Michele Bachmann officially leaves her church
July 15th, 2011
01:33 PM ET

Michele Bachmann officially leaves her church

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Washington (CNN) - Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has long been a darling of conservative evangelicals, but shortly before announcing her White House bid, she officially quit a church she’d belonged to for years.

Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, and her husband, Marcus, withdrew their membership from Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, last month, according to church officials.

The Bachmanns had been members of the church for more than 10 years, according to Joel Hochmuth, director of communications for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the broader denominational body of which Bachmann’s former church is a member.

The church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership on June 21, Hochmuth said.

After declaring at the CNN/WMUR/New Hampshire Union Leader presidential debate that she would seek the nomination, Bachmann formally announced her presidential bid June 27 in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Bachmanns approached their pastor and verbally made the request “a few weeks before the church council granted the request,” Hochmuth said. He added, “they had not been attending that congregation in over two years. They were still on the books as members, but then the church council acted on their request and released them from membership.”

Bachmann had listed her membership in the church on her campaign site for congress in 2006. She lists no church affiliation on her campaign website or her official congressional website.

Hochmuth said that a change in membership is not out of the ordinary. “You have people who are on the books as members, but they may have gone on to another church; they may not be attending a church anywhere. There’s all sorts of circumstances.”

A similar request for membership is to transfer membership from one church to another within the denomination. But that does not appear to be the case with the Bachmanns, according to Hochmuth, who said that to his knowledge, the couple was no longer attending a church within the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Pastor Marcus Birkholz has been at the helm of Salem Lutheran Church for nearly three decades. When asked about the Bachmanns leaving the church, he said, “I’ve been asked to make no comments regarding them and their family.”

Bachmann was asked about her status with the church on Thursday at Reagan National Airport as she headed to catch a flight. When asked about her pastor, she asked, “Which one?” An aide quickly hustled her away, noting that they were late for a flight.

The Bachmann campaign declined to immediately respond to a request for further comment Friday.

Becky Rogness, a spokesperson in Bachmann’s congressional office, said the Congresswoman now attends a nondenominational church in the Stillwater area but did not know the name of the church or how long she had been attending.

Hochmuth said that, “My understanding of the situation was the timing of the request for release was far more coincidental than strategic.”

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has come under criticism from some Catholics for its views on the papacy, an institution that the denomination calls the Antichrist.

"We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy," the denomination's website says. "This is an historical judgment based on Scripture."

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights issued a statement Thursday about Bachmann's denomination, saying it's "regrettable that there are still strains of anti-Catholicism in some Protestant circles."

"But we find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann," the statement continued. "Indeed, she has condemned anti-Catholicism. Just as President Barack Obama is not responsible for the views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rep. Bachmann must be judged on the basis of her own record."

The debate over the legitimacy of the papacy goes back to the Protestant Reformation. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's namesake is Martin Luther, who led the 16th century Reformation and who opposed the papacy.

“The issue of the papacy as the Antichrist does go back to Luther - he did use that terminology,” said Professor George C. Heider, theology chair at Valparaiso University, a Lutheran school in Indiana.

“Luther’s point was, that in his view, the pope was so obstructing the gospel of God’s free love in Jesus, even though he wore all the trappings of a leader in the church," Heider said. "He was functioning as the New Testament describes it as the Antichrist.”

Still, Heider notes that Roman Catholics and Lutherans have close ties today. They recognize each other's baptisms, a point of contention in relations between the Catholic Church and other Protestant denominations.

Salem Lutheran Church still maintains some ties with the Bachmann family. It lists a Christian counseling center operated by Bachmann’s husband on its website under special member services for confidential counseling.

Hochmuth said there are no formal ties between the counseling center and the denomination but added that it is not uncommon for churches to link off to members’ websites as in this case.

Bachmann and Associates has faced accusations that it uses a controversial therapy that encourages gay and lesbian patients to change their sexual orientation.

