'The Perfect Hybrid'
At 26, Joshua DuBois has already rubbed shoulders with more religious leaders than most religious leaders will in their lifetime.
And he's starting to do a lot more of the same as President Obama's director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
He'll be rubbing shoulders with the President, too. In fact, nearly everyone who knows DuBois believes he holds a special bond with the new President, an asset previous directors of the office say will be vital in order for his priorities to gain any attention.
During the campaign, DuBois put together a daily devotional for Obama, using passages of Scripture and other religious books. Now he's helping him choose a church home in Washington, D.C.
On his first day in office, Obama was ushered to a prayer service at the National Cathedral, where clergy, including Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, greeted the new President in private.
"Katharine is very formal in a good Episcopalian way," said Wes Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the Reformed Church in America. "She has this staff, like a crosier, a big ornate thing. Obama looks at the staff, and playfully says, 'Joshua, I want one of those.' "
That interaction demonstrated to Granberg-Michaelson that Obama and DuBois share a comfortable, close friendship. And if evangelicals want to have a voice in the new administration, DuBois is their window, said Granberg-Michaelson. "He has a tremendous amount of trust and relationships that span the theological spectrum."
DuBois speaks openly about faith without going into many details. He's quick to clarify that, because of his new role, he wants to welcome all faiths. When asked whether he describes himself as an evangelical, he didn't directly respond. "In my role with the federal government," he explained, "I try to be clear that I'm not ashamed of my faith, but I try not to get into too many labels."
Similarly, those who know him say that DuBois avoids the traditional religious dividing lines in his work as he meets with conservative organizations like the Family Research Council and liberal groups like Faith in Public Life. "He's not interested in the old ways in which we've sliced and diced communities," said Melissa Rogers, director of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs and a member of the office's advisory council.
DuBois has also built relationships with people not known for political advocacy, such as Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller and Relevant magazine founder Cameron Strang.
"If you want to appeal to conservative evangelicals, you don't necessarily go to an organization," said Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida. "You think in terms of individuals instead of institutional leadership. That's part of the makeup of the coming generation of evangelicals."
During the campaign, DuBois met repeatedly with Hunter and other religious leaders from all over the country. He met with Granberg-Michaelson at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
"We talked about how I worked with a Christian senator, Mark Hatfield, how a church relates to the issues of political power, and how those in politics relate to those in the Christian community," Granberg-Michaelson said. "We just had an awful lot in common and a lot to talk about. In the 2004 election, the job of Democratic religious outreach often seemed like being a tourism director for Gary, Indiana."
A Family of Faith
DuBois grew up in Nashville, where his stepfather is a minister in an African Methodist Episcopal church. DuBois grew up listening to stories of his grandmother being spat on when she participated in the 1960 Nashville lunch counter sit-ins. "I've been proud of my family and their history and speaking up for what they think is right," he said. "But we are not a family of radicals. In fact, I probably listened to much more Focus on the Family than Pacifica Radio.