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. Mike

    I like the press to spy on Bachman pastor and dig up evidence that he hated America just like Obama pastor.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • RoboBobo

      He probably doesn't though. He probably thinks America is the new Zion or something.

      That's more in line with that type of Church. They may have said something about gays or women being subservient to their husbands – look I haven't researched that Church in particular, but that type of Church isn't exactly the same as Obama's type of Church. The scandal will be different.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • OvernOut

      My dad belonged to a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church. Couldn't have "Amazing Grace" sung at his funeral, and the pastor was shocked that I'd even asked to have that hymn, not one of their approved hymns. Very conservative synod.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  2. chisum

    No news here,

    July 15, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  3. matt

    A totally dumb bimbo failed in 2008 and in a rehash, another slightly dumber dumbo is gonna fail 2012

    - he he

    July 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  4. Archstone

    It is amazing how the media can come up with every tiny detail of Republican
    candidates religious backgrounds, yet they were unable to find out a thing
    about candidate Obama and his muslim beliefs. They are apparantly not
    able to report to the American people about how much of their money this
    president has blown since taking office, and how much of our national debt
    is his and his alone. Useless.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Andrew

      Sure ;Moron how about Bush 8 Years OF WHATTTTTT WARSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS

      July 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Kelly

      Because he's not Moslem, nudnik. Remember? The repugs assailed him for being a member of Rev. Wright's church. Read much?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Warren

      Bush was initiating financial bailouts for the auto and investment banking industries before he left office. The fallout of the American economy was certain to follow.
      Republicants will say the problems are not being addressed by Obama, which is not true, but yet repubicants are trying hard to stop any progress in order to see the President of the United States fail.
      It is sad to see the American people suffer so at hands of politics.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  5. watman

    I am tired of the left spewing there crap. its time to lower owerselfs to there level and stick it where the sun dosent ever shine!

    July 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • DAT67


      July 15, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Kelly

      Wow. You sound SOOOOO intelligent.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Warren

      Exactly how a terrorist would probably respond.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:49 am |
  6. Code

    Funny. Never could think of her as a sincere church person. If we did elect her to something, she would just do a Palin and quit.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  7. LolaS

    More and more we're seeing how religion is filled with more hypocrisy and hate than any other organization.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • TNT

      I agree, just look at Odummy.....

      July 15, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Andrew

      Shi45445 a christian.?She is nothing besides representing the dumb as4545es of this country.She is the
      domes person I ever seeing.Represents all the ignorant and narrow minded American's that can
      not differentiate Shi56565 between a good candidate and one with brains.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  8. FU

    She should leave politics too...

    July 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Mindie in Indie

      she should just leave

      July 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • number_one

      wow, lot's of real intelligent responses here...

      July 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  9. Heather

    As someone who grew up in the WELS Lutheran Synod, they have some very ODD beliefs. For example: you are not to pray with people of other denominations, not even other Lutherans from different synods. It's run almost like a cult.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      When I was a kid, scout troops would sometimes have prayers (I don't know if they still do).

      When I tell people that I wasn't allowed to be a Boy Scout because of my religious beliefs, I get some really funny looks.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Mindie in Indie

      the fact that she had to ask permission to be released from membership does seem something like a cult – less gov't must mean big churches

      July 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  10. jim atmadison

    My sister left WELS and joined a Missouri Synod church when she moved out of state. She forgot to ask for a release from WELS, so after a couple years, they excommunicated her, without ever notifying her (or my mom, who was still attending the church) what they were planning.

    WELS believes that they hold the keys to heaven (Matthew 16:19 "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven"), so they believed that they were excluding my sister from heaven for her lack of courtesy. They're a nasty bunch.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
  11. Northlander

    Bachmann loves God, family and America. No wonder democrats hate her!

    July 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • bustrbobby

      Of course, Bachman's God, family and America have no room for gays. THAT'S why people hate her.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Todd

      Bachman loves God (her version of it – forget Allah, Zeus, Budda, Jews, pagans, etc)
      Bachman loves family (as long as you are white, christian, hetero, wealthy)
      Bachman loves America (as long as you are wealthy and don't mind the government being in your bedroom)

      You aren't too bright, are you? Graduate high school yet?

