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. tim

    you just reminded me why I watch foxnews. you all are nuts.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • che-3

      Why is your PUNKASS here then? Or you didn't get your usual CRAZY, Delusional, psychopath FRAUX News Fix? Whooops, your CRAZY, delusional, psychopath Glen Beck has been FIRED! Low life pathetic PUNK!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • tim's mom

      Tim, I told you to stay off the internet.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • granny

      I watched them fox people long time ago and though they were for reallllllllllllll

      July 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  2. May

    Ah, she withdraws, most likely because to be run for president, most must accept freemasonry. The female side of that is eastern star. Freemasons take their oath with satan. So here we go again. Same old, same old, no changes, just different faces.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  3. Jeff

    She's going to become a Southern Baptist.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Poppy

      I hope not...those people cant even read.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  4. Bachmann Suporter 666

    You say she called the Pope the Antichrist like it is a __bad__ thing.
    I'm sure she meant it as a compliment.
    As in, "Hey Benny, you are really rockin' that Antichrist thing you got goin'"

    July 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  5. Cleareye

    Bachmann? Is she the lady that thought a child serial killer in clownface starred in True Grit/

    July 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Bachmann Supporter 666

      Very few people know about Matt Damon's early aspirations to be a clownface serial killer.
      Eventually, he did decide to follow a more mainstream career choice as an actor.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • carla

      Maybe she has developmental delays?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • BottomFeeder

      Indeed she is John Wayne the movie dude – or John Wayne Gacie the mass murderer? seems like an easy mistake to make – if you were raised in Uganda
      the fact that Bachmann was a member of cult that is mired in the Middle Ages is something that she needed to pull away from
      not because she is running for prez – but because it would be the right thing for any reasonable person to do
      such do these god fearing Lutherans think that Hitler and Stalin were just misdirected souls?
      seems that the Lutherans in Germany were some of the first ones to start killing the mentally challenged and stuffing folks into ovens
      the pope – any pope – being the AnitChrist? sure there were some of them that are probably burning in hell as we speak
      what bible do Lutherans like you read?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  6. dowdotica

    quitting her church? hmmm...gonna start a cult probably.lolol

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

    Sunday is the most segregated day of the week... go figure when it is designated the most holy by Christians! HA!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • dowdotica

      ...come monday morning? they totally forgot what the preacher said the day before!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  8. Elizabeth

    I find it hilarious – too obvious why she quit. She's got the thought "oops my gay beliefs are leaking out", so let's keep all my true beliefs hidden until I can become president.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  9. howlyn

    Bachmann: another moron.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  10. TexasShell

    An entire article about her changing churches?? Good grief.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  11. Ron

    This whole article is a waste of reading time ! Just some lefty desperately trying to find something to "twist". How bout writing an article that has a little intelligence behind it?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  12. pat

    one word nuts

    July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  13. LouAz

    Frau Bachmann and her master husband will refile papers Monday to change their Counseling Clinic into a Church, as they now realize it is far more lucrative. There just are not that many gays that want to "pray themselves straight".

    July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  14. yoshi

    The pope is the anti-Christ – the person who has devoted his entire life to helping others. Just when I thought religion couldn't get any wackier, it does. What fun. People think the Taliban are strange, look at this crap in our own backyard.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Poppy

      Catholicism is the greatest threat that has ever been seen by this country, but no one seems to care.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  15. Jerry

    Long story about nothing! How about reporting about something that actually matters.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • granny

      you mean like Casey Anthony?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  16. Whatever

    Oh so what is it about this church she does not want us to know? HYPOCRITE!!!! Critized the President when he left his church over a sermon that was taken out of context. Funny I bet Rev. Wright is still preaching the same type of sermons but because the President is not affiliated they don't care. So is she a liberal now? LOL

    July 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • MurfAtHome

      You're right, this doesn't pass the smell test. Something's up.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  17. Poppy

    I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran and the pope (any pope at any given time) is considered to be the antichrist. If you notice the countries in Europe that are having significant budget problems are for the most part Catholic countries. The conservative branches of Lutheranism are really the only ones going to heaven, so it saddens me to see her quit. I feel sorry for ELCA and other protestant groups because they try really hard but unfortunately wont make it to heaven. Its sad really. Ill keep praying for you.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Patof

      ALL religions are idiotic and childish... you come off as an imbecile choosing a particular dillusion over another!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      OMG... take your meds...

      You keep praying, we'll keep thinking.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • tom

      you are so pathetic. keep deceiving yourself. and you know how goes to heaven how?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • yoshi

      You are kidding right?

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

      When did God give you the right to judge if someone goes to Heaven or Hell?

