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. Patiat

    She very astutely saw the beating Obama took about the pastor of his church and high tailed out of her church so she could say, in 2012, "I haven't been a member of that church for a year now!!!" It's strategic.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:25 am |
  2. Keith

    The reason why its news is because SHE (as most Republicans) puts a great deal of emphasis on religion and how church is everything to them. So why did she quit right as she was about to run is what folks are questioning people. When the news came out about Wright, CNN reported it too "righteous" people! Geez, get your facts straight racist Obama haters. The color of his skin really gets to you right winged nuts. Obama muslim?? Prejudice really does blind folks!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  3. Rick

    this is not about any article: but, really about GOD – YES the one and only true GOD. and yes I do believe in HIM. however, i have come to think of HIM in a completely different context. yes HIS word and powers are true or may be true, HE like some parents favor some of HIS people and vastly ignore many of HIS other children. in spite of many truly sincere prayers, study and actions – GOD has I have found, sometimes truly does not give a damn a about some people – including myself. I have found GOD to be uncaring , unloving and truly so inconsistent it is beyond anything short of true betrayal. yes i have seen HIM "bless" false CHRISTIANS and turn HIS back on true CHRISTIANS. GOD AS I SEE HIM IS A COMPLETE JOKE – so full of HIMSELF and HIS "HOLY WORD". I use to be scared of going to HELL. NOW not so much. yes i am so hurt and angry with GOD, that my spirit, mind, heart and body have been ripped into a million pieces – from which i may never recover. but at least i have spoken what i know, feel and experience. YES I AM TRULY ANGRY AND DISAPPOINTED WITH GOD AND I DO NOT CARE WHAT ANYBODY THINKS – INCLUDING GOD.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:15 am |
    • Max

      Sweet Jesus you are right.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • god

      What ? Of course I have a dong because I need to reproduce, and I am NOT a projection of paternalistic cultures. They did NOT project gender onto their mythological daddy, because to do so would be totally ridiculous. Oh wait a sec....

      July 16, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  4. Wolf

    Reference my previous post which has been reported as abusive. Again, in keeping with my definition of the media alliance, it is deemed "abusive" as it stands opposed to that which is deemed "acceptable" by the left and therefore, should be censored.
    I've never questioned the progressive intellect, only the emotional immaturity which accompanies it.
    ...."and children shall lead them"..............

    July 16, 2011 at 5:07 am |
  5. Rev. Brian Carpenter

    So the Catholic League doesn't like the WIsconsin Synod Lutheran Church's views on the papacy. I wonder if they know that Rome as anathematized all Protestants in the Council of Trent, which is binding doctrine for all Catholics. Seems like someone ought to take a log out of his own eye before going on a speck hunt.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:58 am |
  6. Wolf

    This woman poses a serious threat to the socialist-atheist-gay media alliance. I say this as I worked in major broadcast media for a number of years and am privvy to the mindset of which it is comprised. Look at the lengths they're going to in trying to discredit her. They've good reason to fear her.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:47 am |
    • me again

      It's the same reason we "fear" Sarah Palin..... she's an idiot!!!!!

      July 16, 2011 at 4:50 am |
    • Gary

      She is crazy and I hope the republicans pick her so that we can all see just how out of their minds the right has become. Filled with hate but claiming to be doing gods work. They are the party of the bankers and if Jesues came back he would kick over their tables, feed a poor person hug a gay and hang out with the foreigners.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:33 am |
  7. malmn

    This is a story about nothing. Who cares?

    July 16, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  8. Al Bundy

    Hey CNN, how about a story on the great Rev. Al Sharpton, Obama's new get out the black vote man for 2012?
    Here's a little history to help you out: Sharpton is an accessary to the murder of 6 people by leading the Freddie Fashion Mart riot in NY; falsley accused a white prosecuter of raping Tawana Brawlee, a black woman; is in the same extortion racket as Jesse jackson, shaking down America's Fortune 500 companies, boycotting and calling them racist's if they don't pay out; never even finished High School, but was a candidate for President of the United States, (also stole 87,000 in Campaign funds) ...when he shoud be on Death Row, or at least a life sentence for all the crimes he commited. What happened to justice in our country? Now that's a great story, how about it CNN?

    July 16, 2011 at 4:20 am |
    • Frank Frankenstone

      RACIST!!!!! You disgust me!

      July 16, 2011 at 7:09 am |
    • Al Bundy

      Frank ...Stop fanning the flames of hate. Sharpton commited those crimes, if he was white, the facts don't change that.. You sound like the out of control racist here, taking one side just because of skin color; SHAME ON YOU!

      July 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  9. Latino56

    So it's ok to check on a conservative's beliefs but not Obama's. Is he a Christian or a Muslim? Did he go to a standard Christian church or a Black Liberation Church? What is Obama's true past? What do we know other then Bill Ayer's penned biographies attributed to Obama. How about telling us the truth on Obama for once!

