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. ummm

    There's a membership you must get realeased from to go worship somewhere else?--WOW

    July 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • myvoice

      Thanks for bringing that up. I was wondering the same thing. It all continues to point to the craziness.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  2. rhumba

    Who cares?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  3. Pearl

    scarey comes to mind...bet she didn't leave her opinion behind or resigned from that...beware ...BEWARE

    July 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Dave Davis

    Big Media hides their more potent and more intriguing articles on the small corners of the back page of the papers and magazines. And yes, these jack-donkeys really do "go a hatin' on right-wingers", not to mention all normal people in general.

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


      Religion should be NO PART of the political process. But if one is dumb enough to go around bible thumpin while stumpin, well you just opened yourself up.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      "Right-Winger" and 'normal people', are 2 different species. Just about everyone knows that by now.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  5. David L

    That "cult" church spent months in New Orleans after the hurricanes helping rebuild, provided free medical care in Haiti ever since the earthquake, provides help for any natural disaster in the US, has run multiple medical clinics in Africa for over 50 years and provides millions of dollars in aid every year throughout the world and expects nothing in return. Pretty evil church, huh libs? They put all of you to shame with their selfless acts.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • donn

      Not me, they don't put me to shame.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • KBinMN

      donn – Because like all good Libs you have no shame.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • The Other David L

      So what? That's what churches are supposed to do. Meanwhile, liberals volunteer all day, every day, with or without church involvement. But the real irony here is that you brag about a do-gooder church through clenched teeth. Try reading that Good Book you're constantly shoving down the throats of the rest of us.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • David L

      Haha, liberals don't volunteer a single second in their lifetimes. They just want to tax those who actually work and give it to other lazy liberals. Like yourself.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • PalinKeepsMyGutBusting

      Thanks so much. Those darkies should be proud they've been saved by the Great White Church of Hope. (I wonder why you don't mention the numerous tornado disasters or starving kids in Asia, or etc. You just had to throw it out there that they went against their normal grain to play savior to the darkies. Yep, through clenched teeth all to be able to say just what you say now.) SMH

      July 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • David L

      I didn't mention race anywhere, but nice job of trying to play the race card. As I clearly stated they offer aid throughout this country after natural disasters, and I know you are public school educated and need someone to think for you since you're a liberal, but that would include tornadoes and floods.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • El Kababa

      According to all of you Conservatives, Obama is to be held accountable for every sentence ever spoker by his former minister.

      So, if we apply the same rule to Bachman, we have to ask:

      1. Why does Michelle Bachman hate 68 million Amerian Catholics?

      2. Does Bachman believe that American Catholics follow the Antichrist?

      3. Does Bachman believe that all Catholics are going to Hell?

      4. Why did Bachman resign her church if she believes in its doctrines? Or, if Bachman doesn't believe in the doctrines of her church, why did she attend there for a decade.

      5. Does Bachman believe that Christ will return in our lifetimes?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  6. brian

    Sorry Michelle, not so fast. Once a crazy, right-wing Evangelical extremist, always a crazy, right-wing Evangelical extremist.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • PalinKeepsMyGutBusting

      You got that right.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  7. jb

    So, did she join Westboro Baptist?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • The Other David L

      She IS Westboro Baptist.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  8. Joe, San Diego

    I want a white gay bf jceowoodard at yahoo

    July 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  9. KBinMN

    She must have quit when Rev. Wright joined the church. Expect Obama to join anytime now.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  10. NoTags

    When Bachmann resigned the church should feel that they were blessed by God to get rid of that dingbat.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  11. John

    THIS IS NEWS, REALLY?????? Come on CNN, you ignored Barack Hussein Obama's affiliation with an American hating pastor (Wright) until it was news everywhere else. Obama's close affiliation with this radical SHOULD HAVE BEEN NEWS during the campaign but CNN couldn't do any digging into Obama's past. So, one has to ask why does Bachman rate a front page website story? Pathetic. And you guys wonder why your ratings are so poor.

