Last night I participated in a Facebook discussion in the wake of the Prop 8 court decision.
One guy who was for same-sex marriage kept bringing up divorce, using it to hammer Christians and conservatives over the head. I have seen this time and again in discussions on same-sex marriage: “I don’t hear any Christians campaigning about divorce, yet Christians get divorced just as much as non-Christians. Why doesn’t anyone get up in arms about that? You all need to get your own house in order before hating on gays.”
Some even tout the 50% statistic: that 50% of Christian marriages end up in divorce.
One area of housecleaning before I talk about divorce: enough with the false dichotomies. As my friend Neil recently noted, just because we do not buy into 100% of the gay agenda doesn’t mean we “hate” gays, and just because we don’t support same sex marriage doesn’t mean we are “anti-gay.”
The folks who bring up divorce skip over some huge points. First, I know what Barna says, but there is some other data and studies out there that need to be taken into account. Maggie Gallagher, president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, notes,
Mere religious affiliation may not reduce divorce, but religious practice clearly does. One longitudinal analysis of the National Survey of Family Growth found that couples who attended church as often as once a month had divorce rates less than half that of couples who attended church once a year or less. Similarly, a recent study of the National Survey of Families and Households found that marriage in which both couples attend church regularly have the lowest divorce risk (David B. Larson and James P. Swyers, 2002, “Does Religion and Spirituality Contribute to Marital and Individual Health?” in John Wall et al (eds.) Marriage, Health and the Professions).
The National Marriage Project, a research arm of Rutgers University, found that Religious affiliation does indeed lower one’s risk of divorce. In the link, see the section titled “Your Chances of Divorce May be Much Lower than you Think.” Religious affiliation lowers one’s risk of divorce by 14%. Granted, they do not specify which religious affiliation, but the reduction is telling. The NMP is an authoritative research group; anyone who wants to get to the bottom line would do well to pour over their data, rather than be content with a second-hand report of a few general stats from Barna.
Often, the people touting the statistic just heard one small sound bite in passing from a news report on a study, thus failing to take into account the details.
Yes, no matter which way you cut it, the divorce rate in the church is very high…too high. Among evangelicals, for example, while it is lower than the national average (26% for evangelicals, 33% national average), it isn’t much lower. I am not excusing divorce in the church by any means. I just get bugged when vague stats are thrown around so cavalierly in an attempt to discredit an argument. Best to get an accurate handle on the facts first.
Next, many fail to realize what, exactly, has caused the divorce rate in the Church to get so high. Hint: it is not following the Bible’s teachings! It is no coincidence that the divorce rate, both inside and outside the Church, has gone up up up since the 1960s. The secular ideology brought on by the sexual revolution has unduly influenced the Church. Divorce is just a natural consequence when you put your own desires above serving and obeying God. Self-gratification was what the sexual revolution was all about. The Bible’s got nothing to do with it, therefore it’s a stretch to try to lay the blame at the Bible’s door.
The folks at the NMP hint at this when they say:
The recent family trends in the Western nations have been largely generated by a distinctive set of cultural values that scholars have come to label “secular individualism.” It features the gradual abandonment of religious attendance and beliefs, a strong leaning toward “expressive” values that are preoccupied with personal autonomy and self-fulfillment, and a political emphasis on egalitarianism and the tolerance of diverse lifestyles. An established empirical generalization is that the greater the dominance of secular individualism in a culture, the more fragmented the families. The fundamental reason is that the traditional nuclear family is a somewhat inegalitarian group (not only between husbands and wives but also parents and children) that requires the suppression of some individuality and also has been strongly supported by, and governed by the rules of, orthodox religions. As a seeming impediment to personal autonomy and social equality, therefore, the traditional family is an especially attractive unit for attacks from a secular individualistic perspective.
All of what I’ve said so far are small points compared with the next three. Divorce is a tragedy. If you have been divorced, you have my sympathies. I know that doesn’t help a bit, but I can’t imagine the pain you’ve gone through.
A past error in law (in this case, laws that made divorce easier), though, does not justify making another error in law. I’ll say it again: loosening laws in the past does not justify loosening them more now, especially if we have good reason not to loosen laws further now. A third time: just because The Family has been weakened by lawmakers in the past doesn’t mean we cavalierly continue to do so now. To suggest we continue down the slippery slope just ‘cuz, and to suggest I have to keep my mouth shut merely because lawmakers of the past decided to grease the skids in the first place is just plain silly…it’s a very large non sequitur.
If one grants the assumptions used to justify things like no-fault divorce, those assumptions might, indeed, be used to justify other changes to the institution of The Family, but that is not a problem for me, since I don’t buy into those assumptions.
I, as well as a throng of other Christian conservatives, happen to think that no-fault divorce laws and the worldview that justified them were horrible errors in thinking, so it is pointless to us for anyone to argue for same-sex marriage by bringing up the errors of the past. Telling us to shut up because of the errors of the past falls on deaf ears.
Most importantly, many who bring up the divorce canard, for some reason, bring it up as if Christians are for divorce! They act like Christians think no fault divorce laws are ok! I have no idea why they assume this. What church are they going to? What Bible are they reading? Must not be the same Bible I’m reading. Must not be the same Bible that almost every other Christian I know reads. You can find churchgoers that attempt to justify their own adultery by slithering past a verse or two, true enough….but it’s wise not to set fire to straw men.
Geez, look around at churches and you will find countless individuals and organizations committed to helping married couples stay married. You will find a cacophany of voices that hails divorce as an absolutely terrible tragedy. You will find a great number of sermons dedicated to uplifting the virtues of a solid marriage and preaching the vices of divorce. In fact, my pastor just had a sermon on divorce last week, and I will be blogging on it soon.
By the way the detractors beat their chests about the state of marriages in the Christian Church (which, I already admit, is in a sad state of affairs), you’d think they truly cared about divorce. Ok, I’ll call their bluff: you, my friend, will you join me in the fight against divorce? Will you write blog posts about how it has affected children? Will you agree with me that divorce is a blight on society? Will you financially support ministries and groups that help strengthen marriages? If someone in a marriage is thinking about calling it quits (outside of abuse and egregious adultery), will you stare them squrely in the face (as my pastor did a few weeks back) and counsel them to seek help and not throw in the towel? Will you aplaud with me all that James Dobson has done to help marriages thrive?
Chances are: no.
These folks who bash the Church over the head with divorce…I just don’t get it. It is so uncalled for and represents a serious ad hominem + straw man. I wish they’d take a closer and more charitable look at the Church when it comes to this subject. I have a hunch that it’s not a serious point they really care about; my gut tells me it’s just their way of shaming and silencing those they disagree with.
Lastly, the reason why you hear so much talk about same-sex marriage relative to divorce is elementary: same-sex marriage is where the battle is currently waging. No-fault divorce was decided years ago. If there was a serious chance that those laws would be repealed, you bet your bottom dollar that you’d see a strong push from many conservative Christians in that direction. Same-sex marriage proponents write letters to the editor, appear on Larry King Live, and march in the streets today. We want to answer those arguments. Simple as that.
In conclusion: those who bring up the Church’s record as to divorce are changing the subject; they are merely distracting folks from the arguments for and against SSM itself, and they should drop the tactic.