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. everymom

    it's "regrettable that there are still strains of anti-Catholicism in some Protestant circles."
    But they don't think it's regrettable to have anti gay policies entrenched in their own church. Organized religions are a joke and the catholic church is the punch line.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  2. Dave

    Well, I guess she cannot quit the lunatic fringe, so the Church had to go.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  3. al

    I was wondering, where is these reporter during the time Obama run for office? then, religion was not relevant but now it is? remember when John Kerry ran against Bush, military service was very important that mainstream media lied just to malign Bush's service as a national guard. I wonder why this network viewership is running away.....why don't you just go ahead and be the Democrats news network, at least democrats will listen and watch...no wonder Obama lied but they don't call him on all his lies.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • dixiejon

      i,m not sure where you have had your head but if you didnt see the Wright stories are mentioned here i can only believe it didnt smell good.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
  4. love is the answer

    Don't worry, Sean will get to the bottom of it.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Sean

      Bottom of what?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
  5. JustAGuy

    I've noticed the shift from probing and attacking Sarah Palin by the media to probing and attacking Michelle Bachmann by the media.

    Have these people no shame? NOPE!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • John Steele

      Typical leftist media... Ignore Obama's numerous ties to Socialist and communist people and organizations and go after a conservative. We are winning when they pick a Republican and try to destroy them. It's very clear who they fear. They're not bothering with the RINO Repubs in the race. GO MICHELLE !!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • KMAN821

      You're correct ... Palin and Bachmann have no shame!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      So which part is the media's fault? Palin becoming more and more irrelevant, or Ms Bachmann becoming relevant?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  6. Celine

    Your country is steering towards bankrupcy , economy is slacking and yet here you go blubbering on about nothing.
    I thought America enjoyed religious freedom and seperation of state and church , obviously not.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  7. Tom of Long Island fame

    Membership? Whats up with that? Shouldn't any Church be on an At Will status, on the part of the congregant? What if the Church refused the separation? I'm sure somewhere that has occurred...

    Another oddity of the whole religious mind-set.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  8. Jeff

    Quitting seems to be a trademark for these people.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • al

      I don't even believe that you even go to church....

      July 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  9. Hill411

    Apparently, vitriolic attacks on Congresswoman Bachmann are the accepted norm on this blog. While I have not formulated an opinion about her potential as President, I have reviewed available information about her past businesses, education, family and political focus(es). Whether you like, dislike or are indifferent to her, she has demonstrated the ability to maintain her core values and has not played the DC game of 'everyone' vote for me and I will provide you a favor in return for your vote. The woman is extremely well educated and has displayed the ability to command attention throughout all political spectrums (note the vicious attacks from liberals against her in this blog). I respect individuals who stand up for their core values...I do NOT have to agree with their values but I admire those who are consistent in their discourse(s). Congresswoman Bachmann may not get my vote, but she has my respect and admiration. Many of you should try researching how an individual politician conducts him/herself throughout his/her personal/business/political life-span and THEN make your decisions based upon facts not hearsay.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • nuser

      You are obviously not aware of all the lies she tells!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  10. ItsJo

    Noticeably the Media LapDogs Always look into Conservatives backgrounds for what they can smear, expose, or use to discredit them. Perhaps IF they had honestly done the same with Obama's hidden past AND his associates, America would NOT have this fraud as POTUS, who is deliberately trying to bring about America's DEMISE. It's always been the liberal, lapdog media's "double standards" when it comes to LOL. Reporting. They are a total joke and have NO integrity-only their liberal bias that shows continually.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  11. New Yorker

    I guess her old church couldn't pray away the GAY lodged deeply in her HUSBAND MARCUS.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  12. Sid S

    Michele Bachmann is the NEW PALIN for the Left. Where is NOW? I thought they were supposed to stand up for WOMEN!
    Why do the Socialists, Progressives, (Un)Liberals, Marxist, Anarchists, Globalists, etc. Hate and Fear Intellegent, self-confident, accomplished, well-reasoned, and attractive Women so much?
    Answer: Because they know that Women of such appeal can not only defeat Obama, but also can set their Globalist Agenda back for generations. That'st why!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • ItsJo

      Sadly Sid, N.O.W. is ONLY a Liberal cause. They espoused exactly the type of women years ago WE should be, and that would describe the likes of both Palin and Bachman, but they are Conservative, so there's the difference. The hypocrits at N.O.W. and particularly Gloria Steinem are FOR the likes of Hillary-No One Else, No Matter HOW accomplished, if she's a Conservative Need Apply. They lost their credibility years ago with their bias.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Simon

      Give me some of them drugs you are taking. They must be great!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Doug

      Sounds like a well reasoned fear to me.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • dixiejon

      for me the key word is INTELLIGENT. Bachman has proven with her own statements many times that she knows nothing of our history. How does that move you toward election?

      July 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  13. 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 5:12 pm |
    • ItsJo

      I'm sure you are ALSO going to include Obama's 'Marxist Black Liberaterian Rev.Wright-the America hater, and Wallis of the same beliefs that Obama now uses? Wake up, and smell the coffee-

      July 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  14. x6x6x6

    "Everybody who thinks that she may have done this for political reasons,--raise their hands....."

    July 15, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  15. Dave, Santa Barbara

    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."

    Right. And I'm sure the Catholic Church is fully supportive of Protestant churches, too.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  16. Truth Report

    Ron Paul 2012!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  17. Brooka

    This is excatly whats wrong with this damn country! Quitting on GOD. the freaking nerve of you people!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Brandon

      I hope you are being sarcastic...

      July 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Ray

      I didn't quit God – I never believed in him to begin with. Thanks for your concern though. I'm sure it will do me a lot of good when I am dead and don't exist anymore.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  18. Cojack

    It is really no ones business which church she does or does not attend.......Having said that, there is no way I will vote for her or any member of the GOP.......We are in the mess that we are in because of Bush and Cheney....unpayed for wars and tax cuts for the rich.............

    July 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Sean

      When a candidate is running on their “Christian morals”, making statements the ‘god’ personally spoke to her. I’d say it IS everyone’s business what church she goes to. If she wanted her religion left out of this SHE should have left it out.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • ItsJo

      Those "Bush Cheney Wars were against those Terrorists that Killed 3,000 Americans-and were put on notice of going after them who STILL want to kill Americans" -or Did you conveniently forget that? Are you AS upset over Obama attacking the
      Libyans when they "posed NO THREAT to Americans".....bet not-it's ONLY ever about Bush/Cheney, while you make so many excuses for this Fraud in Office Now. Wow....you got conned for sure.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  19. Hawkeye1012

    Jesus saves. Bachmann shaves.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  20. TOdd

    The church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership on June 21, Hochmuth said.???

    Why would you have to get permission to leave a church?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Sean

      Evangelism = cult

      July 15, 2011 at 5:21 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.