On Tuesday 22 March, Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed Christian leaders and other religious leaders in the final lecture in the Faithworks series. The gathering took place at Christ Church and London Chapel in Waterloo and saw Blair talk about the role that various faith groups and in particular Christianity has in Britain’s society.
Blair praised the churches and other Christian organisations for their impact on society, and spoke of how the Christian voice had had a great impact on "global challenges of poverty and injustice."
Blair told, "The voluntary sector, including the churches and faith communities, have always played a significant role in social action in Britain - in education, in welfare, in support for so many of the most vulnerable and needy in our society."
He went on and told how basically every single community in the whole of the UK benefited in some way from the works of faith groups.
Regarding the rumoured decline of the churches in the UK Blair said, "I know that people talk a great deal about the decline of religion and the churches in our national life. But in terms of social action and commitment, community by community, it is your revival and adaptation which are striking. It is what has brought you here today.
"I would like to see you play a bigger not a lesser role in the future. I say this because of the visible, tangible difference you are making for the better in our society for so many people. That is the proof of your faith in action in the service of others."
As Blair continued his address he spoke of the role that Christianity could play in the political arena and environment. The Prime Minister told how the government is increasing its funding to many sectors of the community, and in particular he spoke about the NHS and schools. However, he stated, "But money is not enough, however necessary. The only politics that works today is one based on partnership with the people. The days when government could 'do it for people' are over. They can do it with people or not at all.
"By such partnerships trust is established; not through us promising what we can't deliver and you waiting for it to be done, but by us both working together to deliver what we can do together."
The Prime Minister continued by tackling the issue of poverty in the world. Since the Commission for Africa, a government-backed scheme released its report last week, calls have been made for the government to lay down firm steps to implement the encouraging ideas.
Blair said, "Since 1997 we have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty towards our target of eradicating child poverty within a generation. This has taken significant investment - not only in greater financial support for families, but also in the design of wholly new services for children."
He stated that the great change and challenge to eradicate poverty was not something that he alone or just the UK government could tackle successfully. So he called for the change to be brought about together.
"As churches and faith organisations, you also play a significant role in the campaign against international poverty and injustice. Here too you are often direct providers of services. I pay tribute to the wide array of Christian and faith-based charities which work across the developing world, in difficult and often dangerous circumstances to bring relief, compassion and hope," said Blair.
The UK’s premier continued to pay tribute to Christian organisations by saying that their actions and the example that they show truly make a difference in society. He applauded the efforts to campaign the governments in the UK and abroad to "put trade, aid and debt at the top of their agendas."
"The churches are among the most formidable campaigning organizations in history," expressed Blair.
Blair went on to say that the problem 200 years ago could be seen as the slave trade, but in today’s era poverty was very much the agenda that offers the same huge challenge, but is a challenge that had to be overcome.
The churches influence in the Make Poverty History campaign has particularly left an impact on Blair, and he told how Britain could be proud of its response to calls for the international communities to increase aid and support for developing nations.
The Prime Minister said, "Since 1997 we have doubled the aid budget, and tripled it for Africa, with £1bn in British aid to Africa this year alone. As well as our work on debt relief, the UK for the first time ever has a timetable for achieving the UN target of 0.7% of national income devoted to development.
"But the UK cannot do this alone. That is why last week I launched the commission for Africa report. A bold and ambitious plan for Africa. A plan with a mission to build international support for changes that include the doubling of aid, 100% debt cancellation, trade justice and action on governance and conflict. A package that is deliverable, with international political will and determination – but we can only achieve this together."
Britain this year hosts the G8 summit as well as the presidency of the European Union from July. Blair expressed his urgent heart to ensure that new partnerships were developed between rich and poor countries, and that good governance was improved across the world’s poorer nations. In addition, a reduction in conflict, increased aid, fairer trade and a complete cancellation of debts to support the developing world were at the top of his agenda for the UN summit in September and the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December.
The Prime Minister throughout his speech emphasised on the importance of partnerships. The importance of co-working and uniting under the same vision in tackling the UK’s and the world’s problems – especially poverty – were greatly highlighted throughout his speech. Church leaders as well as other faith organisation representatives applauded Blair at the end of his passionate address.
Tony Blair’s address was the third in the series of Faithworks lectures hosted by Rev Steve Chalke, which have previously had Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy – leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties – give addresses regarding the importance of Christian as well as other faiths in today’s increasingly secular society.