“Many people who seriously practice a traditional religious faith—be it Christian or other—have a divorce rate marked lower than the general population.”—The Christian Divorce Rate Myth, Glenn T. Stanton, Baptist Press

The above quote, taken from the website crosswalk.com, is what is known as a qualifier which tries to shift focus from Christianity’s dismal divorce rate in the United States and avoid any mention of people “who don’t seriously practice a traditional religious faith.” [1] Pointing out a specific group makes no difference, no matter if comparing Christians and Muslims or baseball and football, those that practice “seriously” always do better. “Many people who seriously practice” atheism, agnosticism, and humanism “have a divorce rate markedly lower than the general population,” including Christians.

Christian researchers often try to remove those Christians they believe push the divorce rate higher by placing them in categories such as Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private, and Cultural[2]; but the transparent effort does not hide that Christians are the most divorced group in the country. Without further examination of the various categories, simple logic says that in a nation where more than 75 percent of the population claims Christianity guarantees the Christian representation in nearly any activity and in significant amounts just because of their number.

It may surprise many Americans to know that Christians are just as likely to divorce as any other group in the country, but this is not news; it is a pattern that has been in place for more than a decade. Still, it is strange that in an overwhelmingly Christian nation, Christian marriages are more likely to fail than those of atheists.[3] Nationally, 34 percent of Protestant Christians divorce yearly—the highest rate in the country.[4] Christians include Evangelicals and Born-agains, as well as Notionals and Catholics. At 30 percent, atheists and agnostics have the lowest divorce rate compared with all of American Christianity.[5] According to pollster George Barna, A larger percentage of born-again adults divorce at some time during their lifetime than do non-Christians (27% vs. 23%). Surprisingly, 90 percent of all born-again adults that divorced, did so after they accepted Christ.[6]

Plainly, under the heading of family values, the Christian Right sees divorce as a nonissue, but judging from their record it should be. The rank of Protestant Christians as the most divorced group in the country speaks volumes about so-called family values, especially when compared with Biblical rule condemning divorce. Despite efforts by Evangelical to “weed out” those Christians they believe fall short of their idea of real Christians, it is clear the segment constantly blaring the horns of morality should order their marital houses before casting stones.

Divorce and Christian Attitudes

Bible scholars and teachers point out that Jesus taught that divorce was a sin unless adultery was a reason, but few Americans accept that pronouncement. In a Gallup Poll, 59 percent of Americans said they think divorce is morally acceptable while only 28 percent feel divorce is morally unacceptable.[7] Most of both Protestants (58%) and Catholics (69%) disagreed that divorce without adultery involved was a sin, displaying either ignorance of Scripture, selective acceptance, or outright rejection.[8] Even most Born-again adults (52%) disagreed with the statement.[9]

States in the South and West rank among the highest for couples that marry, but many of these states also have higher rates of divorce. The South and West had the most marriages, with rates of roughly 19 per 1,000, but the areas also led in divorces, each at 10 per 1,000.[10] An analysis by the US Census Bureau found that couples in other parts of the country wait longer to marry. Also, the percentage of women who wed as teenagers has dropped steadily since 1970, while men wait past college years before considering marriage.[11]

The lowest in divorces was the Northeast. The report attributed the lower rates to delayed marriage lessening the chances of marital discord. "Surprisingly, the South and West, which we think of as more socially conservative, have higher rates of divorce than does the supposedly liberal East," said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. "The reason is that young adults in the South and West tend to have less education and marry earlier, both of which lead to a higher risk of divorce."[12]

The Barna Research Group's national study showed that members of nondenominational churches divorce 34 percent of the time in contrast to 25 percent for the general population. Nondenominational churches would include large numbers of Bible churches and other conservative evangelicals. Baptists had the highest divorce rate of the major denominations: 29 percent. Born-again Christians' rate was 27 percent. To make matters even more distressing for believers, atheists/agnostics had the lowest rate of divorce 21 percent.[13]

Dallas therapist and Southwestern Seminary graduate Dr. Roy Austin said, "The atheist doesn't believe in God and so doesn't depend on God to save or fix a marriage. It's just 'the two of us,' and that takes the magic aspect out of it." But many fundamentalist or evangelical couples base their marriages on "very irrational and unrealistic principles," he said. "They say, 'Put God first in your marriage' whatever that means to them 'be faithful  in church, be a good Christian, pray a lot, attend church, and God will work everything out for you.' Then they find out that's a lot of hogwash."[14]

An Associated Press analysis of divorce statistics from the US Census Bureau revealed the highest divorce rates in the country are in the "Bible Belt," the most religious portion of the country. According to the report, “the divorce rates in these conservative states are roughly 50 percent above the national average of 4.2 per thousand people.” As the most religious sector of the nation, it would seem divorce rates in that area would be substantially lower than the rest of the country, but just the opposite is true. [15]

Analysis of divorce statistics from the US Census Bureau by the Associated Press showed that Massachusetts had the lowest divorce rate in the U.S. at 2.4 per 1,000 population, while Texas had the highest rate at 4.1 per 1,000. The 10 Southern states with the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. By comparison, nine states in the Northeast were among those with the lowest divorce rates: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.[16]

