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. Russ

    Why is this news? Religious affiliation has never played a role in decisions made by presidents. Yes, some have been conservative, and others liberal, but that is their political stand, not religious. In fact, some of the most liberal presidents have belonged to conservative religions.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Dan

      Yes. Well said.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  2. Fred

    I don't recall reading anywhere in the Bible that Jesus gave the keys of the Kingdom to a constipated German, a troublemaking Frenchman, or a disturbed Swiss.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  3. bigfoot

    If you dig deeprr, you will almost surely find that the reason she quit that Lutheran church is that they don't feel the same as her that you can "pray away the gay".

    July 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  4. Dolly

    This is hysterical, they took all this time to demean Micheclle Bachman's church affiliation, make negative comments about ity, but never came down on the Radical Rev. Wight and his poisonous venom being spewed at his church against the United States and the Obama's defended this idiot saying he was the best friend, they attended this radical church for 20 years, saying they never heard his views this way, Another lie from the Obama's that we have come to realize comes from both sides of his mouth every time he opens it. Give me a Break ~

    July 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • John/kc

      Reverend Wright is old news and has been played to the fullest. Get on the current page. When talking about Afghanistan, I suppose you compare it to WWII!

      July 16, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • b.mclane

      It comes of no surprise to me.The Liberal left , self loathing, politically correct, "white gulit" media go after the FACTS about the "first serious black candidate"??? Are you crazy??? Why would they do that??22 years in a Black Liberationist Church too vile for Obrah Winfrey??...No PROBLEM ..."uh..uh..he never heard the hate speech from Rev. Wright....uh,uh...he does not agree with Rev. Wright". Yet the largest financial contribution given by the formerly cash strapped Obamas ( before a Geo.Seros owned Publishing House had a native terrorist, Bill Ayers, ghast write it for him. http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/10/who_wrote_dreams_from_my_fathe_1.html, was $22,000 give to thatchurch.
      These same media hacks COVERED for Obama so thrilled up their leg they had found a black man who was "clean and articulate" ( Joe Biden). EVERYTHING THAT IS HAPPENING TO THE USA NOW IS BY DESIGN. OBAMA IS NOT STUPID OR NAIVE NOR IS HIS CABINET. HE IS A CALCULATING AND DEVOTED BLACK LIBERATIONIST, MARXIST just like dear old Rev Wright. IF YOU VOTED FOR OBAMA YOU HELPED KILL AMERICA. But ignore what matters........direct your attention to Michelle Bachmann while this manchurian interloper steals the future of your kids, their kids, and their kids.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  5. JonDie

    Thank goodness I'm free of all of this nonsense.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  6. Jackie Treehorn

    Ah, Michele Bachmann is a ripe convert for the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster! http://www.venganza.org

    July 16, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  7. Fred

    It's a shame the media didn't go after Obama's religious views with such fervor.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • TRH

      You're kidding, right? I suppose you still think he's Muslim.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:56 am |
    • Rob

      Fred, you are so right. CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NBC did nothing to report on the radical views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. And President Obama attended that church for 20 years and was very closely tied to its pastor.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Marconi

      Yeah, remember when CNN exposed the Reverend Wright story?....Oh that's right, Those nasty, nasty right-wring blogs broke that and CNN had to be dragged along, hand ringing the whole way....

      July 16, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Fred

      I think Obama is a white-hating racist with Muslim sympathies.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  8. Nathan

    The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a cult. They are not allowed to even bow their heads in prayer with members of other denominations. Can't even say the scripted "table prayer" with a member of the Missouri Lutheran Synod without risking excommunication. Women are not alliwed to vote in the congregational meetings, and can't even teach Sunday School to older boys b/c it'd put her in "authority" over him. I was a member most my life and bu God's grace escaped about 10 years ago.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:45 am |


    July 16, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  10. Rainer Braendlein


    What stuff are you telling?

    July 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  11. AvdBerg

    Churches, Churches and more Churches. Just check your Yellow Pages (1 Cor. 1:12). So, which one is the true church (the Body of Christ), and if you are Michele Bachmann, which one do you join, especially if the Bible teaches that “The most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48; 17:24)?”
    Confused? 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 religion save you?” listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    July 16, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  12. John


    July 16, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  13. wakiash

    Actually, I meant to say Michelle in my previous comment, but they really are interchangeable!

