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. mimi

    Time to bring on the lies and BS...another loser in politics

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

    WHO CARES??!?!?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • OsoMartinez

      You did since I probably read the article and then posted.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  3. pragmatist

    Since there is no God (either capital G or small g) what on earth does it matter.? Is America going to stand or fall based on which mythology this wing nut embraces?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  4. pragmatist

    Since there is no God (either capital G or small g) what on earth does it matter.? Is America going to stand or fall based on which mythology this wing nut empraces?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Peace2All

      Well... since the 'mythologies' that Presidential candidates embrace often drive their thoughts, words...and... actions, it would seem that the more 'extreme' the mythology, the potential for greater 'wing-nut' type of actions, for the person that would be President.

      -Pragmatist... It is more about the actions... the things that they may attempt to implement as policy while in office that is so disconcerting. And yes, of course everyone has to make those discernments about whomever is running for the Presidency.

      So, yes... In a way, what they 'believe' and to what 'extreme' really does matter (IMHO).



      July 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • E=MC2

      Really. How do you know? Some claims cannot be falsified because they are ultimately unverifiable. If God exists in another dimension, which physicist believe exists in String Theory, how could you ever prove God's existence if He is in a dimension that we simply cannot "see". String Theory does postulate that there are indeed 10 dimensions. This may explain were, for instance, dark matter exists. Because we cannot see it, doesn't mean it isn't there. There is so much archeological evidence that is consistently unearthed that verify things that were thought to be just stories in the bible. Why are so quick to shrug off a "God" when so many people have believed and He cannot be disproved?

      July 15, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • tallulah13

      E=MC2: There has not been a single shred of evidence, ever, for the existence of any god, ever. Who cares how many people have believed? Men created gods to explain the inexplicable. The more we know about natural phenomena, the less room there is for the supernatural.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  5. Bill K

    As far as I know the roman Catholic Church recognizes anyone's Baptism as long as water is poured and the words I baptize thee in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are said.It is the one Sacrament that anyone can administer.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  6. Texan

    Since she didn't issue a statement as to why she left the church, how do we know? The anticatholic lutheran connection is just speculation...which it seems even the lutheran church doesn't play up...the anticatholic beliefs of the church that is.

    I haven't heard her enough to know what I think of her.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
  7. KC

    Well, maybe she thinks quitting her church shows that she has "CHOOTS PAH"!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  8. 2tor

    I'm not even sure why this article was even written, or posted... much less, why I read it..

    July 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • OsoMartinez

      Only you can answer why you did.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  9. Miek F

    So it's bad for her to distance herself from her former church, but okay for Obama? How do I put this? Oh, right, in the words of Jesus, "Ye hypocrites". For as much as those on the left despise religion, I'm surprised they're not lining up behind her.

    and @Linda *moral not morale. Learn English.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  10. ContraFeminism

    Another reason she may have left the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is that they take a strong stance on the traditional understanding of gender roles. Maybe the strongest stance of any denomination. A woman being President would be contrary to the doctrinal statement of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The statement not only says that men should lead in the church and family but makes a strong inference that they are to lead at ALL levels of society.
    http://www.wels.net/about-wels/doctrinal-statements/man-and-woman-roles. Point # 20 in the preceding article states, "In the World: Christians also accept the biblical role relationship principle for their life and work in the world.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  11. Carlos

    Politicians are chameleons.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  12. Voiceinthewind

    Another Ding Bat like Pale-in. Two empty wagons that make alot of noise.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Jay007

      "BLOW" in the wind

      July 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  13. Rick

    Maybe if someone did this kind of research and "digging" on Obummer before the last election we would be saved the stupidity we currently have!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • cellblock131

      you forget, the media is bent over a tree stump and asking for more from any liberal politician...it would be bad karma to poop on the bed the left uses to sodomize the media.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • LA

      what stupidity are you referring to exactly? and what does someone's religious beliefs or associations have to do with the current state of our economy? You should be more respectful when speaking of our President

      July 15, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  14. Augie

    If she wasn't running for President, this wouldn't be "news". And if she wasn't running for President, she wouldn't have left her church. Amazing how many politicians seem to take a deeper interest in a god when they get into trouble or put their name on a ballot. As a fellow Minnesotan, Bachmann is a scary lady. If she were to win the presidency we'd all be better off by hopping across the border into Canada.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Thank you for validating what a lot of us across the country are already concerned about regarding Bachmann.



      July 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Jay007

      Don't let the BORDER door hit you in the but on your way north. I pity my poor Canadian friends, I will let them know you are coming.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  15. russ in nc

    Remember the good old days when President Jimmy Carter would teach Sunday School? Why is it that our President's don't do that anymore? Not only do they not teach Sunday School they don't go to Church at all. Have you noticed? Why is that?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  16. Keith Ward

    Do you suppose the Bob hunter catches any bobs?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  17. Ed

    No great loss there. The Looser's will go to one of those holy roller type where they can dance in the isle and play with snakes and he can brainwash people.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  18. Bob

    "But we find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann," ROTFLMAO!!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  19. David

    Bachmann is just another end time cult evangelical who will vote for eternal wars even if it means breaking the back of america as she will be as militant as Hagee and spout words that no other nation matters but one! And it isn't USA.

    She will now be a war hawk shill and will try and emulate bush for more wars with more countries that we have not hit yet.
    Indonesia and malaysia get ready for attacks from USA

    July 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • russ in nc

      Assuming Obama doesn't start those wars himself. So far he's got an impressive war record, I'm sure you would agree. And he doesn't even bother to pretend to acknowledge the War Powers Act. Very impressive. Nixon is vindicated.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • OhSpareMe

      Put down the crack pipe, dude.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Jay007

      Oh boy what nonsense, Libya anyone? Obumer continues to maintain combat troops in Iraq. What is the First Armored Div doing there, north of Bagdad? And he now indicates that he may stay a little longer in Afghanistan. You idiots are a complete riot, falling for his BS hook, line and sinker. Tell me now, how does the government have the money to pay the president and all members of congress, the SEIU, ACORN, the TSA and fund all of the other social safety nets for the lazy, but now tell the country that the Armed Forces, all those people on social security and the like that they may NOT get checks – what a BOZO it all comes from the same fund.

      July 15, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  20. Byrd

    Who's looking after her 75 foster children while she's on the campaign trail? And does she expect the taxpayers and government to provide a Secret Service detail for each and every one? A free ride and lifetime health care is all this woman is looking for...along with enough idiots to enable her.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:16 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.