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. wormfood

    She has a law degree from Oral Roberts University.
    Oral Roberts was a pioneering TV evangelist. Snapped people on the forehead and said they were healed by his touch.
    Coo Coo!!!!!!
    Check him out on youtube. Suckers made the man very rich.

    July 19, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  2. dilberth

    Run, don't walk, away from churches. They are all liars. If I told you to believe that dogs speak the human language, I would be lying. They are telling you that snakes and a burning bush speak the human language. They are all liars.

    July 19, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • American

      I will run, not walk, from your false assertion. In my opinion:, whether by deception, ignorance, or simply exercised as a deliberate tactic:; you are the liar.

      For the rest of you, here's a good website:

      July 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  3. et07

    watch out bachmann, mormon missionaries might be knocking on your door

    July 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  4. E. Miller

    Better not alienate the Catholics, there are lots of them! Not strategic? Bull!

    July 19, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  5. SoundOfForest

    She must be someone nice because bad Americans are attacking her.

    July 19, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • RealWoman8

      Yes, that's what we Americans do, attack nice people - like Hitler. He was a misunderstood sweetie. Or Jim Jones. I'm sure Michelle just wants us to drink a little Kool-Aid like he did. Gosh, Americans are so narrow-minded. Let someone come along who wants to impose a dictatorial theocracy on us, and we just can't be nice about it. Makes me ashamed to be an American...

      July 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Heywood

      Oh my god. What an absolute moron you are. Comparing Michelle Bachmann to Hitler and Jim Jones. Even if you don't like her, you truly need to stay off the boards if you can't do better than that. No intelligent opinion offered on your part, I guess. My 13 year old son might do that as he has no depth or basic understanding of history yet but a supposedly educated adult making a comparison like that?? Wow... unless, of course, you're a 13 year old. Then... never mind. I take it back.

      July 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  6. akorage

    "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 running for her church. Pastor on gag order. The ones that talk are lying on her behalf. What's the coverup!! What goes around comes around folks.

    July 19, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  7. Republican Daily News

    Candidate 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 19, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  8. James M

    Never understood the "official" membership of a church. Either you go there or you don't, right? How can there be anything "official" about belonging to it?

    July 19, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Michael G

      @James M
      I ran into this problem with my first marriage. Having went to a church for a number of years, I was not considered a "member" because I never signed a pew register (ie. wrote a check to the church...always contributed via the donation plate).
      This prevented me from marrying in said church, despite protestations from a number of ranking members.

      July 19, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Marlene

      There is a difference between attending a church and belonging to a church in the Lutheran church. Bachmann was a member of a Wisconsin synod church, very conservative, women cannot even serve on council. I belong to an ELCA Lutheran church, the largest of the Lutheran churches in the US. One becomes a member through a transfer from another Lutheran church or by acclamation. Being a member allows you to vote (you are eligible to be a member after confirmation) for the church council, to call a Pastor, for the spending plan. Mainline Protestant churches maintain statistics on membership, for example.

      July 19, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  9. jJaxkson

    @Conservatives – funny how you cry "foul" for this story when you ran Obama's church into the ground....lame lame lame. I don't believe in church or god...because they're both fakes. Isn't it time humans show how intelligent they are by rejecting something we've never seen. I feel like I'm surrounded by idiots. And right, shame on me for speaking about it. At least I haven't wasted my time or hard earned money on nothing.

    July 19, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • M Sturges

      Dear jJaxkson,

      You cannot "see" gravity, but merely view the result of its effects. But it does exist.

      July 19, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  10. John Kindle

    This is getting really, really stale; it has been on Google news for days. I don't give a darn about the subject matter but am tired of looking at the headlines. Let's get some fresh news on Google, not four day ago news.

    Listening, Google and CNN??????? You are running this in the ground. What's wrong with your reporters that they can't find anything newsworthy to report???????

    July 19, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  11. eee

    The article should point out that the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church is one very small (comparatively) denomination that is NOT part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The Wisconsin Synod is discussed, and rather generally, lumped into the broader Lutheran Church by the author. This is not the case. The ELCA is a separate organization that does not share the same ultra-con views of the Wisconsin Synod.

    July 19, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  12. hello

    why is this news? Let she go and join or leave any church. Fix the country media!

