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. Texan

    Ric said: "the term is ignostic, but I would have more respect for her opinions if she were an atheist. I don't trust religious people. They are the most hypocrytical and judgmental."

    That Mother Teresa – what a hypocrite...caring for all those poor people. What a fake!

    July 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Wize Adz

      Mother Theresa may actually could be deemed to be a hypocrite. She is reported to have struggled with her faith for most of her life, while working as a nun. One might call a person who is representing their faith, while struggling to maintain it, a hypocrite. That doesn't take away from the humanitarian work she performed, but it does make her a real person.

      (As an atheist whose tried (and failed) to be religious at times, struggling with faith is the only part of the religious experience that I can actually relate to. I respect it, but I do think that promoting religion while struggling with it does make someone a hypocrite, even a likely saint like Mother Teresa.)

      July 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Texan

      Struggles with one's faith does not make one a hypocrite...it does make one human. The struggles can actually make you stronger if you make it through them and a daresay that was more the case with Mother Teresa.

      I think someone can be deeply spiritual but for that very reason struggle between what can be seen and the deeply held beliefs of what is deeply unseen. Out of my struggles has come the belief that I have at times been a hypocrite and a liar and undeserving of God's love...He loves deeply me irregardless because that's who He is and because of what Jesus did on the cross. Definitely hard to believe.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • frank

      Mother Teresa was an embezzling sadist! She was a crusty little Antichrist gnome!

      July 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  2. shelou

    This is where Bachmann is swept away by her Presidential campaign team into the "identify protection program" where all former images and text exposing her tendencies toward persecuting the hell out of everybody are disappeared.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  3. Nora

    I don't like how they describe it as her needing the church's permission to leave. If you're no longer a member, YOU decide that, not the church – you don't need to "request" to be "released" from membership, you tell them, you don't ask. That she would go along with that idea suggests to me that she has trouble standing up to people, that she lets herself be controlled by other people, lets them define situations. What would she be like on the world stage?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Tell that to my cell phone provider.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Stan

      Not only that, if that's her mindset, then that could be dangerous if she became president. Will we have to "ask" permission of her government to do something most people would now consider personal rights?

      July 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  4. mdmooser

    I think there might be a 666 under the hairline. YIKES! Pray away the gay in what her own newly created church? Bottom line she seems whacked.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  5. abby

    Bachmann is a Pharisee - wants to cut federal support but takes medicaid at Bachmann & Assoc. clinics and farm subsidies.
    Apparently she never learned this part of the Bible:

    Matt: 25:35-46
    Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  6. Ari

    bachman and her husband are evangelical fundamentalists. just as bad as any fundamentalist muslim group in countries like iran or pakistan. they preach intolerance, bigotry and have a hard line agenda to introduce religion into all forms of our government.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Well nothing here is MN has been blown up by the Bachmann's and their like. No beheadings or stonings either so I'm calling your comparison crap.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • NotWorried

      Really? Want to state some examples of all the people they have killed, beheaded, stoned, tortured?
      Didn't think so. Nice to see how tolerant you are about other peoples beliefs.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • aszure

      Good point, bad comparison.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Dave

      I agree that your comparison is crap. The Bachmans are moderate christians- just like the vast majority of americans. Moderate christians are the ones who have protected and developed all the civil liberties we enjoy.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  7. Tommy Blackflag

    Btw, money wins elections here in America, where the almighty dollar reigns supreme. While the Republican candidates will carve up their total campaign dollars many ways and use much of it simply to win the primary, Obama will likely raise a war chest in excess of a billion dollars, all for the general election. The outcome is pretty easy to predict, especially with Republicans embracing radical right wing mental half-wits like this vapid excuse for a human being. She makes Palin seem legit. This election is going to be a joke.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  8. Disgusted Republican

    Michele Bachmann does not seem to display any christian attributes especially compassion. Her pronouncements and ravings might seem to be more closely related to Satan than Jesus.

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


      July 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • NotWorried

      Her pronouncements and ravings might seem to be more closely related to Satan than Jesus??
      Care to share a few? I would be really interested in hearing a few from an elected official.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  9. KBinMN

    The hypocrisy from the Left really knows no bounds. Where was all this concern from the MSM with Obama and his 'church'?

