Reading the Bible with Marco Rubio
An analysis of the Florida senator's daily scripture selections
The thing about guys who post random Bible verses on social media is that the verses are never actually random.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is one of those guys. He posts Bible verses on Twitter almost daily. I started thinking about his Bible verse selection recently after he complained about another politician’s fairly orthodox interpretation of scripture.
Rubio’s target was Raphael Warnock, a Democrat running for a U.S. Senate seat in Georgia against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. That race is going to a runoff on Jan. 5, so Rubio and other Republicans have launched a campaign to portray Warnock as an extremist.
To that end, they dug up an old sermon Warnock gave.
“America, nobody can serve God and the military,” Warnock said in his sermon. “You can’t serve God and money. You cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time. America, choose ye this day whom you will serve.”
Rubio tweeted about the sermon on Nov. 18:
Not shocked #Georgia Democrat Senate candidate Raphael Warnock said “You cannot serve God and the military” at the same time. These & even crazier things is what the radicals who control the Democratic party’s activist & small dollar donor base believe
Warnock quoted the words of Christ. His message would be uncontroversial in many churches dating back to the first century AD. In fact, some of the earliest church leaders forbid military service by Christians ("The Lord, by taking away Peter’s sword, disarmed every soldier thereafter,” Tertullian proclaimed).
But none of that matters. Marco Rubio has a Bible and he’s going to use it how he wants to use it.
By analyzing Rubio’s Bible verse selection, I’m not trying to point out his hypocrisy or determine whether he is a genuine Christian. As I’ve written before, hypocrisy-dunking is pointless and it’s impossible to know another person’s heart.
As a person who takes the Bible seriously, I just want to understand how one of the most powerful people in the country wields Bible verses as rhetorical devices.
The Bible is chock full of lamentations, kiss-offs, and disses. Entire chapters can be summed up, “This one’s for the haters.” That’s not all the Bible is, but the verses are there for the picking if you want to subtweet them at your enemies.
Consider this self-pitying statement from @marcorubio on July 22:
Hide me from the malicious crowd, the mob of evildoers.
Where was the malicious crowd? Who were the evildoers? It’s hard to say for sure. As is usually the case, Rubio presented the verse without context or commentary.
Consider the timing, though: At the time of the tweet, Rubio had recently caught heat for mixing up pictures of two Black Congressmen, he was trying to close a Chinese consulate, and he had recently found out the anti-Trump Lincoln Project was planning to buy attack ads targeting him in Florida.
A malicious crowd, indeed.
To take a more systematic look at the senator’s Bible verse selection, I put 100 of his recent Bible verse tweets into a spreadsheet (click here if you want to take a look). Just for fun, I ran the selected verses through a word cloud generator. The result looked like this:
I broke the verses down according to whether they came from the Old Testament or New Testament:
I kept track of how often Rubio quoted Jesus:
Rubio has said that he usually takes the verses from the Catholic Church’s daily mass readings. Here’s how he explained his process at a conference in October:
It’s not a very difficult thing to decide every day. It’s based on the daily reading in the Catholic Church, from the mass. For the most part … it’ll give you an Old Testament verse, it’ll give you a Psalm, it’ll give you a New Testament, and then it’ll give you a Gospel. And you can pick from that. If you do that every three years you’ll get through the whole Bible. So, generally speaking, that’s where it comes from. Every now and then if that day it’s just not in context or it just doesn’t line up, I’ll use my old, reliable Proverbs.
I was intrigued by the days when he strayed from the Mass reading and picked a verse on his own. So I cross-referenced his tweets against a Mass reading calendar and set a filter to display only Marco’s Curated Originals™.
It turned out 46 of the last 100 scripture tweets did not come from the daily Mass readings.
if then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
I also found that a lot of Rubio’s handpicked Bible verses — nearly half by my count — could be categorized as fighting words.
Consider this barb from Nov. 6:
Scoundrels, villains, are they who deal in crooked talk.
Or this anonymous rebuke from Aug. 22:
For there are also many rebels, idle talkers and deceivers
Or this one, from Aug. 6:
They have perversity in their hearts, always plotting evil, sowing discord.
I won’t try to guess who Rubio was talking about, but I doubt he picked these verses at random while thumbing through his daily devotions.
If you grew up in the Bible Belt and you stayed on Facebook, you probably know a few guys like Marco Rubio. Maybe you once projected such certainty about your own faith.
Sprinkling Bible verses on the timeline is not a method of evangelism. It’s a show. If you proclaim enough times that you’re a righteous person beset on all sides by iniquities, maybe one day people will believe you.
I do read the Bible and I do take it seriously. It’s confounding, poetic, strange, and rough, but I believe it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). That’s why I don’t bludgeon my enemies with imprecatory psalms or pull out pithy verses like I got them from Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.
If I’m looking for pearls of wisdom, I know where to find them. I also have a pretty good idea where not to look.
If you enjoyed this week’s newsletter, you might enjoy this one about Donald Trump’s visit to a Las Vegas megachurch or this one about the certainty I felt as a young-earth creationist. I also recently recorded a podcast with a pastor about death, parenting, and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s coming out soon, so subscribe to the free Brutal South Podcast in your app of choice if you want to hear that.
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