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. Hmmm

    <span style='text-align:center;display:block;'><span class='embed-youtube' style='text-align:center; display:block;'><object width='640' height='390'><param name='movie' value='http://www.youtube.com/v/aGSvqMBj-ig?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&#039; /><param name='allowfullscreen' value='true' /><param name='wmode' value='opaque' /><embed src='http://www.youtube.com/v/aGSvqMBj-ig?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&#039; type='application/x-shockwave-flash' allowfullscreen='true' width='640' height='390' wmode='opaque'></embed></object></span></span><br />

    July 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  2. nytw

    How can anyone vote for someone that hates god as much as michele bachmann does.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  3. frank

    I'm just wondering what she's showing the length of in the picture.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • zip

      Does she swallow?

      July 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Don H

      I am excited to see how much money she spends though this hole situation and loosing it. There is no way in hell this lady will ever even win the nomination for the Republican side lol.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  4. zip

    Can a good boob job be far behind?

    July 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • RoboBob

      hahahahahahahahaha you said "behind"

      July 15, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      For her or for the lovely Mr Bachmann?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  5. Richard Cheese

    Gee, I didn't know religion required memberships. Glad to see someone is calling it for what it is.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • RoboBob

      yeah – no.

      You can obtain a membership in a denomination, there is no 'requirement' to be a member, and you can certainly be 'religious' without membership anywhere – not sure what your point is, but in case you didn't know denominations have memberships.

      And the people give money to the churches – did you know that? Money changes hands.

      And, guess what, people talk to someone they can't see.

      I just thought, you know, take these shocks all in one go, maybe that'll be easier on you.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  6. Bryan D.

    Didn't Obama give up his church while running for office?

    July 15, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  7. keith Shedron

    The article is in error. The quote, attributed to the Wisconsin Synod, concerning the papacy being the antiChrist in the context of an historical judgement, is found on the Wisconsin synod website, but the quote is from the Missouri synod, and it is placed on the Wisconsin website to demonstrate how the Missouri Synod has departed from Scripture. The doctrinal position of the Wisconsin synod is that the pope is the very antiChrist. Not an historical judgement, but a matter of doctrine and faith.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  8. MJ

    Anything for power ehh? I don't agree with her on a single issue, I find what her husband does as 'Therapy' disgusting and and her beliefs and ideas as bad but at least she was willing to stand her ground and be who she is and not be a Romney and flip-flop on issues as times got tough and stuff hit the fan... But then again what can you expect from a post Bush Republican, hypocrisy has become the corner stone of their insanity these days...

    July 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Ironic

      Hypocrisy is politics. I'm surprised you are so biased you can't notice that it comes in equal amounts on both sides of the isle. The sooner people like you on both sides realize this the sooner americans can get some results.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  9. Cedar rapids

    '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."

    yeah, its all one direction only, right?

    July 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • John Gillis

      How so? Not a heckling question.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      protestant vs catholic troubles still linger in NI and Scotland. To give the impression that its protestants that hold anti-catholic views and the reverse doesnt also exist is simply false.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  10. john412

    If she quits her church, and is ashamed to acknowledge her affiliations and admit her beliefs how can we trust her and what she stands for?

    July 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  11. memphispiano

    This Lutheran denomination has something on its books dating back to the Reformation referring to Catholics and you try to link Bachmann? That has got to be the lowest and most pathetic journalism I have ever seen. That would be like linking Obama to slavery because the country he is president of had slavery 200 years ago. Why can't you just report the news?

    July 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  12. Gavin Ford

    When I read that headline I thought "wow...she's no longer a myth-believing idiot?"

    July 15, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Tom

    Is CNN still a serious souce of news? Obvioulsy not. This is the kind of "reporting" that has reduced the media to a joke. Just shows that CNN really should still mean "Clinton Network New" or better yet–ONN.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • yep

      You really make your point count when you type something like "Obvioulsy". Well done, moron.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Tom

      You liberals are so predictable. You can't win the arguement over facts, so you have to resort to insults. Just the response I was expecting.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      You dont consider calling CNN a joke or 'clinton news network' insulting rather than factual?
      Guess it looks like we are using your definition of insulting then.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • zip

