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. Iowan

    I don't follow Michele Bachmann, but it should come as no surprise that Lutherans have a low opinion of Catholics. Anyone who knows anything about religious history knows that Martin Luther founded the Lutheran Church because of his belief that some of the teachings and polocies of the Catholic Church were wrong. Find some real dirt on the lady or leave it alone. This picking on religious beliefs is getting really old.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  2. Daniel Troppy

    Maybe the church booted BachWARDS out instead of her leaving the church?????

    July 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  3. bashaleebee

    lol. Bachmann supporters miss the point. She's not going to score big with conservative Catholic voters. The rest of us don't care. She's alienated the gays, most women, and now the Catholics. You can put down Obama and Reverand Wright but that isn't going to change the fact that her church insulted Catholics.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  4. josh rogen

    seems she had to do the something Obama did when the crazy teachings of his church came out

    July 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  5. Marcos Vargas


    July 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  6. jim atmadison

    Just as an example, a female WELS teacher is considered inferior to a male ninth grade recent confirmand in spiritual understanding.

    Also, while most WELS congregations let women speak at congregational meetings, they are not allowed to vote on church matters.

    They are more than a little nuts. I'm surprised Bachmann left.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Sidney Allen Johnson

    It matters not for no church in America is more radical and politically extreme than the one the current president attended for 20 years.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      So, Obama's crazy church matters, but Bachman's doesn't? You're about as smart as a bag of hair.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Mandy

      I agree Sidney. That was my first thought about how the press ignored the hatefilled church that President Obama attended for 20 years (I saw the chuch's web site before they changed it after the news caught on and it had many hatefilled videos for sale) and yet now the media will make a big splash about Michelle Bachmann's church because she and her husband may not have the lock-step mentality of the some of the US who believe the GLBT rule the morals of this country. No thought other than what the libs propose in this country is allowed any longer. People that don't think like the libs are hounded to death until they are run out of town or submit. This is called Communism folks. No free speech or thought. No mention either of Sarah Palin's chuch be set to fire with people inside, when that occurred. Sadly, I think they will do Bachmann in once they start on her church affiliation and her husband's work only because people aren't allowed freedom of thought or morals or religion in the US anymore....(unless you are a Muslim, of course. Then the media is all for you.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • kso

      people that say that the media ignored the church of rev wright issue, you really must not have been paying attention or are on a permanent mental vacation.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  8. Rich

    Marcus Bachmann is two months away from being caught in an airport bathroom snorting meth off the ass of a rentboy.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      Two months which way?

      Did it already happen and I missed it?

      The lovely Mr Bachmann does make Richard Simmons look positively masculine.

      Maybe WELS found out about him and that's why they left the church. 'Gay' is a very big no-no in WELS.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • CSF


      July 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  9. M R Canon

    Written by someone who is obviously unfamiliar with the practices of many church goers who wants to sully Bachmann's reputation. Some people attend a church for a lifetime; others, depending on where they live, their children and their ages, and how often they travel, will either leave their membership in one church, but attend another or, change the membership altogether.
    My advice, if you want to have people to regard your reporting skills positively, is for you to do your homework rather than hit and run!

    July 16, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      You're not making sense. But that's because you're an idiotic Bachman supporter. I shouldn't expect someone as intellectually stunted as you obviously are to be able to understand the legitimacy of this article.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      What makes your comment so absurd about religion is the fact that you state people have memberships in churches. Funny, I don't remember Christ's teachings saying anything about having to officially become a member of a church. Better to belong to no church and have faith in God than to be a member of a church, profess religion, but cheat. lie, and steal like many conservatives do today!

      July 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  10. John B

    I've heard that Bachmann's pastor believes that the CIA manufactured HIV for the purpose of killing African-Americans.

    ...sorry, No. I was thinking of someone else.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  11. Grow Up

    She's a moron.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      She graduated from law school. How much education have you got? She got elected to Congress. Have you ever been elected to Congress? She raised over $4 million during the last quarter of fundraising. Have you ever raised $4 million? Unless you've accomplished more in life than she has, you're not in a position to call her a moron.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      Person – there are plenty of rich, "educated", successful people who are, in fact, morons. Being a moron is a quality of intelligence, not the position one holds. Get a clue.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  12. BK

    My only question is why did the church have to 'grant her request' to leave their membership? Why isn't it a person's own personal choice to leave or join a new church at any time they wish? That strikes me as a bit cultish on the part of her church.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • M R Canon

