Bachmann left church at pastor’s request, official says

The conservative church that Michele Bachmann officially left days before launching her presidential campaign said Friday that the Minnesota congresswoman’s decision came at their request.

“The impetus came from the church,” said Joel Hochmuth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the denominational organization that includes the church. “For the pastor’s sake, he wanted to know where he stood with the family.”

Bachmann (R) had stopped attending Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church two years ago but did not formally end her membership until June 21, a date first reported by CNN. The timing raised questions because it came shortly before she formally kicked off her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, and because the church has taken controversial stands on Catholicism and homosexuality.

Candidates have often come under fire for the religious company they keep. During the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was forced to disavow his affiliation with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright after videos emerged of Wright’s more controversial sermons, which included statements critical of the United States and what many considered to be slurs against white people.

A spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office said she now attends a non-denominational church in the Stillwater, Minn., area but declined to specify which one.

“As the family’s schedule has allowed, they have attended their current church throughout the past two years,” spokeswoman Becky Rogness said in an e-mail.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a conservative branch of Lutheranism that has about 390,000 adherents across the country. It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist. Bachmann has said emphatically that she does not share that view, and church officials recently told the Atlantic that it is not a central tenet of the faith.

The synod — a term Hochmuth defined as “a fellowship of congregations that hold to the same beliefs and doctrines” — also believes that homosexuality is a sin and can be changed.

Bachmann’s husband, Marcus Bachmann, has recently come under fire over his Christian-based counseling center’s treatment of gay clients. Several recent reports say the center practices “reparative therapy,” which seeks to “cure” gays and lesbians of their homosexuality.

On Thursday, Marcus Bachmann acknowledged in an interview with the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis that counselors at Bachmann and Associates do treat homosexuals who seek to become heterosexual, but that it is not the clinic’s main focus, and “we don’t have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone.”

Michele Bachmann stopped attending services at the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church after she moved to a different part of town, according to media reports. Around the time that her campaign for president geared up this spring, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz asked that she make clear her relationship with the church, Hochmuth said.

The Bachmanns then asked the church council that they be removed from the membership ranks — a request that is not required of a person that leaves the church, but assists with recordkeeping and helps the church ensure that “you’re in the spiritual care of someone else,” Hochmuth said. “In other words, we would want to know if you are being ‘fed the word,’ as we say.”

Bachmann did not specify to which church she was moving, Hochmuth said.

Sandhya Somashekhar is a health reporter for the Washington Post.
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