by Dr. Mark Denison–
John Ellis Bush was an Episcopalian for the first 44 years of his life, following the tradition of his family. Better known as Jeb (his initials are J.E.B.), he was born in Midland, Texas, raised in Houston, graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and earned a degree in Latin American affairs from the University of Texas. It was there that he married Columba Garnica Gallo, whom he had met during a foreign exchange trip in Leon, Mexico. Columba was (and remains) a faithful Catholic. Jeb maintained his ties to the Episcopal Church until 1996, when he converted to the faith of his wife. Jeb Bush is a Catholic.
Referring to his conversion to the Catholic faith, Bush said, “My faith was strengthened when I converted to my wife’s faith. It gives me a serenity that, in a world of a lot of turbulence, is really important. It creates a moral architecture that simplifies things. There are views that I have, that are grounded in faith, that really aren’t negotiable, and it just simplifies things.” Taking an unintended shot at his former church, Bush has listed his reasons for converting: “the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the timeless nature of the message of the Catholic Church, and the fact that the Catholic Church believes in and acts on absolute truth as its foundational principles and doesn’t move with modern times as my former religion (Episcopal) did.”
Mark Leibovich, formerly of The Washington Post, wrote extensively on Bush’s religion and change. Says Leibovich, “He underwent a personal transformation that included a reevaluation of his political, spiritual, and family life.” Should Bush be elected President in 2016, what effect will his Catholic faith have on his policies? Bush says, “As it relates to making decisions as a public leader, one’s faith should guide you.” He added, “That’s not to say that every decision I made would be completely in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it was a guide post that kept me out of trouble.” Bush has frequently tweeted quotes from Pope Francis as evidence of the depth of his faith.
Not all pundits are impressed. Bill Maher, that great defender of the faith, blogged on the subject, questioning the sincerity of Jeb’s conversion, suggesting it came rather conveniently before his successful run for Governor in a state with more Catholics than Evangelicals. (The difference is just one percent.) Maher said, “Jeb Bush converted to Catholicism in 1996 – 22 years after marrying his Mexican-born wife, Columba, and conveniently between the first time he ran for governor (and lost) and the second time he ran, and won. I guess Jeb finally noticed his wife was Catholic after 22 years.”
So what are we to make of Jeb’s Catholic faith? First, let’s be glad he adheres to a Christian faith. Second, let’s not assume the Vatican will be running the White House (a common fear when John F. Kennedy became America’s first Catholic President in 1960). Third, let’s not question another man’s faith. By all accounts, the Bushes have been faithful members of their church in Miami for decades. And fourth, remember we are electing a President, not a pastor. While I question some of the tenants of the Catholic faith, I do not question the faith of Catholics, be they family members, friends or Jeb Bush. He is not the only Catholic running for President. But more on that later.