Do Christians have a lower rate of divorce than non-Christians?

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

It’s common, in discussions about marriage, divorce, and family matters, to hear the claim that Christian marriages have the same divorce rate as non-Christian ones—the point being that Christians don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to critiquing social policies related to marriage and family. But is that true, or just a myth that’s been repeated so many times we’ve accepted it?

Glenn Stanton has attracted attention over the last week with an essay claiming that Christians do, in fact, average a significantly lower divorce rate than non-Christians:

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, explains from his analysis of people who identify as Christians but rarely attend church, that 60 percent of these have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, 38 percent have been divorced.

Other data from additional sociologists of family and religion suggest a significant marital stability divide between those who take their faith seriously and those who do not.

Stanton makes it clear that it’s “serious Christianity” (church attendance and involvement, among other things) and not just “nominal Christianity” (saying you’re a Christian, but not doing anything to demonstrate it) that makes the difference.

That’s welcome news, if true. I don’t have any evidence to suggest this is or isn’t true, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that an oft-quoted “known fact” like this, almost always stated without citing any evidence, turns out to be untrue. But don’t use this in your social-policy discussions quite yet; at least one blogger finds Stanton’s essay unconvincing. The Confessing Evangelical blog thinks the lower divorce rates might just as easily be explained by other factors, not just “serious religious behavior:”

Most of the behaviours that Stanton attributes to “serious disciples” are likely to be associated with other behaviours or circumstances that may be shared by non-Christians. “Attending church nearly every week” and “praying privately and together” suggest a settled, stable family life, and a regular working pattern (no having to work shifts on Sunday, for example). “Reading their Bibles and spiritual materials regularly” suggests a certain level of literacy and of regularity of routine.

In short, what Stanton is describing is a happy, bourgeois family lifestyle in which people work regular hours, married couples spend significant quality time together (whether that’s praying together or just talking to one another), weekends are devoted to family activities (whether that’s going to church or to the park) and individuals have the time and mental energy to read books and think about their lives.

Without having read the sources from which Stanton’s argument is derived, I’m inclined to err on the side of caution and be skeptical of his claims. But to be honest, I was struck less by the question of who has the lower divorce rates than by the most optimistic Christian divorce rate cited: 38%. That number might be 5% or 25% lower than the non-Christian divorce rate, but it’s still a horrifyingly high percentage. When it comes to promoting healthy families and marriages, we’ve got our work cut out for us no matter who’s right.

Nine out of 10 Church Leaders Approve of Contraception

Monday, July 12th, 2010

A recent survey found that 90% of evangelicals in the NAE are okay with contraception. These days it’s probably not the most surprising survey result, but I can’t help but wonder how the results would have been 50 years ago around when the Pill first hit the streets in the US.

Here’s an excerpt from the Christian Post article:

The National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 churches in the United States, released a report Tuesday showing that nearly 90 percent approve of contraception.

Several leaders, however, expressed opposition to drugs or procedures that terminate a pregnancy once conception has taken place.

“Most associate evangelicals with Catholics in their steady leadership in pro-life advocacy, and rightly so,” said Leith Anderson, president of the NAE, in a statement. “But it may come as a surprise that unlike the Catholic church, we are open to contraception.”

Evangelicals in the pews hold similar views. A 2009 poll conducted by the NAE in partnership with Gallup, Inc., found that at least 90 percent of evangelicals say hormonal/barrier methods of contraception are morally acceptable for adults.

Surveyed leaders in the most recent poll said the purpose of sex is not limited to procreation but it extends to the consummation and expression of love within marriage.

Read the rest of the article at christianpost.com.

Whenever the question of contraception is raised in the context of Christian faith, I think of organizations like Quiverfull. One of their basic beliefs is that using contraception is taking control away from God and therefore wrong. It’s interesting to contrast Quiverfull’s theology with results from the NAE surveys. Both sides argue from the Bible. Both come to very different conclusions.

What do you think? Would you side with the majority of the NAE respondents or do you hold to a different view?

Is God a matchmaker?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Does God have a particular person chosen to be your spouse?

This idea has been used for years to comfort despondent Christians who worry that they’ll never find Mr. or Mrs. Right, and given that we believe God to be all-knowing and all-powerful, there’s a certain sense in thinking that He’s got somebody picked out for us all.

But if you think about that idea for a while, some questions and problems present themselves. If God has somebody “picked out” for you, should you actively search for said person, or trust that God will bring them into your life? How do you know if somebody is “the one”? And what about the gift of singleness?

Here’s how Nehemiah Ministries answers the question:

[In 1 Corinthians,] Paul stops short of guaranteeing that God will provide a spouse to anyone who wants one. Neither here nor anywhere else does Paul—or any biblical writer—lock God into a required response to any human need. There is always the possibility that God will choose not to meet a need directly but to give the grace to live contentedly with unfulfilled desires, a point Paul stresses in his second letter to this church (2 Cor 12:7-10).

Still Paul puts the accent on hope in his teaching on marriage, and throughout his writings urges us toward faith in a God who provides all of our needs in Jesus Christ (Phil 4:19). If you want to be married, you certainly have reason to stay hopeful that God will provide someone to meet that need unless he changes your desire or in some clear way shuts the door.

