Getty Images via CNN
By Eric Marrapodi
CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
July 15, 2011
Washington — 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. …
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. …
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.” …
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. …
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.” …
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. …
Bachmann and Associates has faced accusations that it uses a controversial therapy that encourages gay and lesbian patients to change their sexual orientation [link added]. …
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 the 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.
Related reports on this site
Catholics: Condemn Bachmann (Nov. 1, 2010)
Michele Bachmann ‘Lies in Christ’ (Aug. 31, 2009)
Bachmann Bears False Witness (Nov. 20, 2008)
FROM THE ARCHIVES
One Year Ago — July 16, 2010
One year ago today, I commented on a pro-Bachmann letter to the editor in the St. Cloud Times.
Two Years Ago — July 16, 2009
Two years ago today, on July 16, 2009, I reported that Rep. Michele Bachmann, in addition to three likely Democratic opponents (Elwyn Tinklenberg, Maureen Reed, and Tarryl Clark), also faced a battle on a second front — a potential primary challenge from within the Republican Party.
Three Years Ago — July 16, 2008
Three years ago today, on July 16, 2008 – the second day of my 2008 campaign against incumbent U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann for the Republican nomination in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District – I spoke about the challenges for a self-funded political outsider in setting up a campaign office, building a campaign organization, and introducing himself to voters.
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