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. Jeri

    I find it amusing that after all of Bachman's railing aginst the government funding, she and her husband accepted money from the government for "training" of their employees at their nutball clinic. Has she no shame?

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

      Probably not.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Cleareye

      She would not understand your comment.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  2. xasthur

    "Send me your money! Hallelujah!" -Preacher

    July 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  3. RobbD

    Yawn...I'm officially going back to bed.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  4. The Jackdaw

    I am going to use a drill to remove my frontal lobe. Afterwords, i'm joining the GOP.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • granny

      u hit the nail (drill) on the head

      July 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  5. Brian

    In the 15th century some popes accused the papacy of being the antichrist. This was during the period of the "anti-popes." At one time there were three popes alive at the same time.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Pierre A - Westmount, Qc

      Be more precise, Mr. Brian. Name the popes? Also, who were the three of held the papacy? You omitted or forgot to mention that there was also a female pope. Let's see if you know that one. Also, where else beside Rome the papacy reigned? You might research the History of the Knights Templar for unbiased historical facts, as a suggestion.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Inspector Cluseau

      What about the hermaphrodite pope ?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  6. JW

    Who cares about her religious belief when she is the only one in our government who knows how to balance the budget by August 2 without raising the debt limit. She must be the most foremost economist in the world.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "she is the only one in our government who knows how to balance the budget by August 2 without raising the debt limit."
      Where did that come from; did she say it or are you being sarcastic?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • JW

      Well she has said that we dont need to raise the debt limit. She said that all we need to do is make sure we pay the interest on the debt and make a few cuts and we will not need to raise the limit.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  7. Granyof9nMissouri

    What is it any of CNN's business where anyone attends church? You guys/gals are way out of line in this kind of pursuit. That is stuff that the National Enquirer digs for.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      For some obscure reason, people in this country are interested in what church a politician goes to. Ignoring the fact that their primary faith is one of political power only.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  8. frank

    The powerful bite of the Bachman Monitor Lizard causes death either rapidly, via blood loss/shock, or slowly, by gangrenous infection from the toxic saliva of this menacing predator.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  9. Polaris431

    "The church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership on June 21, Hochmuth said." – Grant request to leave a church?? Sounds more like a cult.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  10. sara

    she nor her Closet Gay husband was going on a regular basis. FAKE chrisitanity.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Granyof9nMissouri

      What do you gauge "Christian" by? How would you know whether she is or isn't?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      The same way she counts herself as a nascar driver because she (presumably) owns a car.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  11. james

    It would appear that Mr. and Mrs. Bachmann are trying to distance themselves from virtually everything they have said and done over the past few years. This is of course their right, but it does beg the question of what they really believe. Like all other Americans, the Bachmanns enjoy the right to change their minds about anything and everything, but they don't seem like a very qualified couple to serve as our "first family".

    July 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • granny

      no worry they will not be first family

      July 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  12. Nah

    vfr: "As to facts, while there may be no proof that she's evil, there's plenty of proof that she's a moron and nuttier than a turd the day after nut fest."

    Yeah, I'm sure a lawyer who also has an LL.M. is tax law is a moron.

    You're smart.

    Oh no, wait. You're just a partisan. That's right.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  13. fimeilleur


    The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Const itution; but no religious test shall EVER be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
    Article 6, para. 3 of the US Const itution.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  14. CA_Gal

    Released from membership? Sounds like another church of Kool-aid drinkers!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      All churches are bad.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  15. The Jackdaw

    In other news, America becomes the world's comic releif.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      BECOMES? The US has BEEN the comedic relief of the world for decades.
      Even Arabs shake their head, with a sad smile over this nation's antics. That's saying something!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  16. sortakinda

    I understand she plans to clip her toenails tomorrow. Coverage to follow.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • News Flash

      But if she sneezes this afternoon we will interrupt our regularly scheduled programs.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  17. sam

    so she officially quit her church, but did she break off all relations with them?
    is this like Dick Cheney quitting from and selling his stock in halliburton while not breaking off all relations with it?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      This is like when Penny Wise broke away from the Insane Clown Possie.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • granny

      you are so smart

      July 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  18. The Jackdaw

    I'm joining the GOP because i'm smarter than Jesus and democrats are all liberals and stupid socialists! AMERICA, F&*% YEAH!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • granny

      talk about the dems,gop, but not smart to talk bad about Jesus

      July 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  19. sortakinda

    She's a presidential candidate. No, seriously. She is a presidential candidate? Stupid is as stupid does.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  20. Watcher

    What dollar extraction group, err, I mean church will she join now?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:45 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.