Religious life in the Obama era

Joshua DuBois, President Obama’s “pastor-in-chief” (he was director of religious affairs for the campaign) and Speaking of Faith host Krista Tippett held a discussion at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul on Wednesday evening about religious life in the Obama era.

Julia Duin, religious editor of the Washington Times, complained a couple of weeks ago that she was having a hard time getting an interview with DuBois. But, then again, she’s not Krista Tippett.

6:58 p.m. – The Fitz is pulling in a pretty hefty audience for a sweltering May evening. We’re almost ready to go.

sof_1.jpg

7:03 p.m. – It’ll be interesting to see to what extent discussion of inclusivity when it comes to right and left religious entities comes up this evening. DuBois was the one who pushed for Rick Warren to be invited to be part of the Inauguration. He also set up a meeting in the White House early on with religious leaders who the left does not consider acceptable. It’s hard to bring warring groups together.

7:12 p.m. – We’re underway. Speaking of Faith managing editor/producer Kate Moos (my first boss when I moved to Minnesota) is noting the show is trying to engage the online audience tonight. Tweeting is being done via @softweets. It will be interesting to see how many people nationally are tuning in this evening. They’re taking online questions via the Twitter side of things, though it still makes me chuckle when people giggle whenever the word “twitter” is uttered in public.

Here on News Cut, it’s just you and me.

7:17 p.m. – Krista: The campaign brought faith out of the closet in the Democratic Party.

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7:21 p.m. – DuBois says he found his religious life about the same time he found his political life. An extensive bio is here.

7:23 p.m. – Asked by Krista, DuBois says he’s reached the first level of ordination. How he became aware of Obama: He was wrapping up grad school and was trying to figure out how to combine faith and public policy. He was at a restaurant and looked up and saw Obama at the Democratic National Convention (I assume this in the ’04 convention in Boston). He tried to join the campaign and got a rejection letter.

7:27 p.m. – Talking about the 2006 Obama speech on religion. “He wasn’t trying to chart a new course,” DuBois says, “but he was trying to be true to who he was … rather than trying to change the conversation in the party.”

7:28 p.m. – On his role and message in the campaign as director of religious affairs. He organized community faith forums. “We had some in Manchester, New Hampshire that were some secular humanists and some evangelicals. South Carolina was a little difference. It was striking to see the difference in the conversations you see on television on religion and the ones we were having. On TV, you’d think we can’t stand each other.”

7:30 p.m. – What he learned about religion and politics. “We’re all told our differences are so broad and wide, there’s no bridge than can span them. But churches in Montana and temples in New York, there’s so many things we agree upon. I was expecting more pushback.”

7:32 p.m. – Interesting point on how people get along. “It’s easy to disagree with people on issues, but it’s hard to disagree with someone’s story,” DuBois said. Is that a problem in discourse these days, not only in politics and religion, and everything. Are we not listening to people’s stories?

7:33 p.m. – We’re onto the speech in Philadelphia. Yeah, you know the one:

7:35 p.m. — and the Saddleback Forum, when Obama was asked by Rick Warren about abortion and he said “it’s above my pay grade.” “We live in a news cycle that demands winners and losers,” DuBois said, saying the short sound bite did not capture the nuance of his message on abortion. This blog didn’t think so.

This (and by the way, this is Bob talking now) was a tremendous issue in the campaign — religion and politics — probably more so than ever got covered in the mainstream media, at least meaningfully. At the Democratic National Convention, I wrote a bit about it in a post called The Jesus Factor. It was — and is — tremendously divisive within the Catholic Church (as we saw in the Notre Dame speech). I’m not sure that’s going to get addressed significantly tonight. We’ll see.

7:42 p.m. – Discussing the office of faith-based initiatives: Reducing need for abortion, reducing teen pregnancy, recovering from the poor economy, renewed focus on outreach to different religious and non-religious backgrounds. The council has secular organization represented, too. Insists that Obama has said that prostheletyzing is not the mission.

7:45 p.m. – From the vantage point of the balcony, I can see people on the floor playing on their iPhones and cellphones. They’re either tweeting, submitting questions to the chat, or checking the Twins score. Prayer may be involved in the latter activity.

7:47 p.m. – Should faith-based groups that get government money be allowed to only hire people of their own faith? “We’ll explore these issues on a case-by-case issue,” DuBois says.

“How’s that changed from the Bush administration,” Tippett asks.

“It increases the profile of that exploratory process,” DuBois says. “The president believes we need to understand the legal terrain and environment before making a decision.” That doesn’t answer the question which, to me, is the gorilla in the room — if Obama talks faith, do people react differently than when Bush talked faith, and why?

7:55 p.m. – “Fighting can leave one tired,” DuBois says of the culture wars. “Not among the pundits for whom these battles are a living, but people are tired of hearing people yell at one another. Folks don’t want to fight anymore; they want to find some common purpose.”

