Perilous Times and Building The One World
Tony Blair courts controversial US pastor Rick Warren in bid to unite
all faiths into a One World Religion
Former prime minister builds network of religious allies as he prepares
to launch a one world religious 'offensive' in North America
* Jamie Doward and Paul Harris
* The Observer, Sunday 14 March 2010
Tony Blair is preparing to launch a "faith offensive" across the United
States over the next year, after building up a one world religious
relationships with a network of influential religious leaders and faith
With Afghanistan and Iraq casting a shadow over his popularity at home
in Britain, Blair's focus has increasingly shifted across the Atlantic,
to where the nexus of faith and power is immutable and he is feted like
a rock star.
According to the annual accounts of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, a
UK-based charity that promotes cohesion between the major faiths, the
foundation is to develop a US arm that will pursue a host of
faith-based projects. The accounts show that his foundation has an
impressive – and, in at least one case, controversial – set of faith
contacts. Sitting on some £4.5m in funds as of April last year, mostly
gathered through donations, it is now well placed to make its voice
The foundation's advisory council of religious leaders includes Rick
Warren, powerful founder of the California-based Saddleback church. It
attracts congregations of nearly 20,000 and is reportedly one of the
largest in the US. Warren, who has addressed the UN and the World
Economic Forum in Davos, has been named one of the "15 world leaders
who matter most" and one of the "100 most influential people in the
His influence was confirmed in December 2008 when Barack Obama chose
him to give the invocation at his presidential inauguration. But the
decision angered many liberals, who see Warren as an opponent of gay
rights and abortion on demand; a prominent alliance with Warren is
likely to attract similar attacks on the former British prime minister.
Also on the council is David Coffey, president of the Baptist World
Alliance (BWA), a Virginia-based network of churches that spans the
globe and is particularly active in the US.
Another initiative has been to team up with the Belinda Stronach
Foundation in Toronto. Unknown in the UK, Stronach, daughter of a
Canadian billionaire, is hugely influential in Canada where as a
philanthropist, businesswoman and former politician she has served in
both the Conservative and Liberal parties. Attractive and barely into
her 40s, media commentators have dubbed her "bubba's blonde", a
reference to her friendship with Bill Clinton.
According to the accounts, Blair intends to open an office in Toronto
to develop the relationship.
His desire for North America to be the focus of his faith-based
operations was confirmed by the decision to hold his foundation's
inaugural event in May 2008 in New York, for the "charity's key
partners and religious stakeholders".
The accounts also shine a light on the close connections the foundation
now enjoys with major political institutions in the US. "With the
Washington-based Centre for Interfaith Action, the foundation supported
a meeting of major international organisations active in faith-based
approaches to combating malaria (plus the White House, World Bank, UN,
World Health Organisation) to co-ordinate international efforts," the
That Blair, a charismatic politician driven by faith, should be at home
across the Atlantic is no surprise to political analysts. "He comes
across as confident and persuasive," said Professor Shawn Bowler, of
the University of California at Riverside. "He does not talk like a
modern robo-candidate in the way so many US political figures do."
Unlike in the UK, Blair's religious fervour is seen as a strength.
"Blair is very open about his faith and that plays a lot better in the
US than in Britain," Bowler said.
But the overtly religious dimension has drawn criticism. "The Tony
Blair Faith Foundation is a fundamentally flawed concept," said Terry
Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society. "If religion is
constantly at the fore, then the old suspicions and hatreds will
continue to fester."
Other North American faith-based initiatives endorsed by the foundation
include the New York-based Global Nomads Group, which brings together
young people through video conferences "to discuss the global issues
that affect their lives", and the Faiths Act Fellowship, which selects
"30 young leaders aged 18-25, drawn from the different faiths from the
US, UK and Canada, to embark on a 10-month journey of interfaith
Blair's status is such that he is now called on to sprinkle stardust at
religious gatherings, such as a speech he delivered at the National
Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Even his autobiography, The Journey,
for which he was paid a £4.6m advance, appears to be aimed at the US
market. "Tony Blair is an extremely popular figure in North America,"
said Sonny Mehta, his publisher. "His memoir is refreshing, both for
its candour and vivid portrayal of political life."
So embedded is he that Blair regularly crops up in Washington society
diaries. Last September, the former Republican vice-president, Dick
Cheney, was dining in the same restaurant. Blair got top billing in the
Revealing A One World Church Under Antichrist!