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. freethinker

    I'm hoping she joins the Church of the Flying Spagetti Monster now!

    July 16, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  2. John


    July 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  3. Anglican

    A true flipper. Sad. Sure hope she doesn't become president.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
    • Mimi

      I can't look at the video from Canada; I have to go hunt around the Comedy Network weibste or some such thing. Bastages! Anyway, when I heard the fuss about the Newsweek cover, I had to go have a look. It really took me a long time to see anything odd about the photo. I mean, I think of her as a nasty nutjob, so maybe she always looks like that to me! Suck it up, buttercup. With all the things going on in the world (much worse things, like riots in England and oh, I dunno, a famine or two!), I just don't see what all the fuss is about. It's not like they Photoshopped that look on her face.Now what about this Rick Perry dude? Today was the first I'd heard of him and he's looking M I G H T Y scary too BTW, have you read Secrets and Wives: The Hidden World Of Mormon Polygamy by Sanjiv Bhattacharya? I'm really enjoying it. You've got me all curious about this Mormon thing (not just polygamy; I know there's more to it than that!)

      June 29, 2012 at 6:49 am |
  4. GAW

    The Wisconsin Lutheran Synod stands outside the mainstream of American Evangelicalism. No doubt the reasons could be many as to why she left (Including lapsed membership) but one is that she wants to appeal to the larger Evangelical subculture. Something she needs to do in order for her to rake in the support and votes (Mine Excluded)

    July 16, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  5. Sam-Tx

    GO, BACHMANN, GO! Both you and Sarah scare the hellout of the liberals, dumbocrats, and bummers! And the union bought media is terrified that you could pull the vast majority of women voters – and most of their shaky flaky base – back to sanity and good sense.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • hustlenflo

      The reason progressives are "scared" of Bachmann and Palin is because we don't want our President to be a raving crazy beyotch who thinks she's talking to god or the great pumpkin or whoever's voice pops into her head.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • God


      July 16, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Nellie

      Michele Bachmann's skin is too brown for her claimed background. Rumour has it that she's an illegal alien from south of the border. Her birth certificate from the zoo she was born in should be checked and shown publicly.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • rigel54

      She is scary, like a zombie! Brainless and easy to destroy in debate, but strangely contagious to the simple minded anti-science unwashed. Individually pretty useless, yet capable of bringing down civilization through the elimination of intellectual consciousness. Terrifying!

      July 16, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • TaxTheChurchesNow

      Scared?? She's a freakin joke and so are you if you think either one of those bimbos have a chance at getting elected as our

      July 16, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • cinnabear

      Must be the heat in Texass – fries brain cells. Palin & her inbred tribe, Bachman & her "husband?", W= epitomy of an idiot... must be hard to swallow a brilliant visionary of color leading this country.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  6. hustlenflo

    Quitting the church was a specific requirement of the contract she made with Satan when she sold her soul to be President.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  7. RobbyCanuck

    Now if we could just get her to leave politics!

    July 16, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  8. Ras Gregory

    Come on, rather secret society, innocent civilian murdering, false Jew in the White House...


    Someone who does have a lil bit of Knowledge, wisdom and understanding...at least she isn't an Atheist who couldn't tell you a single scripture from one of the many Holy Books out there.


    ISNT IT???

    Clearly the United States doesnt have the right President yet because there are still many "murderers" still walking around innocently.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Peter Rabbit

      did you take your meds this morning?

      July 16, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • rigel54

      No, the current Pope didn’t work for Hitler. Atheists have no need of scripture, through science they have an accurate understanding of the world and could make this into a pretty nice planet if it weren’t for simple minded theocrats. Knowledge is exactly what they don’t have. Don’t get the bit about innocent civilian murdering, were you thinking of the last guy?

      July 16, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  9. george . No comment

    To mark above who bad mouthed Obama: you are an idiot and you sound like the type that would vote for Bachmann, your type brought this curse called Bush on America,. There are two types of republicans: the very rich and the misinformed and you are the latter.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Epicurian

      Too true!!!