    July 19, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  13. Damnedgentlemen

    So if were a loony tune righty, I'd be all, "Bachmann pals around with crazies! Where she goes to church is a huge deal and we should all freak out that Bachmann goes to this renegade church!!!1! AAaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhh!!1"
    Or has the spazzmodical ridiculousness of the Right's smearing of Obama over Rev. Wright already faded from your selective short term memory, conservatives?

    I demand you reject Bachmann as unfit for high office in accordance with your own standards*, and I await your denounciation press conference.

    *Sec 2a3, para. 4 of the Tea Party Candidate Qualifications Code:"...if a candidate has attended a church at which the pastor is a firebrand (particularly if he is African American), the candidate shall be hounded about the pastor as if it were his father. The candidate must be assumed to be a fanatic."

    July 19, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  14. Chris

    Christians are the world's biggest group of idiots with most other religions following closely behind. Until America realizes this, it is doomed.

    July 19, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • ClayManBob

      Condescension does not become you.

      July 19, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • keith

      And atheists are the worlds biggest pervs .

      July 19, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Bud

      Hey Chris, Jesus Christ is an historical figure, he existed, can not be denied. JC also said he was God, can not be denied he said. It can also not be denied that JC started a Church, and that Church is still around today, just like he said it would be. Now you may not believe he is God, but remember this, a few months after you and I leave this world very few people will remember who we were. Two thousand years after Christ was on this earth, billions study his words, and believe he was God. Just remember Chris, a lifetime is like a drop of water, and eternity the ocean. Bud

      July 19, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  15. Stevereeno

    She quit one chuch and joined another, BIG DEAL!
    You should be focusing on what a kook she is!

    July 19, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • Herb

      I agree with you. Who gives a damn about her personal life unless she is an abuser of some sort. Her character, her views, her intelligence, and her plans for the country, should she be elected are what the media shoul;d be focusing on. Of course, being a politician, you will not be able to believe anything she says.

      July 19, 2011 at 6:30 am |
    • Mike Johnson

      I fully agree. The church that she attends or does NOT attend is her business.

      The NEWS media should keep their noise out of it!

      Analyze and report on her political views and past voting records.


      July 19, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • Swiftright

      It is a big deal being that the church considers me to be a sub human because I'm catholic.......

      History teaches us that bad things happen when your rulers see certain groups as sub human.

      July 19, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  16. Rider

    already showing instability ..what a loon.

    July 19, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  17. John


    July 19, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  18. 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 they 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 19, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • Dane Harden

      So, you suggest that approval of mass killings of babies via the abortion industry is a requisite to becoming president of this country, and you aren't at all alarmed or disapproving. Have you ever spoken about abortion with a woman who has actually had one? The few who have talked about it to me regretted it as the worst mistake and the worst experience of their lives. Abortion is about money, not about the rights of women.

      July 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Reality

      What BO can do to at least lift part of the Immoral Majority leader label?

      He says abortions should be "safe, legal and rare" but says nothing about the basic tenet of proper human conduct i.e. Thou Shalt Not Kill. And where is BO's sense of indignation that abortions are not rare and that these acts of horror demean the Golden Rule considering that he says he is a Christian. And where is his sense of indignation that women who use the Pill do not use it properly resulting in an failure rate of 8.7% as per the Gu-ttmacher Inst-itute statistics. Using these and other Gu-ttmacher Insti-tute data, this failure of women to use the Pill properly results in ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year.

      And the annual abortion rate in the USA is?? ~1,000,000 as per the CDC.

      And do males use co-ndoms properly? No, as said failure rate for this birth "control" method is 17.4%!! Again using Gu-ttmacher data, said failure rate results in another ~1,000,000 unplanned pregnancies every year.

      The Gu-ttmacher Insti-tute (same reference) notes also that the perfect use of the pill should result in a 0.3% failure rate (35,000 unplanned pregnancies) and for the male condom, a 2% failure rate (138,000 unplanned pregnancies).

      Bottom line: BO is still not aware of the basics of birth control and still remains the leader of the Immoral Majority and will remain so until he becomes a true Christian and one who respects and protects human life in all its forms and who at least emphasizes the proper use of birth control methods!!!

      July 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  19. SoundOfForest

    People like she and Mrs. Palin will provide Libya perfect democracy. America should keep exporting good individuals into the world, not just air-headed travelers. CNN, put yourself in others' shoes. Post best photos like you do for your own anchors and your liberal activists.

    July 18, 2011 at 11:59 pm |


    July 18, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • keith

      Nah . She should go to Kenya , and take those two Nazi clowns in the white house with her !

      July 19, 2011 at 10:08 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.