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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. vato

    CNN-communist news network
    communist=liberal

    July 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • alex

      Teabagger=moron

      July 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  2. Tony Cisneros

    Historically, LUTHERANS Have Always Professed & Believed That The Roman Catholic Papacy, In This Case Pope Benedict XVI, Is The Antichrist &-Or Antichrist ! Bachmann's Former LUTHERAN CHURCH Still Believes In The Historic LUTHERAN Profession & Belief–AS I ALSO DO–And I'm NOT A LUTHERAN !

    Truthfully, Honestly & Sincerely Yours,

    Tony Cisneros
    2011 Candidate For City Treasurer,
    City Of Chicago,
    State Of Illinois,
    United States Of America.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • AvdBerg

      For a better understanding of the History of the Catholic Church we invite you to read the articles The Mystery Babylon and Popes and the Princes of This World on our website. You can locate it on the Internet by entering “a world deceived’ on Google. It will be your first listing.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • cj

      The Lutheran Church renounced such beliefs hundreds of years ago. It is uncommon knowledge that at its creation by a lunatic they professed a very dark dogma. That said, every religion has its heretics, all Christians can do is rebuff and pray for them. And remember that even men of the Cloth can be corrupted.

      It is folly to confuse the ravings of mad men for the the beliefs of the Church. Folly or the ravings of yet another mad man.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  3. Keith Greene

    I truly love it when liberals can't respond back with facts.... Ahhhhhhh.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  4. AvdBerg

    What does the Bible teach us about the word “Church” and which 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 11:26 am |
  5. JackTaraz

    This is no different than Obama and the Racist Pastor, Reverend Wright. Michelle Bachman needs to distance herself from the church because it calls the Pope the anti Christ, like Reverend Wright called Caucasions and America as the Devil!

    She is done anyhow. Her and her husband and their business of changing Gays to Straight is laughable. She is done on that scam alone.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Keith Greene

      So they're at fault if someone comes SEEKING help?

      July 16, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  6. Tony Cisneros

    Historically, LUTHERANS Have Always Professed & Believed That The Roman Catholic Papacy, In This Case Pope Benedict XVI, Is The Antichrist &-or Antichrist ! Bachmann's Former LUTHERAN CHURCH Still Believes In The Historic LUTHERAN Profession & Belief–AS I ALSO DO–And I'm NOT LUTHERAN !

    Truthfully, Honestly & Sincerely Yours,

    Tony Cisneros
    2011 Candidate For City Treasurer,
    City Of Chicago,
    State Of Illinois,
    United States Of America.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Keith Greene

      This is simple, what the Catholic church teaches is not biblical. One cannot go through "man" for forgiveness of ones sins. So that is "anti Christ." Because Christ said, no one can go to the Father except through me (Christ.).

      July 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  7. DYBO

    She needs to name Palin as her running mate.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. John Campbell

    This is way so obvious for an attempted leftist press hit job on Michelle Bachmann that the entirety of this nation should stand up in one loud voice and tell CNN where to stuff it. The intent is to split the religious vote, Catholics versus Protestants. Any fool should be able to see that and call out CNN for the pure evil they attempted to perpetuate.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • MarineDad

      Why is THIS a hit job? All the while before the 08 elections, Fox, and all the right wing radio spewed venom about Obama.

      First, they brought up Rev. Wringt, and his 'GD America' as Hannity would sermonize – day in and day out. Then Obama belonged to a madarssa in Indonesia, and then he was a Black activist Christian, and then questioning his birth. They threw everything and the kitchen sink at him.
      .
      And all this after going through one of the worst period in American politics – the Bush-Chenney 8 years.

      The reason that Conservatives will lose 2012 is because of their sheer mean spirit & utter hypocrisy.

      Bachman's deal with the church comes to question, because she wears religion on her sleeve.

      I am fairly independent in how I vote, but in the last 10 years or so, the Conservative movement in this country has gone downhill. Today, most conservatives are hypocrites and are 'holier than thou'. They keep saying they care about the 'common hard-working' American, and yet all they do is only sell them a 'dream', and not much else.

