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. frank

    She looks like Zenyatta with horse AIDS.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Joe

      What does this have to do with your mother?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  2. David

    Imagine there's no heaven.... it's easy if you try....

    ... nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too....

    July 15, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  3. Chuck

    You can expect things like this when one uses religion for political purposes, as Michelle Bachmann does. You cannot take them seriously when they claim to be a Christian.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  4. Sam-Tx

    GO, BACHMANN, GO! You and Sarah both scare the hell out of these liberal leeches! They and their union paid media all know that they can't hold their weak political base if a woman runs on the Republician ticket. No matter how crude and evil their comments get, keep going!

    July 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Ooops

      yeah sam – GO GO GO. You sound as dumb as them!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Dave A.

      Hi Sam; Whats so wrong about unions? When we had unions, the middle class had money, we went out and spent it. Dad could send the kids to school, mom stayed home and raised the kids. After Reagan, the rich did well, but the middle class began to fail. Jobs went to Asia. Your health insurance costs went through the roof. Is this what you want for America?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  5. RSH

    When ever I see her on TV or in pictures. It feels like I am looking at the devil.

    With all this new "pray the gay away" stuff. Has anyone noticed how gay her husband is? Listen to his voice and mannerisms. He is a LONG TIME DL guy, the kind that taps his foot in public bathrooms. It reminds me of the old saying, “He who yell's the loudest, has something to hide."

    July 15, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
  6. frank

    She really needs to do something with her hair.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  7. Carol

    And the beat goes on.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  8. dGM

    It's NEWS b/c the church thinks the POPE is the ANTICHRIST stupids.....just like all you rednecks tried to tie Presidents Obama christian views to those of the REV White remember....so guess what, if she went to this church for over 10years she MUST HAVE the same beliefs that the pope is the antichrist!!! wow i cant wait til this hits the debate circuits......

    July 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  9. JW

    If she gets nominated Obama wont need to do any mudslinging. She makes herself look bad on her own.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  10. KC

    And Obama's church... Rev. Wright....oops... let move along shall we?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  11. Jim, Dallas Tx

    yeah this doesn't bode well for catholic states.. its so interesting all the strikes that are building up against her..

    July 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  12. alphamale

    hahah i wouldnt even spit on this dbag ...horse face biacth

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

    It's a shame that the media didn't look into Obama so close. We may have avoided this big mistake.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Jim, Dallas Tx

      You have a short memory.. Hillary's campaign unsuccessfully attempted to tear his campaign apart.. Its a shame McCain didn't take the same approach..

      Maybe you would have been happy with the outcome..

      July 15, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Rita

      Bush was the mistake.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Ooops

      yeah billie boy – then we would have had loser mccain and moron palin. damn – some bad luck huh!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Kurt

      Bill, what do you mean, they analyzed his pastor's sermons, attacked him on everything the pastor said, etc. Bachman's staff can't name her church? Really?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Ted Nugent

    You have to ASK your church to free you, along with your mind and soul? Does anyone see a problem here? And if you're flying a chartered jet (you can bet she's not flying coach on Southwest) how can you be late? I could go on....

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

      pleeeeez Pastor Daddy, set me free to rip off the people.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  15. CynicLgrrl

    She kinda looks like a succubus there. Anyway..so much for her conviction

    July 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  16. RillyKewl

    Maybe her gay hubby is the antichrist?

    July 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  17. don

    Agree or disagree, I don't care,but politicians make me sick, do or say anything as long as it may get a vote or two. This is an example of what is wrong with our goverment, whatever helps me get elected so I can pad my pockets and be somebody.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  18. Mark Michigan

    bachmann may get the same type of questions that obama got over rev wright. does michelle bachmann think the pope is an anti-christ? her church believed that.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  19. Jerrypwjr

    I just keep thinking of all the money that is going into her campaign when she doesn't stand a chance.
    Such a waste.

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

      yeah..that's what i keep thinking too.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  20. wrack

    She's hiding something.

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


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

      I think that both her and her husband are going to exposed as well. As to what? Not sure yet, but I'm frightened!! LOL

      July 15, 2011 at 4:49 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.