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. David L

    Liberals, can't win an argument, so just resort to personal attacks. Pretty funny how self righteous all of you are given that you live off the government and hard working taxpayers. You should be thanking the Republicans because without them you'd all be homeless. Really glad I give a lot of money to church and can take a tax write-off so less of my money goes to you worthless human beings.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • radicalsmustberightright

      I can name plenty of "liberals" who I'm sure make more money then you do. And I personally know people who are Republicans, who also collect welfare, disability etc...Also you do realize that much more of your tax money (if you pay) gos to our military and not to welfare

      July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • ibetyourpoor

      I bet David L. doesn't even work and I guarantee every day he is the beneficiary of govt. handouts. Maybe people like you should be able to opt out of taxes by receiving no benefits. So no fire dept for you when your house is on fire, no one to protect you if you are attacked, no roads to drive on, no school system to educate you or your kids ......

      July 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • Jared

      Actually... Thats sounds like conservatives. They attack with their religious GOD HATES EVERYTHING and libs are gonna burn in hell campaigns. Or they just resort to calling liberalism a mental disease, or something of that sort. Every single argument I have seen a conservative post on this site has elements of one of those two, WEAK, arguments. Oh! or the libs live on welfare shpill. Can't forget that one!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • David

      I can't help but notice that David L states that liberals can't win arguments, so they attack people instead. Mr. L then launches into a series of ad hominem attacks against all liberals. This is, of course, an example of the defense mechanism of projection, as well as overgeneralization. Gotta love irony....

      July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  2. Texas Doc

    She believes in God? Who knew?

    July 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  3. James Schrafft

    You don't need Social Security! It's SOCIALISM!
    Look at her! She's Smoking Hot! Vote Republican!!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      Vote on looks...that will really help America. Except for her empty head, Sara Palin would be perfect. At least MB has some inteligence.

      But will dumping her church work...I doubt it. Last minute changes (away from fire and brimstone religion) are very seldom overlooked. This story informed me of something I didn't know. Notice how little that Mit Romney has brought up his Mormon religion.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  4. dcol

    She is just separating herself from what will hurt her campaign chances.
    Next she will have to divorce the hubby.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • myvoice

      If she is smart.....

      July 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • lalo

      and after that she will need to decapitate herself.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      I really got a good laugh on that one, lalo.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  5. JR

    All those cult rules to be followed, ,just takes a bodies breath.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      Allright, now say three hail Mary's for that one. LOL

      July 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  6. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    David L., you stated that "liberals" never volunteer any of their time. Produce proof of this claim. Thanks in advance, witless.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • David L

      You've never volunteer a second in your life. Point proven.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son – How can teh Left even come close to this? "Faith-based charities, including churches, received the most charitable gifts in 2010, capturing $100.63 billion – 35 percent of total contributions in 2010. Religious groups received more than a third of all contributions in the U.S. Faith-based donations increased 0.8 percent from the previous year."

      July 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Tom, Tom, the piper's son, Stole a pig, and away did run; The pig was eat And Tom was beat, And Tom went crying Down the street.

      Little Jack Horner Sat in the corner, Eating a Christmas pie;
      He put in his thumb, And pulled out a plum, And said 'What a good boy am I!'

      Little Tom Tucker Sings for his supper. What shall we give him? White bread and butter. How shall he cut it Without a knife? How will he be married Without a wife? (how white bread this is)

      Jack and Jilll went up a hill they each had five and a quarter Jill came down with ten and a half .. are you sure they went up for water?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Hey I got ONE posted ... 1:100 ain't bad (huh?)

      July 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • swannee

      Sure, but there are plenty of Church going liberals out there. So a lot of those contributions are from libs. Conservatives don't own religion, they just own the habit of using it to judge and denigrate people they disagree with.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  7. TSIndiana

    She should join my (former) church, Disciples of Christ. They love politicians, attorneys and judges that lie cheat and help criminals during the week...but sit in the pews every Sunday. Actually it is their money that they like... so she wouild fit in nicely. I've been a member for about 50 years and can't stand to go any more myself. They slander me in the community to cover up thier own wrongdoing. Without saying a single hail Mary. It's a perfect church for lawyers, corrupt judges and politicians now.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • russ in nc

      There are other churches, you know.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  8. BlueRaider


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


      July 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • pedestrian

      Are you serious? The 2008 election was 24/7 coverage of Obama's church and pastor and how often he attended and whether he was really even a Christian at all. Give me a break!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
    • James Schrafft

      You tell 'em Billybob!!
      The lamestreem liberill medias all think where stewpud but they all communist!!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • swannee


      July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • swannee

      Seriously though, that is idiotic....how many times did I have to hear about Rev. Wright.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  9. Tom in the Great NW


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

      No. Witch.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Cram Drakcol

      Does it matter if she is.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Uncle Sam T. Claus

      That is was classified!! How did you find out she is a Muslim?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  10. dump28usn

    The media will stoop to whatever low it needs to in order to get something to print. Since the larger networks are firmly in the Obama camp, they'll print anything that they believe shows candidates against him in a bad light. Digging into religion however is way past what is even marginally ok.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Stewie

      Yeah, because the right NEVER claims Obama is a Muslim. That would just be wrong.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • Ol' Yeller

      Like Rev. Wright, right? Nope that would be okay. You only mena if someone criticizes one of the untouchable righties.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • bp

      Guess that's why lot's of people think Obama is a Muslim...