      Their heart and minds are only with people making over $250,000.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  9. hunter

    Wow. You media guys really think we are stupid. Where was the aggressive research on the current President before he ran?
    This behavior by you pro-democrat media is insultingly transparent and poor in quality.
    No wonder you are losing market share.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • MarineDad

      Is Fox News and all the right wing radio NOT a part of the media?
      Don't tell me they are some small time fringe media, just trying to keep their heads above water!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  10. slupdawg

    Apparently she is searching for a nuttier congregation and pastor more in line with her extremist dogma.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • JIm in Houston

      You mean one like OBlamer's Jeremiah Wright? Now there is a true nut job and racist. Shut up and drink you kool aid.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  11. Tony Cisneros

    Historically, LUTHERANS Have Always Professed & Believed That The Roman Catholic Papcy, In This Case Pope Benedict XVI, Is The Antichrist &-or Antichrist ! Bachmann's Former LUTHERAN CHURCH Still Believes In The Historic LUTHERAN Profession & Belief–AS I ALSO DO–And I'm NOT LUTHERAN !

    Truthfully, Honestly & Sincerely Yours,

    Tony Cisneros
    2011 Candidate For City Treasurer,
    City Of Chicago,
    State Of Illinois,
    United States Of America.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • John Campbell

      Better check your history again. Luther's views of the Papacy on this took place after his younger years and his mind was going due to old age. Further, this very same argument was used by the NAZI's to promote antisemitism. You might want to be careful of what you chose to discuss. You seem to be putting yourself firmly in bed with the Nazi's.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  12. FP

    This is so silly. The liberal media is so dedicated to finding some controversy about MB that they jump on this tidbit. What desperation! This is not a big deal. A family decided to leave thier church, no big deal. It happens every day! I'm a pastor and people come and go. Could this have some political reason, I suppose. But it is much better to make a move like this than what happened with BO.
    I know to many of you Palin is the enemy, but looking back it is very admirable that she never apologized for her faith.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Brian

      They don't have to be eager to "find controversy " The woman is a walking foot in mouth show.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Hereiam

      I'm a Conservative, but at least I can see religion is a bunch of crock. Welcome to the 21st century...it's time to evolve.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  13. robert

    Teabaggers=fascists

    July 16, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Lee

      Liberal=Idiot!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • hunter

      Robert = drooling Obamaton

      July 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • JIm in Houston

      Must be one of the six fans of Sissy Chrissie Mathews. His/her intelligence level is about two points lower than an amoebae.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  14. C, K, Justice

    Bachmann claims to be a Christian, but she signed a pledge that was issued by a so the so called "Christian right" that said blacks were better off being slaves.

    How can anyone who claims to be a Christian sign a pledge like that--I understand she said that she omitted that part of the pledge, but that was after the fact--my guess is she never read the pledge before she signed it and when it was brought to her attention she like all others who do wrong are sorry or try to use other methods to get of the mess AFTER THEY ARE CAUGHT.

    In my opinion, Bachmann should end her candidacy now for she will never be able to win the nomination, but she may want to be picked as the vice president nominee and then like Palin, be the attack dog for the president nominee,

    But then I do not believe Romney will pick her as his running mate for he will be the republican nominee for the presidency.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • eric calderone

      That would be interesting - Romney and Bachmann on the same ticket? Two kooks: one may believe the Bishop of Rome is the antiChrist, while the other may believe the ancient Israelites sailed over the seas and colonized the Americas, and gave birth to some of the modern indian tribes of the New World.

      I am not sure which one is the more crazy.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • hunter

      BS on your claim.
      You either made that up or are repeating lies.
      And you probably know it.
      There is no truth in your claim, liar.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      That is exactly what it is – YOUR OPINION and opinions are like a _ _ holes – everybody has one.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  15. paul

    This woman should feel right at home in islam hatred of everything right along with teabagger principles.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Tom Bryant

      Ummm, Paul.... hate to tell you this but... Most Muslims politically self identify with the Democrats. They do not share the values of the Tea Party, generally speaking.

