Michele Bachmann's church: pope is the "Antichrist" — UPDATED

This tidbit is raising a few eyebrows — including those belonging to Bill Donohue.


Michele Bachmann is practically synonymous with political controversy, and if the 2008 presidential election is any guide, the conservative Lutheran church she belonged to for many years is likely to add another chapter due to the nature of its beliefs–such as its assertion, explained and footnoted on this website, that the Roman Catholic Pope is the Antichrist.

Bachmann was a longtime member of the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stillwater, Minn., which belongs to the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), a council of churches founded in 1850 that today comprises about 400,000 people. WELS is the most conservative of the major Lutheran church organizations, known for its strict adherence to the writings of Martin Luther, the German theologian who broke with the Catholic Church and launched the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. This includes endorsing Luther’s statements about the papacy. From the WELS “Doctrinal Statement on the Antichrist“:

Since Scripture teaches that the Antichrist would be revealed and gives the marks by which the Antichrist is to be recognized, and since this prophecy has been clearly fulfilled in the history and development of the Roman Papacy, it is Scripture which reveals that the Papacy is the Antichrist.

Seeking to better understand WELS theology and how voters should regard it, I called the Rev. Marcus Birkholz of Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater. When I identified myself, he hung up. Turning the other cheek, I called WELS and had slightly better luck. While I didn’t get to speak to a pastor, as I’d hoped, Joel Hochmuth, the communications director, did his best to oblige. On the matter of the Antichrist, he said, “Some people have this vision of a little devil running around with horns and red pointy ears. Luther was clear that by ‘Antichrist’ [he meant] anybody who puts himself up in place of Christ. Luther never bought the idea of the Pope being God’s voice in today’s world. He believed Scripture is God’s word.” Hochmuth hastened to add that despite the lengthy doctrinal statement, the belief that the Pope is the Antichrist “has never been one of our driving principles.”

Hochmuth also revealed that Bachmann is no longer a member of the WELS congregation. “I do know that she has requested a release of her membership,” he said, adding that she took the unusual step of formally requesting that release in writing. “She has not been an active member of our fellowship during the last year.” Hochmuth wouldn’t speculate on whether her presidential ambitions factored in this decision — the nation’s 70 million Catholics (who lean Republican) might not respond kindly to the Pope-as-Antichrist stuff — but he did emphasize that “it’s not something you’re going to hear preached from our pulpits every Sunday.”
Nevertheless, the statement alarmed prominent Catholics. “Clearly, that is anti-Catholic,” said Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, a national organization devoted to protecting Catholic civil rights. “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.”

Read the rest.

UPDATE: The folks at GetReligion do a good job this morning of fisking the story.

UPDATE II: Deacon Keith Fournier has some thoughts on this issue, too, and suggests Bachmann should not “get a pass” for her affiliation with the church.

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35 responses to “Michele Bachmann's church: pope is the "Antichrist" — UPDATED”

  1. Yawn…

    As we learned a couple of years ago, you can sit at the front pew of a denomination for twenty-two years, have the pastor marry you and baptize your children, and be your spiritual director and still not have a drop of influence from what he preaches.

  2. This is different, is it not, than the Jeremiah Wright issue?

    In this, if I am to understand it correctly, that particular synod of the church – much larger than a single pastor – believes the Pope to be the anti-Christ.

    In the end, she will – like Obama and McCain (the Hagee situation mentioned in the Atlantic article) will distance herself from this.

    However, I must say that this headline gave me an interesting start to my day.

  3. I’m no fan of Michelle Bachman, however I think it would be unfair to hold this issue against her (I also felt it was unfair to use Jeremiah Wright against Obama). Most of the “founding fathers” of the Reformation said some pretty harsh things (John Calvin, anyone?) There has been some discussion in several places lately of the term “heresy”. If someone wanted to be picky, they could say that the Catholic Church’s definition of who is a heretic is rather harsh. As our old pastor said, “The Orthodox are schismatic, and the Protestants are heretics. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, that’s just the theological description of their belief.”
    Since political battles aren’t known for parsing the fine points of theological distinctions, it would be better not to drag people’s denominations into it. But in the free-for-all that is modern politics, everything is going to be out there.

