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. Dona Ana

    Sugar Frosted!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  2. Gretchen

    fr Ebony:

    >Don't believe he is that intelligent....<

    Anyone who is President of the Harvard Law Review, and graduates FIRST in his class at Harvard Law School IS very intelligent. You must be speaking about dumbya, PRESIDENT Obama's predecessor. You know, the one who BOUGHT, drank and partied his way through college, the one that mommy and daddy must be sooo proud of.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  3. John

    The article picture is Bachmann trying to show how big her penis is to the public.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  4. marklipinski

    This woman and her ilk are as close to Nazism as we have ever gotten in this country! It's appalling!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  5. elvis costanza

    Give her enough rope or enough time in front of a microphone and she'll let slip what she REALLY believes and it's way too radical for most of the GOP, let alone ordinary Americans. I wish her husband would either shut the hell up with his bigotry, or just go ahead and get a boyfriend so he can get what he so obviously craves.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  6. Republickin Nooz of The Day

    In today's candidate news, Michele Bachmann, having recently left her church behind, is said 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 5:11 pm |
    • mshare

      LOVE IT!!!!!!

      July 16, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  7. Peppi

    Marcus Bachman apparently has bee outed. It is pretty obvious from watching him talk walk dance you name it he is gay and seems to think he's been "cured". This makes his and Michelle Bachman's views on gays pretty much come into focus too.Imagine what the right wingers would be saying if Obama acted like him- Wow.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  8. shukurac

    Every time I see her husband and notice his mannerisms and body language, it screams gay! She is in denial. Her husband is gay. As for the church, who cares! But they sure did try to use Obama's church against him so fair game, regardless of her timely withdrawal. It's obviously just for appearances!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  9. Mark

    Anyone with common horse sense can see that Bachmann's husband is gay!

    July 16, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Ebony

      Sounds like you're looking for a close friend.

      July 16, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  10. Phil Johnson

    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." As a Lutheran, I will respond that within the Catholic church there are STRONG STRAINS of anti Lutheranism in spite of self righteous theological spoutings to the contrary. The Catholics are still a part of the remains of the Roman Empire in their worship of and application of economic and social power. They are not so much a religion as they are a cult that preaches a "WAY" to salvation that is built around subservience to their GOD, the POPE.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Terry in Maryland

      Well, we can certainly see that your views of the Catholic Church are impartial. Thanks for a demonstration of the issue mentioned in the article.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Gretchen

      Having grown up in the missouri (misery) synod lutheran church, I am very glad that I left that bunch. I found them to be frighteningly paternalistic, very anti-choice, and the fact that WOMEN aren't allowed to be preachers or even read the Gospel lesson is disgusting. Sure women could clean the chancel area and wash the linens and communion cups or teach Sunday School to kids, but NEVER adults was just wrong, in my view.

      I hope someday they'll change and be more like the ELCA, but I'm not holding my breath.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  11. Nitae

    "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."

    I don't know where he gets this, but it is incorrect. I converted from Methodist to Catholic 20+ years ago and my baptism was recognized. I did not have to be re-baptized. As far as I know, Catholics recognize any Christian baptism as a valid baptism. Just another sad example of misunderstanding between religions.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  12. carby

    Michelle Bachmann – I have many gay friends....know many more.....and even if I didn't.....your husband is GAY!!!!!!And of course, like most closeted gay men, he speaks harshly against gay men...typical.....

    July 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  13. blf83

    The late pope thought W was the antichrist! Honest to God!

    July 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      So the pedophile protector thought that the war-mongerer was the Anti-Christ?

      Now there's a pot-meets-kettle moment.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  14. Geneo

    OMG! Is this really news?

    July 16, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  15. Susan

    I agree, that lady is crazy, but I don't give a fig about her religious hobbies, as I don't any other public official. That is a private matter.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • elvis costanza

      Not in her case, it isn't. She is a religious zealot and it informs every aspect of her life, her view of America, and her plans for you if she should somehow stumble into office.. The LAST thing she understands or believes in is separation of church and state, don't kid yourself.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • K. Cunningham

      Can you please send a letter to Governor Perry of Texas and let him know that?

      July 16, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  16. ks

    oh please don't vote for her........

    July 16, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Ebony

      Why not? Are you anti-women?

      July 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • DM158

      I'm not anti-women. I'm anti-stupid. So, I agree, don't vote for her

      July 16, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Ebony

      Its not healthy to be against yourself...

      July 16, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Gretchen

      Believe. me, I wouldn't, but I can't see her getting the repub nomination

      July 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  17. Tumak

    And I thought Obama was the Antichrist.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Ebony

      Don't believe he is that intelligent....

      July 16, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  18. mikael fata

    mountaineer i have to agree with you, I'm gay and if her husband is not gay i will eat my hat and return my gay membership,lol.

    July 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  19. Calvin59

    Duplicitous fool she is

    July 16, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
  20. Mountaineer

    She has to have the Far Right vote and there's not enough Lutherans to win her the Republican nomination. By the way, her husband acts as though he need some anti-gay therapy!

    July 16, 2011 at 4:14 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.