      If members are leaving the church, it is considered a show of respect for church members to let the church officials know. Churches are a body of believers who offer comfort and help to each other. Often they will ask the church body to continue to pray for them as they adjust to new situations, i.e., guidance in finding a new church, jobs, schools, etc.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      It's not cultish. It's just a formality. Many churches operate that way.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Pastor Joel

      I am a pastor in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and I can assure you that people are always free to leave one of our congregations if they so choose. But since membership in a local church is a commitment not just to be faithful to that congregation, but to God, the church council always votes on requests. In granting her request for release they were just saying that they recognize that she is still faithful to God, but in another local congregation. If she had been unfaithful to God or the teachings of the Bible, she would have been removed from fellowship. That is not just a Lutheran thing. That is very common in many churches. God Bless you all. – Pastor Joel

      July 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  13. melman

    the Lutherans were the ones that brought in all those Somali muslim refugees into Minnesota and Kansas. I think her connection to this is what she is trying to defuse. Some of those Minnesota boys have been busted going to and from terrror training camps in Somalia since becoming U.S. citizens.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Trying to connect Bachmann to terrorism won't work. If you want to connect someone to terrorism, look at Obama's connections. It won't be difficult to find a link there.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • melman

      I don't want to connect her to terrorism- she doesn't want to be either, that's why she got out of the Lutheran church. The Lutherans brought those refugees over because they got paid money by the head by the federal government during Bush's presidency. The Lutherans could care less about the safety of the U.S.- they just care about making some money.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  14. univeralsunset

    it's a bit late to try to seem normal. Most people know what she's about

    July 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      And what's your definition of normal? Jeremiah Wright?

      July 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  15. Steve Bennett

    This is a perfect example of why you never ever want a democrat for president. When its anyone else, the press digs, and scoops, and mudrakes, and (albiet solely do to partisan purposes) will pursue anything that even hints there is a bigger story. For a democrat the press does none of this but pass feel-good stories and allow important stories to make there way under a rug.

    Bottom line is you cant trust the press with a democrat president

    July 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Johan S

      Last I checked Obama had to quit his church too due to a similar issue. Your premise and assumptions have failed.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Steve Bennett

      Hey -Steve...

      Are you talking about President Obama...? You mean arguably 'the' single most 'vetted' man ever to hold the office of President of the U.S...?

      You mean the guy who has had his... citizenship, ethnicity, religious beliefs, etc, etc... all, not only 'before' he became President, but still even now -continually- called into question by not only the media, but most specifically the radical Christian Right...?

      That guy...? You're right, there obviously hasn't been 'enough' investigating into our current President. 😯

      Wow !!!



      July 16, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  16. Just a girl- don't let me have any rights

    No matter what church she leaves or attends it doesn't make her any more (or less) of the typical extremist, fundamentalist- "Christian" that she is.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  17. barry1817

    will be interesting to see how much media attention this gets, compared with the Clown in Chief that currently occupies the white house.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      Did you forget? You and your cronies cried fowl over Obama's church and it was in the media for the entire duration of his run for president and is still brought up today. You're a typical GOPer – you MAKE THINGS UP. You're living in a fantasy land. Wake up and use your brain, bozo.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  18. JIm8

    After seeing what the right did with Obama, she probably wished to avoid some big wide brush at the church that she didn't want to be tarred with

    July 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  19. John


    July 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  20. J.

    As a lifelong practicing and believing Catholic, I believe and profess all that the Catholic Church teaches about the Papacy and in particular that it is the rock on which Christ has built His church. While I should be glad that Rep. Bachmann has dissociated herself from an organization with beliefs diametrically opposite to my own, I cannot help but see this move on her part as being politically motivated and nothing more. I hope I'm wrong. I am afraid she will turn out to be someone - like so many other politicians - whose beliefs are always pliable enough to fit whatever seems politically expedient at the moment.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Just a girl- don't let me have any rights

      You're not wrong.
      You should not concern yourself with her (or anyone elses) beliefs "jiving" with your own. The agenda, the strength of a country economically (which is already in complete disrepair) and protecting human rights should come well before the concern of who goes to what denomination of what church.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      Sorry J. Christ was the Rock. Peter was the Stone. Please read the article listed on our website “Church and what it means” to solve this mystery.
      You will be able to locate our website on Google under the entries “world deceived” or “a world deceived” and it will be your first listing.

      July 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • J.

      AvdBerg - An old canard. Doesn't square with the Greek text or with the Aramaic original that was uttered at the event. Protestants claim to believe in Scripture but then reject it when they don't like what it says. (John 6 being another example.)

      July 16, 2011 at 2:00 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.