  4. During the 2008 presidential election a student of mine, obviously shocked, rushed in to my Sociology class and said: “You won’t believe it , Sister (So and So, who will remain nameless, his Religion teacher), told us that Obama is the anti-Christ.”

    I just smiled. I thought that he was pretty savvy to realize how outrageous her comment was.

  5. I’m with Melody in #3 above. I wouldn’t hold it against her, but she should be asked and she should catagorically state her view on it. If Romney needs to clarify his Mormonism and JFK needed to clarify his Roman Catholicism, then it’s only fair that Bachmann clarify hers.

  6. Deacon Greg,

    This is no Obama/Wright situation. Bachmann has deep, close personal ties to many of us in the pro-life movement, and has prayed with us Catholics. If she believes that we are satanic, then she deserves an Academy Award.

  7. I’m with Gerald. All anyone has to do is look at this women’s life for heaven’s sake.

  8. So… why don’t we see stories on how Unitarianism descends directly from Cotton Mather, or how every Episcopalian that’s ever held office in the US is responsible for their Articles?

    It’s amaaaaaazing. I’m sure GetReligion is all over this sudden “discovery” of traditional Lutheranism, especially when reporters discover it and report it and attach it to Bachmann after Bachmann leaves it.

  9. I would vote for her today if she was the Republican Candidate. I rather vote for her than for Catholic political figures such as Governor Cuomo, Rep. Pelosi, Sen. Kerry, etc., etc. I don’t think this lady things the pope is the Antichrist even if her synod’s doctrine states it.

  10. I’m another person who is no fan of Michelle Bachmann or her politics but doesn’t think this means anything, pretty much for the same reasons I didn’t care about Jeremiah Wright either, but even more so.

  11. You do realize that most Evangelical churches and old line Baptist churches teach the same thing, don’t you? And what about Jerimiah Wright? Catholics voted for Obama despite what his preacher taught for more than 20 years. Tempest meet teacup.

  12. I suggest that everyone read the article to which Deacon Kandra linked. The issue as I see it is not that Mrs. Bachmann belongs to a sect that teaches that the Pope is the Antichrist. The issue is that she explicitly denied, in 2006, that her sect teaches it (calling it “absolutely false”). She even claimed to have discussed the matter with her pastor.

  13. The beauty, and terror, of extremists is that they sooner or later devour their own. Usually sooner.

  14. Is it a sin to vote for someone because they are good looking? Because I may vote for her just because she is.

  15. I saw this story a few weeks ago and passed on it. So many Born Agains think the same thing about the Pope – and they always have. I’m not sure Bachmann would still really believe that – I have a feeling she thinks Obama is playing that role right now – or some mysterious figure in the Middle East like so many other apocalyptic religious enthusiasts fear.

  16. Is anyone expecting any other answer from Bill Donohue the Politically connected life time President of a Catholic League that claims to speak for the Church??? Almost a month ago to the day, I called and made their staff aware of concern I had about Bachmann and passed an article and note on to them. My follow up was a reply — that the people who wrote this article were Pro-abortion,,,,and I was ignored.

    As we again speak of anti-catholicism,,,, and it’s roots,,, the defense by a politically driven Catholic League whose acceptance that Hagee wasn’t anti Catholic was politically driven,,,,, will rise again,,,,, Ms. Bachmann will be cleared,,,, and politically driven justifications and comparisons will follow. Anti-catholicism is for the Media to use the Catholic league as their spokesperson.

    If I could figure it out,,,,and pass on a letter,,,and the response after it became more public is what you read in Donohue’s releases,,,, does our church have a chance???

  17. It is amazing that some who label people like Michele Bachmann “extremist” favor special rights for gays and favor the killing of 54 million babies.

    Deacon, you might want to post an article about this one at getreligion as well… http://www.getreligion.org/2011/07/about-that-non-existent-slippery-slope/

    The extremists are those who are pushing evil radical beliefs on everyone else. This article clearly shows what these extremists want to bring to our country…

  18. The Get Religion post nails it. I can speak from experience, moreover, that most individual WELS members hold a more nuanced view of the papacy than the ‘official’ WELS stance, which is, admittedly, a bit nutty.

