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Is Marco Rubio Catholic or Baptist? Or Is the Reformation Over?

4 years ago
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MIAMI -- If there were one thing about Marco Rubio that made him beloved to voters who elected him Florida's newest senator this month, it was his ramrod stance as a man of conviction: a die-hard tea party conservative, a fearless crusader against entrenched interests -- even in his own Republican Party -- and a husband and father who lived by the Catholic faith of his Cuban forebears.

But now some of Rubio's own fans on the Catholic right are questioning his religious bona fides since they found out that for much of the past decade, Rubio, 38, has been attending a Southern Baptist-affiliated church, Christ Fellowship, here in South Florida. In fact, tax records show that from 2000 to 2008, Rubio donated more than $66,000 to charity, much of it going to Christ Fellowship.

Where Rubio attends church may seem like a relatively minor issue given Rubio's stature as a deeply committed Christian whose election-night victory speech began with a powerful statement of faith in God and God's control over all things. Moreover, many Americans, strong believers among them, don't see denominational differences as such a big deal anymore.

But Catholics and Baptists, especially those of the conservative variety who have held Rubio out as the great new hope for the GOP, do take such matters seriously, and some of them are feeling duped by Rubio presenting himself as a dedicated Catholic while he in fact has been attending a Southern Baptist congregation.

"Is Marco Rubio talking out of both sides, the better to court both the Catholic and the Evangelical votes?" Eric Giunta, a Catholic law student and Rubio supporter, wrote at the conservative blog Renew America. "Or is he just one more victim of the religious indifferentism that marks so much of today's practical Catholicism, thanks to decades of spiritual malnourishment suffered at the hands of wicked, inept, or lazy prelates? It's a question worth asking, and here's hoping Rubio soon answers it."

The story first came to light the morning after Election Day, when Damian Thompson, a traditional Catholic who writes about religion for The Daily Telegraph of London, was doing some post-electoral research on what he thought was a fellow Catholic and political wunderkind. Thompson read the PoliticsDaily bio on Rubio, which notes that Rubio describes himself as Roman Catholic but has attended Christ Fellowship church in West Kendall, a suburb just west of Miami, for the last six years.

That set off Catholic alarm bells for Thompson, who noted in a Nov. 3 blog post that among many other things, Protestants and Catholics have a crucial difference in their understanding of the Eucharist, or communion, and that difference was one of the central dividing lines of the Reformation. Catholics maintain that Jesus Christ becomes present in a true and substantial way in the bread and wine that a priest consecrates at Mass, while Protestants (though their views can vary) tend to see communion in more symbolic and less miraculous terms.

Moreover, Catholics are obliged to take communion at least once a year, at Easter, and attend Mass every week.

When Giunta picked up on Thompson's report he was furious and said Rubio's affiliation was "also a question of honesty." He said that Rubio represented himself as a practicing Catholic "personally to a good friend of mine, who met him last year at a campaign stop in Tallahassee." Giunta added, "I also know that the Catholic clergy of Tallahassee are under the impression Rubio was, and is, one of their own."

Rubio also describes himself as a Roman Catholic at his official Web page at the Florida House, and in an interview last February with Deal Hudson, former Catholic outreach director for the George W. Bush campaign, Rubio was explicit about linking his Catholic faith to his political life, and seeming to criticize those who do not do the same. Hudson titled his profile, "Marco Rubio, A Catholic Candidate Who Will Not Compromise."

Giunta tried twice to get an explanation from the Rubio campaign about the apparent discrepancy, and after the second try received an e-mail from Rubio's director of faith-based outreach, J. R. Sanchez, who was not terribly happy about the inquiry.

Sanchez said that Rubio "is still a Roman Catholic. He was baptized, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church," and then he added: "If you find that there is a dearth of pertinent material to write about, perhaps you can focus on the many serious issues facing our nation, and the reasons why the citizens of Florida overwhelmingly elected Mr. Rubio as their next United States Senator."

