Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Secret Faith of Washington. By Joshua DuBois

A godless city? Please. President Obama’s former religious adviser on the surprising number of believers in D.C.’s corridors of power.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts administers the oath of office during the inaugural swearing-in ceremony, Jan. 21, 2013. First Lady Michelle Obama, holding a Bible that belonged to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Lincoln Bible, and daughters Malia and Sasha stand with the President│UPI

(The Daily BeastNewsweek) In 1993, Pat Robertson, the Christian broadcaster and stalwart of the religious right, sat down with legendary columnist Molly Ivins and gave a doozy of an interview. “It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-biased media, and the homosexuals who want to destroy all Christians,” Robertson declared. He also said that Washington was inflicting on Christians “wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today. More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.”

Now, Pat Robertson is not necessarily known for his rhetorical moderation. This is, after all, the guy who blamed the Haitian earthquake on voodoo, said the “feminist agenda” encourages women to practice witchcraft, and claimed that Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians have the “spirit of the anti-Christ.” Even most conservative evangelicals cringe whenever he speaks.

But in that interview, Robertson gave voice to a perception that’s still widely shared across the country: most of America thinks Washington is a pretty godless place.

Indeed, this pervasive image of Washington is probably stronger today than at any point in recent memory. Last year’s debate between the White House and the Catholic Church over contraception served for some believers as confirmation that the government simply doesn’t get the importance of faith. More recently, many Americans saw the relative lack of media coverage of the grisly trial of Kermit Gosnell—a Philadelphia abortion doctor—as evidence that Beltway journalists are contemptuous of religious values.

I’ve seen this stereotype about D.C. play out firsthand in my former role as President Obama’s religious adviser and director of the White House faith-based initiative. I recall sitting in the White House with groups of evangelical college students from Texas or Jewish seminarians from New York, who wondered aloud how I could be a practicing believer in a town that dislikes God so much.

Over the years, I saw, and had to respond to, the false email chains and rumors about Washington that have seeped into the consciousness of believers around the country. I remember being at a dinner party in California when a very prominent Christian asked me if Obama had really canceled the National Day of Prayer (he has not). And I spent countless hours explaining that it is not in fact true that military chaplains are prohibited from praying in Jesus’s name (they can, if they choose to).

Last month, Rick Santorum appealed to these beliefs when he accused Obama of seeking to create a society that is “anti-clerical, anti-God, where the government is the center, and they are the ones who care for us.” Listening to Santorum and Robertson talk about government, it would be easy to conclude that, aside from the religious right, believers in Washington simply don’t exist. But here’s the thing: they do exist—and not just in the places you’d expect. Everyone knows about the politicians and interest groups—mainly conservative—who wear their faith on their sleeve. Yet across the ideological spectrum, Washington is filled with people at the height of political power who are practicing their faith seriously and profoundly, but largely out of public view. I recently spoke to some of these people about the role that religion plays in their private and public lives. What their stories make clear is that—in coffee shops, vibrant local congregations, congressional offices, and White House corridors—God is far more present in Washington than most Americans realize.

FEW PEOPLE in Washington are as close to the center of the action as Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff. Since his appointment this past January, McDonough has helped the president navigate budget negotiations, the gun-control push, and a series of national crises from the Boston bombing to the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. He’s a seasoned vet in situations like these, having previously served in senior positions on the White House national security staff, the 2008 Obama campaign, and Capitol Hill. In the famous photograph of the Situation Room during the raid against Osama bin Laden, McDonough sat just a few feet away from Obama.

But as close as he is to the president, McDonough is even closer to his faith. In fact, he can sometimes be found in the basement of the West Wing, sharing an early morning breakfast and conversation with a bishop or priest. In a recent interview, his first-ever in-depth conversation with the media about his religious beliefs, MCDonough told me that his deep Catholic faith did not come by accident ... ► Read the full article by Joshua DuBois in The Daily Beast│Newsweek

Author: Joshua DuBois was President Obama’s first director of the White House faith-based initiative, and is now an author, teacher, speaker, and CEO of Values Partnerships ... more

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