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. funkeyooo

    When could we expect Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, to do an in depth hit piece study on Barrack H. Obama's religious history. Maybe from his muslim schoo lupbringing history right on through his leaving the radical teachings of our good reverend wright, the chicago based hate promoter.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • HeavenVeil

      cuz then Eric would have to lie, you as-swipe.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • ric

      Isn't this article about Bachman?..Why is it that when people feel that their candidate is being rightfully questioned that they change the subject and point fingers elsewhere?..I am not crazy about Barack either but this is about her, not him..and she is an idiot..

      July 15, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • Gethetruth

      You are a sicko ! You will use every occasion to be anti -Obama. Get back into the trail park and stay put. Your are incapable of intelligent discussion.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  2. CarmenSo

    Wow now Obama isn't responsible to Wright's bigoted views. In 2008 the Republicans said he was all sort of responsible. Now that crazy Bachmann's church is found to have not so PC views he suddenly isn't responsible. She may not be a bigot against Catholics, but could someone explain why her family business is trying to cure gays again?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  3. Atheist2

    I was informed when 13 years old by my first-met American Catholic that I, as Presbyterian, was the Anti-Christ and would necessarily go to Hell. But then how many has the Pope killed in Africa with his condom policy? Who knows what Bachmann thinks. Does she??? Why would a large segment of the American public fall for someone with mental issues?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  4. Frank

    Bachmann looks really old in that photo. She'll have to ban Fox News from taking photos of her from the side.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  5. TJeff1776

    Sarah and Michelle. One a Prez, the other Vice-Prez. Can't be any worse than whats going on in Washington, for sure.
    BUT on the other hand, Hoover- the Repub gave us the 1929 depression and Bush- the Repub gave us the 2008 recession.
    Methinks they define depression and recession a little differently these days. The former is too nasty a word and took us ten years to get out of it. The latter, to hear economists tell it, will take even longer.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  6. Aaron

    Uh huh...Ms Christian Fellowship 2011 can't make it to church. Might as well quit being memories. Maybe they had a history sermon coming up...freaked her out.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  7. john316

    Well....they're right about the AntiChrist thing.....except all these religious cults are in the same boat.....I think Reparative Therapy is called for.......and let's get rid of that tax exemption status while we're at it.....couldn't hurt to have them stand on their own ..........good old capitalism without any kind of government support....right Michele?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  8. George

    Bachmann belongs to the Church of the Insane.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  9. Dave

    She's losing her religion.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      I wish there were a 'like' button at this website. Kudos.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      .. her religion but not her faith .. religions are not worth much any more .. she did renounce Jesus Christ .. and I doubt that she would .. (I cannot understand why anyone would even want to be president ).. the point is that she cannot run for national office due to bigorty and intolerance .. that is shame on all of us...

      July 15, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      correction - did NOT renounce Jesus Christ

      July 15, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
  10. Jackson

    That church must not have supported the return of slavery... You know she wants to get little black babies back with they mommies and daddies. Its foremost in her campaign.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • Panz

      oh no...liberal race card. You know a liberal has nothing when they resort to race. Of course, it's a liberal...they never have nothing but hate of others. Typical. CNN is a perfect place for you. Another appendage of the DNC

      July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Atheist2

      Actually, Panz, you have nothing to say aside from the highly dubious insult of "Liberal". I guess you also believe that slavery was ended by our forefathers.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • emporersnaked

      you are so sad. Try counseling

      July 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  11. OHanake

    Oh No! Scandalous! Come on now, I can't stand Bachmann but don't attack her religion, she has plenty of faults without having to resort to the galactically stupid.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      might be you are galactic ally intolerant and ignernt

      July 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • Uelida

      A message to The Goverment:Don't push it any fhturer.9/11 was 10 years ago.Despite the talk of peace despite the winning of a war despite the winning of a peace price : There is STILL war. Innocent bodies are destroyed.We don't want you to print more money, because you don't spend it right.We don't need naked scanning . We don't need a demographics unit . We don't need traceable ID cards. We don't need any ROBOCOPS patrolling the streets.Don't push it any fhturer.Ron Paul 2012

      June 26, 2012 at 10:08 pm |
  12. RightTurnClyde

    What forced her to disassociate from her church is the outright reverse bigotry against Christians and especially against Christian women (like Sarah Palin). Even other women expressed incredible intolerance for Sarah Palin (a Christian and a woman).

    July 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      the liberal media and the liberals generally would not dare express ha_tred against any_one they consider protected minorities (I will not enumerate them because we all know which they are) bu_t ..

      July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • Alverant

      Has it occurred to you that the "intolerance" against her and Palin have more to do with their positions on the issues and the words coming out of their mouths than their religion?

      And it's worth pointing out that President Obama is still being harassed over a church he quit despite the fact they parted ways years ago. Why is it intolerance to do to Bachmann what conservatives have been doing to Obama?

      July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      ...in 2011 it is liberal acceptable to express ve_no.m agai9nst Christians, conservatives, military veterans, conservative caucasion, hetero or private sector enterprise ... Tea Party people..

      July 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Atheist2

      WrongTurnClyde: Try proofreading your posts! Recognize your ignorance! A liberal Veteran.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      most of my posts don't make it .. less than 1 in 10 .. Kerry is a liberal veteran .. so .. that's don't mean much...

      July 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  13. Samuel

    The gems you get from clams.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  14. Name*jackie

    It is well known that many protestants hold that view of the Catholic Church. As a Catholic I say, so what, who cares?? I have my beliefs and they have thiers. At least prots dont damn our whole country to hell like Obamas church does!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  15. Dave H

    Nice hit piece, cnn. Remember when it was "no one's business" which religion Obamma is? Nope... Didn't think so. I should have known better than to even link to this trash. Bye.

    July 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  16. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The Bachmann's can run but they can't hide. Wonder what skeletons the Bachmann's left at that church, the truth will come out.

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

      And what truth might that be? The "truth" as it is being told by cnn, fox, cbs or nbc? Check your source, I suspect you will find it to be quite unreliable.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  17. John


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

      John – was there a subliminal message in there? Like the the GOP was caught doing in the 2000 election? Shows how stupid they think their voter base is.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  18. mike smith

    Another republican quitter. When in doubt run away. Maybe here and quitter Palin can Team up

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

      She's not a quitter. Guess you quit school because you can't read. She changed churches a few years ago. She just needed to drop her membership from the church roles. I have "belonged" to eight churches in 52 years. The Methodist church from High school still had me "on the books" in 2001. It had been 24 years since I had last visited their church. These Mainline denomination church base their national votes by local church membership. So local church don't ever want to purge they membership lists. I read a letter on this topic, so I contacted my old high school church. In 2001 my Grandma was still on the books. She died in 1965. She was born in 1879. Her baptisms record show the date of 1880.
      121 years old and still on the books.

      Michele Bachmann is just cleaning up the records

      July 15, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  19. mackle

    clean up on aisle 5; media boogers

    July 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  20. Betty Mae

    Amen Dolores!
    Put it all in Jesus' hands Mr. Kabob!
    Let the Lord speak to your heart and guide you as he so evidently does with Mrs. Bachmann!

    July 15, 2011 at 6:53 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.