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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. Jason

    This is what I have a problem with. Since Reagan, politicians have used church membership as an appeal to the evangelical right. However, if there is anything controversial connected to that church, they distance or disconnect themselves from it to avoid PR problems. What does that indicate about their devotion, even in the face of adversity. Can they really be trusted with the nation's most difficult dilemmas? Look to those firm in their faith as measures of true character.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  2. Kevin

    So, she hasn't been to church in 2 years? SHE IS GOING TO H-E-DOUBLE HOCKEY STICKS OMG

    July 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  3. Michael

    Now what would be fun would to go through the Council of Trent and Pope's writings in the 16th century and see all the nasty things they say about Protestants, then chase after Catholic politicians and see who will drop their membership in the Roman Catholic Church due to these embarrassing new discoveries!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  4. Bible Clown

    Quit? Or fired? Inquiring minds want to know. As an admirer of Ayn Rand, she couldn't do anything else. Religion is a crutch for weak-minded sheep, according to Rand.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  5. Harry Baxter

    If you have to "ask permission" to quit your church, you don't belong to a church, you belong to a sect.
    For what it's worth, I belong to the church that your religion (if you call it that) calls "AntiChrist", and I'm offended that it took you ten years before you quit your so-called church, just because you're running for President.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Jake

      Not a sect, a cult!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Linda

      So what – and most churches have memberships. She could have easily did nothing, but she formally left that church. Here's a definition of sect as well ...A sect is a group with distinctive religious, political or philosophical beliefs. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Samuel

      Life under the microscope and the murmurings of the minions. It sounds like she is positioning herself before she has to play religious Tiddly Winks. She has to be sure that she does not Tiddly when she should really be Winking.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  6. Nacho1

    What does it matter what Christian church you belong to as long as it is a Christian church and NOT a Muslim place of worship in this country...........if she did NOT go to church at all that also would be OK as long as she is not attending a church that is anti-America. You can be a Christian and run for the Presidency or you can be an atheist as far as I am concerned as long as you are not a Muslim.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Ian

      Way to generalize, there, Skeeter.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  7. jk in MN

    Dropping your membership in an ultra-conservative church doesn't mean the you've changed. Hypocrite!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Ian

      In the name of the father, son, and jk in MN, amen.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Linda

      How do you know she changed her beliefs? She just removed herself from the membership because people in this world are so judgemental about anyone that has a belief in God. It's ok to be gay but it's not ok to have a religion. Thought we lived in the U.S.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Jake

      Linda – being gay doesn't say anything in particular about ones intelligence or how hateful one is. Religion speaks to both. Apples, meet oranges.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  8. David, CA

    They weren't psychotic or hateful enough to suit her.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • mike2

      David, I think you're talking about Obama's church... this is a diff one.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Sam

      No, David's got it right.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • minneminne

      Mike2, I believe David is referring to actual hateful statements made by Bachmann, and there are many. Obama hasn't made the same hateful statements as Reverend Wright.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  9. candycane

    The next step will be for her and her husband to start their own church . . . . and welcome their guests with "gay bashing" techniques! that are practiced in Marcus' clinic!!! The good ole Republican Party!! Who needs to spend money for entertainment???? The GOP candidates entertain ALL of us each and every day with their crazy rhetoric!! AND bizarre behavior!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • r-hope

      All you us? Really? check your stats again... I can tell you for every democrat there is a republican...... heck, there is a 1.5 repulican

      July 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • 1.5 repulican

      I am one and a half times more derp than a normal repulican. I had jello today.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  10. Sal

    All religions and churches are a joke........

    July 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • mike2

      man you're so smart... religion has been around for thousands of years, and you're the first one to figure it all out in a single lifetime. YOU ARE AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Sal

      @mike2 eat a d1ck a$$bag

      July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Alison

      Eh, if people want to spend their Sundays at church, that's on them. I don't happen to agree with it but, to each his own. When people like her want to dictate MY life based on their OWN beliefs... That's when I get angry.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Jake

      Alison – but that is the thing. Almost all of them DO want to dictate how you live. And they want to do it based on the nonsense the "learn" every Sunday. These people are not in a vacuum. Most want to harm others based on fairytales.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Jake

      mike2 – religion has been around for thousands of years because humankind has spent most of its history not knowing or understanding much about them. Religion filled the gaps that existed because of our ignorance. As actual knowledge and understanding increase, the need to fairytales believed without evidence (and often against large volumes of evidence) decreases.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Jake

      oops, I meant "about the world"

      July 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  11. RayJacksonMS

    They are such good christians that they want to force their cult beliefs on others yet they haven't gone to their own cult house in two years. Typical chistian hypocrites.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Ceri

      If I didn't know any better, I'd say you are trying to inflict your beliefs (or lack of them) on the rest of us. But you can't be or that would make you a hypocrite, right?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • FSM4LIFE

      How did Ray try to force anything on anyone with what he said? Oh yeah, he didn't. Try again, Christian nutjob.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  12. Larry L

    I thought the "Scriptures" were written by Catholics... Oh well, she'll find a place with just enough hatred to serve her purposes – crazy enough to be hateful but not an obvious rejection of any large block of voters. "Please pass the snakes..."