    July 16, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  14. wakiash

    So you actually have to get permission from a "holy man" who has no power or magic to leave a group of people who believe in myth and magic? Sorry, no vote from me, Sarah. Evidently you are not strong enough to be your own person.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  15. NoTags

    There is a God, and he blessed the church Michele left.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  16. Some Catholic Who Actually Knows the Catholic Church

    So, suppose the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Christ. In that case, the Antichrist can best be identified as CNN, which takes (and even makes) every opportunity to attack it. I learned a saying in the USAF that keeps coming to mind as I read what CNN and its worshippers write: "If you're taking flak, you're over the target." May God lead you all to the truth.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • well

      It is intersting that Public school teachers abuse at higher rates than preists, yet the media has yet to get excited about this fact.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:38 am |

    She has officially joined the Church of the Teabagging Moron!!!

    July 16, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Woodie J.

      A most intellectual comment....

      July 16, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Robert Gandalf

      RWESTUPID? Yes you certainly appear to be by the character you display on the internet. Would Jesus approve your message, or any thinking person?

      July 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • TRH

      ROFLMAO!!! Intellectual no, hilarious YES!!

      July 16, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  18. skarrlette

    Look at all the religious nuts on this board. These are the people that go up the polls to vote. This is what I am scared of. Their is suppose to be a separation of church and state! Where the F is it! This is the problem with this country irrational people making choices that effect those of us who have our feet firmly planted on the ground in reality. Next time I go to vote I'm going down the street to the gypsy with the crystal ball the one that says she is on her second life and I am going to have her choose a Presidential candidate. Whats the difference~!. This country is going down the drain!

    July 16, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Tommy

      You are very qualified to be on the Board. If you don't believe it just look in the mirror.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Adelina

      They are also supposeD to be able to write a sentence in English.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  19. well

    In the very ealy church there were only three branches: The Jewish Christians, Jews who accepted Christ like the disciples. The Pauline Christians who followed the dictates of Paul in a hierarchical Church centered in Rome with bishops in the major cities of the empire. Finally there was Gnosticism, which would be completely foreign to any mainline Christian.

    It is interesting to note that all the Churches who grew from the Pauline branch are very similar in belief and tradition: the Catholic Church, Syrian, Eastern, Russian and Coptic Churchs. This would suggest that their beliefs have remained mostly steady since 200 or so AD, if not longer. These Churches represent about 75% of all Christians.

    A fourth branch was born in Germany 1,500 or so years after the founding of the Pauline Churches. These Protestant churches believe that by reading the Bible we can gain all knowlege. Because everyone is free to come up with their own interpritation and found their own church, there are now 20-30,000 denominations with a wide array of beliefs, each claiming true wistom. This represents 25% of all Christians.

    It is fascinating that a group that represents 25% of Christians, who reject the teachings of not just the Roman church, but all the traditional churches going back 2,000 years claim that the Catholic Church is evil. How can the 20-30,000 people who have founded all these different denominations each know better than all those who came before Luther or Calvin or Wesley or........?

    July 16, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Robert Gandalf

      I was born a Catholic and was once a Missouri Synod Lutheran, to which I was attracted before the Catholic Church changed to the English Mass. To become a Lutheran I had to take their studies for about 4 months, and did so as a questioning adult. I found only one difference of significance, which was refusal to accept the authority and infallibility of the Roman Pope. Little else. I think the non religious should leave the religious alone and vice verse. I also think the various sects of Christianity should shut their pie holes and worship as they wish without attacking other Christians. Christians have enough enemies in the world and they may be coming to a town near you. What would Jesus do? Accept all His children with all their mistaken beliefs and ignorance of universal truths, and their clinging to unimportant dogmas. The one thing I learned from my own bible is the only thing I believe to be the truth is the red letter quotes of Jesus, with which I cannot find fault.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:52 am |
    • Fred

      It's nice to know that somebody here has studied history and Catholic theology. Most of these people think we sacrifice chickens to statues.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  20. God Loves Me

    I am always amazed at how people that call themselves Christians behave! All you have to do is read these comments to that Christianity is in trouble. My mother always said, "pretty is as pretty does". I think that same phrase can be applied to Christians. How you behave is a good indicater of how you really believe! Leave Bachman alone and worry about yourself.

    July 16, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • skarrlette

      You know what I have noticed with religious nuts?. Is that they are the one's who sin the most.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:33 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.