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. tim

    Can we pray her away?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |

      What a great suggestion !

      July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  2. K3Citizen

    She quit her church because they are going to reveal that they are able to cure being gay through prayer. The governor of Texas tried national prayer day for rain and that didn't work either. People realize that you just can't pray for things to happen, you have to work for it, too.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • GodPot

      "Ha Ha, silly Injuns and their rain dances, what primative backwards barbarian's living in the past, sticking to their foolish faith in the God's of the sun, moon and rain... Let's invite the few we didn't slaughter to our National Prayer day so we can get some real result's..." – Average Amerevangelican

      July 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • rigel54

      No, it's her husband that runs a clinic or such that claims to be able to do that.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  3. Barb R

    Slow news day?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  4. maniacmudd

    remindes me of a contributor at yahoo news, a patricia something or other, that lies just to hear her self lie. Bachmann is evil.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  5. Randy, San Francisco

    Makes you wonder if there may be something embarassing to her campaign that prompted the withdrawal from the church.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • shadysider

      Like the whole 'the pope is the antichrist thing?"

      July 15, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • BIG BILL


      July 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • trozzy

      No, it makes the looney left, crazy, trying to find anything even remotely possable, to say against Bachmann. Your vitriol against Bachmann, and Palin is so telling of who you fear most, and how obnoxious you are.

      July 16, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  6. HK


    July 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  7. Jeff in Illinois

    I cannot explain why, but for some reason the photo above brings the old song, "Harper Valley PTA" to mind. Weird.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • clevercandi

      Like 🙂

      July 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  8. ep_vet

    It is part of the Bachmann's attempt to deal with an issue that will come out in the future.. that he husband is a "recovered" gay man who is using his experience to cure others.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • NYcitizen

      How about when Obama ran for president and he quit his church? Wasn't that an attempt to hide something that would come out in the future, that he attended on a regular basis a Church whose pastor frequently came out with racist remarks, and that the Obama's attended this church for 20 some odd years??? And that perhaps the Obama's had/have racist undertones themselves? C'Mon! give me a break!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • GodPot

      It's very much like a "recovering alcoholic", they know there are no ex-alcoholic's since nothing will ever get rid of the desire for alcohol, much like Michele Bachmann's husband's desire for caulk.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • rigel54

      @NYcitizen – Obama left that church to disassociate himself from those behaviors. It's not necessary to denounce things you don't approve of unless failing to do so offends others.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  9. NYcitizen

    Before anybody says anything derrogatory or mean regarding this article: Obama quit his church while he was running for President! Remember?? The pastor of his church, Rev. Wright, all of a sudden became very controversial....making the Obama's membership at the church put into question and much scrutiny! Then Obama threw Rev. Wright under the bus!!!! SO....with that being said....and Obama wound up being president.....LEAVE MICHELLE BACHMAN ALONE ON THIS ONE!!!! She has a darned good fighting chance become our next president, like it or not!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • lagtat

      Wow "she has a fighting chance to be our next president"...you really are a misguided mouth-breathing, brain dead moron.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Marty in MA

      no nutjobs, please.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Jared

      A darn good chance to become President?? What are you smoking?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • maniacmudd

      ah........ha.......haha.............haahaahaaahaaaHaaaaaHaaaa hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, wow, thanks for the laugh...

      July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • Artist

      Keep dreaming NY, one she is a woman and secondly her extreme religious rants will be her demise. The Teaparty is great, they are splitting up the GOP. The GOP will need to make a stand and kick the teabaggers out and the religious nuts will have to create their own party aka Christian Taliban. The christian taliban have been leeching off the GOP liek parasites.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Melina319

      The difference between Bachmann and Obama is that she is campaigning on her sprituality and religion and the president wasnt. She's distinguishing herself as holy and right and godly, the president was not.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Gary

      Wow NY, love to have some of what you're smoking. The last thing we need is a president who is a walking sound=byte gaffe, waiting to happen. She would be her own blooper show. Not a very well-spoken lady. Granted she is a little more educated than Palin, but not the brightest bulb in the pack

      July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Artist

      If the GOP gets rid of the roach infested Christian Taliban in their ranks...I MIGHT ACTUALLY RETURN. You take the religious crap out of the GOP it actually isnt that bad. Granted I don't agree with some of it.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Perryboy

      Wow!! Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms NYcitizen or who ever you are. Do you really think MB has a good shot at being our next president? I'll tell you what, you really need to see a doctor. Any doctor will do b/c you need help.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |

      Just another NY buffoon like many New Yorkers! Does anybody have any common sense in that state. Bunch of bozos.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      I very much agree that Mrs. Bachman has a "fighting chance" at being elected. That is why all of these "fair and un-biased" media dogs hate her so completely. They hate those whom they fear most: the NRA, normal families, legal citizens, TEA Party members, Church-goers(but not "Rev." Wright's), the Patriotic; in short, pretty much everyone who holds beliefs similar to the beliefs of those people who made this country what it was eight years ago. God bless America, Land that I love!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Larry

      First, she has no chance in the universe of being elected president. She's a pretty good speaker when her foot isn't in her mouth. But to Dave Davis, who thinks that only people like him are normal, well, you just don't have a clue, do you. One does not have to be a Republican (I am), right-winger to be patriotic. As for the tea party, I agree with some of it, but disagree with the fanaticism of many of the followers of this quasi-religious group.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • bashaleebee

