In our series on “The Faith of the Candidates,” we come to perhaps the most interesting faith journey among the 20 who are in the race or leaning toward jumping in as of this writing. Senator Marco Rubio has ties to the Catholic Church, Mormon Church, and Baptist Church. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio married Jeanette Dousdebes, a former bank teller and Miami Dolphins cheerleader, in 1998. They have four children, all raised and baptized in the Catholic Church. But where is Mr. Rubio in his own faith? We can summarize the faith journey of Marco Rubio with three statements.
First, Marco Rubio was once a young Mormon. Though baptized a Catholic, when he was eight, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother was impressed with the wholesomeness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Marco was baptized into the church at age eight, the typical time for Mormon children to be baptized. For three years he was active in the church and often chided his father for being a bartender, as Mormons abstain from alcohol.
Second, Rubio is a Roman Catholic, though with occasional connections outside that Church. When he was 11, he received First Communion, a sacrament in the Catholic Church which is one’s first partaking of communion. He was confirmed in the Catholic Church, his children were baptized in the Catholic Church, and he considers himself “a practicing Catholic.” His membership is in the St. Louis Catholic Church in Miami. Rubio has concluded that “every sacrament, every symbol and tradition of the Catholic faith is intended to convey, above everything else, the revelation that God yearns for fellowship with us.”
Third, Senator Rubio has actively attended and supported the Southern Baptist Church. He enjoys the Saturday night service of Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist Church near Miami with 8,000 in attendance. The Rubios have embraced the strong preaching and children’s programs at Christ Fellowship. From 2000 to 2004 his family attended the Baptist congregation almost exclusively, but now split time with Christ Fellowship and St. Louis Catholic.
So where, exactly, is Marco Rubio in his faith journey right now? In a recent interview with Sarah Bailey of Christianity Today, he said, “I’m a Roman Catholic. I’m theologically in line with the Roman Catholic Church. I believe in the authority of the Church, but I also have tremendous respect for my brothers and sisters in other Christian faiths. I recognize, as the Catholic Church does, that there are excellent teachings of the Word throughout other denominations. The elements of salvation are found in these churches as well.” Rubio wrote that Christ Fellowship deepened his relationship with Jesus, but that he missed Roman Catholicism. “I craved, literally, the Most Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion, the sacramental point of contact between the Catholic and the liturgy of heaven. I wondered why there couldn’t be a church that offered both a powerful, contemporary gospel message and the actual body and blood of Jesus.”
The faith of Marco Rubio seems to still be evolving. Rubio spokesman Alex Conant says the senator worships at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church when in Washington, D.C. Rubio’s office is told to tell inquirers that he is a “practicing Catholic,” and leave it at that. Yet, he has said nothing to distance himself from the preaching and programs of Christ Fellowship. In fact, he has contributed $50,000 to that church. So what are we to conclude? I suggest two possibilities. First, one might logically conclude that Senator Rubio lacks a strong spiritual foundation. How else can we explain a man going from Catholicism to Mormonism to Catholicism to Baptist to Catholicism? Is that not the definition of someone who is either confused in his faith or even, as the cynics might suggest, trying to “play the field”? I mean, it would be hard to lose the presidential election of 2016 if he received the lion’s share of the Mormon, Catholic, and Evangelical vote.
But I embrace an alternative view. I think Senator Rubio’s faith journey says two things, neither of which is bad. First, we are quickly moving toward a post-denominational world. There is little loyalty to the church of one’s youth. The under-50 crowd (to blatantly generalize) is not that interested in where their parents went to church. A George Barna survey a few years ago asked one question: “Why do you go to church?” Those under 50 said, “We go to church in order to touch God.” (Rubio is 44.) That was their primary response. Liturgy, dogma, and the battles my generation has fought (Calvinism comes to mind) are of little interest to the emerging generations. Denominations don’t matter much. As a church consultant, I have been in about 45 churches in the past five months. About 80 percent of them do not even list their denomination in their name.
But, as I alluded to already, there is a second conclusion for Rubio’s faith journey. The skeptic might argue, “Make up your mind. Stand for something. Pick a church and go with it!” But I would argue that while Rubio has floated from church to church over his 44 years, he has never abandoned the faith. His faith seems to have only been strengthened by his foray into Baptist life, while remaining a Catholic. He embraces the formality and liturgy of one church while enjoying the preaching and children’s activities of another. Make no mistake; for Mr. Rubio, faith is a personal thing. Speaking to the 2012 Republican National Convention, he said, “We are bound together by common values, and faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.”
I suggest the faith journey of Marco Rubio is probably not like that of your parents, and certainly not like that of your grandparents. Their generation stayed in one community, one job, one house, and one church. But his journey reflects the world of 2015 and beyond. Mr. Rubio has had ties to Mormonism, Catholicism, and the Baptist Church. And he’s just 44! It seems his faith journey is just that – a journey. He is still seeking, still praying, and still walking with God. Is that so bad?