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. Mishha

    She saw the hell Obama caught based on his church, so this is a very calculated move....

    July 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  2. scotchy

    OK, Michelle, is the pope the antichrist or is Obama the antichrist? Can't be both.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  3. The King

    Look at the picture of that woman. Her face says it all, hate, fear, anger. This is the face of the teabagging/GOP. These people have been emotionally manipulated by the deep pockets of the special interests to the point where they're unable to logcially analyze anything due to the fear/hate cycle their caught up in. A sad, pathetic bunch.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  4. Housemouse

    What's worse hating gay's or white people?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Housemouse

    What's worse sitting in a church that hates gay's or whites?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  6. Michelle

    Rev. Jeremiah Wrights's church lost a prominent member about 2.5 yrs ago. Maybe Michele can join there.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  7. pkfops

    I wonder if she knows that her husband is gay?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  8. Danny

    Poor Michele!


    July 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Sheistheantichrist

      Someone please make this idiotic woman shutup. She doesn't even understand that a lot of Palestinians are Christian, yet she wants to see them wiped out anyway. That's a great evangelical nutjob for you!

      July 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  9. Peter Klika

    But she didn't disavow the anti-Catholic position of her former church. What a coward. Is this the best the GOP can dish up. At least Sarah Palin could muster enought courage to say she really didn't beleive in witchcraft–just Satanic forces.

    July 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      1. Some believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the anti-christ power referenced in the bible. In my experience, most of those that believe that way, believe it because they were taught it along the way, mainly from their church affiliation or from their parents. The unfortunate thing is they couldnt show it from scripture if their life depended on it. Yet it is abundantly clear in the bible that the Roman Catholic church is indeed the anti-christ power for no organization that ever existed on the face of the earth, except the Roman Catholic church, has come even remotely close to fulfilling the dozen plus specific criteria of the anti Christ power, but each identifying mark fits the Roman Catholic church exactly. By the way, remember that "anti" does not just mean against, it also means in place of, so do not be sidetracked because the Roman Catholic church uses the words of christianity. It is without a shadow of a doubt that the RCC is the anti-christ power. The reason I use such emphatic language is not to cause anyone distress but to hopefully cause some to actually check it out from a study of the scriptures. By the way, the word protestant is constantly used in genereal speaking. You who claim to be protestants...what are you protesting? probably nothing, right? Shame on you.

      July 18, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  10. ?

    So what would have happened if her church council did not granted her and her family release from their membership? Since when do you need permission to believe in anything? Organized religion blows......

    July 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • JW

      They could probably punsih her for not continuing to attend the church regularly . . . at least that is how some churches would do it. But I think "releasing" her is mostly a matter of process, and not substance . . .

      July 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  11. nytw

    Hopefully the American people will never elect someone who hates God so much.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
    • Kat

      Hopefully the American people will never elect someone who hates gays so much.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • amused123

      Hopefully the American people will never elect someone who *hates** at all.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  12. mtnmedic

    Yet another Republitard QUITTER.

    July 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  13. John


    July 17, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  14. Truth Teller

    It breaks my heart but its true. The pope according to scripture, is indeed the anti Christ. When I found this out 2 years ago it opened a door of truth, and much light came in, when I surrendered to Bible truth.

    God totally loves Catholics. Its false systems God hates. I pray that Catholics open their eyes and try to understand the book of Dan. 7 and 8. Along with the book of Rev. Any 7th Day Adventist Church would be helpful. God Bless

    July 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • SomeOne

      I hope the Catholics stop listening to the Pope on who to vote for. The devouts vote for Right to Life only and to hell with everything else. Hopefully, you and the rest who condemn the Catholics chase them over to vote for Obama 2012. You can throw the Mormons on that list too and the gays. Once all that is done, I bet the polls will look a lot different.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • amused123

      SomeOne – that is simply untrue.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • amused123

      That is utter nonsense.

      July 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • morgan painter


      How can religious people vote democrat, the party of abortion, murder of the innocents?

