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(photo above courtesy of Jonny Greig)
His central message was simple - that if faith groups linked together the world could be affected, and practically the progress of international development could be improved. Tony Blair cited faith groups as ‘galvanisers’, creating action for social justice and urged Goverment and Development agencies to not underestimate their role.
Mr Blair reminded listeners of the G8 campaign in 2005.
One of the most critical aspects however, was the role played by people of faith. To place aid on a G8 agenda was not easy. I can tell you there was significant resistance to it. The commitments we were asking for, were also significant. They related directly to the MDGs set by the UN in the year 2000. But it was one thing to proclaim such goals; it was another thing entirely to follow up with precise policy commitments. Now not all of those commitments have been honoured; but there’s no doubting the immense contribution that the increase in aid, debt relief and other policies made. There is also no doubt about the contribution the Faith communities made, to securing those commitments.
Faith groups mobilised awareness. ‘Faith matters’ was his conclusion then and more so now.
'The faith world is not going to disappear. Faith matters. It matters, in fact, whether you are religious or not. It matters because it inspires people to act.'
Mr Blair then cited how important co-operation was. In his opinion “it didn't make sense” for faiths to work apart. “When faith communities collaborate for justice there is a double pay off: things get done and respect between them grows,” he said.
'We should be humble enough to accept that we cannot either circumscribe or define adequately God's will. So though we may disagree with those of another faith, though we hold true to our own faith, we should not have the arrogance merely to tolerate a person whose faith is different; but instead respect them as an equal.'
Faith did present serious problems too in the sphere of politics and development. Misunderstandings from specific issues like gender, to nervousness of proselytising, and also the emergence of extremism - there were many who felt uneasy about the involvement of faith groups.
'It is true the faith community has issues it must confront and overcome. It is true also that, in recent years, most mainstream religious groups have been prey to the influence of extremist groups. Some of the worst actions have been committed by people of faith; but also some of the best.”
This energy and motivation, considered with the concerns people had in involving faith groups - led him to conclusions and the establising of the Foundation:
“The answer to anxieties about lack of capacity on the part of faith communities is help to enable them to develop their capabilities. It does not make sense for them to do this apart. This is a core part of the vision of my Faith Foundation. When faith communities collaborate and work together for justice and human development there is a double pay off: things get done and respect and understanding between them grows.”
Tony Blair concluded by calling for connection, for dialgue and resourcing of faith communities and their role in development. Most of all he called for a debate - the key to world issues is a realisation of interdepence and faith has a central place in that debate - he asked his listeners to consider the world through African eyes - and often that would mean the central place of faith.
“ So this is a debate that is vital. It can over time be transformative. And the time to start is now.”
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Andy Freeman, 16/09/2009