Joshua DuBois is not your ordinary pastor. For the past four years, the 30-year-old Pentecostal minister was the spiritual adviser to the leader of the free world, praying with President Obama in the Oval Office and leading the administration’s outreach to faith-based groups.
“He’s a deeply faithful president and didn’t need a whole bunch of help cultivating that faith,” DuBois said of Obama in an interview with Power Players on his term as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “I would say that he has a daily Christian walk, in terms of his reading a devotional and spending time meditation-meditating on scripture each day.”
Obama’s spiritual walk was most challenged last December, when a gunman massacred 20 children and 6 others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., DuBois said. The president later described the aftermath of the attack – including an emotionally wrenching visit to families of Newtown victims -- as the worst days of his first term.
“One of the most difficult days that I had in my time in the White House but one of the [experiences] that I meditate on and think about the most was joining the president in Newtown after that horrible, horrible tragedy,” DuBois said. “Seeing the strength of those families face to face in those quiet moments, seeing [not only] the depth of their pain, but also the height of their resilience was something that I'll never forget.
“I will also never forget what it took for the president to be a comforter over and over again to folks that had experienced unimaginable loss,” he said. “He poured out his heart both in his public speech and behind the scenes in his private conversations.”
Obama meditated on 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 “during and after Newtown” to draw strength as a “comforter,” DuBois said. The Bible passage reads in part: “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day.” It was one of hundreds of daily scriptural readings that DuBois selected and sent to the president's Blackberry each morning. On other occasions, the two men prayed together in person.
“I have been honored to spend time in prayer with him,” said DuBois, adding that from “time to time” Obama would invite pastors into the Oval Office for private, unannounced prayer and reflection. The president and his speech writers would also occasionally reach out for “suggestions of scripture either for his personal use or as he's reflecting important issues to the nation,” said DuBois.
Favorite scriptural readings of President Obama include the Book of Job and the prophet Isaiah, DuBois said. The men also spent time meditating on writings of theologians C.S. Lewis and Howard Thurman.
While some critics have questioned the depth of Obama’s religious convictions, DuBois described a president who sees spiritual practice as extending beyond the confines of scripture and traditional religious rituals. Obama “considers spending time with his daughters and tucking them in at night... being a mentor and friend to so many and comforting the nation in times of need” as everyday manifestations of his Christian faith, he said.
As for critics who continue to question Obama’s religious identity: “All the president can do is live out his Christian walk every single day in the way he leads this country, as a father to his girls and as a husband to his wife and a mentor and friend to all the folks that, with whom he has relationships in his life,” he said.
ABC's Alexandra Dukakis, Eric Wray, Freda Kahen Kashi, Jim Martin, and Mary Quinn contributed to this episode.