Divorce and Remarriage in the Church - Setting the Record Straight

The atheist or non-theistic groups, especially when their collective voice is online, share a myriad of mendacious beliefs. These lies persist because many secularists, naturalists and “nones” insulate themselves from certain arguments and evidence, which is ironic, given that this is one of their professed frustrations with practicing theists.

Generally, if one of their own says something that makes Christians look bad, then the rest of them tend to believe it uncritically. It seems that any idea claimed by anyone that makes Christians look stupid and/or evil is believed without question and little to no hesitation.

What are some of these unevidenced or counter-evidenced beliefs? To name a few; “the universe is eternal”, “matter generated and sustains itself”, “life chemistry is coincidental”, “Jesus never existed”, “unborn babies aren’t human beings”, “the multiverse explains away the cosmic fine-tuning”, “the origin of life is a solved problem: aliens seeded the Earth with life”, “moral realism is perfectly rational in an accidental universe where humans evolved randomly”, “the founding of this country was largely secular in orientation”, “science and religion are locked in warlike conflict”, et al.

How does any of this relate to family and relational Christian life?

An inaccurate common claim believed by seculars as well as Christians is that “Christians are divorcing just as frequently / more frequently as non-believers.”

It began with a flawed Barna study in 1999, which has since been removed from the website. which initially had atheist leaders excited;

“These findings confirm what I have been saying these last five years. Atheist ethics are of a higher caliber than religious morals. It stands to reason that our families would be dedicated more to each other than to some invisible monitor in the sky.” – Ron Barrier, national media coordinator, American Atheists

What was subsequently pointed out as erroneous is summarized here by Theodore Beale;

“However, Barna's conclusions in his 1999 study were marred by a serious problem. The divorce rate he calculated was not based on the percentage of marriages that had failed within each religious affiliation but, rather, the percentage of divorcees out of the total population of the affiliation. Since one cannot get divorced if one has never been married, the conclusions presented a very misleading picture of the comparative likelihood of divorce for Christians, atheists and everyone else…If one takes the varying populations of the different Christian denominations properly into account, the result is that only one in eight of all Christian marriages, 12.5 percent, end in divorce. So it is not only an exaggeration, it is statistically incorrect to assert that Christian marriages are more likely to end in divorce, because atheist marriages are more than twice as likely to fail even though atheists are less than half as likely to get married in the first place.”

Even this USA Today article from 2011 challenged this common claim. USA Today is in no way pro-Christianity.


It’s been proclaimed from pulpits and blogs for years — Christians divorce as much as everyone else in America. But some scholars and family activists are questioning the oft-cited statistics, saying Christians who attend church regularly are more likely to remain wed.

“It’s a useful myth,” said Bradley Wright, a University of Connecticut sociologist who recently wrote Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites … and Other Lies You’ve Been Told. “Because if a pastor wants to preach about how Christians should take their marriages more seriously, he or she can trot out this statistic to get them to listen to him or her.”

The various findings on religion and divorce hinge on what kind of Christians are being discussed. Wright combed through the General Social Survey, a vast demographic study conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and found that Christians, like adherents of other religions, have an overall divorce rate of about 42%. The rate among religiously unaffiliated Americans is 50%.

When Wright examined the statistics on evangelicals, he found worship attendance (one stratification) has a big influence on the numbers. Six in 10 evangelicals (60%) who never attend had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38% of weekly attendees.

Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, agrees there’s been some misunderstanding;

“You do hear, both in Christian and non-Christian circles, that Christians are no different from anyone else when it comes to divorce and that is not true if you are focusing on Christians who are regular church attendees,

Wilcox’s analysis of the National Survey of Families and Households has found that Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35% less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.

Nominal conservative Protestants, on the other hand, were 20% more likely to divorce than the religiously unaffiliated.

“There’s something about being a nominal ‘Christian’ that is linked to a lot of negative outcomes when it comes to family life,” UVA’s Wilcox said.

Summary: So two critical components were bypassed that led to the statistical aberration. One is that the cohabitation versus marriage activity secular vs. religious was not factored into the equation. The other was stratification of religious commitment or degree of biblical application across self-identified Christians, nominal versus active, or as sociologists & psychologists now identify “intrinsic versus extrinsic” religious belief. Even though Barna is now on the vanguard of statistical collection and report, he is certainly willing to admit when he has made a mistake;

"One reason why the divorce statistic among non-born-again adults is not higher is that a larger proportion of that group cohabits, effectively side-stepping marriage, and divorce, altogether."

George Barna has since attempt to amend some of these errors in a series of follow up surveys and can be accessed here - https://www.barna.com/research/new-marriage-and-divorce-statistics-released/

The most significant marriage threat according to the follow up studies is economic (“downscale”). The revised data is still not encouraging from either the standpoint of Christian praxis or civilizational survival. Some of the follow up studies stratified by denomination, resulting in this breakdown;

“The survey showed that divorce varied somewhat by a person’s denominational affiliation. Catholics were substantially less likely than Protestants to get divorced (25% versus 39%, respectively). Among the largest Protestant groups, those most likely to get divorced were Pentecostals (44%) while Presbyterians had the fewest divorces (28%).”

While the overall divorce rate is down, from 46% to 33%, and 33% of all types of Christian claimants is still lower than 37% of atheists and agnostics overall divorce rate, the divorce rate amongst first-world Christians is still far too high even given the Biblical caveats of infidelity (Matthew 5:32) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15). These caveats are to be placed alongside Malachi 2:16 & Matthew 19:6 which, though uncomfortable is to be proclaimed, believed and applied.

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