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. independent

    She may say she has severed ties with her church of ten years, but yesterday, while checking the church's member services website, Marcus Bachmann's business was still listed.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  2. Dennis Pence

    Did she pull an Obama and throw her pastor "undr the bus"?

    July 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  3. Reality

    What M. Bachmann does or says does not matter. Why?

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?
    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.
    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe it should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    July 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
  4. Thomas

    One thing you know, she didn't attend the "God dam America" church that Obama went to. Beyond that, who cares?

    July 17, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • kman02

      Thomas, go find in scipture where is says you CAN us the Lord thy God's name in vain. Anywhere in there, does it mention it's okay to damn God if the person you are talking about disagrees with you or perhaps is black? Get your hands out of your pants and get a job. At least then you'll be adding to something.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  5. NoPunIntended

    Religion is for people who can't think for themselves, and who actually believe there's a man who lives in the sky who controls everything.

    July 17, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
    • kman02

      True. By the way...we don't have your back. Look for somebody else to blame when it's too late.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • kman02

      Not that it will really matter at that point, NoPunInteded.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • Gort01

      Well said....religion is what people who cant make their own decisions rely on...Thank God they survived,,,It was Gods will they died...make up your stupid, pathetic minds..

      July 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Socialist

      LOL! Another bimbo who wants to start a debate on if god is real or not. You're acting like a kid and you look stupid. Hilarious!

      July 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
  6. Cathy

    I don't care what religion she is – the woman is a looney tune!!

    July 17, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Stephanie

      Hmmmm let see, didn't Obama quit his church of 20 years at the same time he ran for office??/

      July 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • Thomas

      That woman has a Masters Degree from William and Mary, she raised 24 foster children and started a business.
      The only thing liberals can do is call her names and try to degrade her down to Obama's level

      July 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
    • sbp

      Hmm, Stepanie, let's see....did Obama make religion a centerpiece of his political philosophy? So I guess your point is pointless.

      And Thomas, "degrade her down to Obama's level?" Which presumes that Obama is degraded to some low level. I wonder who put him there? Wasn't the liberals. I wonder who it could be...

      I guess his education doesn't hold a candle to Bachmann's. After all, what's a Harvard Law degree and editor of the law review compared to a questionable law degree from Oral Roberts?

      July 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • kman02

      For this right-wing nug case to be on President Obama's level would take the Army Corps of Engineers to build a fake platform capable of lifting a steaming pile of lying sh!! 250000 feet in the air.

      July 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  7. Eric Ashmead

    so what's new..... as we look at her husband, he himself in denial that he is GAY.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  8. Greg

    This god seems like an angry person from what people are saying- it hates? Wow. So much for morals...

    July 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  9. Craig

    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

    July 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • collins61

      Gandhi chose Christianity, of all the worlds religions, as the one to publicly disparage. Interesting.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Wambotree

      That elephant god with multiple arms inspired him with that particular gem of wisdom.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • windrider2

      collins61, read the damned quote. It does NOT disparage Christianity. He did disparage those who claim to be Christians and yet are nothing at all like the Christ they claim to worship. He was right. Many who claim to be Christians actually follow Paulist doctrine, not the teachings of Christ Himself, and Paul the Pharisee was NOTHING like Christ the Messiah.

      July 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • dabein marga

      Better an elephant god, than that BIG WHITE MAN in the sky!

      July 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • Andrettianna

      I agree with "dabein marga"

      July 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  10. SteveCHNC

    That's actually a smart move. If something negative comes out about the pastor (like what happened with Obama and Rev. Wright) then you can claim that you left that church. If the new church you go to has a pastor that has the same problem, well, then you can claim that you weren't there at that time.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  11. Code

    We always knew that she was not faithful to God or the United States.

    July 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  12. fishfry

    Difficult but not impossible to attend church
    when you intend to live a life of sin and lies .
    Sin all week and beg to be forgiven on sunday.
    Take a look around your church
    and you know who they are.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Tom

      We all lead a life of sin, whether church members or not. Fortunately in your case, stupidity is not a sin.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • fishfry

      We can see Tom is amongst those who attend hungover and full of regret.
      Good for you Tom we look forward to seeing your face in the just arrested
      blotter.You drunk.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  13. Eddie

    This just in – The truth is Jesus asked her to leave – More at 10

    July 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  14. Patrick from Minnesota

    Hopefully she has realized that her radical conservative views are completely incompatable with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Gort01

      I doubt that...she is pulling a CYA move....she is like Palin, they love to spout their religious and family "values", but when push comes to shove, they dont even have the backbone to stand by them. Palins daughter pregnant out of wedlock, hateful and racist views of her church, Abstinence policy for teen pregnancy, etc etc....not to mention Palin needs a globe....they are both insulting and aggravating to all who hear them...

      July 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  15. MrOpinionator

    I'm fairly certain that woman does not believe in god.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Tom

      As if you're in any position to know the nature of her relationship with God. Dope.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  16. Perplexed

    Whatever. No one will pay attention to her and her on the down low "husband" in a few months.

    July 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Dan

      LOL...You have no idea what her husband is up to, or how he lives his life. Hater.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Dan

      I'm gay, and I'm pretty certain her husband is, too. No hatred... just guessing at some good ol' hypocracy.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  17. Kaitlin

    This is news and we care?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  18. Some guy

    CNN. please do your research. While I do not agree with WELS, the basis for the Antichrist as being the Pope is not scriptual. It is based off of one of their leaders writings. http://www.wels.net/news-events/forward-in-christ/november-1988/identifying-antichrist?page=0,1

    July 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Steven

      Do your homework. Google the " city on seven mountains" in Revelation. Its plainly the Vatican. Every clue in Daniel & Revelation point to the Pope as the antichrist. What other power demands worship?

      July 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • lvcookin41

      Steven..you are a moron

      July 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Observer

      "What other power demands worship?"

      Every Christian church.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Tom

      @Observer: Careful....your ignorance is showing. My church offers the opportunity to worship God. It demands nothing, least of all the worship an ordinary human.

      July 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      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 8:56 am |
  19. kazz

    Exactly how is this supposed to pertain to politics?

    July 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Chuck

      Unfortunately nowadays, too much.

      July 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  20. John


    July 17, 2011 at 3:49 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.