Early this year, Joshua DuBois stepped down as head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which fosters relationships between the federal government and religious groups. While at the White House, DuBois also was a spiritual adviser to President Obama. His new book, “The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama,” includes biblical scripture and prayers from DuBois’ daily devotional e-mails to Obama as well as essays by DuBois about his years in politics. On Faith Editor Elizabeth Tenety conducted a telephone interview with DuBois. Below is a transcript that has been edited for clarity and space.
Elizabeth Tenety: Did you re ad devotionals when you were growing up?
Joshua DuBois: I did. I read a lot of “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers and “Our Daily Bread.” I read a lot of C.S. Lewis as well, not necessarily devotionals, but I think what would be described as devotional content.
Tenety: What do you want people to know about President Obama’s spiritual life and especially how it inspires and shapes his political life?
DuBois: I didn’t write [“The President’s Devotional”] to inform people about President Obama. . . . This really is a book about God’s love. I spent a lot of time thinking about what to send Sen. Obama and then President Obama that would remind him that he personally as an individual is loved by the God of the universe. I thought maybe those passages could do the same for other people. In terms of aspects of the president’s spiritual life, I think the fact is he is . . . someone who through the reading of these devotionals, through time he spends with pastors, through prayer and through the way he lives his life outside of the Oval Office, is concerned with his spiritual development, with cultivating a strong character and living a life of integrity. I think through some of the essays, folks will see a little bit of a different and a more personal side of the president than any they’ve seen before.
Tenety: Could you share with me an example of one reflection you sent that impacted the president?
DuBois: There were devotionals that I sent around the [time of the] horrible tragedy in Newtown, [about] how to process that grief and that pain, and my impression is that those were meaningful.
Tenety: What did you share?
DuBois: There’s a devotional [called] “Darkness’s Hour.” [The reflection includes this prayer: “Dear God, in the nighttime, remind me of the day. In the darkness, remind me of your light. I have confidence in the coming morning, and until then I will stand strong. Amen.”]
Tenety: Let’s talk about your work with the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. What are you most proud of from your time there?
DuBois: I think we created a whole set of partnerships that were not dependent on federal grants alone and served thousands of people around the country. . . . They’re under the rubric of civic partnerships, or non-financial partnerships. Up until President Obama’s faith-based initiative, most of the White House’s faith-based office was focused on federal grants and trying to level the playing field [between faith groups and better-financed private or other nonprofit entities].
Examples of [partnerships] we created include the job clubs program, where at thousands of congregations around the country, we helped them set up employment ministries where they could have their congregants who were unemployed create their résumés and network with one another, connect to employers and eventually get back to work. This wasn’t a federal grant . . . but we gave them a lot of technical assistance.
We also created a new set of partnerships called Faith Health Networks, where we helped dozens of hospitals around the country partner with their local congregations to impact public health in neighborhoods. . . . We worked with thousands of congregations through the USDA to set up these summer food ministries where churches, synagogues, temples and mosques could serve as feeding points for kids who were going hungry.
Tenety: If you were able to start again in the office, would you do anything differently?
DuBois: I think we could tell our story a lot better. I think that there are lots of partnerships that could be expanded and improved if more people had access to them.
Tenety: How do you answer the critique, particularly from more secular people who may be on the left, that religion should simply be kept out of political life?
DuBois: If we kept religion out of political life, we would be losing some of our central allies. . . . How can we work with them on homelessness and housing issues? How can we seek their partnership on responsible fatherhood and on international development? The reality is faith-based groups and other faith-based organizations are on the front lines, serving millions of people every year, and that objective fact demands that they have a partner within the federal government to advance these important causes.
Tenety: We just went through a major political showdown. Is there a scripture you’d recommend for this kind of political conflict?
DuBois: In terms of loving others with whom we have some conflict, the devotional that comes to mind is about treating those around us as sisters and brothers — “a sister and brother for whom Christ died,” is something that [German theologian] Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said. So when we look at everyone around us as someone who was worthy of Jesus’s sacrifice, that sort of changes the approach to those we have conflict with.
Tenety: For you, is there a future in religious ministry?
DuBois: I am really enjoying writing for both this book and for the Daily Beast as well. . . . I started a social consultancy called Values Partnerships, where we help foundations and nonprofits partner with the faith community, and that’s been a lot of fun. So we’ll explore that, as well. Really, enjoying being married and looking forward to starting a family. . . . So there’s a lot on the horizon. We’ll see where God takes me.