Like the U.S. Constitution, I’m down with the concept that there should be no religious test for office. Still, I feel like I’m entitled to know the religious affiliation of a candidate for the presidency, especially if she’s making a big hoop-de-doo about appealing for the votes of, er, social conservatives.
So when Michele Bachmann sat down last week with David Brody, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, to talk about faith and politics, did he ask her where she goes to church? Nope:
Let me just start with a topic that is near and dear to your heart,
and that is prayer. Just simply about your prayer life. What has your
prayer life been like recently? What do you pray about for yourself, for
your staff, and what do you want people to pray for you about?
What we know about Bachmann’s religious identity is that she started out as a Norwegian Lutheran Democrat (ELCA?) in Iowa but that after she and her husband moved to Stillwater, MN, they joined Salem Lutheran Church, a member of the ultraconservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). But a few weeks ago, Salem’s pastor told the AP that “the family
stopped attending regularly when they moved to another Twin Cities
Yes, the Bachmanns moved a couple of years ago, but they did not move to “another” Twin Cities suburb. They bought a nice place on the 18th hole of the Stoneridge Golf Club in West Lakeland Township, which is part of Stillwater. According to Mapquest, it takes all of 13 minutes to drive the eight miles from Stoneridge to Salem Lutheran. So have the Bachmanns just stopped going to church? Joined another congregation? Or do they still show up at Salem as regularly as they can? Whatever the case, Bachmann no longer identifies herself as WELS.
Let it be noted that belonging to WELS may be a disability for an American politician. Back in 2006, someone noticed that the denomination, whose Lutheranism is pretty unreconstructed, considers the papacy to be the Antichrist. Bachmann vigorously denied that this was the case, and the little tempest quickly blew over. But now that she’s front and center on the national stage, it could easily blow up again. Remember John Hagee and the Whore of Babylon?
While Bachmann has a particular reason to fuzz up her religious identity, she’s hardly the only latter-day Republican politician to do so. Sarah Palin steadfastly refused to acknowledge her own lifelong (until she ran for statewide office) membership in the Assemblies of God. Other examples abound. I’ve got an idea that there’s a memo out there to GOP candidates that they should just present themselves as “Christians.” That’s what white evangelicals increasingly prefer to call themselves, and it lets you evade all invidious denominational–and doctrinal–distinctions. Or even better, just talk about your recent prayer life.
Update: WaPo’s July 5 story on Bachmann’s husband Marcus simply shuffles in what the AP got from Salem’s pastor :
The Bachmanns’ strong belief that homosexuality is a correctable sin
within the realm of possible redemption is consistent with the teachings
of the Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, the birthplace of Minnesota
on the banks of the St. Croix River. A modest brick building with a
wide isosceles roof and stained-glass windows in the chapel, Salem
served as the place of worship for the Bachmanns until their recent
move. The church belongs to the highly conservative Wisconsin
Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which, in explaining its views on
homosexuality, points to the passage in Corinthians where the apostle
Paul says to former sinners, “That is what some of you were.”
“The past tense is significant,” the Synod’s official Web site observes.
It’s fair enough to bring Salem into the story, but the church just sits there as the place the Bachmanns used to go.
Further update: Red State isn’t impressed with Bachmann’s performance.