Fact Checker: Divorce Rate Among Christians

By Glen T. Stanton

“Note: FactChecker is a monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

“Christians divorce at roughly the same rate as the world!”

It’s one of the most quoted stats by Christian leaders today. And it’s perhaps one of the most inaccurate.

At bottom, it is used to explain that Christians are not doing well in living out their faith. But it could also be taken as a statement that redemption by and real discipleship under Jesus makes no real difference when it comes to marriage.  But mainstream sociologists would tell us that taking one’s faith very seriously—in word and deed—does indeed make a marked positive difference in the health and longevity of marriage. Based on the best data available, the divorce rate among Christians is significantly lower than the general population.

Here’s the truth…

People who seriously practice a traditional religious faith—whether Christian or other—have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population.

The factor making the most difference is religious commitment and practice.

What appears intuitive is true. Couples who regularly practice any combination of serious religious behaviors and attitudes—attend church nearly every week, read their bibles and spiritual materials regularly; pray privately and together; generally take their faith seriously, living not as perfect disciples, but serious disciples—enjoy significantly lower divorce rates than mere church members, the general public, and unbelievers.

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.[1]

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

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that “active conservative Protestants” who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans.[2]

The following chart shows the relative risk of divorce by religious affiliation among Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish adherents. (Wilcox controlled for other socio-economic factors that impact marital health, thus providing a clearer, cleaner measure of the actual religious dynamic on marriage.)

 

Faith Affiliation

% Divorce Likelihood Reduction

Protestant – Nominal

20

 Protestant -Conservative

 

-10

Protestant – Active Conservative

 

-35

Catholic

-18

Catholic (nominal)

-5

Catholic – Active

-31

Jewish

39

Jewish (nominal)

53

Jewish – Active

-97

Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, working with an absolute all-star team of leading sociologists in the Oklahoma Marriage Study, explains that couples with a vibrant religious faith had higher and more levels of the qualities couples need to avoid divorce.

“Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction. These patterns held true when controlling for such important variables as income, education, and age at first marriage.”

These positive factors translated into actual lowered risk of divorce among active believers.

“Those who say they are more religious are less likely, not more, to have already experienced divorce. Likewise, those who report more frequent attendance at religious services were significantly less likely to have been divorced.”[3]

The Take-Away

These data indicate that the divorce rate among serious believers is not something to crow about. It is still higher than most of us are comfortable with.  But there is no reliable, mainstream social-science data that has this rate higher than the general population. Faith and discipleship do make a difference in our lives, but it doesn’t make all our problems go away.


[1] Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites …and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2010), p. 133.

[2] W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Williamson, “The Cultural Contradictions of Mainline Family Ideology and Practice,” in American Religions and the Family, edited by Don S. Browning and David A. Clairmont (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007) p. 50.

[3] C.A.  Johnson, S. M. Stanley, N.D. Glenn, P.A. Amato, S.L. Nock, H.J. Markman and M .R. Dion  Marriage in Oklahoma:  2001 Baseline Statewide Survey on Marriage and Divorce  (Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Human Services 2002) p. 25, 26.”

-Glenn T. Stanton, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/09/25/factchecker-divorce-rate-among-christians/

Fact Checker: The Cross As an Electric Chair?

by Glenn T. Stanton

“Note: FactChecker is a new monthly series in which Glenn T. Stanton examines claims, myths, and misunderstandings frequently heard in evangelical circles.

Have you ever heard a Christian writer, teacher, or pastor say something like the following?

“When Jesus told those who would follow him that they must ‘take up his cross daily’ this was like telling people today to take up their electric chairs and follow him.”

or

“For Christians to wear crosses around their necks is like us wearing a symbol of an electric chair.”

The analogy between the cross and an electric chair is intended to show that, while the cross has become a common and even sentimental symbol of Christianity today, in Christ’s day it was a harsh symbol of execution. Like an electric chair is today.

It is an important truth that Christians of every age remember about the cross. But the electric chair analogy actually deludes the point.

