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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. Jose

    Now all she has to do is enlist in a new one, but I found one that will completely meet her qualifications, its called the Church of the POISON MIND!!!!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVzAH0FtNwg&w=640&h=360]

    July 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  2. Paul

    Man I don't care.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  3. Joshua Ludd

    Just another religious zealot who doesn't even go to church. Is anyone surprised by anything Bachmann does?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  4. Dean

    WOW CNN how much time did you put into researching and reporting about the failure in the White House and his religious beliefs and affilliations with Rev Racist Wright? Oh that's right, none. Fox had to do it. You are such typical left hypocrites. I expect to see an in depth report on the lack of church Obama has attended these last few years and all his time spent with the racist Wright. As well as his Muslim upbringing and how it has affected his view on life and our country. Come on and at least try to appear balanced.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • SnowVeil

      come on and at least try to appear honest.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Robert

      Actually... CNN covered the Rev. Wright affair quite a bit.

      You troll, but you failed. Try again.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      like Faux? Please... let the adults talk...

      July 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  5. foreverwar

    Guess she found out God doesn't vote or give campain contributions.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  6. Cojack

    It is really no ones business which church she does or does not attend.......

    July 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • SnowVeil

      churches are very big businesses.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  7. Rick H.

    If her church is pushed as a big deal when jeremiah wright was swept under the rug all of you media types can go to Hell.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • SnowVeil

      so you can interview Michele there.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Robert

      Swept under a rug? CNN, Huffpost, and poltico all covered the Rev. Wright stuff throughout. Go back to Fox News where they actually like you.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  8. JD

    And why is this news?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  9. Belle

    Now she can really be the witch she is.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • SnowVeil

      which she is.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  10. Willy Nilly

    The Hack Brotherhood is coming out early in defense of the messiah they compared to Lincoln and FDR before he set foot in the Oval Office. She needs to dump her church like Obama dumped his. But... she'll self-destruct before the RNC, anyway. Yawn.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  11. ProperVillain

    "We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy," the denomination's website says. "This is an historical judgment based on Scripture."
    Didn't this sort of crap die out in the 80's? I can't believe anyone with half a brain cel could believe this nonsense. Their "historical judgement" is based on unwarranted hatred of the Catholic church and conjecture as to the meaning of some passages in the book of Revelation. A book that I am convinced NO ONE can make heads or tails of and that, in my opinion, should be taken out of the canon of scripture.
    This whole thing was some sort of political move on the part of Bachmann. No politician does anything just because. I love that her aid wouldn't let her answer a simple question. This alone shows me she's a total airhead and wouldn't know foreign policy from foreign delicacy...

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

      Again no evidence that she's an airhead just a personal attack. What about Obama citing that he's visited 57 states. Wow, he is so damn intelligent.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Artist

      " I love that her aid wouldn't let her answer a simple question. This alone shows me she's a total airhead and wouldn't know foreign policy from foreign delicacy..."
      ________________________________

      Should be interesting to see if she is a bigger dumb @ s $ than palin. I really cannot wait to see her talk.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  12. Merv Unger

    As a retired editor I had to re-read this post a number of times, trying to fathom the news judgment of the poster. There is no news here, this does't matter, it's a waste of cyberspace. Media always plays separation of church and state, and then when convenient links the two. Journalism has gone to hell . . . even before Rupert Murdoch.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  13. Cam

    Grooannn....WHO CARES! I have no idea why I even pay attention to American media anymore....

    July 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  14. girlie_girl2

    "The church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership on June 21, Hochmuth said."
    ----------------------
    What kind of crazy cults are these? Since when do you have to request to stop going to a church? Growing up Episcopalian my parents could switch churches without permission. Sounds creepy to me.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  15. rick

    Suddenly the dims are interested in what church a candidate attends?? There's your hypocrisy.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  16. Robert Czeranko

    I am Catholic, I support Congresswoman Bachman. She is the toughest Republican candidate out there so far.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  17. James

    The media elites like CNN & MSNBC failed to show even one iota of intellectual curiosity about anything in Barack Obama's background. We know absolutely nothing about his background. We have these yellow journalists flocking to Alaska to go through Sarah Palin's old emails (that has mysteriously disappeared from the news; they must not have found any dirt) while at the same time Scott Pelley interviews Obama about the debt crisis and asks no follow up questions, just takes Obama's outrageous claims (no social security checks for seniors because of those evil republicans) and lies at face value. The truth of the matter is that the media believes that whatever Obama says is holy writ, but Conservatives must be destroyed. Such is the aim of this article.

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

      Have you had your medication today? Or, is this really sarah the quitter palin.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  18. Joe

    The papacy is indeed the Antichrist as it claims to sit in the place of Christ. Study Daniel and Revelation for more info.

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

      Or one could acquest to common sense and realize that any "interpretation" of Revelation is, for the most part, seen through the lens of delusions of grandeur on the part of most protestant pastors. I thought this type of thinking died out with the dark ages but, sadly, human nature will never evolve.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  19. mark

    She's just plain nuts anyways so who cares. Two groups of idiots can't stand to be around each other. She didn't want the cult and the cult didn't really want her, just her money.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • James

      Yet again and enlightened liberal zealot that has no evidence or constructive things to say only personal attacks. Such is the secular humanist left.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  20. Fly Guy in SJ

    I'm just trying to figure out why a reporter – who is supposed to be a professional writer – does not know how to use an apostrophe correctly. Rev. Wright did not officiate the Obama's wedding (unless we are going to call the President "The Obama" the way Trump has been styled as "The Donald"). Rev. Wright officiated the Obamas' wedding.

    Other than that, there's nothing to see here, folks. Move along, move along.

    July 15, 2011 at 4:55 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.