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. Matt

    I am liking her more and more!! This article highlights her dedicstion to her Faith and Jesus!!


    July 16, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  2. Jeff

    Obama loses to any republican candidate by 8 points RIGHT NOW. This little dictator community organizer is being seen by Americans for what he really is and people don't like that they see.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:52 am |
    • News Flash

      Oh really ?

      July 16, 2011 at 8:26 am |
  3. cw1545

    Ironic though that she OFFICIALLY quit the church right before her presidential run. Honestly I don't really care what church she attends, its none of my business. My opinion on her is based solely on the fact that she lacks the reasoning capability not to answer a question that she doesn't know the answer to. In short, I think she is a moron.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:49 am |
  4. EGB1

    Nice try, bigot. Her belated withdrawal from a "church" that is rabidly bigoted toward Catholic and calls the Pope the "anti-Christ" fools no one. I hope she gets the nomination, so she can get steamrolled in 2012.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  5. genna

    Bachmann is hateful but do not discount her. She raises tons of money from people who may not have much,the tea party loves her because she panders to their worst fears.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:45 am |
  6. jamie

    This is one heck of an article on speculation that she loves the anti-Christ or something. Those wacky Liberals will drag anyone through the mud to make the GOP look bad, probably even their own families. This article is ridiculous. Not even articles on the debt ceiling are this long. Heaven forbid we have someone with ovaries in office!

    July 16, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • BlindSquirrel

      I don't think the liberals need to do too much to drag this woman through the mud. She already seems to live there. I think it'd be great to have a female president; in fact, you can make book that Hilary Clinton will be the next president after President Obama's second term, despite her protestations to the contrary these days. Bachmann, on the other hand, is cut straight out of the Palin mode, and will certainly fall by the wayside in the heat of the election season. For me, if you're saying the GOP will put forth anyone but a white male as the Presidential nominee, I say "I'll believe it when I see it".

      July 16, 2011 at 7:51 am |
    • Jeff

      You truly are blind if you think Hillary has a chance to even become president of her local rotary club. She is so history...REJECTED!

      July 16, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • BlindSquirrel

      Yeah, why would a woman who has been privvy to the day to day administration of one of the more succesful presidencies in recent years, significant time as a US senator and a solid record as secretary of state qualify her for the presidency? Nuts, huh? I'll tell you what! Give us a pig farmer instead! That's the ticket!

      July 16, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  7. cw1545

    What fiscal policy has she mentioned?

    July 16, 2011 at 7:42 am |
    • Jeff

      She wants you to keep more of your own money, decrease the size and scope of government and increase your freedom. Kind of like the Anti-Obama.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • BlindSquirrel

      Clearly, Jeff, mindless buzz words like that work on you. All a candidate has to say is "reduce spending, cut government" and lemmings like you line up to praise her. As President Obama is learning, getting things done in Washington, a machine that is presently designed to sacrifice the people's needs in order to forward political interests. Bachmann is a cardboard cutout, and has no chance at all at the nomination. Leading this country requires more than pandering to the right wing nut jobs of the world like you.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Jeff

      Obama and his pastor rev wright (both ex-muslims we are to believe) badmouth America and apologize for us at every turn. If we want a national sycophant we can keep Obama the lap dog around. Until then, we had better get someone who restores fiscal sanity to this once great republic. Go Michele !

      July 16, 2011 at 8:06 am |
  8. cw1545

    Bachman is far out there because conservatives are far out there. There is no educated centrist part of the Republican party that gets any relevant media coverage. This is a sign of the time. Radicalism is the new "IT" thing out there. Think of the most outlandish things to do or say and people(good or bad) are doing it.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • Jeff

      What has she done that's so radical ? She quit her church – likely because she will be running for president and won't even be physically there until the election season is over. Obama sat quietly while his pastor lambasted the United States and shouted "God Damn America". Either Obama is a coward or he agrees with that tripe. Either way he's not fit to lead this great nation...

      July 16, 2011 at 7:46 am |
  9. NewsRaider

    I still want to see Bachmann in a bikini.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • Jeff

      She's pretty easy on the eyes. I'm sure she looks great in a bikini, just like Palin...One more reason for Lib women to hate her. Jealousy is ugly and the libs have their claws out....