In an interview with the Minnesota Star Tribune published Friday, Marcus Bachmann did not deny that he or other counselors at his clinic used the technique but said they did so only at the request of a patient.

"Is it a remedy form that I typically would use?” he said. "It is at the client's discretion."

Salem Lutheran Church has about 800 members and holds three services each weekend. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is often referred to as theologically conservative. The denomination opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, both positions Bachmann has long endorsed politically.

The denomination has approximately 390,000 members in 48 states and 1,300 congregations in the United States and Canada.

Presidential candidates’ affiliation with churches and pastors played a dramatic role in the 2008 campaign for president.

Then-candidate Barack Obama resigned from his Chicago church in May 2008 after videos surfaced of his longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, delivering fiery sermons that criticized certain U.S. policies.

In the speeches, Wright suggested that the U.S. government may be responsible for the spread of AIDS in the black community and equated some American wartime activities to terrorism.

Wright officiated Obama’s wedding and baptized his children, and the Obamas were members at Wright’s church for years. After a sustained attention on Wright, Obama distanced himself from his former pastor.

During the same election cycle, Republican presidential nominee John McCain rejected endorsements from two prominent pastors, John Hagee and Rod Parsley, for controversial statements from the pastors’ pasts.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Michele Bachmann • Politics

soundoff (2,666 Responses)
  1. Isolate

    She'll be much happier with her like-minded buddies at Westboro Baptist.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • nobody special

      Nicely done!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • wow

      Totally original. Not!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • :)

      ding...ding....ding...we have a winner

      July 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Rolly McGuire

      You know that the leader of Westboro is a democrat right? Fred Phelps. Look it up. And don't forget that the KKK was started by democrats. I know you'll never let the truth get in the way of slanding somebody who you disagree with ....

      July 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Rolly McGuire

      Sorry, that was slandering.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • kman02

      Give it a rest, Rolly. Bauchmann slanders herself every time she SPEAKS of herself because she is incapable of telling the truth.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Rolly: What does it matter if they were Repub or Dem? We can all agree that anti-gay prejudice, the KKK and the WBC are repugnant in their practices. Or are you really trying to draw partisan lines based on hate?

      July 18, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  2. William Demuth

    She is crazy as a loon, but she has MUCH better legs than Obama

    Reminds me of that Fatal Instinct movie. Once you get a little your whole life is destroyed.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • che-3

      You’re comparing "Pig Legs" to a "Stallion Horse Legs"? Toothless trailer park PUNK, try another one. You missed the mark! Heeeeeeehehhhhheheehhehehehe!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  3. norma jean.


    July 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  4. JohnQuest

    Artist, how dare you to ridicule Sen. Bachmann using her own words.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • che-3

      How DARE "Artist" to ridicule Sen. Bachmann? It's his undeniable BIRTH RIGHT! Not only that; does Freedom of Speech RING a bell in your plugged Tea bag ears? Are you living in some cave in Kabul?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • MP

      After reading all the stirring, intellectual comments made here, only one thing comes to mind. Appently, "Freedom" of speech doesn't translate into the ability to do it. If this is all you people have to offer to the debate, don't pretend to be interested in serious discussions next year. Many here are only interested in tearing people down. Most of what I read here could pass for high school hallway chatter.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
    • i rock

      @ Che-3..

      Why is it in EVERY one of your comments your putting people down? Are you THAT lonely??? Ill be your friend if you need one that bad. Mommy must not have loved you very much 🙂

      July 16, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  5. Jack

    Here's the difference between Palin and Bachmann. Palin wouldn't listen to her handlers. Bachmann learned from that. She will do whatever they say for her to look more mainstream (if that's even possible). Her ideas, being as extreme as they are, will, in the end, undo her. Becoming a moderate or going mainstream is just not in her genes. She will self-destruct at some point. It's an easy ride this early. Wait until the good stuff starts coming out. This show ain't over yet.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Artist