    I like Donohue, but I wish he would have done his homework on this one.

    In general, Catholic railings against everything Luther said tend to be a bit…off. Usually, when Catholics rail against the errs of Luther, they usually mean Calvin or Zwingli without realizing it.

    And as to the pope/anti-Christ issue in particular, to forget that the pope’s office was but an extension of the Medici Mafia in the 15th century is to therefore forget that, hey! Luther’s language might have been hyperbolic, but it wasn’t all together crazy.

  19. Her previous answer was less than satisfactory, but she’s done work with Catholics, she hasn’t shown any overt anti-Catholic bias in her work, etc. As to the first sentence I said, Bachmann isn’t the most polished speaker.

    There’s really nothing here. I highly doubt I’d vote for Bachmann, but her critics really have to try harder.

  20. Years ago, I worked for a local right-to-life group. Some WELS Lutherans were involved with some of the events, activities, and meetings, but they would never join in prayers with others–they said it was a strict rule with them that they should not pray with people outside their own synod (not even other Lutherans, let alone Catholics). Kind of like how Catholics don’t do the “open Communion” thing, I guess.

  21. Kate,
    God bless your efforts with your local right to life group.
    Yes, the no-praying-with-non-WELS-folks is an official position of the WELS. Other conservative Lutheran churches hold similar policies (CLC, ELS, etc.). WELS folks also have a closed communion policy. My whole extended family is made up of WELS folks, and it was really nice at my wedding, because I didn’t have to worry about them going up for communion.

  22. It isn’t exactly breaking news that a lot of Protestants have serious problems with Catholics, especially the Pope. My whole family is made up of Church of Christ members, Southern Baptists, Church of God members, and Presbyterians. I’m one of only two adult Catholics in the whole brood. Basically 99% of my own family thinks I’m going to hell because I’m Catholic. And I’d vote for any one of them over the current occupant of the White House, so I’ve got no issue with Michele Bachmann having been a Lutheran.

  23. Its interesting to see the comments about this fool from the so called pro-lifers.

    Since nothing else matters, I can see the defense of this women gearing up quickly in high fashion.

  24. Don, you quickly picked up the talking point the media unloads on all women politicians who are pro-life–especially women like Sarah P. and Michelle B. Nothing so sears the conscience of people who want to make sure unborn children remain exterminateable than a woman who has” talked the pro-life talk ” and backed it up by “walking the pro-life walk.”
    Of course, such women MUST be politically exterminated by convincing the public they are “flakes” or “ditzes” instead of the moral giants they are on pro-life issues.

  25. Nate #23, what are CLC and ELS? I know Missouri Synod and ELCA (ELC and ALC), but I don’t know CLC and ELS.

    I was raised Lutheran (Augustana Synod). I went to a tiny Danish Lutheran church a block away from another small Danish Lutheran church. Their minister wore seasonal colors; our minister wore a plain black gown. They put candles on the altar; we did not. They held Communion once a month, we did once a year. We took the differences seriously. So the WELS policy on prayer made total sense to me. (I tried to explain it to my cradle Catholic friends but I don’t think they got it.)

  26. Oh wow, the Lutherans are against the pope. Wow, that is news! Oh, wait, Martin Luther is that rebellious fellow that nailed the paper to the door of the church in 1517.

    Isn’t Protestantism based on their rebellion against the Catholic Church? So then, every president starting with George Washington to the present one except for John Kennedy, has been a member of a protestant denomination, all of which reject the pope as head of the Church here on earth. So what else is new?

    Give me a break. And now you have Catholics concerned about this? preposterous.

  27. John #26

    “instead of the moral giants they are on pro-life issues.”

    If you are referring to Michelle B and Sarah P, I will have to call your bluff here.

    –The jury is still out on Michelle B. Her membership — former membership ? — in the obscure WELC combined with her Pro-Life stance makes her a very complex personality. Is she electable as President? Probably not. Her experience and understanding of the issues of the economy; National Defense; Immigration/Border Security and Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid reform are so under-developed as to be non-existent. She will have to attract a very broad constituency to pull it off but I think she has burned too many bridges behind her.

