’ But I also knew that I needed to defer what I wanted in deference to my husband. That was a good decision that I made … the Lord is a long-term God, and when we put our hands in his and trust him for the long-term, he really does know best.”
Another student asked about evangelicals who wouldn’t vote for Bachmann because of her gender. “They are looking to the scripture where it says women are not to have authority over men. How would you respond to that?”
Bachmann said there is a difference between spiritual and secular authority, and that the presidency is the latter.
“I am not running to be anyone’s spiritual authority,” she said. “[My political background] does not put me in any way in a spiritual authority over a man. I’m not a spiritual authority over my husband and I certainly wouldn’t presume to be a spiritual authority over any man in the United States.”
Bachmann pointed to Proverbs 31, which describes a “wife of noble character” who provides for the household by looking after the children, preparing meals and working as a trader.
“She certainly is fulfilling an occupation,” Bachmann said. “That’s certainly what the office of the presidency is as well.”
Mandatory speech for students
About 10,000 people attend Bachmann’s speech, held during a convocation event that was mandatory for students. Although she had previously won a student straw poll on campus, there were some in the assembly who were not familiar with her or her message.
But students Jennifer Rose and Claire Martin came away impressed. The two remembered listening to another presidential candidate, Rick Perry, speak earlier this year and they said Bachmann was more memorable.
“She’s amazing,” Rose said. “I would vote for her.”
Bachmann already had Dana Kohn’s vote. The freshman said she was impressed by Bachmann’s speech and the convictions backing it up.
“She’s not ashamed of what she believes … and she’s not going to sugar-coat it,” she said. Looking to her friends, Kohn said, “I love Michele Bachmann. I thought I was going to cry.”
Evangelical minister Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971. Today the school has more than 73,000 students (on campus and online) and it’s touted as the largest Christian university in the world.
Bachmann is the fifth presidential candidate to speak at Liberty recently. Others include Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and, most recently, Perry, who appeared here on Sept. 14.
Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty’s president and chancellor, said the school’s students are most likely to identify with Bachmann over the other candidates, given her background and her faith.
But Bachamnn’s political positions, especially the preference for limited government and personal freedoms espoused by the tea party, are also ones Liberty’s students relate best to, Falwell said.
“That’s why Liberty [University] was named ‘Liberty’ so many years ago,” he said.
Liberty invited Bachmann to speak in April, more than a month before she declared her presidential candidacy. Falwell said the school has invited every presidential candidate to give an address at Liberty, including Mitt Romney, a Mormon, and President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Falwell said he hasn’t endorsed a candidate and didn’t indicate if he will before Republicans have a nominee.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.