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. Rudedog

    I do not know who came out the winner in this, psycho Bachmann or her psycho Church.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  2. john

    if everyone left their church then the world would be a better place 🙂

    July 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • MrHanson

      Especially the Church of Darwin. The new state state sanctioned religion.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • RaDe

      Ah yes, the Soviet Union experiment. That worked out really well, didn't it? Eliminating religion does not make things better, as proven by history. Human nature is what it is.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  3. PoconoPhil

    Everybody relax. Bachmann is unelectable. She's only in it to kick the hornet's nest.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Richard

      Shhh! Let the idiot liberals fixate while the real Republican candidate kicks the odious Obama out of office.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • james

      I thought so too at first. Now, I believe she is snowballing into an avalanche which will result in her as the Republican nominee. If the economy and joblessness doesn't get any better, watch out. You may be eating your words.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  4. Emiliano

    This country has degenerated rapidly over the last thirty plus years, to the point where nincompoops the likes of Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin are being considered, at least by the corporate media, serious candidates for the presidency, no less. CNN is part of the corporate media whose primary purpose, it appears, is to lead people up blind alleys with spin and obfuscation instead of delivering important news in an objective fashion. Michelle Bachmann should be dismissed as a sideshow and not someone on which time and energy is pointlessly dissipated.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • theduder


      July 16, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  5. Ras Gregory

    Pope Benedict was an ex Nazi, and its all over You Tube.

    How do the owners of You Tube feel about the Popes affiliation with the Third Reich?

    How do Tea Party members, Donald Trump and the majority of wealthy Americans think about the Presidents economic policies and unnecessary spending?

    I dont know.

    But I do know, nobody knows or has seen, actual video footage of a Pope kissing a bomb before it is shot off, in Ethiopia.
    Maybe you dont care...but Ethiopia is (should be) mentioned on the first page of The Holy Bible.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • johnnyb52

      Was wondering what all of what you said have to do with this article?

      July 16, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Shannon

      since you seems so worried about proving Michele right, do you care that she signed a pledge last week that said slavery was a good thing. Just wondering, you seem so worried about the nazis, well Michele lives here and now. Are you ok with electing a racist as President of the United States. Your support of her seems to say you embrace the idea, what does that say about you.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • HotinMissouri

      In vilifying His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, you failed to mention the fact that he was conscripted into Hitler's Youth. I'm not sure how historically knowledgeable you are, but young boys could not just back out and refuse to be a part of Hitler's Youth. They–Ratzinger and other members–were a part of a network of young males who were trained to kill and the like. I would pay considerable money to watch you try and fend off the Third Reich.

      Before you go throwing stones, you should do your research. Idiot.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  6. John


    July 16, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • Briar

      Yeah, Bachman bugs me too. Hey-Oh!

      July 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  7. Workingsofanidlemind

    I hear the Crystal Cathedral has openings.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  8. LedBetter

    Just because she quit her church, it doesn't get her off the hook for the things that preacher said while she sat there and listened and did nothing. This will be a problem for her if she far enough along in the process.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Mike

      I'm sure you said the same about Obama when he quit his church, right?

      July 16, 2011 at 8:34 pm |
    • the_troll01

      And just what, exactly, would those things be?

      July 16, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  9. Father John in Denver

    As usual, CNN doesn't report the whole story. Bachmann does, indeed, have a pastor...one that spews hatred against gays and lesbians, and anyone who is not "Christian." Bachmann is very, very bad news for America....unless you want to have a theocracy. Government shouldn't be so small that it fits into our underwear.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • Shannon

      Well said Father John, anyone who supports this woman should hang their heads in shame.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  10. captaincanuck

    good, now if she'd only quit her day 'job' and stop trying to lord over people based on her narcissistic ego and ideology.....Michele, get a REAL job, get HUMBLE, learn something, let people be, stop trying to control what you shouldn't and WORK, in a real job...you need it, you need the lessons of life to teach you humility, tolerance and understanding

    July 16, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  11. Terry

    The rumor is that Bachmann and her husband are starting a new church so they can have a tax free status and shelter all of the funds she is raising for the campaign. In addition, her husband plans to convert gays into this new church. While he dislikes gays, he realizes that they have a lot of money, and he wants their donations.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Peace2All

      Interesting... do you have any links to back up this 'rumor.'...?


      July 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • Workingsofanidlemind

      Better call the old geezer from the Crystal Cathedral, he'll tell them how to rake in the big bucks

      July 16, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
    • the_troll01

      I'm pretty sure that's not true

      July 16, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  12. brako

    looks like a secret tranny

    July 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Quitting seems to be the status quo for these looney female presidential candidates.

