“There is no doubt we face profound economic challenges. We now need stability and unity, and I will make it my utmost priority to bring my party and country together.” This was the promise made Monday by Rishi Sunak, who today will become Britain’s third prime minister in seven weeks. As the New York Times reports, Sunak will also be the youngest prime minister in two centuries and the first person of Hindu faith to achieve the UK’s highest elected office.
However, the new prime minister faces a personal challenge that his predecessors did not: his personal wealth is more than double that of King Charles III, constituting what may be the first time in history that the residents of Downing Street are richer than those of Buckingham Palace.
Here’s why this is a problem: Sunak has ascended to his nation’s highest office at a time when the UK has more food banks than McDonald’s and many are being forced to choose between eating and heating their homes. Critics fear that Sunak cannot identify with the people he will lead and the rising challenges they face.
The new prime minister wants to lead Britain to “stability and unity,” but as Cornel West noted, “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people.” I would amend his wise observation: You cannot lead the people if they don’t believe you love them. No matter your claims to care about their challenges and empathize with their pain, if they consider you to be out of touch with their world, they’ll conclude that you cannot understand their problems.
And if you cannot understand a problem, you cannot solve it.
Is America “irredeemably woke”?
This fact helps explain America’s growing political animosity.
According to a new poll reported by NBC News, “80 percent of Democrats and Republicans believe the political opposition opposes a threat that, if not stopped, will destroy America as we know it.” In his latest Dispatch article, David French explains the two “sides” of this conflict in ways that underscore the deep cultural chasm bisecting our national soul.
He reports that the far left believes “America was a racist, colonial power. It began as a slave empire, expanded through conquest and genocide, and then—even as it cast itself as a liberator in the world wars and Cold War—propped up vicious tyrants in the name of liberty.
“In this telling, all of the bad aspects of American history were highlighted, amplified, sometimes exaggerated or even fabricated, and then repeated endlessly to create a picture of a nation in whose DNA racism and conquest were inescapably imprinted. The solution to the crisis of America’s past and present was nothing less than revolution—a dismantling of America’s classic liberal founding and its replacement with illiberal structures that used the force of law and government to uproot entrenched power structures and re-order society from the top down.”
By contrast, the far right “sees America as irredeemably woke. All of the institutions of American life are ‘captured’ by the left—from the academy, to corporate America, to the military, to pop culture. Even our churches and religious schools are infected by wokeism.”
Neither side understands the other or wants to resolve this conflict through compassion and compromise. To the contrary, French writes, “The radical left seethes with fury at the America that was and believes that the America that is cannot escape its horrific past, at least not without revolutionary change. The radical right longs for the America that was, loathes the America that is, and believes the America that will be is doomed, at least not without revolutionary change.”
Three quintessential Roman qualities
What both sides are missing is the theological fact that humans cannot change human nature. If either side of our political divide got everything they wanted, our deepest problems would remain. This is because we are at our most primal level fallen sinners (Romans 3:23) who desperately need redemption and transformation we cannot effect (cf. Jeremiah 17:9).
A drowning man cannot save other drowning victims, much less himself.
The ancient Romans tried. In his remarkable biography of Julius Caesar I referenced yesterday, historian Adrian Goldsworthy reports that “what it meant to be Roman” included “such quintessentially Roman qualities as dignitas, pietas, and virtus.” Dignitas was “the sober bearing that displayed openly the importance and responsibility of a man and so commanded respect.” Pietas “embraced not merely respect for the gods, but for family and parents and the law and traditions of the Republic.” Virtus embraced “not simply physical bravery, but confidence, moral courage, and the skills required by both soldier and commander.”
Dignity, piety, and virtue are admirable foundation stones on which to build a flourishing society. But as Roman history proves, humans are incapable of exercising these values consistently. The Republic gave way to an Empire that eventually collapsed when its external enemies proved stronger than its internal character.
Will America suffer the same fate?
“We are ambassadors for Christ”
Today’s conversation underscores the urgent need for our secularized culture to turn to the God who alone can transform our sinful hearts and heal our divided nation. Remember his promise: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17, my emphasis).
Our role in such transformation is clear: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (vv. 18–19).
As a result, “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (v. 20).
An ambassador “lives in a foreign country and represents his or her own country’s interests there.”
By this definition, will you be an ambassador for Christ today?