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. wodun

    Why are the Democrats so obsessed with religion? From Obama, Reid, and Pelosi quoting scripture to support their political agenda to the rank and file Democrat rampant bigotry toward anyone who is religious (except for when their leaders use religion to support their politics).

    The only real question is why is CNN all of a sudden so concerned about a candidates religion?

    July 16, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • Q

      It's really not the Dems Bachmann or the GOP should be concerned about. I believe it's the Independents and moderates who really control the outcome. Should Bachmann receive the nomination, she's got a snowball's chance in you know where of appealing to these groups. On the bright side, as Palin has shown, she can look forward to an incredibly lucrative circuit for those willing to continue regurgitating right-wing talking points...

      July 16, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • Alex

      Democrats are wary of religion because religion has so often been wielded as a moralistic weapon and as a front to cover up, or distract from, nasty business.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:50 am |
    • SnowVeil

      Alex, no, Democrats dislike religion and morality.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:58 am |
  2. Doug504

    Bachmann left her church for a nondenominational church. Fair enough.

    But she can't remember what church she currently goes to? I certainly hope anybody who becomes President can remember basic information like that. Because if they become President they will be faced with a whole lot more remembering and complexity.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:10 am |
  3. Tomoyo

    If you replaced "church" with "country", this would be great news.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:06 am |
  4. gerard david jr

    I guess they found out her husband is the biggest Queen there is! He needs to pray the Gay away!

    July 16, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  5. Ezekiel3:13

    Praise to Michele. Praise to Marcus...as gay as a an easter lily.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:58 am |
  6. Rob

    I know that Missouri Synod doctrine holds that the Pope meets all the qualifications of the Antichrist. But then the Catholic Church was/is anti-Semitic and at a very crucial time for Jews.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:50 am |
    • bobbydiggs

      Know one listens to the bible an look at the world . Every thing is messed up when will humans see they cant do it on their own.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • aww nevermind

      awww nevermind

      July 16, 2011 at 3:17 am |
  7. brian

    I can't believe that this kind of tangential writing counts as news. Shame on CNN.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  8. Wheeler

    She and Palin can ring Paul Reveres bells together!

    July 16, 2011 at 2:33 am |
  9. Wheeler

    This woman is as intelligent as a shopping cart!

    July 16, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  10. Chris

    I really with the GOP would stop putting religious crazies as candidates... If you mention a bible once you automatically are disqualified from getting my vote.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • 2fac

      Unless Obama says it, right? Obama's books, reportedly written by Bill Ayers, are full of the same kind of rhetoric Reverend Wrong was constantly spewing, which Obama claims he never heard. Tool.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  11. evil conservative

    "White folk greed runs a world in need". That's what Obama heard at his church for years. Let's talk about the hypocrisies on both sides. Most Obamanites don't really care about race relations, the environment, justice, truth, war, or jobs. Obamanites are just people that want all the free stuff they can get. Obamanites = Clintonites = freeloaders.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:30 am |
    • Chad"

      Yeah, because all people who support Obama are "Free loaders" lets take a look at what the GOP is doing right now. They are holding up debt reduction bill over a tax raise for the top 2-4 % and pretty much saying screw the other 96% of the country..

      July 16, 2011 at 3:06 am |

    I keep looking at that picture, you know...the fingers pointing....it makes me think of Steve Martin sayng;
    ... Just a wild and crazy guy...You point your finger at me and I will never ever vote for you.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Peter

      Bill Clinton was the champ at pointing fingers and also other physical acts.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:39 am |

      Peter, he didn't get my vote either.

      July 16, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  13. Paul

    To win the election, she has signed a deal with Satan. All she had to give up was her soul. Oh, and the future of the US. No biggie.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • ploy

      Baptism is a public repnsose to the salvation we have received from Jesus. Communion is an outpouring of thanks and worship for what God, through Jesus, has already done on our behalf. We explained to our girls that once they have asked Jesus to be their savior and once they have publicly professed that faith through baptism, they may joyfully join us in partaking in communion. I truly believe that if we look at Scripture, a public profession of faith comes first, then partaking in communion.All three of our daughters understood this, and baptism became an even more significant event because of it. Each one chose to be baptized at different stages in their life one in high school, one in 6th grade, and one in 3rd grade. We didn't push. We just made it clear what baptism and communion meant, and it became a marker for them. If my children had been baptized as infants (our church does both adult and infant baptism!) we would have had them wait until they had gone through some sort of confirmation class before they took part in communion.Shelly @ Life on the Wild Side recently posted..

      July 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  14. Mike

    I won't knock her for leaving her church. The Wisconsin and Missouri Lutheran Synods are both hateful and outrageous.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  15. Borysd

    Just another hypocrite milking the system with her hubby and his voodoo clinic and their farm subsidies and railing against the Government that gave it to them....most Americans are not as stupid as the tea baggers...thank god!

    July 16, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  16. Andrew

    She has slipped into sin. Let us pray for our wayward sister who has been so vigorously pounded by Satan without the personal lubricant of holiness.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  17. jb1963

    Anything to win. What a clown. We can see right through all her Maybelline.

    She couldn't win a spelling bee if she was the only speller.

    BTW her husband is gay

    July 16, 2011 at 2:16 am |
  18. Stan

    Why does she need permission to leave her church? So if she becomes our president, is she going to require that we ask for permission to exercise our personal rights? Be careful what you wish for folks.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:16 am |

    I've been evangelical lutheran for 62yrs, i didn't know the evangelical lutherans in america called the pope the antichrist.
    (but there is a lot of stuff in this world that I don't know)
    when the Reverend Martin Luther posted the 95thesies on the wall of the Wittenburg Church his thesies was about condemning the corruption and excesses of the Roman CAtholic Church mainly the Popes practice of asking for payment for the forgiveness of sins. So now I dont understand why Michelle Bachman cannot leave a church she no longer wants to attent? What is the problem with that?

    July 16, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  20. Till

    She will no doubt burn in hell now for turning her back on the Lord like this.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:51 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.