      Look, we that don't like Michelle are just happy she lost a percentage of the Catholic vote. Get it? It really doesn't have any thing to do with Rev. Wright ... but everything to do with the wrong on the Right. lol. Add it to her list of voting groups she has alienated. It's wonderful. You aren't Catholic, obviously so it means nothing to you.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  10. kanadi

    she's joining the Church of EducateFirst Before Opening Your Mouth

    July 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  11. rufus

    she's converting to Islam. It worked well for Obama so why not her?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • HK

      Wow, that was a statement demonstrating a high school GED in action. Bravo.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Artist


      Wow, that was a statement demonstrating a high school GED in action. Bravo.

      lunchbreak over, they need to return to turning the wrench.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Gary

      That's insulting to anyone who got a GED.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Perryboy

      hey rufus! did you finish the 3rd grade before you move to the trailer park?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  12. Roscoe

    Maybe the church didn't believe the Bachmann's can pray away gay?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  13. thinking ahead

    You just know some bad sh1t is going to come out about that church or it's pastor, a la Obama and that nut he used to follow.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      You should learn about the context that he was commenting. If more ministers chastized wrongdoing and people were truly accountable that go to church, then the church would not have become a place to hide ones evil (as in my (former) church).

      George Bush went to church and I consider what he did wrong. Perhaps if Bush's pastor had questioned him and his motivation we wouldn't have two unfunded wars to break our economies back. How many people did it take to finally get Bin Laden?...probably less than 100. Instead we had a 10 year and counting war(s)... all on the credit card.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  14. Bhavin

    Kick God away when you want the power! I wonder how many people Michelle will sleep with to get power....

    July 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • GodPot

      Well someone ought to be pushing that hair helmet into a headboard, and it's certainly not her fat gay husband.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Gary

      Bhavin, she'll sleep with any woman, especially if they look like Palin. Has to be better than the lard@$$ she's married to.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • numbnut

      GodPot, well I just choked on my potato chip reading your rant. Hysterical.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  15. Dan Bednarik

    That's because you cannot believe in God and be GOP too.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • demmie

      My god is a democrat. I worship Reid and Pelosi.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Artist


      My god is a democrat. I worship Reid and Pelosi.

      God help you...they are just as bad as the christian right with their agendas.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • maniacmudd

      b b but my god is a murderer named "w"

      July 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • GodPot

      Maybe all republican's are dyslexic and think it say's "In Gop we trust" on our money...

      July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  16. Stepininit

    When she makes public appearances, she is always late for an appointments, that way she can be spirited away before she answers any questions that the public has. It’s a poor gimmick. I wish her well, but this is a fraud. We seen this all the time in Minnesota, she got reelected and she never served her district at least that we heard about.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  17. fam

    Just a thought, maybe she really saw the light and became an ATHEIST, nah that would require thinking on her part.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • numbnut

      I love the part where it says they waited to be "released" from the church. Do people actually need permission? Hysterical.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Cash

      Bachman is smarter than an atheist! The best argument a "thinking" atheist has against God is the repeating the word "delusional."

      July 16, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • rigel54

      Cash, there is no scientific or historical evidence for any form of divinity or supernatural power. There are no claims that are not easily punctures. It is impossible to prove a negative, but the burden of someone making such silly claims is proof, not claims of the unprovable. There are many religions on this planet, and some of them are in direct philosophical conflict, but dog seems to favor none.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  18. Zach

    I think I'm missing something about this story. I can't quite put my finger on it...

    Oh wait, yes I can: the point.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Jeff in Illinois

      This ^

      July 15, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Barb R

      Excellent point!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  19. Ralph T

    a non issue.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Bachmann in general, or just this piece?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  20. LeAnn

    Quit writing about things you know nothing about. You just look so utterly foolish. I hate to tell you but church doesn't just teach woman are to be submissive to their husband. It also teaches the other way around, mutual submission and the husband is never to do things for his own good, but always for his wife first. He's to lay down his life, not just as in life vs. death, but his wants for her betterment. It's hardly one sided. It's choosing to do the best for each other and not demanding your selfish wants and ways. Oooo, scary! That's so evil!! What... You really feel sorry for Rep. Bachmann because she's been so denied, repressed, oppressed and held back in life? Boy you can really tell that. She's so meek and mild and afraid to speak up. UGH!!!! DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just stop being sumb already. Just THINK.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • GregHouse

      Maybe you're church doesn't teach submission, but the Sourthen Baptists do. Perhaps you should follow your own advice and "Quit writing about things you know nothing about."?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • ficheye

      What on earth are you talking about, LeAnn? This article isn't about what you are ranting about. Who knew that there were christian crack heads?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Artist

      LeAnn you really do not have a clue lol

      July 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Perryboy

      Poor LeAnn, she'll wake-up someday.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm |

      Jeez, all we need is one more religious nut job on here. Go back and read your bible and confine your crap to the church.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Samuel

      Never cast your perils before swine. They do trample them in the mud and turn and rend you. You should know better.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Cash

      Yay, Lee Ann!!!!!!!!

      July 16, 2011 at 9:02 am |
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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.