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. TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

    Atheism; the fastest growing ..er .."(non)religious".. group in America!! Yay!!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • milnera

      That's actually not true. Religion is more popular than it ever was in the 20th century. A harvard prof wrote a paper on it I can't remember who. The religious right would like you to think theres a war on religion.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
    • SnowVeil

      @TheFacts-, the reason America is going down.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • mirroriago

      You're confusing "Atheism" with "Apathy".

      July 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

      "Na na na na na" "I can't hearrrr youuuu" (fingers in ears)

      Sound and feel familiar?? LMAO!

      Gimme the facts and just the facts, or p i s s off.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
  2. Drew

    And we should care about this because...?

    July 15, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
    • TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

      She's a crazy pseudo-religious "M.I.L.F." who's actually in Congress!! and she's spouting ridiculous B.S. while running for president of the United States of America..!! I'm surprised it doesn't make the news when she passes gas!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  3. etangboy50

    She's a blowhard and a nutcase; however, I do not fault her on this one. Candidates' church-going habits / denomination affiliation is none of our business. I did not give a hoot about the Obama-Rev Wright issue nor does this issue matter to me. In fact, I'd hate for people fault me for the hypocrites/mental midgets affiliated with churches I have attended over the years. Even the insanity spewing forth from her husband's pie hole means zero to me. This woman has such a whacky track record that we'll all watch her flame out prior to Super Tuesday (if that). She's going to self destruct - we need not even help her.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  4. andrew

    I'll say it again: These people are "Political Christians". They're the ones Jesus chastised and came down on the hardest. He called them "lukewarm" and insincere. Political Christians were prevalent when Jesus was alive and as you can see, they're just as prevalent today. They "pick and choose" from Christ' teachings as to what they'll stand for, based on political party beliefs rather than Jesus Christ's teachings.
    Jesus was a pacifist; a kind and poor man who adored the little people and he called for the first "safety net" ever for the poor and sick and needy. He condemmed the ones who'd kick the poor away and see them die. He condemmed the "stingy" among us. He NEVER ordered a certain "church with rules" and in fact he condemmed such manly creations as pure evil.
    Political Christians aren't heaven bound – not according to Jesus Christ, they're the worst of the ones headed the other way – straight to hell.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • maxhedroom

      Amen brother.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  5. Teddybear

    Hey, thanks for the endorsements! I'm a life-long WELS member and quite happy with my beliefs. Obviously, the Bachmans no longer agreed with their church, so they left. End of story. But I appreciate how the media is pouncing on our 'conservative Christian beliefs'. Now others who are seeking a Bible based church will know where to find us!!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Bibile Based, hmmm?

      The Wiscosin Synod wrote the bible, hmmm? I thought it was the Catholics. You know, then that guy Martin Luther showed up and did his thing. At least that's what they taught me at my WELS high school. And then they taught us those same Catholics were going to hell. I can't stand Michelle, but I have no respect for the WELS church.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
    • And then I spell Bible wrong.. oops!

      The WELS school actually did teach me to be a good speller. My fault.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
    • frank

      You spelled "Wisconsin" wrong, too...

      July 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
  6. maxhedroom

    She's just another charlatan, using religion as a means to manipulate. I guess as a presidential she needs a more high powered church? These phonies change churches like I buy and sell cars.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  7. frank

    Bachmann is pregnant with Juan Williams's baby. True story!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  8. James


    July 15, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  9. Bubba10

    She left her church? What, they didn't hate gays enough for her and her girlfriend, err, I mean husband?

    July 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Yeah, right.

      This is funny considering the "church" Obama and his family went to for many years. Once again, the lame stream media proves its bias. An article this long on Michele Bachman resigning her membership from a church she has not been active in for a few years while Obama received no press for attending the racist, hate-filled congregation that helped to mold him. Boring.....this is not news.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  10. Federalist

    Well, as a Lutheran, I don't blame her for leaving the WELS, but the fact of the matter is, Lutherans (most of the theologically conservative and some of the EALC) believe that the pope, as Martin Luther had stated multiple times, is the Antichrist. Does this mean that people look at Lutherans as hatemongers, no. Most people don't look badly at the Roman Catholic Church, even though its history is marred with death, destruction, and hate.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Jim Bob

      Well, as a Baptist I can tell you that Martin Luther had it wrong. And Lutherans, as well as Catholics, are hate-mongers.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Joe Smith Jr

      Well, as a Mormon I can tell you both that you're both wrong and I urge you to vote for Mitt!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • Mr Kazoo!

