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. Sparky2

    Bottom line, Michele Bachmann is an attractive female, conservative Christian. This is the worst enemy for a liberal, generally non-christian NY/Hollywood media. We saw how the media attempted to destroy Sarah Palin, also a conservative, attractive female christian. Bachmann can expect a lot of hate type rhetoric from the media, especially in the future if it appears she could win the Republican nomination.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:58 am |

      bottom line,she's full of it.

      voters will see the real bachmann when she starts spewing her batpoop

      July 16, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • Martin

      No, she's the best enemy for liberals because she's so far out of the mainstream that she's easily beaten.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:11 am |
    • VietRob

      lmfao at the "attractive conservative christian females" bit...get real dude. this lady is a clown, why the hell do i even have to know who she is or here what she says.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:25 am |
    • KehLyn

      No, she is a female hypocrite (or my name for this type – hypochristian). She will now, in the hopes of getting more votes, deny many of her beliefs. Liberals won't vote for her because they find her beliefs, even watered down, abhorrent. Conservatives shouldn’t vote for her because she is obviously willing to compromise her beliefs in the quest for fame, power and money. Comparisons to Palin are invalid – Palin is just a face without a brain and no one with an IQ above 70, Christian or not, should ever take her seriously.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • LRoy

      Agree. As much as I love Sarah Palin, Michelle will make a better candidate this round.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:35 am |
    • Sparty_Rulez

      Sarah Palin did herself in, the media just highlighted her "personality".

      July 16, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Pat

      I am a liberal and I love Michele Bachmann. I want her to win your party's nomination. As far as I can tell, she is the brightest one you've got. LOL

      July 16, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  2. Reason8200

    why dont you cnn goons do a story about obama and rev. wright. Thats a real story. Cnn, you are pathetic, trying to make something out of nothing because you dont like Bachman. If you would have went after the bamster this way he wouldnt have gotten elected.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:56 am |
  3. Code

    It is obvious that she is not and never was sincere in her religious beliefs. Now she has confirmed it. She could not find a way to get enough money from them to make it worth continuing.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:54 am |
    • Reason8200

      Just like when obama said he set in Rev. wright's church for 20 years, but didnt listen to any of the sermons. Rev. wright was an American hating, socialist/marixist, black liberation theology, racist.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:00 am |
  4. Maxwell

    Funny how they take the time to target a Republican Candidates faith, but can't report on a Democrats lack of faith since becoming President, nearly 3 years and still not a member of any church since forced to leave the Rev Wrights radical religion.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • Pat

      Who cares if the President troops to church? Ronald Reagan never went either.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  5. Pat

    I am supporter of the President, but I don't see how this is news. Who cares where she goes to church? We spend too much time talking about other people's beliefs in this country. I prefer backsliders.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:46 am |
    • Edi

      Great article Robin,But who do I think could aclaluty win against the Obama machine? A strong black man. . as in the brainy, charismatic Herman Cain.I’ve liked Herman Cain since the first time I heard him. As that first time was over the radio his skin color was not apparent to me. I just thought he was a bright, articulate, and practical man. I’ve been prepared to vote for him in the primaries for months. Until recently I thought I was going to be throwing my vote away. To me, it’s interesting to now see other conservatives joining me and perhaps giving Mr. Cain a chance. Failing a political victory, I’d one day like to have a whiskey and a cigar with Mr. Cain. He seems as if he’d be an interesting fellow to spend an evening talking with. I see many other potential benefits of a qualified, black candidate like Cain. Certainly, Cain's running would neutralize the left's cries of racism. I do have to give you credit for positive thinking here but I disagree. The left is already saying that conservative whites are voting for Mr. Cain in order to hide their racism. The left is a coalition of forces mainly comprised of racists, feminists (I’ve been looking for the female gender word analogy to ‘misogynist and I can’t find it so I’ll have to use feminist in the format of a person who hates males), environmentalists, and socialists. They feed on hate and they could not give up their strong right arm of race hatred no matter who conservatives run. They’ll just find another way to spin it. Sorry to disagree with you Robin. I do agree with you that Obama is not an alpha male and Cain will have an affect on him. That will be worth watching. I just hope that the head honchos in the Republican Party, as well as the American people, see things the same way.That’s the fear. The Republican Party is not conservative and has little more interest in the huddled masses than do the Democrats, although they’ll invite conservatives and libertarians into the tent in order to garner power. Obama is now projected to have 800 million dollars for his campaign. Of which he will have to spend none in a primary. Since Obama still can’t run on his record he is going to have to defame whomever he runs against. If the Republicans do not whole heartedly get their money machine behind a candidate, that candidate could lose. Presently, the Republicans do not like the conservative Tea Partiers because they diminish the power of the Republican Elite and siphon attention away. So, I think there will be two races. One race nationally and second race within the Republican Party to let them know that they must accept conservatives or lose from now on just as they did in 2008. The election in 2010 showed us that we don’t have to settle for whoever the Republicans say could win. I hope we stick to that format now.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  6. EffortPA

