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. Linda Waytenick

    Isn't it amazing when someone gets into political arena they can no longer associate with their passed religious organization she's suppose to be spouting Christian this-Moral that-yad yad and she cuts herself off from the foundation. Is NOT going to church now a part of the "Morale Right"? She's such a joke

    July 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • John Butler


      You are exactly the reason why we should preclude certain people from voting. You had no less than 6, maybe 7 grammatical errors in your post. Please stop posting for "yore on good".

      July 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  2. tj

    wow! wait until the media finds out she got a C on a test in first grade...that will be headline news!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  3. Thomas

    Church of the New Barbarians !

    Bachmann is a robot !

    July 15, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  4. KC

    GEEM Maybe if she goes to the clinic t of the holy rollers, hey can cure her of being a politician.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  5. boston

    LOL – Politically motivated you ask? DUHHHH –

    July 15, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  6. Bob Hunter

    Still waiting for the main stream media to do an honest, indepth investigation of the current president. We knew more about Sarah Palin within days of her becoming Juan McCains running mate then we do about Obama today. Well, I actually knew he was an America hating, racist, marxist with a touch of fascist thrown in for good measure and I knew he'd be hell bend on destroying America as it was founded to be replaced by a Euroweenie styled socialist bureaucracy, laden with debt such that all prodcutive citizens would become slaves of the non-productive/government rulers, but that's because I pay attention, whereas the masses get their "news" from worthless sources such as CNN...

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

      Hard to tell if you are claiming you know nothing about Obama or that you know it all. It might help to put the two sentiments in different posts so that the contradiction is not as obvious to the casual eye.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • regis990

      Slow down. When huffing paint, one needs to slow down, take time to enjoy the paranoia. Remember, the brain cells you've just killed aren't coming back. Make the most of your slow spiral into insanity, Bob.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • vickio

      Do you wander the web looking for any opportunity to disrespect your president? Obama a socialist? Are you kidding me? You need a swift dose of politics/economics 101. Stay away from Fox and read something other than the Inquirer.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Modo Quasi

      My my what wonderfully creative vitriol...you should have been a writer....no really, you should have....

      July 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Leonard

      Such a great post, because this article has EVERYTHING to do with Obama>

      Please, if you disagree with Obama, feel free to make this comment on an article about Obama,otherwise you're just making all off us conservatives who are not hateful look just as ignorant as you.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • KC

      Honey, you only THINK all those things because your Schizoprenia hasn't been diagnosed as of yet. As soon as you get your meds, you'll feel better, and all those nasty theories won't bother you any more.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  7. Shannon

    Rowley, since you seem to think you get to decide who god loves, what do you think he thinks of you. You are defending a woman, who said slavery was a good thing, how do you feel about that. You should hang your head in shame!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  8. KBinMN

    Just think what a sh$tstorm it would be if Christians were as intolerant of gays as many on the Left are to Evangelicals?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Ben

      We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • SB

      Last hate crime against an individual accused of being gay, July 9th, 2011. Last hate crime against an individual accused of being evangelical... uh... never. Hasn't happened yet. Let us know when it does so that your LIE could at least have something to reference as evidence.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Hey -KB...

      Hmmm... Given what I have seen in terms of the ones that are attempting to actively put laws into place that infringe or diminish equality for gays, I was under the very strong impression that the Christian Right... specifically the Evangelicals, among other/s Christians 'are' the ones that are usually the 'most intolerant' of 'gays,' yes...?


      July 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Shannon

      You're right about my being intolerant of Bachmann style evangelicals, when your candidate of choice for President signs a pledge saying slavery was a good thing, I will tell you, that you are a hate filled racist. True Christians would be outraged by her hate filled racisim, not you though, you defend it. Says a lot about you, and your so called faith.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • K

      @SB. Actually, there are numerous instances in history of those persecuted because of their religion and it continues today. I don't agree with KBinMN either, but your statement is just as ignorant.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Jason

      What do you mean "if" Christians were intolerant? There's a church right around the corner where I live that openly advocates the forceful removal of gay from the country.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • Texan

      Depends on what you call a hate crime. I've seen some pretty rapid antichristian responses on this page. As for an actual hate crime – while more language than apparently anything else – what about Glenn Beck trying to take his family out for a movie night and being verbally attacked. That was just a few weeks ago.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Texan, perhaps Mr. Beck was getting a taste of his own medicine?