      July 16, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  10. jj

    Who cares?

    She makes sense on fiscal issues, much more so than the Dimwit in Chief we have now.

    Her former church's views on the Papacy are not exactly high on my list of voting criteria.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • MikeD

      who cares

      July 16, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  11. Jeff

    I'm Lutheran and this is the first I've heard of the E.L.A labeling the catholic Church/pope as the Antichrist. I guess there are a lot of things in the church books I am not aware of. Kind of like the Catholics and exorcism. Mot Catholics would say the exorcist is simply a good movie. I wonder if the press will look into the views of Catholics to see if they believe in exorcisms. Maybe they should ask Jewish politicians if they believe in stoning women for infidelity...

    July 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  12. Al

    Shes nothing like President Obama. He said he was attending that decent parish he belonged to for over 20 years, and even had his kids baptized by that nice man of God, what was his name o yeah Rev. Wright...what a nice fellow he is..and he really loves all people...and so does all the people who attend his sermons

    July 16, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  13. Sandy

    "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."

    That"s not how they treated Obama during his campaign. They blamed him for Rev Wright's words.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  14. Karl Magnus

    Mrs. Bachmann is welcome to her own heretical views.
    She has NO chance of being elected POTUS.
    These cheap and easy hit jobs on her religious beliefs, as sickening as they are, may well be deserved in this case.
    This conservative, Traditional Catholic won't be voting for her or any other cult member. Got it, Mittens?


    July 16, 2011 at 7:29 am |
  15. Sandy

    "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."

    That's not what Republicans said during Obama's campaign! They made it a huge campaign issue and blamed Obama for what Rev Wright said.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:28 am |
    • Van

      To the people lamenting that Obama was blamed for Wright's words and constant theme of bashing whites and America, Im sure you can see the difference. Obama belonged to a chuch that routinely made anti-white and anti-American sermons. Those things are a direct assault on the US and whites you see. Obama stayed a member of that cult-ish clan for 20 years which means he either wholeheartedly believes in the teachings or he just remained with the sickening congregation because it was a cozy and easy way to be seen and garner black support for each of his endeavors over the years.
      Bachmann on the other hand has had no affiliations with any group that condemns a race of people or damns America to hell. Any democrat trying to compare this to Obama doesnt have the creditibilty to launch any such comparison since they didnt want to hear about Obama. You cannot defend behavior and then lash out at others especially when there arent even connections except the word church is involved lol. I guess this the way democrats try to debate. They see a common noun and start squealing. But hey, democrats have been known since the 60's as intellectually vapid and childish.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  16. cw1545

    Republicans have formulated their on version of theocracy that has nothing to do with the Bible. Its ironic to see them draw corollaries from the scripture. They protect the rich at all cost. They marginalize the poor. They remain a remarkably racist group (as a whole). I didn't see any of those things mentioned in any book of the Bible I read.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  17. Luis Wu

    I keep having these images of her in a black leather NAZI outfit with spiked heels, net hose and a whip....

    July 16, 2011 at 7:18 am |
  18. Jack

    So where does Michelle Bachmann and her (I use this term loosely) husband go to church at and how often do they go?

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

      With her busy schedule, and her potentially (please God), presidential nomination, it sort of makes since that she temporary drops out of a specific church at least formally. I believe she is still religious and has God in her life, but sometimes has to take a back seat to life. Then again, going to any traditional Christian church will provide spiritual support as she furthers her political career.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  19. WhoKnew

    At least she is not a member of the Rev(?) Wright clan.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:10 am |
  20. 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 articles “Church and what it means” and “Can Christianity or any other religions save you?” listed 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 7:06 am |
    • Luis Wu

      How utterly stupid.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:19 am |
    • jamie

      Sorry, this is to KehLyn. You must be one of those people who are afraid of having a female in charge. Palin is a very bright person actually, if you did your research instead of sucking up mainstream BS you might have noticed. Perhaps with a women in office we can give BIRTH to a better nation...without people like you.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:48 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.