    Top Eleven Signs You're a Christian:"

    11- You believe in a book (New Testament) that was written 80 years after your Messiah died by men who never met him and who believed the earth was flat and the Sun revolved around the Earth, but continuously deny modern science books.

    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

    9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."

    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

    2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • tensai13

      This should be posted in every school classroom in America.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:56 am |

    Snookie Palin wants the money and mikes that Bachmann enjoys now.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  8. Danny

    Poor Bachmann


    July 16, 2011 at 6:30 am |
  9. Jack from Charlestown

    She would have my vote for either spot on the ticket, and so would Herman Cain and three or four of the other intelligent, articulate people on the national scene.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Out Of Style Moderate

      I'm sorry, you must have missed the headline. This article is about Michele Bachmann. You had mentioned something about intelligence and that is cleary not the case. Maybe you had recently read an article about Stephen Colbert? I just wanted to clarify that for you.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:50 am |
  10. Frankster

    Michelle Bachmann and her stupid husband are worthless hypocrites.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  11. AvdBerg

    For a better understanding what it means to be a member of a local church and what spirit it serves (Luke 9:55) we invite you to read the article “Church and what it means” on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca
    All of the other pages and articles will explain that “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48; 17:24).”

    July 16, 2011 at 6:09 am |
    • Honey, AvdBerg is at the door again

      Can't you just tell him we don't want any.

      July 16, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  12. BD70

    I heard she moved thus with draw of her membership. They joined another church in the area they moved to. Now I have no use for Bachmann and her ilk but to me this is a non story as far as I can tell.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:04 am |
  13. Jonny Chepe

    WOW. After reading some of these comments I can see that libs and socialists live here. Seems that you are all afraid of Michelle.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:02 am |
    • harbormick

      Alot of people are afraid of clowns

      July 16, 2011 at 6:38 am |
    • Jeff Orlando

      Name calling again. Just because one thinks Bachman is a moron, does NOT mean they are communist, liberals or the like. It just means we think she is narrow, of little intellect and downright stupid.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • Jonny Chepe

      Now who's name calling? Glad to see that you are up early on a Saturday. Do you work or are you just getting home from partying all night on your welfare check....

      July 16, 2011 at 6:54 am |
  14. Jonny Chepe

    Too bad the news media didn't go after Obama and Rev. White like that. It's funny how they will come out of the woodwork to try to find anything they can dig up on someone like Bachman but Give OBAMA a complete pass. Shame on you CNN.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • Jeff Orlando

      Yes CNN has as a primary goal to make Bachman look foolish. Well that is certainly an easy goal to meet.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:43 am |
  15. gwats

    Michelle wanted to spend more time with her real spiritual Father, Satan, and chase her real true love, money.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:57 am |
    • Rami

      That is true, she just called me.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  16. think4yourself

    wait, you have to request permission to leave? what if they say no?!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:47 am |
    • gwats

      In that case, they a 'Rev. Wright' on you.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:58 am |
  17. Mockery

    Ditch the Church if it doesn't suit your need anymore. Ditch your husband too if his practice is too busy using GOVERNMENT money for profit. Anything to run 4 President.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:41 am |
    • gwats

      You don't think she'd throw him under the bus in a heartbeat if it suited her needs? Please.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:59 am |
  18. Hans

    She had to move because of an affair of the heart....People will be surprise who she has the hots for..

    July 16, 2011 at 5:36 am |
  19. Andyboy

    Hey "Kay"... why do I get the feeling that you are a robot set up in the White House to reply with snappy retorts (stupid remarks) in reply to anyone who expresses their disgust with President BO? Or, maybe "Kay" is code for Komrade? You know... the type of individual that doesn't want anyone else to express an opinion that differs from their own?

    July 16, 2011 at 5:34 am |
  20. Wanda

    Clean breakup! Very nice and respectful. The Mormons would have taken years to grant her wish. And in the end, simply move her from one list into another. Still keeping her family on record!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:29 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.