(Photo: Reuters / Molly Riley)
Michele Bachmann has received a much-needed endorsement from Catholics following media reports saying she quit her Lutheran church, which believes the Pope is the Antichrist.
“We find no evidence of any bigotry on the part of Rep. Michele Bachmann,” Catholic News Agency quoted Bill Donohue, president of America’s largest Catholic civil rights organization Catholic League, as saying Friday. Donohue, however, also said it was “regrettable that there are still strains of anti-Catholicism in some Protestant circles.”
Donohue was responding to Thursday’s report in The Atlantic that said the Minnesota Republican was likely to face controversy over her affiliation with Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which says the Roman Catholic Pope is the Antichrist.
Rep. Bachmann has “condemned anti-Catholicism” and “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 League president said, referring to Obama’s former pastor’s statements in 2008 that the U.S. government may have spread AIDS among the black community and that some American wartime activities constituted terrorism.
According to the director of communications of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Joel Hochmuth, the 55-year-old congresswoman was released from her family’s membership on June 21, six days before she formally announced her candidacy for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
“The impetus came from the church… For the pastor’s sake, he wanted to know where he stood with the family,” The Washington Post quoted Hochmuth as saying Friday. Bachmann had stopped attending the church two years ago although she and her husband Marcus Bachmann had been members for over 10 years, he added.
It was when her campaign for Republican presidential nomination was picking up pace this spring that Bachmann’s pastor, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz, asked that she clarify her relationship with the church, Hochmuth said. She and her husband then requested the church council that they be removed from the membership register. However, when CNN asked Pastor Birkholz about her leaving the church, he said, “I’ve been asked to make no comments regarding them and their family.”
However, Bachmann has been going to another church. Quoting a spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office, Becky Rogness, the Post also said the congresswoman had been attending a non-denominational church in the Stillwater, Minn.-area without giving the name of the church. “As the family’s schedule has allowed, they have attended their current church throughout the past two years,” the spokeswoman said.
Bachmann’s former church came under fire during a 2006 debate, when she listed her affiliation on her campaign site for Congress. But she responded, saying, her pastor “was absolutely appalled that someone would put that out. It’s abhorrent, it’s religious bigotry. I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the Pope is the Antichrist, that’s absolutely false.”
The church’s website apparently did not carry the remarks on the papacy then. Now, it states, “As Martin Luther grew in his appreciation of the Gospel, he also grew in his recognition that the Papacy is the Antichrist. A 1954 WELS pamphlet entitled Antichrist put it this way: ‘It was because Luther cherished the Gospel so dearly that his faith instinctively recoiled and protested in unmistakable terms when the Pope put himself in the place of Christ and declared His work insufficient and in vain.’”
However, Pastor Birkholz reportedly clarified that his denomination, which has about 1,300 congregations and 400,000 members, “primarily views the office of the papacy as the Antichrist, not the individual popes themselves.”
Meanwhile, Bachmann, a supporter of the Tea Party movement and a founder of the House Tea Party Caucus, announced Friday that her campaign had raised over $4.2 million as of June 30. “The Bachmann for President campaign is launching an aggressive major donor program with their newly formed finance team,” her office said in a statement. Her personal website makes no mention of her leaving the church.