Thursday, February 24, 2011

Report on Low Christian Divorce Rates: Deceptive Math

The Baptist news and blog world is abuzz with a new report that refutes the common "myth" that Christians get divorced a lot. It's been a great embarrassment to conservative Christians that for all their talk of family values and morality, they actually get divorced more than average. It was so bad that the Southern Baptist Convention even held a serious debate and adopted a resolution to try to address the problem.

But now this new study claims to refute the high-Christian-divorce-rate myth. The study purports to show that divorce rates actually go down as people become more and more devout Christians. The more they pray together, attend church together and are committed to God, the less likely they are to be divorced.

But hang on a minute there ... don't they have the cart before the horse?

The study's authors claim that they've taken into account all sorts of confounding factors, such as age, income and education. But what they failed to take into account is Christianity itself.

This study doesn't prove that Christians stay married. It's just as likely that Christianity drives people away who are having marital problems. The only ones left are the blissfully married Christians! And then along comes a statistician who starts counting noses, and lo and behold, devout Christians have a low divorce rate.

Big surprise.

Conservative Christian churches are very judgmental about divorce. They believe and teach that marriage is forever and that divorce is wrong. Consider this preacher's view that I found on Yahoo Answers (it's not official, but typical):
"God said that He hates divorce. If there were serious circumstances such as abuse, then separation would be necessary. However, divorce between covenant spouses is not allowable. Divorce between covenant spouses (meaning first marriage for both) is absolutely wrong. God himself said that He hates divorce.
So this preacher would tell an abused wife first of all that she should try to stay with her abuser, but if he is too evil, she can be celibate and lonely for the rest of her life. That's what God wants.

Would you blame such a woman if she stopped praying?

Or what about a man who just caught his wife cheating for the third time ... after going through Christian counseling twice before? Is he supposed to just forgive her and hope she doesn't do it a fourth time? His only choice is to separate and stay celibate and lonely for the rest of his life. And if he remarries, he will be stigmatized for the rest of his life.

Not all churches are this restrictive, but it is fair to say that virtually all conservative Christian churches, including the "mother" Roman Catholic Church, strongly discourage divorce. They teach that marriage isn't just a civil union, it's also a covenant with God, and covenants with God should never be broken. A couple that is facing divorce, no matter what the reason, encounters strenuous opposition from their church and fellow churchgoers.

The problem is that people do get divorced, as they should. We make mistakes, we get fooled, and people change and grow apart. It's absurd to think that in our early twenties, when most of us first marry, that every single one of us is mature enough and wise enough to select the right partner for life.

Conservative Christian men and women who are facing divorce are in a doubly bad situation. Their marriage is horrible, yet if they go to the church for help, they're going to be told that it's their duty and God's will that they stay married. They're often told that prayer and religious counseling will solve all their problems. So they try ... and try and try. And the terrible marriage gets worse. And when they finally divorce and remarry, they're told their second marriage is adultery, an offense against God.

Is it any surprise that people who are contemplating divorce or who are actually divorced are more likely to have abandoned prayer and lost faith?

Quite the contrary. It would be surprising to find that they hadn't.

So I'm not putting much stock in this new claim that devout Christians get divorced less than the general population. Conservative Christians drive out many of the people with bad marriages, leaving behind skewed stastics.

What's particularly sad is that the ones who lose their faith are the very people who needed help the most. In their time of need, their minister, preacher or pastor told them that divorce was a sin, that God wouldn't forgive them for divorcing, and that their only moral option was either to stay in a terrible marriage or stay lonely and celibate for life. That's a cruel blow delivered at the worst possible time.

So don't be fooled by this new study that claims to bust the myth of Christian divorce. It does nothing of the sort.

(See also: Divorce: Why Christians Don't Care About YOU.)


  1. If there's one thing Freakonomics taught me, it's to make sure that I'm being skeptical of anything presented to me as a study. Correlation is NOT causation. And as you've pointed out, it's quite possible that committed couples feel more accepted and appreciated at religious institutions and are therefore more likely to feel more in tune with their religion and local religious community. After all, if your marrige is falling apart, do you go to a place that tells you how bad it is, where gossip runs rampant and "happy couples" can look down on your impending sin? Or do you pull back some?

    The numbers in and of themselves are a starting point for discussion, not the conclusion to an argument.

    It's excerpts like the Yahoo! Answer one you provided that make me rub my temple and sigh. The Magical Sky Man doesnt' want you to get divorced. He wants you to be punished for the rest of your life, and possibly afterlife, if you married the wrong person. What a nice guy.

  2. So let me summarize:

    Christian couple gets married
    Man cheats on wife
    Woman wants to but can't divorce
    Man asks jesus for forgiveness for his sins

    Man cheats on wife
    Woman wants to but can't divorce
    Man asks jesus for forgiveness for his sins

    Repeat indefinitely

  3. Let me get this straight... you know Christianity has nothing to do with the couples staying together and it must be Christianity runs away those with marital problems, or else they just don't get divorced due to social stigma, because you have a mountain of evidence...right?

    The really odd thing is that you think of Divorce as a sin in Christian Eyes. But the last time I checked, people in the Baptist Church don't look down their noses at Divorcee's, many Pastors are Divorced, and remain respected, and simply put Divorce is not itself seen as sinful, just tragic.

    It seems to me that you simply want to argue against the results of this study because you prefer to believe that Christians have a high divorce rate. And even according to the old Stats this was a Myth, Christians didn’t get divorced at a much higher rate than the general populace, and if filtered by specific Church certain ones got divorced a lot less often. EG, Lutherans, who never had a big problem with Divorce, stayed together far more often than did Pentecostals.

    It just strikes me that people of your religion, yes I know you “Have no religion” because you’re an Atheist, just cant stand the thought that Christianity can produce any good, so any time someone says it does, or can help, you have to find an alternate explanation to fit your prejudices.

    Otherwise, you’d have shown evidence for your claims, not just presented speculation and called that “reason”.

    You have nothing here but your hatred and desire to prove your own Religious Dogmas true, and one of those is “Christianity Sucks”. Always trying to explain things away to fit your own desires doesn’t really strike me as advanced though.

  4. Something No-One seems to be looking at. Who is a saved Christian? Someone who asks Jesus into his heart and tries to follow the Christian way. A saved person! When you ask you have to mean what you ask for. Words are words and only Jesus and the person asking for forgiveness knows if it’s true. I would say if you cheat and cheat and cheat you did not mean what you asked for and therefore not a saved Christian. Many people say there Christian but most don't really know what it means. Why do you think we have all these false teaching churches popping up all over? Read the bible daily, learn it, and discuss it with your clergy. This is just my thoughts in the matter.


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