    July 16, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  14. Cinder Blox

    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 8:08 pm |
  15. words

    "anti " meaning "..to take the place of " an antil christ wouldwant to -take the place of christ" does the pope claim to be infallible? I thought only God was infallible.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  16. In Memory of Frank Garrett

    Why is this considered news?

    July 16, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • atomD21

      That's what I was wondering... OMG, they left the church! Because.... umm... they don't go there anymore... yeah... Well, I've got nothing else, let's write it up! I thought maybe her husband had finally come out or something and they had to leave.

      July 16, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  17. Dave

    If you want to do something worthwhile, spend some time looking into Mit Romney. All he has to do is keep his mouth relatively shut, and he'll look "good" compared to others in the Republican (Fascist) field. Like George W. Bush, he'll be considered reasonable, and then show his fascist stripes if he gets elected. People won't know anymore about the true Romney than they did Bush. Sadly, if Romney gets elected, it'll be folks like Newt and Sarah and Perry and ad nauseum who will have his ear. We'll see people like Rove back in the power seat, Rumsfield-like characters in the cabinet, and so forth. So, let's hear what people think about Romney's policy statements, if he's made any. Let's hear what people think about what the probable candidate has to say, rather than these red herrings.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • dewittL.

      Romney has already held elected office before, in fact it was in a very liberal state. Also, he is a self-made man. He didn't "organize communities", for his income, he actually ran businesses and hired employees, and contributed to the economy. He has economic experinece, unlike your buddy; mr. 9.2%

      July 16, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Nellie

      Oddly enough, the only way for Romney to become electable for POTUS is for him to publicly quit his own embarrassing church.

      He's actually going to have to do a Bachmann, in his case quitting mormonism, because a mormon he is not electable (unless he can produce the fabled golden tablets and make people stop laughing at his religion).

      July 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • Nellie

      Electable as POTUS, that is. I understand that he has already held elected office, but not nationally elected.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • StuckInTheMiddle

      Does that include the union workers he fired and then filled their positions with lower paid non-union workers? How low do you want wages to be before you are satisfied? Would you like to see minimum wage abolished? Do it. See what happens. I cannot believe that the lessons from the Roman empire have faded so quickly.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Tim

      DewittL - He's such a good example of Republican progress: His only successful business venture bought other companies and dismantled them for profit. He destroyed far more jobs than he created. As a staunch Republican, I am sure that my heroes (Barry Goldwater, Dwight Eisenhower, and Theodore Roosevelt) are all spinning in their graves. The modern Republican Party is simply a rerun of the "Know Nothings" of our political past ... religious fanatics, blind followers, and bigots.

      July 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  18. Lenny Pincus

    She and her husband are frauds. She introduces him as a PHD–which is from some mail order school in Ohio. The school's degrees are labeled "false" by the DoE. He is not an accredited psychologist/psychiatrist in Minnesota, and he has never tried to get accreditation. Their "clinic" is not accredited yet rakes in Medicare funds. Unless you are a blind Christianist–which I suppose some of you are–she and her husband are nothing but frauds.

    July 16, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • j-rock22

      why do you care about her husband so much? you want to hook-up with her or something? Sorry, I think she doesn't like liberal democrats. Go hang out with your unemployed buddies and get your welfare check. Obama 9.2%, well done mr. president.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Nellie

      j-rock22, her skin is too brown for her claimed background. Rumour has it that she's an illegal alien from south of the border. Bachmann's birth certificate from the zoo she was born in should be checked and shown publicly.

      July 16, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • renee1234

      jrock-22 u sound like a simpleton and an idiot. Ok and what was the unemployment rate when the dumb-ass GW was left the presidency?
      I could care less what church Bachman attends, that's her right. Her and palin are hardly presidential material and they prove it every time they open their mouths. If the republicans put up someone of quality female candidates like maybe Kay Bailey Hutchison they may have a chance. Bachman and palin have NO chance of winning the nomination.

      July 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Lenny Pincus

      I pay more corporate taxes than GE–actually most businesses do but I pay alot– and I employ a number of people. Can you say the same? Read the post. Bachmann and her twisted husband both own this sham of a business, an unlicensed counseling clinic that uses fraudulent, disproven therapies that do more harm than good.

      I might point out that everything I post is true, while the sum of your efforts is name-calling and ignorance.

      July 16, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  19. Josh

    She's got so much make-up on that she looks like she entered a Tammy Faye Baker lookalike contest!

    July 16, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • OREGON707


      July 16, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
    • Nellie

      Oregon707, her skin is too brown for her claimed background. Rumour has it that she's an illegal alien from south of the border. Bachmann's birth certificate from the zoo she was born in should be checked and shown publicly. Have you seen it yourself?

      July 16, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • johnnyb52

      Too many stupid pointless replies.

      July 16, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  20. ???


    July 16, 2011 at 7:21 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.