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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. Allen

    Michelle Backmann, The scariest candidate since poltergeist... oh wait , wrong monster...

    July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • nate.paris

      or ODUMBO. your an idiot.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      Yeah you ment Nixon huh.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • FSM4LIFE

      nate.paris,

      Irony = calling someone an idiot when you don't know the difference between "your" and "you're."

      July 15, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  2. jpegger

    @zach and RalphT... Really? LOL Total Idiots. If you think this is a non issue, than I beg you to please not vote... You don't have the critical thinking skills required to make a decision.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  3. MTATL67

    Is this the same church and Pastor that she had campaigning for her to get around Minnesota’s law against using pulpits for campaigning?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • itbbad

      Their children are busy using the i,phone mom gave to take pictures of their genitals and send them to friends. They watch south,park so they know the truth. heck is attractive, h eaven is boring

      July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  4. Litterboxrox

    I hope she heard the sermon about hypocrisy before she left.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  5. Jesus H. Christ

    I love Religious FREAKS! Their education (or lack of) always gives me something to laugh at !

    July 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • John

      That's fine because those of us who are religious are laughing at you........

      July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Michael

      And you were educated where?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      I do hope that CNN has someone to monitor these screen names. Yours is the epitome of offensive.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  6. mike2

    Haaahahaha it's so funny to see CNN and all the idiot Libs here commenting on a candidate that they know nothing about. If a candidate threatens to win against Obama the media will character assasinate them immediately. Sore losers. I'm so proud that I am not one of you 🙂

    July 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Jesus H. Christ

      Im guessing you work for FOX?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Laughing at you!

      Im glad your not one of us either. Butt nugget`

      July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • mike2

      yup. i work for fox and i'm also a racist nazi. there ya go libs, i saved you a few replies.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • AC

      What sort of fantasy land does one have to move to to believe that Bachman can defeat Obama?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • mike2

      anyone can beat Obama, but beating the new world order elites who put him in office is the TRICKY part <3

      July 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • MTATL67

      Character assassination what guff it's more like self-assassination......The current Republican candidates and Republican leadership in Congress could teach a college course on character assassination and how to lie out-right and then try to convince people it is the truth. The only Republican candidate that has any true character and decency is Mr. Huntsman

      July 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • alphamale

      yup we all know your are not normal like everyone else.. so you are a RETARD :0)

      July 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • John

      "Butt nugget?" It never ceases to amaze me how the left considers themselves to be so well educated and sophisticated yet throws elementary school insults around in a feeble attempt to debate.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • someGuy

      Hahaha it's so funny how conservs act like libs are misinformed about things. The media doesn't have to do anything to attack bachmann. Parading around that declaration to 'protect' marriage is enough for me. She's someone who claims to be about small government and less gov involvement, she also claims to want to be all about reducing gov spending. Yet she turns around and wants to slap a bunch of laws in place based on her personal religious beliefs. She's a fascist, she thinks her beliefs are so righteous that she wants to force everyone else to live by them.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Samuel

      AC There is a feminist agenda here. The next president will be a woman. The vice president will also be a woman.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Not high on either list

      Hate to inform you, but Bachmann's not real high on the Republican list either. She will not get past the primaries. The liberals don't care about her ... she's entertainment for us. For serious Republican's, she's a threat and a real thorn in the side. Her and Failin Palin are nothing more than PITA's to Republicans and Moderate Rights.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  7. Nonimus

    Perhaps she just couldn't make it to a Minn. church regularly since she's been in Washington D.C for the last few years.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  8. Johnny

    JESUS, PROTECT US FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS!!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      It isn't Jesus' followers that you have to worry about. I have one of the original copies of News Weeks 911 " special edition" magazines. In large letters on the front cover are the words "God Bless America". Well, a few years have passed and the scare has left, the so-called "911 Christians" have gone back and all media, including News Week and the left as well have forgot their fear of God. Sooner or later they will find that they still need "HIM". God Bless America!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Rolly McGuire

      You know that the drive to end slavery in the U.S. and the U.K. was led by Christians, right? Without the followers of Jesus we might still have slavery. We would at least have not outlawed it for much much longer. Please let go of your hate and cure your ignorance.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
    • jean2009

      @Rolly Southern Christians were just as adamant about keeping slaves as the northern Christians were for eliminating the practice...so that argument alone doesn't hold water. The Anti-Slavery movement was lead by Abolitionist many of whom were Christians, but there is even more history to the movement than that.
      I would suggest reading:
      "Amazing Grace:Whitewashing the History of Abolition by Brian Concannon at afgen.com /abolition_whitewash

      July 16, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  9. kelley

    She makes me sick.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • John

      Thanks for your insightful comment. I'll bet you voted for Obama...am I right??