      I say that to all who will hear. So many people of Mexican descent vote democrat because they believe it to be the party that will do the most to aid "the people". If Catholic faith teaches against birth control and abortion surely it is a sin to vote democrat. If they do, they better tell the priest next confession.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Pere Michel

      Since only 144,000 people can be saved, and all the seats are either already taken, or just too hard to attain, why bother leaving the Catholic Church, which opens us the way for sinners, and join one that is not only judgmental and condemnatory, but is highly restricted. In fact, I would suggest you think about coming this way. Your chances of salvation with other sinners through the ministry of reconciliation are a lot better!

      July 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Christopher

      I am very tired of this Protestant nonsense – anti-Christ rubbish. What most of the Protestant forget that their ancestors were members of the Universal Church so therefore under these nonsensical theories their ancestors must be burning. How fitting.

      July 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  15. David

    Bachmann will probably found a Stillwater, MN branch of the Westboro Baptist Church.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  16. Rainer Braendlein

    Martin Luther had never, never, never killed a Jew. The Jews are God's chosen people and Luther knew that of course, because he had translated the whole Bible.

    However, even the Lord Jesus Christ (Jesus himself was a Jew) had some struggle with Jewish leaders, resisting the Christian doctrine. When they called Jesus a devil, he accused them of the eternal sin, which cannot be forgiven.

    Even at Luther's time some stubborn Jews continued to reject the gospel, although the Holy Spirit teached them about the truth. Even this Jews Luther had never, never killed, but he saw them as spiritual opponents or enemies. He fighted against them by words, but not by sword.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • David

      The Jews are no more God's chosen people than BMW is God's chosen car.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Truth Teller

      The jews ceased being favored of God 2000 years ago when they rejected their Savior.

      Nobody comes to the Father but thru the Son. NOBODY ! Theres no salvation in lineage. We are all accountable to God as individuals. If you be in Christ you be Abrahams seed and heirs to the promise.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • swschrad

      Jews are as welcome as anybody in Heaven... Christian teaching says all who accept Jesus as Savior are saints destined for heaven. the bedrock verse is John 3:16. when it comes to adjucating between church X and church Y, always go back to the bible. I have been told in sermon that you're not going to believe who you'll meet in heaven, because all that is required is to love the Lord through Jesus, and live according to His teachings, and confess when you fail and ask forgiveness. all doors are open, as long as you take that first important step, even to the end.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Scott

      First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire...
      Second, that all their books– their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible– be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted...
      Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country...
      Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it...
      -Martin Luther (On the Jews and Their Lies)

      July 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  17. No thank you.

    We do not need an evangelical Christian as president. No thanks, please move along.

    July 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • NorCaNative


      July 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • M-kell

      Don't need Christian Taliban in office!

      July 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • jean2009

      We would all fair a lot better if we really kept religion and politics separated.

      July 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • DMan

      No, we don't need anyone like that. Sending someone to Washington that has a moral compass and is less inclined to lie, cheat, and steal in the name of the public good is NOT what we want to elect! What we need is a misguided Socialist who is also a racist bent on getting pay-back for all of the misjustices that he himself never experienced. Obama is the biggest fake yet in Washington, DC and he is using the Left and Media to ruin the foundation of this country.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
  18. Richard Reyman

    Figures...Palin quits being governor, Baddmann quits her church...what is with GOP women? They think they can just quit something and not pay for it down the line. No matter what the reason Palin quit the governor job, she did quit...and woulld do the same thing if she were president...count on it...and Bachmann quitting her church thinking it separates her from any conflicts does not speak well for her either. Both are so similiar..they have huge ego's to feed and think they know best...and what experience do they offer? ZERO!!!!

    July 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  19. Eel

    anything to win an election. what a devoted christian!

    July 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  20. Robin Bray

    Darwin rules!

    July 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      Your grandfather was a monkey?

      July 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • AvdBerg

      For a better understanding of Creation and Adam & Eve we invite you to read the articles "Creation" and "Who is God and who is Satan" on our website. You can locate it by entering "a world deceived" on Google. It will be the first listing.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • No thank you.

      @ Rainer – Sure sounds like yours was. Learn to type, fail troll.

      July 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60
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.