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. Rainer Braendlein

    In the above article the pope is called Antichrist. Is that correct?

    Some of you may know the "Donatio Constantini". There was claimed that once the Roman Emperor Constantin had given (as a present) all earthly power over the Western World to the pope. The writ "Donatio Constantini" was made-up around 800 after Christ and then used for around 600 (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) years by the Roman Catholic Church to confirm the pope's earthly power over the emperor and the Western World. Around 1400 after Christ scientists discovered that the writ "Donatio Constantini" was a wicked forgery.

    Thus, for a time of 600 (!!!) years the RCC had deceived the whole mankind.

    What did the writ claim? It claimed that once the emperor Constantin had become very sick and would have been cured by Pope Silvester I. Constantin had been grateful and had made the pope and his successors higher than himself.

    The RCC is Satan's house. A nasty worm hole of lie and murder.

    The pope is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:05 am |
    • christopher kenna

      Evangelical Christianity in particular the right wing element is the largest dooomsday cult in world History. Letting one of them get their finger on the nuclear trigger would be the last mistake we would ever make. Oh were gonna find out about your cult Michelle. Count on that.

      July 17, 2011 at 7:48 am |
  2. mark

    Michele Bachmann thinks all catholics worship the antichrist (being her and her church think the pope is the antichrist) and that she can "cure" gays......WHO IN THE HECK IS GOING TO VOTE FOR THIS CRAZY LADY AND SCREW EVERYONE THAT PUT HER IN THE OFFICE SHE HOLDS NOW! It's retards that vote for trash like her that killed this country!

    July 17, 2011 at 6:46 am |
  3. Tom

    What a nutjob.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  4. Dude

    Interesting that the evangelical candidate would sacrifice her religion for political aspirations.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Dave

      She was a politician first. Religion is only there to win votes.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)


      Uh, no. She believes every crazy word that comes out of her mouth. This woman isn't bright enough to act that well.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:12 am |
  5. Vosky

    Hopefully she wont officially leave her husband!

    July 17, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • fimeilleur

      Why is that? Should she be condemned to spend the rest of her life being miserable? Or should they stay together just so that you are satisfied that she's a "good christian"?

      July 17, 2011 at 2:42 am |
  6. Stan

    Why is she pointing her fingers at the audience? It's a sign of righteousness if you ask me. And why would anybody need PERMISSION to leave her church? So what kind of president would she be? Are we going to have to ASK for permission to exercise our human rights? Be very careful of what you ask for, folks.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:32 am |
  7. Lee

    This news proudly brought to you by the Stalker News Network, formerly known as CNN.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:26 am |
  8. Frank S

    > "We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy," the denomination's website says. "This is an historical judgment based on Scripture."

    Mrs. Bachmann should be made to carry this inconvenient fact about her life around her neck through the entire campaign cycle, just as Barack Obama was made to do so for Rev. Jeremiah Wright's rants. Turnabout is fair play.

    Also, psst – Mrs. Bachmann? Your husband is playing for the other team. Looks like prayer doesn't work.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  9. redhen3

    Religions are ridiculous and so is Bachmann and her I'm-not-gay husband. No one needs the supersition and hogwash that the blind who lead the hopeful crank out. Tax those so-called religious places – churches, garages, warehouses, and any place some nut case does a happy-clappy Jesus-will-save you rant. Grow up! Think for yourself! Read and reject.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Joe

      Was Jesus lying... where? Which chapter in the New Testament isn't true? The resurrection never took place? It is easy to rant... I would suggest a little serious investigation would help. A book on N.T. transmission, Biblical prophecy, archaeology etc. could change your view and save your soul!! LOL

      July 17, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • Nate (Seattle, WA)


      A little serious investigation? Since when has anybody religious every investigated ANYTHING? The entirety of every single religion is accepting someone else's word without any evidence. That's what faith is.

      So please, don't go telling nonbelievers that they should do some investigating. I would say that your statement just makes you look ridiculous, but when grown adults believe in fairy tales, it's hard to get any MORE ridiculous.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  10. Gloria

    The Angels are happy!

    July 17, 2011 at 1:28 am |
  11. GeorgeWBushie

    Why does anyone think that this ignorant moron is somehow relevant in any political arena?? Bachman is nothing short of a clown and the other absolute f c k i n g idiot Palin is her twin sister. Two f c k i n g morons. One thing about both of these dingbats is that they make for great comic relief and the fodder for late night comedians!!!! LOL