Nice joke by DuBois. He tells people to raise both hands, then move them. “Thank-you, I promised the president I’d shake every hand in St. Paul tonight.”

(Musical interlude precedes questions from the audience)

QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE

Nice to see Larry Jacobs getting some exposure for a change. He’s moderating the Q&A session.

Q: Where is Scripture in the president’s talk of faith?

A: He’s never been afraid to talk about faith. But he thinks because we’re a pluralistic society, people have to know they have a place in his work. It’s a balance. He’s been outfront on what faith means to him.

Q: Colin Powell said there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim in America, what initiatives can your office take?

A: The president has sent phenomenal signals with his Inaugural speech and his speech in Turkey. It’s an ongoing process. (Not too impressed with answers so far. Very Washingtonian.)

Q: How can we balance the issue, making sure children have a religious life with no religion in public schools?

A: Families are balancing those challenges every day. It’s up to parents to strike that balance.

Q: The Pew Forum released a report showing 50% of Americans have become unaffiliated because they think of them as being “hypocritical.” Why do you think people feel this way about unaffiliated people?

A: I’m not sure. The president is speaking for all Americans. (Bob: Here’s the survey. The question could have and should have been asked in a less-Minnesotan way. Like “do you believe religious people are hypocrites?”)

Q: What was behind the Notre Dame speech? How did it happen?

A: There wasn’t much evolution. The president thinks when there’s a challenging issue, it’s best to confront it head on. (applause). Americans can handle it. There’s going to be points of disagreement.

Q: Have you been surprised by the level of scrutiny and criticism by the faith-based initiative?

A: There will be bumps in the road. In the 24-hour news cycle, any time there’s a conflict it will be scrutinized.

Q: When it comes to Washington, the president has made efforts to reach out to Republicans, is there a same dynamic to break down barriers of faith?

A: There can always be one point of concurrence with people. We have conservatives and Evangelicals who are engaging with us, who disagree with us 60 percent of the time.

Q: In his inaugural address, President Obama said: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.” But how do you meet the challenge of bringing them all together?

A: Cancer does not recognize a belief. We have common areas of agreement. We can connect people across those lines. But we’re not asking people to check their religion at the door.

//End//


Starting at 7 this evening, I’ll be live blogging from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, where Joshua DuBois, President Obama’s “pastor-in-chief” (he was director of religious affairs for the campaign) and Speaking of Faith host Krista Tippett are holding a discussion on religious life in the Obama era.

Julia Duin, religious editor of the Washington Times, complained a couple of weeks ago that she was having a hard time getting an interview with DuBois. But, then again, she’s not Krista Tippett.

I understand there’ll be a live chat going at the same time as well as streaming video of the event on the Speaking of Faith Web site, but if you can pull yourself away from the glitz and glam, I’ll be happy to have you join me here.

6:58 p.m. – The Fitz is pulling in a pretty hefty audience for a sweltering May evening. We’re almost ready to go.

sof_1.jpg

7:03 p.m. – It’ll be interesting to see to what extent discussion of inclusivity when it comes to right and left religious entities comes up this evening. DuBois was the one who pushed for Rick Warren to be invited to be part of the Inauguration. He also set up a meeting in the White House early on with religious leaders who the left does not consider acceptable. It’s hard to bring warring groups together.

7:12 p.m. – We’re underway. Speaking of Faith managing editor/producer Kate Moos (my first boss when I moved to Minnesota) is noting the show is trying to engage the online audience tonight. Tweeting is being done via @softweets. It will be interesting to see how many people nationally are tuning in this evening. They’re taking online questions via the Twitter side of things, though it still makes me chuckle when people giggle whenever the word “twitter” is uttered in public.

Here on News Cut, it’s just you and me.

7:17 p.m. – Krista: The campaign brought faith out of the closet in the Democratic Party.

sof_2.jpg

7:21 p.m. – DuBois says he found his religious life about the same time he found his political life. An extensive bio is here.

7:23 p.m. – Asked by Krista, DuBois says he’s reached the first level of ordination. How he became aware of Obama: He was wrapping up grad school and was trying to figure out how to combine faith and public policy. He was at a restaurant and looked up and saw Obama at the Democratic National Convention (I assume this in the ’04 convention in Boston). He tried to join the campaign and got a rejection letter.

7:27 p.m. – Talking about the 2006 Obama speech on religion. “He wasn’t trying to chart a new course,” DuBois says, “but he was trying to be true to who he was … rather than trying to change the conversation in the party.”

7:28 p.m. – On his role and message in the campaign as director of religious affairs. He organized community faith forums. “We had some in Manchester, New Hampshire that were some secular humanists and some evangelicals. South Carolina was a little difference. It was striking to see the difference in the conversations you see on television on religion and the ones we were having. On TV, you’d think we can’t stand each other.”

