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. Michael

    For those that are unfamiliar with the different branches of Lutheranism, mnay Lutherans are confessional Christians that believe that the Book of Concord is the correct doctrinal interpretation of Scripture. It is part of their confessions that the papacy is the Antichrist. Every confessional Lutheran pastor takes a vow to teach and to preach according to the Lutheran Confessions. What surprises me is that this is news. Lutherans have been calling the papacy the Antichrist for nearly 500 years.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  2. Boomer

    The discrimination of the mainstream media is clearly highlighted by this article. The MSM did everything it could to hide the weird views of Obama's pastor and for as it could until finally 'outted' by Hannity. But, they're all over, from the start, Bachman's former church.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  3. Paco the Avenger

    I took a dump and it looked like Jesus. Then I flushed it because just like Jesus, it was in fact a load of sh!t.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  4. sim

    Another case of latent mormomania?

    July 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  5. John


    July 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  6. Erica Burrell

    She can not hide her bigotry. There are those whom will spend every minute required to let everyone see what a bigot she and many others in her party are.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • cottoneyed

      There are no bigger bigots than those on the left who have a seething, virulent hatred for Jesus Christ and his followers. This hatred oozes out of their pores, gives "meaning" to their lives, and without it, would eliminate virtually all animation from their miserable lives. None other than Jesus himself said, that "they shall hate you because of me". So, when someone of your ilk, spews out the "b" word, i know full well that it is you who is the bigot. So, by all means, wallow in it!

      July 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Peace2All


      You Said: "There are no bigger bigots than those on the left who have a seething, virulent hatred for Jesus Christ and his followers."

      Say w u t...? I don't know, maybe there is someone out there who has "a 'seething', 'virulent' 'hatred' for Jesus Christ.

      However, as far as I know... I'm not so sure that people on the 'left' would hate Jesus, as predominantly, the 'left' are 'believers' of one type of religion or another, including christianity. If you are trying to equate atheist's with your comment, even atheists do not, 'hate' Jesus. They just don't believe in the 'believe or burn' propaganda put out by the religious.

      Big difference.

      I would say it's more about not being in agreement to put it mildly, to strong disdain with some of the policies of the christian right.(IMHO).



      July 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  7. Zipperhead

    I find it very facinating that the same media that were very blase' about Barack Obama and his affiliation with Rev. Wright's whacked out church, can just dig and dig and dig when it comes to the religious background of a conservative woman cadidate.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Will

      The women is a tool without a brain

      July 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • MainerTom

      You need a fact (and reality) check! There are plenty of websites that will confirm the amount of time spent by ALL newspapers, television news broadcasts, and radio broadcasts on Obama's church affiliation. A huge amount of time - and rightly so! As for Ms. Bachmann, she just doesn't measure up in terms of (a) HER church affiliation ; (b) her utterly poor grasp of economics; and (c) her own poor prep for stump speeches (like where "the shot heard round the world" was fired]. So please, friend, let's not waste oxygen defending Michele. She is simply under-qualified for government leadership on every count.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • mirted

      Yep! And whatever "anti-catholic" biases found in the evangelical lutheran (or other religion for that matter) has no parallel to the Rev. Wright's Anti-American hatred (add, his hypocrisy of retiring to a white, gated, McMansion land). It's not possible to overlook Wright's hatred over 20 years of Obama's attendance (it's there in video and tape), while it is possible for
      some "christian" adherents to not even see a "anti-catholic" bias, particularly if church attendance is primarily out of custom.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Kaylan

      You said that right Zipperhead! How TRUE that is!

      July 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Boomer


      July 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Boomer


      You're full of it!! The MSM did not cover Obama's pastor until LONG AFTER Hannity first brought him to light. It studiously ignored Rev. Wright as long as it possibly could.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      Where, exactly, is the liberal media? All I saw for days were nonsense stories about Wright. CNN, Yahoo, CBSNews all covered it.

      This deserves the same scrutiny. Probably more since Ms Bachmann keeps claiming that God tells her to do stuff.

      If her actions are based on voices in her head, we should know who's pumping in the noise.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  8. artcorvelet

    Congratulations, author of the article Eric! You got your 15 minutes courtesy of that coveted Drudge link. Now, we don't have to bother in the future as you are not a Journalist, but have revealed yourself as simply a cheerleader. Now back to that frustrating obscurity with your pom-poms, bro...

    July 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • pithymcgee

      This is the Belief Blog, not a CNN news article. So silly... expecting anything real in an area of the site devoted to faith.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  9. paulm5545

    Politics as usual. Religion used to make you look good, or, dump it if it will hinder you. Just like Obama. People shouldn't be surprised, shocked or disappointed. These are professional politicians (aren't they all?) and they where religion/church like a coat. It can make them look good, or, if it gets to hot, discard the coat.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • paulm5545

      sorry...wear...not where

      July 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • paulm5545

      OK...I'm going back to bed – too hot...not "to hot."

      July 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  10. Hill411

    Gosh!!!! It is so refreshing to read the comments that attack Congresswoman Bachmann!!! Virtually ALL of the negative comments are unsubstantiated. Yep! The lowest common denominators of the progressive school systems have come forward to voice their opinions based upon what they think they heard or what 'someone' told them OR, more important!!! what they can not research themselves. If you choose to enter a comment that attacks the character of an individual; that denigrates the intelligence of an individual; OR questions the moral standards of an individual: do us all a favor, either do some due diligence or refrain from commenting. I understand that ignorance is bliss and that there are many blissful people on this blog who believe that repeating false information is a perfect avenue to create doubt BUT most of us have progressed beyond gossip and the 8th grade level of education to which you ascribe.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Will

      She has no brain, each time she speaks that is substanitated.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  11. pithymcgee

    Person of Faith – Now I understand why you're saying such stupid things... you're into creationism. Nothing even remotely close to verifiable science in creationism. You're flat-out STUPID.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Shane

      Stupid? How many degrees do you have? How many articulate books have you written? Christians are not stupid just because they are Christians. Same with Atheists, Mormons, or Muslims. Measuring one's intellect by one's belief system, to me, is misguided. Perhaps I'm wrong. But, I have a couple degrees–one of which delved heavily into evolution, to the point that I guarantee I know more about it than you–and I still choose to believe in what I have seen, not what teachers say. I don't hate people like you. I pity you, though. I'm sorry you have not learned to love others.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
  12. CRD

    If people view religion and religious practices as a joke – incidents like this are the reason why.

