STILLWATER, Minn. (ABP) – Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, in the news for recently severing ties with a church in a conservative Lutheran denomination accused in the past of being anti-Catholic, may have found a new spiritual home among Baptists.
A July 17 New York Times article about the Minnesota congresswoman seen as a champion of Tea Party values quoted friends as saying that Bachmann, who resigned her membership at Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater just prior to announcing her candidacy, now attends Eagle Brook Church, a multi-campus mega-church affiliated with the Baptist General Conference, a small grouping of churches of Swedish descent mostly in the upper Midwest.
Some have speculated that Bachmann’s decision to leave her former church associated with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod had to do with the conservative church’s historic teaching that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist. Other reports said it was the result of a chance meeting between Bachmann’s husband and their pastor.
A Christian Broadcasting Network blog quoted a campaign aide as saying that Marcus Bachmann ran into the pastor from Salem Lutheran Church at an event last month and the pastor inquired why he had not seen the family for a while. Marcus Bachmann explained they were attending another church, and the pastor suggested that for purposes of identity and record-keeping it would be best for them to be released from membership.
According to the church website, Eagle Brook Church started in 1948 as a church plant called Bethany Baptist Mission. After purchasing a Lutheran church building, the congregation was called First Baptist Church in White Bear Lake. In the 1990s, under new pastor Bob Merritt, the church changed its name to Eagle Brook and began holding multiple services to accommodate growing crowds.
Today the church holds live services at its Lino Lakes campus, opened in 2005 with stadium-style seating for 2,100. Services are broadcast at the White Bear campus, reopened for weekend services in 2006 due to rapid growth at the new site, as well as a third campus at Spring Lake Park opened in 2007 and a new fourth campus in Blaine.
CBN’s Brody File blog said Bachmann’s spokesperson explained that the couple began seeking a new church about two years ago after they moved to a new home over “preference issues” common to evangelical families who occasionally change churches.
The aide did not tell CBN the name of the new church, but if the New York Times is right, the small Converge denominational group with about 1,000 churches now boasts not one, but two adherents running for president.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, also running as a Republican, attends Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., which is also affiliated with the Baptist General Conference. Pawlenty’s pastor, Leith Anderson, is current president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Formed originally by Swedish immigrants to the United States as the Swedish Baptist General Conference, the group dropped the “Swedish” from the name in the 1940s because by then most of its churches were worshipping in English. In 2008 the group adopted a “missional” name of Converge, summarizing a three-fold strategy of connecting around common purposes, igniting a passion for God and seeking to transform lives.
Converge is a member of the Baptist World Alliance, North American Baptist Federation and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
In addition to her former church’s views on Catholicism, Bachmann has been criticized over her husband’s Christian-based counseling center alleged to practice “reparative therapy” which seeks to cure gays of their sexual orientation. While popular among conservative evangelicals, most psychiatric associations say the approach is ineffective and does more harm than good.
At the recent Southern Baptist Convention, representatives of several pro-gay religious groups asked the SBC to refrain from using the method, saying it marginalizes gay youth and sends the message that God does not accept them as they are.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.