Giunta didn't take kindly to that response, and titled his blog post on the e-mail, "Rubio campaign to religious voters: Screw you, get a life!"

Damian Thompson at The Telegraph also wanted more information, and on Nov. 12 published a story with a more expansive reply from Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos:

Marco "regularly attends Catholic Mass, and he was baptized, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church. On the final Sunday of the campaign, for example, he attended Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa. . . . He also attends services at a Christian church with his wife and children."

The "Christian church" is apparently Christ Fellowship. Asked why Rubio attended a non-Catholic church regularly, Burgos said: "He attends both regularly."

Burgos sent much the same response in answer to a query from PoliticsDaily, adding that Rubio is "a practicing and devout Roman Catholic" and that "he just visited the Holy Land last week."

Many Rubio supporters have tried to play down Rubio's dual religious loyalty, but Giunta and others weren't buying it.

"This is a big deal because Rubio campaigned on his Catholicism to win the endorsement (and monies!) of a Catholic PAC while simultaneously sending signals he was a practicing Southern Baptist," Giunta wrote in a comment on the conservative media criticism blog, GetReligion.org, which dissected the story last week.

It's a safe bet that if Rubio were a Democrat who presented himself as a Catholic but attended Southern Baptist church, he'd get a lot of grief from Republicans and conservative Catholic activists, and perhaps a few queries from Catholic bishops.

But it's unclear whether Rubio's split-the-difference Christianity will take some of the glow off his golden boy image among his faithful base.

In many respects, Rubio's faith practices are in line with a growing number of Latino immigrants to the United States who have found a more congenial religious home in evangelical-style churches, even as many maintain cultural or other ties to Catholicism. And Rubio is still a champion of the cultural and moral positions that conservative Christians care strongly about, such as opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

This kind of "ecumenism of the trenches" -- a view that the culture wars are so important that sectarian divides should be overlooked for the greater good -- is apparently influencing a number of conservatives who would normally be passionately attentive to such differences.

For example, Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative author and polemicist who is widely viewed as an important Catholic voice on the right, surprised many of his allies last August when he was named president of the King's College, an evangelical Christian school based in the Empire State Building with a goal of churning out evangelical grads who will take their faith into the public square in places like Manhattan.

D'Souza's appointment disappointed many evangelicals, who saw his Catholic affiliation as impossible to reconcile with being president of the King's College. D'Souza only seemed to complicate matters when, in an interview with Christianity Today, he said that he has not seen anything in the literature at King's that described the college as Protestant, and that he himself is "non-denominational" and has been attending an evangelical megachurch in San Diego for several years.

"I'm quite happy to acknowledge my Catholic background; at the same time, I'm very comfortable with Reformation theology," he said. "Being a Protestant is a term defined in opposition to Catholicism and refers to a set of historical battles over denominational issues . . . As far as I can tell, those denominational issues are not the center of what's being argued today."

That is a rather sweeping statement, and one that didn't mollify some evangelicals. Earlier this month, Marvin Olasky, a leading conservative evangelical publisher and activist, resigned as provost of the King's College.

"It will come as no surprise to you that Dinesh D'Souza and I have different ideas about some things," Olasky said in an e-mail to Christianity Today. "I'd like to leave it at that and not do an interview."

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64 Comments

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JULIA

Baptists are Christians and believe in God, same as Catholics. When we die, God is not going to ask: Are you a Catholic? Are you a Baptist? Are you an Episcopelian? He is going to ask you WHAT DID YOU DO IN EARTH?!!!!!

January 15 2011 at 1:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cmodrmac

Many Roman catholics attend other Churches intermittently -this happens for many reasons -some of which are periods of frustration with some of the rigid teachings of the Church -some personal and social-lighten up -I go to an Episcopal Church intermittently but feel I am a catholic -leave Marco alone

November 20 2010 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
hbcrbo

Rubio advertises himself as catholic to get the catholic vote. Then he attends a protestant church to get protestant votes. But sometimes he takes his family to the catholic church. Because he believes that contradictories can be true together? Or perhaps that the whole religion thing is a silly joke? This guy is a flake and a half. Next!