      I know...I can't wait lol

      July 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • God is Crap

      But that's just it, Jack. I fear they won't. This country is becoming more fearful, angry and irrational - and they're turning to fundamentalist Christian dogmas (dominionism, evangelicals, etc.) as a solution.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Artist

      God is Crap

      But that's just it, Jack. I fear they won't. This country is becoming more fearful, angry and irrational – and they're turning to fundamentalist Christian dogmas (dominionism, evangelicals, etc.) as a solution.
      We are becoming the perfect breeding ground for a new Christian Taliban Hitler. Drippy droolie religo nuts are eating what these idiot spew.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Pastafarian

      F.ck religious people. I'm so GD sick of them and their fairytales! Now we have one trying to run for POTUS who thinks god talks to her and tells her to do stuff against her will. You can't make this sh!t up.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • anb

      Oh yes, I HATE fundamentalist dogmas. Those deeply held, core beliefs that cannot be proven by science and exist due to blind faith. Global warming. Big government income redistribution. The weird idea that Comrade Obama is intelligent. You know–stuff like that.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:07 am |
    • Cash

      If all of you are so afraid of Christians, then how about packing up and moving to China! There and atheistic government that enslaves it's people, aborts children, and you hardly have a say about anything about God and the Bible without getting sent to jail and tortured. How's about that? Or stay here in America where men and women go overseas, fight and die for your freedom to sit behind a computer and type about things you don't know about.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • kman02

      @anb: Global warming...step outside, unless you are a polar bear. If so, your home has melted. Wealth redistribution...Rich have been taking everybody's $$$ for years. We want some back. Obama's intelligence...he passed the Bar exam. There you have it. Myths proven.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  6. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    The biggest problem with Bachmann being a member of WELS is their requirement that women remain subservient to men. Can't see her being President if she belongs to a Church that has that as part of its policy. Based on her personal beliefs, though, I cannot see her joining the LCMS. It is waaaay to liberal for her philosophy.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • GodPot

      So what do Christian's believe when it comes to headship in the Whitehouse? Most I know claim the husband get's the final say on anything in his house, so if Michele is President will that mean she has to do what her husband tell's her to since the White house would then be "their house"?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Artist

      Yes, her beliefs reduce her to a 2nd class citizen that answers to her husband.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • God is Crap

      Don't be silly. She can be president... as long as she makes dinner first and her husband says it's okay.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  7. Artist

    Yeah this woman does not want to impose her religious morality on others..*rolling eyes* She is the example of the Christian Taliban.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • che-3

      I like That! You made my DAY!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  8. Artist

    “It’s part of Satan I think to say that this is “gay.” It’s anything but gay.” — Senator Michele Bachmann, speaking at EdWatch National Education Conference, November 6, 2004.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • You are toast


      You can always tell an azzclown leftie site like this one.

      Lunatic lies and fabrications steeped in hate, but what else would one expect from you losers?

      Look – you're gonna get your teeth handed to you in '12, and no matter how much BS you throw out to each other to dream otherwise, it's gonna happen.

      Lay back and enjoy it. You're a minority in this country, and the majority will not let you destroy the U.S.

      Bet your pathetic, warped little meaningless lives on it.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • Ellis from ATL

      CNN and its trolls makes me sick! I hope and PRAY this woman gets the votes, we need a good CHRISTIAN in the white house! OUR God is an almighty God!

      July 16, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • kman02


      You can always tell an azzclown wingnut.

      Lunatic lies and fabrications steeped in hate, but what else would one expect from you losers?

      Look – you're gonna get your teeth handed to you in '12, and no matter how much BS you throw out to each other to dream otherwise, it's gonna happen.

      Lay back and enjoy it. You're a minority in this country, and the majority will not let you destroy the U.S.

      Bet your pathetic, warped little meaningless lives on it.

