The Foundation which bears my name and which I began less than a year ago is dedicated to achieving understanding, action and reconciliation between the different faiths for the common good. It is not about the faith that looks inward; but the faith that resolutely turns us towards each other.
Bringing the faith communities together fulfils an objective important to all of us, believers and non-believers.
But as someone of faith, this is not enough. I believe restoring religious faith to its rightful place, as the guide to our world and its future, is itself of the essence. The 21st Century will be poorer in spirit, meaner in ambition, less disciplined in conscience, if it is not under the guardianship of faith in God.
I do not mean by this to blur the correct distinction between the realms of religious and political authority. In Britain we are especially mindful of this. 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". 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 distain: "Really, Prime Minister, this is not America you know."
Neither do I decry the work of humanists, who give gladly of themselves for others and who can often shame the avowedly religious. Those who do God’s work are God’s people.
I only say that there are limits to humanism and beyond those limits God and only God can work. The phrase "fear of God" conjures up the vengeful God of parts of the Old Testament. But "fear of God" means really obedience to God; humility before God; acceptance through God that there is something bigger, better and more important than you. It is that humbling of man’s vanity, that stirring of conscience through God’s prompting, that recognition of our limitations, that faith alone can bestow.
We can perform acts of mercy, but only God can lend them dignity. We can forgive, but only God forgives completely in the full knowledge of our sin.
And only through God comes grace; and it is God’s grace that is unique.
John Newton, who had been that most obnoxious of things, a slave-trader, wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace".
"Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved."
It is through faith, by the Grace of God, that we have the courage to live as we should and die as we must.
When I was Prime Minister I had cause often to reflect on leadership. Courage in leadership is not simply about having the nerve to take difficult decisions or even in doing the right thing since oftentimes God alone knows what the right thing is.
It is to be in our natural state – which is one of nagging doubt, imperfect knowledge, and uncertain prediction – and to be prepared nonetheless to put on the mantle of responsibility and to stand up in full view of the world, to step out when others step back, to assume the loneliness of the final decision-maker, not sure of success but unsure of it.
And it is in that "not knowing" that the courage lies.
And when in that state, our courage fails, our faith can support it, lift it up, keep it from stumbling.
As you begin your leadership of this great country, Mr President, you are fortunate, as is your nation, that you have already shown in your life, courage in abundance. But should it ever be tested, I hope your faith can sustain you. And your family. The public eye is not always the most congenial.
I was reminded of this, as I waited in London in the snow to fly to America and made the mistake of reading a British newspaper. It was the very conservative Daily Telegraph. A few days ago I gave an interview in which I remarked how much cleverer my wife was than me. The Telegraph has a famous letters page. In it was a letter from a correspondent that read something like: "Dear Sir, with reference to your headline ‘Blair admits wife more intelligent than him’, I fail to see why this is news. Most of us have known this for a long time." As a PS perhaps: "the bar, however, has not been set high".
I finish where I began: in the Holy Land, at Mount Nebo in Jordan, where Moses gazed on the Promised Land. There is a chapel there, built by pilgrims in the 4th Century. The sermon was preached by an American, who spent his life as an airline pilot and then, after his wife’s death, took holy orders. His words are the words of a Christian but they speak to all those of faith, who want God’s grace to guide their life.
He said this:
"While here on earth, we need to make a vital decision … whether to be mere spectators, or movers and shakers for the Kingdom of God… whether to stay among the curious, or take up a cross. And this means: no standing on the sidelines … We’re either in the game or we’re not. I sometimes ask myself the question: If I were to die today, what would my life have stood for… The answer can’t be an impulsive one, and we all need to count the cost before we give an answer. Because to be able to say yes to one thing, means to say no to many others. But we must also remember, that the greatest danger is not impulsiveness, but inaction."
It is fitting at this extraordinary moment in your country’s history that we hear that call to action; and we pray that in acting we do God’s work and follow God’s will.
And by the way, God bless you all.