Catholic? Baptist? Mormon? Meet Marco Rubio

After Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s election in 2010, questions emerged concerning the religious background of the Tea Party favorite with Cuban-American roots.

“Rubio’s church life? It’s complicated” was the title I gave one of the GetReligion posts I wrote on the subject.

It’s not every self-described Roman Catholic politician, after all, who attends — and contributes tens of thousands of dollars to — a megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

As regular GetReligion reader and Tennessean religion writer Bob Smietana quipped at the time:

This is the perfect American religion story. Here’s a candidate who says he’s Catholic but goes to a Baptist church which doesn’t have Baptist in its name.

As it turns out, however, Smietana didn’t dream big enough in fashioning the perfect American religion story. Our esteemed Godbeat scribe, it seems, left out the part where Rubio — at or near the top of most GOP running-mate lists — was baptized as a Mormon at age 8 and spent four years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From the Tampa Bay Times (the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times):

WASHINGTON — News broke Thursday that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was baptized as a Mormon at age 8, when his family lived in Las Vegas. A few years later, he converted to Catholicism.

Yet Rubio’s religious profile is even more complicated than that, given his close ties to an evangelical church in Miami.

It’s a mix — a “faith journey,” as his office put it — that has some wondering whether the rising Republican is trying to be all things to all people, and what other surprises may be in his past.

He’s a practicing Catholic but enjoys the sermons of a Southern Baptist-affiliated church, his office said, adding that he has long crossed into both faiths.

The revelation that Rubio, 40, was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints drew quick comparisons to another Mormon, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In just over a year in office, Rubio has vaulted to the top of the shortlist of running mates.

Two words in that lede probably jump out at GetReligion readers: both faiths. 

The question is, of course, whether Catholicism and Southern Baptism (sorry, but I just could not resist!) are two different faiths or different expressions of the same faith — that being Christianity. The same question would apply to the next paragraph of the story, where the Times reports that Rubio only belonged to the Mormon “faith” for a few years.

On the positive side, the Times does shed light on some of the questions we raised about Rubio’s religious background in 2010.

A timeline from the newspaper:

The family left the Mormon church by the time Rubio was 12, according to Rubio’s office, and he received First Communion in the Catholic Church a year later. After returning to Miami, Rubio was confirmed, and he was married in the church.

But as he got older, Rubio started to attend Christ Fellowship in Miami, a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Though he had substantial debt, due to mortgages and student loans, Rubio gave about $50,000 to the church over a period of years last decade. He also gave to the Catholic Church, his office said.

In the 2002 Florida House Clerk’s Manual, Rubio described himself as Catholic. Two years later he listed himself as Baptist, then two years after that, he identified himself as Catholic.

“Around 2005 Marco began to return to his Catholic roots,” according to a time line provided by the senator’s office, which added, “He enjoys the sermons and the excellent children’s ministry at Christ Fellowship, and still attends often.”

In Washington, Rubio has said he attends daily Mass.

Are we all crystal clear now on where Rubio stands? Undoubtedly, if Rubio is nominated as vice president, he will pressed to elaborate more fully on his religious affiliation and beliefs.

Meanwhile, I’d love feedback from GetReligion readers on this line from the Times story:

There are several differences between Catholics and Southern Baptists, including that the latter do not recognize the authority of the pope or view communion as the body and blood of Christ.

If you had 31 words to distinguish between Catholics and Southern Baptists, are those the ones you would have chosen? Just curious.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Will

    It may trouble you, but we may have to resign ourselves to the fact that “faith” is used as a more-or-less generic term for “religious thingy”. The NYT were not troubled by my complaint when they called the Catholic-Protestant-Jew trinity “three faiths”.

    And my impression is that most self-styled-mainline Protestants around me are unable to describe “their” theology beyond “We-don’t-believe-in-the-pope”; and wouldn’t know justification by faith or Sola Scriptura if they fell over it.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    The two differences that the writer picked are probably the most important differences between Catholic and Baptist Christianity, although lay observers might go for more obvious stuff like celibate-versus-married clergy. I say, good job in a small space.

  • Jettboy

    “Two words in that lede probably jump out at GetReligion readers: both faiths.”

    No, just you. I know of no one who doesn’t use “faith” to mean Church of a differing denomination. When the question what faith are you comes up, it is never answered Christian, but the name of the denomination they belong to. The only time that is not the case is when the person says they are Muslim or Jewish or some other religion that don’t self-identify as Christian. Now, because I brought it up in the last sentence, someone asks what religion you are the answer could go either way. Context is key.

    “If you had 31 words to distinguish between Catholics and Southern Baptists, are those the ones you would have chosen?”

