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. ralph

    So what, obama's church is anti-white and anti-american. The media couldn't less about that.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • Pastafarian

      where were you? living under a rock? the media had a field day with that BS – especially Faux News. Get a clue.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      And Palin's husband belonged (or still belongs) to a secessionist group. That is, they want Alaska to SECEDE from the United States! Whatever happened to that??? And yes, this is also irrelevant to the story on this page. =P

      July 16, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • Dover

      God you right wing nuts are both crybabies and liars.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  2. whoa!

    What?!? Bachmann doesn't go to church?!?

    July 16, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  3. Ronald Raygun

    was the church going to hunt them down and kill them for not going there anymore? as soon as i read the headline i was like i bet her preacher is crazier than obamas old preacher. it took her 10 years to figure that out? shes wiley coyote in sheeps clothing. shes not fooling anybody

    July 16, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  4. Salty Bob

    Nothing But seething hate for Michele Bachmann.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • JW

      Seething hate doesn't help. We need understanding. Doesn't mean you have to vote for her or approve of her ignorant actions. But hate–we have enough of that already in this world. Let's step back and try to build bridges, not destroy them. Men can rise above such ignorance, we have the capability.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  5. steve

    she would sell her soul for a vote!

    July 16, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Rufus

      Just like Obama did!

      July 16, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • JW

      They even brought a neon sign: "Jesus is coming"
      Brought the white man's burden down
      Brought the white man's reign

      July 16, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • JW

      We satisfy our endless needs and
      justify our bloody deeds,
      in the name of destiny and the name of God

      July 16, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • JW

      And you can see them there,
      On Sunday morning
      They stand up and sing about
      what it's like up there

      July 16, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • JW

      They call it paradise
      I don't know why
      You call someplace paradise,
      kiss it goodbye

      July 16, 2011 at 12:40 am |
    • JW

      She heard about a place people were smilin'
      They spoke about the red man's way,
      and how they loved the land
      And they came from everywhere
      to the Great Divide
      Seeking a place to stand
      or a place to hide

      July 16, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  6. FritzfromPa

    Well, when she puts herself out there calling others sinners and asking others to sign pledges that are blasphemy and racist and calling Mormons everything but human, this is what happens. You trash others and you get trashed right back. Hypocrisy like Bachmann's and her positively gay husband and the filthy lying she spouts about President Obama speaks more about her irreligiousness than her attempts to portray herself as righteous. Righteous people do not smear a good and decent man to get themselves elected to office. That is unless you are like Bachmann and really have not qualifications and are just as poorly educated about your own country's history.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • John H.

      Thank you Fritz! You have spoken the truth. While Bachmann and the evangelical pastors who support her have been trashing Mormons to preserve their own financial self-interest, the principle of restoration is taking place. The idea that what goes around comes around is just another means of restoration; that is: restoring the same things back to you that you give to others.

      Beware of what you dish out to others; it may be restored to you sooner than you could ever imagine.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  7. liberal christian

    Hey, Christian Conservatives!

    Jesus was Liberal!

    July 16, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • JW

      Don't try to explain that to them, they'll just get upset. Let the blind remain blind, and they will lead themselves into the pit.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Liberal is a relative term .. relative to Roman dictatorship J**ish orthodoxy yes he was a liberal. He did not take drugs (he says so) and he did not engage in licentiousness (as leftist liberals do). He did not allow himself to be controlled by political theories, economic theories, radical philosophies or alternative faiths. He fulfilled conservative prophecies. He lived a straight life. He respected women and was kind to them. He warned others to lead a good life and avoid licentious behavior. To the extent that He favored faith, hope and brotherly love we do too and WE donate (we put our money where our mouth is). We pledge to hospitals, universities, prep schools. We support study and scholarship. We support league sports, music, the arts, literature, entrepreneurial spirit (all things with leftist liberal despise)

      July 16, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • JW

      That is kind of a skewed view of what Christ taught, don't you think? What about turning the other cheek, condemnation for the Pharisees (many of whom exist today), loving your enemies (because they act out of ignorance), and not speaking evil of your brother? What about forsaking worldly wealth and power and greed and seeking riches in the next life? Ahhhh, we see a problem here, not wanting to give up the things of this world for faith in things to come . . . harsh reality to grasp I am sure. You see, but you are blind, filthy, wretched, poor.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Chuck

      Yes... conservatives are well known for their love and support of the arts...

