Catholic? Baptist? Mormon? Meet Marco Rubio

After Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's election in 2010, questions emerged concerning the religious background of the Tea Party favorite with Cuban-American roots.

"Rubio's church life? It's complicated" was the title I gave one of the GetReligion posts I wrote on the subject.

It's not every self-described Roman Catholic politician, after all, who attends — and contributes tens of thousands of dollars to — a megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

As regular GetReligion reader and Tennessean religion writer Bob Smietana quipped at the time:

This is the perfect American religion story. Here’s a candidate who says he’s Catholic but goes to a Baptist church which doesn’t have Baptist in its name.

As it turns out, however, Smietana didn't dream big enough in fashioning the perfect American religion story. Our esteemed Godbeat scribe, it seems, left out the part where Rubio — at or near the top of most GOP running-mate lists — was baptized as a Mormon at age 8 and spent four years in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

From the Tampa Bay Times (the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper formerly known as the St. Petersburg Times):

WASHINGTON — News broke Thursday that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was baptized as a Mormon at age 8, when his family lived in Las Vegas. A few years later, he converted to Catholicism.

Yet Rubio's religious profile is even more complicated than that, given his close ties to an evangelical church in Miami.

It's a mix — a "faith journey," as his office put it — that has some wondering whether the rising Republican is trying to be all things to all people, and what other surprises may be in his past.

He's a practicing Catholic but enjoys the sermons of a Southern Baptist-affiliated church, his office said, adding that he has long crossed into both faiths.

The revelation that Rubio, 40, was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints drew quick comparisons to another Mormon, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. In just over a year in office, Rubio has vaulted to the top of the shortlist of running mates.

Two words in that lede probably jump out at GetReligion readers: both faiths. 

The question is, of course, whether Catholicism and Southern Baptism (sorry, but I just could not resist!) are two different faiths or different expressions of the same faith — that being Christianity. The same question would apply to the next paragraph of the story, where the Times reports that Rubio only belonged to the Mormon "faith" for a few years.

On the positive side, the Times does shed light on some of the questions we raised about Rubio's religious background in 2010.

A timeline from the newspaper:

The family left the Mormon church by the time Rubio was 12, according to Rubio's office, and he received First Communion in the Catholic Church a year later. After returning to Miami, Rubio was confirmed, and he was married in the church.

But as he got older, Rubio started to attend Christ Fellowship in Miami, a church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. Though he had substantial debt, due to mortgages and student loans, Rubio gave about $50,000 to the church over a period of years last decade. He also gave to the Catholic Church, his office said.

In the 2002 Florida House Clerk's Manual, Rubio described himself as Catholic. Two years later he listed himself as Baptist, then two years after that, he identified himself as Catholic.

"Around 2005 Marco began to return to his Catholic roots," according to a time line provided by the senator's office, which added, "He enjoys the sermons and the excellent children's ministry at Christ Fellowship, and still attends often."

In Washington, Rubio has said he attends daily Mass.

Are we all crystal clear now on where Rubio stands? Undoubtedly, if Rubio is nominated as vice president, he will pressed to elaborate more fully on his religious affiliation and beliefs.

Meanwhile, I'd love feedback from GetReligion readers on this line from the Times story:

There are several differences between Catholics and Southern Baptists, including that the latter do not recognize the authority of the pope or view communion as the body and blood of Christ.

If you had 31 words to distinguish between Catholics and Southern Baptists, are those the ones you would have chosen? Just curious.

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