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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. Park

    It is so obvious that many of you are jealous of this great woman who just may be our next President. Don't know if you hate her because she is so much better looking than you or that she is so much smarter than you or maybe its that she actually has some firm beliefs against the way of life you enjoy. So get ready for it as you will have to put up with someone with morals and common sense instead of what we have now ?????? Can't wait for 2012 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 16, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • Doug

      She may be smarter than you, and that is very sad, but please don't suggest that this mindless MILF is smarter than the rest of us.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • Tracey

      Smarter than me? She wishes.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      I certainly hope Bachmann gets the nomination; it'd mean a landslide victory for Obama! Down with the Tea Party!

      July 16, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  2. groovepin

    When I grew out of the goofiness of the Christian churches I went to, I just didn't go anymore, I didn't do some weird breakup thing with the pastors or whatever the head mumbo jumbo spreaders were called. It was official, too, that I didn't ever return.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  3. jesse

    What I find odd about the article is that they said that she requested to be taken off the membership list and the church council agreed.... I'm sorry, but no church or religious house can make you stay, after all, it is valuntary. It would have been more apropriate to say that she informed them that she was leaving their church. I don't care what church you go to, but if they want you to stay and you don't, you can fully tell them to shove it.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  4. Flightsmith

    The older I get, the fewer absolute statements I make.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  5. joe cool

    she quit her church but she wont quit on you if she's elected president...yea right. she's pure evil and she has alot to hide. lies spew from her mouth like air. republicans...wow. they either rule the country r they'll RUIN it...selfishness and greed at its worst

    July 16, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • HorpelKrufkin

      She isn't hiding anything. Her idiocy is outwardly rampant.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  6. bam

    how exactly do u QUIT a church? r u declaring the priest isnt really the hand of your lord and savior jesus christ?

    July 16, 2011 at 1:37 am |
    • cyclonejill

      this woman will say and do whatever her church and husband tell her to do.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:43 am |
  7. Lenny Pincus

    Like the press is investigating any of this Army of God Christianist BS. You people obsess all day about Obama and Wright, while Bachmann, Palin, and Perry plot to turn America into a theocracy. Accuse me of anything you want, but the educated among us recognize this movement and know its adherents.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  8. kim

    Please keep this woman out of the White House.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • HorpelKrufkin

      Please keep her in the Republican running for President. Should be an entertaining failure of epic proportions beyond that of Palin.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  9. wakano

    Can she be elected if Americans find out she considers the Pope to be the antichrist!?

    July 16, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  10. Danny

    Poor Michele.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyKAbSCYG8k

    July 16, 2011 at 1:09 am |
  11. MSfromCA

    Coincidence my fanny. She didn't want to repeat Obama's mistake of being involved with a nut job church. Anti-Catholic spouting off is quite common in many evangelical denominations, but I think of that as more a Baptist thing than a Lutheran thing.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:08 am |
  12. what1ever

    The papacy is the anti-christ? I'm sorry, I guess I forgot we lived in the 15th century. Is it just me or does anyone else feel like religion in this country is a whole lot crazier than when they were growing up?

    July 16, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • MSfromCA

      I guess only the extremists are left in the pews.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:06 am |
  13. Pastafarian

    I have been touched by His Noodly Appendage. EFF Bachmann and her closeted hubby.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • JW

      FSM would not probably appreciate you calling out someone's husband as being closeted . . . not very tolerant, even if the subject is not tolerant.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • Pastafarian

      I'm extremely tolerant. The only thing I am intolerant of (besides ignorance) is hypocrisy. FSM would understand.

      Ramen, Brother.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  14. Barry

    Michelle Bachmann does whatever the tea party owners (the koch brothers) and special hard-right interest tells her to do. She is a tool and whatever group she is addressing–she admits to having the same views and values as they have. As long as it does not involve raising taxes of the wealthy–she signed the form of the Cosa Nostra group too as well.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:55 am |
    • JW

      I think she is more concerned with political power and control, and less about a particular group. She thinks she can use this group for her own personal power and agenda, or out of ignorance, but cares less about them as a group once it matters at the polls.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  15. CSM

    Likely her pastor at this church is an extremist and she doesn't want to be associated with him. Remember Obama's preacher?

    July 16, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • JW

      A Lutheran "extremist"? Do they exist? I admit my ignorance of Lutheranism, and recognize Luther himself was considered an extremist of his time, but these days is there really such a thing in Lutheranism?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  16. sdgman

    THe church must have allowed blacks to marry whites, or not condemned gay people to death.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • JW

      Or maybe their condemnation of Catholicism left her open to yet one more attack, and it would have been too painful at the polls?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  17. SnowVeil

    I noticed that bad Americans hate Texas and Fox News. Something very good must be there.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • JW

      What does it mean to be a "bad American"? He/she failed to say their pledge of undying loyalty to some political figure that day, and bow down and worship them because they claim direct communication to God?

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

      Bad is subjective!

      July 16, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • JW

      Just like "evil". We label someone "evil" so we can treat them as an outcast, a demon, less than human, and deny them the love we owe our fellow man.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:53 am |
    • Cynthia

      Wow, bad Americans....I don't know your politics, but you could be accused of the Palin (real Americans) school of nonsense speak.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  18. Daws

    Not surprised at their equating the catholic church to the antichrist, I've seen many protestants do it, might even help her numbers in some circles. Just I'm wondering if there is anything else...

    July 16, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  19. Pastafarian

    This story is ridiculous. We already know that Bachman is a hate-mongering moron who is profoundly ignorant. She thinks evolution is an unproven "theory", and that being gay is satans work and a choice! She's an idiot. We get it. So who cares if she changed from one nutbag church to another? Maybe they're trying to find a church to help pray the gay away. Anyone who supports this wingnut in any position of power is dumber than she is. I'm embarrassed to even live in the state of MN.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Rufus

      Then move! we will not miss you!

      July 16, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Barry

      "Then move! we will not miss you!" You move Rufus!! Michelle (for sure) and you (probably) were not even born in Mn. If you have the same moronic views as Michelle, I will escort you to the door.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • Pastafarian

      I don't need to move, Rufy. Bachmann will implode very soon, and be rendered irrelevant – where she belongs. She is profoundly ignorant, and dangerously stupid.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • JW

      Ignoran, I could agree with. But I don't like to go so far as to call my fellow man stupid. If they are truly stupid, it isn't something to mock in my fellow man. Ignorance, well, there are many causes. And we all have that disease in some areas.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  20. Robert

    Is the press going to investigate Obama's past membership in a marxist Black Liberation Theology church this time around? He was a member of one for about 22 years. ..................... I didn't think so.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • HotAirAce

      This article is about MB – why are you trying to deflect attention away from her?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:50 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.