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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. Tracy

    She's stupid. She makes republicans and Tea Party folks look even more store...

    July 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Yeah, they look sooo STORE right now!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Kathy from No. VA

    Church just means the "body of Christ". It's not a building, or a club created by humans. It's made up of Jesus' followers who, btw, is an awesome God.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Danny Dyslexic

      My Dog is an awesome Dog.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  3. Patof

    why is there like 10 different ways to leave comments on cnn? some have "like some have "reply" some you have to log in...some you just need to input a fake email.... confusing.... and stop censoring me!!!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Snoozie

      Often wondered that myself. Thanks for asking the Q.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  4. GrogInOhio

    Let's see if the rightwing nut-o-sphere freaks over this lunacy like that did over Rev. Wright.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • sam

      Of course not. That would be genuine 'fair and balanced' behavior. We can't have that.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  5. arago

    How can you right wing Christian tea-bagger with out a church?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • sam

      But who was phone???

      July 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  6. uzalex

    What is the purpose of this story – I wonder? She quits her Church so what?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Patof

      why when I press reply... does it takes me to the top of the page ?? and NOT reply??????

      July 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Patof

      Oh boy ...it works anyways.... well to answer your question...Americans seem big on fairy tails... haven't you ever noticed?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • tim43

      My question exactly

      July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. Kevin

    So she was a member of a church that considers the Pope to be the antichrist. And this surprises us how?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  8. Johnny

    Poor Michele !

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyKAbSCYG8k

    July 15, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Bismarck

    George Carlin was right. When it comes major league BS, a businessman can't hold a candle to a clergyman.

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

      You need a few things in order to become a politician. You need to be an opportunist and you need to carry an American flag around at all times in case someone turns on a camera.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  10. kukareku

    Ron Paul 2012! No more republicratic fascists!!!

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

      Please don't give us another born again Christian like George W. Bush whose every decision was made in the context of the 2,000 year old religious text called the bible. We chastise Middle Eastern countries for not separating their public lives from their private religious lives and yet we do exactly the same thing. The people who back Bachmann will not be happy until we have become Iran.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  11. Geneo

    This isn't news, why did I waist my time reading it?

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

      Why did u waste ur time even writing that?!?!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Patof

      because most of the planet for some reason seems to believe that there is some kind of eternal disneyland in the sky because some people wrote that thousands of years ago.... I know .... completely insane but even world leaders seem to endorse this lunacy!!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  12. Mister Jones

    I did not know that you were supposed to be on a list to go to a church in the first place.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  13. Ben

    So wait, I am confused. If I join a church, they have to release me from membership? The article states that "the church council granted the Bachmanns’ request to be released from their membership on June 21," implying that the church had some type of control or ownership over them, right? What if they were denied release? Is that not weird to anyone else?

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

      Oh, it's weird all right! I suspect there is a dif. between simply attending church and being an actual member, but even so, yeah, what gives?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • billied

      My question exactly, what kind of church requires you to ask permissiom to resign?
      This church and Bachman are both stranger than science fiction. Must be like a street gang, blood in-blood out

      July 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Nora

      Glad it's not just me who noticed that. You don't ask them Michelle, you tell them. Grow a backbone.

      July 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  14. gary

    Atheism is the only way that makes any sense. Religions make people whacko nuts, bigoted, hateful, weird, silly,primitive and frickin' loony.

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

      You are right about that....I'm proud to be a HEATHEN.....

      July 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  15. Johnny

    She must now be walking with science or one would hope.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  16. BMike

    And this is BIIIIG news because...???

    She's crazy. And truthfully, that's all we need to say about dear Michele. NEXT!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  17. Ronald

    GOP, the party of " Never Let the Facts Stand in your Way" or "Its Unbelievable How Far You Can Get By Lying" or "We Almost Flushed this Country Down the Toilet But We Didn't Finish The Job"

    July 15, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  18. Just.The.Facts

    I was raised in the church and I will tell you this, they will lie as to what they are doing, she is trying to fix her political mess up and there is no doubt she hasn't changed her beliefs. She is trying to get back the votes she lost, just the facts.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  19. mike2

    To summarize every liberal comment: SHES A RACIST NAZI REPTILE-HYBRID BABY KILLER!!! But I have no sources, BUT OMG SHES RACIST!!!

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

      An evangelical by definition is borderline racist... has to be... or at least bigoted... that might be the more appropriate word... bigoted. and fascist

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

      We thank you for acknowledging these facts.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Gimp

      Actually, I'd just settle for idiot.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • sam

      She's against abortion, so you have to take the baby-killer part off. The rest is ok, though.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • TB

      Racism=Enlightenment

      July 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • CTYank

      How would you know who or what (for that matter) is a "liberal"?
      Would that be anyone less constipated than you? Someone with an open mind?
      Face it: Michelle is ill-informed, arrogant, delusional, and open to deals with the Koch Bros.
      Take some prunes.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  20. mike2

    I HEARD SHES A NAZI RACIST ALIEN!!! OMG LOLZ

    July 15, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • NAZI-RACIST-ALIEN

      No, we turned down her application because we don't want to be associated with her. So please stop spreading this rumor.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:44 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.