    July 15, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Larry, no, there used to be many different Christian churches, but the Catholics hunted them down and killed them. The Scriptures came from the pre-Catholic Christians.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Linda

      The Catholics only think they were written by them. It's an interesting history – makes me wonder anyone would want to be associated as a Catholic.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • NYcitizen

      The Scriptures Caholics follow is the Old Testament which is the Jewish Torah, and the New Testament, the Gospels wriitten by the Apostles. The ignorance abounding in this blog/comment section is unbelievable!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      The Scriptures were not written by either Catholics or Protestants. The Scriptures pre-date both parties by at least 300 years.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  13. mike2

    At least Michele is smart enough to quit her church before people figure out that it was ran by a white-hating, America-hating racist ***hole. Obama was a day late and a dollar short. ❤

    July 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • SAPPER

      YA after 10 years she finally came to relaize that her career would be kick down the drain , so now she leaves, give me a break LOL

      July 15, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Yeah, he got called a Fundamentalist and a Muslim by the same people. Anything to make noise, right Mikie?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Dave Davis

      Hello, Mike. judging by the economy, Mr. Obama is many dollars short.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  14. Sal

    She needs to have her mouth stuffed.......

    July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • mike2

      Such intellect! Please post more!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Sal

      @mike2 eat a d1ck a$$bag.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  15. Moreaces

    Still bat ish crazy

    July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  16. TRouble

    It must have been because of all the racist hate Rev. Wright was spewing!? Oh wait, that was Obama!!! And he still didn't quit until he was basically forced to. I love the short term memory loss for the Bachman haters vs. their own "hope and change"! What a joke!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • mike2

      At least Michele is smart enough to quit her church before people figure out that it was ran by a white-hating, America-hating racist ***hole. Obama was a day late and a dollar short.

      July 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • ardubbs

      I love when black people tell the truth about the USA's tainted history it's called racist, but when white people discuss it, it's history, except in Bachman's case since she clearly knows nothing about this country's history. She is a moron, Big Brown would run circles around this wingbat, actually to make the debates fair, he would probably have one of his daughters debate Bachman.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • TRouble

      @ardubbs; Polling shows Obama has a worse approval rating right vs. former Pres. Bush (at the same times during their Pres) and that if the election were held today Obama would lose to ANY Republican! Talk about living in the past, this isn't 2008 anymore. And btw, Rev. Wright wasn't only talking about past America, that's why Obama had to leave. His claims/beliefs reflected a distorted view of his perceived racism in America, and the lives lost on 911, going as far as to indicate "we deserved it"! Truth hurts!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • FSM4LIFE

      Is that anything like the short term memory loss that the Obama haters have for all of the things Bush did to trash our country?

      July 15, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  17. Sal

    She is an oinker.........

    July 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  18. Agnostic Theism

    Michelle Bachmann and her closet case husband make me sick to my stomach with their faux christianity, but at the end of the day, it is no one's business what church they join or leave.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  19. ac

    She's a RACIST and now she's Anti-Catholic, go girl, keep on trucking, tonta!

    July 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • mike2

      I also heard she's an alien! And she only has three toes!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • r-hope

      Where did you read she is anti-catholic? REad the article – twice, if you must

      July 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • checkmoreoften

      you really should get out more Nick... CNN and MSNBC ran several pieces about Obama and his involvement with Rev Wright. They also reported him leaving the church. Even NPR did a piece about it on Talk of the Nation. Easy to forget all that though when you're trying to villianize a media group for "hatin' on right-wing" i suppose.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • BOLOGNA BOLOGNA BOLOGNA

      I heard she gets her clothes from off of corpses in funeral homes!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  20. Nick

    I'm sure if Obama was a member of a church that...oh I don't know had a paster that hated America and made crasy racist comments then CNN would do a full story on that too. I just know they would.

    July 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • mike2

      CNN only does the hit pieces on white people, remember? YES WE CAN!

      July 15, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Alina77

      I am Ok if paster makes crazy comments, but Buchmenn waaaay bit any other pasters. Its Ok, I know you all mixed up, I would be too.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Go back in time a few years, you missed it.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • Jake

      Nick is deploying a favorite right wing trick. Whenever a right-winger says "but the media didn't cover that, did they" in an attempt to show media bias, the best thing to do is reasearch the media coverage in question. You will without fail find that the media DID cover the event, issue, etc. in question pretty thoroughly. I don't know if they are lying, repeating what they heard Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter say, or misinformed. My guess is that all three come into play.

      Indeed, Nick's example completely undermines his credibility. I knew all about the Rev. Wright thing, as most of America did. I got most of my information from CNN and the Washington Post. Those media outlets covered the story thoroughly, and, often times, in ways that were not flattering to Obama. Just like most national media sources did.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • AzSoul

      Sorry Nick, I never listen to Rush, Beck or Hannity and I read about the Obama Church thing from CNN and other news agency that are apparently "liberal media". I love how you all call us Kool Aid drinkers, but yet wont even do a second of research to see if what is being said over the airwaves is actually true or not...

      July 16, 2011 at 6:29 am |
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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.