By Dr. James Emery White, Crosswalk.com
Foreign Affairs, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, recently celebrated its centennial issue. Since it was first published in 1922, thousands of articles have helped shape the course of U.S. foreign policy and international relations. It is said that even Bolshevik revolutionary Vladimir Lenin was an avid reader.
So what theme was selected for this landmark issue?
“The Age of Uncertainty.”
It’s not hard to see why, certainly on the international relations front. Consider the titles of some of the articles filling its pages:
“The China Trap: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Perilous Logic of Zero-Sum Competition”
“The World Putin Wants: How Distortions About the Past Feed Delusions About the Future”
“Ukraine Holds the Future: The War Between Democracy and Nihilism”
“Spirals of Delusion: How AI Distorts Decision Making and Makes Dictators More Dangerous”
This mood isn’t just reflected on the international front, but on the domestic front as well. Just a few months before the issue landed, I read an article in the Washington Post with a similar theme, titled “‘Nothing Feels Safe:’ Americans Are Divided, Anxious and Quick to Panic.”
The article went beyond the fear and paranoia related to mass shootings, where any sound of “pop, pop, pop” can send thousands running. “There is a fundamental national insecurity now, after a perfect storm of social chaos where covid forced us to stay apart and the killing of George Floyd unleashed a movement that broke trust in the people who protect us,” quoting Thane Rosenbaum, a professor who runs the Forum on Life, Culture and Society at Touru University in New York. “We’re in a moral panic: ‘Will anyone pick up the phone if I call for help?’”
This section of the article was most telling:
“Although the country has suffered through far higher crime rates and similar periods of deep political division, ‘we’re in uncharted territory in terms of anxiety,’ said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum and a former Boston police official. ‘With the George Floyd murder, war in Ukraine, the questioning of elections, people don’t know who to trust.’”
So, with the “age of uncertainty” comes the “age of anxiety”—and both coupled with loss of trust. Or as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote in The Atlantic, “We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth.” Or as Fisher himself notes, increasingly separated by
“media diets and social connections, Americans have lost trust in each other and in the institutions and authorities that have traditionally brought people together, including government, police, schools, scientists and other experts, and faith and business leaders.”
Is there any way forward? That is, bracketing off the leading contender, which would be the return of Christ.
One of the articles in the centennial edition of Foreign Affairs, “The Dangerous Decade,” written by Richard Haas, the President of the Council on Foreign Relations, explores the many challenges facing the United States at this critical juncture in history, such as the revival of great-power competition, imperial ambitions and fights over resources. He outlines the many challenges that come with Russia headed by a tyrant and China’s quest for regional and potential global primacy. He then reminds us that these challenges are colliding with complex new challenges, such as climate change, pandemics and nuclear proliferation. As if this were not enough, America itself is in a state of disarray. And it was his words on this final challenge I found the most compelling:
“Ultimately, however, the biggest risk to U.S. security in the decade to come is to be found in the United States itself. A country divided against itself cannot stand; nor can it be effective in the world, as a factious United States will not be viewed as a reliable or predictable partner or leader. Nor will it be able to tackle its domestic challenges. Bridging the country’s divisions will take sustained effort on the part of politicians, educators, religious leaders, and parents.”
It’s time for all of us to get to work.
James Emery White
Foreign Affairs, September/October 2022. See foreignaffairs.com.
Marc Fisher, “‘Nothing Feels Safe:’ Americans Are Divided, Anxious and Quick to Panic,” The Washington Post, July 5, 2022, read online.
Jonathan Haidt, “ Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” The Atlantic, April 11, 2022, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president.
His latest book, After “I Believe,” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture Podcast.