7:30 p.m. – What he learned about religion and politics. “We’re all told our differences are so broad and wide, there’s no bridge than can span them. But churches in Montana and temples in New York, there’s so many things we agree upon. I was expecting more pushback.”

7:32 p.m. – Interesting point on how people get along. “It’s easy to disagree with people on issues, but it’s hard to disagree with someone’s story,” DuBois said. Is that a problem in discourse these days, not only in politics and religion, and everything. Are we not listening to people’s stories?

7:33 p.m. – We’re onto the speech in Philadelphia. Yeah, you know the one:

7:35 p.m. — and the Saddleback Forum, when Obama was asked by Rick Warren about abortion and he said “it’s above my pay grade.” “We live in a news cycle that demands winners and losers,” DuBois said, saying the short sound bite did not capture the nuance of his message on abortion. This blog didn’t think so.

This (and by the way, this is Bob talking now) was a tremendous issue in the campaign — religion and politics — probably more so than ever got covered in the mainstream media, at least meaningfully. At the Democratic National Convention, I wrote a bit about it in a post called The Jesus Factor. It was — and is — tremendously divisive within the Catholic Church (as we saw in the Notre Dame speech). I’m not sure that’s going to get addressed significantly tonight. We’ll see.

7:42 p.m. – Discussing the office of faith-based initiatives: Reducing need for abortion, reducing teen pregnancy, recovering from the poor economy, renewed focus on outreach to different religious and non-religious backgrounds. The council has secular organization represented, too. Insists that Obama has said that prostheletyzing is not the mission.

7:45 p.m. – From the vantage point of the balcony, I can see people on the floor playing on their iPhones and cellphones. They’re either tweeting, submitting questions to the chat, or checking the Twins score. Prayer may be involved in the latter activity.

7:47 p.m. – Should faith-based groups that get government money be allowed to only hire people of their own faith? “We’ll explore these issues on a case-by-case issue,” DuBois says.

“How’s that changed from the Bush administration,” Tippett asks.

“It increases the profile of that exploratory process,” DuBois says. “The president believes we need to understand the legal terrain and environment before making a decision.” That doesn’t answer the question which, to me, is the gorilla in the room — if Obama talks faith, do people react differently than when Bush talked faith, and why?

7:55 p.m. – “Fighting can leave one tired,” DuBois says of the culture wars. “Not among the pundits for whom these battles are a living, but people are tired of hearing people yell at one another. Folks don’t want to fight anymore; they want to find some common purpose.”

Nice joke by DuBois. He tells people to raise both hands, then move them. “Thank-you, I promised the president I’d shake every hand in St. Paul tonight.”

(Musical interlude precedes questions from the audience)

QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE

Nice to see Larry Jacobs getting some exposure for a change. He’s moderating the Q&A session.

Q: Where is Scripture in the president’s talk of faith?

A: He’s never been afraid to talk about faith. But he thinks because we’re a pluralistic society, people have to know they have a place in his work. It’s a balance. He’s been outfront on what faith means to him.

Q: Colin Powell said there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim in America, what initiatives can your office take?

A: The president has sent phenomenal signals with his Inaugural speech and his speech in Turkey. It’s an ongoing process. (Not too impressed with answers so far. Very Washingtonian.)

Q: How can we balance the issue, making sure children have a religious life with no religion in public schools?

A: Families are balancing those challenges every day. It’s up to parents to strike that balance.

Q: The Pew Forum released a report showing 50% of Americans have become unaffiliated because they think of them as being “hypocritical.” Why do you think people feel this way about unaffiliated people?

A: I’m not sure. The president is speaking for all Americans. (Bob: Here’s the survey. The question could have and should have been asked in a less-Minnesotan way. Like “do you believe religious people are hypocrites?”)

Q: What was behind the Notre Dame speech? How did it happen?

A: There wasn’t much evolution. The president thinks when there’s a challenging issue, it’s best to confront it head on. (applause). Americans can handle it. There’s going to be points of disagreement.

Q: Have you been surprised by the level of scrutiny and criticism by the faith-based initiative?

A: There will be bumps in the road. In the 24-hour news cycle, any time there’s a conflict it will be scrutinized.

Q: When it comes to Washington, the president has made efforts to reach out to Republicans, is there a same dynamic to break down barriers of faith?

A: There can always be one point of concurrence with people. We have conservatives and Evangelicals who are engaging with us, who disagree with us 60 percent of the time.

Q: In his inaugural address, President Obama said: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.” But how do you meet the challenge of bringing them all together?

A: Cancer does not recognize a belief. We have common areas of agreement. We can connect people across those lines.

  • Julia Schrenkler, MPR

    Bob, I’m watching as you cover the proceedings!

  • BJ

    @Bob – you said “Nice to see Larry Jacobs getting some exposure for a change. ”

    You would think he is the only ‘non-partisian’ in the state working on politics.