A friend emailed a copy of a January 17, 2010 article in The Sun News, a paper out of Myrtle Beach, SC, that trumpeted a Barna survey allegedly showing that “born again” Christians suffer the highest rates of divorce and atheists/agnostics the lowest. At first I thought this must simply be agitprop. A few minutes on the internet, however, produced several websites corroborating the sources, surveys and statistics. See for example here . However, at least one purported Christian website here stated that evangelicals had a lower rate of divorce than the national average and lower than atheists and agnostics. Before this, I was unaware of the Barna distinction between “born again” Christians and evangelicals, and with exceedingly few exceptions, was unaware of people calling themselves “born again” outside evangelical circles. My curiosity piqued and smelling mischief in the gloating newspaper article, I did a little research. What I found demonstrated that biblical Christianity makes a difference in peoples’ lives and that newspapers generally cannot be trusted in matters regarding Christianity. In other words, nothing new.
This South Carolina paper and these websites weren’t telling the entire truth, not even close. Digging further revealed that Barna himself reports that evangelicals have among the lowest divorce rates (26%) and people of non-Christian denominations have the highest rates (38%). Agnostics and atheists are within the statistical margin of error of the national average of approximately 33% divorce rate. However, far fewer agnostics and atheists (65%) marry than the national average (74%). “Born again” Christians average a 78% marriage rate, the highest in that poll.
The Barna surveys appear odd when it comes to “born again” Christians. As stated, evangelicals had about the lowest divorce rates in the survey. What the skeptics and mockers seem to be fixating on is a class Barna identified as “born again” non-evangelicals, whose divorce rate was 33%, statistically indistinguishable from the national average and above the atheist/agnostic rate of 30% (of those that married). Some skeptics proclaim that this proves Christianity makes little difference in lives. One site even went so far as to list this survey as evidence that God doesn’t exist.
So, who are these non-evangelical, born again Christians that give the mockers such joy and comfort? This is where it gets interesting and where the mockers engage in gross intellectual dishonesty. In the Barna surveys, to qualify as “born again,” a person must have made a personal “commitment to Jesus Christ and believe that they will go to heaven because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. The respondents are not asked whether they consider themselves “born again.” So who or what is “evangelical” according to Barna? Evangelicals are a subset of the “born again” respondents. To qualify as evangelicals for Barna, the respondents (in addition to the foregoing “born again” faith in Christ) stated that they believe that salvation is through grace alone, Jesus led a sinless life, the Bible is inerrant, they have a duty to share their faith, Satan is real, and God is omnipotent and perfect and created the universe. In other words, “evangelicals” are Christians that believe what the Bible says. Apparently, “born-again” non-evangelicals in Barna’s surveys do not believe the same biblical truths. Barna also reports that “[e]vangelicals were twice as likely as non-evangelical born again adults (47% vs. 21%), and almost five times more likely than notional Christians (47% vs. 10%) to place faith at the top of the list [of their priorities in life].”
No surprise that a newspaper would report as “fact” misleading statements about Christians and that several websites would engage in the same disparagement. The surveys clearly show that those who read the Bible seriously and without compromise put their faith as a much higher priority in their lives. As a result, they lead very different lives, to include some of the lowest divorce rates in the country, well below the atheists, agnostics and general public. Interestingly, those who profess faith in Jesus Christ but not in what the Bible teaches appear little different than the rest of the world.
When one looks at the data, you almost have to marvel at the chutzpah of the mockers. Not only does an honest look at the surveys vindicate biblical Christianity, it reveals the depressing picture of atheists and agnostics. According to Barna:
Atheists and agnostics represent about one out of every ten adults. They stood out as the faith segment least likely to find living near family and relatives to be highly desirable (43%, compared to 63% national average). The religious skeptics were also much less likely to be driven to have a clear sense of purpose in life (55%, compared to 77% of all adults) or to want just one marriage partner for life (58% versus an 80% U.S. average). They were also less interested in making a difference in the world (45%, versus 56% nationally) and in having close friendships.