      THAT WAS FUN!!!! Hahahaha!!!!! Moron

      July 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • kman02

      Ellis...Leave CNN for Fox...Unless the wingnuts are paying you plenty to get on here and make a fool of yourself.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  9. sharon

    This woman is a fraud. She hates gays catholics has a strange husband who profits off of the goverment. Go away michele

    July 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • Artist

      Looking at the husband, she obviously settled for less/down.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • GodPot

      She married him to cure him of "the gay". It obviously didn't work, and now he need's to be cured of "the fat" as well.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Artist


      She married him to cure him of "the gay". It obviously didn't work, and now he need's to be cured of "the fat" as well.
      That was my thought as well. He appears like the gays that are anti gay...oh wait there is a word for it...Conservative Christian

      July 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Josh

      I'm sure Westbro Baptist Church will take her with open arms

      July 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Cyrus

      Sharon, you missed the Muslims from her hate list.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Ellis from ATL

      Who doesnt hate Gays???

      July 16, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  10. Artist

    “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.” – Senator Michele Bachmann, appearing as guest on radio program “Prophetic Views Behind The News”, hosted by Jan Markell, KKMS 980-AM, March 6, 2004.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • GodPot

      Just an FYI, All Christians believe Armageddon will occur in their life time, and so they work towards that goal of making things in the world as close to the scriptures prophecy as possible, and have been for 2000 years. Michele Bachmann is no different. Thankfully, even though many Christians have brought the world closer to the precipice, none have realized their dreams of world destruction. And may they continually fail. fail. fail...

      July 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      Give them nuclear weapons.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  11. jdm

    they forgot to mention that bachmann's former church was anti-catholic and publicly denounced the papacy as "the anti-christ."


    July 15, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • nagrom

      OMG!!! Now I am cursed. Not only does she hate me because I am a Catholic but she also hates me because I am gay. Do you think she hates me because I am a man? hmmm I wonder.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      She could cure you of your gayness. I helped a lesbian once.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  12. Artist

    Still cannot get past her Darth Vader hair. lol

    July 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Dale

      But don't you think the hair goes welll with her crow's feet?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • lucy2

      I never noticed that before, but wow, now that's all I'll see!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • che-3

      Her "Hair DO" goes welll with her "Lucifer PIG LEGS".

      July 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  13. Artist

    Interesting, have to question her motives in leaving and then making it "public"...more reason to distrust her.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • GodPot

      The reason's are simple, pre-candidate spring cleaning. They knew once she threw her hat (and it's got to be a big one to fit that hair helmet) in the ring she would have to defend her absenteeism for the last 2 years to her evangelical base.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  14. marcus

    The right wing teaparty nuts probably mad her join the radical baptist church.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  15. GIJo

    Must be protecting their tax-free status - even though they promote the welfare-aided Clinic the Buckman's run.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  16. ted

    This is news. Really? Who cares? I think Michelle needs botox.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  17. ART

    Flakety flake flake flake

    July 15, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  18. Lycidas

    Usually when one leaves a church..you just do. It's not that big of a deal.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • JohnR

      Yes, I was wondering about the implied "permission" to leave. Like the church might say "no"????????

      July 15, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Jack

      I thought only Moonies had to ask permission to leave a church.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  19. JohnQuest

    I don't get why this is a story, there is nothing controversial about this.

    July 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • ellid

      The church itself is ant-Catholic and adheres to an extreme form of evangelical Protestantism. Her resignation just before she filed her nominating papers is suspect...and while her faith is her own, the religious movement that she belongs to, Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism, EXPLICITLY advocates turning America into a theocracy governed by the legal code in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. If that doesn't qualify as controversial, nothing does.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      Any persons religious affiliations will come out in a presidential race. It's the fact that she dumped them because her "handlers" told her to that is most interesting to me. It's evidence she can be manipulated.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  20. GodPot

    Pastor to Michele Bachmann "You look surprised to see me."

    Michele "Why would you say that? With these eyes I always look surprised..."

    July 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.