Joshua Dubois has emailed short Christian reflections to Barack Obama every day for more than five years. He started one morning during the 2008 presidential campaign when he worked for then-Senator Obama and kept up the ritual after Obama named him director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009. Now Dubois, who has left the administration, is publishing 365 of these daily devotionals in a new book, The President’s Devotional. “I’ve obviously been writing these devotionals for the president for years with the focus of helping him think about how to have peace in tough times and get closer to God and live a life of purpose and joy even when he’s got a lot of pressures,” Dubois says.
Each one of the daily devotionals includes a Bible passage and a short prayer. Some include broader cultural references, and the goal is to provide daily inspiration toward “living lives of joy and peace,” Dubois says. The book also includes Dubois’ reflections on his own relationship with the President and the mentorship Obama provided him. “The president is a Christian, a committed Christian, and so am I,” Dubois explains. “The purpose was to help him grow closer to God and cultivate his relationship with Christ.”
Dubois, a Pentecostal preacher, first came to public attention in 2008 when Obama chose him to head the Faith Office at the young age of 26. He was responsible for the Inaugural Prayer Service, and started the tradition of the White House Eastern Prayer Breakfast. Dubois was also the prominent advocate of Rick Warren’s giving the invocation at President Obama’s first inauguration, as well as of evangelical pastor Louie Giglio’s giving the benediction at Obama’s second inauguration. Giglio had to withdraw from the inaugural ceremony after an old anti-gay sermon of his resurfaced, and the White House replaced him with a pastor who supports gay rights.
Dubois left the White House shortly after the Giglio controversy and now runs a small faith-based consulting group called Values Partnerships. The group recently has spent much of its time promoting The President’s Devotional, and it also has been working on initiatives to promote fatherhood. Dubois still bills himself as the president’s spiritual advisor—he still sends the president a daily devotional email—and notes that TIME named him Obama’s “Pastor-in-Chief” in 2008. (That phrase was the headline of this two-minute biographical brief from the 2008 campaign.)
Sending the president a daily Christian reflection is not part of the White House Faith-Based director’s job description, and the devotional is already receiving pushback. “It seems quite inappropriate for the faith-based director to be composing prayers and Bible lessons on the government dime,” Maggie Garrett, legislative director for Americans United, says. “And it is especially true when there was really important work to be done, such as reforming the faith-based initiative rules.”
But spirituality is big business in America, and that type of criticism does not concern Dubois. He says he had the idea for the book about six months before he left the White House, but the actual compiling started after he left. He explains that while he did spend about an hour to an hour and a half every day writing the emails while he worked in the White House, he always did so on his own time. “I definitely did it before work or on the weekends and stuff like that,” he explains, clarifying that he usually sent them from his personal and not White House email address.
The daily devotional has been something the president wanted. “He has obviously talked a lot about how the devotionals are meaningful to him,” Dubois says. Jon Faverau, former Obama speechwriter, says that the reflections were a grounding force. “When you are president, and you are inside the bubble, and most of your day is spent in meetings and with briefing books, it is always good to have something come from outside that little world of the bubble to inspire you and motivate you,” Favreau explains. “I think two main things accomplished that for the president: one was the 10 letters he received every night from Americans, which has been widely reported, and the other was the devotional that Joshua sent in the morning.”
Dubois hopes that if the President could find daily encouragement in his reflections, so too can the general public. The messages, after all, are not policy-specific. Here’s the prayer for October 22, the day the book hits shelves: “Dear God, let me run toward, rather than away from, correction. Reduce my pride, increase my humility, and help me be malleable to good advice. Amen.”