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

      Dumb troll is dumb

      July 15, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. frank

    She is a reptile bitch from Mordor!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  11. Tommy Blackflag

    Anyone who openly proclaims a deep belief in supernatural phenomena should be barred from holding public office. I don't care if you believe in Jesus, the Loch Ness Monster, or anything else that is simply unproven, illogical and untrue. Deeply religious people possess all of the same symptoms of people with heavily progressed mental illnesses and should not be allowed to hold positions of authority.

    To all of you religious zealots out there, go ahead and say what you want in response, but when you die the lights will go out forever and there will be no light at the end of the tunnel, Just know this. You can kid yourself about it from now until you exhale your last breath, but no amount of religious righteousness will change this immutable fact. Might as well learn to live with it and make peace with yourself, for there is no god for you to make peace with in the end.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Tommy – So that's it? When I look at the Cosmos and think about what took place prior to the Big Bang, the fact that our bodies are made from the material of dead stars, etc, etc I have to conclude that there is NO way we fully understand the Universe or our place in it. Is there room for God, a master plan, or something else? I would say yes.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • mr wish

      My thought is that I believe you are right, but what gives you the right to challenge the way people want to live their lives? I would rather you ask that they not impose on your right to an atheist rather then persecute them for their belief. You are just as demented as the ones that allows their imagination to overrule reality.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • Shayna

      Oh, I wish there were more people like us. I will never understand why blind faith carries more weight, is considered a 'greater good' than reason and evidence. I know, I don't understand it because it doesn't make sense....

      July 15, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • intply

      You know Tommy...I was on the fence about GOD and his presence until I danced with the devil for quite a number of years and the devil proved being any shadow of my doubt that he existed..I am an engineer and science is my life....your argument can easily be turned around on you..prove to me that GOD does not exist and I will sell you a bridge that is falling down in London that is in a museum in arizona...95% of the world believes in GOD..ask yourself one simple question what if your wrong?? ever pondered that...than what will you do....I know their are always taking on new recruits in his intangible garden of evil...of course once the shell shock wears off you will be seeing ghosts of present past and future that will shiver up your spine and explode in your mind and at that moment you will now the feeling of cold metallic despair...sad but true

      July 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • KBinMN

      Shayna – There have been plenty of people like you. Stalin, Mao, Caesar, Pharaoh and all other crack pot Kings who became so enamored with themselves they decided THEY were God.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • intply

      Yes I did not proof read my comment before I posted it but I forgot to mention that most atheists usually come from a history of religious persecution brought upon them as children...Just because you don't believe that the Devil doesn't exist does not protect you from him...think about your biggest imperfections..those little addictions that you know are bad for you..think about the gratification you get from indulging in those sinful things...enjoy it more and more and than you will be ready to really rock with the prince of darkness....it is people like you that brings a big smile to his face ear to horn topped ear...you have the right to your opinion...but don't retort with the typical everyone is "crazy" argument...that gets really old really fast..you try to come across as being so uber smart but it really shows how you try to overcompensate for a lack of real understanding of what life is all about...sad to see that you shut a door that would have brought you so much happiness...you sealed your fate.....good luck to you bro....it's tough getting out of that place..I know it took me a long long time...because I enjoyed it so dam much!!!

      July 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Tommy Blackflag

      Intply, sorry to hear that you have encountered so much pain and suffering in your life. Since you didn't supply any details about your personal demons I don't really know what led you to embrace religion, but I am sincerely glad to hear that you found a way to bring greater happiness and meaning to your temporary existence on this planet. If your belief in a higher power somehow helped you personally get through some hard times then that's great. Sincerely. I don't care if you did it with religion or drugs or a love of foreign films. Not my business. Just don't drag those religious beliefs into the voting booth with you because I have a right to live in a society that is governed by truth and logic rather than theology. Also, please do not ever run for office or hold any position of authority, public or private, if you cannot divorce your decision making process from your religious beliefs.

