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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. Anne

    What won't this pint sized lawnmower do to further her evil, secular amitions of a life in office? She ought to be home, like a good subservient wife, cooking and cleaning and polishing the silverware. But instead, she abandons her religion. She seems like a hypocrite to me.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • fimeilleur

      Just thought I'd point out, we're in 2011 not 1911...now run along.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:41 am |
  2. Reality

    One more time:

    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 11:54 pm |
  3. Pete Beck

    Like Obama, she realized her church was a liability. Wacky fundamentalism in her church, and radical extremism in Obama's former church. Either one is political poison.

    July 17, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  4. Josiah

    Michele Bachmann, having recently left her church behind, is said now 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 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Dee

      It's so cool for Michele to do that. I wish I had her mouth.

      July 17, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  5. John

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGSvqMBj-ig&w=640&h=360]
    I

    July 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  6. Josiah

    I am always grateful when the libs comment on news stories. It illustrates their pettiness, childishness and gullibility, far better than anyone, short of Noah Webster, could possibly describe. Please, keep leaving your simple, boorish comments for the world to see. It's further proof of the efficacy of the mind-numbing program of political correctness, as well as the effects of three decades of dumbing-down in education.

    July 17, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • Dee

      Thanks for your comments josiah they r a Funny bunch very angry too! So sad

      July 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  7. Conservatively Sspeaking

    Republickin candidate 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 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  8. Dee

    Maybe she finally realized there is only one true church the universal church that j
    jesus began and which is still here 2011 years later GBU Ms Bachman

    July 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • Deeper

      The church you are referring to is far from universal, was started decades after your jeebus-on-a-stick, borrowed most of its stories from earlier god fables, and is a stinking load of complete horsesh!t.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  9. sweetp58

    If this woman can't even tell that her husband is gayer than a 2 dollar bill then she certainly doesn't need to be running for president. I am gay so i can say this, what are we looking at here, the president and her first drag queen? This lady is an absolute JOKE!

    July 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  10. Howard

    She needs to remety the problems in her own state and not D.C.

    July 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  11. Greg

    Lets see if the media makes as big of controversy over Bahcmann's church as they did with Obama's. If they don;t then you know it was a racist attack on Obama. I don't care if anyone says I'm race baiting or not. The Obama controversy was way over the top because Wright was black. If the media doesn't attack Bachmann over this as much as they did Obama then the media is even more guilty of racism. Oh, but it's one of those nice white Evangelical churches. BULLS####. Evangelicals are nothing but bigots and racist.

    July 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  12. Shane

    I am sorry but she had to ask her pastor to leave the church? That sounds like a cult, not a church. If I move, i dont have to ask anyone to leave, i just go to the church I like in my new residence.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Robert Gonzales

      You beat me to the punch on that comment . I agree when do you need permission from a church to leeve . Try to stop me and see what they get.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  13. JohnLI

    MN is pathetic, how could they vote this woman into congress. Jesse Ventura too. What a laughingstock of a state.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  14. Brian Gibstein

    Does the fact that she had to ask her pastor to leave the church strike anyone as cultish? If I dont show up to catholic mass, no one cares. Asking to leave sounds like a cult to me

    July 17, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  15. Danny

    Poor Bachmann !

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyKAbSCYG8k&w=640&h=360]

    July 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Pete Beck

      Bachmann is clearly a brainwashed Israel-Firster. She is gullible enough that it would be a piece of cake for Israel and their American stooges to convince her to conduct a second proxy war with Iran. The first war on behalf of Israel being Iraq of course.

      July 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
  16. toshmaster1

    Who really cares about er religion or what they do in their private life.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Greg

      Everyone seemed to care about Obama and Rev. Wright didn't they? Oh but Rev Wright is black and not some rich white Evangelical. Those people just shoot abortion doctors in the face at church. Not to hypocritical are you.

      July 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  17. Donnatella

    The teabaggers are not going to be happy about this, her husband is a gay as they come.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  18. twalk

    So where has her and her family been going to church for 2 years if they have not been going to their previous church? interesting.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  19. ForestSound

    Lazy socialists and communists should shut up in America.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • twalk

      Why don' t the communist repubs do that.

      July 17, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  20. Socialist

    This lady is a capitalist pig. When are we going to evolve and see that capitalism is barbaric. slaves, imperialism, child labor and many more problems are associated with capitalism. Until we get rid of it, we wont come close to world peace.

    July 17, 2011 at 7:05 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.