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. Willard

    Churchless heathens!

    July 18, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  2. Mark

    The most disturbing new thing here is that she had to ask permission to be "released" from membership. When a person is no longer in personal voluntary control of whether they're a member of a given church, that's a problem. Some would say that's the definition of a "cult."

    July 18, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • wvoutpost.com

      Mark I agree 100%, does sound kinda nuts!

      July 18, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  3. fred

    I'm no fan of Michelle Bachman's but I don't think we should be talking about a candidate's church, period.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Rationality

      Even if it's a strong indicator of insanity or a complete inability to apply rational thinking to obvious questions?

      July 18, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  4. Wayne from Texas

    I think Michele Backmann is hiding something. Cnn should have some reporters start going through all the sermons delivered at that church during the time the Bachmanns belonged – just like they did with Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • EdwinH10

      Please, no, I would not want to inflict the massive amount sheer boredom on any living person. 🙂

      July 18, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  5. dinkster

    When can we vote for someone that doesn't have something to hide? Someone like Ron Paul, maybe.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • michael scott

      Ron Paul definitely has something to hide-Rand Paul. And he's doing a good job. We have seen our Senator down here in Kentucky for months.

      July 18, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  6. mabel floyd

    this women and her beliefs are a disaster-further they are not american
    we are voting for someone to lead the united states of america-not a hurt for the anti christ
    she is a sly and crafty women married to a smuck
    people who even think of these people as ones who should lead the country are as nutty as they are

    July 18, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  7. Thomas Mc

    Religion is the seed of mental illness.

    July 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  8. cosanostradamus

    Another lying, hypocritical Republican nut-job from a long line of conservative nut-jobs & haters, trying to sweep her filth under the rug in time for the big Republican-created Depression election, which they think they can win by further trashing the economy. Better vote on the Rapture, nut-jobs! That's your only chance for elevation in this life. The sooner the better.

    July 18, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • dinkster

      Didn't Obama do the same thing?

      July 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • cosanostradamus

      Republican Auto-Responce:
      "Well HE done it tooooooo!"
      The "Moral" "Majority"! BWAHAWHAWHAW!!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  9. Mark Jackson

    Is this really a "news" story? Sure is, if you are CNN. How about a story on what church Obama goes to now? Does he go to church yet???

    July 18, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Hank

      And why should he? Is he going to get the solution to the problems this country faces (economy, war, etc...) by listening to some sermon?
      If that were the case we should elect priests or religious leaders (Jim Baker perhaps)

      July 18, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  10. So What

    Purely political movie. Meaningless. Prince Phillip also gave up the Greek Orthodox church and embraced Anglican when he married Queen Elizabeth...and yet he still makes regular trips to Mt. Athos. Bachmann may be shedding her skin, but she's still a snake underneath it all.

    July 18, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Mark Jackson

      Sue Bee is right: Obama had to remove himself from Jeremiah Wright's church. Bachman should not be criticized for doing the same. After all, both are politicians. Only someone who buys into all the left-wing media BS would think she is a snake. And Oblahblah isn't? The prince of lies?

      July 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  11. Robert

    The WELS also has very restrictive views on women in leadership; I'm sure this probably had something to do with the resignation.

    July 18, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  12. peakarach

    Wow! Does she has somethings to hide?

    July 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  13. Sue Bee

    Hmmm. Obama had to remove himself from Jeremiah Wright's church. Bachman should not be criticized for doing the same. After all, both are politicians.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  14. Anna Nwa


    July 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • ha HA


      July 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Allen

      Then pray directly to Him not through Mary or any other Saint.....

      July 18, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • So What

      @Allen. Proof of your ignorance. Catholics do not pray 'to Mary' Nor do Orthodox Christians, Anglicans or Lutherans. We do however, respect Mary as the mother of God the Son i.e. the Theotokos. We ask her to pray to God for us. There is a big difference between that and praying directly to Mary. It's like asking your mom if she can ask your dad if you can go to the store or something. You respect both. What's so wrong with that?

