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. Rosslaw

    I understood the Bachmans were concerned about possible negative publicity from the human sacrifice performed at the church.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  2. Pizzle

    For the love of any peace that can come into the world - quit judging each other!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  3. David Stone

    I heard she is quitting because she found out that a gay joined the church.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • mike2

      omgz i heard shes a nazi racist alien! lolz omg

      July 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Sybaris

      No, she's quitting because she's not a governor.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      See mike2, it's funnier if you try. That wasn't bad. David, I heard that one too, and she apparently has fear issues about gay women but that might be rumors as well.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • jean2009

      Who was that her husband?

      July 16, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  4. Sybaris

    "We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy," the denomination's website says. "This is an historical judgment based on Scripture."

    The Antichrist would not be caught dead wearing one of those funny hats and a crimson robe.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • NYcitizen

      I think those funny hats and crimson robes date back to the ancient Jewish Biblical times, no? Afer all, the Catholic Church is steeped in Jewish traditions, as that is where we came out of...The Catholic Church came out of the Jewish religion!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      If you examine it, it's pretty clear that George W. Bush was the Antichrist, and that he failed in His mission to cause Christians to forsake the True Christ and follow Him instead. By not voting for McCain, we avoided the Great Ho of Babylon(Sarah Palin) and the Beast(Rush Limbaugh). Scriptures tell the whole story, and Armageddon will not come in our lifetimes now. Rejoice!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Reush

    "But we find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann,"
    Now THERE'S the statement of the decade.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  6. Sam

    who cares~ All I know is that the media is going to tear her into pieces like they did to Palin, and whoever the Media will support is gonna win, no chance for Michelle. I don't like her all that much any way... kinda arrogant for some reason. I am a moderate, I don't belong to any parties... **shrug**, because I feel kinda hopeless for this country... "politics" and "propegendas" win in this country, not the people, whoever wins~ We just hope for less of many evils that actually win.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  7. Sal

    Death to all republican pols.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • mike2

      death to anyone as ignorant, short cited, and generally stupid as you are. <3

      July 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • TB

      Oh Please!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Drat you for making me agree with that troll mike2. My local Republican congressman is as honest and open as a sunflower. I'd pick up a gun and follow him into a firefight at need. Not every Republican is bad, not every Dem is good, and demonizing the other side was Newt's favorite nasty trick. Dislike their politics all you want, but most people in both parties are good people.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  8. Robert

    "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."

    But, honestly, every chance the right has had, they've trounced Obama about that choice. Does this mean they'll do the same to Rep. Bachmann?

    And it may seem like it's just an accident of timing, but that just seems.. odd. Something must have happened...

    July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Rumor was that they had a gay member and she fled in panic. But it's just rumor so far.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Jabari

      Your so right Robert. Will they rake her over the coals like Obama? I doubt it? That is why she denounced her church so it wouldn't be brought up later. Double standard!

      July 15, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Free of religion


    July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Michael

      Since evil is a religious concept, how about you come up with your own to work with and leave us alone. Thanks!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Bernie

      'evil' is a religious concept? religion doesn't OWN the concept of or the word "evil. Evil is a general abstraction

      July 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • TB

      Huh? You mean anything evil is also religious? Did you know that the abolitionist movement (against slavery) in America was largely supported by RELIGIOUS groups? Was that evil?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      No, that's just dumb. Religion is a basic need in mankind. The sun comes up and we wonder why? Religion can lead people to shoot kids rehearsing ANNIE, or spend their lives washing the sores of lepers. It's like saying apples are evil, or snakes.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Menos

      That's exactly what I was thinking as I drove by a line of hundreds of poor folk picking up donated food and clothes this morning outside a church in Gilroy. How deplorable for these God respecting folk to give to the community, meet in fellowship to celebrate love and hope. We should pull the plug on these practical, grass root givers of time, talent and treasure to the marginized in societyand handover the reins of local and world wide charity to atheists and anarchists. I'm sure the soup kitchens of the world will be humming along just fine without organized religion in the way. I'm sure you'll be the first in line behind Dawkins and Hitchens to pick up "evil" religion's charity work slack once their eliminated from the scene. Sounds like a brave and heartless new world vision. BTW – "evil" is a religious concept - you can't even attack religion without using religion to do so - epic fail.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Menos

