Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged faith groups to link together in a bid to improve international development.
Speaking in London on Sept. 14, Blair said the role of world faiths as “galvanizers” for justice and aid should not be underestimated.
Having seen faith in action for himself, he understood its value more now than he had done during his years as prime minister, he admitted.
Blair acknowledged the interdependence of faith and government and called on the development community to recognize the need for faith communities in combating injustice and delivering health care in developing countries. He added that “it didn’t make sense” for faiths to work apart.
“If you come together through specific actions, you start to learn from each other. When faith communities collaborate for justice, there is a double payoff: things get done and respect between them grows,” he said.
His talk – the first in a series of seminars on New Perspectives on Faith and Development, on behalf of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Department For International Development, Islamic Relief, World Vision and Oxfam – also drew on a new report from the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, “Keeping Faith in Development.”
The report, which aired joint findings from development organizations World Jewish Relief, Islamic Relief and Christian Aid, stated the importance of good interfaith relationships to delivering aid shown through symbolic gestures between faiths, such as pooling resources.
Blair cited the example of more than $300,000 from World Jewish Relief following the 2005 Pakistan earthquake given to an Islamic organization to support victims.
Such gestures marked the start of “a new type and level” of commitment by people of faith working together, he said, adding they would generate an atmosphere of trust and understanding, both at the grassroots and internationally.
“Nothing from the financial crisis to climate change can be solved except by nations acting in unison,” Blair said. “I’d argue that the major unifying value needed for global alliances is a sense of justice, universally accepted and applied.”
He urged faiths to approach each other with mutual humility.
“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.”
The best way to do so, he said, was through an expression of shared values in action, an ideal his Tony Blair Faith Foundation was built upon.
The misjudgments surrounding faith are profound, Blair said, adding that he feared education was failing young people in religious understanding and tolerance. The best teacher for this would be direct interaction between those of all faiths and none.
He recognized the inevitable divisions in people of differing religions, specifically on issues of gender equality, sexuality and contraception. Blair appeared relaxed as the floor was opened for questions, though some felt he had avoided difficult issues. There was also no mention of his Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s issue with contraception when discussing the role of faith groups in the prevention of diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
The influence of faith, far from dying, may well be growing, he said. Faith groups should have greater pride in their ongoing work in aid and development.
“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.”
“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.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.