Diverse new group ‘tending to president’s soul’
In March 2009, the New York Times highlighted five “evangelical pastors” — all men — from whom President Obama gained spiritual insight. A year later, Religion News Service profiles seven people, including two women, that it says might be called the president’s “spiritual cabinet.”
The RNS piece by Daniel Burke says the new names are “relatively unfamiliar,” although they’re well known to those who follow the administration and it’s efforts to reach out to religious groups.
“They are recalibrating America’s engagement with Muslims, revamping the White House faith-based office and tending to the president’s own soul,” Burke writes.
Three work in the Obama administration. Another is chaplain at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
USA Today religion writer Cathy Lynn Grossman provides a synopsis of the seven advisors.
— Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal pastor, head of Obama’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who sends daily devotionals to Obama’s Blackberry.
— Denis McDonough, a Catholic who serves as deputy national security adviser and chief of staff of the National Security Council. Burke says he’s “a crucial player in Obama’s quest to engage Muslims, find common cause with the Vatican, and restore the country’s moral authority.”
–Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer and a hafiz (someone who has memorized the Quran) who Obama has named as his envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
— Melissa Rogers, chairman of the director of the Center for Religious and Public Affairs at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. She chaired the faith-based office’s advisory board, which this week released 60 recommendations for revamping the office.
–Rev. Joel Hunter, head of an Orlando, Fla., megachurch pastor, who Burke says, is “pushing to broaden the evangelical agenda to include issues like poverty, immigration and the environment.
–The Rev. Sharon Watkins, president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who gave the homily at the post-inauguration National Prayer Service last year.
–Navy Lt. Carey Cash (whose great uncle was Johnny Cash), an Iraq was veteran and Southern Baptist pastor who has led the worship at Cap David’s Evergreen Chapel.
Grossman reports that the article was the product of three months of reporting. She provides details of an e-mail from RNS editor Kevin Eckstrom.
“It might also be worth mentioning that the list is by no means exhaustive — there were other names bandied about, and we followed up on all of them, but some of the claims couldn’t be confirmed through the reporting,” Eckstrom wrote. “We were most interested in the new or unknown faces, especially the people like McDonough who are shaping policy behind the scenes in quiet but important ways.”
The only person to make both the RNS and the New York Times list of Obama’s spiritual advisers is Hunter, pastor of Northland Church near Orlando, Fla. Hunter said little for the Times article and declined to comment for the RNS piece.
The Northland web site describes Hunter as “an internationally known spokesperson for ‘compassion issues’ outlined in Scripture: sanctity of life, creation care, justice, poverty, and marriage and the family.”
“A longtime bridge-builder who seeks common ground for the common good, Dr. Hunter approaches today’s issues in a biblical and balanced manner,” the web site says.
Christianity Today provided further detail of the men mentioned in the Times article, including a link to a 1999 article about how Jim Wallis became an “evangelical activist.” Another member of the group, Bishod T.D. Jakes, talked about his relationship with Obama during an appearance of CNN’s Larry King Live.
Jakes told King that presidents need faith.
“You know, the presidency is a very tough, tough job. And because our nation is primarily filled with people of various degrees of faith, I think that the American people, many are comforted when they feel it — so that the president has faith. The bad thing about it is that the president lives in such a fish tank that when you promote yourself as a person of faith, you’re scrutinized on every issue and evaluated not only by your political policies, but how does this line up with the tenets of your faith?”
The RNS article offers a glimpse into Obama’s faith even if he doesn’t promote it.
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