John Buckeridge on why Tony Blair kept quiet about God
Alastair Campbell memorably said, “We don’t do God,” when squashing attempts by journalists to get Tony Blair to answer questions about his faith. Only since leaving office has Blair once again talked about his Christian faith, most recently with great candour when interviewed by Nicky Gumbel in front of 1,200 people at Holy Trinity Brompton, declaring that prayer and Bible reading are at the core of his life.
When Gumbel asked how he found time for Bible reading, Blair replied, “I make time. But every single time I learn something new…Sometimes I will read bits of the Gospel sort of separated out as you would in a church service. Sometimes I re-read the Gospel all the way through, just to get the sense of it... So I find instruction every time, and there is something that is just so marvellous about it.”
The former PM went on the identify the parable of the sower as the “passage I always go back to in a time of difficulty… the absolute heart of it is that you are given certain abilities and gifts, and it is an obligation, it’s a duty to use those. They are God-given and you should use them to the best of your ability, and the person who simply hides away from the world is not the person who’s doing God’s work.”
When Gumbel asked if he was right not to talk about God much when he was in office, Blair explained that he had ignored Campbell’s advice not to mention his faith in a press interview when he was leader of the opposition. Having made clear to the journalist that he was not saying if you are a Christian you have to vote Labour, the resulting headline was, ‘Vote Labour, Blair tells Christians’. “So [Campbell] said to me afterwards, ‘I told you. Maybe next time you’ll listen’.”
Campbell, the former newspaper editor, told Blair in no uncertain terms that talking about God was political suicide. I’m frustrated that it’s only now that the former PM feels able to talk openly about his faith. It says a lot about our culture, and in particular our media, that most high profile British Christians in politics feel they must downplay or keep quiet about something so central to who they are, in order to avoid caricature, hostility and misrepresentation.
A couple of years ago I went with my youngest son (a big Hammers supporter) to Upton Park – home of West Ham United, who were playing Portsmouth (my team). Sitting among a sea of West Ham claret and blue shirts, scarves and hats, I kept my blue and white colours well hidden to avoid verbal abuse and possibly much worse. Not easy when your team has just scored! Owning up to an allegiance that is different from the majority can be suppressed through embarrassment and fear.
I’m not criticising Tony Blair for his silence. With less at stake I sometimes keep my head down. But I refuse to beat myself up and so should you. Our enemy, the father of lies, wants us to shut up and then wants to heap condemnation on us for our failures. Instead, I invite you to join me in my oftrepeated prayer:
“Lord Jesus, show me where you are at work today. I want to cooperate with what your Spirit is doing. Help me to be sensitive to you and the people I meet today. Please forgive me for the times I wimp out. Please give me the grace and courage to act, speak or just ‘be’ the person you want me to be today.”
To read or watch more of Nicky Gumbel’s interview with Tony Blair, log on to www.htb.org.uk