Rubio Reversal

Marco Rubio & More Politicians Who Switched Religions (PHOTOS)

Marco Rubio became a Mormon before returning to Catholicism. See more religious flip-floppers in politics.

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Getty Images (4)

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio became a Mormon before returning to Catholicism. From Harry Reid and Sarah Palin to James K. Polk, a brief history of religious flip-floppers in politics.

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Marco Rubio

In Marco Rubio’s new autobiography, An American Son, the Florida senator traces his circuitous religious education but makes it clear that he has never lost his faith. Born a Catholic, Rubio became fascinated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the third grade, after his family moved to Nevada. “I immersed myself in LDS theology,” Rubio wrote. “I studied church literature and other sources of information to learn all I could about the church’s teachings.” But in his teenage years, Rubio encouraged his family to return to Catholicism. “We left the Mormon Church with nothing but admiration for the place that had been our first spiritual home in Las Vegas, and had been so generous to us,” he wrote. “I still feel that way.” Rubio now attends Roman Catholic services in Florida and also joined a Southern Baptist church. So will religion play a role in whether Mitt Romney, a Mormon, chooses Rubio as his running mate? God only knows.

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Harry Reid

Raised without any formal religious affiliation, the current Senate majority leader converted to Mormonism while attending Utah State University along with his future wife, Landra, who was Jewish. “After more than forty years, Landra and I believe our joining the Church to be among the best decisions we ever made,” the Nevada Democrat wrote in 2007 of his faith. “We accepted the church and a new life because of the power of example … After these many years I believe that the church has been a steady, positive blueprint for my life. Without the direction of the church, I would have been without a compass.”

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Bobby Jindal

“Hinduism provided me with moral guidance and spiritual comfort,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote in 1993 about his faith. “It never occurred to me that I should consider any other religion.” But in college, after years of prayer and studying Christianity, Jindal was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church. “The motivation behind my conversion, however, was my belief in one, objectively true faith,” he said of the decision. “I was comfortable in my Hindu faith and enjoyed an active prayer life; I only gradually felt a void and stubbornly resisted God’s call from within the church.” Jindal’s wife also converted from Hinduism. “We’re thrilled to be raising our kids in the Catholic faith,” he told The New York Times in 2008. “Our kids are very young, so we spend a lot of time in the cry room at church.”

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Newt Gingrich

Although he was raised a Lutheran, Newt Gingrich became a Southern Baptist in college. In 2009, however, he converted to Roman Catholicism—for love. The former House speaker’s third wife, Callista, is a devout Catholic who sings in the choir at the basilica of the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. The former college professor has said that Catholicism appealed to his academic side—“When you have 2,000 years of intellectual depth surrounding you, it’s comforting,” he told Time in 2009—as well as his spiritual side. “People ask me when I decided to become Catholic,” Gingrich said at a prayer breakfast last year. “It would be more accurate to say that I gradually became Catholic and then realized one day that I should accept the faith that surrounded me.”

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Nikki Haley

Born into an Indian family, Nikki Haley was raised in the Sikh faith but it never spoke to her. Literally. “I did read Indian scriptures when we could get the English versions, but the problem was I never took the time to learn the language,” the South Carolina governor said in April about why Christianity resonated more. “I understood the language, I understood what it was saying and so much of what Christianity brought. With the Sikh faith, I understood the feeling of the faith, but I never understood the words so that’s really what it was.” At 24, Haley converted to Methodism for her husband, Michael. “He was brought up Methodist, Christian, and I was brought up Sikh,” Haley said in 2010. “And so you talk about the similarities and you talk about the differences, and even more so when you’re getting married and you’re going to have kids, it becomes a very real thing on how you want to raise your kids.”

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Sam Brownback

Following a bout with melanoma in 1995, Sam Brownback found himself closer to God. A lifelong Methodist who later belonged to a nondenominational evangelical church, the then-senator from Kansas converted to Catholicism in 2002, in a ceremony performed by Opus Dei priest Rev. John McCloskey and sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum. But Brownback, now the governor of Kansas, doesn’t really consider himself a convert. “A conversion is if I became a Buddhist,” he said in 2006. “Joining the Catholic Church was joining the early church. This is the mother church. This is the church out of which orthodoxy and Protestantism came.”

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Jeb Bush

“In the United States many people think that to keep your faith, you need to put it into a safety-deposit box if you’re an elected official until you finish your service as a public servant, and then you can go and get it back,” Jeb Bush said in a 2009 speech before a Catholic organization. “I never thought that was appropriate.” The former Florida governor was raised an Episcopalian but converted to Catholicism in 1995. Still, he said he didn’t expect his older brother George to join the Catholic church. “That would be a great thing, but you won’t see him here as a Catholic,” Bush said. “He’s pretty comfortable with his Methodist faith. I’d like him to come here though. It would be fun.”

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George W. Bush

Like his brother Jeb, George W. Bush was raised in the Episcopal Church, but in 1977, after meeting Laura Welch, he converted to her religion, United Methodist. Eight years later, Bush’s faith grew even stronger after a meeting with the Rev. Billy Graham helped him quit drinking. “Billy sent me a Bible and I started reading the Bible,” the former president said in 2010. “But it took a while to fully understand that religion is not a course in self-improvement. That religion is a surrender … that you allow the living God into your life by surrendering to that living God. And then, you … improve to please God, not please yourself.” And as president, Bush often spoke of how faith guided his decision making. Indeed, while running for reelection in 2004 he was quoted as saying: “I believe that that God wants me to be president.”

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Sarah Palin

Born and baptized a Roman Catholic, Sarah Palin joined the Wasilla Assembly of God church, a Pentecostal sect in her hometown. The then-Alaska governor’s faith became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, when a video surfaced that showed the congregation praying for her to receive campaign funds and be protected from witchcraft. But questions also arose about whether Palin spoke in tongues at some services. But as she told Katie Couric in 2008: “I don’t have a church, I’m not a member of any church. I get to visit a couple of churches in Alaska when I’m home, including one, Wasilla Bible Church.”

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James K. Polk

Raised a Presbyterian, James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, converted to the Methodist church in his late 30s. While he continued to attend Presbyterian services out of respect for his mother and wife, on his deathbed Polk was baptized and confirmed into Methodism by the Rev. John B. McFerrin, who had converted him years earlier.