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. herbert juarez

    things to look forward to in a bachman administration "resettlement" of all those illegal mexicans, pray away the gay and slap off the black. conservatism at its finest

    July 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  2. albert

    The truth is that any church that is involved in politics, celebrates Easter, Christmas, teaches about eternal torment in hell, are Antichrist. Antichrist is not a single person, it is ANYONE that does not follow the Christ or his teachings.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • El Kababa

      The Antichrist was Nero, according to scholars. He has been dead almost as long as Jesus has. "666" is apparently a numerogical sign for "Nero."

      He was Emperor of Rome when Revelation was being written.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Then evidently all Jews are Anti-Christs.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  3. Kevin B

    I really really hate the format of the comment sections for cnn blogs. You should make them all like the comment sections for your regular news articles. They make it easier to follow and to engage in dialog with others.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  4. yeowza

    Jeremiah Wright is a traitor and OBAMA sat in that azzholes church for twenty years, was married by him and his children baptized by him. If anyone would bother to watch that fools sermons you would know why OBAMA must be removed from office at the earliest possible time. If OBAMA didn't agree with Wright, why would he stay there 20 years???

    July 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • El Kababa

      So, if I understand your point, you are saying that Bachman believes that the Pope is the Antichrist and that all 68 million living American Catholics are going to Hell. Furthermore, Bachman believes that all American Catholics who have ever lived are in Hell now?

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

      Sorry, but this is right-wing nut job talk. First, this article is not about Obama. Second, Wright isn't a traitor anymore than Rush Limbaugh is. In fact, Wright had distinguished military service, something Rush Limbaugh doesn't have. I think we both know all you know about Wright is what you've been fed by the right and a few YouTube videos that represent a tiny fraction of his 20 years of preaching. It's un-American to suggest a president should be removed from office because of his church attendance. I think you are a traitor.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • rastaman44

      Yeowza; Did you say Jeremiah Wright was a traitor? Even if you think Wright is prejudiced because of his black theology views, are you aware( you ass) that he was decorated soldier who did service for this country? He is more of a patriot than you stupid ignorant ass.

      Please STFU, beatch...!!!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  5. Martin Angell

    Hmm...Bachmann appears more mainstream than Obama's Jeremiah Wright church and their anti-American views.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • El Kababa

      But, Bachman believes that the Pope is the Antichrist and that all 68 million living American Catholics are going to Hell. Furthermore, Bachman believes that all American Catholics who have ever lived are in Hell now.

      She apparently thinks that most of us will be in Hell soon – but not her.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • bb

      The pope is the antichrist, come on!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Chloe in Chatsworth, CA

      Believing that Catholics are anti-Christs is "mainstream" in America?

      July 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  6. Pkpost

    You can't blame her. Vandals set fire to Palins' church because they disagreed with her political views, who wants to drag something they appreciate into such a negative mess?

    July 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • El Kababa

      You can fool me on a lot of things. I am not the smartest guy in the world. There are even lots of Conservatives who are smarter than me, like George Will and EJ Dionne. Not many but at least two.

      But as gullible and naive as I am, you cannot convince me that Bachman was sacrificing herself to protect her church. Bachman is not the self-sacrificing type. She is crazy, certainly, but not in a sacrificing way.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Pkpost

      You could convince me of many things, but you being intellectually honest with yourself and others is not one of them, especially given the scale of unhinged effeminate moonbattery on the left.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  7. HS


    July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  8. John


    July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  9. Gary Jaussaud

    Time and truth will take care of the Bachmanns. The truth is if Mr. Bachmann thinks he can convert a gay person to straight
    If he has that type of power he should be able to convert a straight person to gay? The way the Bachmann's feel about it is
    they get paid for doing so. As far as dropping out of their church, well I know of no religion in the World that can to the things
    of this man, so the church might have dropped them. Again time and truth will always take care things.

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


      She has a lot of natural kids and adopted kids. She is after the Catholic vote.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  10. El Kababa

    If you don't think Michelle Bachman is insane, then you need to see a psychiatrist yourself.

