St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages
David French aptly describes the depth and breadth of division in the U.S. He has done the research that makes abundantly clear what earlier writers called “the big sort.” Blue tends to blue and red tends to red in every area of this nation’s life. Our economy is based on this fact as well as our communal and cultural life — including our congregational life. Though some speak of “purple” communities, they too are only incidences of red and blue at an uneasy truce, often with church leaders managing a pot of simmering conflict. Parishioners listen more for hints of the preacher’s political proclivities than to the call of God in Jesus Christ. The research and the examples are impressive, if also sorrowful and more than a little daunting. French is honest that the path forward to preserve the nation is not guaranteed. The forces on the left and right calling for secession are growing. They resemble similar movements in denominations that are breaking apart into the equivalent of red and blue theological perspectives. The nation nearly split before; will it do so again? Once unlikely, it is now a real possibility. French’s solution is a renewed form of federalism — something that Presbyterians might remember as the “local control” option for a divided denomination. While perhaps easy to dismiss, he deserves great respect for offering a creative and honest approach to a serious problem. Rooted in the original American documents, French believes a renewed practice of federalism combined with the Bill of Rights provides an alternative to secession. He acknowledges it’s a long shot, but one worth taking. “Is there hope for an actual movement focused around mutual forbearance? Given all the trends … the honest answer is ‘probably not.’ But it isn’t ‘certainly not.’ There is at least a little bit of hunger for American grace and American tolerance.” I hope he is right. His book deserves a good discussion.