An article written for the American Journal of Sociology has sparked debate concerning divorce rates within the evangelical community. A study done by Jennifer Glass from the University of Texas and Philip Levchat from the University of Iowa concluded conservative Protestantism is bad for marriage. Reasons stated are first, evangelicals encourage young marriage and more babies. Second, discourage higher education. Third, Evangelical presence in the community increases divorce.
Up to a point this is true. Their statistics, according to all counties in the United States, indicate where high concentrations of conservative Protestants exist, divorce rates are higher than the national average. The numbers indicate 17.2% of conservative white and 15.7% of conservative black Protestants are divorced while only 14% of all Americans are divorced. This was also confirmed by a Baylor University study done by Jeng Park, Joshua Tom and Brita Andercheck. Another fact indicated the southern states of Alabama and Arkansas were second and third worst with 13 divorces per 1000 couples whereas the liberal states of New Jersey and Massachusetts the rate was 6 and 7 per 1000.Further conclusions were purposed indicating restriction of sex until marriage and encouragement of large families make them marry early which is not the best for long term marriage.
While these statistics may be convincing, a flaw exists in the study which is quite convincing. For many years a statistical error has been circulating. ”You have a 50% chance or greater of divorcing, and Christian divorce is equally as high.” Bradley R.E. Wright, sociologist from the University of Connecticut states in his book, Christians are hate-filled hypocrites…and other lies you’ve been told: A sociologist shatters myths from the secular and Christian media the truth of what is really happening. Divorce rates of active Christians are lower than those unaffiliated with a religion. Protestant affiliation is treated synonymous with conservative Protestant faith, yet, no actual family or religious faith was measured and no link is made between faith and behavior. Sixty percent of apathetic Christians are divorced as compared to 38% of committed Christians. Young evangelicals are active in their faith. Active conservative Protestants are above average in marital stability even after an early marriage according to the Institute for Family Studies. The statistics have been distorted and God is effectively working through his people. Catholic couples are 31% less likely to divorce than the national average as are Protestants at 35% and Jews at 97%.
Religiously unaffiliated in the studied counties were the most likely to divorce. Their chance for divorce is three times greater than a Protestant. Religion is not the problem but secularism leads to more divorce among conservative Protestants. The real problem can be defined in the distinction between active and nominal conservative Christians. Those who never or rarely attend church are much more likely to divorce. Utah and North Dakota have very low divorce rates and highly intact two parent families. Couples who regularly attend church together are less likely to divorce. Of all divorces in the United States 12.4% are Catholics, 12.5% are mainline Protestants of the 14% who are divorced overall.
Rising cohabitation over the past several years has affected the divorce rate. While it has increased in all religious groups, the non-affiliated are the most likely to cohabitate. Catholics are least likely to do so and teens, who actively attend church and to whom their faith is important, are less likely to cohabitate. No statistics are kept on cohabitation break-ups but many will break up quickly and where approval of cohabitation exists, divorce declines. When no marriage exists due to cohabitation, divorce is nonexistent. Concentrations of conservative Protestants lowers cohabitation levels due to their faith influence and therefore reduces the divorce rate.
Mainstream sociologists agree that taking faith seriously in word and deed makes an extremely positive difference in health and longevity of a marriage. The factor is religious commitment and practice. These behaviors and attitudes include: weekly church attendance, reading the bible and spiritual materials, praying privately and together, or in other words, being serious disciples lowers the divorce rate as compared to apathetic church members, the general public or unbelievers.
Dr. Brad Wilcox, Director of the Marriage Project at the University of Virginia indicates that committed active conservative Protestants are 35% less likely to divorce than those with no affiliation and nominal believers are 20 % greater at risk of divorce than secular Americans.
Dr. Scott Stanley of the University of Denver states concerning his Oklahoma Marriage Study, “vibrant faith leads to higher levels and greater qualities which avoid divorce. He identifies them as, a. Commitment to partners, b. marital satisfaction, c. less thinking and talking of divorce and d. Lower levels of negative interaction.
No matter what level a marriage may be at, improvement can be experienced through a few changes. Regular church attendance together can be a good first step. Be open to share your feelings concerning the music and message with your spouse. This will improve communication and broaden that which you have in common. Church attendance sets an example for children and grandchildren. They learn a pattern which is expected of them and becomes part of their weekly routine.
The church community can be a resource of support through events and experiences of life. This includes marriage issues and life in general. Tragedy and crisis will come but others within the church community have experience similar events and can walk with you through them.
You can find an opportunity for service through the church community. Due to your experiences, you can be of service to others and walk with them. This can be done as an individual or with your spouse. Younger couples or individuals may need mentors, addressing needs which are common life issues.
Divorce does not have to be the automatic answer to marital crisis. It can be avoided through preventive measures. While some critics spell doom on the conservative Protestant marriage, hope is found in Jesus Christ. The community of his people found in the church can be an uplifting resource and prescription for a marriage. Jesus Christ needs to be the third member of every marriage.