Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) used some of his boldest religious language yet this year in his speech Wednesday to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in Houston, Texas.
In light of the spiritually laden messages coming from some other Republican presidential contenders, Bush has been comparatively less vocal about his personal faith.
But in his speech of Wednesday, Bush delved into his spiritual journey, calling it “one of the most important times of my life, the conversion to the faith of my wife.”
Bush converted to Catholicism in 1994, after his defeat in the Florida gubernatorial race.
“When I joined the church, like millions before me and millions who will come after me, I discovered in Christ the grace to do the Lord’s work,” he told the crowd, praising the powerful and liberating influence of “Christian conscience in action.”
“In America today it is important to respect and to protect Christians acting on their faith, not just talking about their faith but there is a constitutional right and more importantly, for a loving society Christians need to have the space to be able to act on their conscience,” he added, comments timed just one day after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutional right of states to ban gay marriage.
Bush switched back and forth between English and Spanish in his remarks to the Texas crowd, that included his parents, former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush.
Gov. Bush admitted he was “very intimated” to speak before the pair.
“The looming presence of my mother will make it hard,” he joked.
Wednesday marked Bush’s second major outreach to the Hispanic community this week.
On Tuesday, he traveled to Puerto Rico for a series of town hall style events and in his remarks on Wednesday, he highlighted the importance of upward mobility for all in the U.S. “no matter where you come for.”
“It doesn’t matter if you have a vowel at the end of your name … every American, every person in this country has the right to rise up.”
Bush also stressed his belief in the need for immigration reform: “we have to fix a broken immigration system and do it in short order.”
“It also means dealing with the 11 million undocumented workers that are here in this country, 11 million people that should come out from the shadows and receive earned legal status. This country does not do well when people lurk in the shadows,” he said, prompting applause.
“This country does spectacularly well when everybody can pursue their God-given abilities.”
At the conclusion of his remarks, Samuel Rodriguez, Jr., head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, took the stage and led the crowd in a prayer for Bush.
“You are a very important person. We do not know what God has for you, it could be something very significant in regard to the nations of our nation only God knows,” Rodriguez told him.
The Republican, who has not formally declared a presidential campaign, will travel to Washington, D.C. for events on Thursday and will be in North Carolina on Friday.