Saturday, November 25, 2006

What are the Real Threats to Christian Marriage?

by Eric Walters

Over the past year, much political and evangelical energy was expended over the push for a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. The ban would in effect, “protect traditional marriage” in the words of some high profile evangelical leaders and pastors.

Much of the debate surrounds statistics on rates of marriage, divorce, and children born out-of-wedlock in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden from 1990 to 2000 (following the establishment of registered partnerships in Denmark, 1990-1996). Evangelical proponents of the Amendment primarily cite the opinions of Stanley Kurtz who in many instances, misinterprets and
confusingly argues cause and effect relationships among data sets. Contrary to Kurtz’s claims, the most recent marriage rates in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are all higher than the rates for the years before the (same) partner laws were passed, and in the 1990s, divorce rates in Scandinavia were relatively unchanged.
However one may feel on a civil or theological level about the Amendment Banning Gay Marriage, the misuse of Scandinavian data sets should be discouraged. One can bet that the debate has only just begun.

I would like to turn attention to what seems a more interesting and insightful set of statistics that describe recent divorce rates among Christians in America. According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Barna Research Group, an evangelical organization that studies Christian trends, born-again Christians were just as likely to divorce as those who are not born-again. Here are some major findings:

· Among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce. That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%.

· “Among born again adults, 80% have been married, compared to just 69% among the non-born again segment. If the non-born again population were to marry at the same rate as the born again group, it is likely that their divorce statistic would be roughly 38% - marginally higher than that among the born again group, but still surprisingly similar in magnitude.”

· “If we eliminate those who became Christians after their divorce, the divorce figure among born again adults drops to 34% - statistically identical to the figure among non-Christians.” The researcher also indicated that a surprising number of Christians experienced divorces both before and after their conversion.

· Multiple divorces are also unexpectedly common among born again Christians. Barna’s figures show that nearly one-quarter of the married born agains (23%) get divorced two or more times.

The 2004 Barna Report reinforces data from a previous study conducted in 1999; the data seem to emphasize that Christian marriage may succumb to similar pressures of divorce as those of non-religious marriages. Last month, the New York Times reported that recent Census Bureau figures show that married couples, as a proportion of American households, are now considered a minority.This sheds new light on social and theological dynamics of hot-button political topics that emphasize "family values" and the traditional two-parent household.

In light of these statistics, should Christian leaders claim moral authority on the subject of marriage?
Is the fact that two Christians are married, make their union more sacred than a marriage between two people who are not Christians?

Does the couple that prays together always stay together?

What does this say about the state of our Christian churches?

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.