Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was for many years a member of the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., which belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). However, just before she announced her candidacy on June 27, the church council granted a request from the Bachmanns to be released from their membership on June 21.
Some members of the media are suggesting that this church resignation may have a lot to do with the WELS controversial stance on Catholicism: that the Roman Catholic Pope is the Antichrist.
“Clearly, that is anti-Catholic,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a national organization devoted to protecting Catholic civil rights, told a columnist for The Atlantic. “This kind of hatred is reminiscent of Bob Jones. I believe (Bachmann) has in the past condemned anti-Catholicism. But there’s no question — all you have to do is read it — that they clearly have anti-Catholic statements up there.”
The term “up there” refers to the WELS Doctrinal Statement on the Antichrist, which is available online. The statement includes a lot of background information on the synod’s stance, which they draw from the writings of Martin Luther.
The WELS acknowledges the controversial status of the Antichrist statement, and points out (via a quote from a 1957 essay) that not every Christian, or even every Lutheran, holds this belief: “This teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist is not a fundamental article of faith… It is not an article on which saving faith rests, with which Christianity stands or falls. We cannot and do not deny the Christianity of a person who cannot see the truth that the Pope is the Antichrist.”
According to a column for CNN’s Belief Blog, Joel Hochmuth, director of communications for the WELS, said the Bachmanns “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.”
Hochmuth also told the blog that such resignations were not unusual, saying: “My understanding of the situation was the timing of the request for release was far more coincidental than strategic.”
While Bachmann has yet to comment on this situation, The Atlantic points out that, in 2006, she denied (incorrectly) that her church believed the Pope to be the Antichrist. She said, “I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the Pope is the Anti-Christ, that’s absolutely false.”