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. Billybob

    she is just evil

    July 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • will i am

      You people on CNN are losers, trash, if obama is reelected he will destory you. Pack of losers.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • JW

      Very Christ-like, "will I am". Thanks for your blessings.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  2. LD

    Guess some missed that she had not been attending for 2 years.........maybe it time to pull her name off the list and stop wasting money on church mail.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  3. SkyKing

    3/8 of Americans are 'minority', and therefore Obama's African heritage is not an issue with them.
    3/8 of Americans are opposed to Obama and wouldn't support him for any reason. Lots of reasons, most of which are covers for simple racism.
    That leaves 2/8 in the middle, most of whom will decide on the issues, and many like Obama. 7 candidates debated, of which Bachman was one, and all bashed Obama, the candidate many whose votes they would need like. Telling them 'you're wrong' isn't going to get their vote. A successful Republican challenger to Obama will therefore not be one of those seven, and will not be one who bashes the President of the United States, no matter who he or she is.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
  4. SkyKing

    Wouldn't want to be accountable to living and behaving as Jesus teaches us, now, would we?

    July 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  5. Chris

    She has so many negatives one can scarcely count them. She can't possibly be elected. Almost every minority group can find something about her that is offensive.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
  6. Reality

    The status of the "Reformation":-------------------

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals, fleeing politicians and atonement theology,

    July 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • AWMessenger

      @Reality, it has nothing to do with religion. It has to do with a relationship. All intellect will buy a ticket straight somewhere ...

      July 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  7. Minnesota

    The Minnesota Star Tribune? No such newspaper.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Erin

      Actually there is. A simple Google search proved it. Try again.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  8. Mike

    Where was CNN reporting when Obama's preacher was making his racist rants in his church?

    July 15, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
    • Minnesota

      Where was CNN when Obama's preacher was making comments? Reporting on them. Of course. Why do you ask?

      July 15, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
    • Meki60

      they ignored it, just like they have done for the entire BO presidency

      July 15, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • Brian

      Right! NOBODY reported on Wright. Nobody has ever heard of Wright unless they watch fox news. The liberal media only exists to protect Obama!

      Right wing loonies!

      July 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • Erin

      Actually, where were YOU when the news was all over it? He left his church just as Michele did.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
    • Jay

      they were on it like white on rice

      July 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm |
  9. Louis Emery

    Going to church seems like a lot of hassle - one has to declare membership and then send notification when you go to another church? Sounds like marriage. I gained my freedom when I became an atheist. I can do whatever I want on Sunday morning. The last thing I'd like to do on Sunday morning is listen to some guy yapping about how I owe my happiness to some imaginary being.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
    • Minnesota

      Then that's good for you. But your comment shows that you don't know much about churches. For instance, membership isn't required for most denominations. Withdrawing from membership is a formality that most folks wouldn't bother with. But you wouldn't know that. Although you felt informed enough to comment.

      I really do understand and respect your right to be an atheist. What I really don't understand is this need you seem to have to evangelize your atheism. Don't make atheism into an alternate religion. Relax. Chill. Enjoy your Sunday paper with a nice cup of coffee. And don't think or worry about what other folks are doing with their Sunday morning. Your paper and coffee are none of our business. Our Sunday services are none of yours, apparently. Live and let live, y'know?

      July 15, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Katie

      Where's my post??

      July 15, 2011 at 11:18 pm |
    • tom

      Most atheists seem to believe that they are intellectually superior to people who believe in a personal creator. However, that isn't always the case. The arguments for the existence of God have never been refuted (go ahead and try). I think if you are intellectually honest, you will acknowledge that you have chosen not to submit yourself to the authority of God, by denying his existence (with no solid support for your belief). So, please keep your opinions about other people's beliefs to yourself.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  10. Inspector Cluseau

    re the photo at top of the article

    "Marcus TOLD me it was THIS big."

    July 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  11. ruemorgue

    She's now an Orthodox Druid and has submitted her cherry for virgin sacrifice.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
    • tom

      Very classy ruemorgue

      July 15, 2011 at 11:29 pm |
  12. Dr. Bombay

    Well, soon they'll be pulling presidential candidates off of bar stools. God, save us all.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • LD

      Already have, that is where they found Joe B......

