We’ve all heard the claim: “Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-Christians.” This statement is often attributed to a 2008 study by the Barna Research Group that indicated that those who identified as Christian were just as likely as non-Christians to be divorced. This study was also broken down into subcategories by religious denomination, showing Baptists and non-denominational Protestants leading the way in divorce. The claim that the divorce rate among Christians equals that of non-Christians builds upon the common assumption that 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. But, according to the latest research, those statements about the divorce rate, among Christians in particular, are untrue.
Harvard-trained social researcher and author Shaunti Feldhahn, in her book The Good News About Marriage says that the data reveals a different story about the divorce rate. Feldhahn states that the “50 percent” figure was not based on hard data; rather, the number came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would become after states passed no-fault divorce laws. “We’ve never hit those numbers. We’ve never gotten close,” she writes. According to her study, the overall divorce rate is around 33 percent.
Partnering with George Barna, Feldhahn reexamined the data pertaining to the divorce rate among Christians and found that the numbers were based on survey-takers who identified as “Christian” rather than some other religion. Under that broad classification, respondents were as likely as anyone else to have been divorced. The “Christian” category included people who profess a belief system but do not live a committed lifestyle. However, for those who were active in their church, the divorce rate was 27 to 50 percent lower than for non-churchgoers. Nominal Christians—those who simply call themselves “Christians” but do not actively engage with the faith—are actually 20 percent more likely than the general population to get divorced.
Dr. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, states that “‘active conservative protestants who attend church regularly are actually 35% less likely to divorce than those who have no religious preferences” (quoted by Stetzer, Ed. “The Exchange.” Christianity Today. “Marriage, Divorce, and the Church: What do the stats say, and can marriage be happy?” Feb. 14, 2014. WEB. Oct. 26, 2015). In her studies, Feldhahn found that 72 percent of all married people were still married to their first spouse. And of those marriages, four out of five are happy.
Putting it all together, what these findings tell us is that religion itself cannot insulate us from the stresses that pull at the fabric of our marriages. But there’s definite good news regarding divorce rates and Christians: contrary to what’s been reported for years, the divorce rate is not 50 percent; it’s more like 30 percent. And then we find that people who keep God at the center of their home and family stay married at far greater rates, and even thrive within those marriages. One of the reasons for this is that those whose first commitment is to the lordship of Jesus put fewer expectations upon their spouses to meet emotional needs that only God can meet. The lessening of unrealistic expectations gives marriages a stronger foundation upon which to withstand difficult times.
Although 1 Peter 2:7 is speaking of the church in general, the words also echo the truths revealed in the statistics on Christian marriages: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” When Jesus is the cornerstone of our homes and marriages, we can weather the storms (see Matthew 7:24).