Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks during services at Jubilee Family Church… (Win McNamee/Getty Images )
Reporting from Oskaloosa, Iowa — It was tempting to read everything as metaphor Sunday morning in church with Michele Bachmann, struggling toward the finish line in Iowa where voters will cast the first ballots of the 2012 presidential season on Tuesday.
Bachmann carried her own Bible as she and her husband, Marcus, walked into Jubilee Family Church, a charismatic evangelical congregation about an hour southeast of Des Moines.
Moments after she began a talk billed as a testimony to her faith, a church aide came up to the altar to turn on her microphone.
“Thank you,” said Bachmann, who is holding steady in last place among Republican presidential candidates here. “Turning on the power. That’s what we’re going to do this morning. And when you plug into the power source, there is no end to how far and wide His word goes.” The pews erupted in cheers and applause.
Bachmann had the pulpit for about half an hour, staying away from politics and sharing in a practiced, cheerful cadence the story of her personal salvation at 16, which occurred after her parents divorced, leaving her mother struggling and unable to buy eyeglasses or school lunches for her daughter.
On Halloween night in 1972, Bachmann said, she and three friends wandered into an open church. As she walked up the center aisle, she said, “the Lord grabbed our heart and pulled us forward.” They fell to their knees at the altar, she said, and spent an hour confessing their sins.
“I radically abandoned myself to Jesus Christ,” Bachmann said. “The Holy Spirit cleansed me. I was free for the first time in my life.”
She also shared the tale of her favorite Biblical hero, a minor Old Testament figure named Jonathan. Jonathan, said Bachmann, is not a “razzle-dazzle” hero like Abraham, Moses or David.
Described in the Book of Samuel, Jonathan was an Israelite, the son of King Saul, who surmounted overwhelming odds to triumph in battle against the Philistines.
“Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf,” she quoted from her Bible. “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
It was hard not to read that as a powerful prayer for Tuesday.
“What he did was step out in faith,” said Bachmann. “That’s something this church knows something about.”
Certainly, there was a parallel to her own struggle in Iowa, where Bachmann, a native, has visited all 99 counties and still remains mired at the bottom of the pack.
“I am inspired,” said the Rev. Bill Tvedt, who said he would not insult his flock by telling them who to pick on Tuesday, but nonetheless urged them to vote based on “what the word of God tells us. We’ve got to get back to choosing godly leaders.”
Citing Scripture and the founding fathers, Tvedt said it’s “absurd” for committed Christians to avoid civic engagement, and, paraphrasing John Jay, the country’s first Supreme Court chief justice, he said it is the “duty and interest of our Christian nation to choose good Christians for our leaders.”
“It’s not a question of who to vote for, it’s what you vote for,” said Tvedt. “Sometimes we’re tempted to vote for the ‘presidential looking’-- tall and handsome…. Sometimes, we’re tempted to vote for just fiscal policy…. Many are tempted to go by electability….I believe that simple obedience to a heartfelt decision is the most important thing you can do.”
Nancy Paxton, a communications coordinator for nearby William Penn University, said that after much prayer, she has decided to support Bachmann on Tuesday.
“I believe it helps a lot when you have a pastor that says look at the character of who you are voting for, know what they stand for, know what their heart is and you will be right with God. The Lord just speaks to your heart and lets you know that you know that you know.”
On the sidewalk after church, Bachmann said she was not worried about evangelical voters deserting her for former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, whose sudden rise in the polls has imperiled the campaigns of Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. All three are competing for the votes of evangelical Christian voters, who coalesced in 2008 around former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee but have yet to settle on one candidate this time around.
Wearing a red wool coat and standing on the lee side of her campaign bus which gave scant protection against a whipping cold wind, Bachmann said she put her faith in Iowans to vote their hearts. She may have eschewed political messages inside the church, but the minute she was outside, her message was calculated and pointed, aimed directly at winning the hearts of evangelicals, who make up a majority of Republican voters here.
“I am the best person to take on Barack Obama and defeat him because I will have a clear conscience when I stand on the debate stage,” said Bachmann. “I have no level of compromise when it comes to Obamacare, taxpayer funding of abortion, marriage between a man and a woman.”