    –The jury returned their verdict on Sarah P. The electorate is not interested. Ultimately, she was the reason that the Republican Party went down to defeat in 2008 — and I do believe Senator McCain could have won with a different running mate. I seriously doubt if Sarah P. will run on her own and if she does, she will not even make it through the primaries.

    But “moral giants on pro-life issues”? You have got to be kidding! I find stronger heroes with more integrity than either of these two in any Crisis Pregnancy Center or Post-Abortion Counseling Center anywhere in our country. Those are the real heroes and giants of the pro-life movement and you insulted them by pushing two “talking-heads” to the front of the line!

  28. Deacon Norb–I presume you prefer Catholic politicians who are among the most fervid and fanatic promoters of abortion and coercing the rest of us to pay for them. I’ll take a Mormon or Evangelical, or Baptist pro-lifer over the type Catholics the media sets out to promote as it vicsciously –and frequently with lies–runs a campaign to destroy pro-life politicians -women politicians– in particular.
    Too bad so many people fall for the liberal media’s assaults and barrages.
    Meanwhile, can there be anything more flaky or ditzy than talking about the U.S. having 57 states as our president did –yet for all the list of foot-in-mouth mistakes both Obama–and especially Biden have made-noone in the media paints these two as having ditz problems or flakiness problems. Has Biden gotten the paralyzed man in the wheelchair to stand up to be introduced yet????
    As for a bluff—can any person go further being pro-life than–as Sarah was– refusing to abort her Down Syndrome’s baby, even though most are being exterminated today. And how many in the pro-life movement have taken in 23 foster children as Michelle has????
    The people in the pro-life organizations you named ARE pro-life heroes. BUT so also are Sarah and Michelle. Too bad the media has convinced you to sneer at their having walked the pro-life walk, as your last paragraph so uncharitably does. Too bad you see no problem in joining in the media’s dirty work to make sure sincere pro-life politicians are marginalized.

  29. Anything to get elected. She knows that some of these wacko ideas could hurt her with more open minded people who understand getting along with other points of view. Quitting her church says nothing about quitting her beliefs which from where I sit are reckless and intolerant.

    So far this woman has stated that she stands by the 1 St Amendment AND that she wants porn removed from the US landscape. There is a contradiction there Michelle. The 1st amendment means that people are free to say what they want to say and print what they want to print.

    What Michelle wants is the right to say what you want and print what you want as long as it agrees with her Bible. See the trouble here Michelle? The first amendment you so fervently love means PEOPLE CAN SAY AND PRINT THINGS YOU DON”T WANT TO HEAR AND SEE! You cant stand that idea. You can hide behind your version of the bible if ya want but the fact remains that the Bible and the Torah and the Book of Mormon and ALL these other books have no place in American Government

    Then we have the “Pray away the Gay” issue brewing in Minn.

    The we have here FORMER membership in a church that supports a 16th Century idea the the Pope is the antichrist.

    Then we have federal money flowing into the “Pray away the gay” counseling center.

    Then we have ________

    Then we have________

  30. There are many christian denominations which claim that the Pope / Roman Catholic Church is the anti-christ.
    But what is really the anti-Christ?

    Does one separate one self from it by isolating it to a church, i.e the Roman Catholic Church?
    Bachmann has distanced herself from her church (possibly) because of the potential political consequences of such a doctrine. She seemed, however, to be comfortable with it for the last 10 years. Has she, however, distanced herself from it in her heart?

    …Politics first (self interest first) and God second! Does not this say something about the anti-christ?

    Christ said that there would be many false christs (false anointed ones) and false prophets (false proclaimers of truth). He never said that the anti-christ is a person or a religious organization. Christ’s teachings dealt with the “spiritual” domain of man. The anti-christ is therefore a belief and way of life which in itself is against the True God and Christ.

    Given that the Creator God claims to be the One and Only God of all mankind and creation and that Christ is the One and Only Way to Him, it is obvious then that the anti-christ would have to be a worldwide belief system which would have preeminence above the Creator God and Christ. It would have to be a belief that all nations would embrace, proclaim, defend, and live by. It would have to be a belief by which even “Christians” would be “mislead”.

