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. Antonio

    Man you guys are really digging for news today, huh?

    July 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  2. David

    Michele and Marcus are starting their own new gay church....

    July 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • sam

      I heard the Kool-Aid *sparkles*!!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  3. Billy Davis

    The Bachmann's removed themselves from the church because it will be revealed that their church is anti-gay and pro-slavery.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Lyn

    She signed a pledge to Grover Norquist. It apparently overiides the oath of office she made to the people she gets paid to represent. She should be tossed on blatant conflict of interest alone. Add that to the completely false statements she made on more than one occasion concerning income and special interest ties, she really is a flake who makes it up as she goes. Dropping membership in this church is only a strategic ploy to make her appear more acceptable to those who are becoming increasingly concerned about her allegiances. Church and country are not nearly as important to this politician as the support she can get from the likes of Grover Norquist and his twisted backers.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  5. GSA

    What's up with that hand gesture she is doing? So many funny captions could be used.....must.....resist....

    July 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  6. Iski

    I wish the story would clarify the difference between WELS Lutherans (380K) and ELCA Lutherans (~5M, not affiliated with WELS and very far apart theologically). As a member of an ELCA congregation, my greatest fear is that she would come to represent the views of "Lutherans" so I'm glad this nutjob has abandoned anything associated with the term Lutheran.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  7. Stephanie

    Church an politics do not mix anymore. End of story.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  8. US Citizen

    seems rather cultish to me. do we really want someone who is subserviant to a religious group?

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

      no...but what in the article lead you to view it as 'being subserviant'....off point tool....

      July 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  9. stonedwhitetrash

    Bachmann knows more catholics that might vote for her if she was not a Lutheran So fhe just keeps right on babbling while baggin that tea.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  10. truth2power

    Aside from her extremism, the real fact is this woman does not have the education, intellect or temperament to hold the highest office in the land.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Wedding Singer

      A woman can't be president... why? because they can't hold a 4 years period 😀

      July 15, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • petercha

      I don't care if a lady becomes president, as long as she is a social conservative.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  11. Barry

    Quit the church!

    Are you serious?

    The Apostle Paul must be rolling over in his grave about now, or looking down from heaven and shaking his head, thinking: All of my hard work and my martyrdom, and now this.

    Doesn’t the Scripture teach that the church is the collective body of those who believe that Jesus is the son of God? (See: Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians.)

    Doesn’t the Scripture teach that when a person becomes a Christian their name is written in the Book of Life, which is in heaven? (See: Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.)

    Quit the church.

    Don’t you realize that you who believe in Jesus are the church!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Conan the Librarian

      get your facts right – Paul was not one of the "apostles" – he never even met Christ
      unless you try to count this hallucination that was fabricated to give him a basis to say that he met him
      Paul was a political opportunist – and there is no historical evidence that he wrote anything that he is given credit for
      many of his passages ae lifter almost verbatim from the Dead Sea Scrolls
      Pauline Christianity is where Christ and his philosophy were pulled in the wrong direction
      case in point radical sects like the one Bachmann belonged to
      she needed permission to leave her church ?? – sounds more like a cult to me
      Michelle needs to just go away having her as a presidential candidate is an insult to every thinking American

      July 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • BottomFeeder

      Robert you must have gone to bible study in a gulag. You are as off center as Bachmann when it comes to theology.
      The Bible or Scripture needs to be taken in the historical context – why it was needed, what is was used for and who paid for it for it to be compiled. It is not the word of God or Jesus – those texts that were have been destroyed as they did not help support t he message that was being crafted by the politicians and the church elders
      they needed a rule book that fit the game they were playing ............ so they put one together
      it's history and verifiable – deal with it

      July 15, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  12. vfr800cr250

    It only makes sense, I'm sure she can't campaign with the burn marks all over her after walking through the doors of a church.

    As to facts, while there may be no proof that she's evil, there's plenty of proof that she's a moron and nuttier than a turd the day after nut fest. Just look at the celebration of stupidity that was her response to the State of the Union address earlier this year.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  13. robert

    Religion is such a farce. I cannot believe republicans always try to solve our problems by digging into a fairy tale book, the Bible.

    Something does not smell right with this Michelle.

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

      Robert, there is no need to insult Christians by calling their holy book a fairy tale.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Barry

      Religion may be a farce, but Jesus is not.

      Jesus was crucified by the Romans in the first century. There is no disputing this.

      Jesus’ followers believe that he is the son of God. There is no disputing this.

      Faith in Jesus has changed and healed broken lives, like nothing else, before or since.

      Those whose lives have been changed and who follow Jesus’ teachings, by loving their neighbor, serving others, loving their enemies, being kind and compassionate, and laying down their lives for others if necessary, are proof that God and Jesus are no farce.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      "Robert, there is no need to insult Christians by calling their holy book a fairy tale."

      I know, that's an insult to fairy tales.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      "Religion may be a farce, but Jesus is not."
      Nope, him too.

