There is much that can be said about the latest Washington Post look at the state of Sen. Marco Rubio's political soul, and we will get to that in a moment. But first, there is a dose of heresy at the top of this story -- "Marco Rubio talks to Iowa about God" -- that needs to be straightened out.
I totally understand that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity -- the belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit -- is complicated and people have been arguing about it for two millennia. I can understand that this doctrine might cause problems for copy-desk professionals who do not have degrees in church history. However, for the world's 2.2 billion or so Christians, this is pretty important stuff.
So what heretical statement did Rubio make, at least as he was quoted by the Post? Here is how the story opens:
BURLINGTON, Iowa -- Marco Rubio’s first questioner was blunt: “On your decision-making, will you follow God’s word?”
For the next few minutes, Rubio sounded more like a Sunday school teacher than a presidential candidate holding an early January town hall. He talked about John the Baptist, he referred to Jesus as “God-made man,” and he explained his yearning to share “eternity with my creator.”
Then, he answered the question: “Yes, I try every day in everything I do.”
What we have here is a head-on collision between the Nicene Creed and the Associated Press Stylebook, almost certainly with the help of an editor at the Post. The problem is that hyphen in the phrase in which Rubio is said to have "referred to Jesus as 'God-made man.' "
Now, did Rubio actually say to the crowd "Jesus is 'God hyphen made man' " or did someone at the Post simply hear that hyphen and then edit the heretical content into the quote?
As any young journalist knows, when two or more words (with a few exceptions) are used as a compound modifier in front of a noun, they are connected with a hyphen.
Thus, in this case, someone at the Post is claiming that Rubio said that Jesus was a "man" who was "God-made."
So what is the problem with that? Let's look at the Nicene Creed, which begins by stating:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of light; true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by Whom all things were made; Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.
Thus, for Trinitarian Christians, Jesus is not a "man," "God-made" but, rather, "God made man" (or perhaps "God, made man").
This may seem like rather picky stuff, and it is. However, it's hard to name a more central doctrine in the Christian faith than the Holy Trinity. Wasn't there someone on the Post copy desk who has taken Christianity 101, or was this simply a bad day when it came time to handle this particular piece of copy?
Now, it's possible that the original copy for this story actually stated that Rubio "referred to Jesus as 'God -- made man' " and that turned into you know what?
So, will the heretical hyphen simply vanish in the online version of this story? Here is hoping that the Post editors actually do the right thing and, perhaps with the help of someone at the Catholic University of America, produce a correction. I cannot wait to read it.
So what else should be mentioned in this story?
Well, the basic plot is that Rubio is struggling to find evangelical supporters in Iowa and, it would appear, nationwide. That's a valid story angle.
However, it would have been good to have mentioned the irony that is at the center of this story -- which is that there is evidence that Rubio remains the leader among many key Christian leaders (especially those who believe that the Hispanic vote is crucial). For example, there has been quite a buzz about some of the names on the Rubio "religious liberty advisory board."
Then there is the ongoing poll of 100-plus unnamed "evangelical leaders," as conducted by the conservative World magazine. Here is an update, under the headline, "Rubio widens lead in latest WORLD survey."
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., widened his lead in WORLD’s latest evangelical insiders survey, breaking 70 percent in combined support for the first time.
The findings are part of a monthly survey of 103 evangelical leaders and influencers, 82 of whom participated in January. The results are not scientific or representative of all evangelicals but offer a glimpse into how a group of influential evangelicals are leaning in the 2016 presidential race.
Rubio trails billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in national polls, but he came out on top in WORLD’s survey for the seventh month in a row.
Relying on anonymous voices, the Post report simply states:
Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), who sits well ahead of Rubio in recent polls, has established dominance on the Christian right, unifying an impressive roster of leaders and an army of churchgoing followers. Donald Trump, who is running about even with Cruz in Iowa, won the endorsement of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. on Tuesday. Some of Rubio’s opponents say the senator’s outreach has been too soft or that it simply has not worked.
So what's the story here? Are we talking about a disconnect between major evangelical pulpits and institutions and the people in the pews? Or is there a division between active evangelicals and those who simply rally under a born-again flag when it comes to politics?
Stay tuned. And a note to copy editors dealing with creedal doctrines: Be careful out there.
UPDATE: The heretical anti-Trinitarian hyphen is now gone. No correction attached to the story.