    The creation of the Roman Catholic Church was founded on this “belief” when they placed the worship of caesar before the worship of God and His Son Jesus Christ in order to have the freedom to continue with their christian religion.
    It continues to live by and defend this belief today.
    But it is not the originator of it nor is it the only one.

    Today, this same belief system is seen on a global scale, affecting all the nations on the earth.

    What belief system is this priority way of life? Hint…politics first (self-interest first).

    It can only be the desire for and belief in man’s freedom of self-rights, freedom of religion, and universal values.

    President Obama has portrayed the belief in universal values as the new world religion, or tree of knowledge of good and evil, from which all other religions (as branches) have the “right” to be worshipped as per one’s own justification and self-interest. It is the “god of fortresses” that protects and gives liberty to all other beliefs. God is no longer seen as the Most High. He has now been positioned on the same level as one of the other “fortresses”, as a religion among other religions. It will soon be decreed that the declaration that Christ is the Only Way is divisive, anti-democratic, and illegal.

    However, the True God, and His Christ, is not a religion.

    Man’s way and laws will not stop the return of Christ as the Only King of kings, to bring forth God’s Kingdom and His Way of Truth on earth. Keep in mind that there will not be any desire for or belief in freedom of religion in God’s kingdom.

    This belief in self-rights, self-rule, and universal values is the image, mark, name, and number that will cause “even the elect” to willingly accept, live by, worship, and advance this belief, as already seen within all Christian churches. “Freedom of religion” are the first words spoken by all “churches” in times of “persecution” or legal battles.

    This is the belief that is referred to by the last king of the north in the prophecy found in Daniel 11:36-39, “…for he shall magnify himself (self-will) above all gods…and he will advance the glory of this “god of fortresses”.”

    Soon, this preeminent belief in “man’s way of peace” will be superimposed above Jerusalem (the city of peace) as the belief above all beliefs “…for he shall plant the tabernacle of his palace between (and above) the seas and the glorious Holy mountain”… as the belief above Christ and above the True and Only God. This is the abomination. This will be done when President Obama will orchestrate the peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
    I pray that man and Christians will recognize this deception and stand instead for Christ, the One and Only Way to Our Father and Creator.
    John Stefanyszyn

  31. Dave–the biggest problem some politicians like M.B. have is that many voters are brainwashed by the liberal media.
    The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that out and out pornography of the worst sorts–like child pornography– can be outlawed. But laws to do so must be very carefully crafted so that the laws do not impinge on other applications of the First Amendment.
    Or are you in favor of child pornography????
    It’s pretty bad when a commenter has to dredge up outdated by 500 years documents to smear a candidate.
    Are we going to make all Catholics speak on how they regard the Inquistion??? Or all the medieval anti-Semitic rantings of Catholics–even some saints??????.
    When it comes to very strongly pro-life women politicians there seems to be a derangement syndrome that erupts making their anti-life opponents dredge the deepest swamps of anything that could conceivably be used against them.

  32. Dave the only “contradiction” I see is between you and your morality. Even left leaning non religious (per se) folks like Steve Jobs speak out against the perils of pronography, especially to the family, which btw is the main reason flash isn’t on iphones (no pron video downloads).

    If by chance you are one of the more than half of American men addicted to porn, DO know that your addiction is enslavement, perfectally designed! There is nothing at all “free” about addictions, save for the “free” will that gets us there.

    But hey, just ask Jerry Brown and CA liberals about shoving gay agendas down to all students of public schools. Could you tell us Dave (seriously, I’m all ears), what makes gay education (starting with KINDERGARDEN), in CA acceptable, but praying FOR the gays unacceptable, the first by force, the later by choice?

  33. Though she is a too conservative for me, to connect her with the beliefs of a church that she is in the process of leaving isn’t quite fair. Every member of a church doesn’t necessarily believe everything that is being said from the minister of that church. IMO a member of any religion should think about what is being said and isn’t required to agree with everything.

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