    Actually yes. Most people I know would have chosen that. Evangelical Christians would have chosen the authority of the “Satanic” Pope or a belief (so they would claim of Catholics) that works save.

    My own biggest complaint is a lack of reporting on just how active in the Mormon faith they were. He was young and probably didn’t have much control over what his parents did at least at age 8. Since his family left when he was 12, I very much doubt he contributed anything more than showing up at Church if that. That is the age that Mormon boys are given the Aaronic Priesthood and some responsibilities. In other words, at best he was a nominal Mormon even if his parents at first might have been far more active (or not). For all we know he and his family were baptized and went to church a few times and then simply no longer attended. That happens a lot.

    There has been some talk as to if his name is still on the records of the LDS Church, and I would assume they are if he just left. Unlike other Christian religions, Mormon numbers are based on baptism records and not church attendance. Despite critics who make a lot out of this as some kind of numbers conspiracy, there are specific theological reasons for not removing people. I for one applaud him for not seeking to have his name removed (if it remains) because doing so is typically a sign of contempt or rebellion rather than merely deciding to join another Church.

  • Jettboy

    Just thought of something to add. He could be ex-communicated by the LDS Church by joining another faith, but again he would have had to make a stink about it for actions like that to take place.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Ann,

    Do you think it’s accurate that Southern Baptists do not “view communion as the body and blood of Christ?”

    As I understand it, they do not view it as the actual body and blood of Christ. But don’t they view the bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood?

    That was part of what struck me – it seemed a bit misleading. Alas, the space was tight, and I am picking nits, I know. :-)

  • Martha

    But Bobby, surely we’re all Latter Day Baptolics now? :-)

    I would quibble with one word in the “Tampa Bay Times” story: “News broke Thursday that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was baptized as a Mormon at age 8, when his family lived in Las Vegas. A few years later, he converted to Catholicism.”

    Seeing as how his family was Catholic up till then, I’m assuming he was baptised and brought up Catholic until the age of eight, so he would have re-verted to Catholicism (instead of converting).

    But the tone of the story did make me smile: is he a Catholic? Or a Baptist? Worse still, maybe he’s really a Mormon!

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    This is nitpicky, but I’m a bit confused by the sentence “Though he had substantial debt, due to mortgages and student loans…” How many professionals in their 30s don’t have “substantial debts due to mortgages and student loans”? If we’re going to go into his financial history, we’d need to know his income during those years to make more sense of his giving. There’s a big difference between giving $5K/year on a $30K income vs. giving $5K on a $200K income.

    Also, if Rubio ends up picked as Romney’s running mate, per many rumors, will there be any good stories about the relationship between the LDS and Roman Catholic churches? There have been so many stories about evangelicals’ attitudes towards Mormons, but, if my short time attending an LDS church is any indication, there’s quite a history of strained relationships between the LDS and Catholics.

  • Wryman

    “Faiths” seems too strong, but it is worth noting that many Catholics would object to “denominations,” which is how a lot of newspapers get around this. Catholics, and this goes for the Orthodox too, don’t see their church as a denomination, which is a Protestant concept. “Churches” won’t work, because to a Catholic that means the Church, while to a Baptist it means a particular church. I think I would have written around it by saying “long crossed between the two.”
    Perhaps it would have been OK to say “both Christian faiths” ???
    As for the Catholic-Baptist differences, I think I would mention the Pope and “different interpretations and attitudes towards the Bible” as a way to convey the whole Bible vs. Bible+tradition difference.
    The difference in the interpreation of the Eucharist is a), something a lot of folks don’t even know about, and b), a little more complicated than a one-liner can encompass. Some Baptist readers might complain that they would see communion as a “spiritual” reality (although there is no one Baptist doctine, as I understand it).

  • Julie Green

    I am a life-long Episcopalian and the part of your story where you inquire, “The question is, of course, whether Catholicism and Southern Baptism (sorry, but I just could not resist!) are two different faiths or different expressions of the same faith — that being Christianity. The same question would apply to the next paragraph of the story, where the Times reports that Rubio only belonged to the Mormon “faith” for a few years.”, is not totally correct…The religion is Christian; the faith is Catholicism (or more correctly, Roman Catholicism) and Southern Baptism. Islam is a religion, Christianity is a religion, Judaism is a religion; different types of Christianity or Islam or Judaism are the different faiths within those religions.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    The religion is Christian; the faith is Catholicism (or more correctly, Roman Catholicism) and Southern Baptism. Islam is a religion, Christianity is a religion, Judaism is a religion; different types of Christianity or Islam or Judaism are the different faiths within those religions.

    Perhaps, but this how my online dictionary defines faith:

    a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.