Residents of the Northeast and West commonly receive notice for their more liberal leanings in politics and lifestyle. That region is also home to large numbers of atheists, agnostics, and the unchurched. However, the region of the nation in which divorce was least likely was the Northeast. In that area, 28 percent of adults ever married had also divorced, compared with 32 percent in the Midwest, 35 percent in the South, and 38 percent in the West.[17]

Expectations are that Christians should score well in this area especially seeing the Bible does not tolerate divorce in any fashion. Yet, divorce is just as common among Christians as it is among non-Christians. In recent years, even the divorce rate for Protestant clergy has risen to match the general population.[18] Whether religion plays a role in their dismal marriage record is unknown. However, measurement of atheist and agnostic divorce rates by the evangelical George Barna Research Group shows are 3 to 4 percentage points lower and may indicate that religion or lack or religion has little impact on marriage success.[19]

Christian apologist often try to change the weight of the argument by claiming that statistics showing Christians as the most divorced group in the United States are mistaken. Their argument is that researchers measure the wrong Christians, which is akin to saying that when I run, I go fast. When the Barna Research Group first released their figures, a multitude of religious organizations came forward to criticize the numbers. Barna stood by the figures and a poll by the Associated Press, both listed in this chapter, showed nearly identical results.

In this section, I purposely use numbers from various sources; and even though the numbers may differ slightly, the point is Christians lead the nation in divorce. No matter how Christian apologists tweak twist or turn the figures for divorce, it remains a fact that Christians are the most divorced group in America. With nearly 80 percent of Americans claiming Christianity, for Christians to avoid being the most divorced group in the United States would require mass conversion.

In an article featured in Christianity Today, theologian Ronald Sider noted that Christian observers expressed dismay at the dominance of evangelical Christianity in the US has not translated into a strengthening of the nation's moral character, nor the characters of evangelical Christians themselves. J. Gerald Harris, editor of The Christian Index may have voiced the reason when his column pointed out, “. . . we have forfeited much of our influence and power by lacking the integrity to be taken seriously.”[20]

“I guess the only way to stop divorce is to stop marriage.”[21] —Will Rogers



[1] Glenn T. Stanton, The Christian Divorce Rate Myth, Baptist Press, February 25, 2011, http://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/divorce-and-remarriage/the...

[2] Helen Lee, 5 Kinds of Christians, Understanding the disparity of those who call themselves Christian in America, October 1, 2007, http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/fall/1.19.html

[3] New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released, The Barna Group, March 31, 2008, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marr...

[4] New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released, The Barna Group, March 31, 2008, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marr...

[5] ibid

[6] Christians are more likely to experience divorce than are non-Christians, Barna Research Group, December 21, 1999, www.barna.org/cgi-bin/

[7] Lydia Saad, Majority Considers Sex Before Marriage Morally Okay, May 24, 2001, http://www.gallup.com/poll/releases/pr010524.asp

[8] Born-again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians, http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdate..., September 8, 2004

[9] Christians are more likely to experience divorce than are non-Christians, Barna Research Group, December 21, 1999, www.barna.org/cgi-bin/

[10] Hope Yen, Southerners like to get married—and divorced, Knoxville News Sentinel, Associated Press, August 25, 2011, http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/25/census-south-west-lead-us-...

[11] Hope Yen, Southerners like to get married—and divorced, Knoxville News Sentinel, Associated Press, August 25, 2011, http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/25/census-south-west-lead-us-...

[12] Hope Yen, Southerners like to get married—and divorced, Knoxville News Sentinel, Associated Press, August 25, 2011, http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/aug/25/census-south-west-lead-us-...

[13] Christine Wicker, Survey inspires debate over why faith isn't a bigger factor in marriage, Barna survey: Baptists have highest divorce rate, Adherents.com, The Dallas Morning News, 2000, http://www.adherents.com/largecom/baptist_divorce.html

[14] Christine Wicker, Survey inspires debate over why faith isn't a bigger factor in marriage, Barna survey: Baptists have highest divorce rate, Adherents.com, The Dallas Morning News, 2000, http://www.adherents.com/largecom/baptist_divorce.html

[15] U.S. divorce rates: for various faith groups, age groups and geographical areas, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm

[16] U.S. divorce rates: for various faith groups, age groups and geographical areas, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_dira.htm

[17] Pam Belluck, To Avoid Divorce, Move to Massachusetts, New York Times, November 14, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/14/weekinreview/14pamb.html

[18] Kenneth L. Woodward, Sex Morality and The Protestant Minister, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, July 27, 1997, http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/1997/07/27/sex-morality-and-t...

[19] New Marriage and Divorce Statistics Released, Barna Group, March 31, 2008, http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/15-familykids/42-new-marr...

[20] J. Gerald Harris, The abomination of high doctrine, low conduct, The Christian Index, January 5, 2006, http://www.christianindex.org/1864.article.print

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Comment by Donald R Barbera on August 24, 2017 at 8:34pm
I think you are right. Ghosts and goblins tend to mess up the romance of anything.
Comment by Compelledunbeliever on August 24, 2017 at 8:06pm

It is very interesting. Come to think of it I was divorced as a Christian after about a year. I remarried and as an atheist I've been married for 19 years. Ooh P.S. it's kinda nice not having a voyeur in the bedroom.

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