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. HeyThere

    Cnn moderators..prove that Satan controls the media

    July 16, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • Grumpy

      He does! His name is Rupert Murdock, but he seems to be losing his grip . . .

      July 16, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  2. C, K, Justice

    Is Michelle Bachmann ashamed of the church she now attends?? If not, then why would she try to hide where she attends services and attests to the beliefs of the church????

    She does not hesitate to "say" she is a Christian, but I have never heard her say she has accepted as Jesus Christ as her personal Savior.

    Is she using Christianity to try to win votes from the so called "Christian right" which in my view in many cases takes views that are not Christian at all.

    Just like the one that said blacks were better off as slaves, which Bachmann signed the pledge agreeing with that outrageous statement.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • Keith Greene

      Prove the "slave" thing isn't true; first though, go ride through every major inner city in the USA. Run along now and get educated, then you may come back.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Keith Greene

      Darn, I left out the most important FACT... She didn't sign THAT pledge. ROTFLMAO!!!!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:13 am |
  3. Keith Greene

    Let's see now Obamas spiritual "teachers", Reverand Wright, Van Jones, George Soros, Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, Bernadine Doehrne, Ali Abunimah, Deepak Bhargava, Eric Holder, Valerie Jarrett, Rashid Kalili, ACORN and, well the list is about 300 long, so I'll stop here. Oh yeah, what did you say about Michele Bachman??? LMAO!! You libs have some serious mental issues, but the majority already knew that.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  4. HeyThere


    July 16, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  5. carolae

    Does anyone really care that she has left her church? Is this the best CNN can do for "new" news on a Saturday? I hope that in our lifetime, we never get to see a woman president of the country.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • Keith Greene

      I respectfully disagree with the woman president statement. We desperately need another Margaret Thatcher for America; sadly all the "men" have become political Eunuchs.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
  6. LWCata

    See what happens when you bring religion into politics! Now that Obama was 'coerced' into renouncing his church, the Bachmann's see no other choice....and more to follow.

    Guess what, America....you're not so grown up after all, but don't expect President Bachmann to be visiting the Vatican.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  7. Sam

    You have to make a request to leave your church? So what happens if the church doesn't grant the request? Whatever...

    July 16, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  8. John


    July 16, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  9. Ornley Gumfudgen

    So what? I attended a church every week fer 30 years only ta leave it when they started ta teach thangs that wasn't in accordance ta God's word in th Bible. I'd strongly recommend that anyone who catches their church doin th same leave it an find another church ta worship in. Thair's scripture that actually tells believers that when their church leaders are teachin thangs that don't agree with what is contained in scripture that thair is "no light" in them an th believer should flee frum them.

    I don't see whair she's not worshipin God an if she changes churches fer what ever reason she deems fit it's a far cry from sittin in a church fer over 20 years listenin ta a pastor denigrate God an our nation an then claim ta th world that th pastor was his mentor an that he never heard him, even though th rest of the world heard his pastor use Gpd's name in vain to curse America.

    But th sheeple sleep.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  10. Bachmann is a government liability

    Her husbands company is supported by the government and she received farm subsidies. And she thinks the government should be giving tax breaks to the rich. Why because she has been receiving government money most of her life!

    July 16, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Keith Greene

      Is that worse than government supporting abortion programs? You know, the shredding of live human babies whilst in the womb. The mothers womb which is supposed to be the safest place for a developing baby. Is that your logic here?

      July 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  11. Ralph in Orange Park, FL

    She now attends the church of "it's all about me".

    July 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Sam

      No, she's always been worshiping at that altar.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  12. steven harnack

    If the patient tells the therapist how to treat him why is he there? Once again the Bachmann's explanations don't pass the smell test.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  13. Sarah

    The church counsel granted their request to be released from their membership???? Freaky. Could they have denied????

    July 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  14. Eric

    @Robert: You're so wrong, your eyes are brown. You're just trying to justify the situation between Obama and Wright. It's the exact same here. You want to deflect criticism from Obama/Wright but feel justified in criticizing Bachman.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • Tom

      Actually, it's your judgement that's clouded by your beliefs. Robert is exactly right – it was Wright's personal beliefs, not that of his church, that caused him problems. In Bachmann's case, clearly stated in this article, for 10 years (or at least the 8 she attended) she believed that the papacy was the anti-christ, but now it's politically unpopular. Maybe Obama would never have disavowed Wright if not for politics, but the underlying reasons are very different. BTW, I'm a registered Republican, but a Libertarian at heart because you couldn't spit between the economic cost of government that the two parties avow. So I don't really have a horse in this race. It's pretty clear that Bachmann is an idiot, though. Google "Bachmann quotes."

      July 16, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  15. Rosemary

    "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." It is unclear whether this is a paraphrase of what Heider said, or an opinion of the reporter. FYI – The Catholic Church recognizes Christian baptism from Protestant churches when baptism is in water and uses the Trinitarian formula. As someone who was baptized in the Baptist church, I was received into the Catholic Church in 2004 without needing to be "baptized Catholic."

    July 16, 2011 at 10:47 am |

    Republicans cannot come up with one single candidate worth considering. Congrats Obama 2012!

    July 16, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Michael Atkins


      July 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  17. a4mrtheist

    All mention and talk about religion should be banned from politics

    July 16, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  18. Hypatia

    Lucky church

    July 16, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  19. lori

    This is the perfect example why religion should stay out of politics. The Christians can't even get on the same page. It's a huge distraction and gets us nowhere.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • mikeinga

      So you're saying by default that Atheists have a better record ...Hitler...Stalin..Mao.....nice try Lori.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Michael Atkins

      She did NOT say that!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  20. robert

    The difference between Bachman and Obama is that Rev Wright was spouting his personal beliefs that had nothing to do with Obama's faith. In Bachman's case she prescribed to the ideology of this church. Quite a difference!

    July 16, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • willy

      Not a good comparison. Wright lacked a developed theology. His selling points were his social services, which were admirable, and his rhetoric, which was deplorable. Because other social-service proving churches in Chicago exist and thrive without Wright-style rhetoric, Obama should have been questioned more about his choice of church.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • zbacku

      Why all the fuse over Bachmann's religion and Church. The media completely IGNORED Obama's 20 YEAR membership in a church with a Pastor that was one of the most racist human beings in America. They IGNORED the rants and ravings of Obama's Pastor. The IGNORED the hate and vitriol of a raving maniac, and yet seem to intent on destroying another Conservative over her religious views.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:01 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.