    July 16, 2011 at 4:12 am |
    • Jeff

      If you're still trying to fuel the "Obama's a Muslim" flame, you don't deserve any straight answers from anyone.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:17 am |
    • Al Bundy

      No need for that, your boy Barak Hussein Obama "fuels his own Muslim flame".

      July 16, 2011 at 4:27 am |
    • Kay

      We've been told the truth. But you don't want to believe it. That's YOUR problem.

      "There are none so blind as those who will not see" (Jeremiah 5:21)

      July 16, 2011 at 4:49 am |
    • Jak182

      You realize, I hope that when Bill Ayers was protesting the Vietnam War and made a few bombs in his youth, that Obama was only eight years old? By the time that they met when Obama was a candidate for Senate, Ayres was a professor at a college, his radical days way behind him.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:55 am |
    • RobertG

      Thou must not mock He Who Has Come-the One With Big Ears is sensitive.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:13 am |
    • Frank Frankenstone

      Latino and Conservative? I never get why you all turn on your own people.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:11 am |
  10. Faival44

    I must have missed a turn or something, but I completely missed the story. Did something happen? What, exactly, are these wieghty implications of the Bachmann's church membership? Do I need to stay up for this?

    July 16, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  11. Brandon

    And to think that most wouldn't dare put anyone other than a Christian in the White House, yet here lately it seems that in order to get there the "Christian" canidate must leave their own church due to their church's intolerance and bigotry.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  12. Cristian

    I hope she is not quitting that church just to enlarge her voters base.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  13. Jerry

    come on CNN get a life will you

    July 16, 2011 at 3:39 am |
  14. Rock God

    She should just go back to her job as an IRS tax collector.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:39 am |
    • mark

      That is only half the cure. Obama needs to go back to what he does best. Wait...I not sure exactly what that is. Does anybody know?

      July 16, 2011 at 3:45 am |
  15. mark

    What a bouquet of hypocrites. CNN, you are dealing with many smart people out here. You not only refuse to report on Obama’s zealous nature, you promote the man. He is about as inexperienced as they come, he attended a cult-like church for 26 years, he proclaimed to seek out Marxist friends and professors, he launched his political career in a terrorist’s house, his religious mentors are a professed communist while the other is a anti-US radial, etc…. Come one? Get with it and start acting like journalist. You wonder your ratings are dismal.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Kay

      For crying out loud...who died and made *you* perfect?

      Are you seriously trying to lead us to believe that *you* have never changed? That *you* have never matured because you've always been flawless, so maturing has been unnecessary? Or that, because of your perfection, the passage of decades is irrelevant because you have never known anyone other than other flawless people? And never thought anything other than flawless thoughts?

      Excuse me if I don't believe you.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:27 am |
  16. Canof Sand

    Five words: Obama, Rev. Wright, double standard.


    July 16, 2011 at 3:37 am |
    • Gordon

      3 infamous words, "God Damn America"...

      July 16, 2011 at 3:52 am |
    • Kay

      Five words: You. Too. Are. A. Hypocrite.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:30 am |
  17. Tesla V

    I am telling you the tea partiers should still hammer the Rev. Wright soundbites.There are many Dem. voters who still do not realize what they voted for.1 and a half years of the truth will turn 2012 into a Reagan style blowout.Believe me.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:35 am |
    • TheMostWise

      Yes, indeed they understand precisely whom they voted for; they chose to vote for the opponent of the dimwit republican party. It seems they got their man. America voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2008; it seems the voters haven't changed their minds. The voter did not like the Republican party running up the tab and then skipping out when it came time to pay. It seems the American voter thinks such an act is one of incorrigible and irresponsible juveniles. Furthermore it seems that
      REPUBLICANS ARE DEADBEATS AND DON"T PAY THEIR BILLS. Now it's time for them to run along and play so that the adults can solve the 'tax cut mess' left by the irresponsible morons of our society, yes..the republican/teabag party.

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

      I suppose you see nothing wrong with Obama having Rev. Jeremiah "God Damn America" Wright as his mentor and inspiration for his book, "Audacity of Hope" and the "Hope, Change" slogans.

      Thats blind obedience for you...

      July 16, 2011 at 3:55 am |
    • Kay

      OH PLEASE!! PLEASE "hammer on" Rev. Wright!!! Oh please, oh please, oh please, oh please!!! PLEASE focus on minor issues about individuals from the past that didn't make the tiniest bit of difference the first time around...and will be 4 more years removed from relevancy come 2012. What a gift! What a wonderful, wonderful gift.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:42 am |
  18. TheMostWise

    Quitting her church(any church for that matter) is by far the wisest thing she's done. Now, provided she doesn't join another, she has a chance to loose the looney ideations.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  19. Josef F

    "Hochmuth said that a change in membership is not out of the ordinary."

    Then how is it news?

    July 16, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  20. Al Bundy

    CNN ...Why no story on Obama's white hating, america hating bigoted racist "church" he went to for 20 years? Your priority is to protect ACORN1 at all costs against potential threats. Do you not realize your helping rto destroy our country by pushing this Socialist's lying propanganda? Your lies to the american people are nothing less then disgusting.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:20 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.