    July 17, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  12. asphlex

    The cynicism of our age of political discourse is horrifying. It is obvious that Bachmann and at least some of the rest of her family are seriously religious people. They may be cult members, they may be breathren of the truly righteous or the worst sort of social and religious bigots God's influence on humanity has yet produced. But the equation, politically, of whatever seed of doubt or opportunistic jest inspired the candidate to change faiths, to likely something far more apocalyptically evangelical and with a bankroll that can paint not just Catholics, but all otherwise supporters of spiritual equality as the anti-Christ. 2012 is going to be a blood-thirsty campaign, a nest of vipers or hydras snapping one another's heads off and leaving a staggering and compromised last person standing to slump their way into a terminally broken office. This is the age that we live in, comparing the insanity of so many organized churches' teachings with the crazy things that come out of the very candidates' mouths. The Republican credo, it would seem, is no longer seeking to avoid their degree of guilt in the massacre that has been our democracy since the middle 1950s, correspondant, CNN, with the dawn of the television age and the advancement of Nazi-style propaganda into the world of advertising. They were called 'lobbyists,' these commercial advertisers, as in they waited in the expansive lobbies of excutive suites in order to offer a investment opportunity to the important people making power. No, the Republicans are now like a smug sibling pointing out that the other guy is every bit as guilty and therefore anything flies.

    Get ready for bloodsport–!

    July 17, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  13. JayEm

    Ron Paul is the best candidate for 2012!

    July 17, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  14. Bud

    Who cares. Sara Palin Lite will never be the President. She couldnt even get invited to a White House dinner.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • Who Cares?

      Exactly. I find it interesting this makes it as a news story. It's no one's business anyway. Respect is a verb: It's not appropriate for the public to be informed that she's left her church. No one intelligent cares. Bachmann is a marginal public figure, a distraction and the best thing about her is her potential as entertainment material for SNL.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:01 am |
    • Frank S

      The funny thing about calling Michele Bachmann "Sarah Palin lite" is that she's got a law degree backing up the same amount of stupidity. So it's more like Sarah Palin is Michele Bachmann lite!

      Whichever way it goes, they are both equally dangerous. You don't put beer in the fridge when you know your alcoholic relative is coming over for dinner, you don't leave cheese out where your dog can get to it, and you don't put bat guano-crazy loons in charge of running a country. None of that ends well for anybody involved.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:42 am |
  15. RangerXSF

    Further proof that this women is nothing more than a political opportunist. She tries so hard to look and sound like a studied and prepared political leader but is anything but. She's Sarah Palin with perhaps a couple more points credited to her IQ number. What a looser.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • itsmiadear

      That would be "loser" - apparently you are a few IQ points below Palin.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  16. John

    To correct the article, Catholics believe that all Baptism is legitimate, no matter what church performs it. We believe in Baptism of Water (the usual), Baptism of Desire (less common, when a person wants to be baptized but dies first) and Baptism of Blood (rare these days, when a person is martyred for the Faith even though they haven't been baptized). We believe that in an emergency (imminent death) that any baptized person can baptize an unbaptized person, as long as this form is basically followed: "I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" while pouring water (or any liquid at hand) over the forehead of the person. Just to clarify.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Dude

      Dude, no-one cares.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:45 am |
  17. Darryn Cooke

    Members of a chruch and you need permission to stop going? Is this a book of a month club or a place to worship?

    July 17, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  18. Neeq79

    I absolutely agree, they really did not mention the difference between the three types of Luthernism and the fact that WELS has the smallest membership out of the three. I went to a Catholic HS, attended a non-denominational church, and not attend an ELCA church. It is interesting why they've switched to a non-denominational, they seem to be more welcoming in general than WELS.

    July 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Dude

      What's up with you watered-down Protestants? The whole Protestant movement is based on being anti-catholic. If you cease to be opposed to Catholicism what's the point of having separate churches?

      July 17, 2011 at 2:55 am |
  19. John


    July 16, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  20. Jacquelynn

    The article missed the mark by implying that the Wisconsin Evangelical Synod (WELS) and other Lutheran synods have anything in common. Professor Heider of Valparaiso generalizes about "Lutherans" as if they are all one body, when in fact the opposite is true.

    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) aren't even recognized by WELS, who will not allow their members to pray or commune together with anyone who is not WELS, so Roman Catholics aren't the only ones excluded.

    I was once a member of a WELS church but am now a member of an LCMS church, so I know whereof I speak. For Bachmann to go from a WELS church to a nondenominational church implies that either she's realized the rigidity of WELS isn't for her, or that she'll get more mileage out of belonging to a church more acceptable to the general Christian Republican population.

    July 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • Winderfool

      Thank you for explaining the three different Lutheran denominations. And it is interesting that you changed from a WELS church to a LCMS church. Just a little question, as Colombo would say – did you ask permission of the WELS church to be released from membership or yo just left and went to another? Did you ask for a "divorce" from WELS to join LCMS? Can you belong to both or all three at the same time? Can a LGB pray in your church or does your church follow Don't ask don't tell" policy? And if the WELS church considers Catholics as anti-Christ, what do they consider Jews to be? And the Moslems? And the Hindus? and the Buddhists? Are they all anti-Christ? My be you can explain.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:30 am |
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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.