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. mike

    a text without context is a pretext

    July 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  2. Chad Hill

    Why exactly is this news worthy?

    July 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  3. OMan

    how is this news? everyone should quit every church

    July 16, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • aatami

      This woman and her husband are disgusting. The only news I want to hear of them is their murder suicide.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  4. Redneck Bear

    Religious fanatics destroyed many of the ancient Egyptian God statues, etc, since 1500BCE to present.
    Muslims build their temples right in the middle of ancient Egyptian sites!
    Now who’s been shoving what beliefs down peoples throats in the last 3500 years?

    July 16, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  5. Mark

    There is no god so why go to church? We need to get over ourselves. We are no better than any other form of life.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  6. pugilist66

    Wow! I wish CNN and other news organizations had spent the time and effort investigating and reporting BO's church attendance, affiliation, etc ... before we elected the worst president that we have ever had. This story on Bachmann was a silly attempt to make something out of nothing. I'd rather that CNN investigate and report real news-there's plenty out there lol

    July 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  7. PaulC

    Maybe that church was too liberal and they want to start their own church. THE HOLY CHURCH OF BACHMANN.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  8. Dan

    I kills me that the very people who to this complain about how JFK was treated because of his religion, come to boards like this and vilify Bachman in the same way. You whine and cry about the "hate" of consevatives and how "bad" Christians are and yet you oblivious to your own hatred. People are people, friends. If you disagree with the woman, don't vote for her.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • cykill

      dont worry, no chance of that.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:37 am |
  9. Rainer Braendlein

    In the above article the pope is called Antichrist. Is that correct?

    Some of you may know the "Donatio Constantini". There was claimed that once the Roman Emperor Constantin had given (as a present) all earthly power over the Western World to the pope. The writ "Donatio Constantini" was made-up around 800 after Christ and then used for around 600 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) years by the Roman Catholic Church to confirm the pope's earthly power over the emperor and the Western World. Around 1400 after Christ scientists discovered that the writ "Donatio Constantini" was a wicked forgery.

    Thus, for a time of 600 (!!!) years the RCC had deceived the whole mankind.

    What did the writ claim? It claimed that once the emperor Constantin had become very sick and would have been cured by Pope Silvester I. Constantin had been grateful and had made the pope and his successors higher than himself.

    The RCC is Satan's house. A dirty worm hole of lie and murder.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  10. Bosco

    Shades of Obama I knew this lady was sketchy! F it all Vote for Paul Ron Paul 2012

    July 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Jesse Jackson JR

      YOU Ron Paul idiots need mental evaluations.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  11. Ronald Hussein Reagan

    "Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater" She left because they haven't been sufficiently active hunting witches recently.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  12. KathyS

    Well, it worked for Obama!

    July 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  13. mike

    "An Inconvenient Truth – the Bachman's are as hypocritical in their faith as they are in their politis..." Your facts are overwhelming! What a brilliant post.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  14. Sammie

    Look at GOP options, Michele Bachmann, Sarah palin and Mitt Romney, its sooooooooo funnyyyyyyyyyyy.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:10 am |

      We'll see who laugh's last

      July 16, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Dan

      No, what's funny is that - as slim as the pickings are - polls indicate that ANY Republican could currently beat Obama! Now THAT's a side-splitter!

      July 16, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  15. UrsusRexx

    Re: "Bachman leaves church", (aka, Bachman's former congregations is just as piously-creepy as she is!

    ...Is monotheisim (belatedly) leaving the earth? ...Leaving human society, finally, after all this blood has been spilled & hymens torn?
    Is this belated leave-taking the reason why Christians are STILL killing Christians, ('Roeder Vs. Tiller'), as Jews kill Muslims, ('Goldstein Vs. Jerusalem Mosque'), and Muslims kill everyone, ('Atta Vs. WTYC Steel & Concrete', 'honor' (affiliation-change} killings, etc.)?
    Geeze, louise, I hope so!
    Don't misunderstand:
    If you pray in yer head, even if it's to wish neopagans like me were STILL being burnt-alive, (like the pro-lifers did, so gleefully, in the middle ages), that's fine with me!
    ...Just leave your pocket howitzer at home, (or, at least...'holstered'), when publically denouncing me, (for leaving N.A.M.B.L.A. on-the-tiber, the late '60's), as your daily act of 'Caritas', M'oK?
    Just think:
    What will the mullahs and child rapists & the myth-living ('t-rex & humans cohabiting') evengelicals DO, when believer & vocational attrition have become SO SEVERE that they're all forced to join the rest of us, make an 'honest' living?

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

      How incredibly typical of people like you to make accusations at others, while you take out your very own "pocket-sized howitzer" and mow everyone else down. What a fripping hypocrite you are!

      July 16, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Jesse Jackson JR

      You should not be on the streets..seriously! You need to turn yourself in to the police.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  16. John


    July 16, 2011 at 10:05 am |
  17. Mama Bear

    Good riddance. Now they can enjoy some new found respect.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  18. CindyP

    Wouldn't have been nice if the media investigated Obama's affiliation with his alleged church. Obama attended for 20 years a church that blamed the USA for 9/11, opening advocated the end of the USA and was openly racist and supported the talaban.
    Instead they investigate a woman who is a conservative and from a conservative church. Surprised – nope.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • Dan

      Absolutely. Funny how one-sided they are, eh? And all teh while they whine and cry about the lack of balance on Fox News. LOL.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • PaulC

      I do believe that Obama's affiliation with the Rev. Wright was investigated to death. Maybe you could google the articles and stop your "Mama, he did it worse than me!"

      July 16, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      The Liberal Media is a myth which owes its longevity to the paranoia which afflicts many on the right.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:36 am |
  19. Johhh

    An Inconvenient Truth – the Bachman's are as hypocritical in their faith as they are in their politis...

    July 16, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • PaulC

      You'll often find that the one who professes the most purity is the one who can stand the least scrutiny, "do as I say, not as I do!"

      July 16, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • curt johnson

      The truth about Bachman's is finally coming out. They are both a couple of phonies, only she also has a big nasty mouth.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:35 am |

    The BTK murderer that killed 10 people was the president of a Lutheran church and his job required him to take an OATH.

    Michele Bachmann apparently wants to kill some people in the Middle East so she is going to take some more OATHS like Bush, Obama and all GOV officials do.

    God's inspired words tells them in Mathew 5:34-37 and James 5:12, that ANYONE that SWEARS or takes an OATH of ANY KIND is if the EVIL ONE but who cares what God says? When they get their turn to be judged, then think they can straighten God out and teach your children to do the same and *** WATCH OUT***.

    It is no wonder why Jesus said to 'HATE' your parents in Luke 14:26 and they will take you to a RELIGION because they will weave God's words into a tapestry of beautiful LIES that taste like vanilla ice cream that are nothing but sheepskins over a wolf.

    U people need to go to the dollar store and get you some THICK reading glasses so your eyes can see the TRUTH, parably speaking.

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

      Before you quote Bible you should have a least an inkling of what you are talking about.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:05 am |

      Cindy P, U can stay with Ur 'INKLING', I'm going to ALWAYS go with the TRUTH.

      U mustv'e taken an OATH. Tell us the TRUTH is U can speak the language of TRUTH.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Sarah

      I saw the bible quotes and was all like, "Yep. Not reading the rest of this," but at times it is semi-entertaining so I read on. The only people who should quote the bible are priests, bishops, the pope.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • CatholicMom

      It is ok to quote the Bible but to take a verse out of context is what is misleading to people.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:17 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.