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Marco Rubio's Miami Church: Exorcisms, Creationism, Anti-Gay Policies

04/14/2015 01:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2015
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"On most Saturday nights, we still attend services at Christ Fellowship, especially if Pastor Rick [Blackwood] is preaching the sermon. His sermons still inspire me to grow in my Christian faith... Some of my Catholic friends occasionally express concern over my continued association with Christ Fellowship. But I don't think you can go to church too often..." -- Marco Rubio, An American Son: A Memoir

"Evolution is not based on observable evidence. Creation is based on observable evidence." -- Rick Blackwood, 2014 sermon

"I could sense the demons going out of this man and the Spirit of God entering him" -- Rick Blackwood, describing his 2011 exorcism of a demon-possessed church member

Junior U.S. Senator Marco Rubio has just thrown his hat into the ring and announced his bid for the presidency. Since Rubio made a point of discussing, at length, his religious beliefs in his 2012 memoir An American Son: A Memoir, it seems fair to have a look. Following his announcement, LGBT rights media have showcased Rubio's lengthy record of anti-gay statements and rhetoric (see 1, 2) but there's a broader pattern.

Among Rubio's two main religious influences, Catholic Church doctrine is a matter of public record. But an investigation of Rubio's Miami Baptist megachurch reveals, notably, an anti-homosexual hiring policy, the promotion of demonology and exorcism, Young Earth creationism, and denial of evolution.

Marco Rubio's walk with God has been meandering and, some might say, fickle. As a child Rubio, who was baptized Catholic, made a brief but fervent conversion to Mormonism. His switch to the Church of the Latter Day Saints lasted three years.

As an adult, from 2000 to 2004 Rubio took a detour from his Catholic roots to exclusively attend Miami's Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist megachurch to which Rubio has given at least $50,000.

Now straddling both Christ Fellowship and the Catholic Church, Marco Rubio seems positioned to appeal both to conservative Catholics but also the anti-LGBT, demon-casting, creationist segment of the Protestant evangelical right.

Though he's now primarily and "firmly" Catholic, Rubio has recently told Religion News Service reporter Sarah Pulliam-Bailey that he has "maintained the relationship with Christ Fellowship" and often attends services at the church.

During his Protestant years, Rubio revealed in his 2012 memoir, he nonetheless "craved, literally, the Most Blessed Sacrament, Holy Communion" (of the Catholic Church.) So, the rising GOP star found a practical, buffet-style solution. Rubio divulged that on Saturday nights he brings his family to worship at Christ Fellowship, and on Sunday the Rubio family attends St. Louis Catholic Church.

Christ Fellowship requires prospective employees to sign the following sexual purity oath:

"I hereby certify that I am a Christian, not a practicing homosexual in accordance with scriptures (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, I Corinthians 6:9-10, I Timothy 1:10)"

Leviticus 18:22 (New International Version) reads, "Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable." Leviticus 20:13 (NIV) is harsher: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."

In accord with the religious right's increasingly tortured effort to come to terms with growing public acceptance of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights, "one of the leading experts in our country on marriage and families", Dr. Bob Barnes, was in April 2012 brought in to Christ Fellowship for a guest sermon, "Why Family?" in which he explained that homosexuality was a form of addiction :

"Homosexual sin is no worse than heterosexual sin. There is not a hierarchy of sins. Sin is sin. But, if I find somebody that has a predisposition, a genetic predisposition, or a chromosomal predisposition toward substance abuse, it doesn't mean I should cave in to substance abuse. There are people who just have a predisposition to addiction."

Christ Fellowship's position is even more evident in a July 2014 sermon by Pastor Ken Weathersby, who explained that any sex outside "marriage between a man and a woman" is "not pleasing to God" and proffered,

"Scripture reminds us that we have to put aside what oftentimes we really don't want to deal with. Impurity, evil desires, passion, greed, and covetousness... God is saying to us, we must put that lifestyle down."

Such ever-present "evil desires" can lead to addiction. Accordingly, Christ Fellowship has a men's group that helps those so-afflicted to fight their "predisposition to [sexual] addiction", a "Men's Sexual Integrity" group that meets every Thursday at 7 p.m.

