UPDATE: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew from the 2016 race on March 15 after a crushing defeat in the primary in his home state.
(RNS) Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has tried three religions for the right spiritual fit.
But as he pushed — and failed — to prove he was the the right electoral fit for the GOP presidential nomination, he continually gave all power and praise to God and assured voters: “There’s only one savior, and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came down to Earth and died for our sins.”
Here are five faith facts about Marco Rubio.
1. He has been around the spiritual block — and back.
Rubio often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, “An American Son: A Memoir.” His parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic — after exploring the Mormon and Southern Baptist faiths.
When he was 8 years old, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent three years as a Mormon, upheld its teachings more enthusiastically than his parents and chided his father for working as a bartender, a no-no for Mormons who abstain from alcohol.
2. He frequents a Southern Baptist megachurch.
Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C., and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received first Holy Communion.
He wrote in his memoir: “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.”
Starting in late 2004, he began to delve deeper into his Roman Catholic roots, reading the whole catechism, and concluding that “every sacrament, every symbol and tradition of the Catholic faith is intended to convey, above everything else, the revelation that God yearns, too, for a relationship with you.”
Still, Rubio disagrees with Pope Francis on key points. The very day the pontiff, in an address to the U.S. Congress, called for attention to climate change and income inequality, Rubio was on Fox News to point out that Francis is infallible on faith and morals, not on politics, science or economics. Still, Rubio, the child of Cuban immigrants, was deeply moved by the pope’s concern for immigrants.
3. He punted on the creationism question, then sided with science.
In 2012, when asked by GQ magazine, “How old do you think the Earth is?” Rubio dodged. “I’m not a scientist, man,” he said. “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that. At the end of the day, I think there are multiple theories out there on how the universe was created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all.”
Later, after much criticism, Rubio said that he knows the Earth is 4.5 billion years old and that the fact is consistent with his belief that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
4. He draws the ire of atheists.
Rubio talks about faith in a way that has many atheists convinced he considers them less American than their religious neighbors.
“We’re bound together by common values,” he said, introducing presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the 2012 Republican National Convention. And “faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.” At the time, pundit Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic, blogged: “Rubio just ruled atheists out of being Americans.”
However, when he was confronted by an atheist at an Iowa rally, Rubio told him, “Believe whatever you want.”
On the hot-button late summer topic of Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Rubio said “there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights” for such workers. He has not joined the push by other contenders to de-fund Planned Parenthood at all costs, including potentially shutting down the government.
5. On the campaign trail …
ThinkProgress.org predicted his “direct, personal affiliations with all three major pillars of the Religious Right — Catholicism, Mormonism, and evangelical Protestantism” — would help him at the polls.
Rubio, like GOP rivals Sen. Ted Cruz and New York billionaire Donald Trump and Democrat contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, went to evangelical Liberty University to address thousands in a sports arena and online.
Rubio replayed his most religious appeals at the January GOP debate just days before the Iowa caucus. “Judeo-Christian values” are what makes America a “special country,” he said.
“Why are we some of the most generous people in the world? Why do Americans contribute millions of dollars to charity? It is not because of the tax write-off,” Rubio said. “It is because in this nation we are influenced by Judeo-Christian values that teach us to care for the less fortunate, to reach out to the needy, to love our neighbor.” He also said his faith would drive him as commander in chief.
But possibly his most overt pitch for the conservative Christian voters was in his ad touting salvation through Christ and saying he believes “the purpose of our life is to cooperate with God’s plan.”
(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS; Cathy Lynn Grossman contributed to this report)