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. theDude

    Bachmann turner overdrive.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      You probably ain't seen nothing yet.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  2. waikikijohn

    So she goes to church in Stillwater, but no one knows which one. Ok, we believe this one. Now we sit back and wait for some male to come forward and say is the hubby's BF. What a shock that would be..NOT

    July 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  3. blinky

    I'm going to give her a pass on this one... grudgingly. It's different from, but too similar to the Wright case. I think Wright's craziness escalated after Obama started running for President when Wright figured he had a new public platform, whereas Bachmann's church was spewing hate toward Catholics on an ongoing basis. But, we can leave this one be. There are only shades of difference. Bachmann is nutty enough anyway on almost all issues.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Johnnie

      How is having a negative opinion about a group the equivalent of spewing hate? Can't anyone disagree with anyone else and identify them as a problem anymore? We are not all the same in our beliefs - and that will cause conflict with the equally valid beliefs of others.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  4. Charley

    Just think if CNN investigated obama's islamic faith what we would find out.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • James


      July 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Ish

      And what is former President George W. Bush's faith that would encourage him to allow the nation to decay under his two terms? I voted for him both times, I don't regret it. We have to live with his legacy, and go forward.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Mike M

      If Obama is really a muslim, he must be the worst muslim of all time... after making sure that Bin Laden got blown away and sending Predator drones after hundreds of muslim militants... and by ramping up the war in Afghanistan via the surge... and, if according to so many "experts", he is going to be a one-term President, what the heck do you think he is he waiting for... to let his "inner muslim" become evident?? You sure you don't want to rethink this one? lol

      July 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • NamCbtVet

      Would be no different that investigating your "Islamic faith" (or mine.) What is there to investigate when the subject does not exist? Since our form of government is not a theocracy, the media should lay off such investigations except where public officials carry on actions as if we are a theocracy or should be. Perry in Texas comes to mind as a theocratic official.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  5. momblen

    Who cares – isn't there suppose to be a separation of church and state in politics?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • RillyKewl

      supposed to be? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Void

      Just as the people and the state have separated, the state and the church have become one.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • momblen

      People need to focus on the issues so the United States doesn't become a third world country!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  6. RightTurnClyde

    Outrageous reverse bigotry by liberals and the media

    July 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  7. PHinMiami

    When one is omnipotent, one doesn't need a church. One just make up stuff along the way to impress the masses.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  8. RightTurnClyde

    My comment was not posted ... it was conservative. (that is not allowed today))

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

      Sure it was

      July 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • skinnymulligan

      My favorite part of your thoughts are when they were never posted.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  9. Bruce

    Fun little bit of news. But we're all waiting for the pics of Marcus with the boy scouts!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  10. JimInTX

    Regardless if she's a snake handler like Palin or a member of one of those Six Flags Over Jesus Churches, Bachman believes that women are subservient to men and that everyone who does not believe as she does is going to hell. She's dangerous.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  11. DoctorD

    Wisconsin Synod women denigrates women: They may participate in offices and activities of the public ministry except where that work involves authority over men (1 Timothy 2:11,12). This means that women may not serve as pastors nor participate in assemblies of the church in ways that exercise authority over men (1 Corinthians 11:3; 14:33–35).". WELS does not allow women suffrage in congregational matters that would exercise authority over men. LCMS teaches that women may take on roles of lay authority in the church, such as voting in church elections and serving in "humanly established offices" such as congregation president, reader, or member of church councils, including elected executive roles in the church.

    So there's no way that Bachmann can be US president AND be a member of wacko-WELS. Hell, they won't even let her speak at a congregational meeting!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • JW

      Really? I used to be Lutheran and where I as from it was the other way around the ELCA churches were way more liberal than the Missouri Synod.

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

      The ELCA is no different anymore from any other protestant denomination. LCMS and Wisconson Synod are the most conservative of the branches of Lutheranism.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • JW

      I dont think that is true. There are definitely different levels as far as how liberal/conservative they are

      July 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Poppy

      Sorry when I said ELCA being no different I meant very liberal. Wisconson is the most conservative followed by LCMS then ELCA which really shouldnt be considered Lutheran anymore.

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

      I was gonna say I used to go to an ELCA church that had a woman pastor and she was very liberal.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  12. Barry


    Do you condemn all Christians together, even those you've never met?

    That seems rather narrow-minded.

    Wouldn’t this be like harboring negative feelings against a person, because they are a member of a certain group?

    Isn’t this bigotry?

    Are you a bigot?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  13. Kyle

    She has a law degree from Oral Roberts University; nothing should surprise anybody!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Be fair; her law degree is from a real school.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  14. Mike

    I hear she's really looking for a church that bleeds middle class families and then offers them as a sacrifice on an altar emblazoned with corporate logos.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Obomase

      HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA WOW Reallyyyyyy mature. As**** ******** I asmsue? Or someone just like her (which may even be worse than actually being her ) I'm glad you find so much humor in making fun of other people. Whatever makes you feel better, honey.

      June 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  15. Observer

    Did she go to Rev. Wright's church? Is that the problem?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      Wright made outlandish statements that were all his own, not a belief of the congregation. Bachmann, however, is outlandish all on her own with her whacko husband, Marcus at her side, holding her purse.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Artist


      ............. Marcus at her side, holding her purse.
      I bet he loves holding it lol

      July 15, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  16. Einric

    asking to be released from membership of a church...that's creepy!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  17. DrJStrangepork

    How is this news? A church she went to years ago and now she let's them know she won't be coming back. We should probably check to see if she has any past due library books or if she ever forgot to separate her recycling. Of course I don't actually believe she reads books and she is a republican so she doesn't recycle.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      It's a weird radical church, much crazier than the one Obama went to. Now, if her overdue books are called BURN THE HERETIC and MEIN KAMPF by Hitler, that would be news too.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  18. pat

    religon was created to keep people in check

    July 15, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  19. Matt, San Diego

    She doesn't want one of those Obama church moments. In fact, all churches are insane, so whatever. Nice cover-up.

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


      I've got an idea. Think before you write any more idiotic statements.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Matt, San Diego

      You're stupid. Take your own advice. Churches are insane, the idea of a God is asinine, and every church on the planet is its very own breed of insane. I honestly do not care if you agree with me or not.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  20. Esteleo

    Ms Bachmann speaks regularly with God, and listens to his advice. Any other person professing to conversing with God would be locked away in some "Loony House."

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

      Estelo, we Christians call that prayer.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:44 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.