In my household we’ve been following the US presidential election campaigns. One younger member has been quite taken with Marco Rubio, junior senator from Florida. We gently tease her about his good looks: as a former political opponent put it “When Marco Rubio speaks, young women swoon, old women faint”.
It hadn’t been entirely clear to me what else Rubio had going for him, other than a hitherto impressive ability to win elections (always helpful for a politician).
Christianity Today’s blogger Ed Stetzer has been running a series “Faith of the Candidates”, and a few days ago posted the first half of an interview with Rubio. Rubio is Catholic – born Catholic, although the family took a brief detour into Mormonism when he was child – but also participates in an evangelical church:
My wife really became alive in the Spirit particularly by attending Christ Fellowship at the invitation of our sister. As my family loved attending there—my children certainly do—and she’s so alive in the church that, who was I to disrupt that based on denominational differences?
Rubio goes on to talk about his faith and the differences – often misunderstanding – between Catholics and Protestants
The fundamental difference between Roman Catholicism and most Protestant denominations and evangelicals is the belief that Roman Catholics have that the Word of God is not just the written Word but also the tradition. Oral traditions that were handed down from the early Christians are also part of the Word of God.
It’s a misunderstanding that somehow Catholics believe you can earn salvation. You cannot earn it. It’s a free gift. What Catholics do believe, however, is that true faith bears fruit and that the fruits of that faith are important. If your faith is not bearing fruit then it’s not a true faith.
So it’s not that you can earn your salvation through work. You have to accept that the gift of salvation—which is a free gift offered to all of us by His death and resurrection. But your faith is known by the fruit that it bears and so certainly we are commanded.
Beyond the concept of salvation is the notion that we have an obligation to serve one another and to model Christ’s behavior in serving one another. I think that’s true for all Christianity. It’s why for example, Christ Fellowship, they offer [a] tremendous amount of work in the community and charity. Because it’s the fruit of our faith but it also follows Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor and to care for the less fortunate.
In many ways, by doing that, you’re ministering to Christ directly that when you welcome a stranger, or when you visit the prisoner, or when you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, you are serving Him.
In the US, every candidate seems to have to have some standard lines about faith and his or her own religious background, but Rubio goes beyond that. In both the paragraphs above and when he talks of the liturgy, there is something real, well-thought-out, and alive about the faith he talks of.
From the imagery of incense and candles, to the organization of the Mass, it’s all about bringing heaven to earth in that one moment in which the body and blood of Christ is actually present, as we believe in the Catholic faith.
I’m not sure whether he has what it takes to be President, perhaps especially this time round when he is still a fairly young man. But in a country where there is a growing institutional and legal indifference to the free practice of religion, Rubio seems more likely than many to realise, and do something about, the fact that Christian faith and religious practice do not end as one walks out the door of the church on Sunday morning.
And, of course, from a New Zealand perspective, it is stunning to find a leading political figure talking so fluently and deeply about his or her faith – not simply the practical outworkings, in acts of charity, but in worship, authority and so on. The US is different of course – but New Zealand is at the other extreme. Of course, there have always been churchgoing New Zealand politicians – and no doubt still are a few (indeed, I think one was a former pastor) – but they are almost invisible. That isn’t intended primarily as a criticism of the individuals, but rather a reflection on a country (and political environment) that is probably the most secular in the Western world. Cabinet ministers don’t interview Archbishops and leadership contenders don’t talk openly of life in the Spirit.
In the desert of New Zealand public life, I found Rubio’s articulation of his faith a small refreshing stream.
UPDATE: Here is part 2 of the interview.