November 16 2010 at 10:43 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Mikey

...From how I read the story, Mr. Rubio is a baptized, confimed Catholic man who was married in the Catholic church. It appears he attends a "Christian church" with his family from time to time. He is Catholic so he has access to the Catholic PAC monies. Who are we to judge if he goes to Mass every Sunday or how often he goes to confession. "Let those among you without sin cast the first stone". I think we should support this good man and his family 100% and pray he runs for higer office someday! My religion is Catholic. My FAITH is Christian.

November 16 2010 at 8:46 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mikey's comment
hbcrbo

Mikey, you need to define your terms: faith, religion, for starters. Do you get to heaven, as a protestant, just by trusting? Or do you have to obey the commandments of God and also those of the Catholic Church? You and Rubio can't have it both ways.Try Jn.7.24 as to judging.

November 16 2010 at 10:39 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
tinytrump

OMG He is not a catholic! get real -he is a christian as he follows the teachings of Christ... the rest is politics....

November 16 2010 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to tinytrump's comment
kaysfo

I got news for you. Catholics are Christians and they do follow the teachings of Christ.

November 16 2010 at 4:00 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
kaysfo

However, I will agree with you Tinytrump. This whole article is less about faith than about politics.

November 16 2010 at 4:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
fibroidphia1

Did any of you actually read the article? The point was that he misled voters and took campaign money from the Catholic PAC who gave the money because he presetned himself as a Catholic and then it turns out he doesn't attend Catholic church. We don't care what his religion is, what is disturbing is misleading the voters.

November 16 2010 at 3:18 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to fibroidphia1's comment
kaysfo

Did YOU actually read the article? And I quote:"Marco "REGUULARLY attends Catholic Mass, and he was baptized, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church. On the final Sunday of the campaign, for example, he attended Mass at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa. . . . He also attends services at a Christian church with his wife and children." This from his spokesman Alex Burgos. The question seems to be---is one not a Catholic if he chooses to go to a Protestant church with his wife and children, while still attending his own Church regularly? If he was a Lutheran and went to a Methodist Church once in a while with his family, would anyone question the fact that he is still a Lutheran? No. And probably no one would question his Catholicism either if he wasn't a Republican. He hasn't misled anyone. He attends the Catholic Church regularly and his morals fit in with Catholic teachings more than the morals of many professed Catholic politicians.

November 16 2010 at 3:28 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Pathfindr369

What religion a person is makes no difference in this country, unless they are portraying themselves as different denominations depending upon who they are speaking to. For Kaysfo . . . I understand that you have been raised in a culture that really gives alot of emphasis to a spirited sermon, but I am thinking that you have not, either intellectually or emotionally, completely bought into your Catholism. During the mass, the homily is almost an afterthought. In fact, until recently there was no homily at the daily mass. The reason for the mass is to receive the Eucharist. There is no other reason to even go to mass. It is all about the Eucharist

November 16 2010 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Pathfindr369's comment
wiccanvixen70

I really do not understand who's business it is as to what faith he follows..his ethics..are his ethics regardless of religious choice, or lack thereof. If we disagree with his ethics while he is serving his term, then we have the right to vote him back out again when re-elections roll around. Honestly..people are spending way too much time worrying about what politicians do on a Sunday morning..rather then focusing on what they are doing behind the closed doors of the Capitol. Religion, does not make a person good or bad.. choices do.

November 16 2010 at 12:34 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wiccanvixen70's comment
beechjetdd

I agree, however, if you run as a Catholic. You had better be a Catholic.

November 16 2010 at 12:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Pamela

Who cares about his religion? If that is the best than you can come up with to criticize this man, perhaps you need to get a life.

November 16 2010 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Linda

People are always crying about seperation of church and state now all of a sudden it matters what church you go to.

November 16 2010 at 12:03 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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