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. J Richards

    She wouldn't be able to become President if she remained a member. WELS members cannot take oaths or pledge. They cannot join the Boy Scouts or similar organizations. A woman cannot have any say over men. That part is within the church. I don't know how it would work if she had the say over every American.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • big10guy

      "I don't know how it would work if she had the say over every American."

      God help us all.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • rob

      Pretty sure she had to take an oath as a member of Congress. Just sayin'

      July 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  2. How R u?

    Shes a joke of a candidate anyways...

    July 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • David L

      So was Obama and you liberal fools voted for him.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  3. GE

    Wow I didn't know you needed permission to change churches that's sounds like a cult to me

    July 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • David L

      How is that different than any other membership? You had to cancel your membership at the YMCA? YMCA is a CULT!!!! Great logic there genius lib!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Stan

      Really? Ok... take a breath and think this though. You don't need to ASK for PERMISSION to leave the YMCA... you simply notify them that YOU've make a CHOICE to leave the organization. She "requested" permission from her church, which was eventually "granted." Big difference.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  4. Lydia

    Freedom of Religion!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • David L

      Liberals teach acceptance, but it's only for them, not others.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  5. Philly dog

    She and her husband need to look to move to another country! These people are not from the real world!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  6. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    She and her gay husband no longer need Gods counsel...

    July 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  7. Dr.Tong


    July 15, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  8. Doug Ericson

    It didn't take Michelle long to go from contender to toast. Glory is so dear because it is so hard to hang on to. Doug.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Carol

      I am not a Bachmann supporter, but can you explain how she is toast? She is no where near toast. It was only 8 years ago that her ilk re-elected another evangelical. Consider their power and their history of successfully electing their candidates no matter ill informed they are and then consider the only other front runner is a Mormon which contradicts the beliefs of the conservative base. If Bachman runs as a religiously independent evangelical christian, she will broaden her appeal amongst the many sects of Conservative American Judeo-Christiandom. In the face of a Mormon candidate who must be more centrist to win a base, she may even be able to draw conservative muslim Americans who have grown tired of Obamma as well. It is a wise battle plan to diversify her base. Do not count this Woman out. She is not dumb....She is dangerous and Un-American just like the rest of the Christocrats who vote more than apathetic Americans who bark more than their bite.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  9. clarke

    Why is this an issue, last I heard you can go to any church you want.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  10. phoenix

    this smooth talking demoness needs to be redeemed the only preachers left the ones in the street poor but wise as serpents.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  11. JohnF

    Was there any actual news in this?? Something that was of interest?? Or was the intent to drum up some fervor around something that happens all the time, and that is a private matter and no ones business??

    Oh wait .. this is CNN. Sorry, I thought I clicked on a news link.....

    July 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  12. Tom Ashland

    Why is the article relevant? We heard nothing of BO religion unitl midway through his election. His church was far out of the norm and was not bought to the voters attention till much later, and not till talk radio and the internet has virtually screamed about it for 3 months.

    All the name calling calling (at times on both sides) is going out of the way. Attach the policies and specify specifically your problems is an adult way to discuss an issue. But does not seam to apply in Ms. Bachmann case. It is said and partly why I am starting to warm up to her.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  13. JoeInNC

    The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church is a cult and should not be considered a legitimate Christian Church.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Luke

      A cult because they believe that Jesus Christ is their Savior and want to spread his grace throughout the world? Maybe you should read the biblical references about the WELS' stance on the papacy before you open your mouth and look at the millions of Christians that believe this as well. The Pope believes that he himself is perfect, without sin, and he is God's ambassador on earth. Every single person is sinful and needs God's grace.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • David L

      Really? Ever been to one of their services? They preach love and acceptance and actually mean it. Unlike hypocritical liberals.

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

      All so called wannabe new religions were founded by men. Catholic, Jewish and much older religions were founded by god.
      Henry VIII wanted a divorce so he left the Roman Catholic faith and started the Church of England...and protestanism still rages today. Martin Luther was a Catholic priest who wanted to marry and same story...started the Lutheran religion. How can anyone recognize these imposters?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  14. Qev


    July 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  15. steve g

    She's an idiot...

