By 6:30 most mornings, Joshua DuBois, the 28-year-old minister who is director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has sent a devotional to President Obama’s BlackBerry to help Obama start his day. DuBois staunchly protects the privacy of what he includes in those messages and is reluctant to talk about praying by speakerphone with Obama or arranging for pastors to pray with the president. But he fills a void for Obama, who hasn’t had a personal pastor in the three years since the campaign controversy that engulfed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago. DuBois is clearly someone the president is comfortable with; he has been in Obama’s orbit since he joined the then-senator’s staff six years ago.
DuBois grew up the stepson of a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Since college, he has been a Pentecostalist. Edited excerpts of his interview with National Journal follow.
NJ How would you describe your job?
DuBOIS I lead the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and 12 offices across the federal government that support local nonprofit organizations—both faith-based and secular. The president wants to make sure that these groups have the support they need to serve others, from feeding the hungry to supporting veterans to impacting poverty abroad. I also serve as an adviser to the president and senior staff on issues related to faith and values, and am a member of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
NJ I know you protect the privacy of what you send to the president, but please talk about your sources for the devotionals and what you hope to achieve with them.
DuBOIS The president is a committed Christian, and the purpose of all of his habits of faith is to deepen that walk. I’ve done the devotionals for several years and have so far been successful at keeping his confidence on the content of them, something I’d like to continue!
NJ Is it frustrating when critics—and a surprising chunk of the American public—say that the president is not a Christian? And attack him for not going to church more often?
DuBOIS The American people elected President Obama because he’s a leader of integrity and values, and because he’s committed to getting our country on the right track. There will always be folks who either believe inaccurate things about the president or distort his background and record. You can’t focus on that; we’re here to focus on doing our job and working for the American people.
NJ Would it be fair to call you the president’s pastor, because he is not formally affiliated with a church?
DuBOIS The president and first lady attend worship services as often as they can. In the past couple years, they’ve enjoyed worshipping with the congregations at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church, Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, and the chapel at Camp David, among others. From time to time, he will also hold calls with Christian leaders to join them in prayer. I do help facilitate these and other opportunities surrounding the president’s faith, but I’m not sure that I would peg myself as his pastor.
NJ People think of the Rev. Billy Graham when they think of spiritual advisers to presidents. But at such a young age, you don’t really fit that mold. How did you find yourself in this role?
DuBOIS God’s grace and great bosses. President Obama, Pete Rouse, Michael Strautmanis, and Chris Lu gave me a chance to work for them a number of years ago in the Senate office when I was finishing up a graduate degree at Princeton. I didn’t know anyone in the office, and I drove down from New Jersey several times before getting an informational interview for an entry-level position. Eventually, they gave me a shot, and I’m eternally grateful.
NJ You’re a Pentecostal, and most Pentecostals are politically conservative. What drew you to Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat?
DuBOIS President Obama doesn’t deal too much in labels, and that’s something I’ve taken to heart from him. I believe that we have challenges in our country, and we need all hands on deck to solve those challenges—from government to the private sector to families and faith-based organizations. So I’m pretty well aligned with the president on things.
NJ The burdens of the office tend to drive every president to prayer. With your up-close view, how essential do you think spirituality is to a president?
DuBOIS I can say without hesitation that the president’s Christian walk is one of the most important parts of his life. It’s a sustaining force for him, and I imagine personal faith was a critical aspect of the lives of previous presidents, as well. I would suggest [that] folks read the remarks he gave at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast—he talked in great detail about this issue there.
NJ Is your job personally satisfying?
DuBOIS My job is deeply satisfying. I work with a wonderful team, a great set of bosses, and tremendous outside partners, all focused on helping serve Americans in need and addressing the challenges our nation is facing. I am very blessed to have this opportunity.
This article appears in the April 2, 2011, edition of National Journal Magazine.