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. chrisg510

    Dear Jesus, is this really what you had in mind for your people?

    July 16, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • chrisg510

      Anyone want to try to answer?

      July 16, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  2. Mona

    Nothing shocks me coming from this "loonie tunes" ! Something did shock my about her husband tho....he running a clinic
    to help people who are gay to not be gay.....this coming from a gay looking/speaking gay type. Have nothing against gay
    folks just thought it was strange that they both were running this type of clinic......OMG!

    July 16, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Ebony

      he running a clinic
      to help people who are gay to not be gay: A worthy cause!!!

      July 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  3. FerdinandIX

    I don'[t care if she is insane. I love her!

    July 16, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Yousef Islam

      You can have her. Take her away from me, please.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  4. chrisg510

    You just cant make this stuff up. Bachmann , extreme rigth wing teabagger, who is crazier than a loon with a husband that looks and sounds gay with a clinic that "prays away the gay" Hollywood has nothing on reality.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Ebony

      I got ur bag right here...

      July 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  5. Nick

    Just shows, if someone wants to attack another person anything will do. What would really disqualify her would be green hair. Remember you are only young once but you can be childness until you die.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Norman

      she lost any chance when she started spouting the anti-gay crap-no one likes hate-even those against full equality-she is done-thank God!!

      July 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  6. cnn is biased

    This photo of Michelle Bachman is awful. Shame on you, CNN. This photo clearly does not reflect Bachmann well. I can't take CNN seriously.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Alert Citizen

      There is sale in JC Penny Make Up department! Hurry!

      July 16, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Norman

      shes ugly inside and out-teh photo is just fine-no one will take YOU seriously if you judge a story by the accompanyign photo...

      July 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Nellie

      Her skin looks too brown for her last name to be real. Maybe she's an illegal alien from south of US. Has she produced her birth certificate yet?

      July 16, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      I think the 'pistol fingers' are cute.

      And appropriately enough, they're pointing in random directions.

      Kind of like her comments.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  7. Michigan_Joe

    Why would she go through the trouble of "quitting" a church that she says she hasn't attended in over two years? Something lies just below the surface that will surely rear it's ugly head soon. Strange things from a strange woman.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • R Bailey

      In the WELS you are a member until you request release or transfer. We do not just kick people out.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • BrianInMesa

      R Baily – you said: "In the WELS you are a member until you request release or transfer. We do not just kick people out"

      Does that mean that the 390,000 members are not real. Say 200,000 have not been to a sevice for years – in fact many may be dead?

      Sounds like the Mormans bringing people into the church 100's of years after they died.

      Kind of funny and a bit pathethic. Somewhere someone is probably claiming I am a catholic even though I have not been in a church for 50 years.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    fox reporting that walmart is taking delivery of 20 million casey anthony halloween masks

    July 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  9. abdi

    michelle to be a leader of america is not a jock.you are in wrong wrong wrong game. get out of this game ASP.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Kerin

      abdi don't be such an asp.

      July 16, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  10. trex

    So much for Bachmann"s integrety. She even bails out on her basic beliefs to support her soon to fail bid at POTUS.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  11. flemsky

    There's something very weird about Bachmann beneath her Middle American veneer: the hungry eyes, the distended mouth, the whole righteous warrior pose. Other politicians have transcended their weird beliefs, as Dicey Stewart did: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUI3Xr1HOnY . As for Bachmann, I'm not so sure.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  12. Reality

    The status of the "Reformation":---

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of mythical angel visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems:

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals, fleeing politicians and atonement theology,

    July 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  13. Politikal Daily Nooz

    In today's candidate news, Michele Bachmann, having recently left her church behind, is rumored to be converting to Islam.

    Bachmann is also leaving her latent-gay, flaccid husband so that she can be free to pursue musician Yousef Islam (Cat Stevens). Bachmann is guoted as saying "I've always liked his music. You know what they say about musical men and their trombones..." and "As a Muslim and POuTUS, I could solve our terrorism problems once and for all. There's no way Al Kaida and his countrymen will attack a country with a Muslim leader. This will help me get elected in other ways too. In fact, it might be the only way I can get more than the teabagger vote and pull in anything from Obama's liberal base."

    Yousef Islam (Stevens) was heard to say "No way, dude, no friggin way. That leathery old haggis wouldn't have made it as my groupie even when she was 20, no matter how good her oratory skills are."

    July 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  14. Code

    Deceitful, disgusting, disloyal. Typical of a candidate for elected office as a GOP person. She is using Medicare to convert money intended for medical treatment from political contributions to cash for her personal use. She is a criminal and a liar.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  15. jimzcarz

    Another 2-faced Snake.

    July 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  16. David R. Scott


    July 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  17. jean2009

    Is this her Rev.Wright moment? Why hasn't her husband shut that phony clinic which is ripping off the American tax payer?
    Anyone who thinks "a gay can pray it away" is an airhead....so do we really need a first family of space cadets?

    July 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  18. carby

    Michell Bachmann's husband is the biggest GAY man I have ever seen! Your husband is GAY Michelle!!!!!!!

    July 16, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • norma38

      I think he is gay also, nice cover-up he has going!

      July 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Brownstain

      Is he a receiver?

      July 16, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  19. round raven

    This is a woman who claims to be a lot of things and still collects our tax dollars under the cloak of medicaid.
    She is your typical republican that wants more money and will stare above the faces of poverty to maintain her own agenda.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  20. Fiona

    So her political aspirations trump her "faith"? Why am I not surprised, given the lying she and her husband have done over their "clinic" and billing fraud.

    Why on earth would you have to apply to a church council for a release from the congregation? i was involved in churches for many years. Never heard of anything like that except from a cult.

    July 16, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • norma38

      How would you like having someone like her as a leader of this country, scarey!

      July 16, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Mesa Mick

      Teavangelicals like Sister Michelle and the Rev. Rick of TX are the most dangerous things in American politics today – These religiously motivated sociopaths view elected public office and governance as a "ministy for Jesus" not as a secular public service. So if you're not prepared to "kneel down, pray and let Jesus take the wheel running the country" you had better not vote for them...

      July 16, 2011 at 3:03 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.