During the 2008 election, pundits pondered the question of whether a presidential candidate could be fairly dinged for his attendance at a church where the pastor holds some controversial views. It looks like they'll get another stab at the question, except this time right-wing pundits might find themselves making a different argument.
The candidate this time is Michele Bachmann, and the church is the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church, where she attended services for many years. According to The Atlantic's Joshua Green, it's affiliated with a particular Lutheran denomination that happens to equate the papacy with the antichrist.
While I didn't get to speak to a priest, 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."
Still, Green's investigation is baiting those who might want to make the claim that Bachmann is anti-Catholic. Though she's anti many things, that doesn't seem to be one of them. Green quotes outrage-machine Bill Donohue, who is on speed dial for reporters looking for a "concerned Catholic" and also happens to be against many of the same things Bachmann is against. Donohue is reliably mad, but also ready to cut Bachmann the kind of slack he didn't quite cut President Obama in an analogous situation:
"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 actual reasoning behind the "antichrist" language is a somewhat complicated theological argument involving lots of historical detail about the Protestant Reformation. We'd summarize it, but we're waiting for the Michele Bachmann version, which will hopefully involve Martin Luther's move to Iowa and his bravery fighting demons in the battle of Concord, New Hampshire.