GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann of Minnesota expounded on her "biblical world view" and how her faith has shaped her life during an event billed as a Thanksgiving Family Forum Saturday evening in Des Moines.
The social conservative group the Iowa Family Leader sponsored the forum, and hosted six of the seven Republican presidential candidates. The head of that group spearheaded the successful 2010 recall elections of three Iowa Supreme Court justices over the issue of same-sex marriage.
Some 3,000 people attended the forum, according to the event organizers, some from hundreds of miles away.
The candidates sat at a long table arranged with Thanksgiving decorations in the sanctuary of First Federated Church. They talked about their faith, the role of religion in government and shared personal stories.
Absent from the table was Mitt Romney, who declined to appear at the event.
The candidates' remarks were very personal at times. For example, Herman Cain choked up while talking about his battle with cancer, and Rick Santorum became emotional about his family's struggle with a very ill child.
In response to a question about her major life influences, Bachmann told the story of her parents' abrupt divorce when she was a child.
"My dad left and I didn't seem him again for six years," Bachmann recalled. "And when that happened we lost virtually everything overnight. We lost our home."
Bachmann talked about how her family pulled together, recalling that all of her siblings got jobs -- from babysitting to delivering newspapers -- to help their mother pay the bills. She said the experience taught her important lessons.
"It is amazing to me how God uses those challenges to really shape your life, and it taught me the value of a dollar," she said.
All of the candidates described how their faith influences their approach to public policy. They criticized the judicial branch and proposed various ways to reduce its power, from amending the Constitution to passing legislation to abolish courts or restrict rulings on some issues.
Bachmann, who represents Minnesota's 6th Congressional District, repeatedly referred to her Waterloo, Iowa, birthplace. But she also talked about Minnesota -- how her frustration with public education first drove her into politics; and how she fought an unpopular battle to put a ban on same-sex marriage before Minnesota voters.
Bachmann wasn't successful in that effort during her time in the Minnesota Legislature, but she took some credit for the fact that the question will be put to voters next year.
Bachmann and most of the other GOP candidates support amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriages. Bachmann said state efforts on the issue aren't enough, and will almost certainly be preempted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bachmann repeatedly drew positive responses during the forum, but the audience seemed to give its loudest applause to Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain; Rick Santorum also came across as a favorite at times.
Bachmann said she has a "biblical world view," and that because God created people he created government.
"He wrote the owner's manual, so to speak," she said. "He has a lot of say about marriage, family, children."
Bachmann said laws censor church leaders and conflict with the intentions of the country's founders, and that she would work to change that.
"What I would do is back the repeal of that law so that we can exercise First Amendment rights again everywhere, including in this church and every pulpit," said Bachmann.
Recently, Bachmann has been calling herself the "only true conservative" in the race. Earlier in the week she released a web video that criticized some of the other Republican hopefuls for contradictions and perceived weaknesses on the issues, from legalized abortion to immigration, climate change and foreign policy.
She continued that approach Saturday evening. As the forum ended, Bachmann's campaign issued a news release accusing Gingrich of failing to have a consistent "pro-life" standard. Gingrich declined to respond to the allegation.
Bachmann also criticized Gingrich for his role as a Freddie MAC consultant and for his support 20 years ago for a mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance.
Bachmann hopes to gain more public attention this week with the release of her memoir, "Core of Conviction, My Story." The book will be on store shelves beginning Monday.