      Tom Bryant
      MA-Religious Studies, Univ. of South Florida

      July 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • JIm in Houston

      I thought tea baggers were you libaturd fruits from La La Land.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  16. Dan Halen

    This would have been an interesting story, if it had been about a legitimate candidate. What a waste of web space.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • Charles Stevens

      I have no interest in Harry Potter. I think I'll go find a story about Harry Potter to comment on!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  17. Bill Llewellyn

    CNN would have no reason to, but if they wanted to start digging around in MY religious beliefs in a blatant attempt to denigrate my beliefs or my church affiliation......... their reporter and their editors would have an early chance to meet my God. I would introduce them to God's salvation plan real quick.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Charles Stevens

      I'll bet they're pretty scared.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Biminicat

      WOW!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Echo

      This woman is running for president of the united states, you better believe it is not only my right but my duty as an American citizen to know all about this person.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Alex

      Typical!

      July 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Bill Llewellyn

      Hey -Bill...

      These are all political candidates running for the office of President of the United States. Truly finding out who these candidates are and what they believe is part of the process.

      Maybe you don't care the who, what, why etc... of what they say and do... but I think a lot... maybe even most of America 'does' care.

      Part of how we make informed decisions about our candidates.

      Regards,

      Peace...

      July 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      @echo – Justl like you knew "All about" Obama before he was elected.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  18. Edwin

    I can't wait to read how conservatives will defend Bachmann's decision, even though they ruthlessly criticized Obama's decision to quit his church (*after* the campaign was over, if I recall).

    I'm sure that it was a reasonable move for her, because she is a Tea Party favorite. Therefore, her motives cannot be impure.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Steve

      Maybe her pastor told her God dam America and it would help her get elected like it did our cry baby president,

      July 16, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • hunter

      Obama quit after 20 years of sitting in a bigoted congregation.
      And he quit only after he was publicly outed for it.
      His racist pastor was his campaign religious adviser.
      MB quit prior to her campaign, had not attended there for years, and has no political support from that church.
      Please explain why Obama's 20 racist church membership is similar at all?

      July 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Dennis Pence

      Obama threw Rev. Wright "under the bus" at the urging of the Democratic Party – BEFORE he was elected. Prior to that he reaffirmed that he "could not deny him and his influence anymore than he could a brother".

      July 16, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Edwini

      Edwin, I doubt her church is a racist, anti-USA church like Obummers.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  19. robert

    Not trying to justify anything, just making a distinction that Obama didn't join a church that at it's core is completely outside of the mainstream and believes that the Pope is the antichrist and that gays can be prayed straight. Your talking about a pastor's politics as opposed to the core beliefs of a church, again quite a difference. Also, there is no indication that Obama presribed to the views of Rev Wright, but there is plenty of evidence that Bachman is in lockstep with the beliefs of this church.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • teddysalad

      So you're not trying to justify anything? Mmm, non sure what your idea of 'mainstream' is, but it's quite far from reality.

      And there's no reason for anyone to have a problem with the Tea Party unless they receive benefits from the govt, don't pay nay taxes at all, or they realize that the Dem party receives political contributions based on tax policy.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • eric calderone

      There is an abundance of evidence that Romney is in lockstep with the religious beliefs of his church: Joseph Smith is a prophet of God; the Book of Mormon is another testament to Christ; God and his sons, Satan and Christ, lived near the star, Kolob; the early christian church apostasized and God's grace was removed from the earth until Joseph Smith restored it.

      Shucks, even if Bachmann believes what her former church teaches, compared to Romney, she is the epitomy of theological moderation.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  20. robjones

    What church did Obama go to for 20 years? Oh, that's right....Rev. Wright's church. But of course Obama never heard Wright, his 'spritual advisor', make any of those inflammatory comments or express his repugnant views about America. Did CNN even cover that story back in 2008? Of course not.

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

      Did CNN cover that story? Are you serious? It was a MAJOR NEWS EVENT. EVERYBODY covered it.

      And everybody knows Obama only joined Trinity to make his political resume look good - it allowed him to connect with important people. It is entirely possible that Obama only went to church a few times a year, or that he was on his Blackberry during most of the sermon.

      But I agree - if you think Obama shouldn't be blamed for Wright's speeches, don't blame Bachmann for the church doctrine - unless you have evidence where she SPECIFICALLY promoted it. And likewise, if you demonized Obama for Trinity, you should be raking Bachmann over the coals right now.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Becky

      Edwin: If joining Wright's church will help our political resume then that speaks volumues about the Democrates and what they stand for not just Obama.

      July 16, 2011 at 11:31 am |
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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.