      July 15, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Good for her for coming out of Babylon. Most modern churches are as corrupt as the corporation-owned governments they serve. Why is this front page news?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • iBELIEVE

      ...Babylon is the Papacy.... she was never Catholic...

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

      To you this is no news, but a guess what, G W Bush was elected to white house (Twice) based on nonsense(s) like this.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  10. iBELIEVE

    "We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy,"........WAAAAT!!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  11. wally zebco

    Would a somewhat "crazy" person know enough to do this because it might hurt her electability? This is a sign that she can think a little bit. Oh she's still evil and all that but she put some thought into this.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  12. Patcee

    Isn't it strange how she stayed with this church until she decided to seek the presidency, then didn't want to be associated with one that is so anti-Catholic as to think the pope is the antichrist? If it is so repugnant to her, why didn't she leave before this? I would rather see a president in office who is not religious at all, but this is just hypocritical.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • K

      This statement shows your ignorance. How else would the church know she would like to be removed from their membership roster unless she asks them? They are not mind readers.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • K

      Sorry, the reply above was not meant for you!

      July 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • SB

      Uh, K, you might want to re-read Patcee's comment.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • SB

      lol, never mind.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Peace2All


      I pretty much have very little interest in organized religion, etc... however, for Bachmann to make decisions that are in her best interest towards giving her the best chance of becoming President, is not necessarily hypocritical. She is making a move to do what is in her best interest.

      She may or may not believe in the doctrine that her Lutheran Church believed in towards Catholicism. Hopefully, it will come out during debates.

      For the record... I hope that this woman doesn't even come close to being elected. Truly a scary thought.




      You Said: "This statement shows your ignorance. How else would the church know she would like to be removed from their membership roster unless she asks them? They are not mind readers."

      Maybe i'm missing something here, but... how specifically does your posting to -Patcee have 'anything' to do with what 'she posted.'...?



      July 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  13. Stan

    Most people would not have to ASK permission to leave a church. So if that's her mindset, if she became president, then would we have to ASK for her permission to exercise our personal rights?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • K

      This statement shows your ignorance. How else would the church know she would like to be removed from their membership roster unless she asks them? They are not mind readers.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Nora

      "This statement shows your ignorance. How else would the church know she would like to be removed from their membership roster unless she asks them? They are not mind readers." – K.

      They would know because you TELL them, rather than ASK them. Freedom of religion means that you make the decision for yourself, you don't allow the church to make the decision for you.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  14. SB

    I don't care if she quit her church, I'm just looking forward another train wreck. Palin was fun but Bachmann is going to be even more so. Once this brainless twit starts talking... oh man! I can't wait.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  15. rowley

    God loves even the foul mouthed commenters on the CNN website.
    Slander of Bachmann shows how strong her beliefs are in the eyes of her detractors.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • SB

      Huh? People don't tend to change their beliefs when they're insulted. It's got nothing to do with the strength of their beliefs. What a weird thing to say.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I think the rude responses have more to do with Bachmann's behaviors than with her beliefs. Most mainstream Americans find her to be unattractive as a political candidate, and possibly, unattractive as a human being.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  16. Tom Leykis

    It's difficult to fathom, but Bachman is even more a mouthbreathing crazy religious wingnut know nothing moron than Palin.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Harley2002

      Better the a butt sucking Muslim racist like Obama.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • russ in nc

      So you prefer Sarah to Michelle. Interesting....

      July 15, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  17. YoYall

    ........ So.......... what's she running from, me wonders. Or is this just another case of blatant hypocrisy?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  18. Kellie in Fort Worth

    I don't give a good g*d d**m what church she belongs to, nor do I care about the churches of any of the candidates. Religion or lack thereof should not be a litmus test for the highest secular office in the land. I'd vote for the wood if the choice were between her and a log, but I don't give a crap about her church – that's her business.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  19. Papa Deuce

    So, let me get this straight: Michele Bachmann has actually withdrawn her membership from a church that she hasn't attended in over two years? S C A N D A L! ! ! ! ! !

    Obama is sooooooooo screwed come next November.

    July 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Patcee

      Surely you jest.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  20. Lenny Pincus

    Obama attended a church where the pastor claims many Americans are racist. Bachmann belonged to a church where the hierarchy claims the Pope is the anti-Christ. Hmmmm. Which one is more grounded in reality?

    July 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Luigi

      I don't know. I can say this
      * Dozens qualifies as many
      * We easily have dozens of racists. (One is on death row in Texas).
      * Therefore the statement is true. The statement might be misleading, however.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:04 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.