      July 15, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      I disagree dump. Religious backgrounds tell a lot about a person. That's one reason I won't ever vote for Romney.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • swannee

      Too funny how the Repubs change their tune after four years of "Obama's not American"..."Obama's a closet Muslim"....except when he's "an angry black Rev. Wright extremist"...which is odd since that's Christian.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  11. American Trucker

    A lot of those posting here seem to be in dire need of remedial spelling. Having stated that, MB has no chance of being elected. She is the worst cnadidate that the GOP could possibly field.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • KBinMN

      When picking on others spelling one should be very careful typing or they come off looking like an idiot.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      The ONLY candidate I'd vote for is Gary Johnson. He's NOT A LAWYER, has been in the business world, has conservative but yet progressive goals and has executive experience as Governor.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • American Trucker

      Good catch! That's what I deserve for being judgemental.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  12. david

    It must be a church full of crazies, that's the only reason why she's distancing herself from it. So the "liberal media" wont cash in on where she picked up her insanity.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  13. Ken

    Church and politics in America.....seemingly inseparable.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      In my community a corrupt judge and his church buddy attorney have taken over the church. They won't hesitate to stab you in the back and fire any minister that exposes their un-just acts. I miss my church home because politics rule.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  14. David L Needs to Go to a Shrink

    You are consumed with hate. Go seek help.

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

      So says the liberal that preaches "acceptance" but judges and condemns every single person that holds an opposing view.

      WELS preaches acceptance and love. Obama's pastor preaches "GOD DAMN AMERICA!!!! "

      Want to see a whacko full of hate? Take a look in the mirror.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Please, get help, David L. You sound like a completely unhinged moron.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • David L

      Really Tom? Who was stupid enough to vote for Obama? Sure wasn't me. And if I'm so dumb, guess that doesn't say too much about you since I pay more in taxes than you make in a year.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Lisu

      Because wealth obviously makes one a better and smarter person.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      No David L., Obama's minister was chastizing some very bad acts that were occuring. Your comment misrepresents and omits the context that he made that statement. If MORE, not less ministers, had the guts to call wrongdoing wrong, instead of chasing the offering plate, then religion would not be the hiding place for evil that it has become.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
  15. Andrew

    Bachmann wants to teach the controversy, I say demons really do cause disease, and we can turn lead into gold! Teach the controversy! Why let the opinions of "the scientific community" and "facts" stand in the way of blindly shouting insanity?

    July 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • David L Needs to Go to a Shrink

      or why not teach both? I grew up in "liberal" New England and we learned both. And no one got their panties in a bunch about it. I learned about moses in cathlic cathechism as well as high school english: Bible as historic literature. It involved the religious contexts of the writing in a secular manner as well as the history so both points of view could be understood, the spiritual aspects were understood and the implication of the religious on modern writing. And then, we went to science and learned about Darwinism, evolution and then we went to human health class and learned how a baby gets made and how to not make a baby. yes they taught us how to put condoms on banannas. And you know what? No one got pregnant. No got a disease. And you know what's more important? No one ever complained or protested that their kids were getting a well rounded education complete with varying points of view. Thats what you are supposed to do when you are a parent... encourage your kids to learn the world outside their own while maintaining who they are within your family structure. Why is this so hard for everyone to comprehend???

      July 15, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Andrew

      I don't have a hard time teaching it as a historical relic, I have a problem with trying to teach it as scientific fact. I have a problem when creationists say "and there are tons of nobel prize winning scientists who don't believe in evolution" (And when I say 'creationists', I am of course referring to a direct Bachmann quote)

      I would have the same problem if people came out saying "teach the Eather theory as opposed to relativity, teach the controversy!"

      They're important details to understand how we formed our scientific background, but to pretend like there is a "controversy" is misleading. It's downright disingenuous. The science is fairly unequivocal, there is no "controversy", and hence anyone asking to "teach the controversy" is equivalent to anyone asking to "teach the controversy" regarding the germ theory of disease as opposed to the 4 humors. Learning about the 4 humors is fine, because we used to believe that, but learning it should only be done in context of "this is what we used to believe until X, Y, and Z when we were able to determine this to be patently false".

      Same with evolution, denial or pretending that creationism is an equally tenable position is dishonest and downright dangerous to inject into our school system. Especially considering how far behind we are in the sciences worldwide.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  16. Religion is evil

    LOL!!! F*** her

    July 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Bruce Coil

      subconscious slip by you. Actually, I think you would like to. And I think you are obsessed about it.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  17. Penelope

    Now she can come out of the closet as the witch she really is.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  18. Toad

    I tell you it's something crazy with this woman everyday! He!He! She's Toast! She had a very short campaign!

    July 15, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  19. tom

    How silly – there is no such thing as a church membership. It's time for 'Christians' to get born-again, quit playing 'church' and BE the church.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • American Veteran

      Sorry tom, but a "church" is just a building, and people cannot be a building.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • TSIndiana

      In our church the board IS the church, and if you don't agree with them, they will slander you in the community so their wrongdoing is ignored. I missed the Sunday school class where injustice became the goal and the almighty offering plate became worshiped.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Tom in the Great NW

    Okay, here is the ranking of the dumbest of the teanut-gop:
    1-Reagan, 2-Palin, 3-Bachmann, 4-McConnell, 5-the tea party members, all, 6-anyone that would vote gop.

    July 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Bruce Coil

      Okay, here's the ranking of the most rabid and stanky of the Libdogs in the DNC:
      1-the Dali Bama, 2-Pelosi, 3-Reid, 4-Lawrence O'Donnell, 5-all the Bolsheviks in the DNC, and 6-anyone who would want to make this country "Little Vietnam" by voting Democratic.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • American Veteran

      Hey Bruce, Do you make more than $200,000.00 a year? or are you just a stupid racist?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:21 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.