“Skeptics have replaced faith with a passion for healthy longevity and personal pleasure gained through world travel, sexual experiences, and obtaining knowledge,” Barna commented. “They are substantially less focused on relationships and legacy than are other groups. They tend to be less concerned about finding or pursuing a purpose in life because a majority of them believe life has no purpose beyond comfort and pleasure.
Atheism provides little long-term incentive for a meaningful life (what meaning?), and not surprisingly, it is associated with higher rates of suicide. We were made to love and worship God, and we suffer and fade away when we deny him.
Back to the divorce issue, while comparatively low, that 26% of evangelicals divorce still surprises me. I wonder how many of that group were saved after their divorce and how many of those divorces were the result of a non-believing spouse walking out. The data doesn’t say from what I can tell. Certainly, if those two factors were taken into account, the evangelical rate would be even lower. I have heard the claim more than once that Christian couples that pray together each day and study scripture together have divorces rates of around 2%. Makes sense — divorce is anathema to a life of selfless love and service to others, and couples prayer and bible study require and develop the deepest intimacies. I have not, however, seen a survey or data supporting this statistic.
In researching this topic, it appears some states have apparently experimented or at least studied the concept of “covenant marriages,” which are much more difficult to dissolve through a divorce proceeding. Oklahoma also managed to substantially reduce its divorce rate. Would like to do some research on both of these…
See The Sexiness of Marriage and Family (10/29/11)
See also Christian Marriage (3/20/11)
See Husbands and wives praying together (4/14/2012)
Related article: Glenn T. Stanton – The Christian divorce rate myth (2/27/11)
14 replies on “Christian Divorce Rates”
Very good article.
[…] would encourage you to read the rest of this report by our board […]
Excellent analysis. I actually found this through Ken Ham’s blog. May I link to to this on my blog with your permission?
Thank you. Yes, please feel free to link to any article at any time on this blog. May I have the same permission for your site?
[…] attorney Anthony Biller dug deep into the report and discovered that the group Barna was calling “born-again” […]
[…] this year, a Barna survey revealed that Christians suffered the highest rates of divorce when compared with other groups of religion. That is both alarming and […]
[…] Christian Divorce Rates […]
When I regularly attended a Baptist church in Michigan and became acquainted with the members I recall a number of Church members who were divorced for one reason or another.
I never questioned it. Divorce has never been a “big deal” for Christians. It was secondary to smoking, drinking, dancing and going to movies.
People seemed to be comfortable with divorced Christians and welcomed them in the Church.
They wouldn’t welcome anyone who, say, smoked or drank.
Christ condemned divorce vigorously in all four gospels. But Christians seldom go after divorced church members. There are just so many of them today.
Of course, divorce is a matter of public record, but no one ever checks the records to see which Christians have been divorced.
You won’t find any churches willing to go after divorced members. It’s just not that big a deal today
Might I make note that the Church is not to “go after” any particular person regardless of their sins. We are to show them the errors of sin and GOD’S condemnation of it. We are to Encourage them to reject sin as commanded in GOD’S WORD, and we are to love them, but nowhere are we as believers to “go after” them in the sense of persecuting them. I’m sorry for your experience with that church you attended. GOD has chosen to love people and sent his SON to die in their place to free them from the wages of sin (eternal separation from GOD in Hell), if they will repent and accept HIS free gift of Salvation! I hope you find a church that is not ashamed to preach GOD’S WORD,and preach against all sin, but at the same time is willing to love people as CHRIST loved people, and not target certain people to persecute them.
The 26 % rate, although one of the lowest is still shockingly high and rather than shoot the messenger it should be a cause for reflection to determine ways of how it can be reduced.
This isn’t advocating to shoot the messenger, just to view carefully some of the more hysterical accusations. I agree wholeheartedly re finding ways to reduce divorce within the church, or, put another way, to strengthen marriages, which motivated a post on the subject: https://sapphiresky.org/2011/03/20/christian-marriage/ Please feel free to share in the comments there any advice re strengthening marriage. Thanks for taking the time to comment.
The TWOgether Pittsburgh project of Family Guidance, Inc. in Pittsburgh has a serious effort underway that attempts to strengthen marriages and reduce the divorce rate through various relationship education programs. It is in its 7th year of operation.
[…] “Half of all marriages end in divorce” (this myth is refuted here) […]