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

      The State Owned Media have altered her photograph and made her look Demonic. They did this to Congalese Rice too. The media would change her eyes to make her look scary and they are doing it now. The State Owned Media does follow orders.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      Tea – Gort Klatu Verada Niktu.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      BTW Tea – That's alien robot speak, almost the same as yours. – The Day the Earth Stood Still

      July 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • El Kababa

      A private message to teaisstronger: Read my post carefully and think about it.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  11. Mike in Montana

    Michele Bachmann would certainly make a attractive Roman Catholic.. Her views, are not that far off of the Catholic Church. Even the Pope, would like her and her husband to join. One year of RICA and your in.. Mike in Montana

    July 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  12. Keno Butler

    Lord Jesus help us all. If they think this woman is well enough to be president, what have we come to as Americans. She is as dumb as a door knob.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • El Kababa

      You have just insulted every doorknob in America.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • Mike in Montana

      She can also, suck a golf ball through a garden hose.. Lets see.., was that Michele or Sarah, that could do that or both..

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |

    So, let's see...The Neoconservatives are upset because people criticized this slick move by Michelle. They think its unfair to bring this issue up. Because of her churches stance on Gays and Lesbians she has ALL OF A SUDDEN dropped her membership.
    Yet these same folk wanted to vilify Pres Obama when Rev. Jeremiah Wright made his personal comments? Hypocrites!!!

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

      Not at all. Wright's views were his own, not the theology of the church. Bachmann subscribed to the theology of the church and adds her own momentum.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      Sorry Michael, wrong slant, but the point we are making is Wright has no similarity. Of course, Faux News will help those easily led to see differently.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • FrankinNJ

      But even though she was going there maybe she didn't know it was their stance, even if they talked about it. Works for Obama why not Bachmann?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • MIles30

      I believe most had a problem with the Rev. Wright & Obama relationship is that Rev. Wright preaches Black Liberation Theology which at best, parallels the teachings of Marx if not drawn from Marx outright. Rev. Wright was Obama's pastor for 20 years and was his mentor and trusted friend...even marrying he and Michelle. Seems many fears have proven to be correct...we have a Marxist-leaning president in the Whitehouse.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  14. zip

    Can breast enhancements be far behind?? You go girl!!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  15. Jeffer65

    I've been a WELS Lutheran all my life, believe me Bachmann does not represent all WELS Lutherans, and I for one would never vote for her. Good Christians are the ones who do not go into politics.

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

      Get your head out of the sand. If good Christians didn't go into politics, America would not exist.

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

      Wrong, good Christians stand up and strive to put their God at the head of their government. You sound weak and have lost your way.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Kevin B

      Any Good christian would know that even jesus believed in the separation of Church and State. (Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's.)

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

      I do not care if she worships empty soda cans. The only thing I want to know is who her first US Supreme Court nominee will be. I am a one issue voter, destroy all Democrats and send Obama back to hell.

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

      I am laughing because you have no clue. Ceasar is dead silly. Simpleton you are.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  16. Kevin B

    Don't worry guys, Bachman is her own worst enemy. She's the one who makes her religion an issue, so cnn will then question her religion. Bachman brings up all sorts of hare brained ideas, of course cnn will follow up on them with real questions. Oh but hey, i though cnn was a liberal elitist news organization. So, why are all you conservatives reading this? Best run back to Fake News now.

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

      Love it Kevin! You are 100% correct!

      July 15, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
  17. Paul

    An obvious smear artical by CNN. I'll wait for the rest of the story and try not to ascribe to Bachmann every controversial aspect of the church that she is presented as possibly ascribing to. Nice try. Typical ugly biased journalism.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • El Kababa

      What has been reported that you know to be false?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  18. Barneyjake

    Is it me or does she look like Anita Bryant?

    July 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  19. maude

    Allah akbar.....

    July 15, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  20. John

    This is a non-story that started out as just a hit-piece on Bachmann and ended up a smear on Protestants. CNN is unwilling to criticize Obama when he legitimately deserves it, so they have nothing better to do than make things up about conservatives.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • El Kababa

      Gosh, John. In only two sentences you told four lies. That's pretty good even for a Conservative.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • Dave

      You're defending this evil troll? Do you have any idea?

      July 15, 2011 at 9:28 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.