      July 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  15. Marcuth Bachmann

    Thtop making fun of me you guyzth.

    July 18, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  16. 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 8:32 am |
    • Ray from the Philippines

      I'm a Catholic and I read the Bible, and I don't see any evidence that my church is an Anti-Christ power. Quite the opposite in fact.

      July 18, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • gerald

      Only in the revisionist minds of people like you does the RCC match with the anti-Christ. One claim that protestants make is that Rome is on seven hills and therefore rev 17 is fullfilled. Well I am sorry to let you know that the vatican is not in Rome or on any of the seven hills. The vatican is not rome. Sorry.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Nashtok

      Mao Zedong, Mousillini, Hitler, JFK, Bush, and Obama all met many of the criteria for the antichrist also.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • logicdog

      That's correct, Nach, as well as Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Manson and Millard Fillmore.

      July 18, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  17. 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 they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    July 18, 2011 at 7:44 am |
    • gerald

      What Reality does or says matters even less.

      July 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • logicdog

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

      WHY? That should be obvious - she, like you, is as dumb as a post.

      As for your roster of candidates:

      1) Mitt Romney - will never be the Repub front-runner because he's Mormon and the lunatic right-wing evangelistas will have none of that;

      2) Jon Huntsman - nope. He's a "traitor", because he served the Obama administration;

      3) Michele Bachmann - the candidate Obama WANTS to run against, for obvious reasons;

      4) Tim Pawlenty - nope; wimps out under fire, even during a gentle debate with other Repubs;

      5) Herman Cain - nope; the neocons have pretty much had it with black folks in the White House;

      6) Ron Paul - steady ideological candidate; but even the Repubs can't figure him out;

      7) Rick Santorum - who?

      So, basically, you got nothing, and Michelle Bachmann is the snowball in hell who will likely be running in 2012. It should be a humorous election.

      As for the "Immoral Majority" - you are very representative of the judgmental, non-compassionate, non-thinking right-wing, that wishes to force its neocon "sharia" law on the good people of this country. You have no morals. I suggest YOU go take a pill. . .

      July 18, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  18. Chrisg

    Bachmann and Repubs, dont raise the debt ceiling and see what happens to the U.S. You think poeple will vote for you in the next election? You know you will get the blame is the debt ceiling is not raised.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:17 am |
  19. Susan MacDonald

    The papacy in Martin Luther's time was pretty corrupt-we do not deny that. There was a lot of bad things going on in the Church-priests getting married, popes having children secretly. But the Church-in spite of the problems of today, IE, priests in a lot of trouble over all the molestation charges-proven and unproven-still is alive and vibrant after 2000 yrs. I am sorry that there is so much disbelief in the Good Lord that Protestants will not finally believe that able to find our way to Him, which ever way we choose to follow Him.

    July 18, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • Susan

      Catholics priests actually did marry for the first 1200 years. It was mostly monks who were celibate. Later because of greed and nepotism, the Catholic priests adopted a celibate life. There are still Eastern rite priests who are married, Anglican priests converted to Catholic that are married and priests who may marry but their role becomes one of a cleric.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • AvdBerg

      For a better understanding of the early and current history of the Catholic Church and learn about the foundation it was built on we invite you to read the articles The Mystery Babylon and Popes and the Princes of this world on our website. You can locate it by entering “a world deceived” on Google. It is easy to find as it has been the number one listing for the last five years. Today there are more than 10 million listings. All of the other pages and articles on our website explain how this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9 and the Bible is true. It is the discerner of every thought and the intent of the heart (Hebrews 5:12).

      July 18, 2011 at 7:06 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      You can't seriously consider Revelation to be factual, can you?
      You're expecting 7 headed dragons any day now?

      July 18, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • carson lauffer

      I certainly deny it. Was the Papacy corrupt or trying to bestir Europe to defend itself against Muslim attack? Was the Papacy corrupt because it promoted beauty in sculpture and architecture? The real problem was Luther's distaste of beauty and his desire for political power.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  20. John


    July 18, 2011 at 1:25 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.