(This summarizes a series on Christian divorce rates that starts here)
Many people believe that Christian marriages end in divorce just as often as non-Christian, but it turns out, using the best data available, that this is not true.
To illustrate, here are the divorce rates among ever-married respondents in the General Social Survey (GSS, 2000-2004)—one of the best known sources of sociological data. “Frequent” is attending church about once a week or more.
58%, non-frequent Black Protestants
54%, non-frequent Evangelicals
51%, no religion (e.g., atheists & agnostics)
48%, ALL NON-CHRISTIANS
48%, non-frequent, other religions
47%, frequent Black Protestants
42%, non-frequent, mainline Protestants
41%, ALL CHRISTIANS
41%, non-frequent Catholics
38%, frequent other religions
34%, frequent Evangelicals
32%, ALL FREQUENT CHRISTIANS
32%, frequent mainline Protestants
23%, frequent Catholics
I also analyzed data from previous years of the GSS and from five other national surveys, and they showed the same pattern: Christians, especially those who frequently attend church, have relatively low divorce rates.
This raises an interesting question: Why do so many people believe otherwise? It appears to stem from the work of George Barna. In well-publicized studies, he has compared divorce rates of “born again” Christians against non-Christians, and he finds little difference. Here’s the catch: his type of analysis labels as “non-Christian” many mainline Protestants, such as Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopalians, and most Catholics. As such, he is comparing Christians against Christians. Ron Sider has publicized Barna’s statistics in his award winning Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.
Some qualifications: The real question here is whether being Christian lessens divorce, and while the data above suggest “yes,” they can be interpreted otherwise. Perhaps people who get divorced also stop attending church. Perhaps those who attend church are also those who would stay married anyway. In addition, members of other religions also have low divorce rates. This should not be surprising since these other religions, such as Judaism, Mormonism, and Christian Science, have similar moral teachings about divorce.
What does this mean for Christians, especially pastors and other Christian leaders? The message is good news: Church efforts to keep marriages together appear to be effective. Also, perhaps the best thing for marriages is frequent church attendance.