      What fairy tale world are you living in?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • caeser

      The founding fathers were also liberals, hell even Santa's a liberal.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • JW

      Yes, yet it is a "bad word" amongs some groups. So shhhhh. Or they'll start stoning you as God commands.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Tony

      @"liberal christian": Yeah, Jesus supported abortions, didn't you know what?

      What a stupid thing to say. *LOL* Here's some advice: think before you speak next time.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • JW

      Jesus was silent on abortions for some reason . . . didn't get his followers all upset over them . . . didn't use them to gain political powe and control . . . perhaps because focusing on them misses the point of his message . . . hmmmmmm; maybe calling someone else stupid, or their thoughts stupid, is equivalent to calling him a fool, and puts you in danger of hell fire?

      July 16, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  8. Enuffisenuff

    Doesn't change a thing ... she's a pathetic excuse for a leader regardless of what church she belongs to. She's saving the church from embarrassment.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • will i am

      You are a loser. No insight. You are trash.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • JW

      Look, an obvious Christian who is upset at you, calling you a loser. Very Christ-like. Amen.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:11 am |

    The WELS stance on the Papacy is biblically correct. There is NO biblical foundation for the Papacy, for Maryidolitry, for meatless Fridays, for the Roman Catholic incorrect interpretation and celebration of the Eucharist (bread only), for purgatory, for good works being a requirement for entry into Heaven, the confessional, and on and on and on. That is why we feel the Pope is a symbol of the anti-Christ. His false teachings continue to bog down the Roman Catholic religion in mistaken beliefs. Jesus said " I am the way and the truth and the light...no one comes to the Father but by me"....he didn't say to talk to his mother.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • JW

      Jesus also said to love your enemies, forsake earthly power and the power of the sword to push his agenda, and turn the other cheek. But not one modern Christian is willing to do those.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • JW

      OH, and the hardest one of all for you–forsake the wealth of this world. Find a Republican Christian that believes that one!!

      July 16, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Alex

      Many things that Lutherans believe have no biblical foundations. Nicean creed, child baptism etc.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • JW

      And I suppose, Alex, that your religion is perfect and has perfect understanding of all things. You swat at gnats, and miss the plane flying right at you . . .

      July 16, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • Papa Pat

      That's "I am the way, the truth and the LIFE." Not "light". At least get the quotation correct.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Alex

      I am an atheist, but interested about absurdities that grownup people believe. Lutheranism rejects Mariolatry, wait a minute... ""Our prayer should include the Mother of God…... We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her… He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary." (Personal Prayer Book, 1522, Martin Luther". I guess Luther was not Lutheran.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:28 am |
    • JW

      Papa Pat, since you also swat at gnats, which version do you demand we all quote from? King James, New King James, American Standard, Thomas Jefferson version, ancient Greek, Latin? Did his "quote" (whatever that means in this context) really mess up the thought? I think not.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Ronald Raygun

      jesus said....Therefore when thou doest

      July 16, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • JW

      Beware, the leaven of the Pharisees. There are indeed many Pharisees today.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Papa Pat

      JW – if you check those (and other) sources, I think you'll find that the word is consistently translated as "Life".

      July 16, 2011 at 1:44 am |
  10. Monica

    So?...... This is some kind of relevant story? I know what it's like to have a writer's block, but this is REALLY stretching it..

    July 16, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  11. Robert

    Who cares what church they go to??????????

    July 15, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  12. Ted

    Wow, that's like almost 1% as bad as Obama's church.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  13. Susan

    Go Michelle!

