GOP presidential contender Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and her husband Marcus preemptively left their church of more than ten years just weeks before she announced her candidacy to avoid association with its extremist views. Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minnesota, has faced criticism this week for its anti-Catholic views, including preaching that the Pope is the Antichrist.
Bachmann has long been a favorite of religious conservatives for her outspoken views on her faith, but her decision to sever ties with her church for the sake of her presidential campaign is surprising many:
According to CNN, the church that Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus had attended for more than a decade, Salem Lutheran in Stillwater, Minn., granted the couple’s request to be released from their membership last month, a week after Bachmann told a national audience that she would run for the Republican presidential nomination.
The Bachmanns had approached their pastor and verbally made the request “a few weeks before the church council granted the request,” said Joel Hochmuth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the governing body for the church.
Bachmann had apparently been distancing herself from the church for some time. Hochmuth said the couple had not been worshiping with the congregation in more than two years.
“We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy,” the denomination’s website says. “This is an historical judgment based on Scripture.” Bachmann has been questioned about her church’s beliefs for years and denounced their anti-Catholicism when she was running for Congress in 2006.
“It’s abhorrent, it’s religious bigotry,” Bachmann said then. “I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the pope is the antichrist, that’s absolutely false.” She remained a member of the church for years after, but as Bachmann’s political ambitions got bigger, she began to distance herself. When she decided to run for president, Bachmann seemed to realize she could no longer belong to an organization that formally endorses intolerance.
The highly convenient timing of the move clearly indicates this was a shrewd political calculation on Bachmann’s part. It remains to be seen how religious “values voters” will feel about the candidate choosing political opportunism over her church. On the campaign trail Bachmann frequently invokes her faith and proudly speaks about coming to Christ at the age of 16.
CNN notes that 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 must still account for her ongoing connection with other radical preachers and churches, especially Bradlee Dean of the notoriously anti-gay You Can Run But You Can’t Hide ministry. Dean has been described as “Bachmann’s Jeremiah Wright,” and has repeatedly called for gays and lesbians to be put in prison and has said executing gays is “moral.”
Many journalists have observed the parallels between Bachmann leaving her church for political expediency and Barack Obama’s decision to do the same in 2008 after his church’s preacher, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, faced a barrage of criticism for his rhetoric. However, since Bachmann has left one church but still not denounced the teachings of Dean, the analogy has yet to come full circle.