But in the case that small group therapy should prove inadequate to the task, Christ Fellowship has another therapeutic method, exorcisms -- the expelling of demons that possess people and control their behavior, by bible verse reading.

One of the root causes of addictions, sexual and nonsexual, is demon possession according to a 2011 Christ Fellowship sermon by pastor Rick Blackwood titled "Demon Possession." As Blackwood describes,

"Satan's agenda is to seduce people away from God; to seduce them away from the heavenly Father, and then to take control of that individual. One of the ways that Satan accomplishes that is through what the Bible calls demonic possession. Make no mistake about it: Satan's angels can seize control of an individual and possess an individual physically, spiritually, and even mentally."

It's gripping stuff. Per Blackwood, those demons are everywhere but they're very subtle. Rather than making people crazy, they opt for sneakier ways of driving people from God; the demons undermine people's ability to think logically:

"Demonic possession is far more pervasive today than many of us are aware of... in a modern civilized society like ours, rather than exposing their presence inside of a person, they would rather conceal their presence. Rather than driving a person crazy and making them do all kinds of weird things so that people say that there is something wrong there, they would rather conceal their presence...

One of the ways they do that is by driving unbelievers away from logic. They drive people away from mental cognitive and what I would even call scientific logic."

This in turn raises the issue of science, and evolution. Besides demonology, Christ Fellowship also promotes a rather severe form of creationism. Proclaimed Rick Blackwood in a 2014 sermon,

"The scientific method actually teaches that the Bible is science because it is based on observable evidence, and that evolution is actually blind faith because it is not based on observable evidence. Let me say that again. Evolution is not based on observable evidence. Creation is based on observable evidence."

(For young learners, Blackwood's church has thoughtfully put together various creationism coloring books (see image, right) and a "detective" style lesson plan, to promote a literal, creationist read of the Bible's book of Genesis. But back to the demons.)

As "Pastor Rick" recounted in his "Demon Possession" sermon, one day in the Fall of 2011 he met a man en route to one of Christ Fellowship's small groups, an individual who had "been into Satan worship" and "all sorts of occultic religions" and who had "participated in the vilest sexual stuff you can imagine."

So, he shepherded the man to his church office and read from the Bible during which, recounted Pastor Rick, "I could sense the demons going out of this man and the Spirit of God entering him." Cautioned Pastor Rick,

"it's not enough to expel demons from within. The void created by the expelled demons must be filled with Christ, or the demons will return."

Does Marco Rubio believe in the exorcism, of gay demons or other allegedly malevolent spirits ? If so, he wouldn't be out of step with the Catholic Church -- which has joined in boosting the resurgence of the practice.

Nor would Rubio be out of step with a demographic he might hope that his relative youth would draw towards the Republican ticket in the 2016 election; as a 2012 Public Policy Polling survey revealed, 63 percent of young Americans age 18-29 now believe it is "possible for people to be possessed by demons."

And it's a growing trend, showed the PPP survey. The age group least likely to believe in demon possession were Americans 65 and older. Among that age group, only 44 percent believed in demon possession.

Senator Rubio has not taken a public possession on demon possession or exorcism. But in 2012, Rubio's waffling response during an interview with Gentleman's Quarterly, to the question "How old do you think the Earth is," suggested a certain sympathy for Christ Fellowship's strong creationist stance. Replied Rubio,

"I'm not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that's a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I'm not a scientist. 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. I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries."

And, Rubio's 2013 speech at a fundraiser for "anti-gay activist" Mat Staver also tracks closely with Christ Fellowship's dim view of homosexuality, as a potentially demon-related "addiction" that's especially hateful to God. As Mother Jones' Tim Murphy reported in 2013,

"Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will speak at a fundraising dinner this week honoring Mat Staver, an ardent anti-gay activist who has defended Malawi's ban on homosexuality. Staver is suing New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie for signing a law banning gay-to-straight conversion therapy, and has said that teaching gay rights in schools is tantamount to "sexual assault".