      Prepare for the coordinated onslaught of attacks on CNN and all other legitimate news sources by paid posters working for the GOP. Fox News is going down in flames, and they know it. They will attempt to discredit all others. We have the right wing filth on the run. Time to finish the job. Someone's got to pay for Palin and Bachmann.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Anarchist

      so you spelled it wrong on purpose tom to get a response like that from a "liberal"? weak, very weak.....and that person's post shows no idication of being a liberal, all you want to do is cause divisions, crawl back in your hole until you're ready to act like a grown up

      July 15, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Tom

      The term "Clinton Network News" was coined by an Arkansas newspaper when Clinton was President–because of CNN's "obvious" bias.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • Anarchist

      for someone thats going to go down the road of you have no facts so you insult, well since you read it in an arkansas newspaper its a fact! i just read on the onion that the pope supports gay marriage after meeting a very charming connecticut couple, must be a fact because i read it somewhere......

      July 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  14. Linda, Fl

    sure, they are more saint than any church,

    July 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  15. JohnRJohnson

    Marcus Bachmann is gay. Michele Bachmann is his beard. He suffers from so much self-loathing that he has been trying to expiate his guilt about his gayness by "curing" other gays. Anybody who calls gays "barbarians" is gay. Period.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • RoboBob

      Is that how you become gay, cause I thought you had to sleep with another man.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • RoboBob

      Dang it, I wish you had told me sooner.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  16. SteveB

    Would have been nice if the media exercised this sort of diligence into Obama's religious background huh......

    July 15, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Linda, Fl


      July 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • A Rational Human

      Puleeese. Bachman is a hypocritical political opportunist, whose "faith" really lies in whatever she can get for herself.... just like her mentor – Palin.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • RoboBob

      There is really nothing to read into this story, she hasn't gone to the church in a few years, so she's no longer a member.

      But look – it's a liability in a campaign to belong to a church or any organization that speaks out publicly on matters.

      Even a feminist might not want to belong to some of the more public anti-male women's groups- you know the kind that support women who murder their children or cut of someone's genitals.

      That isn't 'big tent' To win the presidency, you need votes from (normally) a majority of voters.

      I don't like Bachman, but there is nothing in this story.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Peace2All


      Are you talking about President Obama...? You mean arguably 'the' single most 'vetted' man ever to hold the office of President of the U.S...?

      You mean the guy who has had his... citizenship, ethnicity, religious beliefs, etc, etc... all -continually- called into question by not only the media, but most specifically the radical Christian Right...?

      That guy...? You're right, there obviously hasn't been 'enough' investigating into our current President.

      Wow...! 😯



      July 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • Tom

      Linda, Nice nuanced response. Or as is the case with all liberals, just insult anyone you don't agree with. Now that's tolerance.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • maniacmudd

      tom, yer sounding a little sassy yerself, you sure yer panties aren't in a bunch??

      July 15, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Neil fom Toronto

      Like who really cares! Unfortunately, Religion is the predominant driver behind the divisiveness that plagues the USA.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  17. Sal P

    Bachmann is finished once the tea-party groups find out that she worked as an IRS enforcer for four years (and had the nerve to say God called her for that job). Mitt is a neo-con warmonger. Ron Paul is the only candidate that will end all the wars. Both Republicans and Democrats support endless Wars for Israel, it all started nearly a decade ago under a false flag attack.
    9/11 and Israel, here: http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000190526

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


      July 15, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Linda, Fl

      she wouldn't reach any level – why bother?

      July 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  18. Mike

    And who says she and her husband are not loons ? LMAO! She fits right in with the republican party. Who knows. Can a job on "Faux News" be far behind ? Oh. If there is a "Faux News" are the English are finished with Murdick and his kids!

    July 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  19. Seriously

    The raving anti-Christian bigots rage.

    Don't you all have some babies to murder?

    July 15, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • DJ

      Don't you have a lot of people who aren't exactly like you to oppress?

      July 15, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • RoboBob

      I'm out of babies. But, I do have someone not exactly like me to oppress. So – I guess my weekend is planned.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Rational

      Christians in America are actually more likely than atheists to get an abortion. Look it up.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • RoboBob

      They are more likely to have an abortion, more likely to get a divorce, and more likely to pray to Jesus.

      These are facts. But – I still am not an atheist on account of there really isn't any point. If the non-God is offended, screw him.

      But look – seriously – even if christianity has failed to spread the message of love, love is a good message.

      Yes, i think Jesus was all about turn the other cheek and things that, were they followed, would make a person successful in marriage, successful in family ,and the world a better place.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  20. yep

    Can't wait till she officially leaves the planet.

    July 15, 2011 at 8:48 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.