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

      Jerry its not me doing the judging....its God...I dont have any control over what he does.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • cathie

      Because the catholic church wants and does social work..... how is that being evil to help people? The Catholic church is the largest refugee resettllement org in the US. The US govt funds part of the programs... So that is the antichrist? That is the basic tenents of christianity. Charity to the poor. not ones self. So, she changed chuch to run? And ppl condemned Obamas former pastor.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Linda

      but Poppy.. you are judging by assuming you know God's intent. Only God knows who will go to heaven

      July 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • BottomFeeder

      Poppy you can't be serious – really no one in the 21st century can have such a limited view of Christianity and to a greater degree reality. If there is a god I hope he "smites" you before you contaminate the rest of the gene pool.
      I'll let you go now as you probably need to go to a witch burning or something?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • TexasShell

      Seems to me Jesus said in John 3:16, "For God so loved THE WORLD..." not just Lutherans. Your belief that only conservative Lutherans is NOT biblical.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • MEandMine

      Since when does a Church get to decide who goes to Heaven and who doesn't. Certainly it is God who decides. As to this lady walking away from a 10 year conviction"? How easy it is for these people to just "poof" when they think it will bring them votes. When will we have stable people in our government. Our country is trouble and no one seems (Dems or Repubs ) to have the nerve to stand up to the money mongers that run our country – its that simple

      July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Matomand

      A few white people in the Midwest are the only ones going to Heaven – really?!? Wow- oh wow – the ignorance of that statement Poppy. I pity you. My beliefs might not be correct, but I am smart enough to know there might actually be many paths to the Divine...

      July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Cleareye

      Poppy the pooper will tell us all the "facts!" Hilarious.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Hunter Henry

      How dare you and your false god judge me? I demand an apology from both you and him. yes, it's a false god, cuz a true god would not judge me like that. Dufus!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Poppy

      Catholics worship idols and saints..not God. How many catholics do you know that have some saint buried in their yard or in their car...it sickens me. Most of the other cults keep children from being baptized. Therefore they are doing satans work.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Poppy

      Hunter I wont apologize for the truth, but I will pray that you see the light and turn away from evil.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • TexasShell

      Poppy, please share the scripture reference where it says only conservative Lutherans go to heaven. I'd like to look it up in my Bible. You might wanna look up a few like Ephesians 2:8-9 and John 8:36 and others that make no mention of Lutherans being saved. Only regular folks like the rest of us.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Poppy

      Conservative Lutheranism beliefs have the most liturgical validity of all protestant sects. We come closest to the truth. Sorry thats just the way it is. Its not deciding that everyone is going to hell, you can all read Luthers Small Catachism and see it for yourself. Its like a cliff notes for understanding the Bible. Its very easy actually. I will pray for you all.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  18. Eric

    Who cares? Grow up America; you too CNN!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  19. Barry

    The Jackdaw,

    You said: All churches are bad.

    Is that true?

    Does this include those who are serving the poorest and most needy people in the world?

    Does this include those who, like Mother Teresa, have comforted and encouraged the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick?

    Does this include those who have given out of their own poverty to help feed and clothe others?

    Does this include those who are committed to loving their neighbors, loving their enemies, being compassionate and helping when possible?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Patof

      you don't have to believe in fairy tails to help out your fellow man... organised religion is responsible for FAR more atrocities than the few benefactors you mention... you religious nuts make me sick... you are more gullible than children!

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

      mother Theresa was a fraud and a hypocrite: She refused to return millions of dollars that were donated from proven il-gotten means and she wanted to condemn the Irish women who wanted out of their abusive marriages to a life of beatings and torment, while hoping that her "friend" princess Diana would be happier if she got out of her miserable marriage to Prince Charles... (1996) I spit on her grave.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • maude

      Mother Teresa was a British Spy. She converted people to Christains with food. She had a hidden agenda.
      Most churches in the third world countries abuse and brainwash people. The provide food as a lure. This is shameful.
      Religion is concieved by the elite to keep the rest of the sheep in line. To toot your horn elsewhere.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  20. God is love - love is doG

    Why, could it be cause they didn't pray the gay away hard enough for Marcus or cause of her church's belief about Catholics? Can't get the Catholic vote when you believe that Pope and his peeps are the Anti-Christ!!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Zaphod2000

      it's just not the catholics they don't like. It's anyone who is not a false "christian" like they all are.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Barry

      You are mistaken.

      The term The Antichrist is found in the New Testament epistle known as First John.

      In this epistle the writer(s) use the term Antichrist to refer to not one individual, but to a group of individuals, who were denying that Jesus came to earth in the form of flesh and blood.

      This statement, and much of the book of First John, is clearly a message sent to another group of early Christians, known as Gnostic Christians or Marcionite Christians [followers of Marcion]), who were denying that Jesus actually came in the flesh.

      This had something to do with the latter’s belief that all matter was evil, and therefore this later group held that Jesus couldn’t have actually come in the flesh. This notion is connected to the teachings of Plato.

      John and many of the early Christians strongly opposed this idea, of course. They believed, as do I, that Jesus did in fact take on the form of our own sinful flesh, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world in that human body.

      I urge you to be careful about throwing the term Antichrist around, and we should all be careful about casting aspersions on any person; because, as Christians and Jews believe, everyone is our brother or sister, and any offense against another person is a sin against our own brother or sister.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      That was only one of three views.
      a. He was god, remained god, (took on an extra human appearance), and was always god.
      b. He was god, dropped the god part, became man, and went back to being god.
      c. Became god after he was done being man.
      Depends on which book of the NT you read. They are all different.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:00 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.