    July 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • David L

      You voted for Obama so if someone called you an idiot it would be a compliment.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  16. George

    Who gives a rat's behind where she goes to church or if she goes to church? If that's your criteria for voting, you need to re-assess your priorities. Government and religion mix like water and oil.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Sean

      She believes a bronze age middle eastern god speaks to her personal. I’d say its relevant.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • ItsJo

      Good points George. Notice how No ONE seemed bothered by the 'supposed Christian faith church of Rev.Wright who condemned our nation, but that Obama attended for over 20 yrs.-but "didn't hear those desparaging remarks by his Marxist Rev.Wright? Of couse all is forgiven with Obama and HIS lies, about being Christian-what church does he go to now? NONE, as he is No Christian, and by his silence, he says Nothing about the slaughter of Christians throughout the world, by HIS MUSLIM BRETHERN. He bows to the Saudi King-need we say more?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • How R u?

      It is pretty important considering she wants to pass legislation based on her religious beliefs...............Remember Bush passed and pushed for legislation because of conversations he had with god....

      July 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • @ItsJo

      Funny, Jo, you say Obama not attending any Christian church is "proof" that he's no Christian. What does the fact that he has never in his life attended any Muslim service anywhere, much less observed Ramadan or pray five times a day toward Mecca, prove? By your very own logic, it proves he's not a Muslim, but you're too blind and hate-filled to see that. The far right creates rumors out of nothing and knows their followers will eat them up without asking for a shred of evidence.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  17. 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 5:20 pm |
  18. granny

    there are some good churches

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

      And the Catholic Church is not oneof them. The pope mingles with the Devil and does his bidding.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      Obama's church in Chicago is NOT one of them. Revrend "God d*mn America" Wright.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  19. JustAGuy

    Did the media report on the fact that somebody chained the doors of Sarah Palin's church and set it on fire....with people inside????? NOPE!!!! But they certainly went through all 24,000 of her emails without finding any dirt!

    THAT'S probably why Michelle Bachmann resigned from her church. In today's USA, being a prominent Conservative woman who has religion is a dangerous undertaking.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • S1N

      Could you please provide a link from a reputable news source regarding this? I would google it, but if I devoted time to every internet rumor I came across, they would need to add more hours to the day.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • JustAGuy


      There were people inside, including children.

      This won't matter to the Palin haters, they'll continue hating anyway.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • David

      I like how you claim the media didn't report on it, and when asked to prove it, you link to an AP report on MSNBC. Dishonesty fail.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      That's lame David. Why was I asked to prove this "fake" story in the first place?

      Just because it exists on the website doesn't mean it was appropriately reported on. This is like the New York Times printing a story they want to bury on page 24. They hide the story, yet have plausible denyability at the same time.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • frank

      So you claim the media didn't report on this fire, and you support your claim by posting a link to a media report on it?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      If the media actually reported the story and not buried the story, then why do so many Palin Haters think I'm lying when I bring this up?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • Lance

      If the media didn't report on it then why is there a link to the story on the msnbc website? You sound just like Palin: Professional Victim.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      You people are intentionally being dense. I already gave an explanation! Yet you persist in asking a question that was already answered.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • frank

      Maybe you just look shifty or something lol.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      @frank, I've given no reason to be shifty. Palin Haters have demonstrated a tendency to look for dirt where there is none.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  20. D

    I have NEVER attended a church where I've had to be listed as a member or ask to be "released" from a membership. That doesn't sound like a church to me – sounds like some sort of cult.

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

      does sound cultish

      July 15, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • JustAGuy

      You're looking for dirt where there is none.

      LOTS of churches through the country have a procedure called "right hand of fellowship". You're pledging to become a member, which is not the same as church attender. Members have voting rights and can attend church business meetings.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Mike

      Not to mention you are intentionally subjecting yourself to the leadership of the church. Personally, I don't want to attend a church where I can drop in and drop out without anyone knowing who I am, calling me when I leave, or being able to help me if I have concerns. As a member, the leadership and fellow members are *obliged* to do those things. And vice versa.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Paula

      No, the WELS is not a cult. No mainline church requires membership. You can attend a church without becoming a member. Membership in a church is no indication of its "cultishness". For a good example of a cult, look to Islam.
      Michelle's preference for a nondenominational church follows current trends of Christians leaving the large church organizations
      (i.e. "organized religions") and opting for a less formal mode of worship.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Nora

      Sorry, but it IS cultish to define her leaving the church in terms of having to ask permission. She, like everyone else, has a right to freedom of religion – that's an unequivocal, non-transferable right, it's not something she gives up to the church to decide for her. If you want to leave a church, you simply tell them you're leaving, you don't ask permission.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:08 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.