(Post nine of a series on Christian divorce rates)
Do Christians have lower divorce rates than non-Christians? The answer to this question depends on who is defined to be Christian.
There are four relevant religious categories here:
1) Self-identified Christians who describe their faith in terms of “personal commitment” “accept as savior” and other evangelical, born-again language.
2) Self-identified Christians who do not describe their faith with these terms.
3) Members of other, non-Christian religions.
4) People of no religious beliefs.
George Barna compares group 1 (whom he terms “born-again” Christians) versus groups 2, 3, and 4 (whom he terms “non-born again Christian” and “non-Christian”), and he finds no difference.
In a 2004 study, Barna used these two criteria to define respondents as “born again" Christians:
“people who said they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior.”
Approximately 41% (1,468 of 3,615) of his sample fit the “born-again” criteria, and they had divorce rates of 35%. The remaining 59% had divorce rates of 35% leading part to summarize: “Christians Have Same Incidence of Divorce.”
In contrast, my analyses compared groups 1 and 2 versus groups 3 and 4, and I found a consistent difference (though it’s due almost entirely to the high divorce rates of group 4).
This offers a simple explanation of Barna's findings: He is comparing Christians against Christians.
Here’s what I mean. Members of group 2 presumably include many Catholics and mainline Protestants who, though devoted followers of Christ, do not describe themselves with the Evangelical language of Barna’s criteria.
Data from the General Social Survey (2000-2004) indicate that about 70% of Americans affiliate with a Christian denomination. This suggests that about half of Barna’s comparison group (i.e., (70%-41%)/59) think of themselves as Christian. Barna lumps them with people of other religions and people of no religion. These group 2 members, especially Catholics, have low rates of divorce, so putting them in the “non-Christian” comparison group substantially changes the comparison.
Next: An evaluation of Barna's divorce statistics II