      Well, as a super-intelligent alien from another galaxy, I can tell you all that all your silly religions are wrong! And I urge you to watch the Flintstones! and vote for Joe Rockhead!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Seth

      Well as someone who strives to seek and follow Christ, I can tell you that debates like these are completely fruitless, and theological arrogance is something to be repented of. It's just further proof that we all need Christ.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  11. shel

    Repent America!!Repent and turn back to God!!Believe the Gospel and Repent!!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • Joseph Bleau

      Which "god"? And which "gospel"?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • asrael

      How about a belief in the space bar...?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  12. Andrew

    The Reputards should all check themselves at Bachmann Clinic.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Seth


      July 15, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • maxhedroom

      The Bachmann clinic is trying to turn Rep Larry Craig straight, but he wont come out of the men's room.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  13. Andrew

    Please open a clinic for mentally disturb people like you.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  14. shel

    Oh ,the times they are a changin'

    July 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  15. American Veteran

    How in the world did the word "liberal" ever become something any American citizen could come to despise?!!
    All of you so-called 'patriotic' 'conservative' REPUBTARDS are nothing but pathetic ignoramuses and undeserving of any Liberty!
    Are you all financially-fit millionaires??? Or just so filled with ignorance, hate, and bigotry that you can't see your enemy standing right in front of you??!!!! Wake Up People!!!! "Liberal Democrats" are NOT your enemy!!

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

      Liberal is a curse word because its liberals who have routinely accused conservatives of having secret plots to blow up the world.
      Liberal is a term of abuse because every time we the people oppose the mad schemes of this blundering idiot masquerading as a President, "liberals" say its because we are "racists"
      Liberal is something no decent person wants to be because "liberal" Presidents say that if we don't keep spending TRILLIONS of dollars we don't have, senior citizens will be eating dog food while living in the gutter... as if!
      Liberal is a filth word because it means that when a law like the "born alive act" comes up for a vote, liberals like the TelePrompter in Chief vote against it. "Born alive" means if a child survives an abortion, we give that child medical attention. Obama voted AGAINST that because he is a "liberal", which means he is a heartless vampire

      you must be a "veteran" of the loony bin

      July 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • Grayrider

      The term liberal has been hijacked by the left and the leviathan government believers. A real liberal is a libertarian. The left and what they believe are the enemy of all who cherish freedom and liberty

      July 15, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • asrael

      Aw, c'mon Pablo, don't hold it in: tell us how you really feel...

      July 15, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  16. Maire

    Should we be expecting a crazy pastor scandal a la Jeremiah Wright to be surfacing soon?

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

      My sister's friend's boyfriend told my dad he heard from someone who knows their pastor and that person said the pastor and Ms Bachman were having an affair! But, you didn't hear this from me!!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  17. frank

    She hails from the smoking slag-heaps of Mordor! She hates gays and hobbits! Her reptilian scales are impervious to a normal sword! You must use elven blades on this lizard bitch!!

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

      oh please frank, you're just jealous because whether its a wrestling match, a chess game or a sword fight, Bachman would whip your pathetic a$$. Run home Frankie, yo momma has your pb and j ready for you

      July 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  18. John


    July 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  19. SacredHonor

    Go Michelle! You are smarter than that "historic" disaster we have now! Go show the idiot Left you're not gonna back down. Annoy the media!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  20. Flippy

    The liberal MSM smear machine is gearing up to try to dig up some "dirt", any "dirt" on Bachman. We've seen it all before. It wont work here, because there is no story. Even though this makes the MSM look like the id1iots they are, they still do it, as if the public hasn't figured the little game out by now. Hint: that's why no one watches the news anymore or buys newspapers.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • SillyFlippyTricksR4GOP

      Flippy, are you suggesting that the MSM (your term) is Swift Boating here? My goodness, where could they have learned that trick?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:17 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.