    I just checked to see if the Associated Press Stylebook or Religion Newswriters Association stylebook offer any guidance on “faith.” Neither does.

  • Matt

    Regarding the word “faith”, I think Wryman #8 hit it on the head. What word would you have preferred? At least they didn’t say “the two religions”.

  • Matt

    It’s a mix — a “faith journey,” as his office put it — that has some wondering whether the rising Republican is trying to be all things to all people, and what other surprises may be in his past.

    What the heck is that supposed to mean? His parents’ religious searching while he was in grade school somehow indicates pandering on his part?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    I read that line to refer more to his seesawing back and forth from Catholic to Baptist to Catholic to …

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Although I did notice that the story never really identifies those “wondering whether the rising Republican is trying to be all things to all people,” except a reference to a blogger from 2010.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Regarding the word “faith”, I think Wryman #8 hit it on the head. What word would you have preferred? At least they didn’t say “the two religions”.

    Good question. Perhaps “the two Christian groups.” Or maybe reword somehow to indicate that these two (whatever you call them) are the two largest Christian bodies in the U.S.

  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com David Rupert

    “Latter Day Baptolics?” That is hilarious. I’m hoping Rubio at least knows WHY he attends his church, that it isn’t for political expediency or gain — that’s it’s genuine. He should say it clearly — his family had issues with the Mormon faith and left it. And later, Rubio was attracted to Evangelical Christianity.

    There’s no shame in any of this…except lying.
    David, http://www.RedLetterBelievers.com

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Looking at an adult’s childhood religious history as something of serious consequence is ridiculous. It smacks of a desire to embarrass instead of inform and enlighten.
    However, this Catholic must confess that I received my Cub Scout badges from a Methodist Church scout pack.
    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

  • Maureen

    But of course an adult’s childhood religious history is important! Where else do you get your basic assumptions about life, except in childhood? What is your “native tongue” of religion, except what you learned as a little kid?

    That doesn’t mean you can’t change your beliefs pretty radically. But if I want to know you and how you think, I need to know where you started from.

    (And if you’re a Catholic, you should know what St. Ignatius of Loyola said about childhood religious training.)

  • John Penta

    Maureen: I went to a Jesuit university, and even I don’t think I learned that. Enlighten us?

  • Julia

    “Faith” has been used by Catholics to describe their beliefs at least since 1849 when a Catholic convert, Fr. Frederick William Faber wrote “Faith of Our Fathers” in remembrance of the English Catholic martyrs. There were 4 stanzas in England and he added 3 more for use in Ireland.

    NOTE: Re­flect­ing Fa­ber’s Ca­tho­lic roots, the orig­in­al third stan­za was:
    Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
    Shall win our country back to Thee;
    And through the truth that comes from God,
    England shall then indeed be free.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith_of_Our_Fathers_(hymn)

  • Julia

    John Penta:

    Jebbie alum here.

    Ignatius said something like: Give me a boy at 7 and I’ll form him for life.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    “Faith” has been used by Catholics to describe their beliefs at least since 1849 when a Catholic convert, Fr. Frederick William Faber wrote “Faith of Our Fathers” in remembrance of the English Catholic martyrs. There were 4 stanzas in England and he added 3 more for use in Ireland.

    And what does that mean in the context of this journalistic discussion? Was the description of the “two faiths” as relates to Catholics and Baptists accurate or not?

  • northcoast

    Concerning differences, the difference on transubstantiation is obviously too obscure for some. One church is liturgical and creedal. One has a very visible clerical hierarchy with rather rigid management structures.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been a Southern Baptist commenting to set the record straight.

  • http://www.priestsforlife.org Leslie Palma

    What strikes me is that all this seems to be an attempt to discredit Rubio because he goes to too much church. Would we like him better if he split his time between a strip club and a casino?

  • http://www.nextstepoutreach.org Dave Mitchell

    A good question to settle how Rubio considers his LDS background is to ask him what he thinks of the Book of Mormon. Mormons consider it holy scripture. Catholics and Evangelicals believe it to be a 19th Century work of fiction. Which is it Senator?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    His answer will be particularly intriguing if he’s Romney’s running mate.

  • David Rosenkoetter

    Whichever way Sen. Rubio leans–to being a Roman Catholic or a Southern Baptist–does not affect my thankfulness that he is a conservative, prolife politician. The LCMS has had its fair share of politicians who have claimed to be faithful to its teaching from Holy Scriputre–such as Paul Simon–and yet who have gone off the deep end by denying Biblical inerrancy and supporting abortion. As for my analysis of Sen. Rubio, I am heading back to his homepage to study his latest press releases.


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