My Date with Tony Blair

It was an evening of taboos. There I was, a young twenty-something, talking faith and politics deep into the night with the former denizen of 10 Downing Street, who also happens to be a married Catholic.

A dangerous, exhilirating evening, except for one snag: Tony (may I call him Tony?) wasn't there. And he has no idea who I am. Oh, and I was only sitting on my couch reading this Time article about his "leap of faith." But it didn't matter. I sure felt like we were conducting an intoxicating spiritual affair. Why? Because he is unafraid to be faithful, and eager to have it inform his life's work. And that's hot.

Let me give you the context for this drooling. I'm writing this post as a religious and politically engaged American who is aggravated at the use (or misuse) of religion in the American political spectrum. For me, this coin has two sides:

1. American politicians who sometimes claim a spiritual life to court faithful constituents, but are not actually spiritual or religious.

2. American religious voters who sometimes fall so into lockstep with their religion's dogma that they miss the bigger political pictures or solutions.

Right now, side #1 is taking precedence. Bibles have been worn on sleeves for the past two terms. God is invoked in speeches. The religious right have been crucial advisors. Yet the policy decisions that have been made do not say "God" to me, at least not a God I know (exhibit A: war).

Now, I know not all leaders are religious and/or spiritual. That's fine. I don't expect them all to be. I also recognize our leaders are human, and that those who are spiritual are subject to human frailties and misgivings.

Believe me, I appreciate these facts of life. What I don't appreciate so much is the apparent mindset that simply saying you're religious -- or, god forbid, 'on God's side' -- automatically makes it so. And I recoil at the hypocrisy of feigning faith for political gain, and then following it up with policy that flies in the face of those previously espoused beliefs.

Faith takes work. It can take as much strength out of you as it puts back in -- so much so that you can see the wear and tear on a person. Consider it a mark of authenticity. And it's that seal, that brand, that's missing from many of our political leaders today.

That's why I was so struck with Tony's personal story -- his being forced to downplay his faith while Prime Minister, convert only after he left office, and wait until he was a free agent to pursue interfaith world affairs. He carries the battle scars of striving to live a faithful life in a very human world, on a very global scale.

This quote in particular should be blown up, framed, and mailed to all political, religious, and those-that-straddle-the-line leaders on the world stage today:

"You don't put a hotline up to God and get the answers," [Tony] says. At the same time, he plainly thinks his faith has helped him make tough decisions. "The worst thing in politics," he says, "is when you're so scared of losing support that you don't do what you think is the right thing. What faith can do is not tell you what is right but give you the strength to do it."

If more leaders understood this, maybe then I wouldn't be so aggravated.