Blair hails 'God's love' in extraordinary speech as he stands alongside Obama at prayer breakfast
Last updated at 4:28 PM on 05th February 2009
Tony Blair today laid bare his devout Christianity as
he stood alongside Barack Obama to make an speech in
which he mentioned God no less than 31 times.
Speaking to a packed hall of Washington grandees, Blair described his ' first spiritual awakening' at ten when his teacher knelt and prayed with him after his father had a stroke.
He then went on to poke fun at the expense of his civil servants and Alistair Campbell who famously told him 'we don't do God'.
Blair also managed to overshadow Gordon Brown once
again by meeting the new American president before the
current British premier has had a chance.
Emotive: Tony Blair described his religious faith and how he had become interested in Christianity
The former prime minister was in Washington to speak to the annual National Prayer Breakfast alongside the new Commander-in-Chief.
Four thousand guests packed a hotel ballroom for the event, including world leaders and hundreds of members of Congress.
Blair, who left the Anglican church to become a Catholic, as soon as he left office, began his speech by addressing Obama, who sat alongside him.
'Sir, we offer you our friendship today,' he said. 'Mr President we salute you, we wish you well.
He then launched into a very personal reflection on
his own belief .
For a man who barely mentioned God while he was in office, the word was barely off his lips during the short address.
'I remember my first spiritual awakening. I was ten years old. That day my father – at the young age of 40 – had suffered a serious stroke,' he said.
Up close and personal: Blair leans in to kiss President Obama's wife Michelle
'His life hung in the balance. My mother, to keep
some sense of normality in the crisis, sent me to
'My teacher knelt and prayed with me. Now my father was a militant atheist.
Before we prayed, I thought I should confess this. “I’m afraid my father doesn’t believe in God”. I said.
'“That doesn’t matter” my teacher replied “God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return.”
'That is what inspires, the unconditional nature of
God love... in surrendering to God we become instruments
of that love.'
He went on to give a revealing insight into how he felt unable to fully express his religious conviction while prime minister, an office he left in 2007.
' I recall giving an address to the country at a time of crisis. I wanted to end my words with “God bless the British people",' he said.
'This caused complete consternation. Emergency meetings were convened. The system was aghast.
'Finally, as I sat trying to defend my words, a senior civil servant said, with utter disdain: “Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know.”
'My good friend': Barack Obama applauds Blair's speech to the Prayer Breakfast in Washington
Much of his speech focussed on his work as Middle East envoy for Quartet, a group made up of United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and United States.
'Today religion is under attack from without and from within,' he said.
'From within it is corroded by extremists who use their faith as a means of excluding the other.
'From without, religious faith is assailed by an increasingly aggressive secularism, which derides faith as contrary to reason and defines faith by conflict.'
He finished by once more alluding to Alistair's Campbell's comments on religion.
'We pray that in acting we do God's work and follow God's will.
'And by the way, God bless you all.'
Speaking afterwards, President Obama, who was joined
by his wife Michelle, described Blair as his 'good
'He has been an example to so many people around the
world of what dedicated leadership can accomplish,' he
He urged the audience to advocate religious tolerance, not hatred.
'There is no God who condones taking the life of an innocent human being,' he said.
'Far too often, we've seen faith wielded as a tool to divide us from one another - as an excuse for prejudice and intolerance.
'For centuries, entire religions have been persecuted all in the name of perceived righteousness.
'No matter what we choose to believe, let us remember that there is no religion whose central tenet is hate.'
No date has yet been set for a meeting between Brown and Obama.
In the days following the inauguration, Number 10 played down the significance of securing an early meeting with the US President, amid widespread speculation that Brown is in an unofficial race with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be the first to see Mr Obama.
But the post-inauguration phone call to Downing Street from Mr Obama - said to be 'friendly and substantive' - was seen as a mini coup for the Prime Minister, coming before his European rivals had received contact from the White House