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

      Yes ,it is news for anyone who wants to know what is going on with politicians. You read it, why shouldn't everyone else. Besides, if no one is reading cnn, don't worry about it.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Yesss


      July 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • the_truth

      I'm sorry...CNN is one of the biggest news outlets in America. Where did you gather that their ratings are poor?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • The Other David L

      What's with the "Hussein" reference? STILL convinced that Obama piloted the 9/11 attacks? Geezus – you teabaggers are just. plain. creepy.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
  12. WakeupAmerica!

    all a bunch of crooks, don't vote for her, vote independent or green !
    time for a 3rd party in our politics of the same ... old ideas and dishonesties all accross the board !

    July 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  13. Andrew

    She's a creationist and a fundamentalist Christian.

    I know people are scared of her, but honestly, I don't feel people are scared enough of her yet. She has shown no ability to be objective, and instead behaves like an ideologue. She is a very dangerous person.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  14. Goombar Aulik

    Wanna know why there's no student prayer? I'll eliminate a choice for you all, it's no because of the atheist united union or some such, but I'm sure Bachmann could tell you the answer...

    July 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  15. killallthewhiteman

    Breaking news! I just saved a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to no insurance.

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

      Awesome! Between politics & religion, this blog was getting toxic.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  16. Eli

    She should join Obama's racist church.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Chris

      She can't. She is white.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Every Conservative in America told us that Obama is responsible for everything his former minister ever said.
      Bachman apparently believes that the Pope is the Antichrist and that all Catholics are going to hell.
      Can she be president of a nation where Catholicism is the largest group of religious Americans.


      July 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • David L

      The WELS has never said Catholics are going to hell. Nice try though.

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

      Wright's opinions were not the theology of the church. Bachmann subscribed to theology of the church. Of course the GOPers will transform it to suit their twisted view of the world.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • PalinKeepsMyGutBusting

      Thank you PH! Jeez.... smh

      July 15, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  17. Joe from Ohio

    I smell a scandal in there somewhere. Start digging. Time to give it back to the other side for mingling with Pastors that 'may' have said some things 12 years ago.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Charybdis

      The fact is Rev. Wright DID say the things he did. That's not even up for debate. And he's said other outrageous things recently as well. But the real story here is that no lame-stream media source wanted to report on Obama's connection to Wright until they were forced to by the blogosphere. And then, it was only to cover for him and continue to carry his water. Obama is the MOST UN-VETTED presidential candidate in modern history by the partisan media lapdogs! But they're more than willing to jump on a Republican candidate for the stupidest things. Especially if they can spit in the eye of conservative christians in "flyover" country while doing it. They salivate like rabid animals over the possibilities, just like they did with the dud about the Palin e-mails.

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

      Char – 'Birther', are ya?? Still not over it?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Andrew

      Obama did not wrap himself up in a "Christian" flag shouting "I am a Christian, I represent Christians, I am here for the Christian vote as a good god fearing man!"

      The fact that plenty of people STILL believe he's a muslim, and that plenty of people even believe he's a closet atheist, make his religious affiliations a lot more tenuous than Bachmann's. You're not dealing with the same situation, and you know it.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
  18. Sadpancho

    Funny how CNN now deems a presidential candidate's church attendance important. Where was CNN's hard hitting "reporting" while President Obama attended Reverend Wright's church for twenty years.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • TomNPitt

      Stunned you did not see anything about Obama's Church during the nine months it was a hot topic everywhere! Or that you never listened to a "Michele" Palin speech when she shreeked about the Wright relationship! You must be new here.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Jim

      TomnPitt - CNN EVENTUALLY talked about Wright, but it was an important enough story that they SHOULD have hit on it a LOT earlier. Instead, they only reported on it when it was plastered everywhere else and they had no choice.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  19. NanaandDad

    This fantastic wooden-head manages to chop herself down every day. She doesn't know the history OF HER OWN COUNTRY (was SHE born in the US?), she says that African-Americans were better off in slave times, she and her husband operate a gay-to-straight factory, and now, she leaves the anti-Catholic church for what, more votes, a more liberal image, or is it just ANOTHER BACHMANN ROCK? ...Folks, she is A DUFUS IN HER ORIGINAL PACKAGE.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • KG

      Poor libs, they know not what they spew!!! LMAO!!! Please keep it up though, it has TREMENDOUS entertainment value.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |

    Why is this news?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • miked

      Because you just read it.

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

      Well you took the time to read it. You didn't have to click on the link.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:50 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.