      July 16, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
    • Peter Rabbit

      True but you forgot: ignorant, selfish, self-serving, sheep, arrogant, ungrounded, hypocritical, judgmental...While democrates have there flaws as a whole they want what is best for all without condemnation, while as a whole repubs want for themselves and those that they deem "worthy".

      July 16, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  10. vel

    nothing like changing what you believe so people will vote for you. Yay, Michelle, for being a total hypocrite and attention wh.. well, you know.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  11. bigmike

    Who gives a FCUK ? There are better things to talk about these days than someone quiting their Church. How about jobs, the economy and the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libyan campaign? Come on now .....

    July 16, 2011 at 6:29 pm |


    July 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
  13. Terry P

    She could never get enough votes if she was nominated. Christy get the Nod at the Convention. That's the way I see it playing out.

    July 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  14. chris

    this woman is crazy. she LIES almost as much as Casey Anthony. Her family farm gets federal aid and SHE denies it (lie), her husband (who SOUNDS AND ACTS GAY) run a fraud operation that supports "pray the gay away" which has NO scientific support. She may be doing "well" in the race now but when it's time for the rubber to meet the road, she'll FAIL BIG TIME...

    PS – Michelle I think your husband is gay and you are just his "beard"

    July 16, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • irishsmile

      Please, can't we stay on policy and agenda. The name calling is sickening.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  15. mark

    She is not radical enough to be president. You must attend a cult-like hate-mongering church for a much longer duration of time. She should also start her political career with dinner at a terrorist house. Oh….and she should claim in a biography that she saught out marxist friends and professors, while continuing to surround herself with radical advisors who have a love affair with commuistist leaders like Mao. Last but not least, she as too much experience. She should stick to a career of being a community organzer or running a coo-aid stand . I agree, she has a long ways to go….

    July 16, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Wsci

      well said!

      July 16, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  16. jim atmadison

    john, if Ms Bachmann would listen to her 'moral conscience', she wouldn't lie so much.

    The stories she has told about the Federal money her family farm and her husband's pray-away-the-gay 'counselling' business take in have been shown to be outright lies.

    And there have been many more. It actually be pathological with her. Maybe she should try to pray that away, too.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      Sorry, but this got unattached somehow.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  17. frank

    Luther needs to come back and nail some theses to her face, so it doesn't abominate the light of day anymore, cause that is one UGLY bitch!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  18. shawn

    Guess how my parents quit their church....they simply quite going?

    1. Why do you need to tell anyone?
    2. Why do you need to have permission or be "released"?

    for the love of the flying spagetti monster...I hate every about Michelle Bachman...simply everything upsets me. I cannot stop reading what stupid thing for her or Sarah is newsworthy. I have no control because I cannot believe these people represent anyone is society!!!!

    July 16, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      I disagree, shawn. In WELS, you do request a release. Membership doesn't just lapse.

      I left when WELS turned from being scripturally conservative to being an arm of the Republican Party.

      I requested a release and didn't join another denomination until I had received that release. Consider it a courtesy.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • irishsmile

      The vitriole is shocking. Stick with the facts and drop the nastiness. It's very nasty and immature.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
    • Epicurian

      I too, was appalled at the concept of asking a church if you can resign your membership. Is there a fine? Organized religion of all stripes and colors is a play for power and money.....

      July 16, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  19. Guest

    See http://www.wels.net/news-events/forward-in-christ/june-2005/pope-has-died for the WELS take on the papacy.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  20. dingletoo

    Is this really newsworthy? or worthy of discussion? you people need to get lives

    July 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      Yes, this is newsworthy.

      Ms Bachmann is leading in the Iowa GOP polls, so she is currently relevant.

      She keeps saying that God tells her to do stuff, so it is important to know who is feeding the voices in her head.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • jim atmadison

      No, it's 'choot-spa'. When she said it, it was fall-down funny.

      July 16, 2011 at 6:52 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.