A Search For Faith In 'Godless' Washington

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C, is one of the world's largest cathedrals, and the seat of the Episcopal Church. i i

hide captionThe National Cathedral in Washington, D.C, is one of the world's largest cathedrals, and the seat of the Episcopal Church.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C, is one of the world's largest cathedrals, and the seat of the Episcopal Church.

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C, is one of the world's largest cathedrals, and the seat of the Episcopal Church.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

War has brought the act of faith to the forefront for those who occupy the White House. President Lincoln famously issued a call to prayer during the Civil war. Franklin Roosevelt announced D-Day to the nation with a prayer.

Today, President Obama receives a daily spiritual meditation. The man who sends those messages is a Pentecostal minister named Joshua DuBois.

When he first moved to Washington, D.C., DuBois says he had already formed an impression about the spiritual life of the town.

"I had heard that Washington was, quite frankly, a pretty godless place," he says, "that people weren't serious about their faith and their values."

But what he found was quite the opposite.

"A lot of folks who were active in the public square, when they got back home, they took their faith practice pretty seriously, and that was illuminating for me," he says.

DuBois worked with religious communities across the U.S. as the head of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under Obama. In February 2013, he stepped down and took a teaching position at New York University, and also writes for the Daily Beast.

He tells Kelly McEvers, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that he now sees the nation's capital as a place where peoples' faith is strong. In a recent article for Newsweek, he writes of congressmen, senators and other officials in the public eye who practice their faith openly.

"We just peer a little bit into their lives, not their proclamations, but their private, lived experiences," DuBois says.

That includes people like Sen. Ben Cardin from Maryland, who's Jewish and observes the Sabbath, and Congressman Andre Carson, a Muslim who prays five times a day from his Washington office.

DuBois also wrote about a group of four officials, two Democrats and two Republicans, who meet regularly at a coffeehouse.

"It's a fascinating story," DuBois says.

"Across these significant political divides, they get together once a week and spend a little time in conversation and prayer," he says. "They share about each other's lives, and learn about each other's families, and really seek to bridge those divides."

It often seems that high-profile people in Washington are reluctant to make their faith public. DuBois says there's a desire to remain authentic.

"There's a suspicion that if they're seen as touting their faith and their values, or wearing it on their sleeves, that people will think that they're seeking to gain some political benefit from their religious testimonies," DuBois says. "I think folks are very sensitive about that."

During his own tenure in the capital, DuBois found his faith changed by Washington.

"It has stretched and grown," he says.

"It was a constant struggle, as it is for many people of faith in politics, to maintain your core values and belief when they're under attack," he says. "In many cases, like in the course of a campaign and you're in pitched battle with someone else, you know, there's a temptation to go beyond the boundaries of what your faith says about how you should treat other people."

"Having to fight those battles, winning some and losing some of those internal battles, I think really served to strengthen my own Christian faith — as I think it has done for many people of diverse faith backgrounds in D.C."

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