      Go ahead and paint me however you want. In truth I am a very happy atheist whose only major complaint is the fact that so many of the negative things about the world I live in have their roots in organized religion. Go ahead and try to project whatever qualities you want on me. The truth is that I am your neighbor, I am your co-worker and I am the guy sitting one table over from you at your favorite local restaurant. I look like you, I sound like you and your kids play with my kids. I am not some outcast, I am just like you with the exception that I am able to draw distinctions between fact and fiction, particularly in matters that are of dire importance in life.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • intply


      July 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • wodun

      "Anyone who openly proclaims a deep belief in supernatural phenomena should be barred from holding public office. I don't care if you believe in Jesus, the Loch Ness Monster, or anything else that is simply unproven, illogical and untrue. Deeply religious people possess all of the same symptoms of people with heavily progressed mental illnesses and should not be allowed to hold positions of authority."

      Quick throw Obama out of office.

      You might claim to be an atheist but I am guessing you bow at the alter of Gaia.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  12. Jon

    All this wasted energy on religious BS is ridiculous. Let plausibility reign.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  13. msk

    So what! Obama attended Wrights church for many years while they openly preached hatred of whites, and hatred of America. Didn't faze him, or hurt his election.

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

      so that makes Michele and her vile hate speech ok, you use the, well he did it too defense. Do you think slavery was a good thing, she does, she signed a pledge last week saying just that. You phony christians make me sick.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  14. Charlie Pedersen

    Obama isn't going anywhere near his "church" either. Seems the past pastor was a big of a racist bigot and hate-mongering antaginist.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  15. T3chsupport

    She got tired of the hot flashes every time she walked through the door.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
  16. KN

    Michele Bachmann is living in her own dreams, which are about to shatter in pieces.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  17. Daryl

    Look at all the fear and smear...pure emotional drivel without an ounce of intellect...coming from Communist News Network. It's sad, but when Liberals lack logic or fact they resort to libel and defamation. Too bad they can't analyze Obama's character with the same rapacious tact. Hypocrites.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
    • BIG BILL

      RIGHT ON!!!!

      July 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Disgusted Republican

      Are you trying to equate Democrats with republicans? The comparison won't wash.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • CJWarnke

      "trying to equate democrats with republicans"

      Yea, Demos are out to destroy the United states as it has existed for 230+ years.

      Demos are all hypocritical tools that dont understand the basics of either economics or humanity.

      Demos have historically (and currently) support eugenic policies and programs, and enable the virtual enslavement of the poor.

      Demos Cant tell the truth to save thier mothers (for example, Obama saying 80% of people want to raise taxes, while only 11% support it solely, and 37% support it in any significant manner, per rasmussen)

      Dems crack me up when insulting conservatives, becuase they demonstrate thier cluelessness with almost every work they say.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Shannon

      Hey Daryl , you must be thrilled with Bachmann, she seems like your kind of gal. Bringing back slavery, and saying it was a good thing sounds right up your alley. Michele likes to hide in the bushes at gay pride events, so she can spy on people she considers her enemy, do you get off on doing that too. Sounds like a match made in her version of heaven. Finally all the bigoted people on the right have a candidate to worship. Good for you!

      July 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  18. guest

    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."
    And yet Bachmann attacked Obama on this same issue. N ow it's different eh?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • funkeyooo

      Obama yet sat for 10 years listening to those views. He didn't leave until wright was outed. The press then made sure that the sh-t rolled right off of good ole obamba.........

      July 15, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • XWngLady

      Throwing up the BS card. Bachmann went to this church for 10 years and just left the church last month when she kneew she was going to run for President. Its the SAME THING. And if she can criticize Pres. Obama, then she deserves criticism as well...What a hypocrite.

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

      Spot on – beyond that Bachman is nothing more than a glory-hound who likes to get her name in the paper, and her face on the news.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  19. CuriousMatt

    Some things do not change. William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, newspaper publishers of the 1890s, used melodrama, romance, and hyperbole to sell millions of newspapers–a style that became known as yellow journalism.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  20. Bob Rock

    Does that make her officially an atheist now?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • PHinMiami

      No, Omnipotent.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • KN

      That makes her look more idiot than previously thought.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • ric

      the term is ignostic, but I would have more respect for her opinions if she were an atheist. I don't trust religious people. They are the most hypocrytical and judgmental.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
    • Disgusted Republican

      No! She is still a republican/teabagger moron.

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

      "the term is ignostic, but I would have more respect for her opinions if she were an atheist. I don't trust religious people. They are the most hypocrytical and judgmental."

      That Mother Teresa – what a hypocrite...caring for all those poor people. What a fake!

      July 15, 2011 at 7:45 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.