Religious professionals expressed concern Friday over the White House’s selection of Joshua Dubois to head its Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, chiefly because Mr. Dubois, 26, has no experience working with charities.
Representatives of some of America’s largest or fastest-growing denominations, such as Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist Convention, said they have had little or no contact with Mr. Dubois, a strategist who directed religious outreach for the Obama campaign.
Spokesmen for Catholic Charities and the Family Research Council also drew a blank when asked about him.
“We’ve never heard from him,” said Assemblies of God spokeswoman Juleen Turnage. “I wonder what kind of connection and validity he’ll have with churches.”
But the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church, in Longwood, Fla., said Mr. Dubois’ inexperience could be helpful.
“He’s somebody from the next generation,” the pastor said. “A lot of people appointed in government positions have been there for a long time, and so they have a hardening of the categories. There’s not a lot of innovation. Joshua will be more grassroots- and relationship-oriented than power-oriented. He’s accumulated a lot of contacts in this particular campaign, and he’ll have to depend more on his contacts than his memories.”
Efforts to contact Mr. Dubois for comment were unsuccessful, but Mr. Hunter said he had gotten through to the new director.
“He is sobered by the responsibility,” the pastor said. “His word to me was ‘blessed.’ It will be riskier with a 26-year-old, but Joshua has matured a lot in the past year. Part of Obama’s appeal in the campaign was to that younger generation. I think he wants to engage that community now.”
Some religious leaders pointed out that Mr. Dubois will have to carry out a policy that is unpopular with many religious groups: President Obama‘s campaign promise that he would not allow religious groups who receive government funds through the faith-based office to only hire employees of the same religion.
“If a Catholic agency cannot work according to its religious precepts, then it’s no longer Catholic,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. “For the state to impose a secular vision on religious agencies is to neuter them.”
Mr. Dubois “has been very skilled, very deft,” he added. “His entire Catholic outreach was toward groups who said they opposed abortion but agreed with Obama on every decision he made. These were new Catholic organizations that served the Obama agenda.”
Tom McClusky, vice president of governmental affairs for Family Research Council, echoed Mr. Donohue’s concerns.
“Most churches have concerns they’d be forced to hire people who do not believe or follow their church’s core mission,” he said. “Traditionally, not a lot of conservative groups have worked with the faith-based office because of those kind of regulations. President Bush went a long way towards lowering those barriers. It’d be a shame to turn the clock back.”
Mr. Dubois’ selection fits a pattern: Mr. Obama has been picking young, loyal staffers who are relatively unknown to the outside world. Past directors of the faith-based-initiatives office, which President George W. Bush established in January, 2001, have included much older and experienced men, including John J.Dilulio Jr., Jay Hein and Jim Towey.
“Obama is really attracted to this young generation of believers,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners and a friend of Mr. Dubois. “That generation went very strongly for Obama, and Joshua represents them. He is a different model than Dilulio.”
He added, “I really think he can do this. Josh is very bright and a quick study; very good at building relationships with religious leaders in a compelling way across a lot of boundaries. It’s a different model of a young, energetic, dynamic, smart policy guy like Joshua in relationship with a lot of faith leaders who will remain outside of the administration.”
Born in Maine, but raised in Nashville, then Xenia, Ohio, Mr. Dubois attended Boston University, where he was introduced to Calvary Praise & Worship Center. It’s a tiny congregation in Cambridge, Mass., affiliated with the United Pentecostal Council of the Assemblies of God, a small, predominantly black denomination.
Although several news organizations have called him a pastor, a spokeswoman for the denomination said he does not have pastoral credentials with them.
Mr. Dubois received a master’s degree from Princeton in public affairs in 2005 and was attending Georgetown Law School when he decided he wanted to work for Mr. Obama, mainly on the basis of his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.