      Nice try Bernie - but you're going to have to cite specific sources that proves that the concept of evil came first as a "general abstraction" to humanity as opposed to growing directly from specific religious concept into a general concept. The is true with the word good too, which is a word that came directly from the concept of God. Poor atheists, it must really be distressing to realize that no matter where you run or hide, religion is so baked into the very foundation of human thought / language / consciousness and culture that it's literally impossible to escape it. Even your own atheism is a religion –one that wouldn't exist, by definition, without theism.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Menos, your irony is misplaced. Organized religion has been a part of the society for a very long time. There is certainly nothing wrong with this organization doing something good like distributing free food and clothes to the poor. However, if there were no organized religion, other organizations would do the same. The urge to help other people is not a religious trait. As an example, "Doctors without borders" is not a religious organization, and many major philantropists donate billions to good causes through completely secular organizations.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Why is it so important to you donks to insist that not believing is a religion? Think of it this way: do you believe in The Flying Spaghetti Monster? You don't? Aha, then your religion is Not Believing In The FSM. Doesn't that sound crazy to you?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Menos

      Olaf -First of all, I was direclty responding to idealogical idiocy of "Free of Religions" statement that "religion = evil". Pointing out the enormous scale of world wide charity driven and organized by religion is a direct rebuke to such an illogical and ignorant statement. That aside, how do you explain the fact that organized religion carries such an inordinate ammount of the world wide charity work load and they're barely scratching the surface of the need that exists? We don't have to wait for a world without religion to expose the need for giving and assistance. People who are taught and believe that they have an obligation to give and to serve are obviously more prone to do so (in an organized and systematic way) then a those who are not (hapless atheists). I would bet your paycheck that there are far more Doctors Without Borders who are coming from a religious / spiritual background and don't consider themselves atheists. Want to take that bet?

      July 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  10. Ronald

    And this is important because???? Oh, I see. She is starting her own church...The Church of You Must believe what I tell you and if your gay I'm coming after you because I know what is best for you!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  11. Nick

    "We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy," the denomination's website says. "This is an historical judgment based on Scripture." Umm, this is the 21st Century. That's hilarious! And I thought Michele was three beans short of a burrito.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Olaf Big

      Let's face it, whoever wrote this was not a stalwart of Enlightenment anyway. My nine year-old knows when to use "a" and when "an".

      July 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  12. Mrs B

    It will not help her get elected. She is just so full of herself.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  13. Colin

    Another semi-literate, sky-fairy believing creationist. How I wish Republican poiticians in this country did not have to dumb themselves down to the masses to be electable.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  14. mike2

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

    July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  15. orion18

    we need level headed intelligent politicians to tackle the pressing problems of the United States ; that includes different races and ethnicity. We dont need racist nut jobs like Ms B and Joe Walch;s of the world to stuff their backward ideology up my face..If you have the answers ..spell them out , if you don't shut up and go back to the rock you crawled from .

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

    Yeah Dawn, Mike is a jerk.........

    July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  17. Sharon Samson

    Look out for these right wing conservative religious fanatics. They are manipulators and liars.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • mike2

      Correction: Politicians are manipulators and liars.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Will you bozos quit forcing me to agree with mike2? There are crooks in every party, and plenty of them.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Seriously?

    This is news, but there was never ANY mention of Reverend Wright when Obama was the Democrat candidate in 2008. What a joke!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Roger

      You are kidding right? Republicans tried REALLy hard to make this an issue in 2008. It never got much traction beyond Fox News (which uses references to Rev. Wright to this day).

      July 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  19. mike2


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

      Vote – Obama-Biden 2012

      July 16, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  20. LiberalSlayer

    Godless liberals should burn in hell. Obama is incompetent and a danger to this country.

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

      LiberalSlayer, that is an easy statement to make, but can you back it up with FACTS? If you can't then which of you is incompetent?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Gracko

      The only thing a danger to this country is arrogant, self-righteous ignorance. Fortunately, people like you are in a shrinking minority. Enjoy your irrelevance.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • JasonH

      You sound just like a radical Muslim to me. How very pathetic. You are the worst kind of American.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • kinglywarrior

      Gee "LiberalSlayer", does that mean you are willing to kill someone based on their beliefs differing from yours? Because that would be so very Christian of you.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Perryboy

      This just goes to show you how incompetent you are sir. I'm sure you voted for "W" and DICK in 2000 and 2004.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Josh

      He is within sin cast the first stone. I laugh at your stupidity ha ha ha and ignorance. Kharma is a B#%#$. So judge less ye be judged

      July 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • sam


      July 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Sean Russell

      He's just another ignorant, disloyal American Taliban.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Mike

      So, you don't believe in "Love Thy Neighbor as you woudl love yourself"? What a shame. Is this something He would say? Not according to my bible.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      Why don't you fly a plane into my building, godless hater? I thought hell was for people who hated their fellow men.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • jean2009

      Just another right-wing airhead nut.

      July 16, 2011 at 5:05 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.