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. mike2

    I believe Ron Paul may be able to beat Obama, if Americans would smarten up. Heck, he may even legalize marijuana too, but of course the Obamaniacs are just too busy drinking the kool-aid and waiting for their welfare checks.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Ken

      Mike2, comments like yours are typical of uninformed, ignorant ass right-wing ditto heads. You can't think for yourself, just repeat what you hear. Go back to Glen Beck's farm.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Harry Baxter

      Mike2; if you think that Paul can beat Obama, you're obviously ingesting something far stronger than the pot that he wishes to legalize.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • cf

      Yes, because conservatives are the only hard working people, and none have ever accepted any welfare. And no liberal has ever worked hard and every one of them collects welfare. Idiots like you are the reason idiots like Ron Paul are popular. The fact legalizing marijuana so you can sit around and get high all day is the top issue to you, proves my point.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Richard

      I am currious what you meant by waiting for welfare checks to come in. I voted for President Obama and I have had steady work for 34 years, 5 of those years with the U.S. military. Besides, how dare you judge someone who may need assistant. Let me guess, you're a church going christian who only has good in your heart.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • AzSoul

      hey mike2- I am one of these libs drinking kool aid and waiting for my welfare check,....only problem though, it is 320am here in Phoenix, I am working my graveyard shift, I hardly get time to see my wife (who is also a lib drinking the kool aid while waiting for welfare checks) who works during the day, my "welfare check" comes in the form of a paycheck I receive every other Friday that i am too lazy to work for...see, I was agreeing with you while making fun of you, cause I work my damn butt off, barely have time to see my wife (maybe 2 hours a night if i am lucky, unless I call off then I could loose my job and really be on welfare), so please, before you start making stupid comments, know what you are talking about. I know people (both reps. and dems.) who are on welfare, it is just not a liberal thing...and, besides, if I WERE to go on welfare, isn't it my tax money I paid into that I am receiving? I am glad there is a safety net there to help people out when they are down on their luck, like the old saying say, most of American's are one paycheck away from being homeless...

      July 16, 2011 at 6:25 am |
  2. mike2

    After Obama became president I realized that any idiot in the world can run!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Steve

      You're a bit late to the game, because after George Bush not only ran and won most of the world came to that reality back then. Not only that, the monkey won/stole the election a second time.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Artist

      I agree about obama but "w" was the first lol

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Melina319

      If Baby Bush taking office didnt convince you of that, then you have some serious problems, pal.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Quick Study

      Then you are obviously not a real quick study or lived under a rock during Bush W (a re-election besides). Don't tell me, you're a Failin Palin supporter, aren't you?

      July 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  3. Arch

    oh my, i just discovered that i'm a new world elite with the power to elect a president!!! Woohoooooooooooo! unfortunately, i wish i had that much power over frank mccourt and the dodgers. hmmm.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  4. Artist

    The Romans used to make christians lunch to the lions and tigers for a laugh. These days they just open their mouths and they become lunch for the media. Christians have been bringing entertainment for 2000 + years. Keep it up delusional freaks. lol

    July 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      Artist, you are one sick soul if you consider Roman gladitorial games to be entertainment. It might be noted that all who refused to take part in emporor worship were lion-food. That probably included a few atheists as well. Terrible fate, no matter what they believed in.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Samuel

      Constantine put a stop to that.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  5. Kevin

    Clearly, Bachmann is a religious whacko. She obviously quit her church since it calls the Pope and the Catholics the AntiChrist. Not so many Catholic votes in that!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
  6. jim atmadison

    WELS stopped being a church years ago and became an arm of the Republican Party. That's why I left and joined another denomination.

    When a pastor stands in the pulpit and tells the congregation how to vote, their tax-exempt status needs to be pulled.

    I'm old enough to remember when WELS was scripturally conservative. That meant that they viewed Christ's teachings according to the words of the Bible. In the last couple decades they've viewed religion through their political leanings (and vice versa) and abandoned their conservative interpretation of scripture.

