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. Cleareye

    Boy, just mention religion and all hell breaks loose! I get the feeling that if the fairy tale merchants don't complain about the heathens, then they won't go to their heaven! Most "believers" cannot even identify the so called Ten Commandments! They are born and bred to be non-thinking followers and they mean to keep it that way.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Does it really say in the New Testament that you can't go to heaven if anyone in the world doesn't believe?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Barry

      The wonderful thing about being is Christian is all are welcome, regardless of their background, status or ability.

      It is true that there are some who profess to be Christians, who are ignorant of the teachings of Christ; and, it is true that there are some who claim to be Christians, but fail to follow the teachings of the one they profess to follow.

      This has always been true, but I trust that God will judge these individuals, as he will one day judge you and me. Incidentally that day is nearer than you realize, for this life is ever so short and fleeting.

      Incidentally I can cite the Ten Commandments and make a point to study my Bible regularly—daily, if possible. And I'm not alone.

      I have also studied and have great appreciation for philosophy, science, history and mathematics. Incidentally this includes the study of evolution.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  2. Dave H

    Christians are just so stupid! They are like children. What a threat these freaks are.

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

      Many of the most brilliant, most well educated, and most talented people to have ever lived have been Christians.

      Are you serious?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  3. mikey

    I liked the Daily Show bit the other day about her husband...total closet case. It explains why she's so anti-gay...she falls into the 'women who fear abandonment'. Which apparently is a legitimate concern for her.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  4. Tyler

    This is news? Who cares? I sure as hell don't.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  5. Gene

    It's the Minneapolis Star Tribune, not the Minnesota Star Tribune.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  6. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    Religious Right??? That's an oxymoron. Everyone knows that republicans don't believe in the teachings of Jesus. You know....The part about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, assisting the elderly, and giving to the poor.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • NBCnomore

      Or the part of the Bible that specifically addresses respecting the the position and the leaders who are in those positions.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Look up why they said Spongebob was g ay.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Conservative Supporter

      How wrong you are! I know many conservative people who support all of the above.
      I have supported all and continue to do so. Have you?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  7. RG

    She got a purty mouth.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Brad


      July 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • che-3

      Me toooooooooooooooo!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  8. Brad

    She now belongs to the Republican church "which sees and knows all".
    Bachmann got a taste of the spotlight, and likes it as much as Sarah Palin. She's not in it for the good of our country, she's in it for her own advancement....just like Palin. Both get alot of pleasure hearing themselves talk, whille the president is trying to dig us out of the hole left by GW Bush.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  9. Jeff

    So after reading this story, I was left wondering what was the story?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • che-3

      The story is the B******I****I****T****C*****H is possessed by the DEVIL Lucifer. Not only that, she has denounced her Christianity and FAITH. She’s NOW a lost soul. Get that? If not have your Tea Baggie head examined. You feel me?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  10. who cares

    Can someone please tell me why this is the most read article today? WHO THE HELL CARES?!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  11. che-3

    This B******I****I****T****C*****H doesn't even go to church yet; have the nerves to call Pres. Obama names.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Her daughter attends a WELS school

    I wonder if they will pull her daughter from the church-affliated high school that they attend in West St. Paul? The worst is that the WELS do not allow women to act as church leaders or even read the scripture during services. It would be hard to defend that, even for Michelle.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  13. Beverly Tatum


    July 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  14. CW

    All that political correctness.....seems after reading the article she didn't "live her belief's". According to the article...she endorsed "same s.e.x marriage and ab.ort.ion". Clearly....she decided to leave due to the fact that she is politician who wanted to walk the fence..ie...be a politically correct and try to be a christian at the same time. As you can see it didn't work so what does she do?...answer.."leave the church"....well...we will see if this helps...It won't..period.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  15. che-3


    July 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  16. Bob

    Making mush out of mud, it still isn't edible. CNN you need to try a little harder on your reporting.
    Why not dig into Obama's beliefs and how often he and michele attended church berfor he was campaigning to be president.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Why would they do that in a story about Michele Bachmann? And what I recall is that he was criticized for going to church less after he started campaigning, and finally admitting that he was disappointed by that church. They were members of two churches, which seems excessive to me.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  17. CM

    I wonder if she rolled on the floor and spoke in tongues in her old church.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • che-3

      She is possessed by the DEVIL LUCIFER.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Craig from Pa.

      Ha!..... I just snorted my coffee all over my monitor! ......I needed that laugh!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  18. Terre

    Lutherans are way way too moderate for a crazy religious one like her.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  19. Annatala Wolf

    Of course they still recommend the "Christian counseling center". They haven't yet been sued into extinction for claiming that they can change through religious conversion what medical science has shown repeatedly is not subject to controlled change.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  20. jim

    You can bet that you won't get ANY soundbites similar to the ones from the "church" Obozo withdrew from, huh????

    July 15, 2011 at 4:09 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.