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. Donald in CA

    If she left her church, theres something ugly to hide. I hope fox news beat up on her like they did the President. Or is a black President the only one who is responsible for everything their minister says.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • John

      Keep it up. Your stupid arguments only accelerate your defeat.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  2. Dolores

    I love her! She's God's choice for president!!
    Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • El Kababa

      You know, when Jesus left, He said He'd be right back!

      What happened?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Dolores

      Our Lord will smite you for your heathenish ways!
      Do you wish for yet another catastrophe to befall our divinely given nation?? How many Katrinas do you non-believers need??!!
      In the name of JESUS I pray for you! Repent and accept him into your heart!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Dave

      Didn't St. Stephen say as he was being stoned: "Do not hold this sin against them". Wishing damnation and catastrophy on others because of their faults is a sin in and of itself. We must pray for sinners, including ourselves, not condemn them. If we condemn, God will condemn us.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  3. Kevin B

    Poor David L. Does he not know that Republican states take more in Federal Aid than Democratic states? It's the Conservatives who cannot live without Liberals and the taxes they pay.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Adelina

      You cannot be a Liberal and Christian at the same time.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Mavent

      Adelina, you're an idiot, and apparently an ignorant one at that. Last I checked, Republicans were the ones who praise avowed Satanist Ayn Rand, and who think money is more important than people.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • Mavent

      Actually, after reading a few of Adelina's other posts, it's fairly obvious that he/she/it is just a troll, which I inadvertently fed.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
  4. Tom

    Funny how the media is NOW looking into presidential candidates "Religious Backgrounds", but had to be dragged Kicking & Screaming to look at Reverand Wright in 2008, and then did everything possible to soft-sell that story and bury it ASAP.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • El Kababa

      You are such a liar, Tom. For weeks, I read of Rev. Wright's statement, "God Damn America!" The news stories were wall-to-wall, back-to-back for months.

      Now I read that Bachman believes that most Americans are going to hell and that all Catholics are worshippers of the Antichrist!

      Doesn't that bother you? What kind of man ARE you?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • ed


      July 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Mavent

      Funny how Tom thinks he can lie about events that happened less than three years ago in the age of the Internet.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Michael Atkins

      Wow, Tom...just...Wow! What reality do you live in?

      July 16, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  5. Rolly McGuire

    You people who hate Bachman would be much less scared of her if you would quit getting all your news from sources that purposely slander her and assassinate her character. Please open your mind and let go of the hate.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • El Kababa

      What false statements have been made about Bachman? Why are you Conservatives trying to hide the truth about her beliefs? Does she believe that Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, and Episcopalian Americans are going to Hell? If she believes that, then can we trust her to help Americans whom she believes to be Satanists?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • radicalsmustberightright

      Maybe she gets people worked up because she represents extremism, ignorance and intolerance. or maybe there is a giant conspiracy against her and the Republicans, because we all know how the media completely let Obama off the hook, right?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • John

      Dream on. Liberals are not interested in facts.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Heinrickdt

      Polly, Polly, Polly!!
      No one in the media has slandered her or assassinated her character!
      They've only been reporting on what most sane people in this fine country should find unnerving.. I think it's clear to many that, in regards to opened and closed minds, you seem to of opened yours far too much, and for far too long.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • Adelina

      Liberals are gross

      July 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Heinrickdt

      Liberals are interested in Liberty John.
      Remember that word? You conservative repubtards who so eagerly sell it away deserve none.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • Heinrickdt

      Adelina, stereotyping large groups of people in an ignorant and demeaning manner is 'grosser'.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  6. El Kababa

    All of you Conservative gasbags have posted comments asserting that 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 6:25 pm |
    • Adelina

      True Christians know that the Catholics and Pope do the bidding of the Devil.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • El Kababa

      So, Adelina, do you believe that all 68 million American Catholics are going to Hell? Should we allow Satanists to vote? Should America recognize the Pope despite the fact that he is the Antichrist?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Bobby

      Did you know that Martin Luther was responsible for writing "the Jewish Problem" that resulted in millions of Jewish deaths just because they didn't want to convert to his form of religion. I believe Hitler used it also for his propaganda. However, Lutherans probably don't learn about that history in their church.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm |

      Is all she is doing is forcing the media to go directly to her for answers. Your bogus attempt at slandering her Church is obvious. Ramadan is just a few days away El Kababa.. enjoy yourself. It's a 1st Amendment Right.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • John

      You lying, angry liberals deliberately miss the point. First, Lutherans are mainstream, while Wright's Black Liberation Theology is a fringe wacko movement having more in common with communism and racism than religion. Bachmann switched churches on her own initiative. Obama, on the other hand, first confirmed his solidarity with Wright, then was forced by political pressure, against his preferences, to cut ties only after Wright's anti-American vitriol couldn't be explained away.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  7. Cram Drakcol

    What is the relevance of what her religion is?