    July 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • UncleM

      Go away and don't come back

      July 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • yep

      Terrific job misspelling her name. Hope you both die soon.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • JW

      yep is probably a modern Christian, wishing you dead. What a Christ-like spirit!

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

      Yep, that's not very christian. Typical Liberals 🙂

      July 16, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • JW

      flagg, your comment doesn't make much sense. Are you saying you believe only liberals are Christians?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:23 am |
  14. David Werling

    Membership in this church is evidence of anti-Catholic bigotry, and Donohue is being a hypocrite. If Jeremiah Wright had spewed anti-Catholic bigotry instead of anti-white, I seriously doubt Donohue would defend Obama in the same way he just defended Bachmann. The Bachmann's were deeply involved in this church, so they must have agreed with the anti-Catholicism, and that's the reason why the Bachmann campaign is trying to hush this up.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:44 pm |
    • akw

      I guess in your rush to spew your ignorant accusations, you missed these parts of the article:

      “they had not been attending that congregation in over two years..."
      "...Heider notes that Roman Catholics and Lutherans have close ties today."

      July 16, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • giantslor

      Wright didn't say anything anti-white.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • flagg

      Giantslor, he may have never said anything directly at white people but he despises everything white and america. HIV, AIDS, Katrina, he blamed on the "government" We know what he really meant was white people. Have no fear, he is as racist as they come.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • JW

      Racism is just a manifestation of ignorance, not a label to demonize and condemn a man. And I would bet that many a man is guilty of this ignorance from time to time.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  15. Chris

    In a country that proclaims religious freedom, the whole article is completely irrelevant. The Bachmann's can do what they want in terms of their faith. Why is voting always affected by things like religious affiliation, skin color, etc.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • tom

      The reason religion is important in politics is because many religions have tenants that want to control other Americans lives based on that religions ideas of morality and propriety. When you look at a candidate like Bachman she is doing everything in her power to impose her religious ideals on people who do not practice her religion thus it is very important. Also, as she is showing here religion is a choice but when another white man says something bigoted and stupid I can't change the color of my skin to dissociate with him.

      July 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
    • JW

      Almost, Tom. The reason pseudo-religion is important in politics is because politicians and others in power want to use it to control people and amass power for themselves. True religion isn't so self-seeking, nor is it so concerned with the material things of this life.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • RightTurnClyde

      The reason religion, skin color, orientation and such things are important to liberals is that they vote coalitions of groups. The Republicans seem not to have noticed that. The Republicans have all but ended their party now. The energy has shifted to extremes (extreme right and extreme left). These extremes will ex_acer_ate as the economic depresssion deepens in the years to come. The dollar is already evaporating and we have extreme unemployment (greater than 12% *adjusted* .. 25% to 30% in fact) and we all see families digging in dumpsters for food .. this will get worse and worse over time .. large tent cities as the second terms unfolds. .. 30,000 living in tents in Bakersfield and again in Portland

      July 16, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  16. IgnorantCNN

    CNN spins this as Bachmann "turning her back" on evangelical supporters, but in fact the non-denominational church she is now attending in the area is probably MORE evangelical than her old one. The article demonstrates (yet again) CNN's utter cluenessness about religious matters, completely ignorant that the evangelical movement as a whole doesn't consider WI Lutherans to be evangelicals, their name notwithstanding. I don't personally care for this lady, but I wish CNN would hire a couple of reporters with at least SOME knowledge of evangelicalism. They embarrass themselves every time.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
  17. Tom

    The epitome of a non-story. Is this all they have?

    July 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Enuffisenuff

      You're reading the beliefBlog. What do you expect?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  18. maria

    Mr Bachman go ahead and admit you are gay... it will come out sooner than later. Listen... people now days don't care you are who you are and God really love all.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
  19. Uthor

    Good Chr*st. Maybe she's planning on becoming Episcopalian, the faith of all GOPers and social climbers.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  20. Joe

    Classic non-story, make-a-big-deal-about-nothing trash. They hadn't attended the church in over two years and wanted to make their departure official. This is news? WOW! Must be a news drought or something.

    July 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60
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.