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  10. DanW

    I don't get it. "The church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership..." So if the church council decided to not grant the request, the Bachmanns would have to remain members for life, never free to join another church or choose a different religion? LOL! What kind of power do the council members think they have over their parishioners?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • itbbad

      Power of the wives and children, especially boys because they don't get preggy

      July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Nora

      Exactly, it sounds like she's still under their thumb if she still defines the situation in their terms.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  11. tillzen

    God is dead and Jebus too not from Christianity's many enemies but from within. God created man in one form or another. Perhaps CREATORS vs. one creator but it makes no difference except that MAN did not create EARTH or LIFE. It was given to us and to take this gift and return it humanized is almost as laughable as humanity itself. Bachman is just the latest liar to claim to speak for god.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • cornell

      So true. Her kids are probably viewing farm por n right now on their iphone. What a JOKE on humanity. My favorite part is the continued focus on the Jews....did you know there is only about 80 million Jews in the world, mostly poor?

      July 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Rolly McGuire

      Do you have some issue that doesn't allow you to say Jesus? Do you know the correct spelling?

      July 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  12. Dave Dawkins

    Now if only she'd announce her withdrawal from the race for the White House. She'd guarantee another Obama victory.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • tillzen

      DD you are not cut out for deep thinking but funny nonetheless. Obama wins no matter who you lipstick.
      It is simple, you have zero ideas except for nostalgia for slavery days when women were quiet and white men were not impotent.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  13. Lenore Anderson

    Who cares? Yawn!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  14. DA

    Hummm...it seems she and the family have been going to the church in over two years!! WOW, so I wonder how all the Christian conservatives feel about that bit of information. LOL!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • CRAZYGIRL

      YOU MEAN HAVE NOT BEEN.....

      July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  15. Giant1

    What a relief to be an athiest... Don't have to deal with any of this s#@t.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  16. Bucky Ball

    Michele Bachmann officially leaves her church.
    -- Now we just need her to officially leave the country.
    -- Before she does I would still like to know why she told Anderson Cooper that Obama's India trip was costing $200,000,000 per day, (oh yeah, she IS a tax lawyer), and why she thinks she knows more than Tim Geithner about a
    potential Federal failure to raise the debt ceiling.
    -- This woman is VERY dangerous.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • RICKFROMPA

      Tax Lawyer ? One who did not have any clients, she simply worked several years for the IRS (a big government job) collecting unpaid taxes !

      July 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Samuel

      She needs a serious sit down with Angela Merkel about which woman will rule the world.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Rocky

      Bucky? What about a Candidate who said there are 57 states or a candidate who doesn't differentiate between illegal immigrants and immigrants or a guy who thinks you spend your way out of debt? How's the reception in that double wide. Watch, read, listen. Get off MSNBC NPR and whatever other lib stations are left out there.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • jean2009

      She was a tax collection attorney for the IRS .... in other words, she was the Repo Woman.

      Read:" Michelle Bachmann's Holy War" at rollingstone com politics.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  17. peacedog

    st michele can now convert all the gays on her own.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  18. RICKFROMPA

    OMG, a Right Wing Evangelical Athiest ! I wonder what is next !

    July 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  19. David M

    Why is this news? I'm a Christian, but I really don't care what her church affiliation is. I care about her politics.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @David M

      You said: "I'm a Christian, but I really don't care what her church affiliation is. I care about her politics."

      What a person's beliefs are (and different denominations of Christianity are different) can shine a light on their politics.

      Cheers!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • jpegger

      Well, her "politics" are based on her religious beliefs, LOL. I care. she is a nut case. Her and Shirley Phelps are the same person.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      Amen, brother. I still think this lady has a "fighting chance" God Bess the USA!

      July 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Rolly McGuire

      Are you people admitting that you can't be Christian and liberal? I am glad you are admitting it.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Samuel

      All denominations lead to Rome.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  20. Lee

    Wow! All of you are such geniuses! I love reading such thoughtful opinion. Keep it up but please don't vote or procreate!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • John

      Amen Lee, Amen!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Samuel

      Don't worry we have deposits in the sperm banks.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • Timetothink

      Lee – you just joined the ranks. Please follow your own advice.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:40 am |
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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.