    In a "common sense" world, how is it that a person or family has to request to be released from a church membership, especially after they had failed to attend for two years? Was the church council in a position to say "no...you have to stay?" Why would the church council care who stays and who leaves? Why does a church council even exist if the church is not a business?

    Church is big business, and that is what makes religion a joke. Church is clearly less about God and more about money, but we continue to support the system – a system that is set up to generate income. Saving our souls has a lower priority. Sad.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • DR

      Amen to that!!!!! My point exactly!

      July 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  13. ZykPysk

    Crazy Lutherans! Always spreading hate! Oh. Wait a second, I forgot they are about as crazy as obammer is good at leading.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  14. Reason & Logic

    Funny how so many conservatives profess Christian ideals yet if Christ were alive today I know He would condemn the lifestyles of conservatives. Christ ministered to the poor, the sick, and the persecuted but all you hear from conservatives today is pandering to the rich and taking away from the poor and the middle class. Why do they do this, you ask? Because the conservatives don't care about doing what's right for America they only care about staying in power.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Just the Facts

      Nice opinion, Reason & Logic, too bad for you the facts are just the opposite. Many differing studies have clearly shown that it is Conservatives who freely give THEIR OWN MONEY to charitable organization to help the poor. Reason & Logic, you need to understand that taking other peoples money via taxation and redistributing it through government programs is NOT charitable giving. Wow, I notice you state a lot of other opinions with no correlated facts..are you really Robin Hood?

      July 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Ziporay

      Christ administered to the poor because most of the people around him were poor. Your demeaning of Conservatives is ridiculous. At least Conservatives live in this world as opposed to Liberals who create an impossible fantasy world. Read F.A. Hayek's "The Road to Serfdom" before you pontificate about subjects you know nothing about.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  15. Lefty Begone

    @SS - the president's finger is never on "the button." You're fearmongering.

    July 16, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  16. Lefty Begone

    CNN has done their part in whitewashing the issue of Rev. Wright, who said America deserved 9/11 as Barack Obama sat in the front pew for 22 years, agreeing with every word (otherwise he would have switched churches). The pastor also preached anti-white garbage.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Michael

      You think someone goes to a church only if they agree with every word, and then suddenly leave when something is said they disagree with?

      July 16, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Rev. Wright must have been psychic if you think Obama was listening to Wright's comments about the attacks on 911 since 1989 (22 years ago as you said)!

      July 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  17. Person of Faith

    Johan S - You would compare any church that Michele Bachmann has ever attended with Jeremiah Wright's church? Or compare any issue arising out of Obama's attendance at a church too extreme for Oprah to attend with any issue arising out of an ordinary Protestant church? Ridiculous.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  18. CSF

    Michele Bachmann leaves her church...just like her brain did to her a long time ago....

    July 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      She graduated from law school.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      To Person of Faith: That Michele Bachmann was a law school grad doesn't mean squat. Saddam Hussein was also a law school graduate.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Will

      She graduated law school? LMFAO......!

      July 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  19. SS

    Who cares what church she belongs to, she still doesn't see evolution as scientific fact. She thinks Adam and Eve were the first people on Earth and that plate tectonics didn't cause the continents to move, but rather it was the flood from the Bible, the whole Noah's ark thing-no joke. People seriously want this person to have her finger on the button???

    July 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Peace2All


      To me... the more of this kind of information comes out about the things she says and does, the more she will most likely endear herself to the radical christian right, but the more moderates/independents and liberals will ..."just say no" to Bachmann.



      July 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Person of Faith

      Evolution is not scientific fact, and there are many scientific facts which evolution can't explain, but which creationists can explain.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • ZykPysk

      At least she would (or anyone with a brain) push the button if the time came. Obummer can't make a single decision.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Gigi

      SHAME on the Liberals for trying to find fault with Bachman's religious views!! The media today is so anti-Christian, that it is sickening!!

      I am not a churchgoer, but I was raised a Christian and I DEEPLY RESENT the Democrat Party because of its attack on Christians, except when they think they may get a vote or two from their phoney piousness.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      I'd love to listen to a debate between Michele Bachmann and Erich von Daniken on how people arrived on this planet, what the stories of the Bible tell us, and who will actually be arriving for the second coming.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Will

      Love Love Love the Middle Age comment that evolution is not scienctific fact.....a person of faith aka: I live in a hole and deny reality..get a clue and move to Kansas with the other morons that think that...and by the way the bible is nothing but story telling, thats it, another Grim fairy tale.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. ADK

    WOW! If CNN really did their job in 2008, we might have learned the actual significance of Barack Obama sitting in and having vital family ceremonies with the Reverend Wright who "god-d@mned" America on more than one occassion.

    Well it is clear to see that Reverend Wrights student now POTUS listened well and as evidenced by policy, highly agreed.

    July 16, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Reason & Logic

      Unless you are a millionaire or dumber than dirt, you'd realize that it is the GOP that is screwing America.

      July 16, 2011 at 1:19 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.