    I used to love WELS. Now I just wish it would go away.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Jeffer65

      I've attended many WELS churches in the last 45 years, and not once has any Pastor told me how to vote.

      July 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Jeff Carter

      I've attended WELS for 43 years every Sunday in 6 different cities and never heard a pastor tell me how to vote or even discuss much politics at all. Indeed, politics is avoided in my experience both at the church service and in bible class. You can get politics 6 3/4 days a week. I don't need to hear it on Sunday morning.

      July 19, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  7. mike2

    another failed character assassination by CNN : )

    July 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • rtgunlimited

      She would have to have character to assassinate to begin with.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  8. Gino

    This story is such a major bag of kaka, it would be a riot if it wasn't so meaningless.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  9. Mr Phil

    "And lo, Jesus spoketh unto his followers, 'And your churches shall require memberships.'" Memberships to be in a CHURCH??? Asking permission to leave? Sounds more like a cult than a church.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  10. Arch

    who cares. bachmann's a nothing.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  11. Denise

    People are required to be "released" by the church from membership? That sounds very odd. And people go for this sort of thing?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
  12. mike2

    anyone can beat Obama, but beating the new world order elites who put him in office is the TRICKY part <3 <3

    July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Sam

      You mean the majority of intelligent Americans who voted for him? Good luck with that one.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  13. Bhavin

    Looking to the fact that such an idiot can run for presidency in this country itself says a lot about this country!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • mike2

      I agree. And Obama actually BECAME president! Truly nuts.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Sam

      But Bush started it.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • LinCA


      You said "I agree. And Obama actually BECAME president! Truly nuts."

      Considering that our President is black, "a muslin" and "from Kenya", each of which would normally render one unelectable, his only advantage was being up against dimwits. This advantage was significant and will be again if Bachmann wins the Republican nomination.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  14. gaucho420

    I don't care what church she goes too...she's crazy regardless.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  15. Lindsay

    So what's she going to do now? Start her own kook-extremist church?

    She and ALL fundies are the "antichrist". Not to mention the anti-EVERYTHING.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  16. Anna

    Too late, the damage has already been done. She is a joke.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  17. Lily in Texas

    So Guano Loco Michele Bachmann dumps her fundy church that hates catholics to get the anti-choice catholic vote. Typical Republican hypocrite – they'd sell their soul for power and money. WWJD?

    July 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Fast Fred

      So you willing to overlook the Obama/Wright thingy. Who's the hipo. He agree with Wright for years.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  18. mike

    So what, Im sure she will make excuses, so how is this news, tell us how she rather have the US default of its debts just because she wants Obama to be a 1 term president, the rest of America doesnt matter

    July 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  19. Margroks

    Since when does anyone have to ask permission to leave a church? You wanna go, you go.

    But really, a church which thinks the pope and his flock are the AntiChrist? That is looney and no, that is not supported by any biblical text.

    Nonetheless, Bachman is nutty.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  20. NYcitizen

    I feel really bad and sorry for all of you bloggers and commenters that unless you have something mean and viscious to say, you wouldn't say anythng at all! Nobody's opinion is as important as your own! What a vile and shameful existence you all must have!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Thank you for your "mean and viscious" opinion.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Artist

      I am sorry I am "viscious". I wiscus you wouldn't be upscet at mescus.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Tim

      Excuse me, NY. The truth is that many people do not like Michele Bachmann, mostly because of her lies, half-truths, and hypocrisy. I feel the same way. I don't hate the woman. I just don't like her. We had 5 years of this woman here in MN and she has been an embarrassment to many people inside and outside of her district. I am embarrassed at the thought that people around the world may be looking at this person, consider that she is running for president, and wonder what has happened to this country of ours.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • twolfhound

      Thank you for that positive and uplifting bit of self-fulfilled prophecy.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      Mean and vicious? Pretty well sums up the entire liberal agenda/media, doesn't it?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
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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.