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. numbnut

    John, I'll bet you sin as well as anyone else.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • BuzzMann

      And probably better than most.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  2. 21k

    sounds like she's starting her own church anyway. with her as the supreme being. she's looking for attention and adoration.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  3. JaL

    She married her husband not out of love but because her God said to. She is running for presidency because her God told her to. Everything this woman apparently does is because her God told her to. "Michelle, attend thy church no more". She is just another politician changing their ways to accomodate the populus view in hopes she may attain the highest rank in our government. This lady is a nut and may your God help you if she is elected into office.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  4. Dawn

    Some Americans never seize to amaze me of their arrogance.
    This is for Mike 2. Pitiful and pathetic comes to mind when I read what you posted.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • mike2

      the sound of your little liberal tears makes me excited, i could totally beat off right now.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Mike's mom

      Mikey, what are you doing in there? Are you beating off again? You have no life.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  5. LiberalSlayer

    Perry/Bachman 2012. Stop the idisaster of Obozo and his commie pals!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • sam

      Upgrading you to *boring* tool.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  6. John

    You think just because she quit because she running for President. That does mean she Till have the same view and just don't want the American People to know just how Racist she really IS. But that again everybody all ready know that she Racist and she like to spread hate. That way the Tea Party like her.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  7. Sal

    And so is yo momma Mike......

    July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  8. JRinATL

    Nice going, haters-you object to judging but then do the same thing yourselves.

    This is a non-story. It should come as no surprise that she has gone to churches with a strong, classical Christian bent, nor that she specifically had gone to a Evangelical Lutheran Synod church given her political views. There's no Jeremiah Wright story here. Are people asking about where Herman Cain or Tim Pawlenty go to church? No.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  9. frank

    She looks like some kind of reptile. Have they performed tests on this woman to ascertain whether she is in fact a new species of giant monitor lizard? Its a pity Steve Irwin isn't around, he would know what to do in a situation like this.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • 21k

      we need to see the certificate, of when she hatched.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  10. erik

    So... A person/family has to ask permission to no longer be included in membership at a church? What kind of cultist BS is that?

    It is very disturbing to me how so many people give control of their lives over to religious fanatics. And yes, I am talking particularly about evangelical christians, because those are the idiots that have the most influence in America. Pathetic...

    July 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  11. Sal

    To all republican politicians, I say rest in peace and the sooner the better.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • mike2

      Yeah and 'rest in peace' to America, as well.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  12. Jake

    "The church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership on June 21." The Bachmann's had to ask the church if it was OK for them not to be members anymore? And it took the counsel a couple of weeks to actuallly grant that release? That is insane. Sounds more like Jonestown than a church.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Nora

      Exactly, they sound like a bunch of control freaks.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  13. mike2

    The one person who can save this country is Ron Paul. Legalize it.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • cf

      Please explain how "legalizing it" is going to magically fix every problem.
      You are obviously smoking some strong stuff.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Ron Paul's too crazy. He has some good ideas, and he also wants to get rid of handicapped access and ban black people from public areas. He's like a weasel in a suit.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • jean2009

      Ron Paul is as crazy as Michelle and Sarah....no thanks.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Joe Fattal

    I heard she is going to join Rev. Wright church. Maybe she thinks she can get elected if she join some satanic worshipers.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  15. mike2

    Its so nice seeing all of the hate-filled liberal comments on this page. It reminds me of how hypocritical you idiots truly are <3

    July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • FSM4LIFE

      Yeah, it stands in stark contrast to all of the love-filled comments from Republicans about Obama being a Muslim, Kenyan, terrorist, etc. Right, Mike? Idiot.

      July 15, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  16. Mary Jo

    Honey, I'd be thrilled if you quit the planet.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  17. Sal

    Republicans should be interred.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  18. Justin

    Its incredible how she chooses to up and leave when shes going for the white house. I thought church was the basis of her campaign? Why would she abandon it...oh wait she clearly only wants power or she wouldn't abandon whats so dear and important to her. Pray out the gay!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  19. Sal

    Religion is only a crutch.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  20. Sal

    Anyone who votes for a republican in today's world is a FOOL! They are voting against themselves and their own welfare! Wake up people!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • Seriously?

      Yeah, because our Democrat President and Senate are doing such a wonderful job. Please lay off the kool aid...

      July 15, 2011 at 3:19 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.