Again, it is important as you maintain this hope to keep your expectations within reasonable bounds. If you’re thinking, “God has one ideal choice for me,” you may be setting your standards for that person impossibly high. When we consider the perspective on God’s role which was in Paul’s mind as he wrote 1 Corinthians 7, it seems to be not “God has one ideal person for you to marry”—but “God will help you find a suitable partner.” This is usually a more edifying thought to dwell on. The person whom he gives you to marry will have imperfections and failings, just as you do. Still that person will complement you in a way that will work for your greater happiness and a more fruitful life together for Christ.

Read the rest of “Is God a Matchmaker?” at Nehemiah Ministries.

What do you think? Is God a matchmaker? Does this idea fit with, or go against, your own experience?

What do you think?

Building up your marriage on Valentine’s Day

Friday, February 13th, 2009

A lot of Valentine’s Day material focuses on the early stages of a romantic relationship: initial courtship or dating, with some discussion of engagement or marriage. But for millions of people, the focus of Valentine’s Day isn’t a first date or schoolyard crush, but an everyday marriage relationship that has seen its ups and downs over months, years, or decades of married life.

To help husbands and wives think through their marriage relationship this Valentine’s Day, I can’t think of a better resource that ACTS International’s collection of essays about marriage and family relationships. Here are a few highlights:

  • The Art of Staying in Love: is there hope for a marriage relationship after the “honeymoon wears off” and the intensity of romantic love starts to fade? Richard Innes describes what true love looks like in your marriage—love doesn’t begin and end with that butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling.
  • Living Again After Divorce: it might seem wrong to talk about divorce on Valentine’s Day, but it’s a reality for countless people. If Valentine’s Day brings with it bitter memories about a divorce or broken relationship, this essay can help you gain perspective.
  • Building a Healthy Marriage hits on some similar themes, encouraging husbands and wives to work on growing in love rather than just falling in love. See also Seven Secrets for a Successful Marriage, which has lots of practical advice.

Looking for (Biblically sound) love on Valentine’s Day

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

As trivial as it might seem compared to “real” holidays like Christmas and Easter, Valentine’s Day can be alternately exciting and terrifying. Although several years of marriage have given me a new perspective on relationships and this particular holiday, I remember well the weirdness of being single on Valentine’s Day: if you’re in a relationship, it prompts all sorts of deep and difficult questions about love and commitment; and if you’re not in a romantic relationship, Valentine’s Day is at best an annoyance to be skipped past and forgotten as quickly as possible.

But whether you’re enjoying your 40th year of marriage or are planning to stay home and watch the NBA Dunk Contest by yourself this Saturday, it’s still worth taking a few minutes to consider the Bible’s teachings about love and relationships. One of the most thoughtful Christian writers I know on this topic is Blaine Smith of Nehemiah Ministries. Here are two essays that will get you thinking this Valentine’s Day:

  • Is God a Matchmaker? Written with singles in mind, this essay tackles an oft-repeated but somewhat dubious claim: that God has picked out one perfect person for you to marry. So are you supposed to sit back and wait for God to bring that person into your life—and how would you even recognize the “right” person? Blaine finds the message behind this idea a bit troubling, and has some good suggestions for singles intimidated by the prospect of finding Mr. or Mrs. Right.
  • The Compassion Factor: what does real love look like? It doesn’t always bear much resemblance to the love on display in books, movies, and popular culture. If our expectations about love are unrealistic, we risk failing to recognize it when it appears.

Both of these essays are from Blaine’s book Should I Get Married?, which despite the title is not just for couples considering marriage; it’s a good all-around book about Biblical relationships and romantic love. Enjoy—and have a good Valentine’s Day!

What does the Bible teach about gender roles?

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Many theological issues and questions within Christianity have sparked debate and argument over the centuries, but few bits of theology have as much of a practical, everyday effect on our relationships as the Bible’s teaching on the respective social roles of men and women. At the Been Thinking About blog, Mart De Haan has posted his reflections on what the Bible tells us about gender roles. Does the Bible dictate that women should submit to male authority? Mart notes that “the Bible has slowly developed a reputation for being on the side of men who want to treat women as sexual property and assistants rather than as equals”:

As in the case of so many political and social issues, there are scholars, and studied opinions on both sides. Some believe that the most important statement the Bible makes about gender is found in the words of the Apostle Paul when he writes that, in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Others argue just as emphatically that the same Apostle Paul encouraged wives to learn quietly in church (1Cor 14:34), and at home, to be submissive to their husbands, as unto the Lord (Eph 5:22). In another letter Paul adds, “I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1Cor 11:2).

The post generated quite a bit of reader discussion, so De Haan followed up with second post reflecting further on the topic. If the famous Bible passage about submission to one’s husband has you wondering about the Bible’s teachings on gender roles, these posts and the discussions offer a lot of good food for thought.

Valentine’s Day help for your relationships

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

Love is in the air today, whether you’re planning a romantic date with your significant other tonight, or are eagerly waiting for the holiday to be over and done with. There are a lot of useful articles and resources at Gospel.com about sex, marriage, dating, and relationships, and today seems a perfect time to highlight some of them. Here are some Valentine’s-themed items to get you thinking:

That’s a lot of reading to do between now and tonight. But even after the romance of Valentine’s Day has come and goes, much of this material can help you keep your relationships healthy and Christ-centered. Have a happy Valentine’s Day!