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Tony Blair's God Thing

By Rusty Wright and Meg Korpi
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Tony Blair has this thing about God and faith.

He thinks they're important.

Sometimes, this lands him in hot water.

Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, recently, Britain's former Prime Minister related an amusing anecdote: During a crisis, he wanted to close an address to his nation with "God bless the British people." "This caused complete consternation," recalled Blair. "Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast."

As Blair tried to defend his choice of words, "a senior civil servant said, with utter disdain: 'Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know.'"

Blair's Washington audience roared. Now free to speak his mind, the former PM-whose press secretary once famously told reporters, "We don't do God"-has been talking a lot about God and faith.

Doing God

Addressing the DC gathering, Blair affirmed faith as a significant force for good in the world. Decrying both religious extremists and aggressive secularists, he commended the billions whom faith inspires to caring, sacrifice, and good works. Said he, "Faith is notacting according to ritual butaccording to God's will."

Blair described his "first spiritual awakening" when he was ten. His 40-year-old father had a life-threatening stroke and his mother, seeking to preserve some stability in the crisis, sent young Tony to school.

When his teacher knelt to pray with him, Tony felt obliged to explain that his father, a "militant atheist," didn't believe in God. "That doesn't matter," replied the teacher. "God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return." Leo Blair survived and now is 85.

"That is what inspires," commented Blair in Washington, "the unconditional nature of God's love. In surrendering to God, we become instruments of that love."

Advice to Leaders

Blair cautioned the Breakfast's international audience of leaders: "The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God."

Reflecting on his own experience, Blair acknowledged the courage that faith can provide when leadership's challenges become overwhelming. He wished President Obama faith-strengthened leadership: "Mr. President, you are fortunate, as is your nation, that you have already shown in your life, courage in abundance. But should it ever be tested, I hope your faith can sustain you. And your family."

A Call to Faith

As we listened to Blair, we were intrigued to hear this seasoned statesman, who currently works to facilitate Middle East peace, call for restoring faith "to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future." Careful to advocate "the correct distinction between religious and political authority," Blair seemed to call individuals, not governments, to faith. He explained the need: "there are limits beyond which only God can work."

According to Blair, faith engenders humility. "We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin. And only through God comes grace; and it is God's grace that is unique."

Blair's sentiments reminded us of the biblical Paul, who wrote , "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast."

Blair cited British slave-trader-turned-pastor and hymn writer John Newton, who wrote in Amazing Grace , "Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved."

"It is through faith, by the Grace of God," claimed Blair, "that we have the courage to live as we should and die as we must."

Sobering thoughts, capped by his clever DC closing line:

"And by the way, God bless you all."

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively. His work is distributed through Rusty Wright Communications.

Meg Korpi is a Senior Research Scientist who studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. She holds a PhD in Educational Psychology from Stanford University

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