Marco Rubio isn’t a Religious Panderer He’s the New Breed

At ThinkProgress, Jack Jenkins gives a rundown of current GOP favorite Marco Rubio’s triumvirate religious affiliation, noting that Rubio’s associations with Mormonism, Catholicism and Evangelicalism give him a unique edge with the three pillars of religious conservatism in the U.S. and “potentially allows him to transcend ongoing faith debates in favor of spiritual unity at the ballot box.”

Rubio, the son of immigrant Cubans, was baptized a Catholic, but his mother’s spiritual seeking, and a move to Nevada, led the family to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion that Rubio embraced as a child. The family’s affiliation with Mormonism was short-lived, however, partially because Rubio’s father didn’t embrace its prohibitions on tobacco and caffeine and partly at the younger Rubio’s instigation of a return to Catholicism.

But as has been reportedly elsewhere, while Rubio now calls himself a Catholic, he also attends services at Christ Fellowship Church, an Evangelical mega-church in Miami that his wife began attending in the early 2000s because of its strong programs for families.

Jenkins notes that Rubio’s religious ambidextrousness can cut both ways. While it gives him the ability to speak authentically to a range of religious conservatives, it also has caused him trouble among some who suspect him of pandering:

His spiritual authenticity was directly challenged by conservative writers at Renew America, for instance, one of whom — Eric Giunta — penned a blog post entitled “Is Marco Rubio talking out of both sides, the better to court both the Catholic and the evangelical votes?” New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppeneimer repeated the question in 2010, wondering aloud “Marco Rubio: Catholic or Protestant?” Storied Catholic journalist David Gibson also noted the curiousness of Rubio’s spiritual attachments, noting that other Catholic writers were openly frustrated by the senator’s evangelical accents.

But I think these criticisms miss just how much their common opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage (which now manifests as a concern for religious liberty) not only unites Catholics and Evangelicals, but for all but the most theologically orthodox, blurs traditional boundaries between the two.

As a result, it’s perfectly possible that Rubio really doesn’t see much of a gulf between the two traditions. This is a measure more than anything of how conservative Catholics have become more “evangelical” in their emphasis on living and proclaiming a “gospel-centered” pro-life identity as central to their Catholicism versus more traditional notions of Catholicism that focused on private religious practice and charitable works. (One Christianity Today writer recently argued that Catholics are even becoming more “Protestant” in their relationship to the Bible—at the behest of Pope Francis, no less.)

In an August interview Rubio sounded quintessentially Evangelical when he told the Southern Baptist Convention’s Russell Moore that religious liberty was about the right to live according to religious teachings and “to have the opportunity spread them to others.” Then he went on to say:

Those of us in the Christian faith understand that we are called to be Christian in every aspect of our lives, not just on Sunday. We are called to be Christians in the workplace, in the home, in the way we interact with others and in the public policies we support. We are called to influence the culture around us.

Rubio’s language, however, isn’t a coopting of Evangelical rhetoric. It’s perfectly in keeping with George Weigel’s exhortation for an Evangelical Catholicism of “radical fidelity to Christ and the Gospel”:

Recreational Catholicism—Catholicism as a traditional, leisure-time activity absorbing perhaps ninety minutes of one’s time on a weekend—is over. Full-time Catholicism—a Catholicism that, as the Second Vatican Council taught, infuses all of life and calls everyone in the Church to holiness and mission—is the only possible Catholicism in the twenty-first century.

Rubio isn’t a religious political panderer—he’s a 21st century Evangelical Catholic, a new breed of Catholic who talks and acts more like an Evangelical and who doesn’t see a problem with that.

  • jimlefferts

    Fully in agreement with your concluding assessment on a ‘ new breed’. I regularly listen to the Catholic EWTN radio station in our area. It wholeheartedly speaks to a total commitment of traditional Catholic orthodoxy, while at the same time sounding many of the aspects one expects from a conservative Protestant view. A phenomenon that appears to goes deeper than the simple ‘comrade-in-arms’ idea of sharing a position on the ‘religious liberty’ issues of the day. Don’t know how wide-spread this identity goes, but it has some traction in my locale. Rubio may be on to something here.

  • frharry

    I would not say Rubio is a panderer. But having lived in the state where he has held positions of power, I observe him to be a consummate opportunist. My guess is that these religious expressions of his Tea Party politics is secondary to his true religion, the politics of self-interest. In many ways, I would see Rubio as a classic example of the extrinsic religious approach of Gordon Allport’s model.

  • cgosling

    Rubio talks too fast, has too many ideas and never enough time to say what’s on his mind, especially in debates. The nation certainly does not need a evangelical religious president driven by religious zeal. The next President must believe in the scientific method, freethinking, and of course climate change and evolution. Anyone who does not would be a dissaster to the nation and the world.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution disagrees with your criteria for President:

    No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

    Article II, Section 1, Clause 5

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    Aren’t ALL politicians “consummate opportunists” by definition?

  • Craptacular

    None of the criteria in the constitution will keep us from electing a president that is a “disaster to the nation and the world,” though, as cgosling speculates. So I read cgosling as additional criteria if we want to avoid a calamity, which the constitution doesn’t address.

  • andrew123456789

    This just depresses me more about the Catholic church. Time for me to admit it’s not for me. I know, this comment isn’t about Rubio, but I really don’t care much about him (he doesn’t care much about me, a gay liberal person, either, so it’s all good).

  • andrew123456789

    No. Most, but not all.

  • ObscurelyAgnostic

    GOOD one, dewwwd 😉

  • cmbennett01

    Our system of government is so constituted so that no single politician, no matter how incompetent, can destroy our society. The United States and the rest of the world will survive the next president even if it’s Donald Trump.
    Representing the opposition as an existential threat to the nation and the world is what has created the current climate of absolutism and intransigence and is the reason no substantive policy to address the problems face have come from congress in quite some time.

  • cgosling

    As an atheist who does not believe blind faith and the supernatural as did the Reagan and Bush administrations, I hope for the best. This next election is more is more important than any other in the recent past.

  • Reid

    You might like the Episcopal Church’s style: Catholic worship with progressive theology and a tradition of social justice.