      July 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Atheist


      July 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • LolaS

      No. Bachmann only loves the god she wants to love, a family that only fits her definition of the word and an America where she can exclude those she doesn't like. That's exactly the kind of leader we DON'T need nor want.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Betty Mae

      Bachmann is God's choice for president! Open your hearts to him as she has and let him guide you in your life too!

      July 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Jay

      LOL, yeah. That and the fact that she's a lunatic who thinks it's a "scare tactic" to point out that Medicare and SS might lose funding if the US defaults on it's debt. Do you see nothing dangerous about a presidential candidate who thinks that magical f'n leprechauns pay for government services?

      July 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Todd

      Yo, Betty, please show us the transcript of God endorsing Bachmann. We'd all love to see it.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Kelly

      Bachmann dares to claim that she knows God, and knows who God would exclude from his grace. This is ignorant hubris. She's a delusional, self-aggrandizing loser.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  12. Chris

    I can't vote for someone who always looks las if they are going to chew someone's arm off

    July 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  13. Doug Ericson

    Michelle is on the Donald Trump clock now. It didn't take much vetting to get her out of the picture. Doug.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  14. Laika

    Can't let one's faith and church affiliation interfere with political ambition. LOL

    July 15, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • stevie weevie

      They don't get it. It's hopeless.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  15. Anarchist

    the difference between atheists and religious people is that an atheist doesn't care if your religious while a religious person goes nuts when they hear someone is atheist....only time an athiest gets annoyed with religious people is when they try to make us live by their religion's rules and preferences....i don't care to get into your heaven so i will not follow the rules of your church, i will use my own head and live by what i know is right or wrong, i don't need a guy in a robe to do that for me

    July 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
    • larry hooks

      Time if your right in your arrogance. Its like poker if you win you win and if you lose you lose...good luck! STUPID

      July 15, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • Atheist

      Religion is for someone who is missing something in their life and needs to feel part of something bigger.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  16. larry hooks

    I'm pesonally disappointed in her. Anyone who walks away from her faith and makes a public decree she is not a member anywhere. The position is temporary, but ones faith is a way of life.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm |
  17. Danny


    July 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      You betcha Michelle, "strenghenening" is VERY critical.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  18. AMANDA


    July 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  19. Hmmm


    July 15, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  20. Julie

    As a Christian Midwesterner – who spent her childhood and did undergrad work in Minnesota no less – I am familiar with the churchgoing habits and Gonso Religious practices common to the region. I can tell you EXACTLY what's going on with this stupid woman and her church thing.
    What it is, is that no church is Holy enough for her. She knows best. She knows it all. She will never be happy in any church unless it's one she is the leader of herself. The Church Of Michelle. You see it ALL THE TIME in the middle regions of the US. Cowboy relligion, practiced by people who can't get along with anyone else, who can't tolerate a single mildly opposing POV, people who are arrogant, filled with love of their own righteousness. People who pay alot of lip service to fellowship, but who can turn on you like snakes and throe anyone under the bus who they deem incorrect or a tad too prone to speak the truth.
    I know them well. Bachman is screamingly inappropriate to be even considered as a national leader unless you want some kind of ayatollah or particularly embittered old nun with a particularly hard and splintery ruler.
    Don't let that nicy-nice facade she puts out fool you. She is NOT a nice person – it's all for show.

    July 15, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
    • Missy

      And you're so nice, and above reproach....

      July 15, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
    • Brian

      Great comment!

      July 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Joel Weymouth

      I see, only liberals can "judge". What a hypocrite you are.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
    • Donato

      Wow, Julie. I am so grateful that someone who knows Ms. Bachman intimately has revealed the truth for all the world. How can we thank you enough for your courage of betraying her?

      What's that? You don't know her? Not at all? You're just blabbering with no basis in fact and just to hear yourself type?

      Thought so. Just another inane rant from someone who knows nothing about anything...


      July 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Fog

      There are a lot of angry (and apparently very threatened) liberals here on the CNN blog. Suprised? Not a bit.

      July 15, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Bobby Jo

      If you had added 'former' to the Midwestern Christian part, your comment wouldn't look like the hypocritical back-biting attack that it is. ..just saying..

      July 15, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Patrick

      Just like Walter Mondale!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:44 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.