      "Jesus was crucified by the Romans in the first century. There is no disputing this."
      Actually this is highly disputed since it most likely didn't actually happen and the person didn't actually exist since all the writings of him were decades after he was to supposed to have lived.

      "Jesus’ followers believe that he is the son of God. There is no disputing this."
      Yes, his follower believe his is the son of god, can't dispute this one.

      "Faith in Jesus has changed and healed broken lives, like nothing else, before or since."
      He's also destroyed plenty of lives like nothing else too.

      "Those whose lives have been changed and who follow Jesus’ teachings, by loving their neighbor, serving others, loving their enemies, being kind and compassionate, and laying down their lives for others if necessary, are proof that God and Jesus are no farce."
      That's proof?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  14. The Jackdaw

    She quit church because so did John Wayne!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  15. JMV

    Jesus NEVER supported or took part with any political party of the times... Daniel 2:44 sais that Jesus Kingdom will replace all world kingdoms, but he will get rid of them first. Based on today's global events, that event is near!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      The GOP is the Jesus party, just as long as they dont have to do any of the things that Jesus would have done, like heal people for free, or feed the masses. You know, because those things are SOCILIST! Jesus worked for his meals, its not like he was a wandering preacher/begger or anything like that!

      July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Good luck with that.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  16. lynn

    She formally left a church that she has not attended in years. She has made steps to head off criticism that she is not attending a church she belongs to. Still, she like all GOP are hypocrites

    July 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  17. SecularLeft Pinhead

    The stench from the Leftist Media, like CNN just continues to bilk out more garbage.
    Didn't Barry Hussein Obama belong to the Church of Jeremiah Wright and G.D. America/black liberation RADICAL theology?
    CNN types don't like to talk about that though........uh uh

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

      You really should crawl back under that Faux rock...

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

      @SecularLeft Pinhead...So, you're a Birther. That makes you incredibly dumb. Birthers are without credibility. Dumb as rocks. And that is you. Anything you have written is worthless.

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

      Knock, knock, SLP. Do you realize how silly you sound, what with the leftist diatribe?

      July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • 6km n of ground zero

      Your lame comment should have waited until you had actually finished reading the article.

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

      Thanks for that comment! Everyone seems to have very short term memories! I remember that whole Obama/Wright thing! And the Obama's attended Wright's Church for over 20 years! Now tell me that kind of preaching (G'D America and such) doesn't stick in your head even after you stop attending that Church! The Obamas are just as much racist as the Bachmans are anti-gay religious fanatics! There is no difference between the Obama/Wright Controversy and the Bachmans leaving their church.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Funny, I thought you types were supposed to convince me he's a Muslim now.

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

      Quite a deal was made of it when he was running for president. The problem with most news is not that it leans one way or another but that that it has no real substance. In the case of FOX "News" you have both problems.

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

      Where were you in 2008? That story ran for months. He had to quit his church and make public speeches about it twice. It just goes to show you, that there are LOTS of crazy Christians out there.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Ish

      President of the United States of America, and Commander-In-Chief, Barak Hussein Obama did distance himself from that church. Rep. Bachmann will need to distance herself from her husband... He will be the reason she drops out, just my opinion. I don't know what, if any, party you belong to, but take it from an old-school Republican, respect the POTUS no matter what party, and understand that Bachmann's not presidential material; I'd go so far as to say she'd make a poor librarian.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Michael

      @sickofitall: If you listened to wright instead of soaking in the fox news lies, and if you had any iota of knowledge about the black race and injustice in america in general, you would realize that JW was a black preacher who was talking about real issues and real feelings about the experiences of a minority face in america. Not a terrorist, not a radical, just a man expressing some real feelings about some real problems. Get your head out of the sand, stop being programmed by the media-right, and realize theres more then one side to issues, not just your illusionary white wonder bread 50s middle class family. Once you begin to do that, perhaps you can begin to talk intelligently.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • barabbas2010

      that's all in the article pinhead.
      it might help if you learn to read before spewing.

      July 15, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  18. Ged

    The less I know about the religious views of political candidates the better. I don't care what imaginary gods they pretend to beleive in. In fact it's plain scary to hear about...makes me wonder who they're pandering to and the possibilty that it may appeal to a specific audience is not only crazy, but could explain why America is currently in shambles.

    July 15, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Lacking Evidence since 14 Billion BCE

      Exactly. I don't really want those in power who don't apparently have the skills to evaluate evidence and make big decisions.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  19. SilverHair

    Confirms a nut case.

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

      not really, but she's still a nut.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  20. Scotty Patrick

    THANK GOD! Most of the comments here (anti-Bachmann) have restored my faith in mankind! This nut job running for President, scares me more than anything on this planet. More so than Bush or Palin being in office! It is so refreshing to see that so many see right through her. YAHOOOOO!!!!!!

    July 15, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • rh

      Women like her with more bluster than brains make all women look stupid. Thanks a lot lady.

      July 15, 2011 at 3:35 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.