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. Jsmith

    Trying to figure out why this is newsworthy.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Jim, Dallas Tx

      its news worthy because she wears her religion on her sleeve... hypocrisy is always a relevant subject..

      July 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  2. Vulpes

    Who cares to which church she officially belongs? She is a @zz clown of the highest order.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  3. Reality

    The status of the "Reformation":

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals, fleeing politicians and atonement theology,

    July 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  4. Broccoli

    I still think about Randy a lot. I made a blog about him.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  5. God

    She is a believer of the Tea God. The God of Loonies and Perverts.

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


    July 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  7. MiketheElectrician

    I wonder if the media will be scrutinizing her pastors sermons. And attaching what he preaches to her.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  8. Colonel

    this is not news. remember, we have freedom of religion in this country. that goes for everyone, including presidential candidates. stilck to the issues, media, and don't waste our time with your gossip.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  9. Steve

    This is hysterically funny. These Religion people sure do take themselves way way too seriously. Who cares about this Religious make believe anymore.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  10. MarshallM

    All I have to say is she sure has a lot of CHOOTS-PAH to leave her church!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  11. Barry

    Bible Clown,

    Are you asking this sincerely?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      More like 'while banging my head on my desk.' Why does 'I don't believe that' sound like a challenge to you guys? Why must you all attack and name-call? Are you that insecure?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Matt, San Diego

      I second that. Why is it when you run into a non-believer, you feel the need to try and convert or disparage? That sort of goes against your own principles (unless you like most Christians Cherry Pick and twist what the Bible actually says). Face it, we non-believers happen to know more about your quaint little 'faith; than you seem to. Jesus was a liberal socialist. "The meek shall inherit the Earth" sound familiar to you? How about "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God". You don't even know your own bloody 'savior' so go preach to a rock.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |


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

      Caps Lock fundamentalista! Go shout it at the moon!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Trying to stir up dirt is bad? How about calling him a liar? Is it ok to say she was born in Africa and is a Muslim secret agent? You fail so badly, and you can't find your caps lock key.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Matt, San Diego

      You're right, because churches are insane.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  13. Floyd

    Bachmann probably gave up the Lutheran church because it wasn't evangelical enough for her group of fundie followers. Wrong reason to change from one church to another...it will eventually backfire on her.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  14. YBP

    This article gets more and more disturbing as it goes along. Is this the year 2011, or 1511?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  15. Arne

    Seriously, who cares. Good for her.
    The religion mania of some Americans pars that of extremists in other places of the world. Antischrist, seriously? Is exorcism gonna be next on the political agenda? Burnings on the stake?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  16. RillyKewl

    Just ask her if she thinks the Pope is the antichrist. Maybe she's the antichrist?

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

      Perhaps, if the the antichrist is believed to appear in the form of a stupid woman married to a big fat gay pig-man.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm |


      July 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Republican Party

      Yes. yes, she is the Antichrist.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Mitt Romney

      She is the Albatross.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Ancient Marinator

      Instead of a cross, the Albatross about my neck was hung.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  17. frank

    Somebody catch this infernal monitor lizard and release her in the Australian outback before she eats everybody's pets!!! Her bite causes gangrene! Her saliva is toxic!!!! Call the Navy Seals! Call National Geographic!!! Hide your schnauzers!!! The beast is nocturnal!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Nora (in Australia)

      Yeah, we don't want her either thanks Frank. :p

      July 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
  18. Martin

    Religion is looking worse and worse all the time. You have to be a "member" of a church and then apply to the church to have the membership cancelled?

    Whatever happened to just showing up for services?

    She made a big splash about announcing her run for President but didn't announce that she's left her Church until reporters obviously found out about it. She had lots of chances to make a statement at the time as she was being covered by media outlets from around the USA.

    Trying to hide something from religious Republicans, are we?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Poppy

      To become a member of a Lutheran Church you typically go through 2 years of Catachism in order to take communion. If you are not a member then you cannot recieve communion. This is to protect the persons soul taking the communion. It would be unwise to commune with other members who do not share the same beliefs.

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

      Thanks for clearing that up, Pop. Now it makes perfect sense. When do we say the magic word?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • RillyKewl

      @YBP, Bingo!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Daniel

      Agreed, agreed, agreed, and AGREED! To me, personally, I don't care; but to an Evangelical, Christian person, this is a MAJOR deal, and it defies all reason that she wouldn't be quite open about this. Sumthin's rotten...though, really, who cares? Again, not me-"..wherever two or more are present in My Name, I am there...".

      July 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • lakesfan

      Poppy–There are different divisions within the Lutheran Church. The Wisconsin Synod and the Missouri Synod are more conservative than the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.) The ELCA church to which I belong does not require two years of catechism before allowing someone to receive communion. In my church, it is clearly stated that anyone who is a believer in Jesis Christ is welcome to participate in communion. That leaves it pretty open. The ELCA also voted a couple of years ago to allow gays in a committed relationship to lead congregations. Prior to that a gay person was allowed to serve as a clergy member only if they were celibate. Neither the Wisconsin nor Missouri Synods allow that. Please know that policies vary based on the Lutheran church denomination.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Poppy

      You are right, sorry I am LCMS. ELCA isnt really Lutheran anymore

      July 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  19. Ed

    Maybe her church leader was anti-American and a racist like Obama's lifelong pastor.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Artist


      Maybe her church leader was anti-American and a racist like Obama's lifelong pastor.
      That is one aspect of obama I didn't trust or like. Also his policies s u c k.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Actually, that's about the size of it. Her church has unAmerican values.

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

      Artist: I know. I still struggle with the fact that someone with such Anit-American viewpoints like Obama could ever become president. But I guess, America is now anti-American. Our country is slowly destroying itself and heading in the wrong direction. It is sad when your best days are behind you.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  20. theinsidetrack!

    so she is going to unbelieve in her god and accept a new god who is more appealing to the mass of @merican @ssholes

    July 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • babyjesuslover

      you will be smoten to hell

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

      Luckily it's only a fringe-size mass. "Fringe" being the operative word.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:41 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.