    July 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • El Kababa

      A woman who believes that most Americans follow Satan and who believes that most of us will go to Hell should not be our president. Are you going to hell? Am I?

      Bachman thinks we are. Why should she care about the happiness, prosperity, or welfare of us Satanists.

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

      It is very important. I would never vote for a filthy Atheist. They are the lowest form and disgusting.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • John

      Yes, Al-Kababa, you are going to hell, along with WHOEVER happens to be on the wrong path to God, regardless of religion or denomination. In fact, I am going to hell if it turns out I am on the wrong path. No one owes you the courtesy of assuming you or everyone else is not going to hell just because you are offended by the notion that God actually is picky about requiring to be followed on HIS terms. It's not about how you feel, but about objective reality.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  8. Irene Hatfield

    I would not vote for her if she was the last person on earth to have in this office. . I think she is a big phony and cares only for her own power and position. A big thumbs down on a vote for her..

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

      You are confusing her with Obama.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  9. Crazy Harry

    I heard that she is converting to Judaism

    July 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  10. Gary K

    I fully support her decision. I don't believe it has to do with her losing faith or changing faith but more to do with knowing that the media will never rest until they have planted reporters in the Church just to see what is being taught in the Church she attends. Did they care or mention about Obama's Church in the 2008 election? Well of course not because the media darlings are the Democrats and Liberals so no need to try and turn up anything on them or question anything to do with them.

    I see what she did as protecting the people of a congregation and Church that she did, and still does, care for.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • heliocracy

      Um, no, the media never ever talked about Obama's controversial pastor. What planet are you on exactly? Are you trying to say that when Bachmann's church is found to have controversial views, that the articles on that subject should all be about Obama, or at least mention Obama (which this one did?). What are you reading, and what news outlets are you watching, because you don't have a clue.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • MistahBurns

      did you read the article....

      July 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  11. Uncle Sam T. Claus


    July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • El Kababa

      You bet it is!
      We have just learned that a candidate for the presidency is insane. Do you not think that is news?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  12. nimitta

    "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."

    Hmmm...that sounds like a string of personal attacks, David L. Projection much?

    By the way, I'm sure most of us work as hard as you, but instead of just giving money to church alot of us actually try to practice what the church teaches: kindness, compassion, generosity. If you look up 'liberal' in the dictionary, you'll see that the primary definition reflects the values of your church or temple. (If it doesn't, run!).

    Best wishes, David L!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  13. Joan Sinclair

    Regarding Bachmann's religion and thinking that gays make a choice and she can change them.......ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah

    July 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  14. rationalintn

    Yes David all liberals live off the govt and they'd all be homeless without the Republicans. How did you develop such an enlightened world view?

    July 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  15. Jonathan

    So does this mean she's an atheist now? I'd love to have a candidate for president that didn't claim they believed in magic...but even then I don't think I could vote for Bachmann.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • Samuel

      No she is just outside the box.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  16. Justinstl

    Big deal thats no different than saying Michelle Bachmann officially left the grocery store.
    Religion should play no part at all in politics or government!
    And if you beleive all that religous mumbo jumbo and read your bible you would see that Jesus himself hated church and viewed it as big buisness not unlike government!!! So why do people still go to church Money buisness!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Gosh, Justin. What a stupid commentr!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Rick

      Well stated.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  17. Marcos Vargas

    WHO CARES about this!!??

    July 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Cutty

      Perhaps you, having taken the time to find, read, and comment on the piece?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
  18. John


    July 15, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
  19. frank

    Maybe this hair-helmeted witch beast killed little Leiby!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  20. Sam

    McCain is such a creep!

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

      And that is relevant to the discussion in what way.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:20 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.