      July 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • tom

      Best comment yet, thank you for the laugh...and probably the correct assessment 😉

      July 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  13. james

    Hey, if you live in DC, you've got to be non-denominational to appease the Jews, muslims, and all the other religious groups. Call it selling out but at least she's realistic.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
  14. Mary Ann

    The Bachmann family can join their friends,the Palins church.They can sit and talk in tongues,doesn't get much stranger.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  15. bad froggy

    What's funny is the pastor's name mean arrogance in German. Sounds like a perfect church for Ms Bachmann.

    July 15, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
    • tom

      Joel Hochmuth is not the pastor, he's the director of communications, according to the article. The pastor's name is Birkholz.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
    • Minnesota

      Awwww. Dude, you ruined the joke.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • tom

      Birch wood is not much better though 🙂

      July 15, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  16. Bleau Mee

    Comedy writers should read all these comments! Lots of inspirational material here!! Hoo Boyyyy!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  17. SnowVeil

    I'm glad for this Lutheran church. White Lutherans should repent of endorsing Sodomy. I didn't care about the Catholic Church until some dying Protestant mainline churches started endorsing perversion as norm – the worst contradictory act againt the Reformation. Martin Luther must be crying in Heaven!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Minnesota

      Wisconsin Synod is hardly "mainline Protestant". It's a bunch of crazies. For example many of them condemn dancing and non-religious music. The real Lutherans are the ELCA – 5th largest Christian denomination in the US. Who, BTW, have voted to allow practicing gay clergy.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • OvernOut

      I said this in a previous post also, but the hymn "Amazing Grace" was viewed as heathen "pop" music by my dad's WELS church. They were ok with "A Mighty Fortress", because it is attributed to Martin Luther.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
  18. mick432

    This woman is hilarious! Keep it up. Great material. She needs to tour the country with this act!

    July 15, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
    • ohmygod50

      She is so embarrassing to American women......what a moron.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  19. IQuestionAll

    Why does Barry O get to leave his "church" and you libs applaud, but this Lady does the same thing, and you lib hate-mongers come out in force. Hypocrites. I don't think she's POTUS material, but to be derided by you 'progressive' tolerant-for-only-yourselves hypocrites is irrational and mean-spirited. You should be ashamed of yourselves, if you could know shame. (Let's see the Intelligent and inspired responses this message gets...)

    July 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

      Who is "Barry O"??

      Hate much?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:38 pm |
    • TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

      Have you any inkling of what the term "Liberal" stands for? In reality, not delusional christian-brainwashed-La La Land??

      July 15, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Bleau Mee

      IQuestionAll, I couldn't understand what your comment said because of all the vile ignorant hate you have piled on throughout it! Could you please remove those parts and try it again? Thank You!!

      (Nice comebacks Mr. "Facts"!)

      July 15, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • StarShooter7

      Bummer O = Body Odor = Barry O = Baby O = Butt O = Burnt O = Belch O = Blubber O = Buffoon O = Bozo O. OOOhhhh...

      July 15, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • Bleau Mee

      Thanks StarShooter7! Now I Get It!!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
    • Notsureaboutthisplace

      Because if you say anything negative about Obama, you are a racist, and if you say anything negative about a republican you are for America. If you say anthing negative about the democrates, you are a teabagger. I am a life long democrate who did not vote for Obama. I did a write in. I will most likely do it again for the next election. I don't think anyone of the nominees are capable of helping america get back on the right track.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • asrael

      Lots of ranting, not very much message...

      July 15, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
    • mendrys

      Applaud? I did no such thing. He did it for political reasons just as Bachman did and I don't hold that against her. My opinoins are based on what she has said and what she stands for, not on where she she chooses to go church.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Minnesota

      Barry O? Haters gotta hate.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  20. gbL420

    who cares?

    July 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

      I care. Everyone should care. Why don't you?

      July 15, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
    • Bleau Mee

      I Care Too!!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm |
    • BroNate

      Agreed, a person's faith is a private matter.

      July 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • TheFactsAndJustTheFacts

      Until it affects others Bro!

      July 15, 2011 at 10:57 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.