The Politics Behind the White House Faith Guru's Religious Background

Joshua DuBois's faith background has political appeal to the left and right.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Christianity Today profiles Joshua DuBois, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships who, in additional to his official role, oversees all things religious for President Obama. DuBois rarely opens up about his personal life, including his faith life, but the profile includes these revealing lines about his upbringing:

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.

"I probably had many dreams as a kid of living in Whit's End," DuBois said, referring to the Focus show Adventures in Odyssey. "I used to have Psalty the Songbook tapes. Those were my favorite songs."

That's quite a juxtaposition: The liberal civil rights tradition of the black church, embodied by the experiences of Dubois's stepfather and grandmother, meets the conservative values of the white evangelical movement, as represented by James Dobson's Focus on the Family.

Lots of Americans have such eclectic religious/political backgrounds, and I don't question the legitimacy of DuBois's.

But politically speaking, the way DuBois portrays his faith background is of tremendous benefit. It appeals simultaneously to lefty religious folks for whom social justice issues are paramount and to right-leaning pew sitters preoccupied mostly with personal morality.

An August 2008 Wall Street Journal profile of DuBois, which tracked his work as the Obama campaign's religious outreach director, featured the same dual ideological portrait of DuBois's upbringing:

Mr. DuBois grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and Xenia, Ohio, the stepson of a minister at an African Methodist Episcopal church, a branch of Christianity born in protest against slavery in 1816. His grandmother participated in the 1960 Nashville sit-ins and used to tell her grandson stories about being spat on.

His conservative parents would listen to Mr. Dobson's "Focus on the Family" radio show. Mr. DuBois says he remembers his mother being moved to tears by some of Mr. Dobson's broadcasts.

It's worth noting that DuBois doesn't talk of merely listening to Dobson as a kid but of dreaming about Focus on the Family shows and of his mom being moved to tears by them. There's a real intensity there.

I'm not questioning the veracity of those accounts. Just noting their political benefits for an administration that's still trying mightily to break the GOP's grip on evangelical Americans.