This comparison between the cross and old sparky was first made by an important theologian of the 1960s:Lenny Bruce. In a series of articles he serialized inPlayboy, later published in his 1967 posthumous book,How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Bruce observed,

If Jesus had been killed twenty years ago, Catholic school children would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks instead of crosses.

Cue the laughter. But the truth is, an electric chair and a cross are similar in only one way: each is designed to kill criminals. Otherwise, they are nothing alike.

The electric chair was created by the Edison Company in the late 1800s as a means to execute a prisoner faster and more humanely. Typically, the process—leading up to, during, and following our executions today—is carefully scripted and implemented to ensure the criminal dies with some dignity and as little suffering as possible.

The cross was designed and used to execute criminals in the slowest, most painful, agonizing, and humiliating way possible, reserved only for slave, pirates, and traitors. Being such an unspeakably horrifying way to die, Roman citizens were not subjected to it. Anyone hanging on a cross was of no value whatsoever. They were a curse. When Paul wrote to the Galatians about the nature of Christ’s death, they knew exactly what he was talking about because they knew what the cross signified.

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.'” (Gal. 3:13)

And the Corinthian Church understood what Paul meant when he declared:

. . . but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles . . .” (I Cor. 1:23)

It was indeed foolish and a stumbling block to those who heard the gospel to hear that one’s God ended up on a cross. It was absurd.

John Stott, in The Cross of Christ, quotes Cicero on how debased and unthinkable such a death was,

To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – What? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.

The earliest known depiction of the crucifixion of Christ is a graffito scratched into stone just years after the Gospel was first preached in Rome. Seen here, it is a rough sketch of a crucified man, but with the head of donkey. A young man has arm raised in reverence or worship. The letters etched below read “Alexamenos worships his god.”

It was a common statement of insult, portraying Christians as those who gave their lives in worship to an ass. The Octavius, a very early work of Christian apology answers the common accusation made against Christianity that,

The religion of the Christians is foolish, inasmuch as they worship a crucified man, and even the instrument itself of his punishment. They are said to worship the head of an ass . . .

Everett Ferguson, in his Backgrounds of Early Christianity, explains the thinking behind this taunting and wild accusation:

As repulsive as the [Alexamenos graffito] is to Christians now, it conveys strongly how contemptible the idea of a crucified Lord was to pagan thinking.

This very point was our artist’s belittlement of the young Christian, Alexamenos.

The following facts provide the worlds-apart contrast of the cross and the electric chair.

• Those conducting an electric chair execution don’t do it as sport, seeing how creatively and how long they can inflict pain, suffering, and humiliation. This was precisely what execution on a cross was about.

• People put to death in electric chairs are not forced to carry their own means of execution to the place they will die. The crucified were required to.

• Those walking their last steps to the electric chair are not taunted, spit upon, kicked, punched, and verbally demeaned. The crucified were.

• Those going to the electric chair are not brutally scourged to the point of substantial blood-loss as a lead-up to their electrocution. The crucified were.

• People going to the electric chairs are not stripped bare so their death is more humiliating. The crucified were.

• Those in the electric chair are protected from the mob-circus who would celebrate in their death. The crucifixion is designed precisely to expose the condemned to such people.

• People executed in electric chairs do not have their legs broken to finally bring death after days of suffering there. The crucified did.

• Those executed in electric chairs are not left on display for all to see as a statement to other criminals. The crucified were left that way for days after death.

• The electric chair dead are not left for the birds and wild animals to pick away at. The crucified were.

• Those killed by the electric chair are given at least a modest burial. The crucified were denied burial and what remained of their bodies was thrown away. (Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to get permission to have Jesus’ body for burial.)

Yes, it is important that we remind fellow believers that the Cross of our faith was a device of death, torment, and humiliation; a symbol of great offense. That is why the electric chair comparison just doesn’t work. Nor does the noose, the gas chamber, or the lethal syringe.

There is no parallel symbol to speak of what our Savior suffered and endured for each of us. And that is why the cross is the primary and universal symbol for our faith. It is a peerless and powerful reminder of the dramatic extent of Christ’s love. And it makes Christianity unique and powerful beyond compare.”

-Glenn T. Stanton,  http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/08/15/factchecker-the-cross-an-electric-chair/